Round Here

Some street views from around my flat in Yau Ma Tei. Not the swankiest part of Hong Kong, but as ‘real’ as you can get. Historically Kowloon is the more ‘Chinese’ part of the city (compared to Hong Kong island), and I live in one of the grittier bits. One of the shots (No. 2) shows my apartment building – third floor on the left. It’s not the huge building covered in green and yellow diamonds; that’s just one of my favourite buildings in the city. I can’t imagine how many seedy hostels, clubs and gyms are open in there… The first photo is of Nathan Road – the main street that stretches from north to south through Kowloon. I hate: it’s smoggy and noisy (even with headphones on!). I could take it to go to most places from the flat, but I tend to walk down one of the more sedate, relatively speaking, side-streets.

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Jet Lag Football

I’ve just finished watching ‘Sportscene’ – the weekly highlights programme for the SPL. For the past five, six, nay seven years I’ve not been a regular viewer. But I’ve seen every episode so far this season… Why the sudden interest?

I’ve got 3 possible answers: A) this is how my homesickness has chosen to manifest – I’m not overly missing family, friends or the driving rain; but I’m getting misty eyed at the sight of Tynecastle or Fir Park on my laptop. B) There’s no Rangers, so I don’t have to fast forward through their matches. C) There’s no Dunfermline, my hometown team, after last season’s relegation and I don’t have to witness their weekly attempts to re-invent football as a sport where silly things like possession and goals are soooo overrated.

Or maybe it’s because I can’t actually watch that much football in Hong Kong. The TV package to which I subscribe doesn’t have the Premiership, the Champions’ League or most other European Leagues – I’m left with La Liga, the J League, the Brasileriao (?), the Eredivisie (??) and, for the truly desperate, the HK League. I chose this package as they had exclusive Euro 2012 rights; but now that’s all done and dusted I’m beginning to regret my choice. Even if I did have more to choose from I would be unable to watch the majority of it…

Your average Premiership game kicks off at 10/11pm here. The Champions’ League gets going at the unthinkable time of 3am on a weekday morning. That’s not a ‘stay up late’ time or a ‘get up early’ time – it’s just no man’s time. It makes me wonder how the Asian market became so lucrative for the big European teams, as your average Chinese, Japanese or Korean ‘fan’ must rarely catch a live match. 

Watching Euro 2012, incidentally, was an endurance test. Sometimes I managed to stay awake through the early kick off (finishing at 2am HK time). But, with class upon class of hyperactive 8 year olds waiting for me the next day, watching the late game was out of the question. So, I had to run a gauntlet of emails, texts, websites and idle staff-room chatter each day to arrive home unscathed and enjoy the previous night’s games. Even the MTR journey to work was fraught with dangers – they’ve only gone and stuck TVs all around the carriages! I soon learned to keep my eyes on the floor and my earphones buried deep. Surprisingly, I only failed twice. On the first occasion I had barely stepped on to the train when waiting for me, like a bucket of water propped on top of the door, was a screen announcing: UKRAINE 2 SWEDEN 1. I hadn’t had time to think, and it ruined my day. On the second occasion, settling down for England – Sweden, I opened a message from an otherwise reliably non-footballing friend declaring lots of love for Theo Walcott. Ruined my weekend, that one.

Anyway, as the season gets into its rhythm, I’m still working out how to enjoy football here. It looks like it’s going to be lots of scrappy online clips and an eventual love for Kitchee (HK league champs, in case you wonder…) Next year, Match of the Day is going to be readily available online, so perhaps the sight of Alan Hansen’s louche slumping will tug my heartstrings as much as shots of the Caledonian Homes Stadium do now…

First 2 weeks…

Some photos from my first 2 weeks in Hong Kong, before I started work. Apart from unpacking and tidying and getting used to the humidity, I got out and saw some of the country:

The first couple of pics are of Shing Mun country park. It was here I discovered that people in HK like to listen to music while walking in the country. But not through headphones, no; through hand held speakers. Strolling around the reservoir you would at first hear a faint sound drawing closer, then realise that it was Lady GaGa playing before a middle aged woman power-walked past with the music pumping from her back pocket. I love GaGa, but it did seem mildly out of place. There are also lots of monkeys in the park (yes, the one in the photo is picking at the other’s fanny). I still smile to think that I actually live somewhere with things like wild monkeys and beaches. Of course, the UK has beaches – but I mean proper beaches where you can sunbathe rather than be blown off your feet by gales, and swim rather than dip a toe in the shallows before contracting frostbite.

