Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Secret doorways. They’re great, aren’t they? Just so secretive. Yet door-like. I found a fantastic one the other week. I think you might be a little jealous.
If you’ve ever been to an Ikea store, you’ll know the format. You wander for miles and miles along a snaking path through the fake living rooms and fake kitchens and fake bathrooms until you finally reach the down escalator to take you to the homeware section, which was where you wanted to be in the beginning because you only wanted to buy some cheap glasses and an industrial-sized bag of tea lights. On your way out you think “I’ll remember how I exited this place so I can bypass all the crap next time”, but with a sinking heart, you realise that Ikea has terrifyingly managed to read your dark thoughts and has only installed an up escalator. Gah! Rumbled!
Well guess what? I managed to find the secret entrance into the Causeway Bay branch of Ikea. And it’s through the doorway in the above picture. Yup – no signs at all. But just walk inside, get in the lift, and go to the basement. Ta daa! However, I would like to pass on this information with a caveat. It is hard to imagine, but you have no idea just how weird it is walking through Ikea backwards, so to speak. To the point where I felt so disconcerted, I almost wished that I had taken the usual lengthy route. It was a bit like being a salmon swimming upstream. But at least I now know the secret. And that is all that matters.
Monday, 9 November 2009
*With apologies to Virginia Woolf.
So, two months in, I decided to have a housewarming party. Why, you may ask? Well, why not? Of course, it did require some careful planning. As my flat is pretty damn small, and really can’t fit that many people, I decided that while I wanted to invite all my friends here, I was worried that if they all turned up, I’d have to get some of them to hang outside my windows cause there simply isn’t enough floor space. So I came up with two solutions. 1. Have the party on a week night. 2. Send out the invite only a few days beforehand so most people will be booked up already. And it worked a treat!
Of course, limiting the number of guests turned it from a housewarming party into more of a haphazard dinner party. I decided to make some food so that we would have something to soak up the booze. So thought to myself, what can I make that’s easy, feeds a lot of people, and can be cooked in one pot (I only have a one-ring electric hob). Ahh yes – the vegetarian Moroccan cous cous dish.
Well let me tell you now – that’s only easy in Europe. Sourcing the ingredients here was a nightmare. No one sells cous cous, the relevant spices were pricey and a pain in the ass to get hold of, chickpeas aren’t available in all supermarkets and are imported from the States (and called Garbanzo beans – who knew?!), and I couldn’t find courgettes anywhere. So I ventured to my local wet market to have a look at what vegetables they had in stock. Saw some things that looked like courgettes. Held one up to the lady on the stall, and asked “courgette?” She nodded and added something in Cantonese. Hmm. Was she agreeing with me or giving me a price? I picked out another green vegetable that may or may not have been a courgette and repeated my question. And got the same response. Hmm. This technique wasn’t going to work. I had already asked a friend what the Cantonese word was for courgette and she didn’t know. (So she asked her mum…who also didn’t know. Sigh…)
Suddenly I had the solution. I whipped out my camera and started photographing a number of green vegetables that quite frankly all could have been courgettes and then went home and emailed them to the gang, two of whom were able to correctly identify them, and lo, I was able to complete my shopping for the meal. (They’re much paler and larger than the ones you get in Europe, just in case you were wondering after all this hoohah, although perhaps you may have paused for a nap by now).
Managed to make the food successfully (although a ton of it splattered onto the floor – my cooking area is small and the pot I was using was even smaller. Fear not, I didn’t scoop it up and back into the pot…I think…) and everyone turned up – one to two hours late – but I was drinking red wine by this point and wasn’t too bothered.
So as it was now turning into more of a dinner party than a let’s stand around and get drunk party, I decided to dish up the food. In paper bowls. With plastic forks. Ah, the art of fine dining Chez Howe. And once we had all sat down to eat (an amazing accomplishment in itself given that I only have four seats and no one sat on the floor), we decided to indulge in some classic dinner party conversation. Thankfully it wasn’t as boring as some of the ones I have engaged in in London (talking about property and house prices is officially boring, people), although at one point it did slip into the dull Hong Kong Island vs Kowloon debate – see my previous post.
