Local artist launches hand-carved Mahjong tile gift set

8
Karen Cheung’s hand-painted Mahjong tile gift sets are available from her pop-up shop at K11, Tsim Sha Tsui, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until October 28

The clack of Mahjong tiles is as Hong Kong as dim sum and Cantonese opera. In fact in 2014 it was named ‘an intangible cultural heritage’ by the government, along with umbrella-making and kung fu.

The popular Chinese table game is similar to gin rummy and is currently played by an estimated 350 million Asians. A Singapore Mahjong parlour even made a brief appearance in recent box hit smash Crazy Rich Asians.

But despite that, just a handful of Mahjong carving shops remain in Hong Kong today. The traditional tile has fallen foul to mass produced plastic tiles, electronic Mahjong tables, Mahjong app games and a youth who are spending more and more leisure time glued to their phones. Market research company Ipsos reported earlier this year that just one in 50 young Hong Kongers regularly play, compared with one in 12 five years ago. The once buoyant carving industry is now in the hands of a scattering of octo- and nano-genarians.

Illustrator Karen Cheung was born into a Mahjong family – her father is a traditional carver who took-over the family-run tile factory, Fuk Hing Lung Mahjong Manufacturing Factory, which was set up by her grandfather, supplying Hong Kong’s Mahjong parlours and hotels. But due to dwindling demand, her father was forced to shut up shop ten years ago.

“The day he closed the factory was so sad for him and my mother,” says Cheung. “They had to lay off employees who had worked for them for decades. He packed away his tools and didn’t even want to look at them again.”

But Cheung had other ideas. Her creative business, Travel with Pencil & Color, is a side-hustle (“it’s difficult to make a living drawing in Hong Kong,” she says) to her main job as an events organiser. “I come home from work, sleep for an hour or so, and then I draw from 11pm into the early hours,” she says.

Over the last six months, she has painstakingly designed five different Hong Kong scenes which have been carved into sets of Mahjong tiles. The six carved tiles in each set depict different areas of Hong Kong and come with a wind or dragon tile hand carved and painted by her father. North Point owns the North wind, Tung Chung the East, Sai Kung the West and Southside the South. Central is matched with the red dragon.

Tiny, beautiful details include a miniature Foreign Correspondents’ Club etched onto the Central tiles (quite apt as that is the venue for our meet-up), the Lantau buddha and cable car, seafood shops in Sai Kung and The Repulse on Southside.

“I think my father was ultimately glad to pick up his tools again,” she says. “He understood my excitement about the project. The challenge for me was managing high labour costs. From packaging to promotion, it’s been a steep learning curve.”

Cheung worked with fellow designers Connie Siu and Maggie Cheung on the project and it has gone on to win the Judges Award at this year’s annual Hong Kong Smarts Design Award, organised by the Hong Kong Export Association. “I think Hong Kong tourism likes this sort of thing as it promotes Hong Kong’s heritage and culture.”

Cheung says the project bridges the gap between traditional craftsmanship and modern art, aiming to reignite the dying art of hand-carved mahjong with advanced printing technology. The trio now find themselves in the top eight finalists of the K11 D Project this year.

Cheung will be managing a pop-up shop in K11 shopping mall this month featuring the Mahjong tiles sets, Travel Mahjong City, and other Mahjong-inspired products.  Customers who spend over $350 will receive a set of postcards depicting the mahjong story, while shoppers who spend over $500 will be receive a hand-carved ‘Sparrow Mahjong’ tile.

“Sparrow sounds the same as Mahjong in Chinese, the click clack of the tiles being shuffled is referred to as ‘twittering of the sparrows’,” she explains.

Cheung is currently working on a set of tiles to celebrate Christmas and Chinese New Year in the territory – the Lunar New Year is traditionally a time when families get together to play Mahjong.

“I’ve always loved drawing and I’m so pleased to have been able to turn it into a viable project,” she says.

Cheung’s pop-up shop will open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday between September 28 and October 21, K11, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (MTR TST exit D2), karenaruba.com

Hong Kong’s Mahjong carvers

There are estimated to be a mere handful of carving shops left in Hong Kong, possibly not even that.

Biu Kee Mahjong is still operational on Jordan Road, Yau Ma Tei (opposite the entrance to Temple Street night markets).

Kam Fat Mahjong is the only female Mahjong carver in Hong Kong and has an under-the-stairs workshop in Hung Hom.

Factory-produced, plastic tile sets can be found in most markets, including Stanley and Cat Street.

