Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reunion preparations

We spent some time this week preparing for our guests. Here's Les nonchalantly washing windows....46 floors up! Next job...the outsides? Haha!
Susanne and Jean are due to arrive on Saturday 5 November, whoopee! One snag...Air France called a strike this week! Hopefully it will be settled and the planes in their correct slots by Friday morning UK time.

I've found a great wee laundry just round the corner so sheets and towels go there now, washed and dried in 2 hours! I'm still a martyr to the ironing but I will ring the contact I've been given and sort something out soon.

You know I love a bargain? We bought a casserole and some serving bowls and collected stamps which we could exchange for towels at 70% off. We needed 16 stamps for 2 towels....we had 15....much counting, re-counting and a hangdog look....the assistant took pity and let me have the second towel even though we were one short! This is a major breach of the rules; mostly over here "rules is rules " and they are seldom broken. An example of this is that they actually issued the stamps and handed them to us, whereupon we handed them back for the towels. A bit of a palaver and unneccessary since the offer was valid on date of purchase only!

A visit to IKEA was necessary ths week, to stock up on napkins and buy another duvet cover . I also bought one of these "over the door" hook rack things, which I thought would be useful in the bathroom Sus and Jean will be using, until Les pointed out the doors in here are 7' 4" high,the rack sits 7' 2" up, I am 5' 4" and Sus and Jean shorter still. I couldn't even lasso a towel onto it! So it has been installed in the store room on a clothes rack and serves as a handbag holder instead!

Halloween is a huge event here, all the shops and restaurants are decorated with pumpkins, ghosts and ghouls and our clubhouse is no exception, with the front desk covered in black crepe paper and wispy spider webs, pumpkin fairy lights and skulls galore.Here is a scene from a street near us. note these have been up now for about 10 days and no theft or vandalism has occurred.

On the social front, I've been to a talk on Sun Yat Sen followed by a visit to his museum then lunch. I've also attended a free open air lunchtime jazz concert, been to the cinema and also heard a talk on the "power of the subconscious mind" . I skipped poetry as I had been to the dentist and felt fragile! But the broken tooth is whole again, although I think nuts are off the menu permanently. On Friday I met a girl who lent me the book I need to read for Book Club on Tuesday, then met Elaine and wee Hannah for lunch. On Saturday, my own copy of the book finally arrived. There's been a lot of reading to do this weekend so our usual Sunday by the pool was very necessary.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Out and about in style!

I just realised I didn't fill you in on details of my weekday shenanigans. Wednesday, I had the dentist then went to tea at the home of the British Consul-General, cucumber sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, proper china cups, silver spoons with the Royal crest on, the whole works. Then three of us visited Tiffany&Co in the Peninsula Hotel to pick up my friend's daughter's wedding ring. The hotel is beautiful, my first time in there despite it being only a hundred metres away. We passed through the great central room where at 5.30 people were still working their way through afternoon tea, some with champagne on the side! The ceilings are very ornate, gilded plaster cherubs and so on. There was a little minstrels gallery where sometimes a trio plays, but not that day. Walking through with a Tiffany bag really made us feel like we were truly ladies of leisure in Hong Kong!
On Thursday four of us had a day out at a brass factory away up in the New Territories, so an adventure getting there and back. Friday I joined a small group for a private conducted tour of a Frank Gehry exhibition. I knew a little of his work before due to his Scottish connections ( he designed the Dundee Maggie's Centre in memory of his fellow Architect Charles Jencks' wife, Maggie Jencks). He has designed a residential block on The Peak which we can see from our window. It's not very tall, 12 storeys, but each storey is just 1 flat with 360 views. The building is like a column twisted in opposite directions, if you imagine holding a tube in both hands and twisting,that would be about right. The use of glass in the building is amazing, glass clad columns, etc, lots of light and space. Then it was onto lunch with an old friend, to meet three new friends. Our transport was very special; one lady has a car and driver, so we arrived in style! Friday rounded off with a gathering of 12 friends, husbands included, at a rooftop bar where Singapore slings, Key lime martinis and Death by Chocolate cocktails were downed amid great hilarity.The friend who organised it called it a Sundowner, I thought she meant a cocktail but it's her Australian term for pre dinner drinks. I told her we don't get enough sun in Scotland to have a name for that.

