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.

 

There’s a T Rex in town

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IFC’s summer guest – a two-tonne Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil from the US

A 67-million-year-old dinosaur was unveiled in Hong Kong today – in the incongruous confines of one of the city’s glitzier shopping malls.

But whether you love or loathe the location for the ‘Meet The T REX’ exhibition, IFC Mall’s Oval Atrium offers plenty of soaring space, not to mention a huge footfall of people each day.

Hued in a rosy glow from surrounding lighting, the 12-metre long Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil has been brought to Hong Kong from Germany for its first ever ‘tour’. The remains were originally discovered in Northwestern Dakota in the US and were excavated and assembled between 2010 and 2014.

The fossil stands at four metres tall, dominating the surrounding coffee and cosmetics outlets, and weighs a staggering two tonnes.

According to Dr Michael Pittman, who leads the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory at the University of Hong Kong (HKU)’s Department of Earth Sciences, and was officiating at the event launch, Tyrannosaurus Rex was a formidable carnivore.

“It’s jaws were the most powerful ever known, more powerful than a Great White shark or a lion, and its teeth were the largest of any carnivorous dinosaur. It could demolish its prey with ease; even digested bones have been found in coprolite (fossilised faeces) samples.” And contrary to how the T Rex is popularly portrayed in movies, it would have been covered in bird-like feathers rather than scales.

While IFC’s guest visitor would have lived on the north American continent, dinosaur discoveries have also been made in parts of China. However, in Hong Kong findings are so far confined to fossilised fish, some of which date back to the Late Jurassic period, around 147 million years ago.

The Pok Fu Lam-based Department of Earth Sciences at HKU has a small museum of fossilised remains, but as yet there is no dedicated permanent exhibition space in Hong Kong for paleontological exhibits. “The Science Museum recently hosted a temporary exhibition (‘Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs’, which closed in April) and the public is welcome to visit our little display at HKU on weekdays, but yes, obviously a permanent exhibition space is something we would love to see here,” said Dr Pittman.

Highlights of ‘Meet The T Rex’ include a 65 million-year-old thigh bone which the public is free to touch as well as interactive exhibits spread throughout the mall.

Meet The T Rex runs until June 27, 10am-9pm daily, Oval Atrium, IFC Mall, Central, ifc.com.hk/MeetTheTREX

 

 

Holiday luxe – at mates rates

 

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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.”

Sign up at stayonedegree.com.

French artist hits the decks with chocolate records

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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 harbourcity.com.

 

Rags to recycling

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…

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All sewn up. Davies with her shopping bags made of recycled scraps from the textile industry

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.

Follow Davies and her team at facebook.com/StitchUpX/