Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Hong Kong Protests - what's it all about?

***Disclaimer – this is my opinion based on the (very few) historical facts I know.  If you would like a more comprehensive overview, use Google and go from there***
So, it all began once upon a time in the 1830s when Great Britain were being very naughty and doing what they did best at that time, i.e. sailing around the world, liking the look of somewhere or another and claiming it for their own, with absolutely no regard for the local inhabitants.  We all know about colonialism and the good old British Empire…
 




 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
To over simplify, there were some entrepreneurial Brits who decided to begin illegally importing to China opium grown in India, which was of course by this time a little England in the tropics, convenient for growing all sorts of wonderful crops and commodities that wouldn’t flourish in the climate back in Blighty. 
Despite the fact it was nothing more than piracy on the part of the British, when the Chinese decided that they didn’t like the illegal British drugs trade and banned the import of opium to China, the British Parliament thought that just wasn’t cricket and sent the Navy to change the mind of the Chinese.   Mainly because the British government made a pretty penny on the trade themselves. 
 
The First Opium War between 1839 – 42 led to China being smashed by the British and eventually admitting defeat.  Opium was allowed back in China, much to the delight of all the addicts the British had created with their illegal trade, and the Chinese had to pay reparations to the Brits for the loss of these highly illegal earnings.  As part of the deal, which was called the Treaty of Nanking they also agreed the cession of Hong Kong Island.   Which basically meant the British owned a lovely piece of real estate just off the coast of China and could sit there waiting to bash them again if they got out of line.
 

The treaty of Nanking being signed - look at all those British Empire chaps, so pleased with themselves...

And that’s exactly what happened.  During the second Opium War of 1856-60 it was pretty much the same story.  Only this time, at the end when China finally gave up, they had to give the Brits a bit more real estate so they got Kowloon – actually attached to the Chinese mainland.  So the Empire was growing and the Chinese were beginning to get the picture about what happened when you messed with the country that had the biggest ships. 
Eager to give it one more try and push out the British, French and any other arrogant European that was trying to bully them, the Chinese decided to give it one more go in the Third Opium War.  It actually had nothing to do with Opium this time but completes the set nicely.  As I am sure you can guess by now, the Chinese didn’t do so well and ended up giving the British a bit more land and, in 1898, the British got their grubby colonialist mitts on the New Territories and signed a lease for 99 years.   Note to old school British Empire folks – that was a VERY short-sighted move.   Always sign a longer lease, I’m just saying.
 
