How it all began – or how a suburban family-of-six bagged a party lifestyle in Honkers

‘The Call’ comes through while I’m at the dentist, breastfeeding the baby, trying vainly to stop the toddler from sweeping all the magazines off the reception coffee table and overseeing the preschooler stutter through her reader. The seven-year-old is snuggly ensconced in the dentist’s chair watching Ice Age while I am being earnestly told that she needs a filling.
“Oh my goodness, I make sure she brushes her teeth every day!” I protest weakly, hooking the phone under my ear as I switch the baby to the other side.

It’s my husband on the line.

“Seriously, this is not a good time,” I mutter, trying to smile winningly and confidently at the dentist – I am a mother who knows what she is doing, not a rubbish mummy who forgets to wash and clean her children (not every day, anyway).

“My boss John’s resigned,” comes the hushed reply.

“What, Hong Kong John?”

“Yes, I’ve been offered his job.”

“Oh, that’s great!” I’m mentally calculating whether the promotion and subsequent pay-rise will be enough to pay for a new kitchen. “Hang on a minute, but Hong Kong John’s based in – Hong Kong?”

“Um, yes…”

The penny, or perhaps the dollar, drops. In my mind, I travel back in time to a hard-won few days off to visit to a friend in Singapore the year before – the maid, the driver, the spotless apartment, the swimming pool, the beautifully cooked dinners, the immaculately ironed laundry, the cocktails, the fancy restaurants, the fun… I think of my own home, the breakfast detritus still on the table, the dishwasher unloaded, the Cheerios stuck to the walls, the overflowing washing basket. I won’t go on.

“Sign the contract!” I squeak. “Have they sent it through? Sign it! Get it sent though now!”

“Why don’t we sit down and talk about it over the weekend?” suggests my level-headed husband. “It’s a big decision.”

“Sign. The. Contract. Now.” I demand through gritted teeth as the toddler sends the receptionist’s latte flying.

Three weeks later and the house is packed up, the furniture either sold, given away, donated to charity or left on the nature strip, six one-way business class tickets have been purchased, and we’re on our way.

Now, I realised we would be landing at Chek Lap Kok late at night, so of course it would be dark, but I still entertain elaborate visions of swimming pools and cocktails and elegant waiters serving me afternoon tea on arrival. Meanwhile, back on board CX100, the toddler has vomited up the Chuppa Chup kindly given to her by the air stewardess and the seven-year-old has locked herself in the bathroom. (Note to self, never, ever travel with kids in business again).

But what I hadn’t bargained for on arrival was the typhoon. Or the rain.

We are whisked to our serviced apartment in the pitch black, water streaming down the windscreen and lightning bolts streaking across the sky. We tumble out at Parkview and are taken to our rooms. A cot sits in the master bedroom (oh joy, sharing a bedroom with an insomniac nine-month-old is always such fun) and there is only one other room. The seven-year-old, the preschooler and the toddler will have to share the one other bed.

What follows are the toughest, funniest, most exhausting weeks of my life as we settle into Hong Kong life. My husband disappears off to work the following day and doesn’t return until midnight due to a mysteriously-labelled ‘black’ rainstorm (or possibly he discovered the Captain’s Bar; no doubt I’ll never know the truth), I am introduced to heaps of lovely ladies who all genuinely seem to want to have lunch or dinner with me (all suggestions are followed up with an emailed invitation the following day, something that rarely happens back ‘home’; “I can fit in a quick coffee in six weeks time?” tends to be the depressing norm), and what’s more, I actually go to all those lunches and dinners.

And the fun has never really ended. In the ensuing eight years, we’ve climbed mountains, kayaked the South China Sea, entered half marathons, gone to places we never would have anticipated visiting, made – and lost – a ton of friends, had posh brunches in hotels and enjoyed not-so-posh barbecues on boats and beaches. We’ve haggled in markets, investigated temples, stuffed ourselves with dim sum and drunk our own bodyweight in fancy French champagne. We’ve entertained guests from out of town, shown newbies around, celebrated landmark birthdays and anniversaries and enjoyed the longest of lunches. In short, we’ve had a ball.

Hong Kong grabs you like that. It’s sometimes not the easiest of places – I dream of the day the supermarket duopoly is smashed and a gleaming, competitively-priced Carrefour or Sainsbury’s opens up somewhere on the plains of Yuen Long – and some days it can be hot and sweaty and frustratingly you don’t achieve anything on your ‘to do’ list.

But mostly it’s fun, and ridiculous, and extreme, and fast-paced and alive. Which is why we hope to be here for many more years to come.

Oh, and the dentists are pretty good, too.

 

Cruising the Mekong

 

Sail away down the Mekong on board Gypsy

If you’re looking to make some family memories this summer but you want to try something a bit different, maybe a break that’s a little bit off the usual holiday trail, a brand-new Southeast Asian cruise could be perfect for you.