 

Where to play

American Women’s Association (AWA) members and American Club members play every Tuesday, 10am-4pm, American Club, Tai Tam, awa.org.hk

Australian Association of Hong Kong members play every Monday, 10am-1pm, Dynasty Court Function Room, 17-23 Old Peak Road, Mid-levels, ozhongkong.com

 

The AWA will be organising a Mahjong Fundraiser in support of local charities, 10am-3.30pm, October 19, American Club Fireside Lounge, 28 Tai Tam Road, Tai Tam, $500/member, $500/guest, complimentary buffet lunch at noon, drinks charged to member’s accounts or payment by credit card, open to all, awa.org.hk

Rendez-vous with Madame Fu

By Carolynne Dear for Hong Kong Livng

IMG_8121
Connie Aldao-Worder is the Argentinian chef, mum and expat in charge of one of Hong Kong’s swankiest new dining venues.  Photography courtesy of Michelle J Proctor

 

It’s been a busy twelve months for chef and restaurateur Connie Aldao-Worker. The beginning of the year saw her making the move from New Zealand to Hong Kong with her two young sons, and by mid-year she was managing the launch of the city’s much anticipated Madame Fu Grand Cafe Chinois inside Central’s Tai Kwun heritage redevelopment.

Designed by Christian Rhomberg (founder and chairman of the now-defunct KEE Club – once voted Asia’s ‘best private members’’ club – and early pioneer of the Lan Kwai Fong scene in the 1980s), the space occupies the whole of the top floor of the former Barrack Block. The huge area has been divided into seven lavishly decorated rooms, including a wrap-around verandah, main dining room, two private dining rooms, a lunch room, library and the gloriously pink Pearl Room – which within weeks of opening had hosted a Victoria’s Secrets ‘Angels’ shoot. Not without good reason has Madame Fu been nicknamed Hong Kong’s most instagrammable restaurant.

The backstory to the restaurant evoques a Shanghai-meets-Paris ‘grand cafe’ of the 1920s, based around a mysterious fictional persona named Madame Fu.

Lavish attention to detail, gorgeous soft furnishings in velvets and silks (my favourite are the lanterns on the verandah that have been created using vintage hermes scarves) as well as much colourful artwork – some of it painted by Rhomberg’s son – has made this one of Hong Kong’s most glamorous spaces.

But of course a restaurant needs substance, which is where Aldao-Worker comes in.

Appointed as the restaurant’s executive director, she is Argentinian by birth, married to the New Zealand consul-general in Hong Kong and Macau, Carl Worker, and arrived in the territory less than a year ago.

Nimbly directing staff and answering queries about various dishes during our interview, Aldao Worker admits she first started out in the restaurant trade as an office-based employee.

Back in the ‘90s, she was taken on by Argentinian celebrity chef and restaurateur, Francis Mallmann, and helped with everything from organising his cooking shows and co-writing his cookery books to putting together his busy travel itinerary. Eventually she started helping out in the kitchen “a little bit”, and this led to her eventually spending more time kitchen-side than office-side.  

Her big break came in 1998 when she set up the award-winning 1884 Francis Bodegas Escorihuela restaurant in Buenos Aires. It went on to place seventh out of the top 50 restaurants in the world listed in the UK’s esteemed Restaurant magazine.

“It was a huge honour,” she says. “Of course myself and the whole team were extremely proud of what we’d achieved.”

In 2003 she married career diplomat Carl Worker, who at the time was serving as New Zealand Ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. “Francis Mallmann took care of our wedding as a gift to us,” she tells me as we sit down to tea in Madame Fu’s main dining room. “We had a great party. And Nicolas Catena (owner of Catena Zapata Winery and the man credited with putting Argentinian wines on the world map) took care of all the wine.”

In 2009 Worker accepted the position of New Zealand ambassador to China and Mongolia and the family, including Aldao Worker’s two stepsons, Simon and Alex, and her two younger sons, Ollie and Nicky, moved to Beijing.

As an experienced chef, not-to-mention wife of the ambassador, Aldao-Worker took on the management of entertaining at the New Zealand Embassy, which included running the kitchens as well as organising cooking demonstrations and acting as guest chef in several restaurants across the capital – at one point, perhaps portentously, she spent two weeks in the clubhouse of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Beijing.

“I picked up Mandarin and fell in love with Sichuanese and Beijing cuisine,” she says. When pushed to name a favourite dish, she insists there are too many stand-outs to pick just one.