First the Brits got the pink bit, then the yellow bit and finally the green bit and the orange bit as well for good measure....
So, fast forward 86 years and the Chinese have started doing not so badly, stock piling all their money behind their communist closed doors, and the British have stopped being Empire-building bullies, starting to give back most of what they took – albeit sometimes a little worse for wear.
In 1984, the UK and China realised the HK lease would soon be up and started to hold talks about handing back the little British paradise in the South China Sea to the Chinese.  Again, if I had been there at the time I would have stopped negotiations, built a big wall along the HK China border and hoped we could keep them out.  However the more diplomatically-minded British agreed to give back HK to the Chinese and, on July 1st 1997, Hong Kong became part of China again.  It was a very sad day when many people cried and the rain came down from the sky in floods, as if even Hong Kong herself was weeping for the departure of her colonial master.
And this is where it gets interesting.  Why were people in HK so sad to wave goodbye to their dominating, land-grabbing masters?   There was no democratic government for HK under the Brits, but a non-elected Governor imposed by the British government who had been elected by a population nearly 7,000 miles away.  But what most people in HK knew in their hearts on that sad day in 1997 was that although life wasn’t perfect being a colony under the British, with no real rights of its own, it would be a damn sight worse under the Chinese.
At least the British had started to learn from their past mistakes – gradually handing back independence to countries they had so brutally dominated.  Allowing dominated nations to start to build and shape their own future – look at India, Kenya, Australia, Canada (for a full list click here.  It is quite startlingly long…!)
But no such luck for the poor Hong Kongers.  No flag flying independence for them.  Instead a worse fate awaited them; submission to a crueller master than before.   I will not go in to a detailed description here of China’s politics or various policies but, to sum it up, when I go to China my Facebook doesn’t work because the Chinese government have decided I am not allowed to freely share my life with the rest of the world…in case I tell them something China doesn’t want me to.  It may sound trivial, but make of it what you will and do some more research about the Chinese government, if you are interested. 
Britain made a paltry effort to help Hong Kong.  As a parting gift, it negotiated the One Country, Two Systems idea, whereby HK continues to have a certain amount of autonomy from China, having its own legal system, Legislative Council etc.  However – and you think they would have learnt from the 99 year lease thing – this only stays in effect for 50 years.  So, in 2047, Hong Kong is no longer an SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China, it just goes back to being plain old China.  Under the control of the old faithful Communist Party, who have so little faith in their own people they have never actually bothered to ask the 1.32 billion or so that live there if they really want to be governed under a Communist one-party state, where a group of corrupt old men call the shots on absolutely everything.
Anyway, Britain let down Hong Kong by not slapping it to China on the way out the door and now Hong Kong are paying the price.  Little by little, the freedoms that Hong Kongers have come to expect and value are beginning to be eroded and, by 2047, they will be non-existent unless we start fighting now to keep HK ‘special’ in terms of its place in the Chinese political system.
So, here we come to our protests today and why they are so important.  When Hong Kong was signed away by the British in 1997, China ‘promised’ that one day HK would enjoy a full and fair democratic election by 2017.  It has become clearer over the past year or so that Beijing had kept its fingers crossed when it made that promise and finally, at the end of August this year, they announced that Yes, Hong Kong can have a full and fair democratic election in 2017 (Yippee!!), but you will only be able to vote for candidates that have been pre-selected and approved by Beijing (Boooh!). 
So, although for the Chinese government – who are notoriously bad at grasping ideas that include listening to their people about, well, anything at all – this might seem like a huge step forward, to HK it is a farcical idea and one that if we do not stand up and say No now, will be the death knell of HK and all it stands for, in terms of proving itself to be a modern, democratic society that is very much separate from China proper.    The only way I can think of to describe it is if someone told you that you could have any present you wanted, from anywhere in the world, and you started getting excited and looking around and then they showed you a caveat which said you could actually only chose from these five, pre-selected presents, all of which were crap and you didn’t want. 
With all of that cleared up for you – and so eloquently explained – I just want to leave you with two more points to consider.  
As part of the great deal the Brits did with the Chinese before they handed HK back and ran away before anyone realised how little they had fought for, HK did not get its own army. So we are ‘protected’ by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China.  Now, just imagine that HK did something to piss off China and the PLA attacked HK.  We would have nothing to fight back with or defend ourselves with because our own army would be fighting against us.  Cast your minds back to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 where this is exactly what happened.  Students peacefully protested in Beijing and, because they dared to question the Chinese government, the Old Men in charge sent the PLA tanks in and the army to shoot everyone who didn’t agree with them.   
This brings me on to my second and final point to leave you with.  No one in China really knows what happened during the Tiananmen Square massacre.   Firstly, you don’t speak about it at all in China.  Like many things, you just pretend it didn’t happen.  However, if you do mention it (like I did of course, much to my poor tour guide’s dismay) you will be told that no one really knows what happened, but the government said ‘bad people were trying to hurt China’.   Yes, those peaceful students who were trying to speak to their government.  What is so shocking to me is that, today, in a world of social media and internet exposure, 1.3billion people are still kept in the dark by their own government.  It really is an achievement and would be something to be admired if it wasn’t so destructive to an entire nation.  As the internet becomes more pervasive, people in China are finding ways around government censorship but, even today, pictures of the HK protests were published in Chinese Media with the caption that HK people were ‘celebrating national day early’.
No.  They weren’t.  The protesters in Hong Kong are standing before the tide.  They do not want to be engulfed by China.  They are standing up for their right to elect who they choose.  They are showing they will not be placated by a crappy compromise from Beijing.  And, even more than that, I believe they are standing up for the rights of the 1.3billion Chinese who don’t even know what they are missing, because the Communist Regime has so cleverly controlled them for so long. 
 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Going Solo

Yesterday saw one of the hottest and best weather days so far in HK this year, so of course I decided it was time to head for the hills for a hike.  Neil had Dragon Boat training across the other side of the city in Stanley and so I chose to hike stage 1&2 of the Wilson trail in reverse, also known as The Twins.
This ramble ends just above Stanley village so I planned to tramp down the hill to join him and his fellow sailors for lunch and a well deserved beer.

It's a good time to mention that I have never been hiking alone.  It's not that I am particularly afraid, but once you have been married for a while you tend to get used to doing things as a pair and forget how once you were self-sufficient at such activities.  I used to travel the globe by myself fully responsible for everything, always carrying my own luggage.  Now Neil takes charge of the passports etc and I stand and point at the bags as they come round the carousel, while he dutifully lugs them off.   In terms of hiking, I always take the lead; plan the route, the journey there and back, make sure we have supplies and coax Neil out of bed to join me on the trail, but he is always there for carrying extra supplies and protecting me in case of big, scary monsters in the bushes.  He is not the most enthusiastic of hikers, so I decided it was time to try it out solo.  

