Holiday luxe – at mates rates


Relaxation in Bohol, Philippines, is just a click away

As expats we all have ‘that’ friend, or friends, with a villa in Bali or a farmhouse in France, a ski chalet in Japan or an apartment in a funky European capital. Or maybe we own a holiday house ourselves.

But what happens to these properties when they’re not being used? Home owners could opt for short-term holiday rentals, but with it comes myriad issues such as cleaning, maintenance and just being constantly available to answer queries. Or there’s long-term rental, but that means you never get to use it. Or just leave it empty, which is often not ideal but the best case scenario.

So former Hong Konger Thomas Bennett and colleague Jorge Munoz claim to have come up with a solution. Stay One Degree is a social network for luxury holiday home rentals. The online platform connects homeowners and friends and mutual connections from around the world.

Bennett says the idea sprang from their own rental experiences, which frequently left them frustrated and disappointed with uninspiring homes at over-inflated prices. Meanwhile, beautiful homes within their social network lay empty.

Word spread, and today Stay One Degree has a plethora of villas, townhouses, apartments and ski chalets on its books in over 40 countries. Prices start at a very friendly ‘mates rates’ of $1,000/night.

All properties are hand-picked by the team, based on ‘outstanding locations and unique elements’. Think cliff-top infinity pools in Bali to villas with vineyards in Tuscany. The social network allows members to grow connections and relationships so owners have the option of renting to like-minded guests of not much more than ‘one degree’ of connection, or to a wider pool of clients.

“We’re finding that owners who would never have considered renting out their holiday homes are now choosing to do so on this exclusive basis,” says Munoz. “Members therefore have access to special homes impossible to find anywhere else.”

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Party time with the golden girls

Easter Fair 1970
Those were the days – Ladies Circle members pictured in 1970


Join the glitziest date on the calendar this month as Hong Kong’s Ladies Circle celebrates its half-century. President Fiona Bulmer explains how they’ve stood the test of time

When Fiona Bulmer arrived in Hong Kong twelve years ago, she was looking to make a few friends.

“I worked to start with and then broke off from my career for the children. So from working full-time in Central, I was now living in the ‘‘burbs’ of Pok Fu Lam with two babies and I really needed to reach out to create a social network. And then I discovered Ladies Circle, which was kind of a turning point for me.”

Ladies Circle arrived in Hong Kong from the UK in 1968, which makes this year its golden anniversary. Bulmer now presides over the group as president, a role she took up with trepidation a couple of years ago.

“I went from popping in to a meeting just to see what it was all about, and then suddenly I was treasurer – my fault for admitting I was an ex-accountant! – and the next thing I knew I was being voted in as president,” says Bulmer. “This was a huge step for me but I really feel I’ve grown with the role and am very proud about what we’re achieving as an organisation.”

Originally set up in the UK in the 1930s as a charitable organisation for the wives of Round Table members, Ladies Circle now has a global network of over 10,000 members in 37 countries. The Round Table was also founded in the UK, in 1927, and still has a Hong Kong branch.

The initial Circle met on England’s south coast in the seaside town of Bournemouth in 1932. It was predominantly a social group, but word spread and by the late 1930s eight more Circles had been formed up and down the UK. The group struggled during World War 2, but held together despite the odds and in 1947 went international with new groups in Denmark and Northern Ireland.

In the 1960s, it arrived in Hong Kong courtesy of Jeanne Allingham, who became the Circle’s first Hong Kong president. “The idea came from a Round Tabler and his wife who were new to Hong Kong and had been members in the UK,” she tells me from her current home in the UK. “Initially we met in each others homes before moving to the Hong Kong Club. Each month we had to haggle over the price of the meal. We had some interesting speakers, but our main aim was to support the Round Table whenever called upon.”

She recalls that the main event of the year was the Easter Fair, held on the cricket ground at Hong Kong Cricket Club. “We worked towards that event all year round, begging for ingredients from local suppliers to bake cakes and so on. We supported various charities, including Ebenezer Home for the Blind, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sandy Bay Children’s Convalescent Home and the Round Table Village Scheme on Cheung Chau Island.”

Current Ladies Circle president Fiona Bulmer photographed at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club, January 2018

Membership grew to the point that a second Circle was set up in Kowloon, although that soon folded. The meeting format today remains similar to that of the early days, with a monthly dinner (these days held at the Aberdeen Boat Club) to which after-dinner speakers are often invited, as well as charity work throughout the year and other social events, including historical walks, craft workshops and food tours.