The Beijing stint lasted until 2015, at which point the family returned to Waiheke Island near Auckland in New Zealand. Here Aldao Worker joined the renowned Stonyridge Vineyard as head chef.

Her husband was offered the role of New Zealand consul-general in Hong Kong and Macau in August 2017 and Aldao Worker moved up at the beginning of this year with her younger boys Ollie, 14, and Nicky, 11, in tow, and who are now happily ensconced at The Australian International School in Kowloon Tong. Her two older stepsons have these days flown the nest. This is Worker’s second stint as New Zealand consul-general in the SAR – he took up the reigns for the first time between 1994 and 1998.

Having settled the family into Hong Kong life, Aldao-Worker landed her current role at Madame Fu just four weeks before the restaurant opened earlier this summer.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she says. “It’s a great location and a super set up. As with all new venues, there have been challenges (tense moments include electricity not being fully installed until just hours before the launch party – “it’s pretty normal stuff,” she shrugs, unruffled), especially as it’s a big kitchen. Divided into four sections – main kitchen, dim sum, barbecue and pastry – there are 25 chefs covering all stations, so yes, it’s very busy.”

She admits that being in Hong Kong she’s keen to learn more about Cantonese food. “Our dim sum chef has 39 years experience, so I feel I have a good master to follow. I’m hoping to learn a lot from him and his team.”

At the time of our meeting, the restaurant was just about to launch afternoon teas in the Pearl Room. The main restaurant menu is Cantonese with selected Chinese dishes from the northern provinces – for me the standouts were the braised five spice beef shin and the crispy cod with vinegar glaze and ginger.  

Of course holding down a role such as this requires judicious juggling with family demands. And her husband is caught in a similar balancing act. But she remains unphased. “Family is very important and I have to find a balance. Sometimes the kids come in to see me here. And on weekends I try and participate in their activities as much as I can,” she says. “At the end of the day, I enjoy being busy.”

madamefu.com.hk

Coming soon…

Tai Kwun is set to welcome several more dining venues this autumn.

Under the helm of renowned chef David Thompson, Thai specialist Aaharn moves in on the first floor of the Armoury building.

Bar at Armoury on the ground floor will be serving wines by the glass, cocktails, draught beers, premium teas and coffees and a simple menu of modern Thai bar snacks.

hc:Bistro brings light gourmet dishes and community spirit to the complex. The local bistro is the 13th catering social enterprise project of the non-profit Hong Chi Association, which provides training and a safe working environment for people with intellectual disabilities.

And Aqua restaurant group hosts two flagship restaurants and a ‘luxury’ lounge in the main police headquarters block. East-meets-West with The Chinese Library (Chinese specialities) and Statement (British classics), while The Dispensary lounge channels a colonial Hong Kong vibe.

Your Hong Kong ‘Christmas’ markets guide – October

IMG_1795
The sun’s out and it’s time to start shopping Christmas goodies…

Discovery Bay Sunday Market

Jump on a ferry and head over for heaps of stalls hosting some of Hong Kong’s best-loved local businesses.

11am-6pm, October 14, Discovery Bay Main Plaza, Discovery Bay, Lantau, handmadehongkong.com.

 

Gold Coast Autumn Gift & Fashion Fair

Head over to Hong Kong’s one-and-only Gold Coast to shop jewellery, fashion, lifestyle products, cosmetics, fine wine and more.

10am-6pm, October 20, MCH Lobby, Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club.

 

Momentai Pop-Up Market

Sai Kung’s favourite waterfront hang-out is hosting a host of local businesses, from eats to homewares to womenswear. Drop in, enjoy some lunch, grab a bargain.

10am-5pm, October 21, Kiosk 1, Wau Man Road, Sai Kung, momentai-la-com.

 

Fashion & Fun Pop-Up

Channel your inner Diwali diva as local event specialist Mums@PLAY hosts a three-day shopping event to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. Shop precious stones, ethnic ‘kundan’ jewellery, traditional ‘gota’ pouches and bags, cotton and linen saris and homewares.

11am-8pm, October 25-27, Usagi, Wah Shin House, 6-10 Shin Hing Street, Central, mumsatplay.com.

Pinktober support

Join OnTheList for its month-long Breast Cancer Awareness Charity Sale. Shop Marc Jacobs, Mischa, APM Monaco and more – all proceeds go to Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre.

Throughout October, G/F Printing House, 6 Duddell Street, Central, OnTheList.

