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/

 

Yoga poseur

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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.

 

Heritage Hong Kong – The Helena May

(Originally printed in the September issue of Expat Parent, http://www.expat-parent.com)

By Carolynne Dear

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Club founder Lady Helena May with her husband, HK Governor Sir Francis Henry May, and daughters Stella, Phoebe, Iris and Dione, 1916.

 

There’s a gentle buzz of conversation and the chink of cutlery scraping china as I am whisked through an elegant Edwardian dining room and into the even more glorious confines of the “Blue Room”. It is lunch time at the Helena May, as members and their guests enjoy a cool catch-up over a meal or a drink, on what is a stinking hot day outside.

This is Hong Kong’s “club for women”, a private institution for Hong Kong’s ladies to meet, socialise and network, and I am here to find out more about its remarkable past from current chair of council, Tina Seib.

It was set-up and initially run by Lady Helena May – wife of Hong Kong’s then governor, Sir Francis Henry May – and financed by various wealthy donors of the day, including Ho Kom Tong, the Ho Tung family and Dr Ellis Kadoorie.

Its raison d’etre was as a safe and comfortable refuge for the increasing numbers of single, expatriate women arriving in Hong Kong. As a mother of four daughters, Lady May was no doubt well aware of the lack of facilities in Hong Kong for single women at that time.

The beginning of the twentieth century was a period of increasing independence and social mobility for women. The suffragette movement was in full swing in Britain, while new technology – such as the telephone and the typewriter – was opening up jobs suited to “female characteristics”, namely “nimble fingers” and a “polite manner”.

Many women ventured overseas – in search of employment and adventure – encouraged by advertising from the British Women’s Emigration Association, as well as male migration.

“Of course a certain percentage came on a husband-hunting mission, as was common at the time,” explains current chair of council, Tina Seib. “But many others came to work. Whatever their reasons, these women needed a safe place to stay, a respectable address for job applications, and somewhere they could meet other women.” Modern Hong Kong is a world away from the city of the 1900s where disease and neighbourhoods of ill-repute were widespread.

Over the years, the club has become somewhat synonymous with its matronly 10pm curfew and “no gentlemen upstairs” rule. But this should not detract from the role it played in enabling many single women to live and work comfortably in Hong Kong in what was then a strongly patriarchal society.

The club still boasts accommodation, both for long and short-term stays. “The residents effectively live in a grand mansion house and have the run of the place,” enthuses Esther Morris in her book “Helena May”. “There is nowhere else quite like it.”

One such resident was Joan Campbell, current principal of the Carol Bateman dance school housed within the Helena May building. She arrived in Hong Kong in the 1950s as a young dancer and initially stayed in the Blue Room at the Helena May, the residential area of the club being full at the time. This year, she found herself on the Queen’s 90th birthday honours list and received an MBE for her contribution to dance in Hong Kong.

 

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The Helena May’s current Chair of Council, Tina Seib.

“We are lucky to have an immense pool of talent and skill-sets amongst our membership today,” says Seib. “Whether they are homemakers, mothers, lawyers, journalists, bankers or architects, Hong Kong born-and-bred or here on a fleeting two-year contract, our members all have something positive to contribute to the club. The varied membership also continues the club’s tradition of being an excellent networking base for women.”

Indeed all members are expected to volunteer towards the running of the Helena May in some shape or form, whether it’s manning desk in the library from time to time, advising on building maintenance, or helping to organise charity and social events.

The grand Edwardian building itself is an adaptation of the Renaissance style, designed by architects Denison, Ram & Gibbs, who also worked on the Matilda Hospital and the Repulse Bay Hotel. It originally boasted a recreation ground, a lecture and concert hall, a reading and writing room, bedrooms on the first floor, and a room “for afternoon teas, where members are allowed to bring in their gentlemen friends.”

Seib is keen to impress that the maintenance of the building, the outside of which is listed, is the responsibility of the club’s council. The last three years have seen extensive renovations, including re-wiring, damp-proofing and the opening up and restoration of original ceilings covered over during the 1980s, most notably in the elegant Blue Room.

The Helena May was deliberately positioned close to Central, close to the Peak tram (the Peak was home for most colonial ladies who would have been involved with the club), close to the Governor’s house on Upper Albert Road, and just across the road from St John’s Cathedral. In those days, Garden Road was just that, a leafy enclave. These days the club battles somewhat with the noise from the concrete overpasses that now thread their way through mid-levels.