The Circle’s motto is ‘Friendship and Service’ and the group’s focus charity is the Hong Kong Children and Youth Services Small Groups Homes, which provides foster care for children in Hong Kong. “And we’re very inclusive,” adds Bulmer. “We welcome everyone with open arms, this is not a ‘Brit expat’ association by any means. We’re a friendly bunch.”

Last Christmas, the Circle wrapped and filled an impressive 439 boxes for local charity Box of Hope. “Each year we try and better the previous year,” says Bulmer. “It’s become a major operation, my apartment was rammed with boxes.” The boxes are all baby-related and the craftier members of the Circle spend the year knitting baby hats for them. And for the last 30 years, the Circle has also supported the Hong Kong Charity Pedal Car Grand Prix organised by the Hong Kong Round Table and held in Victoria Park every autumn.

easter fair 1986
Manning the cake stall at the annual Easter Fair, Hong Kong Cricket Club, 1986

But the highlight of this year is of course the celebratory black tie Gala Dinner which is being held in the glorious confines of the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, overlooking Victoria Harbour. Members past and present will be attending, including first president Jeanne Allingham, who will be making the journey from the UK. This will be the first time she has returned to Hong Kong since 1977. “My three sons were born at the Matilda hospital,” she says. “My eldest, Christopher, has been back twice since and has tried to prepare me for the many changes.”

After a three-course free-flow dinner, guest speaker and local historian Jason Wordie will be giving an insight into the Hong Kong of 50 years ago, after which guests will be able to let their hair down at the disco.

“It’s going to be such a special night for us,” says Bulmer. “Ladies Circle has meant so much to me over the years. It’s a very special organisation.”

The Gala Dinner takes place 7pm, March 8, Renaissance Harbour View Hotel, Wan Chai. To book individual tickets at $1,400/person, or a table of ten, please contact or go to For membership enquiries, email


Hong Kong in the swinging ’60s

Construction of Plover Cove reservoir, New Territories, mid-1960s

The 1960s were a major turning point in Hong Kong’s history thanks to its booming economy. This was a decade of change but also of disturbances.

Riots were triggered in 1966 over a steep rise in the price of a Star Ferry ticket and the violence continued into 1967 when internal conflict within the Chinese Communist Party resulted in the Cultural Revolution. Rumours spread that China was planning to take over the colony and political tensions soared. The riots ended in December 1967 when the Chinese premier ordered leftist groups in Hong Kong to stop the violence.

There were serious droughts during the decade too, as water supply struggled to support the exploding population. A number of reservoirs were completed at this time, including Shek Pik, Lantau (1963) and Plover Cover, New Territories (1968).

In 1967 the Colony Outline Plan was issued detailing strategies to house a million people in low-cost, high-rise public housing. Slowly but surely, Hong Kong was becoming the booming city we know today.


Doggy derring dos


Hong Kong author Sarah Brennan reveals her latest Calendar Tale

Sarah Brennan launches Desmond Dog this month in time for Chinese New Year

It’s the turn of the 19th century and the brave and noble Desmond Dog is the hero of Hong Kong, a little fishing village where Aberdeen lies today. Meanwhile, the South China Sea is being terrorised by the notorious pirate queen Ching Shih and her Red Flags. One fine morning, the Red Flags sail into Hong Kong harbour. Desmond fiercely defends the villagers, but is captured and tied to the mast…

This is the thrilling plotline to Desmond Dog, author Sarah Brennan’s eleventh and latest Calendar Tale, which has just been launched in time for Chinese New Year. She says the story has been a long time coming.

“The first day I moved into my first office in Tin Wan, I looked out of the window and saw a village dog barking on the deck of a fishing boat which was leaving Aberdeen Harbour. That, I said to myself, is my character for the Year of the Dog. And I’ve always loved the true story of Ching Shih and her Red Flags. So putting the two nautical characters together seemed a perfect combination.”

The historical angle to all of Brennan’s Calendar Tales is fascinating. Little by little, she builds up her readers’ Chinese historical knowledge-base. Personally I had no idea, for example, about Aberdeen being little Hong Kong.