The Twins is a tough one with a lot of steps up and down, well over 2000 if you believe the books, but I didn't count them.  It was hot, heavy going and challenging.  And I  loved every minute.

See below for a quick summary of my trip and pics from the day.

I will certainly be venturing out on my own more often.

N x

Hike:  Wilson Trail Stages 1&2 (in reverse from Park View to Stanley Gap Road)
Distance: 4.8km, approx 2hrs.   
Temp: Too hot to be out hiking (28 degrees C)
Got Lost:  Never - nearly started in the wrong direction and asked one grumpy man the way
Wildlife:  One snake.  Waited for it to depart.  It did.  Waited to find out if it was venomous until after the walk.  It was...


The route


Start of the trail

Hmmm, is this really a good idea?

Ahhhhh - here we go!

Beautiful boulders

Selfietastic when hiking alone


The Twins - After climbing and descending Violet Hill these two monsters await

The Glorious Flat - restful moments were few and far between



The last push - mostly uphill

Hoping I make it!


Up, up, up, up

One step at a time....

A snake in the grass!  I missed my best photo opportunity when it was right on the path in front of me.  I was too busy hoping it would slither away.  It did, so I was brave enough to get the camera out.  A Bamboo snake, one of HK's venomous ones. 


The last step?  No chance!

More stairs upwards



The final Wilson Trail maker for this hike

Stanley peninsular 

Feather's in her hair?

Up where the eagles fly (well Red Kites actually)




Hanging out on Stanley beach 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Back to Blogging!

Hi All,
So i know I said a while ago that I had given up blogging, but it turns out I've just got too much to say (who'd have thought!) and however infrequent, I miss my connection with you all across the globe.  So here is my first back to blogging post - Enjoy!

My last proper post was in July 2013 and time has flown.  I won't try to fill in the gaps between then and now, but will instead bring you into HK 2014 style.  After a break back in the UK for Christmas, Chinese New Year 2014 saw us in Thailand again, this time in the beautiful Phi Phi - famous for being the location for the film The Beach.  We didn't venture too far from our sun loungers, but it is a gorgeous spot and somewhere I would highly recommend.   There was a fantastic local restaurant down the beach from our resort called Jasmine which did cheap and basic Thai food with great mojitos and so this is where we found ourselves most nights for dinner.  A definite must visit if you are ever over that way.

Beautiful Phi Phi Island

View from the Tsunami escape route look out point.  


I made a catty friend at the resort

Plenty of time to relax...

We managed to make it back to HK in time for the holiday weekend.  We only had 2 days off for Chinese New Year this year as the first day fell on a Saturday, and as Saturday is still officially classed as a working day in Hong Kong we don't get a day off in lieu for that one.  Back to the 3 days next year I hope.  Anyway, to celebrate the fact we were at home for the festival we had some friends round for a lovely CNY dinner.  8 of us in total so lucky we live in a slightly bigger apartment these days.  I managed to burn my finger making onion tarte tatin during the day so had to finish cooking one handed, but it was ok in the end.  Onion tarte tatin (recipe  here) is amazing, but beware of those pans you can put in the oven!!  A great time was had by all and I wept tears of joy when one of my lovely guests said my cheesecake was better than the one you get at the HK Mandarin Oriental Bakery- Paul Hollywood, I'm coming...!

Trying to cook on with an injured finger!

Greg creating his chocolate contribution
THE CHEESECAKE

After enjoying 30 degrees plus over CNY weekend, February saw some unseasonably cold weather here with temperatures down to 4 degrees, which when you live with no central heating in a city designed for warmer temperatures it gets pretty chilly.  Big jumpers and temporary heaters were called for, for just over a week, which is very unusual.  If it does get that cold here it is mostly only for a day or two.  I am very happy to have been able to put my winter coat back in the wardrobe, hopefully for good until next year.  It's not quite time for flip flops, but almost!

 
In bed with woolly hat and extra blanket - so much for tropical  temperatures!

Ready for Bootcamp in the freezing cold.

The cold even drove Madge to sit on my lap - that rarely happens.


Of course what would a blog update be without news of a brunch and we had our first of 2014 at the Mandarin Oriental and toasted my big bro on his birthday.  A great time with friends and family.  I wasn't too full or too sozzled on that Sunday afternoon so I think I may finally have cracked this brunch lark.  I have another one tomorrow, so I can test that theory.


