Thursday, March 30, 2006

Surprise! .... again?

Surprise surprise! As the old saying goes, everything always works out perfectly, Matt and I managed to scoot back to Jersey for (father-in-law) Guy’s 60th birthday party. Matt had a company seminar he had to attend in Hamburg in early April and we thought what a perfect excuse to go a bit early and celebrate Guy’s birthday in Jersey. And although the party wasn’t a surprise, our arrival was, thanks to the organization and careful orchestration by (mother-in-law) Sue and her secret email account – many thanks!

Aunt Caroline and Uncle Roger also came down from Liverpool as a surprise but unfortunately plans got a bit mixed up and although it was organized so that Guy would accidentally “bump” into R&C at the local grocery store, things got a bit muddled and the whole thing ended up being exposed in the parking lot. Oh well, it was a memorable moment nonetheless.

Matt’s sister, Claire, and her boyfriend, Anthony, are also here, having just moved back for a few months to work and housesit and look after the much-loved family cat, Beavis. So it was a full house indeed, so full that the septic tank couldn’t handle the overtime and some emergency measures had to be taken immediately.

Like my last visit, I’ve had the most wonderful time, taking long walks down in the valley and along cliff paths; dining on fresh veggies from the garden, locally caught oysters (Roger’s obsession for the weekend!) and delicious South African sausages cooked on the BBQ (Roger’s second obsession of the trip); meeting family and family-friends again and being immersed in what is truly a unique feel of island paradise this side of the hemisphere.

Unlike my last visit, things are a lot more relaxed: there are no worries about losing wedding rings, fixing hair appointments the day of the wedding, wondering if the sun will shine or if we’ll get rained in during the reception, setting up the marquee and ensuring all was in place, food, drinks, decoration, and guests included…. And as fun and exciting our Jersey July wedding was, it’s nice to be back and be familiar with it all, introductions out of the way with.The plan is to spend a few days in Jersey, see Matt off at the airport on the 4th of April where he'll fly to Hamburg for work, I'll join Sue and Guy on the ferry crossing to France on the 6th where we'll then drive down to the family chalet and enjoy the peace and quiet there, Matt will fly down on the morning of the 8th, we'll all chill out for a few days and listen to the owls at night, then on April11th we'll make the long yet familiar trek back to HK.

I’m quite getting used to this London-Hong Kong route on Cathay Pacific and I think we’ve seen most of the shows and movies offered on the personal tv sets for passengers. They change the shows every month so I’m quite looking forward to April’s “long-haul flight to HK” listing. I’ve seen the same episode of America’s Next Top Model several times already and it’s more than I can take. But that's later. Right now my only concern is to enjoy NOW.

Pic 1: Guy's reaction when he saw us at the door
Pic 2: Enjoying delicious fresh-caught oysters in sunlit kitchen. L-R: Matt, Me, Claire, Anthony, Roger
Pic 3:
Having a cuppa on top of hill at St. Ouen's beach. L-R: Matt, Sue, Guy, Caroline, Roger (note red Kazakh hat along with red shoes)

Monday, March 27, 2006

tribute to family

I had quite a productive day, running some errands in the morning, supervising the crew who came to fix all five air- conditionners in the flat in the afternoon (they leak water after 8 months of non-use and needed a thorough cleaning) and chatted it up with our cheery landlord who came specifically to check out the AC's and the leaky wall that has started to peel from the heavy rain these past few days. I ended up feeding him homemade spaghetti and leftover birthday cake and we made pleasant conversation about family, his and mine. A father of two, he's also got a brother in Edmonton who's been there for the past 7 or 8 years. When he remarked that i was "quite young looking" I told him, without hesitating, my age (although i said the age that i'll be turning in 8 days, small detail). But i don't think i should take his comments too carefully; he pointed to the picture of my paternal grandmother and said: "Oh, and this must be your mother!"