 

Entrepreneurs’ pop-up

Drop into Culture Cover in Central for a month-long pop-up shop. Browse style, self-care, home and adventure labels from some of Hong Kong’s best loved small businesses.

Throughout October, 67 Hollywood Road, Central, Pink Lotus.

 

Ethical kids’ clothing

Eco-chic children’s boutique Retykle will be showcasing hundreds of designer children swear brands throughout the month of October. Pop along for pre-loved and new pieces from newborn to 12 years at this eco-conscious shopping event.

Throughout October, 57-59 Hollywood Road, Central, retykle.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong’s secret beaches – how to escape the tourist trail

Contrary to how it likes to advertise itself to the rest of the world, Hong Kong is not all skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls. As a coastal territory it has beaches a-plenty, and if you venture off the well-beaten tourist trail, you’ll be richly rewarded with golden sands, clear waters and (often) not a soul around.

IMG_7114
Larks a-plenty at Yau Ley (High Island) in Hong Kong’s New Territories

 

Yau Ley and Millionaire’s Bay, New Territories

Both beaches require boat transportation, although it is possible to hike to Yau Ley from Sai Kung Country Park (however it’s a challenging hike and we wouldn’t recommend it in the heat with little ones). Haggle a deal with the sampan ladies on Sai Kung Pier or book a speedboat through High Island Seafood restaurant on Yau Ley. The restaurant is the draw-card here: it lays on a fabulous seafood feast, after which the kids can enjoy jetty-jumping off the small pier or playing on the sand next to the restaurant. Glorious Millionaire’s Beach is just around the corner in the next bay, and if you ask nicely the restaurant is usually willing to drop you off after lunch for an additional charge.

Nearest MTR – Hang Hau or Choi Hung, red taxi to Sai Kung or green taxi to Yau Ley turn-off inside Sai Kung Country Park East

 

Hap Mun Bay, New Territories

Another sandy destination that can only be reached by sampan, Hap Mun (or “Half Moon”) Bay is a beautiful crescent of a beach on Sharp Island. Approach one of the sampan ladies (or kaito – small ferry operators) on Sai Kung pier – a round trip should cost about $40-50 per person. Hap Mun is the smaller of the two beaches located on Sharp Island, while Kiu Tsui stretches along the western edge. The water quality is generally good at Hap Mun and there are handy family-friendly facilities including toilets, changing rooms, showers, kiosks and barbecue pits. As with all Hong Kong beaches, mid-week is much quieter than weekends.

Nearest MTR – Hang Hau or Choi Hung, taxi to Sai Kung

 

Trio Beach, New Territories

Beloved by Sai Kung’s locals, this beach can get crowded on weekends, but as it’s reasonable challenging to reach (a five-kilometre hike from the Sai Kung branch of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club or a sampan from Pak Sha Wan Pier), it tends to be quieter mid-week than many of Hong Kong’s more popular beaches. There is parking on Pak Sha Wan pier, from where you can catch one of two sampans that chug backwards and forwards all day to little Trio. Once you’ve disembarked, you’ll find a kiosk, BBQs (charcoal is available from the kiosk) and a children’s play area. The swimming area is protected and boasts a dive platform, and the beach is lifeguarded until the end of the summer.

Nearest MTR – Hang Hau or Choi Hung, taxi to Pak Sha Wan

 

Turtle Cove, Hong Kong Island

Slip through the gap in the barrier just past Pak Pat Shan Road at Redhill Peninsula on Tai Tam Road and be transported to Hong Kong’s version of The Beach. The steep path winds through mountain-side terrain, gurgling streams gush seawards and you aren’t rewarded with a glimpse of the golden sands until you round the final bend. This is not a walk for strollers, so make sure you bring a carrier or sling for tiny tots. The beach itself boasts a small kiosk, lifeguards and a protected cove for swimming. Be warned, though: parking is practically non-existent up on the road, so a taxi is probably your best bet.

Nearest MTR, Ocean Park or Chai Wan, taxi to Redhill Peninsula

 

St Stephen’s Beach, Hong Kong Island

Head through Stanley on Wong Ma Kok Road and take a sharp right turn onto Wong Ma Kok Path (St Stephen’s College is also signposted here). There are a handful of metered parking spots at the bottom of the hill by the water. The sandy little beach has glorious views stretching back towards Stanley and The Twins hiking trails – it also faces west so expect fabulous sunsets on clear days. The beach is lifeguarded and the shallows are perfect for tiny beachgoers, so don’t forget your bucket and spade. There’s also a protected swimming area for those wanting a more substantial dip.