Day out in Sai Kung continued!

Some Sai Kung sights: sign for a geat wee bookshop which runs storytelling sessions for kids and teenagers as well as an adult bookgroup. Wonderful!

"Paper" boats and a brass duck!

We followed the very loud drum beats to a school playground where these young men were having a drumming session.

A shrine outside a restaurant
Men in traditional hats coming in to harbour

Day out in Sai Kung

Today our weekly tourist jaunt took us to Sai Kung, about an hour away via 2 trains and a wee green minibus. Sai Kung is often called the "green lung" of Kowloon and it was soon obvious why; en route, lots of garden centres and once by the seaside, a pleasant fresh breeze coming in from the east. We walked along the prom for about 2 hours, spotting lots of interesting sights along the way. Hopefully my computer will let me load more, it seems to have stopped the loading process!

One of the many quayside fishermen selling their fish and shellfish directly from the boat. Customers called down their order, he dispatched the live fish with a single chop then descaled and gutted it. Then it was put in a net on a long handled pole and passed up to the customer, who put the payment in the net.

This was one of three fab 2 metre tall sculptures of "ballerinas" in Choi Hung MTR station where we changed to a minibus for the 20 minute journey to Sai Kung. Sorry it's side ways!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Quick update

I'm waiting in a lot this week, more deliveries plus a re-arranged Cantonese lesson at 5pm-7pm, not fun. I'll still cram in a few outings, for example, a talk on looking after your health and beauty in Hong Kong, a trip to a charity project making cool handbags (of course I bought one, its for a good cause!), a trip to a brass factory and an invitation to afternoon tea with the British Consul-General's wife. It's a group invite, she didn't ring me up personally ! Dentist visit also looms large, wince wince. I'll give the pics another go tomorrow, it's such a chore though!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Map in the South Vietnamese War Cabinet rooms clearly showing the Ho Chi Minh trail, used to bring supplies from the Communist north to help the VietCong guerillas in their fight against the US invaders

The room where hand over details were worked out

This table was originally square; it had to be redseigned as the North would not sit at a table with "sides"

Rattan...would you ever imagine a patio chair or table would come from this?

1st October fireworks over the harbour

It's proving to be difficult and slow to add pics here, so why don't you hop over to facebook, where I've already posted a Vietnam folder!!! Ta much!

A busy week in Hong Kong

I'm writing this at 7.30 am on the most glorious morning; the sky is clear and The Peak is so visible it's like a 3D movie scene. Being up so high, we seem to be above the path of the early morning sun which cuts across from left to right giving the familiar buildings a new and strange aspect; edges highlighted from a different angle, grey columns now sparkling white. It is quite beautiful, even though it's really just a view of what are basically tenements, sky scrapers and "high flats".

The cocktail reception on Wednesday was fascinating, it was lovely to hear so many South African accents and the slides and photographic exhibition made me want to go back. During the evening I met a very interesting American woman who has lived here for eight yeas. She is very involved with the Friends of the Art Museum, one of my favourite haunts. She has invited me as her guest to a lecture and tour looking at the influence of Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary who was a prime mover in the overthrow of the Quing Dynasty. He is revered here in HK and has a museum which we'll visit before going on for lunch.

The bedroom furniture arrived on schedule and was quickly assembled by 2 men and a boy, very efficient service. That left me Thurday evening free to go out shopping for bits and pieces and sort out the wardrobes and clear space for our forthcoming guests. Les was staying up in Mainland until Friday when we met up with a old colleague for dinner. We've known him, man and boy, for about 15 years. We once exchanged homes with him and on their trip to Scotland she bought her wedding dress, which had to be altered, so Les took it out to the US on his next trip. Just as he closed the case, he said, "Hope I don't get stopped at customs!" Now they have a little boy aged 4, so it was great to catch up. We also gave im a tour of the clubhouse, the first time we've been to the pool in the dark and it looked very inviting, all illuminated..... and empty!

Saturday, we did our routine shopping then went to make dental and check up appointments as we have changed to a new medical insurer.Then we bought 2 electric dehumidifiers as our wee plastic ones filled up rapidly and we don't want to lose any clothes to mould. Especially as my wardrobe now sports the spoils of many a foray to the end of summer sales in Scotland! In the evening we went to friends for dinner, a fabulous Thai meal for which I want all the recipes!Today, Sunday is always our "play at being a tourist" day and Les wants to go up The Peak.

