Hong Kong’s American Women’s Association (AWA) is launching a charity women-only art exhibition and auction, Art On The Line.
Over 200 artworks by professional, amateur and student artists from around the world will be displayed for one night only, hanging on a line. This year’s artistic line-up hails from countries including Germany, the US, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong, creating what is Hong Kong’s largest international art exhibit and sale featuring exclusively women artists.
“It’s such a coup to have this collection of such great artists all in one place,” said co-chair J’nee Hilgers-Easter. “Not only to kick off ‘Art Month’ in Hong Kong, but also raise the profile of these enormous talents right before International Women’s Day on March 8th. It’s an honor to be able to showcase these women and celebrate their achievements while doing good for the community.”
All money raised from the event will go to charities and scholarships that serve Hong Kong’s community. Previous Art On The Line events have raised over $500,000.
Art On The Line takes place 6-10pm, March 1, The Annex, Nan Fung Place, 2F-6, 173 Des Voeux Road, Central. Follow the event on Facebook or see www.awa.org.hk.
Make 2018 your best holiday year yet. Carolynne Dear finds out where the travel experts will be hanging their beach towels this summer
Living in Hong Kong and thus reasonably central to most destinations, the exciting prospect of family adventures overseas often turns into an overwhelming wishlist of potential destinations. So where to start?
For some, the lure of ‘home’ will outweigh many other considerations. But what if you want a ‘proper’ holiday once the relatives have been visited and old friends caught up with?
Of course travel with children throws up its own set of challenges. Most of us want to see or to do something a bit different on holiday, but how do you marry that with the demands of smaller globetrotters?
Lucy Jackson, co-founder of luxury tour operator Lightfoot Travel, is a mother herself and well versed in the needs of families.
“People like to get off the beaten track, but with littlies in tow it’s important to be practical as well,” she says. “Is there a decent chemist or doctor within reasonable reach, for example?”
Lightfoot is a luxury tour operator with offices in Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong (and one more about to open in Sydney), specialising in tailored holidays to countries all over the world. A staff of forty works across the offices and are sub-divided into teams of experts. These specialists visit ‘their’ area at least twice a year to keep up to date with new openings and developments and there are also teams of people ‘on the ground’ that Lightfoot works with. From being able to recommend the hottest chef in town, to just being aware of nitty gritty infrastructure information, it’s these sorts of detail that can ‘lift’ a holiday from fun to fabulous.
“One example is the new expressway between holiday hotspot Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka and the capital city Colombo,” says Jackson. “It’s nuts and bolts detail, but it knocks an hour off the 120km journey time and makes things much more comfortable. It’s this sort of information that makes a whole host of resorts much more ‘do-able’.”
Of course Lightfoot team members are on-hand to make recommendations for the more exciting side of travel and basically ‘pimp up’ your holiday. “We recently hosted a family 70th birthday party in Sri Lanka,” explains Jackson. “We were asked to recommend a restaurant, but I knew of a fantastic local chef who could be brought in to create a memorable dinner. We decorated canopies with flowers by the rice paddies and it was a very special evening.”
According to Jackson, multi-generational travel is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in expat territory like Hong Kong. “Families often request best ‘meet-up’ destinations. I would say if you’re hooking up with European-based family, Sri Lanka is a great option. It’s pretty much halfway, the villas are gorgeous – think Bawa-style charm, lots of space, large rooms and of course they are fully serviced. With small children in tow, villas are always preferable to hotels. When you’re up at sunrise with tiny tots, you don’t want to be told the hotel breakfast doesn’t open until 8am. With a villa holiday, you can completely tailor your holiday to match your needs.”
If you’re Europe-bound, Italy is still on many wish lists, with a bit of everything for everyone. Croatia is enjoying a lot of interest, as is Montenegro. “I do think people are trying to find something a bit different in Europe and Montenegro ticks that box,” says Jackson. “And of course interest has risen since Aman Resorts opened on the Adriatic.
Tour agent Flight Centre (flightcentre.com.hk) agrees. “If you want to get off the beaten path and visit a destination before it’s overrun with tour groups, Montenegro certainly fits the bill,” said a company spokesperson. “With pink sand beaches, soaring mountains and lush forests, there are plenty of breath-taking natural sites to take in, juxtaposed with a treasure trove of medieval architecture.” The tour company recommends trying the Aman Sveti Stefan for a Balkan seaside getaway, or taking a sailboat along the Adriatic coast. “The ancient town of Budva is an interesting stopping off point.”
Portugal is also enjoying a bit of a resurgence – it’s affordable, there are lots of boutique hotels opening at the moment and it’s a great family destination.
