During the Festival of Farewells I did a fair bit of thinking about once I left Hong Kong what I would miss and what I would definitely not miss. As you can imagine the lists for each are fairly long – I hoped at least equally so, I always wanted the ‘What not to miss’ one to be longer but when you are reminiscing, especially with champagne, I think you tend to reflect on the better things so the ‘What to miss’ list may take the honours for length.
As I was mid-Festival, I couldn’t rely on my own memory skills to recall all that I loved and loathed about Hong Kong so I got my buddies in on the act. A lot of the following is taken directly from emails that I solicited from them and that had me in stitches for some time. A lot of the feedback covered the same ground as others and my own list but there were some individual ones as well, which were so hilarious that I have reproduced exactly as written to me. Some are of course very serious, others more light-hearted and reflect the expat experience of living in Hong Kong between 2003 and 2009 for me.
Thank you for taking the time to send, text or talk me through them my fabulous friends – Ali H, Ali L, Amanda H, Amanda C-M, Andrea (now in Seoul), Bek, Emily (now in Shanghai), Gen, Georgia, Helen, Katy, Keri, Kerry, Kylie, Lynette, Margaret, Olivia, Paula (now in Singapore), Phoebe, Raffa, Rachel, Sarah D, Sarah F, Stefanie, Vanessa J (now in Sydney) and Vanessa L. In the words of Jeff Fenech and possibly many other Aussies after a few bevvies – I love youse all.
You all asked to see the finished product – well here it is, only a few months and another continent away from when you first asked.
Things to Miss
Goes without saying my friends are at the top of list to miss – but there is also heaps of other stuff!
The buzz – Hong Kong is a vibrant exciting city to live in, there is always something happening
Staying in HK over Xmas and Chinese New Year – most people pack up and leave, it is a wonderful quiet restful time, no traffic, low pollution (all the factories in China shut down) and generally good weather
The fact that a weekend away – with girlfriends or partners is available and accessible fairly readily and usually involves an aeroplane. Miss miss miss Bangkok shopping trips with the girls
Never locking my front door or anything much and the overall feeling that no one wants to mess with the Chinese so the whole city feels safe from that perspective.
Public holidays – Hong Kong seems to have one or two just about every month
Fireworks – for any and every occasion
Finally learning to like Chinese food after about 5 years of not liking it (I still am very specific but slightly more open)
The Hong Kong trail and the Greenpower hike – I will return for my third and final year in February 2010! Also just generally out and about hiking over the island and the ‘dark side’ on a Saturday morning with my girlfriends and occasionally my husband.
Yacht Club Ball – everyone must do it once, if not every year! True patrons make it to the 7am hall of fame photo. (that’s you Ali H)
Festivals and in particular the sense of family that the locals have when they really celebrate these festivals, pick any one you want and there are always family visits and meals involved – the same way an Aussie may roll their eyes and say – ahhh I have to spend Christmas with my family – you never see a HK local complain the same way about Chinese New Year
Hong Kong 7’s – Friday and Sunday with the family and Saturday adults only (which may or may not include the South stand)
Taxis – they are always there when you need one (unless its raining or after the HK 7’s), the magic door that opens on approach when your arms are full of bags or you are typing something very important on your blackberry and the entertainment value of not knowing which phone on the dashboard the driver will answer next (see also what not to miss)
Typhoons – day off work if they come through at the right time (see also not to miss list) and Typhoon parties
LKF – Lan Kwai Fong a fabulous area of bars in central Hong Kong
Sub section here for
- Al’s Diner – great music and jelly shots
- Ebeneezers – the only food to get either in LKF or Wanchai (see under what not to miss) after about 1am, perfect for the taxi ride home
- Rat Alley – where you can go instead of SOHO to sample fare from any Asian country you can think of (name is not encouraging – food is OK if several beverages are consumed in advance)
SOHO – South of Hollywood road, the restaurant district (walking distance) that you may or may not make it to after drinks in LKF
Pokfulam market – a perfect Sunday jaunt with the family
Stanley markets – not for the souvenirs (although I do have some lovely Terracotta warriors from there) but for the kids clothes – all overseas friends and relatives always appreciate some of these items, makes for cute well dressed kids all round. (see also what not to miss)
China Tee Club – a tai tai lunching venue of note
Ladies lunches in general – either of the tai tai kind or the working girl kind, I was lucky enough to have experience of both
M at the Fringe – one of my very very favourite Hong Kong restaurants, however mostly miss the fact that anytime you can choose any food you like and find a restaurant that can accommodate your fancy – the list is too long!