Nearest MTR, Ocean Park or Chai Wan, taxi to St Stephen’s Beach

 

Chung Hom Kok, Hong Kong Island

This tucked-away neighbourhood beach is a beauty. It’s just around the corner from Stanley but its sands are a lot quieter. Head down the leafy steps hidden on Horizon Drive. It’s a steep descent and not particularly stroller-friendly (take a sling if you have non-walkers), but it’s totally worth the effort. At the bottom you’ll find a children’s play area, barbecue pits and a compact stretch of life-guarded sand. There’s only one little kiosk serving small snacks and drinks, so if you plan on a picnic or barbecue you’ll bring your own supplies. The kids will have a ball splashing in the shallows.

Nearest MTR – Ocean Park, taxi to Horizon Drive, Chung Hom Kok

IMG_7021
Blue sky days in Clearwater Bay, New Territories

Clearwater Bay First Beach, New Territories

Clearwater Bay 2’s less-well-known little sister, pretty Clearwater Bay First Beach sits nestled in the northern crook of Clearwater Bay. The sand is clean and there is protected swimming to be had in the bay. Reached the beach from the main road by heading downhill by foot on Tai Wan Tau Road. There is some parking off Clearwater Bay Road by Shing Kee Store, otherwise park at Hang Hau MTR and grab a taxi. Expect crystal-clear waters, fewer visitors and a lifeguarded stretch of sand. There is no kiosk so bring your own supplies.

Nearest MTR – Hang Hau, taxi to Shing Kee Store, Clearwater Bay Road

 

Hoi Ha Wan, New Territories

Lovely Hoi Ha is hidden inside Sai Kung East Country Park, which means you can’t drive there. The strict permit rules at the Country Park gates at Pak Tam Chung make green taxis (about $100 for a return journey) or the number seven minibus from Sai Kung Pier the order of the day. The beach is part of one of Hong Kong’s Marine Parks so it’s worth bringing the snorkels along. Hop off the bus at Hoi Ha Village and make your way past the village and towards the restaurants and beach. The bay boasts 64 of the 84 species of stony corals found in Hong Kong and the area has been a site of scientific interest since the 1980s. Kayaks are also available for hire, and when the tide’s in this is a fun way to paddle out to the corals. Please note dogs are not allowed on the beach on weekends. On an environmental note, corals should not be touched or taken away – stick with the adage “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories” (although the odd photo is fine).

Nearest MTR – Hang Hau or Choi Hung, red taxi to Sai Kung or green taxi to Hoi Ha inside Sai Kung East Country Park

 

Long Ke Wan, New Territories

Secluded Long Ke Wan can only be reached by foot or boat. Visually stunning, the beach is a long way from the bustle of the city and is arguably one of the best beaches in Hong Kong. On weekends the bay fills with junks, but its silky, icing-sugar sands tend to stay relatively quiet. If you’re hiking, catch a green taxi from Sai Kung or from the Country Park gates at Pak Tam Chung to East Dam. With the South China Sea on your right, you’ll soon see a sign to Long Ke Wan, from where you hike down to the beach. This walk is a section of Stage 2 of the MacLehose Trail. Please note there is no kiosk or restaurant on the beach so do bring plenty of water and supplies. If you’d rather travel by water, head to Sai Kung Pier and charter a speedboat. Last summer drivers were charging up to $800 one way.

Nearest MTR – Hang Hau or Choi Hung, red taxi to Sai Kung or green taxi to Long Ke Wan turn-off inside Sai Kung East Country Park

 

Turtle time

One to avoid this summer, and with good reason, is beautiful Turtle Beach on the southern coast of Lamma Island. The beach is a regular turtle-nesting site for endangered green sea turtles, and it’s currently their breeding season. Environmental groups are asking hikers, beach-goers and junk boats to steer clear of the area to give the little fellas a chance.