“Often overlooked, Portugal is currently perceived as ‘safer’ than other European destinations due to recent terrorist events,” said Mark Thomson, a director at Minor Hotels which is owner of the Anantara resort group (anantara.com). “It’s loaded with culture and also has some great coastline and beaches.” The group has recently acquired a property on the Algarve, its first step into Portugal. The Anantara Vilamoura Algarve Resort overlooks the Victoria golf course and boasts 280 rooms and suites, five swimming pools – including a children’s pool and Palms outdoor pool, both of which are heated from October to May – kids and teens clubs, family activities, babysitting, and is just a few minutes drive to the beach, bars and restaurants of Vilamoura.
Hawaii is also rising in the popularity stakes, especially with more flights opening up the Pacific islands to Hong Kongers. Scoot is planning a flight to Honolulu by the end of this year. With beaches, shopping and heaps of activities, it’s a destination that suits all ages and budgets. “Catch a helicopter flight to Haleakala National Park, Haleakala Crater and Hana Rainforest Preserve, the largest rainforest in the United States,” says Jackson.
And what of the ‘shoulder season’, in March and April and again in October when most school half-term holidays pop up but there’s not so much time to travel long-haul?
“Oman is bucking the mass tourism trend and offers a ‘rarefied’ experience due to the relatively few travellers who visit,” says Jackson. “It’s a decent mid-haul destination and has got that exploratory feel – going out in dune buggies and so forth. But you can also pair it with a beach holiday around Muscat or Six Senses Zighy Bay on the Gulf of Oman – on arrival you’re taken up the mountain and invited to paraglide into the reception area – and with a heap of other activities it’s great for teens looking for a bit of adventure. March and April is also a good time of year weather-wise for the Middle East, mid-summer is too hot.
“Take an eight-day tour from Muscat, discover the Harjar Mountains and take a 4WD tour under the craggy peaks of Jebel Akhdar, stop at picturesque fishing village Sur which is famous for its traditional Dhow boat building, and finally enjoy a luxury safari-style tent and candlelit dinner,” says Jackson.
Anantara resorts recently opened Al Baleed Resort Salalah along the south coast of Dhofar. The hotel includes kids and teens clubs and is minutes away from UNESCO World Heritage Site Al Baleed Archaeological Park with grand mosque ruins and the Museum of Frankincense. The resort offers a 250 metre beach, outdoor infinity pool, spa, sports courts, watersports, dive centre, cocktail classes and Thai and Arabian cooking workshops.
“Personally, I like Vietnam and Cambodia for those in-between holidays,” admits Jackson. “My picks would be the Four Seasons Nam Hai and The Victoria in Hoi An. In Siem Reap the Belmond is lovely and I have heard good things about Phum Baitang Hotel, which is a sort of ‘green village’ made up of Cambodian architect-designed villas and was of course where Angelina Jolie stayed during the filming of First They Killed My Father. Siem Reap is great for families, we can set up picnics amongst the temples, bike tours, boat trips on the lake – it’s very affordable and you can do it in just four days or so.”
And for Jackson herself? An extended family holiday in Noosa is on the cards for Chinese New Year, then she’s hoping for a trip to either Sri Lanka (“my favourite Asian destination”) or Sira Beach House in northern Lombok – overlooking the Gili Islands and a watersports lover’s paradise.
“The only issue with Lombok is the non-direct flight, but just take that extra leg and you will get so much more out of your holiday. As a company we pride ourselves on making these transfers as seamless as possible so clients are ushered from one flight to another without complications. We check that car seats and baby seats are in situ and everything has been thought through.
“Lombok is great, it’s super safe and a bit of an antidote to bustling Bali. There’s golf, diving and you can cycle around the villages. To be honest, we don’t recommend guests stay overnight on the Gili’s anymore as they’re getting a bit of a party reputation, but Sira Beach House is gorgeous. And the locals are so friendly, you go out to a restaurant in Lombok and the staff will literally take my baby boy out of my arms and start cooing over him.”
Another family favourite for Jackson is Dedon Island Resort in the Philippines. Again, it’s an add-on flight – you fly to Cebu and then on to Siargau – but worth the extra effort. The tear-drop shaped island is reef-fringed and the resort all-inclusive.