To non-members, the club is probably best-known for its extensive library, and for its ballet school – The Carol Bateman School of Dancing – which has seen thousands of tutu-bedecked children trip through its doors since it was founded in 1948. Bateman had been interred in Stanley during the war and was anxious to start children’s dancing classes as she had done in Shanghai before the war – she began with four sessions a week, renting a room for 20 pounds.

The library was founded in the 1920s and today holds the largest private collection of English-language books in Hong Kong.

During the second world war, all the books were removed and replaced with Japanese tomes in a propaganda drive to impress Japanese culture onto an unreceptive local Chinese population. The club itself was used for stabling horses and was completely looted by the Japanese.

After the war, members were encouraged to “bring a book” each time they visited the club in an effort to return the library to its former glory. The children’s section now contains over 6,000 books and junior club membership is offered for free so children can use the library (“book borrowing by children is surprisingly on the increase,” notes Seib).

The Helena May is also still very much a charity-driven institution. It supports a different charity each year – this year the Marycove Centre in Aberdeen. There is a student mentoring programme in conjunction with Hong Kong University, and the club also offers two scholarships each year for the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. A former recipient of a Helena May scholarship, Pik-sun Chan, now a professional musician, returned to perform at the club’s centenary launch celebrations in February.

In a rather nice twist, the club shares its centenary with the Hong Kong Girl Guide Association, a group with which it still retains links. Each year, English-speaking members volunteer to test local Guides working towards their English Conversation Badge at an Annual Assessment Day, where the girls and their families are invited into the club.

Its graceful interiors coveted by many a bride-to-be, the club also hosts around 50 weddings a year.

It may not be the hippest club in town, it has no sporting teams to boast of and its facilities are minimal, but in its own way the Helena May has quietly stayed true to its mission of supporting Hong Kong’s women for one hundred – often tumultuous – years.

As I take my leave, Seib points out a golden plaque that has recently been hung in the front porch. It’s engraved with all the women to have taken the chair of the club since 1916. “We’ve never had anything like this,” she says, giving it a quick polish. “The club has  never really boasted about what it has achieved. And then I thought, why not? These women have quietly worked so hard. So we had this little plaque made.”

Indeed, as remarked by the Bishop of Victoria during the opening ceremony: “The management of this Institute… shall not be an easy task. I shall watch your work with an interest.”

It would seem that the ladies have done him proud.

 

Private island paradise is just an hour from Singapore

(published in the September 2016 issue of Expat Parent, http://www.expat-parent.com)

 

 

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Barefoot bliss on Nikoi Island, Indonesia

A few years ago I was corresponding with a “mummy friend” who had recently moved to Singapore with hertoddler.

“Oh, we’re renting a desert island with some of our playgroup friends,” she breezily told me when I asked what she was up to over the summer. At the time, pre-Hong Kong days, my own playgroup get togethers consisted of a dusty community hall, an urn of over-stewed tea and several vegemite-smeared children playing noisily on a plastic climbing frame.

Phew, I thought, what a life! And with nothing much to reply to a statement like that, the conversation swiftly ended.

And yet, several years later, here I am, settling back on the silky sands of said private desert island, while the kids disappear down a leafy jungle path to play, not an i-pad or a pokemon (or a vegemite sandwich) in sight.

Welcome to Nikoi, a modern day shangri-la for weary parents everywhere.

Nikoi Island lies in Indonesian territory approximately 80kms south of Singapore, nestling serenely off Bintan Island, close to where the South China and Java Seas meet.

To reach it, we flew into Singapore and caught one of the regular high-speed ferries from Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Bandar Bentan Telani on Bintan Island (an easy journey of approximately one hour). From there, a car met us to whisk us across Bintan to a private launch (a 45-minute journey), and this powered us over to tiny Nikoi in under half an hour.

As we approached the island, the white sandy beaches, swaying palms, and wooden grass thatched beach huts felt a million miles away from our early breakfast in downtown Singapore.

Nikoi was “discovered” by long-term Australian expat Andrew Dixon, and American Peter Timmer (who had been living on Bintan for the past eighteen years). Dixon, disenchanted with what was on offer for holiday-makers in the region, had decided to explore the then undiscovered east coast of Bintan.