Bistro Manchu – serves the best Hong Kong ‘western’ Chinese food around and is an absolute winner at any time. Note – this is not sweet and sour pork and beef in black bean that you find in Australian Chinese restaurants – it’s the real thing – sort of.
Hutong , Yun Fu and Shui Hu Ju – much more upmarket versions of Bistro Manchu and well worth the visit
Wagyu – for people watching on Wyndham street
The Stoep – by junk or ferry on the weekend a restaurant on the beach on Lantau island. Email from Kezza says Go around 11.00 for lunch at 12 noon and spend the afternoon. Make sure you get a table on the beach!
(yes I do miss it but it serves South African food – I can get all the bobotie, boerewors and malva pudding I want right here in Durbs!)
The Club – whichever one it may be (Aberdeen Marina, Hong Kong Cricket, Ladies Recreation, Hong Kong Football, Kowloon Cricket) the Club keeps you sane in summer and winter, a place you can go on the weekend and your kids are guaranteed to find several of their friends and play together away from their hungover parents – most of the time. Swimming pools, bowling alleys, indoor and outdoor playrooms and pools, meals on hand – its all good. Also the sport you play that is associated with your club – I miss my HKFC hockey team very very much – go the Fabulous ‘F’oxes team!
Lamma – by junk with a meal in one of the famous seafood restaurants and a walk across the Island
Junks – fun junks, family junks, weekday junks, weekend junks, dragonboat junks, party junks – any kind of junk really.
Hong Kong airport – yes it is possible to miss an airport when it is the most efficient one in the world! 80 mins from when you land to when you get home. The thumbprint that lets you in and out of the country no silly passports required when you have an id card & the airport express train that gets you to town (although do love a car to take you straight to Pokfulam – a luxury when traveling with kids who don’t like waiting for taxis once off the train in Central).
Airport Express – can check in for your flight 90 mins before departure – IN TOWN before you go to the airport and all your bags as well. Unbeatable!
Foot & Happy Foot and other reflexology venues – a relaxing evening not complete without a bit of foot reflexology, or perhaps go before a night out or after a tough afternoon of running around town on your way home – by yourself or with friends, one of the most flexible forms of entertainment and relaxation around.
Shenzhen – or Lo Wu shopping centre to be more exact, Mike the tailor, Betty and the gang – I don’t know what will become of me without my access to the latest Jimmy Choo bag
The top of the 1000 steps – because being at the bottom is not much fun. It’s a great feeling (although not the end of the hike) and amazing that the trail exists in the middle of Hong Kong island
Dragon’s Back – on a beautiful day on the top looking over Shek O, there is no better place to be, especially if you are hiking down for lunch at the Thai restaurant
China Shop in Kowloon bay – a visit to the dark side and retail therapy all in one!
Wines and pizzas in the playground at Scenic Villas (where we lived – very scenic) on a Sunday afternoon (or any day really) and parties for every occasion in the playground – Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Lantern festival etc etc etc
Bookclub & American Idol party nights
Vegemite – because they do have it in HK and not in SA (please note all guests bring with you)
The view from One Peking place at night – AMAZING!
The above list is of course not complete without listing the people that make the above lifestyle possible at all times – the wonderful helpers. We all miss Gina so much; she was with us for five and a half years and even came for a few months with us to SA. Gina became a part of our family and we did a farewell trip to Aus so she could say goodbye to all our extended family as well, who were just as upset as we were that she wasn’t coming with us (well maybe not quite as much but they were still upset). Gina taught me how to clean the house and keep it tidy (if only I could remember how), she taught my kids their abc’s and numbers as she felt their learning reflected on her and wanted them to be smarter than all their peers (obviously) and if I remember nothing else it will be how to make a Gina spring roll – the best!
My dear friend Gen once said to me – my helper (hers is appropriately named Love) is like my wife – and I would have to agree. What working woman or busy mother doesn’t need a wife (or two or three as the case may sometimes be in HK) to make sure that all the washing, ironing, shopping, odd job management, cooking, cleaning and child wrangling is successfully done on a daily basis? How can you do it without a wife’s wife? I wouldn’t know really anymore as I am soft and weak, I still have someone who helps with the cleaning and washing and ironing here in South Africa but have taken on the shopping and cooking again now – slowly does it for me, but I am winning back the trust of my family in the kitchen, it is a rare night now when we get the commentary – but this isn’t how Gina did it.