 

Sumptuous summer afternoon teas you won’t want to miss

Peach & Cream Afternoon Tea 4
Life’s peachy at the Island Shangri-La this summer

Whether you have guests in town or just fancy an afternoon in the air con, afternoon tea is the perfect summer holiday respite, says Carolynne Dear. Pinkies out

The Kerry Hotel

The Kerry Hotel has invited award-winning French chocolatier Christophe Renou to design an exclusive Kerry Chokolate Afternoon Tea. Sweet treats include a decadent Tout en Choc – a chocolate torte whipped up using an exclusive chocolate recipe developed by in-house chefs with chocolatier Valrhona; a rum-soaked baba-boule with pineapple and vanilla whipped ganache (I have to admit a personal weakness for rum baba); and a cute little pot of verrine dame blanche. Savoury bites include bitesize rolls of king crab, yuzu aioli, cucumber and caviar; smoked poached baby pear with goats cheese; semi-dried tomato and foie gras terrine on brioche; and delicate poached organic chicken wraps . And of course there are plenty of fresh scones (both traditional and with candied orange) with lashings of clotted cream, berry preserve and apricot jam to complete the feast. 

The tea is available until September 3, 2.30-5.30pm daily, $538 for two. lobbylounge.khhk@thekerryhotels.com

Island Shangri-La

The Island Shangri-La has unveiled a limited-time only Peaches & Cream tea (pictured above). Pick your way through a smorgasbord of lavish ingredients, including air-dried Wagyu beef and peach on bruschetta, poached scallop and shrimp with lemon confit on spinach bread, plus a selection of delish sandwiches – white tuna mayonnaise is served on rye bread, while cream cheese is served between toasted walnut bread. Peach tart, Champagne mousse with peach, peach melba eclair, white peach and red currant mousse and peach mint macaroon polish things off beautifully.

$338/person, $558 for two; Mon-Fri, 3-6pm; Sat, Sun and public holidays, 2-6pm; until Aug 31; shangri-la.com

Kowloon Shangri-La

The Kowloon Shangri-La is pulling out all the stops to celebrate its 37th birthday with a pink-infused tea. And you can add sparkle to the event with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose in honour of the 200th birthday of the first blended rose by the formidable Madame Clicquot. The tea includes hand-crafted raspberry, sakura and Champagne jam with cranberry scones, pink rose Champagne and lychee jelly, plus savoury treats Balik-style salmon on blini, and lobster salad and beet sandwiches. Additional extras if you’re enjoying a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose include yellowfin tuna tartare brioche with ricotta cream and pink pepper-blanched peaches, goat cheese tortilla wafer served with blackberry compote and confit orange zest, and watermelon and rose petal shooter with white chocolate palmier.

Enjoy the tea between 2 and 5pm, Monday to Friday, $498 for two without Champagne, or $698 for two with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose and special items. http://www.shangri-la.com

Chocolate treats for two at The Kerry Hotel

EAST

Quarry Bay-based hotel EAST has launched a floral-inspired afternoon tea. Waft in on a weekend and enjoy beautiful blossoms infused into a sumptuous summer spread. Delicacies include a lychee rose chiffon, blueberry butterfly pea tart and cherry blossom macarons, as well as fruit scones (naturally) and triple cheesecake. Imaginative savoury bites including lobster treasure box, goose liver creme brulee, Hokkaido scallop tartlet and beet pesto crostini.  

The afternoon tea set is available between 3 and 5.30pm on weekends and public holidays, $368 for two and an additional $240/extra person. reservations@sugar-hongkong.com

 

Grand Hyatt

Cool off at Tiffin in the Grand Hyatt with a scoop of ice cream alongside your tea. Following a campaign earlier this year inviting Hong Kongers to come up with some inventive new flavours, the hotel is now including six of the best as part of its afternoon tea set. The intriguingly named Pigs can Fly, Frozen Lederhosen, So Thai and Royal Fantasy feature ingredients as diverse as salted egg yolk and pork floss to mango sticky rice and coconut. Meanwhile, the tea-stand is host to decadent salted caramel chocolate cake, raspberry cheese tart, pistachio profiterole, apricot jelly and Greek yoghurt mousse with honey lemon.

The tea is available 3.30-5.30pm daily, $298/person or $596 for two, and on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays at $328/person or $656 for two. www.hongkong.grand.hyattrestaurants.com

 

 

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.

 

A green initiative to keep Hong Kong’s beaches clean

IMG_2432
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.

Sign up at thegreen52.com.

Women-only art exhibition comes to Hong Kong

AWA_art-189
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 www.awa.org.hk.

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…

StitchUp-KD1.jpg
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/

 

Yoga poseur

File 21-11-2017, 2 54 04 PM
Taking time out between yoga classes in Central, Hong Kong

 

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.

Contact Yoga For Life at mindy@yogaforlife.com.hk or WhatsApp 9748 4567.