Brolly brigade

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Doing rainy season in style. Thank you to Scarlet and Grace for modelling my beautiful new umbrella. 

And so we move into rainy season in Hong Kong. From April until about August, Hong Kong drip-dries as rainstorm after rainstorm rolls in – the wettest months with the most sustained rainfall are May and June. Spring in Hong Kong just doesn’t exist. One minute you’re shivering under a duvet, the next you’re sweating it out in a pair of wellies and a cagoule as humidity levels soar and the storm clouds converge.

Unfortunately the mountainous topography of the Territory and prolonged rainfall can quickly disintegrate into a high risk of landslip. In the early 1990s the government introduced a rainfall warning system following a deadly landslide at private residential estate, Baguio Villas, on Hong Kong Island.

After two days of heavy, sustained rain, the steep mountain slopes behind the complex were saturated. With only an old, Victorian masonry wall holding everything in place, the mud suddenly surged down a steep gully before crashing into Lower Baguio Villas at around 2pm on 8 May 1992. Residents reported blocks 43 and 44 physically shaking as tonnes of earth slammed into them, swamping apartments as high as the third floor.

Tragically a seven-year-old boy in one of the ground floor apartments, and a council engineer who had ironically been sent out to check on blocked drains at the complex, both lost their lives when the landslide hit. Hundreds of residents had to be evacuated, some not able to return until several months later.

Extensive work has since been carried out at Baguio to ensure such as incident never occurs again, and is one of the reasons many slopes have been concreted over and are constantly being maintained around the Territory.

It also heralded the introduction of the rainfall warning system. If more than 30mm of rain is falling or expected to fall in the next hour, the Amber signal is hoisted. 50mm means the Red warning goes up, and over 70mm sees a Black warning (the highest) raised, with residents being told to seek shelter or stay indoors. Taxis stop running and private drivers become uninsured. If the Black signal goes up first thing in the morning, the school buses cannot run and schools are subsequently shut. Many a night the kids have gone to bed, fingers crossed and praying for the rain to continue.

These days, HK Observatory runs a great app (MyObservatory) which alerts you to weather warnings, and also boasts an incredibly handy Rainfall Forecast, showing you exactly where rain is expected over the following two hour period. A saviour if you’re hosting an outdoor event at this soggy time of year.

And to finish a serious topic on a totally frivolous note, Kidnapped Bookshop in Sai Kung is selling some gorgeous Hong Kong-inspired brollies this season, designed by local artist Lorette Roberts. If you’re going to get rained on, at least do it in style.

Kidnapped is at 7 Man Nin St, Sai Kung. Lorette’s umbrellas can be viewed at http://www.loretteroberts.com.

Ginger jars and jujus

 

 

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Everyone’s doing the juju these days.

I love a good pop-up shop. It’s a great way of sourcing something a little bit different and a little bit quirky – basically not a big-name brand. It’s also nice to help a small business (usually run by a multi-tasking mummy) rather than a huge, anonymous conglomerate. Give me groovy over Gucci any day.

Yesterday’s event, run by Apartment 49 and hosted by my lovely friend Tara, was gorgeous. A HUGE product range (I was quite blown away) and Tara’s fabulous lounge room was absolutely buzzing with enthusiastic customers when I popped in just after midday. From clutches to coasters, ginger jars to jujus (more about them later), as well as bags, throws, rugs, tableware, ceramics, cushions and even pool floaties – it was a deliciously eclectic range of products. And as most of the items had been sourced in Oz, they were reasonably out-of-the-ordinary for us HK gals.

Georgina James of Elsie’s Kitchen was also hard at work behind the scenes, pulling quiches and all sorts of other yummy treats out of Tara’s oven for us shoppers.

I came away with some great bracelets for added sparkle at my next ladies lunch, and a one metre-long white oak cheese paddle that I can’t wait to whisk out the next time we have friends over for a BBQ – I am relishing the anticipated complements already.