Gypsy is a 41-metre, two-cabin, private river boat that launched last month on the mighty Mekong. The lavishly refurbished cruiser sails in great style between Thailand’s Golden Triangle in the north and the ancient Laotian capital of Luang Prabang in the south, taking in a heap of sights and sounds along the way.

With space for four people, it’s ideal for families who want to enjoy a dose of cultural immersion as well as some serious downtime together.

The privately tailored tour meanders between Chiang Rai and the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang over four days and three nights, taking in the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort in Chiang Rai, myriad temples and the languid, lush countryside of the fabled Mekong Delta. Shore excursions include guided jungle treks, mountain biking, freshwater fishing, craft workshops, Laos whisky-tasting and a visit to the Pak Ou limestone caves.

Back on board, there’s a host of wellness and cultural options on offer, including yoga, folk dancing, Lao language classes, a weaving workshop and cooking classes. And when you’re ready to kick back and enjoy the scenery, there’s always the Champagne afternoon tea on deck.

The carefully thought-out spaces on the vessel include two cabins, a mid-ship lounge, a bar and dining area and a separate veranda-style lounge with al fresco panorama deck at the bow of the boat.

The interior design is the brainchild of Bangkok-based design consultant Jiraparnn Tokeeree, who has blended wood and thatch fixtures and fittings with woven leather seating, oversized bamboo daybeds and rich Thai silks and fabrics. Fabulous floor-to-ceiling windows ensure the spectacular scenery is always within view.

The air-conditioned cabins comprise one king and one twin room, and both have an ensuite shower and vanity.

Rates start from US$5,450 per boat for a four-day, three-night cruise, including all on-board meals, a welcome reception with canapes, soft drinks, water, beer, selected wines, coffee and tea, Wi-Fi, shore excursions, English guide, entrance fees and transfers, on-board activities and return airport or hotel transfers. Children under four travel free. mekongkingdoms.com

 

Coffee collaborations

Coffe Compost
Recycle them right and your coffee capsules could be helping farmers as well as under-priveleged Hong Kongers 

Nespresso is pressing customers to recycle their coffee capsules as part of a sustainability campaign in partnership with local charity Food Angel.

The aluminium in the capsules is “infinitely recyclable” according to the company. If recycled, waste capsules can be taken to a local plant, shredded and sent to a scrap-metal collector for re-melting. Meanwhile, the residual coffee grounds are separated from the capsules and taken to a local farm in the New Territories and used as compost on crops.

The coffee specialist has also pledged to make a monthly donation of vegetables from the farm to Food Angel, which runs a food rescue initiative, creating hot meals from perfectly safe and usable waste food and distributing it to underprivileged local communities.

To take part, simply return bags of over 30 waste capsules to your local Nespresso boutique and receive a coffee stamp. The stamps can be collected for redemption of rewards. Special recycling bags are available in-store for 50c all proceeds will go directly to Food Angel. nespresso.com

 

Food from the heart

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Pomegranate Kitchen’s Maria Bizri with her daughters in Hong Kong

Maria Bizri of Hong Kong’s Pomegranate Kitchen restaurant has collaborated with Baking For Syria, a charity recipe book published this month to support Syrian children through Syria Crisis Appeal. She spoke to Carolynne Dear.

I grew up in the Middle East, although I was born in Southampton in the UK. My parents had been living there for a while but moved to Lebanon when I was quite young. When the Lebanese civil war started in 1975 we moved to Syria – I stayed here until I was in my late teens. Then I moved to Montreal, Canada, where I went to university. I have been travelling around Europe and Asia ever since I graduated.

My family lived to eat. Food was always an integral part of our family life. My grandparents showed me love through feeding me and my numerous friends and cousins, and so did my mother and aunts. I don’t think I ever entertained the thought that life and love could be separated from eating and feeding.

I landed in Hong Kong in August 2010 and felt instantly at home. Pomegranate Kitchen was conceived on the balcony of my Southside home. After many long lunches and being asked to cater for ‘a few friends’, the business was born and started growing. I cooked out of my apartment (and those of my lovely neighbours) for the first year-and-a-half, and then my husband – who found he never got to eat any of the food being prepared – sourced the industrial location in Wong Chuk Hang where Pomegranate lives today.

Being Middle Eastern, I grew up with lots of fresh vegetables and lots of lamb. So I guess it’s no surprise that Pomegranate is well-known for both these things. Think big, hearty plates of salad, vegetarian dishes, and lots of lentils, chickpeas and lamb – chops, shoulder, leg, you name it.