You have to live it to understand it but I can tell you – I miss it!
Things not to Miss
Pollution – the buzz is it generally comes from ‘over the border’ but pretty sure Hong Kong makes its fair share, some days you can’t see across the harbour or across the road without a haze you need to squint through
Rules – there is a rule for everything and the subsections of those things generally, many involving not walking on the grass in most of the public parks
Cannot! – Enough said, if you have lived in HK you will understand
Fireworks for any and every occasion
Mooncakes – need I say more?
Eight months a year of 90% plus humidity
Not having a backyard
Not having much or any personal space
The door shimmy – where people slide sideways through the door with arms by their sides so they don’t have to hold it open for the person behind them leaving you to smack right into them (I am still at a loss why there are not more automatic sliding doors)
Having to carry your stroller up and down steps anytime you take it out the front door – into town, into an MTR station, just outside really
Grave sweeping festival – not that I object to it (its another lovely family occasion), but when you live beside the largest cemetery on the island you tend to get ‘locked in’ for the duration the traffic – human and motor is too overwhelming to go out for a couple of days
Queues – it seems that people in Hong Kong love to queue for anything and everything and will wait patiently in any of these queues for quite an amount of time
Sometimes convoluted customer service from large organisations – direct email excerpt as follows (thanks to Amanda C-M)
Welcome to xxxxx, press two for english … press 6 to hear another list of buttons none of which will help … press 437 to speak to someone who won’t understand a thing you are talking about … press 512 and remain calm until the person you are speaking stops talking nonsense and goes to find someone who really speaks english … oops I’m sorry there is no one to take your call at the moment, please try later…
Typhoons – day off school if they come through at the right time – and can be scary sometimes
Walking in a zigzag motion – skill acquired by local people that blocks everyone’s way when they are in a hurry to get past – also can be done while talking on one of several personal mobile phones
Lift etiquette – persons entering the lift before persons are able to exit the lift and as soon as they enter pressing the close door button – you can always tell which one that is on a HK lift as it will be the one that has faded away!
Chinese men in high pants (which also equates to high swimsuits at the beach) with not so nice teeth
Having to go to a minimum of 3 usually more supermarkets when hosting a dinner party to ensure you can get all the ingredients you require
Wanchai – after any event really, a slightly more seedy part of the island with many unpleasant bars that seem fun at the time but open you up to a mountain of regret the next day – bright spot here being Ebeneezers on your way home.
Local Chinese restaurants – like where the locals go and eat things that I am just not prepared to swallow
Stanley markets – when you whip in for something quickly just as busloads of tourists alight – not good!
Taxis – the smell of many of the taxis, the accompanying personal hygiene habits of the taxi drivers and the stop start stop start stop start stop start method of driving learnt who knows where? The thing most NOT to miss is closing the door and finding a bunch of tissues squished in the door handle you just put your hand in to close.
Some snorting and spitting that may occur in public places – western sensitivity I know but was never able to get used to it.
Peak hour traffic
Cockroaches jumping out at you from the cupboards or just wandering around your kitchen anyway – cheeky buggers
Smells that waft around the streets – particularly in summer and always when in wet markets
Smell of mothballs and / or mould on your clothing
An art gallery on the harbour with no windows
Having to empty dehumidifiers (who am I kidding I rarely did that but it’s the principle that they have to be emptied)
Bad television options even with the full pay tv package (but have to tell you South Africa is actually worse – visitors please also note bring dvds)
Probably hundreds if not thousands of photos of my very blond son taken by mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong park and the Big Buddha bedecking walls in Chinese homes
The smell of Durian in the supermarkets – ugggh
Peak hour traffic on the island – especially that bit on Queens road just before Pedder street (and that’s any time of day)
After six years only being able to give basic directions in a taxi in Cantonese – hopeless at a language with nine words for the same thing, especially when I am tone deaf (mind you my Zulu is not off to a great start)
There will of course be glaring omissions, in fact I already see some but am a tad tired after putting the above together – so please feel free to add commentary to remind us all of what they are.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder indeed – I miss these things more with time, particularly all my wonderful friends, Gina and even remembering the high panted men can bring a smile to my face. In a few years time when I make a similar list about South Africa I am sure it will be just as long and bring just as many happy memories.