I decided to visit Eepo in Tuen Mun again since it had been a while. Matt and i went on Chinese New Year in January and i had a stack of photos from that day i wanted to give to her. I tried a different route and was glad to find it took significantly less time, only 75 minutes, than the way before which was about two hours. I had the HK atlas with me, but still had to ask around for the best possible bus to take. The man who was operating minibus #140M was super helpful and gave me the correct and most efficient directions. On my way back home, he was still on his run and recognized me right away. I sat up front and we chatted about HK and how i ended up here. His cell phone rang and he proceeded to answer it with one hand on the wheel. I opened up my book to read but I couldn't help overhearing what he was saying though as every word was yelled and punctuated with this long drawl that only Cantonese people seem capable of doing. I thought it was a rather rude way for someone to speak on the phone and figured he hadn't really been taught phone etiquette and so i focused my attention back to my book, wishing he would turn down the volume a few decibels for the sake of his passengers. When he hung up, he turned to me and explained what it was all about. Apparently some guy left his cell phone on the minibus and he was calling his own phone to see if it was picked up by somebody. So the driver was yelling at the guy because there was a bad connection, told him to wait for him at the main station and that he'd recognize him because on the wallpaper of the phone was a picture of this guy and his new bride.

After just being put off by his lack of manners, I was pleasantly taken aback by the driver's honesty and his sense of civic duty to return the phone to its owner. The fact is, i find the majority of
Hong Kong people to be like this: helpful and kind, when the chance comes to do so. Mind you, there are the stereotypical pushy ones that will walk right into you without an apology, push their way onto the subway before others have gotten off it, treat you with an air of absolute indifference as a customer, and so on. But the more time i spend living and discovering HK, the more i come across this kindness in one form or another. And i like it, not for what the person does for me/others, but for the fact that good manners and a sense of doing good actually exists amongst the hustle and bustle of this money-oriented city, a reputation that seems to permeate worldwide.

Dinner was simple, tasty and comfortable with Eepo (2nd grandma literally). Having been widowed exactly 7 years on Saturday, she spends most of the days on her own except when she goes to her exercise groups and dance classes. So i let her do most of the talking, although i'm pretty sure i wouldn't have gotten much in edgewise as she was just recounting story after story between mouthfuls of rice. But i don't mind at all. I love hearing tales about my dad and his siblings and imagining in my mind how they were as kids. My favourite story that she always recounts everytime i see her, is when she and her
sister (my grandma) went to pick up my dad at the local nursery. Amongst a throng of children just let out of the gates, my dad stood at the top of the stairs, scanned the sea of beaming parents and once he spotted his mom and aunt, smiled a kind of half-smile and started to go down the stairs, one careful step at a time, never breaking eye contact with them. My grandma, without letting sight of her boy, said to her sister: "Just look, all those children there and the most beautiful one of all, my son."

Friday, March 24, 2006


Since it was windy and rainy out all day, we decided to spend a nice relaxing day at home, eating birthday crepes with real maple syrup for breakfast and looking at old photo albums in bed. After sneaking in an afternoon siesta, we headed down to Soho to meet friends YK and Tomoe for a delicious Nepalese dinner. After polishing off a yak cheese salad, fish and chicken curry, okra stew, safron rice and the blueberry coffee cake that i proudly made yesterday and decorated today, we headed over to YK/Tomoe's flat for a drink. For a present, they had given Matt a replica of the Beijing Jeep that we had in Urumqi and even printed out each and every sticker to put on the model car - license plate, rally stickers, Ferrari sticker, it's really incredible! It's been a lovely day and just to be able to spend it together in the comfort of our own home and in the company of friends, is a present in itself.

Just my luck!

I've just found out that a press release was issued in late Feb.2006 declaring that dependents who are in HK now have the right to work without obtaining special permission from the Immigration Department, hooray!

It states: "From July, 2003, dependants of persons admitted into Hong Kong for professional employment or as capital investment entrants are not allowed to work (due to the high unemployment rate) unless they have the permission from the Director of Immigration. With the improving economic conditions and employment situation, it has been decided to remove this restriction to enhance Hong Kong's edge in attracting professionals. In other words, dependants of persons admitted for professional employment or as capital investment entrants will not be required to obtain prior permission from the Director of Immigration for taking up employment, just as the situation was before July, 2003."