Next week I have Cantonese and Poetry, an invite for English aternoon tea and one for lunch and an enforced stay at home for the delivery of the dehumidifiers.I'm away now to get my camera to load some pictues . Watch this space!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Back in the HKSAR

I'm back in Hong Kong (SAR is special administrative region if you didn't know) after a wonderful 5 weeks away. It's nice to be back in the heat, although I miss the fresh air of Scotland. We have had a lot of rain here since my return but it hasn't affected my gallivanting, of which more later. First, a quick recap of 4 weeks in Scotland (and an hour or two in England). The first week was a whirl of family; meeting wee Jamie, seeing all the other family members old and young. Then we had a round of friend catch ups which was wonderful. Managed two two day trips down to Eyemouth, one with Les and Martin another with The Sisterhood, great time had by all. All too soon it was time to return to Hong Kong, but only for 36 hours !
My return to Hong Kong started with a spectacular fireworks display over Victoria Harbour, right outside our window! Four huge barges of fireworks were moored in the harbour and 230,000 people gathered on the Avenue of the Stars below. The main roads were closed to traffic and there were signs everywhere on the way home from the airport warning of road closures and diversions. The display was nothing less than one would expect from the nation that invented pyrotechnics. It was to celebrate China National Day on 1 October, 62 years of Communism.

36 hours later, we headed once more to Chek Lap Kok airport to begin our Vietnam Adventure.
That really was a wonderful trip, we both enjoyed seeing and experiencing brand new scenes, foodstuffs and customs. The traffic was horrendous in Ho Chi Minh City and crossing the road was not for the faint hearted. The advice I got was to keep going at a steady pace, don't change the route, don't stop and never ever go back. The motorists, cyclos (rickshaws), motorbikes and scooters weave an intricate pattern, often at high speed, but they are concentrating and are experienced, so they are good at avoiding hapless tourists. The motorbikes and scooters are incredible, I actually thought we were in a rally as there were so many of them on the road from the airport! Vietnam is a country shaped by war; they seem to have fought just abouteveryone over a long period of history to maintain their identity and independence. Relics of the past are everywhere, in the French architecture, American music and truly international feel, especially in the restaurants, where Spanish meant real Spaniards and Italian meant real Italians, both eating and cooking there. We also ate several wonderful Vietnamese meals and are now pho connoisseurs. Pho is the typical soup with noodles and shredded chicken or beef, served with fresh herbs, limes and chillis. Delicious at any time of day or night.
As I find it awkward adding pictures with text, I'll create a little gallery next blog.

After our luxurious week in Vietnam , with private exclusive transport (including our luxury sampan on the Mekong Delta), we continued to sail in style as we joined our friends aboard the Mandarin Oriental Hotel's executive yacht for a trip round Lamma island to celebrate Hannah's birthday.The weather was perfect for cruising, hot and sunny, blue skies and sea and on the upper sun deck, a cooling breeze. Add into the mix meeting new, interesting young people, catching up with older friends, a Rainbow Restaurant lunch, fabby cakes and the result was a wonderful and unique birthday party.

This week's events have included 2 coffee mornings, a talk on a project aimed at helping poor ethnic communities sell their goods to a wider market, a visit to the cinema to see The Help, invitations for dinner on both Friday and Saturday and a cocktail reception prior to a talk and photographic exhibition on African wildlife. My usual activities also continue; my 2hr Cantonese lesson and the poetry group. We've also ordered all the new bedroom furniture for our forthcoming guests and my enforced stay at home for its delivery on Thursday will let me catch up on the ironing. Well, someone has to do it! I have now had a couple of contacts for a shirt ironing service, so I'll be calling them as soon as I run out of enthusiasm, probably around shirt number three ( you all know and hate it, that really thick, pure cotton one with the double cuffs)
My Cantonese tutor will be here in 45 minutes, just time enough for me to revise the colours and the complicated names of family members ( brother on mother's side, elder sister's husband, etc etc) Even though I don't actually have all of these relatives living or dead, I still have to tell him who they are /were. The Chinese respect the ancestors!
Back soon with photographs!