“I knew about the pirate queen Ching Shih after writing about her in a series for the Young Post a few years ago,” admits Brennan. “But I didn’t know that Hong Kong was in fact the fishing village where Aberdeen is today, nor that the Brits had mistakenly taken the name of that little village as the name for the whole island! That came up during research for the book – and surprises like this are just one of the reasons I love writing about Chinese history for kids.”

She says the book took about two weeks to research and write, given that the rough story idea had been developed some years ago. “Once I’ve done my research, I always plan my story page by page first before writing the first draft. Then comes the difficult bit which is the editing, so that the rhyming verse sounds natural and unforced. This time it took me a full 19 edits.

“For the research I use the internet of course, referring as much as possible to original sources, but I also have some fantastic books about Chinese history in my own home library to which I regularly refer. In particular I would recommend Ann Paludan’s comprehensive Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors, published by Thames and Hudson.

“As a child myself, I adored Dr Seuss and Enid Blyton and couldn’t get enough of their books. After that, I remember falling in love with series like Anne of Green Gables and The Chronicles of Avonlea, Swallows and Amazons, What Katy Did, Little Women and Little House on the Prairie. And Australian classics like Blinky Bill, Seven Little Australians, and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. When I look at them today, they  still hold up as beautifully written, absorbing stories for kids, and my own girls fell in love with them just as I did at similar ages.”

Desmond holding anchor
Desmond is the hero of Brennan’s eleventh Calendar Tale. Next year the pig takes over…

Brennan now has just one Calendar Tale left to complete the series, which is of course for the Year of the Pig in 2019. “While I can tell you it will be dedicated to my beloved husband, who is a perfect Pig in the nicest possible way, you’d have to torture me to find out the rest,” she smiles enigmatically.

All of the Calendar Tales are available from Bookazine and other English bookshops in Hong Kong and online at


Sheltered lives

It’s 1944 and Connie Granger’s home and family have just been raized to the ground during a bombing raid over Coventry. Trying to piece her shattered life back together, Connie finds work as a ‘lumberjill’ for the Women’s Timber Corps amongst the forests of South West England. Author Sarah Franklin explains how she balanced research with family life and why Britain’s woodlands mean so much to her 

Sarah Franklin at her desk. Her follow-up novel will also be set in the Forest of Dean

I’ve got two small-ish kids and a day job so this book got written everywhere – at music practice, at football practice, in bed at midnight. There wasn’t much rhythm and it was massively scrappy but it was what worked for me and our lives. The hardest part was endlessly wrestling with the idea of the book in my head and what was actually coming out on paper.

I was inspired to write Shelter following a controversial government proposal in 2010 to sell off Britain’s woodlands. I grew up in the Forest of Dean and it was inconceivable that this land, in my eyes entirely entwined with the people who lived and worked there, could ever be sold. It seemed as weird as trying to sell off the coast, or the air. I wrote about it for national newspaper The Guardian but it still niggled and I wanted to fictionalise my concerns. I wanted to write about what it felt like to have the very foundations of the place you live in entirely turned upside down by the decisions of bureaucrats working for what they would see as ‘the greater good’. It’s such a brilliant, strange, unique place – much of my family still lives there.

The Forest of Dean saw huge change during World War 2. There was enormous demand for wood at this time, for replacing ships’ masts, as pit props so that the much needed domestic coal production could happen safely and to ensure homes could be rebuilt quickly after the blitzes of London and Coventry. And all this wood being felled meant that the character of the Forest of Dean, and other forests like it, was being completely changed. Timber production still happens all across the UK – in fact, we can’t produce as much as we need. Lumberjills still exist, too, though I don’t think they use hand-saws like Connie had to any more.

It was really important to me that Connie came from Coventry rather than London. We hear so much about the London Blitz that readers would have with preconceived notions. Plus, from Coventry, it just seemed a more natural route that she’d end up in Gloucestershire. (Coventry is an industrial city in the British Midlands. It was bombed continuously during the war, the worst raid destroying thousands of homes and damaging two thirds of the city’s buildings in one night).

When I’m not writing, I work as an academic at Oxford Brookes University, so research is something I’m comfortable with and enjoy. I was helped enormously by both the Imperial War Museum, which has brilliant oral histories of the Women’s Timber Corps and Italian Prisoners of War, and by the Dean Heritage Museum in the Forest of Dean. The curator at the latter was kind enough to pass on to me two self-published memoirs about real-life prisoners in the camp in the heart of the Forest – I tried really hard to make sure that everything was based in fact. Years ago I’d done an O-level History project about the Home Front in the Second World War and collected questionnaires from lots of people who’d lived in the Forest of Dean during the war. These recollections were hugely helpful as well.