 

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Pop-up shops are a great way of sourcing something a little bit different in HK.

 

My only regret is not splurging on a juju. These amazing pieces of feathery wall art (originally they were meant as head-ware) are made in Africa, and I really regret not buying one. I um-ed, and I ah-ed, and in the end I came away without one. Oh well, all is not lost. If I can’t get along to the next Apartment 49 pop-up, I am reliably informed they will soon be selling online. Happy days.

Apartment 49 can be found online at www.apartment49.com. Elsie’s Kitchen Catering can be reached on Facebook at elsieskitchenhk.

 

 

 

 

Soul-searching

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The bamboo structure rising through the mist in Hang Hau village car park. By this time tomorrow it will be a fully functioning Cantonese Opera hall.

I was meeting my good friend Sara for a long overdue run this morning. Our favourite route at the moment is a 2.5km cycle track that loops around the high rises and shopping malls of Hang Hau. However, when we rocked up at 7.30, the little carpark nearby at Hang Hau old village was roped off.

In an age where nothing much is sacred any more, I love that Chinese culture is still richly littered with festivals and tradition. Closing an entire car park or main street to build a temporary Cantonese Opera hall several times a year is considered perfectly acceptable.

These structures are made entirely of bamboo and are incredible to behold. They are whisked up in a matter of days, and deconstructed at the end of the festival with equal levels of lightening speed and dexterity. Apparently there are only a couple of companies in Hong Kong with the skill to construct them, so these guys must be working flat-out at certain times of the year.

With both Western and Eastern cultures on the go, Hong Kong allegedly boasts more public holidays per year than any other country. Looking at my calendar, I think this morning’s efforts are for the birthday of Tin Hau (the god of the sea), which falls on 29 April this year. Further festivities in 2016 will include Buddha’s Birthday, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Tuen Ng (a whole day off to watch the dragon boat racing), Establishment Day, Festival of the Hungry Ghost, the mid-autumn Moon Festival, Cheung Yeung (one of two designated grave-sweeping days, when families traditionally hit the mountains to honour the graves of deceased ancestors), not to mention Western favourites Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year (not to be confused with the three-day long festival of Chinese New Year that falls in January or February). And then we’re back to the Western chocolate-worshipping festival of Easter. All in all, it’s a pretty packed schedule.

Adding to the drama at the car park this morning was a surge in little old ladies paying their respects at the small altar by the carpark entrance. These small structures are found all over Hong Kong, where locals come to light an incense stick (sometimes even a small fire) and food (especially oranges) is left as an offering for deceased ancestors. Chinese religion revolves around the ritual veneration of ancestors and their ghosts or spirits, as well as various gods.

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Locals paying their respects at a permanent altar in the car park.  A full fire had been blazing in front of it a little while earlier.

Chinese festivals and traditions are a fascinating and very real part of life in Hong Kong. Last year I was lucky enough to interview a very talented and interesting Western artist, Theadora Whittington (www.theadorawhittington.com), who bases a lot of her work on this area of Chinese life. I have one of her colourful interpretations of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival currently hanging on my living room wall. Please see my Published Work section on this blog for the full interview.

 

 

 

Lions and legacies

 

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Poor Stephen is riddled with bullet holes from the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941. He has been faithfully guarding the entrance to HSBC since 1935.

There’s nothing like a good quality tour to get to know a city and this morning I joined a small group to learn more about Hong Kong’s war history, viewing a handful of key sites in Central and TST.

I ashamedly admit to a very basic understanding of what happened here from 1941 onwards. Growing up in Britain means my war  knowledge is almost totally European-based –  from the numerous school projects, field trips and discussions with grandparents to re-runs of Dad’s Army and The Great Escape. My grasp of the Pacific war is pretty much limited to Thursday nights in the 1980s watching the BBC’s shaky women’s prisoner of war drama, Tenko, with my mum.