It’s tough witnessing what’s happening in Syria today. To see a great country, so rich in culture, being smashed to rubble and its people become refugees is just heartbreaking. My mother has been doing a lot of work with refugee children in Lebanon (where there are over 1.2 million refugees already) and I have tried to support her schools through a few fundraisers. I’m also working closely with the Cook For Syria initiative, you can check it out on Instagram, both through @pomegranatekitchenhk and @cookforsyria. It’s a fantastic initiative. Syria has an incredible food culture and history which is being celebrated around the world by chefs and cooks through supper clubs raising funds for Unicef, which operates inside Syria. Cook For Syria has published two books so far and we are extremely proud to be part of their second publication, Bake For Syria.

Bake For Syria curated by Lily Vanilli is available from this month at amazon.co.uk with delivery to Hong Kong. Contact Maria at Pomegranate Kitchen at pomegranate.com.hk

 

Lip service

US-based artist Alexis Fraser – otherwise known as Lipstick Lex – will be gracing Harbour City this summer with an exhibition of her unique lip-based artwork. Hailing from Florida in the US, Lex was in Hong Kong this week to launch the event…

Artwork with lipsticks
Artist Alexis Fraser uses both kisses and lipstick applied with a paintbrush to create her canvases

Your artwork looks amazing. What initiated the idea for lipstick kisses to create pieces of art?

Thank you so much! The idea came to me in 2012 when I was challenged by a client to create a portrait of Marilyn Monroe in non-traditional way that would correlate with Marilyn. After a ton of brainstorming, the idea of creating the Hollywood bombshell with liptstick and kiss prints came to mind. It felt like a Eureka moment and this is where the seed for Lipstick Lex was sewn.

Have you always been involved with art?

I have been an artist at heart from the first time I could pick up a crayon. In high school, art class was everything to me. I went on to study fine art in college and decided I would do all I could to make art my full-time career. My art business today, Lipstick Lex, is both my full-time job and my passion.

What’s your preferred brand of lipstick when you’re creating a piece of work?

I love so many brands for so many reasons, but I tend to gravitate most often towards MAC, NYX and Klean lipsticks as they all have an amazing colour palette, are an easy price-point and are animal cruelty-free.

Ten thousands kisses for your latest canvas, Victoria Harbour at sunset, is a lot of kissing. How do you keep your lips lovely?

Honestly, I do end up with muscle fatigue! The process can be exhausting and I do feel tender if I work consistently for too many hours. Since my work requires both kissing and painting with lipstick on a paintbrush, I tend to bounce between the two techniques to give my lips a break. It’s a laborious process, but worth it to stay original in a sea of art.

What’s been your most challenging piece to date?

My last two murals hands down (including Victoria Harbour at Sunset). The larger the work, the more laborious the process. Plus working so close-up and needing to step back to make sure what I’m doing makes sense can be a challenge.

What’s your favourite piece?

There are so many pieces that I adore. I’m not sure I can pick just one. However, my tropical series, which is also featured at Harbour City, is my favourite collection to date. The pieces are vibrant, cheerful and positive. It’s feel-good art to feed the soul.

My next series will be placing an emphasis on spreading love and promoting self-love – watch out for it as what I have planned will be both beautiful and make a positive impact.

How do you get the lipstick to stick permanently to the canvas?

I coat each piece with an epoxy resin to prevent any smudging or  fading. On pieces that I can’t epoxy – like my murals – I spray them with a UV protective finishing spray to protect and lock-in the pigments.

Artist_Lipstick Lex
“Personally, I stick to lip balm when I’m off the job,” Fraser admits

Have you visited Hong Kong before?

This is my first visit and a very exciting opportunity. Seeing the iconic Victoria Harbour has been such a treat. I also enjoy wandering off the beaten path a bit to see the authentic bits of a city so I’m looking forward to some casual exploration to get a nice sample of what Hong Kong has to offer. Food is also high on my to do list, I don’t think you can truly grasp a new culture without indulging in its cuisine.

And what’s your favourite after-work lipstick?

To be honest I often stick to lip balms while I’m off the job! But I do appreciate how lipstick can add a bit of vibrancy to your appearance, so I like Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms.

Any exhibition plans post-Hong Kong?

It’s still tentative, but it looks like my next stop will either be Miami, US, or Paris, France. Watch this space…

 

Sun Kissed Summer runs until July 22, 10am-10pm, Atrium II, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City.

Kiss Print Canvas Lipstick Art Workshop led by Lipstick Lex will run on June 29 at 6 & 7pm; June 30 at 2, 3 & 4pm; and July 1 at 2, 3 & 4pm; $100 per workshop.

The exhibition will also be complemented by a Lipstick Tasting Bar with 34 brands and over 200 shades for trial, www.harbourcity.com.hk

Twenty-five storey hospital proposed in Hong Kong’s ‘heritage heartland’

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The Sheng Kung Hui hospital development plan on Lower Albert Road

It has been revealed that plans are in motion for a 25-storey private hospital on historic Bishop’s Hill, Central.