For more information or to ‘pimp up’ your own holiday, contact lightfoottravel.com 2018 openings…
Bali – next month sees the opening of COMO Uma Canggu, a 53-bedroom resort on the south coast. Boasting a further 66 one-, two- and three-bed apartments and 12 penthouses with private pools, the resort is sure to prove a popular addition to the holiday island. It will also offer an in-house surf school and a beach club, comohotels.com
Laos and Cambodia – fancy getting back to nature but don’t want to rough it? Luxury tented accommodation will be hitting Luang Prabang in Laos and southern Cambodia this year. Rosewood Luang Prabang is a top notch tent and villa encampment located in a forest setting by a meandering river and waterfall. The five 100sqm tents feature Laotian and French colonial furnishings, private dining areas, wrap-around decks and a spa, rosewoodhotels.com
Shinta Mani Wild straddles Bokor and Kirirom National Parks in Cambodia with 16 sophisticated tents along a 1.5km stretch of riverbank. Opening mid-year, enjoy wildlife excursions and private boat expeditions,shintamani.com
Montenegro – Europe’s current ‘hot spot’ sees the opening of five-star The Chedi in Lustica Bay this year. With views over the Adriatic, this new development comprises 110 rooms, two restaurants, a bar, outdoor pool, heated indoor pool, spa and fitness area, ghmhotels.com
Chile – the South American destination is top of many bucket lists this year, so the capital city is no doubt happy to welcome the arrival of the five-star Mandarin Hotel Santiago. The hotel is located in the popular Las Condes district and boasts 310 rooms, 23 suites with views over the city and the Andes, a large outdoor pool and five restaurants, mandarin.com
Family friendly-hotel openings this year include Six Senses Fiji, Malolo Island and Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, China
Six Senses Fiji will be offering villa accommodation, each with their own private plunge pools positioned on the western side of the island. The property will also have two gourmet restaurants, an outdoor pizzeria, three bars, a gourmet food market and walk-in wine cellar and tasting room. A customised wellness and spa experience as well as treetop yoga, a state-of-the-art fitness gym, tennis club, a kid’s recreation club, water sports and two full-service marinas for yacht mooring and chartering completes the picture.
Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain in Chengdu, China is located at the gateway of the picturesque Qing Cheng Mountains. Fun family activities include panda tours, movie afternoons, river rafting, tennis, cycling, tai chi and yoga classes, an indoor pool, night-time photography tours, Sichuan cooking classes and historical tours to nearby ancient towns and heritage sites.
Start 2018 as you mean to go on – reduce, reuse and recycle. An environmental initiative from local university student Kathryn Davies hopes to rid Hong Kong of plastic bags. Find out how to join the movement…
What’s the big idea?
My big idea is to kill two birds with one stone – upcycle unwanted fabrics such as scraps from the textile or hotel industry to stop them going to landfill; and to create reusable, cloth bags that are a cheap alternative to plastic shopping bags. A further goal is to offer employment to those in need, particularly women.
How did it come about?
I was working on a PhD at Hong Kong University (HKU) until quite recently, but I was frustrated with the disconnect between lofty research and down-to-earth problems. Since being in Hong Kong, I’ve been mesmerized by the stunning natural environment that we have, but through participating in beach cleanups I have been heartbroken to see the senseless, even selfish, damage that we are causing. So, I decided to focus my time on doing something practical that would address the very real problem of plastic bag pollution. I thought putting together my skills with sewing would be the most realistic thing I could do.
So how does it work?
I want to create new systems of consumption and shopping so that there are reusable bags in place of plastic ones. The idea might involve rethinking how we can conveniently get reusable bags to where people need them – such as the supermarket or bakery – and how we could create a system for returning them. We’re very much in the planning stages at the moment.
How long has the idea taken to evolve?
It’s been brewing in my mind for a couple of years – as a PhD student you do a lot of procrastinating – but it was last September that we started to set the ball rolling by collecting fabric and sewing our first bags. We have just completed our first semester working with HKU social venture management students and we are still considering how best to move the idea forward. In the near future we hope to reach out to businesses who could distribute the bags, either as packaging for their products or directly into supermarkets.
How can readers get involved?
I hope one day all Hong Kongers will have a convenient reusable bag option available to them as an alternative to plastic bags. We may not be able to accomplish this easily in Hong Kong, so we may have to start by distributing the cloth bags to other countries where laws and habits are already favourable to less plastic consumption. I would encourage everyone to always carry a reusable bag with them – with each small change a difference is made. And I’ve discovered myself that it’s really not that inconvenient to live without disposable packaging. I’m also hoping to start up volunteer workshops, so people can come and help us sort and cut up the fabric to send to the ladies who sew for us. I’d love for Expat Parent readers to like us on Facebook and follow us when we advertise sales at local markets. Please do drop us a line and order some bags – our first prototypes! We hope to formally launch mid-year and have a website up and running by the end of this month, so stay tuned.
We’re not sure at this stage whether this is a good or bad news story for Brit expats living in Hong Kong, but UK retail giant Marks & Spencer has confirmed the sale of its 27 stores in Hong Kong and Macau to its long-term franchise partner, Al-Futtaim.
Al-Futtaim, a global trading business head-quartered in Dubai, has partnered with M&S since 1998 when it opened Dubai’s first Marks & Spencer store. This latest sale was completed on December 30 for an undisclosed sum. The stores will keep the M&S name under the franchise agreement and the sale means Al-Futtaim now operates 72 Marks & Spencer stores across 11 markets in Asia and the Middle East.
The sale follows a strategic review of M&S’s international business in 2016 which has so far resulted in the shuttering of 53 loss-making outlets in markets including China and northern Europe. The UK retailer entered the Hong Kong market in 1988, but
following foreign business losses of $43 million last year, it now aims to place a greater focus on established franchise and joint venture partnerships and pull back from wholly-owned markets.