But the highlight of the evening’s conversation was…kitchen ovens. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. Only one guest had an oven. And damn, but the rest of us were jealous. There was even a moment of silence while each of us indulged in our individual fantasies of what we would do if we had an oven of our own – roasting vegetables, cooking a turkey, baking a cake – the possibilities seemed endless…
Maybe I’ll have to write a nice letter to Santa.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
So I decided to explore the cemeteries in Happy Valley in advance of zombie film director Andy Edward’s visit (thought I’d show him the real sites). My HK mates thought that was a weird…presumably because I haven’t yet dragged them around any graveyards as I am wont to do with my UK-based friends.
Anyway, I headed to the ironically named Happy Valley to check out their offerings – all of which were pretty different from each other. The Parsee (or Zoroastrian – y’know, like Freddie Mercury) cemetery was amazingly lush and tropical and fittingly, I was listening to Bali Ha’i on my iPod as I wandered through the foliage.
Next up was the military cemetery which was extremely quiet and austere. And featured this rather imposing grave:
Like many HK cemeteries, it is stepped up a hill, and as I climbed, venturing deeper and deeper into the cemetery, I realised that this could become one of those “in space no one can hear you scream” kind of situations because there was no one around. In fact, I’m not sure there was anyone in the place at all (apart from the dead – boom boom).
However, I brushed the paranoia away and reminded myself of how ridiculously safe HK is and carried on. When I reached the back of the graveyard, I ventured down a dark winding path and was rewarded with an unlocked gate. It led to St Michael’s Catholic cemetery and the most amazing steps I have seen in HK. An India Rubber tree had wrapped its roots around the steps – beautiful.
In this graveyard, I saw two warning signs – one which made me laugh (the Triad one) and one which I ignored (the dengue fever one). Of course I should have paid attention to the history of the area and its significance. Many British soldiers in the early 1800s contracted malaria and died there. So yeah – they still have mozzies. And yeah – they got me – again. Although luckily they appear to be disease-free ones. Well, I’m not dead yet in any case…although you now know some spots in HK where you can dispose of my body.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Then there’s the issue of dim sum. Well it’s a sociable meal, isn’t it? And it’s a lunch thing. And all of my friends here have these funny little daily pastimes they call jobs, so they’re always engaged during the week. And my last visitor was a vegetarian, so there was no point taking him. So in short, I haven’t been yet. However, I have discovered microwaveable cheung fun which isn’t too bad. But yes, I am craving the real thing. Maybe I should set up a restaurant that offers dim sum for one? Or maybe just set up a layabouts club so I could meet other dossers to dine with (that’s dossers with a “d”, y’hear? Not a “t”).
So that leaves the beach. Why have I not gone everyday? Well initially I was looking for a flat (settled on Hong Kong Island in the end). Then came the typhoon (despite my hatches being battened, the water still poured into my flat, resulting in me sleeping in the living room and setting my alarm for 4am so I could empty the rapidly filling pots and pans). Then I had an intensive writing project so I didn’t leave the house for a week. Then Wayne came to visit and it rained for most of his stay. I have however, made it to the beach on three occasions.
The first time was on the hottest day in September (well it must have been the hottest day because everyone’s clothes were sopping with sweat at 10am while standing in the shade), when I went on a junk boat trip to Tai Long Wan near Sai Kung. I swam from the boat to the beach and then back again (see picture). With an inflatable “noodle” admittedly, but those who have previously witnessed me thrashing in the water will know that it was no mean feat for me.
The next time was on Wayne’s second last day when the sun decided to finally show its face. We went to Shek O to meet a friend at the beach. Even though it took 90 minutes to get there (which is the same as going from my London flat to Brighton), it was spectacular. And hot! It felt a bit like being an extra on Lost with the lush green hills sweeping heavenward behind the beach.