Fed up with either flea-ridden beach shacks or grandiose marble and chandelier be-decked resorts, Dixon was looking to create something of good quality but genuinely in tune with the natural environment.

So, the pair hired a tiny fishing boat to take a look at a nearby island that was reputably up for sale. On landing, they were amazed to discover gorgeous beaches, pristine reefs, extraordinary rock formations and verdant rainforest. “It was hard to believe a piece of paradise like this could remain uninhabited and untouched a mere 50 miles from Singapore,” says Dixon.

Significantly, the pair do not describe Nikoi as an “eco-resort”, considering the term to be overused. While creating a quality destination, they just wanted it to respect the natural environment – “as much as possible, we have left Nikoi as we found it – a desert island,” explains Dixon.

“Our plan was to develop a private island, not a resort,” he says. “We wanted guests to enjoy the best of local dishes and appreciate service that is relaxed and genuine – not bound by training manuals and fake smiles.” He likens the island to “luxury Survivor”.

It would appear they have achieved their aim. Entirely constructed of driftwood, with a grass roof and exciting tree-top walkways linking the bedrooms and two bathrooms, our beach hut is what dreams are made of for our seven-year-old boy. There are no doors, no windows, no air conditioning – just gentle sea breezes, ceiling fans, graceful mosquito nets draping the beds (although I have to admit we didn’t have a single problem with biting insects, a welcome change from our own New Territories backyard), simple bathrooms, extremely comfortable beds – and a handy torch for after-dark.

Almost paralysed with excitement, the seven and nine-year olds decide to move their mattresses and sleep in the huge wood-hewn window seats.

And as you would expect of a quality resort, the gentle staff visit every morning to sweep our sandy floorboards and mop the bathrooms.

This is barefoot living at its best, and our days quickly relax into a stunning early morning kayak around the island (even the seven-year-old can manage it by the end of the week), followed by jetty-jumping and snorkelling for the kids while I catch up on my pile of magazines on the beach, and finally an indulgent lunch.

 

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The kids enjoying an afternoon in the resort pool. 

 

The catering on the island is what impresses me most – the dining room consists of a long, polished table – perfect for our large group of friends from Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong – in an open-sided, sandy-floored, dining hut by the beach.

The daily “menu d’hote” is chalked up on a board at breakfast-time, with sensible alternatives for the children (thank god, not a chicken nugget in sight), which mostly consist of local dishes using fresh ingredients – fish and seafood feature regularly. Parents everywhere will appreciate the bliss of not having to navigate an a la carte menu plus fast food-laden kids menu every mealtime.

In the afternoon, the children disappear to do their favourite thing on Nikkoi – Yogi’s kids club. Yogi is amazing, he spends hours with them, carving wooden objects for them, showing them how to mix mocktails behind the little bar, designing complicated adventure games covering the length and breadth of the island – this is about as close as you will get to an Enid Blyton childhood in the age of tech. Rather marvellously, they disappear for hours on end, leaving us parents to retreat to the pool on the other side of the island with books, i-pads and cocktails.

A couple of evenings we did manage to rouse ourselves for a tennis match with the kids (on the immaculate grass court – Wimbledon eat your heart out), as well as enjoy the odd massage (a team of masseurs are happy to stop by your beach hut).

Dinner is served early for the kids, so they can disappear off with Yogi for an evening by the beach bonfire or watching a movie on the huge outdoor screen at the kids club hut. Again, we adults are left alone to linger over our food and wine.

By the end of the week, none of us is ready to go home and the eleven-year-old virtually has us in a headlock promising to come back next year. “Seriously mum, it’s our best ever holiday!” she pleads with us.

To be honest, I’ve never seen our well-travelled, been there, done that children quite so animated about a holiday. We will certainly be back some day…

 

More info…

There are fifteen beach huts on Nikoi, with either two or three bedrooms.

The island can be rented privately, or as individual huts (nikoi.com). We travelled with other other families with similarly aged children, which worked well.

From Hong Kong, we broke our journey with an overnight stay at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport (crowneplaza.com).

The Bintan Resort Ferries can get busy and should be booked in advance (brf.com.sg), as well as the car pick-up from Bendar Bentan Talani (this should be organised through Nikoi Island, nikoi.com).

The group is launching another, adult-only luxury destination on privately-owned Cempedak Island at the beginning of 2017 (cempedak.com).