Inspiration came from the novels of Lissa Evans, who I adore. She writes books that are funny and poignant all at once, just spot on. I also kept thinking of Goodnight, Mr Tom, which I read as a kid and still absolutely love. Anthony Doerr wrote the best book about unusual aspects of the Second World War that I think anyone will ever write.

I’m working on my second novel right now. It’s set in the Forest of Dean again, but is contemporary rather than historical and has completely different characters in it.

Shelter is available now with free shipping from




French artist hits the decks with chocolate records

Artist Dr Julia Drouhin with her playable chocolate records at Harbour City

French artist Dr Julia Drouhin arrived in Hong Kong this week with her stash of playable chocolate records. Not only are the records sweet tasting, they produce an amazingly sweet sound, too. Dr Drouhin spent this morning’s media launch alternating between Canto Pop, The Beatles, Chinese opera and Abba.

The exhibition, The Sound of Chocolate, is part of this month’s wider chocolate festival hosted by Harbour City in TST.

Each chocolate record lasted for about four or five plays before the diamond tip of the record player began to scratch the grooves. The audience of local photographers and journalists was then able to tuck in.

According to Drouhin, there’s nothing new about chocolate ‘vinyl’. German companies were distributing the very same to children 100 years ago as part of a public relations initiative to promote their products.

Back in her Tasmanian home, Drouhin has perfected the art of creating the records using pinkysil silicon which she pours into a frame over the original vinyl record and then leaves to set. The resulting silicon mould is then carefully peeled away.

“The silicon is also great for giving your vinyl a really good clean – all the dust motes hiding in the grooves come away when you peel away the silicon,” says Drouhin.

Melted chocolate is then poured into the mould and the whole contraption placed in a fridge overnight. “The chocolate must be dark, milk chocolate doesn’t work because it contains too much sugar. This effects the smoothness of the chocolate and gives a rougher finish which of course means the sound quality is comprised.”

Once set, the chocolate carefully prised out of the silicone and can then be spun on a turntable.

Drouhin has exhibited all over the world but this is the first time she has used her chocolate to play Canto Pop.

She says chocolate is only good for 45” singles, although she says ice works very well with 33” long players (ice of course is harder to play as the environment must be below freezing – chocolate merely requires a room set to around 18 degrees).

Drouhin’s chocolate records will be on display as part of Harbour City’s The Sound of Chocolate Art Exhibition which runs until Feb 25. There will be daily live playings every 20 minutes between noon and 8pm, Gallery by the Harbour, Shop 207, 2/F, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, TST. For full details about this exhibition as well as the wider Harbour City Chocolate Trail 2018, see


A green initiative to keep Hong Kong’s beaches clean

Clean and green – Hong Kong just the way we like it

On a blue sky day, Hong Kong is nothing short of spectacular. But if a typhoon blows in, or a dodgy tide, so does a whole heap of rubbish and its beaches end up trashed. And it’s not just Hong Kong that is bearing the brunt of our obsession with throwaway plastic – there has been a marked and noticeable increase in the amount of rubbish strewn washing up on beaches all over South East Asia during the last couple of years.

With this in mind, two Clearwater Bay mums have launched The Green 52, an environmental blog aimed at encouraging followers to make lasting changes to their everyday lives to help reduce environmental impact.

Every Monday a green challenge will be posted on the blog and on Wednesday it will be explained how to achieve the challenge in Hong Kong.

“We will not preach, we will not make people feel guilty, rather we want to provide weekly, practical and manageable ideas on how to become more environmentally-friendly,” said co-founder Zoe Stevenson.

The pair, both British expats and Clearwater Bay residents, have five children under nine years between them and say the initiative was sparked by the worrying change in the environment that their kids are growing up in. “We are both lucky enough to live near the beach but over the past six years the amount of plastic washing ashore has increased dramatically,” explained fellow founder Laura Tyson. “It’s now easier for our children to collect bottle tops than shells.”

“We don’t expect people to do all the challenges, although that of course would be fabulous,” said Stevenson.

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Women-only art exhibition comes to Hong Kong

Art On The Line is the city’s largest international art exhibit and sale featuring exclusively women artists

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