Although this won't affect me since i've just spent the last 4 months trying to get myself 'special permission' to work, i'm really happy for the other Dependents. I may go on about this issue, but it really is cause for celebration and now, hopefully, others who are (or will be) in my shoes won't have to go through the hassle and frustration of finding employment in HK. Yippee!

Just came back from a delicious dinner down in Lan Kwai Fong, the party district in HK. Our Kiwi friend, Jonno, is visiting for a couple of days before he heads back up to Urumqi where he and a Japanese guy and an Irishman own the Fubar, the first foreign-owned bar in town. Tonight we feasted on Thai green curry and chicken, red curry and pork, fried rice in a pineapple, naan bread, sauteed veggies and a leopard garoupa with Nashi pear - by far the tastiest dish! (Matt's biting into the fish head in the picture). We eventually dragged ourselves onto the ferry, first stopping for sorbets for the boys (there was no way i could eat another bite) and made it back home. Tomorrow
is Matt's birthday and we're going out to celebrate with YK and Tomoe at a Nepalese restaurant. But before i can think about more food, i need to sleep first. Goodnight.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Singapore long weekend

Just came back from a few days down in sweaty humid Singapore, my first time in the country. Matt has managed to reap up enough air miles since starting work in November to get a return ticket for me. Singapore was what i pretty much expected: clean, orderly, filled with an incredible variety of shopping malls (including Asia's biggest bookstore) and restaurants galore! Shopping and eating have got to be the top two national pasttimes of Singaporeans, and they are extremely good at them.

I did a whole variety of things in 4 days: sipping thick mango lassis in Little India, biking the length of East Coast Beach (see pic), dining on tasty meen goreng and other local Peranakan dishes, walking around Clarke Quay's bustling harbourfront, cycling Singapore's last rural island Pulau Ubin and while searching for the German Girl Shrine being turned back by suspicious-looking policemen, meeting Matt's friend and his friendly wife for tasty otak otak, visiting the Asian Civilization Museum and taking literally 5 minutes (feels much longer when you have to pee) to go down three floors on the hydraulic elevator, watching the England-Ireland rugby match at an Irish pub in the wee hours of the morning, and finally, sampling the local delicacy DURIAN and although the smell is somewhat tolerable, the taste can be described like "an old dog burping in your face." Nuff said.

The hotel we stayed at, the SHA Villa, was a beautiful white colonial mansion, run by the Singapore Hotel Association tourism training college, where the staff are all keen hospitality students waiting on every guests' needs. I suppose it wasn't so long ago that i too was a hormonal student with excess energy all day everyday, where responsibilities didn't go much further than attending the minimal amount of classes per week possible and trying not to forget calling home at least once a week, so long as the budget allowed. So it was rather cute seeing these spotty students dressed in their pressed suits and vests serving you coffee with shaky hands and a flair of uncertainty. They are doing a superb job though.

The pace of life is definitely more to my liking than it is in Hong Kong. People seemed a lot more relaxed, casually strolling down the streets instead of the relentless power walking competitions you witness in Wanchai or Central. Even the kids there appear happy and to be enjoying life, a stark difference to the students of HK who are like walking zombies carting around huge heavy backpacks to and from school. I attribute the difference to the climate. While Singapore may be hot and humid all year round, the air is cleaner and at least you can see the sun shining against a clear blue sky on most days. You'd be lucky to see the sun in Hong Kong the pollution is so bad. Still, a few days was enough for me and i was glad to board that plane again.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A dreary Monday

Today the weather dropped to 11 frigid degrees. It also has been raining on and off, providing absolutely no incentive to step outside. Mind you, the temperature in the flat is the same as it is outdoors as there is no indoor heating here, so being in or out doesn't matter I suppose.