This latest sale leaves overseas M&S-wholly owned stores in just Ireland and the Czech Republic.
From bubbly tv presenter to energetic party organiser, it’s been a rollercoaster journey to yogic bliss for Mindy Tagliente. She tells Carolynne Dear her Hong Kong story
When I was at university in England in the early ‘90s, I used to come to Hong Kong to visit family, look after my cousins and work in the bars. This was during the long summer holidays and I needed to bump up my finances for study. I totally loved the fast pace and buzz of the city. So much so that after I graduated I made the decision that this was the perfect place to start my career in television. I moved on April 17 1997 – I remember it clearly.
There have since been many highs and many lows – but luckily mainly highs. One of my biggest career highlights was presenting and producing a children’s show on ATV. I was pretty much given free reign and I tried to empower children by raising awareness about various, cultural, social and environmental issues.
The lowest point was when my programme was axed. It was decided that there would be now more English speaking productions filmed in Hong Kong. That was a turning point in my career.
I headed a start-up company in 2000 that focused on empowering young people through on and off-line market research, entertainment and online television. It was a great project but a little bit forward thinking. Not many people believed us when we said in a few years everything would be accessible from their phones! Sometimes timing is everything. So I decided to take a step back from the corporate world and start a family.
These days I’m a yoga instructor living in Sai Kung with my husband and three children. Yoga and wellness have always been a big part of my life so I thought it would be a good thing for me to pursue. I thought teaching yoga would allow me a degree of fIexibility (both literally and figuratively!) whilst concentrating on starting a family. So in 2004 I ended up founding Yoga For Life, the first organisation in Hong Kong to offer private yoga classes at home. I then went on to co-found Events for Life with a good friend – we organise all kinds of things, including wellness retreats.
I love everything about yoga. It keeps me young, grounds me after 20 years of practising and it’s become a huge part of my life. The physical aspects, like that all-round sense of well-being that you feel after every class, is just one reason why I would recommend yoga to anyone of any age. For me, it creates space in my body and space in my life, which allows me to see situations more objectively. It allows me to respond to events instead of react to them – well, most of the time. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to bring your mind and your emotions into a physical practice. Over time, you find you get better at aligning them and you finally manage to arrive at that place you never thought was possible – a handstand for instance. It’s an incredible feeling.
I teach classes all over Hong Kong. Although private classes is the majority of my work, I do hold a couple of group sessions in Tseung Kwan O and once a month I hold half-day retreats at Five Elements at the Hong Kong Golf and Tennis Academy in Sai Kung. These retreats include yoga, wellness treatments and the best plant-based lunches in Hong Kong at the Academy’s vegan restaurant.
Life is hectic, but in my spare time I like nothing better than hanging with my family in my pyjamas watching a good movie. If I’m out and about, I love heading over to Sham Shui Po to source new ideas for our events business. And I love my home in Sai Kung for its hikes, countryside and laid back nature – a rare thing in Hong Kong.
My favourite spot in Hong Kong? The view from the Peak at night – it still sends shivers down my spine after 20 years.
I have no resolutions this year. I gave them up a couple of years ago after realising I was just putting more pressure on myself to achieve goals that were often unrealistic. Ironically once I stopped making them, they started happening.
Local student Sammy Freeman opened her very first exhibition over the weekend. Here’s why you need to check it out…
Your images are stunning. What inspired the fascination with water?
I think I was supposed to be born a fish or something. I’ve found if I’m out of the water for too long I get anxious and a little bit insane. After finding surfer magazine I was so inspired by the works of Chris Burkard and Clark little, I knew I had to combine the two passions of water and photography. I find that shooting the ocean is so unpredictable and exciting, yet so comfortable and natural to me. You never know what you’re going to come out with, no matter how much you plan.
How tough is it shooting aerial images?
Aerial images are getting more popular as technology develops. I invested in drone just six months back and have managed to practice non-stop, it’s so much fun. The drones are very user friendly making it easy to direct and control. It took a while to learn and gain confidence and I have crashed it a couple of times but that’s all part of the fun.
You studied at ESF King George V School in Ho Man Tin, what sparked your interest in photography?
I have been a creative being for as long as I can remember. My interest for photography came a lot later in life, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and needed spinal surgery at the age of 14. I had to give up playing rugby which was the end of everything (or so I thought at the time) and my parents bought me a basic SLR as a get well soon gift. I spent my recovering days in the garden taking photos of my dogs and fell in love with it
Was there a teacher who inspired you?
Mr Baker! He was my drama teacher and although he wasn’t an art or photography teacher, he seemed to have a huge impact on my creative pursuits. I didn’t have the best attention span in school but I think he could tell I had it in me to be better, he gave me an ‘E’ and I remember crying so much and changing my attitude in an instant. Thanks Mr B!
How did you develop your interest in school?