The next photo is off 24 decorative flowers that I stuck on our living room wall.  I have since spent the last 5 months sticking them back on after they have fallen off, one by one.

The three photos after that are of the Kowloon Walled Garden, which stands on the sight of the notorious Walled City. 20 years ago this was the most densely populated place on the planet. At its height there were 33000 people living an an area of o.o1 square miles. It was basically lawless, ruled by neither Britain nor China, and was filled with triad members, drug addicts and prostitutes. A bit like *insert local, scaffy provincial town of choice here (I’d personally go for Kelty)*. Anyway, in the early ’90s it was demolished, a park built with nice gardens and pagodas, and all the druggies and gangsters renounced their ways and became law-abiding citizens elsewhere in Hong Kong. As if…

The next 2 photos are of Wong Tai Sin – a big temple in the north of the city. It was big, and there were lots of people burning incense and praying. I can’t really offer much more of a description than that.

After that are 3 photos of Peng Chau which means (I think…) Little Island. Hong Kong is a sweaty, steamy seething mass of humanity but it is surprisingly easy to escape by heading for an island or the New Territories. As you can see from these pictures, it’s not a scene that you would usually associate with Hong Kong. The man with the dogs kindly opened up his living room and gave us a can of coke. Which was lovely.

The 2 city views are from a cocktail bar at the top of The One shopping centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. There is something strangely beautiful about a city at night. In fact, the bigger and shinier the city the more picturesque it becomes when the sun goes down.

Then there is a picture of a typical ‘hot-pot’ – a common way of eating for Hong Kongers. I can’t remember what all the foods are on the table. I probably had not idea what they were at the time, either.

The final three photos are of from a bike ride we took from Sha Tin to Tai Mei Tuk, around Tolo Harbour. I can see the mountains in the picture every day, from the staffroom at work. On this trip I managed to get myself burned to a bright shade of pink, even though the sun never actually came out. Rule #7 for gingers in the sun: you can still get burned through the clouds. In one photo I’m pretending to pee in the water – but you can clearly see the bottle. Oh well…

Five Months Later….

I set this blog up four days before I moved to Hong Kong with grand ideas about recording my new life: what I saw, where I went, what I ate, who I met… Five months later and this is my very first post.

It turns out that, following a move to a new country, there’s a fair bit to do. Blogging took a backseat to the thrilling business of opening bank accounts, processing visas, getting ID cards, obtaining a teaching licence, health checks, mobile phone contracts, ransacking IKEA, starting a new job, learning Cantonese and just generally, you know, settling in.

Then, as time went on I began to wonder, if and when I started my blog, who would actually read it? I’ve only moved to Hong Kong. One of the biggest, most international cities on the planet. People have been moving here for decades, centuries even. I can be at a McDonald’s in less than two minutes from where I’m writing this. I’m watching the US Open as I type. I can even buy Irn Bru, for God’s sake. It’s just like home! I am not squatting in a mud hut in the Congo or shivering half way up a mountain in Tibet. Who would honestly be interested in my ‘experiences’?

So, the blog was shelved until now. I’ve decided to start writing it for me, basically. I know that when (if?) I ever leave Hong Kong I’ll regret not having recorded it in some way. If somebody happens to read it – then even better.

I also feel like I’ve settled in. I’ve just started my second term at work and, more importantly, I’ve recently joined the local library. You haven’t really moved somewhere until you’ve joined a library. Following that, I knew it was time to start a blog.