So today’s World War II tour, organised by the Australian Association to tie-in with ANZAC Day next week, was both fascinating and tragic. We started in Statue Square in front of the Cenotaph and our enthusiastic tour guide, Jess Mizzi, talked us through the bloody advance of the Japanese, across the infamous Gin Drinkers’ line in the New Territories and on into Kowloon, culminating with the grisly Battle of Hong Kong for HK Island.

We paused outside the HSBC building to take a closer look at Stephen and Stitt, the bronze lions who have been guarding the bank since 1935. They are riddled with bullet holes from where they were caught in the crossfire when the Japanese arrived on the Island. They were sent to Japan to be melted down for the war effort, but were saved and sent back to Hong Kong when an American serviceman stumbled across them and realised where they had come from. Stitt appears on Hong Kong’s paper bills and it’s considered good luck to give their paws and noses a little stroke.

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St John’s Anglican cathedral continued with its service on Christmas Day, 1941, as the Battle of Hong Kong raged outside. After the surrender on Boxing Day, it was used by the occupying Japanese as a recreation hall.

It was then on to St John’s cathedral, which was used as a recreation hall by the Japanese, and finally across the harbour to the Peninsula Hotel. This stunning 1920s building was swiftly requisitioned by the Japanese as their HQ for the duration of the war, and it was here that the governor general, Sir Mark Aitchison Young, signed the surrender papers on Boxing Day, 1941.

It was a sobering couple of hours and we only scratched the surface of this truly horrific period of Hong Kong’s history. But I did feel I had at least begun to peel back another layer of this fascinating city.

The ANZAC Day morning service of remembrance will take place at The Cenotaph, Statue Square, Chater Road, Central at 6.15am, Monday 25 April. A service will also be held at the Australian International School Hong Kong, Norfolk Road, Kowloon Tong at 10.30am.

Our tour was lead by Hello Hong Kong (www.hellohongkong.com.au) and organised by the Australian Association of Hong Kong (www.ozhongkong.com). Hello Hong Kong runs a range of historical and foodie tours all over the Territory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jungle fever

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Scarlet relaxing in the Mighty Mini – next time we’ll be bouncing up those steps to the hiking trail.

Scarlet was off school sick today. Typically with these childhood illnesses, she was right as rain by midday and bored of reading Harry Potter. I was on a deadline for a story for Sai Kung Magazine and urgently needed photos of a local village so I could file the piece, so there was nothing else for it but to strap Scarlet into the convertible and motor off down the mountain.

The editor is running a rather lovely series at the moment, looking at New Territories villages local to the Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay areas. There are hundreds of them, so it’s a series that could be running for a while.

Next month is the turn of Tai Lam Wu, a tiny little place up in the hills, sort of just below Fei Ngo Shan (as the crow flies). The sun had come out so we cranked up RTHK on the radio and beetled down the mountain with the roof down. Scarlet even popped her sunnies on. We then took a sharp left off the highway into Ho Chung (a large village which had the dubious honour of hosting a bomb scare last year, you couldn’t move for tourist buses and Pearl TV vans for a while).

Anyway, all was tranquil today and the road wound its way through the rambling concrete jungle that is Ho Chung, past the derelict Asia TV studios, and then up, up, up into the glorious mountains. We passed banana trees, flittering butterflies, village dogs dozing in the sunshine and finally crossed the infamous “blue bridge” (a 12ft python lives underneath it apparently) and then we were there.

The village boasts just a few houses, but makes up for its size with oodles of charm and a fascinating history. It was even the focus of a 2011 Chinese indie film, Big Blue Lake. You can also access the wonderful Wilson Trail (stage 4) from steps at the far end. Anyway, we snapped away and you can read all about it in the May issue of Sai Kung magazine. The story’s not exactly a front-page scoop, but I love pootling about in out-of-the-way places, so, along with the sunshine, the afternoon really put a spring in my step and a smile on my face. And we were back in time for Scarlet to pop into school for her after-school sewing club. I know. Don’t say a word. I might be a reasonable writer, but I’m a terrible mother.