My hobby started developing into something more when I finally took photography as an A-Level in boarding school. I seemed to get more encouragement from teachers who saw I had an eye and a passion for photography than I ever got before, my work was featured in the school gallery a couple of times and I decided to start working on it more, putting in time for volunteer photography work to build up my CV.
You’ve travelled all over the world for your work, what’s been favourite destination?
I’ve been so lucky and I have never once taken it for granted. My favourite place is a tough toss up between Iceland and South Africa. South Africa for the incredible surf and amazing people and Iceland for the landscapes that are out of this world, I just wish I could somehow combine the two!
What’s your favourites piece so far?
A photograph I took in Iceland of an Arctic fox. The journey I took getting that photo and the memories it brings back when I’m looking at it are what I love most about it. I think that’s so important when looking at photography, it shouldn’t just look pretty, it should hold some sort of emotion that captivates you at the same time. What you see may be completely different to what someone else might see or feel.
Can you tell us about Turtle Bay (pictured above)?
This is my favourite piece in the current exhibition. It’s a drone photograph that I had in mind for a while before capturing it. I got up really early that morning so that the tide would be out (and I am NOT a morning person) and I managed to capture exactly what I wanted, if not more.
And after this exhibition, what plans do you have?
I would love to be able to make a career as a photographer, all my efforts right now are aimed in that direction. There’s a lot of skepticism and negativity around the subject as it is a tough industry to break into, but I believe I have the motivation, skills and head start needed to do so. I am so happy to have my first solo exhibition at H Studio, it’s such a great opportunity to have as an emerging photographer.
Any advice for budding young photographers in Hong Kong?
For sure! I definitely think it’s important to not get too hung up on photography gear. Some of my best and favorite shots have been taken on my iPhone and I think starting out this way really teaches you the raw form of the craft rather being all caught up in specs. Another piece of advice is to keep on going. Keep practising, experimenting and don’t be afraid to fail, it’s all part of the learning process.
Jade Jungle, Crimson City runs until Nov 30, 12-4pm (closed Wednesday), H Studio, 1/1 Wan King Path, Sai Kung, www.sammyfreeman.com
Hong Kong has a fantastic burgeoning local art scene. Sai Ying Pun resident Flo Traissac will be exhibiting this week at the Visual Arts Centre on Kennedy Road. She tells Carolynne Dearwhy she’s inspired by her local neighbourhood, an area that was the site of the first landing by the British military in the 1840s (it literally translates as ‘western camps’) and is now one of the territory’s hippest suburbs
I arrived in Hong Kong just over five years ago. I originally came from Australia for personal reasons, but I ended up staying longer than intended.
I live in Sai Ying Pun with my children Chloe and Noah and my Australian cat, Oscar. I love the area’s vibe, the mix of traditional and new and its proximity to great transport and things to do. There are so many little cafes and restaurants that I enjoy, the parks and public swimming pool – it’s so convenient. I love the juxtaposition of Hong Kong’s amenities, local markets backed up against big shopping malls. It’s changed a lot since I’ve been here and in a very short space of time.
I graduated in art, graphic design and advertising in Paris and worked as a graphic designer before moving into fashion. I studied at both the Ateliers Met de Peninghen and later the Ecole de Communication Visuelle. I’ve done a lot of different jobs but my passion has always been drawing. I’ve drawn since I was a kid and it was the thing I really loved doing. But I didn’t study in this area as I didn’t think it would realistically become a paying job for me. The hardest thing is to believe in yourself, but once I did it all worked out and now I draw and paint for a living.
It’s always stimulating arriving in a new place. After a while, you start to see things through different eyes. When I first arrived from Australia, the streets in Hong Kong spoke to me. There were so many stories to tell, it was like theatre for me, every corner held a little bit of magic.
Some of my favourite artists include Klimt, Egon Schiele, John Singer Sargent, Fernand Leger, Bonnard, as well as the drawings by Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso. At the moment I’m working on four separate client orders and also preparing for my next Hong Kong exhibition, which is being held this month at the Visual Art Centre. I have recently been contacted by a New York gallery which is incredibly exciting. Paris is also on the cards, so I have a busy year ahead in 2018. I will also be working on some new art wall projects around Hong Kong.
When I’m not painting, I enjoy going to the beach and just spending time with my children and friends. Deepwater Bay is the easiest for us to reach, but we also enjoy a day out at Clearwater Bay. One of the best things about Hong Kong is being in the city but also having the beach and nature on your doorstep – everything’s a reasonable distance.
Being Italian born and bred, coffee is a pretty important part of my life. If I’m after a caffeine hit, I love the coffee shops on Peel, Hazel and Hershey Streets. Particular favourites include Barista Jam in Sheung Wan, Winston’s near Sai Ying Pun MTR on Queens Road and The Cupping Room, also in Sheung Wan. My kids love eating at Pizzeria Italia on the High Street in Sai Ying Pun, it’s a small place but their pizza is one of the best in Hong Kong. But I also enjoy dining in the Tai Hang area – there are some charming restaurants and bars. Favourites include Kanamono and The Minimal. The Metropolitan in Sheung Wan does some great French food and I have also painted an art wall for them.