The building would straddle Bishop’s Hill between Lower and Upper Albert Roads, closely wedged between low-rise historic buildings and covering the site’s grassy areas. It would include car parking facilities with an entrance and exit on already congested Lower Albert Road.

Bishop’s Hill boasts one of the highest concentrations of graded heritage buildings in one dedicated area, including three grade one historic buildings – Bishop’s House which dates from 1843, St Paul’s Church and the Church Guest House – as well as open, grassy areas. A long land lease for the site was granted to the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (SKH or Anglican Church) in the first year of British rule in Hong Kong and allows the SKH to operate a theological college, school, St Paul’s Church and a hospital – the former seven-storey Hong Kong Central Hospital – with staff accommodation.

The Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC), which is located opposite to the proposed entrance to the new hospital, is now urging the public to submit objections to the proposal, on the basis that the building will be out-of-proportion to the low-rise heritage buildings in the area.  According to the FCC, the development will have a ‘detrimental visual impact on a unique heritage corridor’, which starts at the FCC building and ends at St John’s Cathedral and the former Court of Appeal – of which the latter two both have Monument status. The FCC was founded in 1943 in Japanese-occupied China and relocated to Hong Kong in 1949. It moved to its current location in a nineteenth century ice house at 2 Lower Albert Road in 1982.  Bishop’s House is located at 1 Lower Albert Road.

Heritage and conservancy groups have come together under the umbrella of the Government Hill Concern Group and have filed a pre-emptive planning application with the Town Planning Board requesting that any redeveloped hospital be of the current hospital’s seven-storey height and footprint and the entire Bishop’s Hill site and its  heritage buildings are preserved ‘and treated with respect’.

Following years of demolition of historical buildings and sites, in 2009 the government’s Development Bureau launched a Conserving Central policy ‘to preserve many of the important cultural, historical or architectural features in Central’. Bishop’s Hill is not listed as a protected site under this scheme.

The full application can be read here. Objections to the proposal ‘Change of Anglican Church lease on Bishop Hill’ need to be made by Friday June 29 here.  An objection template letter has been drawn up by the FCC, please view it here.

 

 

 

Fun for all on Sentosa

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The Shangri-La Rasa Resort – fit for a president, or even a family of six

Singapore is a favourite destination with our family and not least because of Sentosa Island, recently re-branded by the Singapore government as ‘The State of Fun’ and this week host to no less than Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

Although these days it’s billed as Singapore’s top holiday resort and home to monster chunks of family entertainment, Sentosa has not always been synonymous with family fun.

Formerly known as ‘Pulau Belakang Mati’, or ‘island of death from behind’, it was once a pirate hang-out and later became a brutal prisoner of war (POW) camp for Australian and British POWs during World War II, following the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942.

In the 1970s Sentosa was renamed, rebranded and polished up for the tourist market. It is now home to 17 hotels, two golf courses, and a plethora of major attractions.

While Kim and Don will be enjoying the luxurious five-star Capella Hotel for their meeting, our firm family favourite is the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort, where we have spent many a happy holiday. There’s a great outdoor pool, mini kids waterpark, active kids club and a beautiful terrace breakfast restaurant (a popular conference hotel, it’s just so luxurious being able to watch the ‘suits’ plod off to a day’s meetings while we linger over a second stack of pancakes and another coffee – we can only guess how Kim and Don will be feeling about their own buffet breakfasts this morning, Mr Kim at the St Regis and Donald at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, both near to major Singapore shopping hub Orchard Road).

The Rasa also offers a regular shuttle service over the bridge to the ever-popular Vivo City shopping mall on the mainland. Family restaurants of note here include Jamie’s Italian and the Queen and Mangosteen – think British pub grub with lashings of classic English puds. The shopping is good with a handful of British stores that have not yet made it to Hong Kong.

Back on Sentosa, there is an incredibly handy free shuttle bus service that picks up from the Rasa and continually loops around the island. The island is also great cycling territory as the roads are quiet, wide and flat and there are plenty of hire bikes available, including ofo and Mobike (just download the app and you’re good to go).

Over the years we have enjoyed the MegaZip (terrifying), Skyline Luge Sentosa, the Singapore Cable Car to Faber Peak in Singapore (it goes through a high rise building at one point which is quite exciting), the FlowRider at Wave House Sentosa, Tanjong Beach Club, the South East Asia Aquarium, Adventure Cove Waterpark and had masses of fun at Universal Studios.

There are heaps more activities I don’t have the space to cover here, plus tons of casual beachside dining options – Hong Kong could certainly learn a thing or two.

It barely leaves you time to chill out by your hotel pool. Plus the Rasa kids club was so good we have even managed a handful of sneaky ‘adult-only’ afternoons in Singapore over the years.

So if the talks don’t work out, or they’re wrapped up ahead of schedule, there’s a whole island of fun out there for the boys.