Then on Saturday I took the plunge and went to the beach on my own. Took the bus to Repulse Bay, enjoying the hairpin bends along roads with sheer drops to one side. Felt pretty relaxed about the whole trip – somehow you don’t feel like such a loner/loser in the same way that you would were you doing this solo in your own country. Got to the beach and unrolled my beach mat. Whipped off my top to reveal my bikini underneath, then paused to watch some guy line up his friend almost in front of me and take a picture. That’s weird, I thought, it’s almost like he was trying to take a picture of me getting undressed. So instead of removing my shorts, I decide to walk a little to the left so I’m out of shot and therefore not “spoiling his picture”. Only then he stops taking pictures. Hmm. So I get out my camera and take a picture of these two fully clothed men on the beach and then, unsurprisingly, they walk off. So that was a bit creepy. (Although not as bad as when some guy photographed Nathalie and I on the beach in France. I was topless, but it was Cannes for crissakes – everyone goes topless!)
Anyway, decided to ignore all that and do some writing instead. Then it was so hot that I had to go for a paddle to cool down, and on my way back to my beach mat, some guy started filming me. Now y’all know what I look like (namely, not a fit model) and I swear I’m not some sort of delusional fantasist, but this definitely happened. Because when I angrily ripped off my (pause) sunglasses and glared at the guy, he closed his video camera and turned in a different direction. And he definitely wasn’t filming anyone else. Oh well, maybe it’s just that I look like some sort of Gweilo Godzilla (GG). Good thing I wasn’t wearing my heels then, eh?!
Am off to Shanghai, Osaka and Kyoto for two weeks on Monday, so when I get back, I shall definitely get down to some tai chi/dim sum business. Promise. Love from GG xx
Footnote: Relayed the photography story to a BBC (British-born Chinese) friend on Saturday night, who just rolled his eyes and declared that they were probably “mainlanders” – i.e. those from mainland China. And my friend Marc heard me bemoaning my lack of dim sum and took me to City Hall on Sunday to experience old-skool trolley dim sum where the ladies push round carts of dumpling goodness for you pick the ones you want. Wo hoo! Oh and the shark warning picture – that’s for Miss Watkins! She loves a good shark infested beach.
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Hong Kong is renowned for its hiking trails, so maybe I’ll ditch some pounds on a hike. Well, when they say trails, what they actually mean is nice paved paths, which is just peachy with me. When Wino (otherwise known as the artist Wayne Chisnall) came to visit, we decided to take on the trail by the Peak that winds down to Pokfulam Road. It was an enjoyable walk with some amazing views but it had two really bad elements to it:
1. I got absolutely savaged by mosquitoes and due to the fact that I’m allergic to mozzie bites, I now have welts on my legs (see pic) that match my newly dyed purple hair (see other pic). Of course, hopefully this will cease when the temperature drops and I can wear trousers and long sleeved tops.
2. The other major no-no was the spiders. In my life, I have never seen such monsters. (See pic, but you’ll have to look closely to spot it!) God knows how many more were lurking out of sight. I can only hope that they keep their webs off the main paths to prevent hikers from tearing through them. But still…it’s a worry. Do constant adrenalin surges help keep ones weight down? Or do they just mean that you’re more likely to have a heart attach at a younger age?!
Of course, I do live two-thirds of the way up a very steep hill (see pic, although you can’t actually see the top of the hill in the photo). So maybe I will achieve “buns of steel” trekking up and down the 45 degree slope every day on my way to…ahem…buy more food. Oh well, I haven’t invested in any bathroom scales for my flat, so we’ll just have to see when I get back to the UK. Place your bets now…
Monday, 5 October 2009
Similarly, I’ve now tried a number of Chinese desserts and can safely conclude that they’re all revolting. I had imagined that this would be the outcome based on past experiences, so I reckoned I would be saving thousands of calories by not eating the sweet stuff. However, it turns out that Western desserts aren’t actually that hard to come by, so it’s not like it’s gonna be four months until my next slice of chocolate cake (although it may be that long until I make a tiramisu – my local Italian deli sells mascarpone for £8 – four times the UK price!). And the local bakeries sell excellent old-skool ring doughnuts for about 30p – literally tipping the scales for a fatter me.