This summer I went back to my parents summer house in Antibes, France. I’ve spent nearly all my summer holidays here since I was a child. It’s nice to go back to your roots and appreciate both what you had and what you have now. I miss the clear blue skies and the beautiful architecture. When I’m in France I also try and spend some time in Paris visiting friends from when I studied there and immersing my kids in French culture. It’s one of my favourite cities.
This month Hong Kong charity Box of Hope is getting stuck into the delivery of nearly 30,000 Christmas boxes of donated gifts to under-priveleged communities throughout Asia. Director Sian Trodd tells Carolynne Dear how a recycled shoebox can be a thing of joy
One minute you’re lazing happily on a junk with a sea-breeze in hand, the next there’s tinsel and mulled wine everywhere you turn.
Each year, Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier, and particularly so for Sian Trodd, the new director of Box of Hope. Now in its tenth year, the local charity has been beavering away since Easter to ensure its infamous gift boxes reach those most in need this festive season.
The charity distributes shoeboxes full of Christmas cheer to disadvantaged children throughout Hong Kong, Macau, China, Cambodia and the Philippines. What started as a mini-project at former director Nicole Woolhouse’s children’s school has now mushroomed into almost 30,000 boxes of hope being handed out to children via over 40 charities throughout Asia. Trodd and her team are effectively bringing Christmas to almost 28,000 poverty-stricken children every year.
“The boxes used to be packed in Nicole’s apartment,” explains Trodd, who took over as director in April after Woolhouse moved back to the UK. “It grew and they were offered space in the offices of lawyers Allen & Overy in Exchange Square. But when they started moving in on desk space it became evident that the project was really taking off and Allen & Overy kindly persuaded their landlord to offer a vacant space for a couple of weeks from which we could pack the boxes.”
The raison d’etre behind the project was for kids to help kids. Woolhouse’s own children, plus classmates from Kellett School, simply got some old shoeboxes together and filled them with small but useful gifts. The idea stemmed from similar projects Woolhouse had seen in action in the UK. In the first year they distributed 800 boxes to underprivileged children throughout Hong Kong.
Ten years on and the gift drive is one of the best-known events on Hong Kong’s charity calendar. Each year around 140 preschools and schools take part, along with corporate organisations, church groups and individuals. “There are a team of 12 of us,” explains Trodd. “We get together in April to talk dates and start planning, and then when everyone returns from the summer holidays it’s all systems go.”
Schools are sent stickers and instruction packs and children are invited to bring in their packed and wrapped shoeboxes full of gifts from the end of October. If schools have over 50 boxes to contribute, Trodd and the team will organise for a truck to pick up the donations – this year collections will take place between November 6 and 10. If there are under 50 boxes, the school is encouraged to partner with another school, or for a parent or teacher to volunteer to run the boxes into the packing space in Exchange Square.
Then, over the following three weeks, around 200 volunteers will open and check every single box in order for it to pass through customs.
“We say no to liquids, but yes to toothpaste,” says Trodd. “We recommend that every box contains a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush, some sort of stationery – something to write with and something to write on is a good starting point – and then a treat, such as a small toy, or some Lego, or a pack of playing cards.”
Memorable boxes include one filled entirely with the proceeds of a lemonade stall – four children organized the stand in their building so they had the funds to donate scores of filled boxes, each one lovingly packed and decorated.
Woolhouse recalls another little girl who saved up her pocket money for a year and packed it up along with a handwritten note. “She so wanted to share some happiness,” says Woolhouse. “Every year our volunteers were simply overwhelmed by the generosity, thoughtfulness and kindness of Hong Kong’s schoolchildren.”
“A huge amount of thought goes into some of these boxes,” admits Trodd. “We safeguard the integrity of the boxes as much as possible when we’re checking them, but sometimes we do have to step in. We get the odd box where someone has basically emptied the dregs of their stationery draw, stubs of pencils and so forth. We ask for everything to be new and unused, a proper Christmas present.”
Local charities Clean the World (cleantheworldasia.org) and Soap Cycling (soapcycling.org) donate thousands of bars of soap, which are also added to the boxes. “One year we ran out and one of the volunteers put the word about. Lush very kindly stepped forward and a huge parcel of goods was delivered the next day. You could certainly smell those boxes arriving in the Philippines! Hopefully we’ll be partnering with Lush again this year.”
While all the charities Box of Hope delivers to are in need, some are more in need of certain items than others. “The Hong Kong kids all need stationery, anything goes from notebooks and pens to rubbers and packets of coloured pencils. In places like Cambodia and the Philippines, they’re happy to receive anything. These children have absolutely nothing. It’s heartbreaking to see them treasuring even the cardboard box.”
The delivery trucks are provided free-of-charge by Red Box Storage and Crown Relocations for a certain number of days, after which a courier company jumps in at a discounted rate.