Featured in today's entry is Matt, seated at his home office. My desk is just behind his and although we were both sharing the one big desk in the beginning, having our own proper space has been a wise move, if not a little cramped. For some reason, we picked the smallest room in the house (if you don’t count the closet-size maid’s room) to spend 75% of our day when not sleeping. Go figure.

The opera Don Giovanni last night at the Hong Kong Cultural Arts Centre was fantastic. Performed by the Semper Opera Dresden, which is hailed as one of the world's leading opera houses, the performance included great singing by an international cast accompanied beautifully by the HK orchestra. It was much more engaging since i had just returned from visiting Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg, in addition to visiting the city he spent a large part of his life, Vienna. Now I'm no opera-fanatic, but this one is more or less able to please the masses, seeing as the subject revolves around some of life's most talked-about issues: love and death. The protagonist, Don Giovanni, is portrayed as a scheming and manipulative man, schmoozing his way to bed with a number of women, usually too naive and innocent to notice until too late. Throw in a murder in the beginning, a humorous and complacent servant to provide comic relief, jealous husbands/fiances, and a ghost come back from the dead, you've got yourself a story so successful it's lasted over 200 years! It sure beats the Sound of Music (for now), which btw, is still going strong at 41 years.

Overall, I was impressed and satisfied. We even received a free glass of champagne from the arts centre post-show! I’m happy that Matt enjoyed himself too. He even confessed afterwards that he didn’t think about the Six Nations Rugby match once! But I did catch myself wondering what the score was at intermission, ha. We made it home in time to catch the last 30 minutes of the game, where France disgraced England big time, but no matter. Apparently they have one last chance next weekend.

Oh and lest i forget to mention, even after a humiliating loss by his beloved homeland, my hubby still had the zest and energy to sing sweet words to me while getting ready for bed a la opera style! Yes, sing! And loudly!!! Where was a videocamera when i needed one?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Who's to say?

Hong Kong is an interesting metropolis in the fact that it plays host to a wealth of top-leading industries, particularly in the banking, finance and marketing department. However, there are pockets of Hong Kong that seem to have 'missed the boat' of Mass Development and so appears poor, dirty and backwards.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Back at it in good ol' DB

It didn't take long to get back into the swing of things. Everything is familiar. Only the air outside is getting stickier and you can really tell how HK summer are real scorchers.

Am enjoying listening to music again, playing guitar and attempting a new Ben Harper song, even plucking away at the fiddle!

Picked up my dependent visa, and although it technically does not allow me to work, i've arranged it with my employer so that they'll write a letter to Immigration to explain my case and get consent for me to start asap. Whoopee! Now i have to leave HK and reenter on that visa. Macau run is in order, most likely on Monday. I was there once, and they have the best egg tarts!

Getting back into shape again, or trying to at least. Frisbee on Wednesday, yoga today, and frisbee tomorrow (at a beach!) and the next day. All is well and dandy and possibly the worst news to report right now is that we've finished all our LOST episodes of season 2. We're anxiously awaiting for the next one to come out on i-tunes so we can buy it.

Saw Brokeback Mountain last night. I have to say the hype and hoopla surrounding the film is well deserved.

Bought tickets for Mozart's epic Don Giovanni opera for Sunday night. Should be wonderful and i'm excited about taking Matt to his first ever opera show... an evening of highly emotional singing, elaborate costumes and set, all compressed in 3+ hours.

Ooh, and it looks like a long weekend in Singapore is on the agenda for next weekend! Yay sun and surf! I have never flown so much in such a short time. Will have to remember to keep the chewing gum at home this time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Home sweet home

After a weekend in Vienna with Rena where we visited the grand Imperial Palace and the famous gothic St. Stephen's Cathedral, saw the European premiere of "Doubt" that won the Tony Award in 2005, ate some delicious meals (Japanese sushi and terriyaki, Mexican and Ethiopian hot pots) that weren't exactly Austrian cuisine perse but well worth the money and waistline in my humble opinion, i flew out to Heathrow on a beautiful snowy morning to meet Matt. Together we caught our 12-hour flight to Hong Kong and here we are again, back home and feeling great. Am I getting old or what, cuz as much as i love travelling and seeing the world I realize that nothing beats putting around our home in my elf slippers and having unlimited coffee at my disposal.