I also thought that I might have to give up bread (crackers – my favourite food/meal as many of you know – have already fallen by the wayside – they’re outrageously expensive and the selection is poor here). Bread is generally pretty shit here. As Vietnam Al had forewarned me, most of the bread here is sweet. Which is fine some of the time, but I have started to crave wholemeal bread or regular brown bread or anything that’s not a synthetic-looking white sliced pan with the crusts cut off (why do they do that?!). But today I found the most amazing bread at my Italian deli. Yes, it’s white, but it’s fresh and flakey with sprinklings of rosemary on the inside. It’s not sweet, yet it’s been made in a similar way to puff pastry. And they have loads of other lovely looking breads on sale that I plan to work my way though during my time here. If you’re reading this in HK, then check out Il Bel Paese on 68 Bonham Road.
Monday, 14 September 2009
There’s a typhoon a-coming. In about an hour or so. And I’m just a little itsy bitsy teeny weeny bit scared. I have found out that a typhoon is just a region specific name for a cyclone or a hurricane. Hmmm. This does not reassure me. I’ve cancelled my 6.30pm meeting as the warning has gone from T3 to T8. (T10 is a full-blown hit.) Even though it seems quiet and relatively calm outside, the clouds have been racing across the sky and many people have been sent home from work. The mid-level escalators will now shut and I think they will probably stop the ferries.
Oh well, at least this is more important than worrying about all those calories! Having said that, most HKers just laugh and say the government is being overly cautious and I have nothing to fear. But then, they also said that about those aforementioned “occasional cobras”.
Thankfully I’ve been to the supermarket and I’ve got my supplies. Including the most enormous amount of toilet paper ever. Despite the cramped living spaces and the obsession with miniaturising everything, you can only buy an individual roll of toilet paper in your corner store, or in a 10-roll pack at the supermarket. Now where the hell am I going to store this???
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
2. Further to the above point on the heat, if I want to act like a local, then I must dress like one. I have been warned that in the middle of winter, the temperature drops to a freezing 10-15 degrees. People die from the cold here. Apparently I will need a thick wool coat – and maybe a scarf and gloves too. In fact, the shops are already selling winter coats and jumpers. Of course, if it was 15 degrees in Ireland, I’d be running around in a t-shirt. But I must not talk about that. Keep quiet and button up!
3. If you’re walking along the street and you feel a large plop landing on you – fear not! It’s not bird shit. It’s just condensation from someone’s air conditioning unit high above you. Soon I hope to stop jumping in the air while flapping my arms about every time this happens. I also haven’t seen any birds in the sky, so no doubt this will help. (Is this linked to the pollution?!)
4. Creatures are scary here. Have already seen quite a few cockroaches on the street. And a rat (which my friends swear was a medium sized mouse. Now it was either a giant mouse or a rat, and my money is on the rat). Also, while someone was telling me about the wonders of living in Sai Kung (a fishing village in the New Territories – I’ve been and yes, it is rather lovely), they did mention in passing that one can find the occasional cobra sitting on one’s doorstep. Only a small one, mind. Fuck that. I’m staying in the city…
5. Every city divided by a river is also divided by its inhabitants who argue over which side is better. In Cork it’s bad, in London it’s even worse, but here it’s fricking ridiculous. Hong Kong Island is predominantly where the expat community live, whereas Kowloon is described as “more Chinese”. Both sides think the other is rubbish. HKers argue that Kowloon is “the dark side”, that it’s impossible to get to, it’s dirty, etc. A bit like the way North Londoners view South London. Kowlooners (Kowloonies?!) think HK Island is full of visiting foreigners, that it’s sterile, and that it’s a rip-off.
Now here’s the joke. You can take the MTR (tube/metro/subway) from Central (the main station in Hong Kong) to TST (the main station in Kowloon) in less than 10 minutes because they’re only two stops away from each other. Of course, have I decided which side I want to live on yet? No. Arse. Where am I going to live???
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Shops in Sheung Wan do a roaring trade selling replica cardboard products for budding pyromaniacs – Sony tvs, mini BMWs, Vertu mobile phones, Louis Vuitton bags – you name it, they’ve got a paper version of it. I actually had to fight the urge to buy the replica LV with the intention of passing it off as a super limited edition bag from Hong Kong.
