Friday, 28 April 2017

The Island Life for Me by Augusta Anthony

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 by Martha Warner Smith

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.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A Taste of Sham Shui Po by Dan Pearce

Since my spectacular fall from the vegetarian wagon during an overly exuberant Cumbrian Christmas, Sham Shui Po, a district in Kowloon, has started to look a little different. When I first moved here I was distinctly unimpressed by its garish displays of neon lights and the promises of foot massages on every corner. Perhaps this is unsurprising given my only previous exposure to cosmopolitan living has come in the form of Shrewsbury and the leafy suburbs of South Dublin, however in recent months I have come to appreciate all of her perks and count myself very lucky to live here. Mingling with the bankers and insurance brokers on my rugby team who reside in the more traditional expat enclaves, I have begun to see just how unique our experiences as CNETs are. We have an opportunity to live and work in areas rarely seen by outsiders, allowing us to sample a true taste of Hong Kong life.
Sham Shui Po (hereafter referred to as The Po) fits this bill entirely. I have always found a certain pleasure in wandering around aimlessly but, being conscious of the lack of time that I have perhaps left in Hong Kong, I have decided to make these meanderings a little less aimless by coupling them with my search for exciting and authentic food. In doing so I hope to gain a clearer picture of the unique and eclectic place that I have called home for the past seven months.
Whilst traipsing around The Po I am reminded of my impatient seven year old self, already three years into a relentless Haribo addiction that would refuse to release its nectarous embrace until my teenage years. I remember the huge crowds of people blocking my path to Space Mountain on a family holiday to Disneyland and my mother leaning towards me and saying ‘Queues are a good sign, you know.’ This was too much for my sugar-addled brain to handle at the time however when I saw the snaking line outside Lau Sum Kee I finally understood what the poor woman had been talking about. In The Po long queues are your Tripadvisor, your bread and butter, your Church. They are the embodiment of a pleasure worth waiting for although, in retrospect, Space Mountain was rubbish.
Lau Sum Kee, however, is not. A Kowloon institution, be prepared to share a cramped table with complete strangers. In true Po fashion the atmosphere is convivial and lively, it’s a great place to people watch and to eavesdrop on conversations that you have no hope of understanding. They are particularly well known for their shrimp roe noodles and slow-cooked beef brisket. Being the maverick and trend-setting figure that I am, I went for neither of these options, instead opting for a wonton soup. For around 30 dollars it was a steal so I even treated myself to a Coke (other carbonated beverages are available). The soup itself was laden with an impressive depth of flavour reminiscent of long simmered beef and an array of spices. This cacophony of deliciousness was complimented well by the homemade pickled radishes whose jars adorn every table. They even have an English menu for those of you who don’t like to adhere to the point and hope method of food ordering.
Next on my culinary Hajj was the Kashmir Curry House on Yen Chow Street. The Po has a large South Asian community and as such is one of the best places in Hong Kong to sample some fare less commonly available, in a setting less foreboding, than the den of iniquity that is Chungking Mansions. For more information on Chungking Mansions please see also ‘Inferno’ by D. Alighieri.  I was originally attracted to this unassuming place as they had some nice looking samosas and parathas outside and the friendly proprietor was only too happy to stop and have a chat when she saw my admiring glances (at the samosas not her you understand). The restaurant itself is fairly cramped but the food more than makes up for this with its hearty portions and excellent service. As for its authenticity, please remember that this article was written by someone who was once a regular at University rugby socials held at the Curry Lounge, Nottingham. Needless to say I am an expert and Kashmir Curry House definitely gets my highly sought-after seal of approval.
For those, like myself, who have Mediterranean blood, there are also some al-fresco dining options to be enjoyed in The Po. One such place is Keung Kee, a traditional ‘dai pai dong’ street food restaurant and one of the few left in Hong Kong. Essentially this means that you might end up enjoying your food in the close proximity of an overflowing skip so be warned. The skip aside, I feel that these places encompass all that is so special about Hong Kong and The Po in particular. The tables on the street are packed every night of the week with families and friends laughing and joking over plates of shared food. It reminds me of a Madrid tapas bar or an Irish dinner table where the social aspects of eating are really emphasised, perhaps something that is missing in a more conventional restaurant atmosphere. This is a place to bring a few friends on a warm evening, order a few bottles of Blue Girl and have a good old giggle.
So there you have it, not an exhaustive list admittedly but hopefully some food for thought. If you missed the pun, re-read the last sentence. Happy eating.