Cheers to Bruce at our first brunch for 2014.

So that's about that for this update.  We are looking forward to the Easter break, but have decided to stay home this year for a staycation.   We have our first HK guests for 2014 confirmed for the end of April and can’t wait to have our friends from down under here as they whizz through Hong Kong en route to the UK.   I am very much looking forward to hosting them and showing them the best that HK has to offer.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before we have a few more house guests confirmed for later on in the  year!

At the end of April we are off to Vietnam, to Hoi An, for a week so I'll write my next post when we get back from there. 


Lots of love to all


N x

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Travels Around...

It has been 3 lovely years that I have been here in Asia now and one of the things I am asked most frequently is where are the best places to travel when you have Hong Kong as your home hub.  I thought I would write a quick post about some of the options for easy travel in Asia…

Most of us busy workers in HK only have a long weekend or a few days tagged together over a Public Holiday to make the most of our new continent.  Compared to the UK we get very little annual leave so the days are precious and travel time needs to be as short as possible.  We always try to find new and exciting destinations that are a short, direct flight away from HK to save time and leave the more adventurous travel for longer holidays like Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Short Breaks:

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – Malaysia.
My top, top tip for a short trip from Hong Kong is Kota Kinabalu on the gorgeous island of Borneo.   This place is simply perfect for a short break, especially if you opt to stay at one of my fav hotels ever, The Sutera Magellan

This hotel is only a 10min drive from the airport so if you are trying to max out your sun lounger time this is for you.  A little on the pricy side, but totally worth it!  KK also has 2 Shangri La resorts if that’s your thing, like most other expats in Asia.  But I always say if you stay at the Shangri La everywhere, you may as well just go the Shangri La in Hong Kong.  Come on HK folks, be a bit more adventurous with you hotel choices!

There is plenty of stuff to do here to if beach lounging gets a little tedious (as if!).  You can see Orangutans in their native Borneo home, step back in time on the North Borneo Railway or for the more active amongst us, you can even climb Mount Kinabalu.   Can you tell I love it here!?

Cebu – Philippines.

The Philippines is close by to Hong Kong and has a myriad of beautiful islands and beaches on offer.  The problem is that not many of them are a short hop away and when you only have a few days Boracay, however lovely, just seems like too much of a pain to get to.  So head to Cebu if time is short.

Not the most picturesque of places outside of your resort as the town itself is pretty built up and industrial.  However the beaches and views are lovely and of course, if you are so inclined, there is the ubiquitous Shangri La.  My choice was the Crimson Resort which is again a fairly short drive from the airport and we loved it.

We flew with AirPhil Express who were very cheap, really efficient and a far cry from the usual budget airline experience (the usual Air Asia encounter does not get one in a relaxed holiday mood!). 

Thailand – Koh Samui. 

Thailand is probably the easiest short hop from HK since there are plenty of direct flights and many options to explore.  Phuket is the obvious choice and is great for an easy holiday.  My choice would be Koh Samui for something a little different.

BangkokAirways do direct flights and they are a great Boutique Airline that help you to feel like you are in the land of smiles right when you get on board. 

We stayed at Zazen on Samui and were not disappointed.  Anywhere that has help yourself Sparkling Wine at the breakfast buffet gets my vote every time.  

Bali – Indonesia

Bali is a little bit in the middle.   With a 4hr plus flight time it isn’t exactly long weekend material, but if you time your flights right then it does qualify for a short break.  If you can only manage a few days then best not to stray too far from the airport and the Seminyak area, since those pesky long airport transfers can really eat in to your holiday time and traffic on Bali can be problematic.  You may get feeling that parts of Bali are for Australians as Ibiza, Faliraki and Kavos have become for the Brits, but if you book your accommodation wisely you can always find a tranquil corner.  The people are lovely and the food amazing.  If you do find the time to visit Ubud it really gives you a feel for that Balinese magic that so many people rave about and that Eat, Pray, Love almost succeeded in killing for all of us.   If you can manage 5 days or a week or more then do try to venture further afield and stay in some of the more undiscovered regions of Bali – particularly Eastern or Northern Bali.  The magic becomes easier to find the further from Seminyak you go (in my humble opinion) and some of the villa properties on offer are simply breathtaking. 

Further Afield:

Sydney – Australia.