Another friend wagged her finger at me, warning me (a) not to steal the fruit offerings left out on the pavement and (b) not to flick my cigarette butt into one of the metal buckets used for the mini bonfire. Who? Me? As if I would…
Friday, 21 August 2009
The courage required to partake in a peaceful protest, knowing that there was a high risk of death, is mind-boggling. In Burma, there is no such thing as safety in numbers. Demonstrations are banned. Members of the army can and will shoot civilians. Part of the reason, I imagine, is to show face. They cannot let the population get caught up in a “power to the people” movement in case they overthrow the government.
When the monks starting marching in September 2007 (part of a number of anti-government protests to remove fuel subsidies which caused the price of diesel and petrol to suddenly rise as much as 100%), people thought it would be safe to join them. The government is Buddhist and respects the monks. Their respect, however, was something of the past. This time they shot the monks too.
The film made me question whether I would have joined the protests. I believe in the cause, but would I have laid my life on the line to defend it? Probably not. I’ve already shown myself to be a lazy and selfish world citizen by having never attended a single demonstration in the past.
What is even more remarkable about this documentary is the courage demonstrated by the video journalists. Being caught filming runs the risk of imprisonment, torture, death or all three.
I urge you to watch this film for two reasons.
1. It is an interesting perspective on what’s happening in Burma, made even more relevant by the recent sentencing of Aung San Su Kyi.
2. Human courage never ceases to amaze me. And it makes me question what are the things I really believe in and how far I would go to defend these beliefs.
Ps – If you’re London-based, then there will be a screening at the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square at 6.20pm on the 11th September 2009.
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Squirrels. I still can’t get my head around people who say they’re just rats with bushy tales. I absolutely love ‘em, ever since I first saw them in Hyde Park. This year I’ve been blessed by being able to watch them cavort on my balcony. Admittedly they’re only there so they can have a nose in my recycling bin (which has proved fruitless) or have a rummage in our potted plants (which are dead anyway, due to our communal lack of green fingers). It also amuses me to think of the destruction they’ve caused to our neighbours’ beautifully manicured flowers. Oh dear…I’m sure I’ll go to hell for that.
Badgers. Another creature I first spotted in the UK. I was looking out the window when I was on a train back to London when I spied a dead one on the tracks. Well…I was hardly going to spot at live one in the middle of the day, was I?
Which leads me to one of my favourite London inhabitants – the fox. We have quite a few in our neighbourhood and I was enamoured the first time I saw one. Yes, they’re annoying when they shriek in the night (I’ve since been informed that they do this while having sex – filthy beasts), but I love them nonetheless. While visiting my friend Gloria in south London, I encountered one on my walk back to the tube. This was the first fox I’d seen with a “fuck you” attitude. I walked along the pavement behind it and it stopped and glared at me, as if to say “how dare you try and take over my neck of the woods”. Ahhh yes, a fox with attitude – how indicative of London inhabitants in general.
Postscript: After writing this on the tube, a fox crossed in front of me on my street as I walked home – hadn’t seen an a fox for months, then two in one night!
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Monday, 11 May 2009
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Why was the sun so low? Was the pressure from the heavens bearing down upon the sun? Or was the earth so jubilant at its appearance that it chose to rise up to meet it? Who knew? All she did know was that she couldn’t see a blasted thing as she strode through the town but that was ok.
Maybe she didn’t want to see anything because her mind was occupied with the thought of someone else. And how that person might change the direction her life would take.
She blinked. Once. Twice.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
The media seem to have been hyping up the event. Despite reports suggesting that there are around 4,000 protestors and 8,000 police, the media is gagging for some action. In the online news footage, viewers can see masses of TV cameramen and press photographers, seemingly making up the majority of the frontline scrum of surging people. Some news stations are reporting an escalation of violence. This, it turns out, means 19 arrests and four broken RBS windows. Hmmm. Not particularly news worthy. Compare that will the violence of the May Day protests in 2000.
Anyway, maybe we shouldn’t be worrying about bankers, and we should, in the words of Brian, consider the lilies of the field. What have they done for the global economy, eh???
BRIAN: Consider the lilies! …
WOMAN: Consider the lilies?
BRIAN: Well, the birds, then.
MAN: What birds?
BRIAN: Any birds.
MAN: What about them?
BRIAN: Well, have they got jobs?
BRIAN: The birds.