“The boxes destined for the Philippines and Cambodia are shipped and we are currently looking for a shipping company to offer discounted transportation,” says Trodd.
Once at the destination, local charities step in and take over.
“It’s humbling to see how excited the children are to receive these gifts,” admits Trodd. “They are living in such impoverished conditions yet all are smiling, all are so happy to see us each year.”
If you, your school or preschool would like to take part in this year’s Box of Hope campaign, contact boxofhope.org. Follow the charity on Facebook @Box of Hope and on Instagram @boxofhopehk.
Lantau’s bovine population is again making headlines following new moves to banish the herd to the uninhabited Soko Islands.
Fed-up with cattle related issues on what is Hong Kong’s largest island, rural chiefs and the Islands District Committee are lobbying government to remove Lantau’s cattle and buffalo herds.
This is despite earlier this year the government issuing the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint which calls for the conservation of rural Lantau’s cultural heritage and more specifically for the protection of Pui O wetland, which is the home to the local water buffalo herd.
At a recent Islands District Council meeting it was argued that the cows pose a danger to the public and to traffic on Lantau’s permit-only roads. Some sectors of the community are also reportedly angered by the animals trashing farmland and gardens.
But according to opponents of the herds’ removal, accidents caused by speeding traffic is much more of a problem than cattle on the roads.
“Sure there has been the odd incident (in 2013 a tourist was gored on Silvermine beach by a buffalo),” said Merrin Pearse, chairman of Living Islands Movement (livingislands.org.hk). “But I would counter that by saying what about the other wildlife? There are attacks on people involving feral dogs practically every month. So I would say while these incidents are certainly considerations, they are not issues.”
There are currently around five cattle and three buffalo herds roaming freely on Lantau. Historically, attempts to manage the population have been partially successful.
But the removal of the herd to the Soko Islands, which lie approximately 12 kilometres south of Lantau, presents its own issues for the animals which can weigh up to a tonne. “You’d need specially designed boats to carry them, regular monitoring by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which of course currently doesn’t exist out there,” said Pearse. “The islands are largely uninhabited, there’s limited water supply available and no wetland to support the cattle.”
In 2007, 16 buffalo and cattle died during transportation away from Lantau and in 2013 a cattle-swapping experiment between South Lantau and Sai Kung led to the death of two cows.
“We are opposed to any kind of forced removal of cattle,” said Lantau Buffalo Association in an online statement (facebook.com/LantauBuffalo). “It separates them from their traditional foraging trails and is psychologically stressful.”
A petition has now been set up. “With the government’s strong intentions to ‘develop’ Lantau Island, the cows and buffaloes to them are undoubtedly obstacles to be removed before any construction commence,” it states. “These cows and buffaloes are actually facing a grim future and disappearance from Lantau Island, unless appropriate conservation measures be taken.”
“It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again, with all that’s going on in Hong Kong, is a herd of cows really the biggest issue these people have to deal with?” said Pearse. “They are an important and much loved part of Lantau life. I would challenge any visitor who’s been up to see the Buddha and hasn’t come away with a picture of a cow.”
The online petition can be found at supporthk.org and is open for signatories until Dec 25.
With eight restaurants under its belt, Enoteca Group is a Hong Kong success story. It opened its latest venue, The Picture House, in Sai Kung this month. Carolynne Dear went up for a look
When the sun’s shining, not much makes me smile more than a sunny terrace, a nice glass of something crisp and white and a sharing plate or two. And in an area of the world fraught with excessive rents, limited outdoor space and strict al fresco licensing, restaurant group Enoteca has done well to achieve this happy hat-trick in many of its venues.
And so on a sunny August morning I find myself in Sai Kung enjoying a flat white (it’s a little early for crisp whites, unfortunately) with Enoteca co-founder Kim Minards, chatting about the group’s latest acquisition.
A sociology graduate, she arrived in the territory as a backpacker 22 years ago but these days co-helms the expanding restaurant group as well as being mum to children Jack, eight, and Summer, six.
“I’m British but moved to South Africa when I was seven, so I guess I enjoyed a sort of expat upbringing. After university I packed my rucksack, hit the road, and when I ran out of money, pitched up in Hong Kong.”
Pre-handover, there were no working visa restrictions for British passport holders and Minards found herself managing Stauntons in SoHo, which was where she met her husband and business partner, Rob Cooper, who was managing the (now-defunct) restaurant Bayou.
“SoHo was different then, in that there weren’t so many high street restaurants, it was more hotel dining,” she says. “When we opened our first restaurant, Enoteca, we wanted to serve good quality wine by the glass, as there seemed to be a bit of a gap in the market. We opened with 32 different wines and sharing plates of Spanish tapas-style food and it was an instant hit.”
Despite the success, Minards admits to several sleepless nights. “Oh my god, the rent! Back then we were being charged $68,000/month and we didn’t know if things would take off, so yes, I did lose sleep over it,” she laughs. Today, the rent has sky-rocketed to more than four times that amount, but despite this, she’s sleeping better.
