Friday, 28 April 2017

The Island Life for Me




My favourite place in Hong Kong is aboard the Star Ferry.  It’s an eight minute journey that takes you across Victoria Harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui to either the Wan Chai Convention Centre or Central Pier 7.  I have done this journey in glorious sunshine, fog, a rainstorm, after a night out and just for the hell of it - you name it, the Star Ferry beats on against the current.  It is an integral part of Hong Kong’s heritage and culture, carrying over 70,000 passengers a day.  Twice in its 129 year history have protests erupted over proposed changes to its operation; in 1966 over fare charges and as recently as 2006 when its docking point was moved.  

One of the reasons I love the Star Ferry so much is that it links Hong Kong’s two worlds: Hong Kong Island and ‘the Kowloon side’.  I work and live on the Island and can’t imagine doing otherwise.  Equally, those in Kowloon feel the same.  Stereotypes tend to hold true; the Island can be more polished, Westernised and expensive, Kowloon has a rawer edge and $5 (50p) dumplings on almost every corner.  

In many ways, it seems appropriate that a city which prides itself on being the place where East meets West should have such a geographical divide (although in this case, it’s South meets North).  On the other hand, it is, of course, an arbitrary distinction.  Hong Kong’s melting pot of cultural habits spills out everywhere.  In Sheung Wan, a young expat enclave, live fish flap on the cutting boards of market stalls while just next door you can enter a speakeasy restaurant named for an international burlesque dancer and enjoy ‘Thai Western Cuisine’ - whatever that may be.  

Choice is the Island’s watchword and raison d’etre.  Everything is on offer.  The joy of living in Hong Kong is that nothing ever has to give - although sometimes it’s helpful to let go of any claustrophobia.  Studying in Edinburgh, I had to forgo the sensation of warmth for almost four years and, more significantly, I had to give up Mexican food because it simply wasn’t there.  In Hong Kong, it’s all there, jumbled up next to each other or on top of each other and ready for your custom.


Hong Kong Island condenses this idea: it’s the place where anything and anyone goes and whatever you choose is on offer.  A beauty pageant organised by Filipino domestic workers right outside the HSBC building, one of the most striking and famous towers of Hong Kong?  Sure!  Why not?  This is one of the reasons I have fallen in love with Hong Kong.  It is unadulterated and unapologetic in its inclusivity and variety.  It sits in a precarious political position but its people are welcoming and its society always seem to have their arms open wide to innovators, businesses, entrepreneurs and even native English teachers.

Every time I take the Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui, I’m reminded of this sentiment.  I always hang my head out the window to try and grasp the magnitude of the skyscrapers lining up before me, inviting me to take my pick and welcoming me to the place where you can have whatever you want.



Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Hong Kong's 10 Hottest Holidays


And here we are, in the Hong Kong Chatteris Office, gearing up for the Easter holidays and the question on everyone’s lips - where are you going?

  1. Philippines
    1. Step into your desktop screensaver and feel the white sand and turquoise waters all around you. Although the sky may not always be clear blue because you really are in the tropics, the Philippines has so much to offer and is perfect if you need to budget. Top tip: go diving, but avoid the unfriendly whale shark tourist traps.

  1. Taiwan
    1. Ideal for a short break or a weekend get away. You’ll find some of the best night markets ever, complete with dumplings, bubble tea and lots of games - games which you can actually win! The food is also next level and very interesting. Top tip: taste everything.

        

  1. Thailand
    1. The backpacker cliché which everyone tries to avoid but secretly loves. Don’t be ashamed, you get that bucket and take an ‘ironic’ selfie and have a great time. Also great for scuba diving, with islands such as Koh Tao offering some of the best and cheapest diving in the world. Top tip: settle a taxi price at the start of the journey.
  2. Vietnam
    1. Pho sure, you gotta go and try everything from fresh rice paper rolls to local Saigon beer. If you’re a confident driver then join in the fun and rent a motorbike (at your own risk), if not just take a bicycle and ride through the beautiful villages in Hoi An. Top tip: leave room in your suitcase to get some clothes made.

      
  1. Staycation
    1. Why bother leaving? Everything you need is right here on your doorstep, go camping in Sai Kung Country Park with the cows, or rent an AirBnB on Cheung Chau island and you’ll feel miles from the city whilst only having to endure a 30 minute boat ride. Top tip: do your research, because rent prices around here can be silly!
  2. China
    1. Bare with the lines at immigration, get yourself a visa and cross the border into the Middle Kingdom. Catch a train into the countryside of Guilin, discover the vast history of Beijing or simply cross the border and visit Shenzen’s 24 hour spa. Top tip: Get your visa in advance.
  3. South Korea
    1. Seoul is a big hotspot for Hong-Kongers and I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t recommended it tremendously. Get ready to feel uncool and eat lots of fried chicken and don’t forget your polaroid. Top tip: Save some money to buy some clothes because once you see the fashion you’ll want a piece of it.
  4. Australia
    1. Save up, spread your wings and head straight south to the land of day drinking and high UV rays. Find the great barrier reef before it disappears or get your edges out in Melbourne. Top tip: wear suncream and check their immigration laws.


  1. Myanmar
    1. Experience breathtaking temples at sunrise and beautiful landscapes as Myanmar undergoes a historic change. Top tip: do your research and keep up to date as things are changing quickly.
  2. Macau
    1. A little different to others, jump on a one hour ferry ride and get lost in the vast hotels and casinos or head over to the old town for some history. Don’t think you can walk between these because you can’t, and the casinos do tend to be a little more serious than others you may have had the pleasure of visiting! Top tip: try an egg tart.