MAN: Have the birds got jobs?
MAN 2: What’s the matter with ‘im?
MAN: He says the birds are scroungers.
BRIAN: Look, the point is, the birds, they do all right, don’t they?
MAN 2: Yes, and good luck to ‘em.
MAN 3: Yes, they’re very pretty.
BRIAN: OK! And you’re MUCH more important than they are, so what are you worrying about; there you are, see?
MAN: I’m worried about what you’ve got against birds.
BRIAN: I haven’t got ANYTHING against the birds! Consider the lilies…
MAN: He’s having a go at the flowers now.
MAN 2: Oh, give the flowers a chance.
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
The other passengers shuffled in their seats. Hadn’t he seen the sign that read “Don’t play music out loud, please use headphones”? Some twitched with annoyance. Some made tutting noises. Some decided to be brave and turned round in their seats to glare at the dude. Brief glares, but glares nonetheless.
The dude was oblivious as he nodded his head to the riddims. Although maybe he wasn’t quite so oblivious. Maybe he could tell full well that his music was pissing off the other passengers but he just didn’t care.
The girl smiled to herself. The British reserve amused her. She loved the anger within the people that refused to manifest itself into any form of action. No one was actually going to say something. They would just hope that their collective anger would form a dark cloud over the dude, causing him to realise his social faux-pas and turn his radio off.
But by the time the girl was about to disembark, there was no indication that this was going to happen. And the girl laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed.
Friday, 27 March 2009
Strange. She had taken this journey a countless number of times but the thought had never crossed her mind before. Maybe it was due to the unsocialable hours in which she usually made the journey, those almost vampric periods of dawn and dusk. Maybe it was because the English weather was generally so goddamn awful that she never got to experience this beautiful, painterly light.
It somehow filled her with a longing for autumn, which was rather perverse given that part of the reason the land looked so lush was because spring had not long commenced. But that was typical of the girl – always longing for the things in the future while failing to appreciate those in the present…
The mood had filtered down to the people on the bridge. People marched across it, looking neither left nor right, yet subconsciously absorbing the colours of aggression. No one looked up.
This wasn’t right. This wasn’t what Waterloo Bridge was about. Usually the pedestrians never contemplated the origins of this bridge’s name. Why think about battles and wars when London’s beauty was spread out around them? This was a bridge for romantics. But tonight, the lovers had chosen to go elsewhere…
She immediately started wondering about the potential dangers of snogging someone with metal strapped to their teeth before remembering that she once had train tracks too. Top and bottom. Had she made out with boys back then? She couldn’t recall. Surely she must have done. She remembered when she was a teenager dispassionately kissing a boy behind a bus at a campsite on the west coast of Ireland. She must have had braces then – hell – she had them for most of her adolescence.
The couple moved off. She tried to look discretely to see where they were going. Her discretion was unnecessary. They were too wrapped up in one another to notice this random girl staring after them.
It was cold.
It was, in fact, very cold. She wished that the man she was in love with was with her. If his arms were wrapped around her, then she wouldn’t have been looking at other couples – at a girl with braces. But maybe it was ok to be alone. Maybe it makes you take stock of what’s important, makes you realise what you really want. Makes you aware of how much you long for that particular person.
Then the bus came thundering down the road and she bounded onto it. And she was happy because it was warm. And she was happy because, when she was waiting at the bus stop, she had decided that as soon as the bus arrived, that she would sit on the top deck and write down what was going through her mind while she had been waiting at the bus stop. She would write it for him.
Like sardines in a can, they sat and waited at Holborn station. Some people escaped from the train, but the girl stayed in her seat, ever hopeful that the train would move. After five minutes of sitting in expectation, there was an announcement from the driver asking all passengers to disembark as the tube was terminating at that station. As her feet touched the platform, a pre-recorded and very English voice came over the intercom: “London underground wishes to apologise for the disruption to your journey. This was due to a body being under another train.”
“Oh God”, she thought to herself. “How can I live in a city that has an automated message for when someone takes their life under a tube?”
The scary thing was, she had already been contaminated by the London disease because the next thing she thought was that she could have saved herself five minutes had she gotten off the tube when she first heard about the delay…