A 9 hour flight from Hong Kong, it is still a schlep to Australia from Hong Kong.  As they like to say when you get there, ‘if you have made it to Australia, you have come a long way.’  So save a trip down under for when you have a few more days precious leave and you will not be disappointed.  We spent a fabulous Christmas and New Year there in 2012 and cannot express how much I loved it!  Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley Wine tasting, a brief trip up to Byron Bay and NYE under the Bridge…what’s not to love right?  Don’t miss Cockatoo Island – bags of interesting history and a funky bar built out of a shipping container that sells wine.  If you have never tried a museum after a couple of glasses of vino I highly recommend it.  As for Sydney accommodation we were lucky enough to be hosted by our fabulous friends for our entire two week break, but there are plenty of great hotel options in the city.  Don’t be worried about staying a little further out to save some $$.  We stayed in Newtown, about 15mins away and the transport links are great.

Sri Lanka

Cheating slightly here as we haven’t been to Sri Lanka yet, but this is top of my list for next time we have a longer break.  Although still in region the lovely folks at Cathay Pacific have yet to realize that a direct flight from HK to Colombo is a necessity.  So you are stuck with 8hrs50 mins travel time with Cathay via Singapore or a slightly speedier 7hrs26mins with Thai Airways via Bangkok.   For that amount of plane hours I need a long vacation!

Sri Lanka is still relatively under developed although it is following in the footsteps fast of other SE Asian tourist traps to make the most of those of us who love nothing more than to spend our hard earned cash on high end hotels.   With beautiful coast lines and amazing wildlife Sri Lanka should be top of the list to check out while you are in the region.  And hopefully I will get there soon!

Happy Travels Everyone!

N x  

Friday, 12 July 2013

Relocated

Apologies it has been so long since my last post!
See below for the latest (and last) update.

Ocean Park Red Pandas
February saw our first visitors to our new flat and my brother and his wife's first trip to Hong Kong.  We had an absolute blast and really enjoyed it.  See below for pics of the highlights...
At Hutong


Monkeying around...

We were back in the UK in April for the lovely wedding of our great friends Dom and Vicki and also spent some good time with family and friends too.  It was very chilly at the time especially as we are now more used to the temperate climate of Hong Kong (33 degrees C as I write this!)
A Beautiful Wedding in the City of London.



Catching up with my sister and best friends...

And meeting new ones...
 

My role at work also changed around that time and due to circumstances beyond my control I am now enjoying a little more downtime than I used to have and am trying my best to enjoy it!  Not being stressed everyday is hard to get used to, believe me, harder than you would think, but I am slowly coming to terms with it and putting my energy in to me time; going to the gym, getting my nails done, shopping. I know it doesn't sound too tough, but anyone who knows me will understand that I thrive when I am under pressure and running from one thing to the next.  Too much time on my hands makes me sluggish. 
So enjoying some new found freedom we took a few days to fly to Koh Samui for my birthday.  We had five beautiful days of doing nothing on the beach and had a wonderful time.  Being able to fly to Thailand for a short break is something that I am hugely grateful for and one of the perks of living in Asia. There are so many beautiful destinations right on the doorstep that spending the weekend on a tropical beach can be a reality. 




June 12th was the annual Dragon Boat Festival and this year saw Neil take up a paddle and race with his team from the office.  I did my duty as supporting spouse from the safety of the fully catered, beer stocked junk and cheered him on when needed.  It is a fun day out, but so crowded and mental that I much prefer to watch from afar.  Unfortunately Neil’s team were not the best on the day, but there’s always next year! I love that here in HK we actually get a Public Holiday to go and watch boats race! 
Enjoying the festivities from afar!


The end of June saw me flit back to the UK for a surprise visit to my Mum for her birthday and now we have made the journey a few times it really does seem like a short hop back home.  We went to see Cliff Richard in the Park at Hove County Cricket Ground and I know you won’t believe me, but it was a great show.
  

Legend - Sir Cliff!
Surprise!















We also managed a short trip to Seoul, South Korea a few weekends ago and had a fabulous couple of days eating and shopping around a new city.  I am also on a journey to discover the secret to Korean skincare.
Korean BBQ


Spicy fried chicken - YUM

Did I shrink or is that ice cream massive?

Happy Korean Days!
 Things have been going really well for us in Hong Kong.  My wonderful husband got promoted at work which means we are now officially ‘localised’ i.e. no longer on secondment, no longer visitors with a set time limit before we have to leave.  We are local. Here for the duration, official expats, in short -  staying.  We don’t know how long for and when or where we will go next, but for right now, Teggs has officially relocated!  So this will be my last blog posting from this site.  I may start another page with a different theme to keep everyone updated on what we are up to how we are, but for right now – mission complete!

Thanks for reading over the last 2.5 years and please, stay in touch!
N x 
Our Island Home xxx