“These days not much keeps me up at night. Fortunately the restaurants worked out” – Enoteca on Elgin was swiftly followed by The Phoenix, Bacau, Cicada, Iberico and an Enoteca in Quarry Bay – “But to be honest, I wouldn’t open another venue in SoHo now, I don’t think the rents are worth it. Even Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun don’t convince me.”
Instead, Minards’ attention has turned north to Sai Kung. Last summer the pair opened The Conservatory to great local acclaim, and have just announced they will be taking over local stalwart, Steamers.
“It’s a totally different market up here,” she admits. “The expat market is strong, and seems increasingly so with all the new schools opening.”
Locals themselves (they moved to Clearwater Bay five years ago) Minards says they are still viewed as ‘newbies’ by the local expat population. “There are a lot of old-timers up here,” she says. “We really wanted to respect the fact that they have been using Steamers for many years. Originally we wanted to re-open as The Botanist, as it sort of tied in with The Conservatory vibe, but we’ve since changed our minds. We don’t want this to become a hipster gastro-pub, it’s always been a down-to-earth ‘cold beer and pub grub’ kind of place, so we’re looking for a moniker that’s a bit more grounded and reflects this.”
It turns out the Yi Chun Street building used to be a theatre in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, but opened as Steamers in 2008 when the pub moved over the road from Sai Kung’s infamous ‘square’. Mid-twentieth century photos show the venue on the watersedge – subsequent reclamation projects now put it around 500m back from the Sai Kung waterfront.
“We were in Sri Lanka over the summer where we discovered a great place called The Old Lady By the Sea, so a name similar to that might fit the bill, but maybe something a bit shorter and snappier. It seems the building is a bit of a Sai Kung ‘grande dame’. Basically the jury’s still out, so answers on a postcard!”
Minards explains they’re sticking with the British pub feel, but are completely gutting and updating the interior. On the day I meet with her, the builders have just gone in. The venue comes with an outdoor licence and a terrace area, adding an all-important pub garden.
“We’re keeping the pub theme, but lightening up the interiors,” she says. “We won’t be serving tapas or sharing plates, it will be proper pub food with a roast on weekends.”
The Conservatory, rented from the owners of Big Fish two doors away and previously operating as western-style bistro Grande Restaurant, was given a clean sweep of paint before it opened last summer. Portuguese-style tiles were laid on the floor and beautiful swathes of leaf-green wallpaper fixed to the far wall. It’s light and airy and also benefits from an outdoor seating licence.
“Yes, it’s worked really well,” Minards smiles. “Again, we’re the newbies up here, but I do think Sai Kung was ready for something a bit more grown up.” It does a roaring trade in Enoteca- style tapas sharing plates and platters and quality wines by the glass for lunch and dinner and the brunch trade has also been brisk. Of course all sittings are complemented by kids menus. “Seriously, you’d be mad in a place like Sai Kung not to offer children’s food,” she says. The Conservatory is situated on Sai Kung’s ‘square’, enclosed on two sides by casual dining venues and with a children’s play area in the far corner.
Minards also admits to recently hiring somebody to manage their social media. “Facebook comments can be harsh,” she says. “We’ve seen neighbouring venues really suffer from negative comments on local groups” (Sai Kung is home to the notorious, no-holds-barred, Sai Kung Dirty Laundry Facebook group) “- frustratingly these experiences are often not followed up with diners actually approaching the management. If they did, we could do something to rectify the problem. When we first opened The Conservatory, we were fastidious about having either myself or Rob around all of the time to efficiently mop up any problems and receive customer feedback. We couldn’t afford to let the ball drop for a minute.”
Locals are faithful in their followings, as Minards has noted. Jaspas has been operating for over 20 years in the square and is seen as something of a benchmark.
“It can be intimidating, but I think we’ve proved ourselves with The Conservatory.
“We’ve also been lucky in that we’ve retained a lot of our staff over the years, which helps us with a continuous, quality service,” Minards continues. “The children have grown up with them. When Jack was tiny he used to come to work with me in SoHo all the time, and the girls used to whisk him out for lunch and dinner. I really enjoy staff training. In the old days it was all British backpackers, but now we hire more Filipinos, Nepalese and Chinese. I also work closely with the chefs. Do I have a favourite venue? I think The Conservatory, I love the decor, although I tend to move around a lot. Iberico recently opened in Yuen Long and sometimes I go up there for a buffet lunch. I also like the Asian vibe at Cicada – when we were forced to close a few years ago (the building on Cochrane Street was being renovated into apartments) locals asked us to bring it back, so we re-opened on Elgin Street. It’s funny, it turned out it was a real favourite locally, but people hadn’t made the connection that we also owned other venues.”
It seems Hong Kongers are a loyal lot. Here’s hoping the new ‘Steamers’ will make the grade.