*Picture of DB at night taken on our rooftop balcony, courtesy of 2nd cousin Stephen -thanks!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

In a winter fairyland

Back in Prague again after a most wonderful week in Austria where Matt and I drove to Schladming (about 2 hours south east of Salzburg) and I tried snowboarding for the first time ever!

It is a sensational feeling to be gliding down the mountain on a board, kind of like floating on clouds but the most i managed was probably a full minute of actually staying vertical. It has been a long while since i've been so sore and bruised from self-inflicted wounds - wait, have i ever? - albeit non intentional.

Next time i promised myself I will pad my body like a pro footballer first. It was great nonetheless and we stayed at a cute little B&B, an old farmhouse that has antique furniture made in the 17th and 18th century. The view was spectacular and the service was sincere and friendly.

While my body was given time to heal and do nothing but sit and lie down, Matt drove us in our rented Skoda to Salzburg. This is truly a beautiful part of the world, especially in winter with the snow covered alpine trees and winding roads. All the little cafes and restaurants are decked out with gorgeous antiques, ornate rugs, paintings framed in elaborate gold and the odd stuffed squirrel and huge antlers of animals which hung on the walls. We were both feeling under the weather, coughing and sneezing mainly, so we took it easy, gorging on oranges, cough lozenges and thirst-quenching Schladminger beer. Yum.

We did the Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg, guided by an upbeat Londoner who's been living there for 9+ years. She took us to all the famous spots where the film was made, explaining the true story of the Von Trapp family and some interesting facts about the movie itself. We even got to listen to the entire soundtrack of the film while in the bus, it has been a while for me. I'm excited about going home to rewatch the movie again and to introduce Matt to it for the first time. He thought he had seen the film a long time ago, but actually got it confused with the other Julie Andrews movie, Mary Poppins! Oooops. Well, I told him it'll all make sense when we see the film later. I bet he can't wait!

One of the best stops we made was when we got to see the pavillion where Liesl and messenger Ralph sang their famous "16 going 17" song, where they leap up on the benches and dance with each other, declaring their love and sharing their first kiss - remember? Anyways, although you can't go in and recreate the dance and song, you can stand outside it and take a picture. Apparently a few years ago an 82 year old woman went in and tried to leap from bench to bench in the pavillion while singing and broke a bone (leg or ankle i think). Since then, they've kept the doors locked.

For our last night in Salzburg, we went to a dinner-concert show in the Old Town where musicians and opera singers dress in old period costumes and entertain us with Mozart's famous works, mainly from his operas: The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni and the Marriage of Figaro.

We drove back to Prague yesterday along the German-Czech border - an enchanting ride through the rural areas where we saw lots of solar panels on roofs of houses and barns, and we even spotted a wind turbine - returned the car and parted ways once again where Matt caught a flight back to Hamburg and I went to see my friend, Rena, and her boyfriend, Brian. They met while doing their TESL certificate on a bus tour last year which took them on a dizzying whirlwind tour of Europe (you can imagine the stories and gossip that got generated). It's been great to catch up with Rena, an old childhood friend from Cornwall, and to just hang out again. It feels very natural even though we haven't seen each other for years, a sign of a solid friendship.

Last night we went to a Balkan restaurant and I met some of their friends who are also here teaching English. Today has been really relaxed and we're planning on cooking some curry and couscous to go along with a movie. Perfect plan, and i miss cooking too believe it or not. Tomorrow, Brian, Rena and I will choo-choo our way down to Vienna and hopefully catch a concert or two there before i fly out to London on Sunday to reunite with Matt for our long flight back home to Hong Kong. It will be oh so nice to sleep in our own bed again.

I just found out today that my visa in Hong Kong has been approved by the Immigration Department - cue shrieks of joy and jubilation! This gives me the green light to start work. Fantastic.