Walks 3 – Lamma Island

Hong Kong is made up of many islands, but Lamma is probably my favourite. It’s where I’ll retire to – if I stay in Hong Kong long enough to do so. There are no cars, British style pubs and cafes (but not in a Benidorm kind of way), beaches, jungles and, best of all, aging hippies.

There are two main villages on the island, Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan, and the pictures below are of the hour long walk between them. The only drawback to the island is the massive power station that is constantly in the corner of your eye wherever you are on the island. According to the Hong Kong Chinese, the power station’s three towers look like the three sticks of incense that you burn for the dead, and therefore to have a house overlooking it is bad luck. Note the picture of me in the sea – on New Year’s Day, dammit!

DSC_0247 DSC_0099 DSC_0100 DSC_1064 DSC_1067 DSC_1070 DSC_1072

Superstar Teacher (Here We Go)

When I was a lad, I had a poster of Paul Scholes on my wall and a Baby Spice badge on my jacket. All perfectly normal… But kids in Hong Kong don’t hero-worship pop stars, actors or footballers, oh no. The idols here are exam tutors! Their pictures are on the back and sides of every bus in the city, or on massive billboards where they stand in tuxedos and cocktail dresses and flash their gleaming teeth. Take a look…

DSC_0147 DSC_0170 DSC_0251 DSC_0252

In school playgrounds, boys swap Tutor Top Trumps – in which one superstar tutor trumps another using skills like ‘Homework Difficulty’ and ‘Voice Projection’. Teenage girls cover their bedroom walls with posters of (Intensive) Kenneth Lau and scribble the names of famous tutors in place of their own surnames to see how they sound. Tens of thousands pour in to Hong Kong Coliseum to hold up flashing messages and listen to their favourite tutors; but the relentless screaming from the fans means that you can’t make out a word they are saying. Paparazzi magazines are fueled by snaps of a knicker-less Dr Susan Yip or Thomas Wang caught en-flagrante in a public toilet…

Perhaps I exaggerate a little, but the star-tutoring craze does highlight one big problem with the educational system in Hong Kong: they are a symptom of the crazy amount of pressure that is lumped on to students here, which removes all the wonder and enjoyment from the learning process and reduces it to slaving 12 hours a day towards a set of exams that will determine the rest of your life. Or maybe I’m just jealous because I’m also a teacher yet have never been seen on the side of the 81A.

Anyway, the BBC also did an article on this the other week, and this is the link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20085558

Hong Kong Christmas

DSC_0219       DSC_0217

I’ve now spent two Christmases (Christmasi?) away from the UK. My first ever Hong Kong Christmas in addition to one spent five years ago in Thailand. “How does it differ?” I hear you begging to know. “What do people eat??” “Where do people go??” “Did they show the Downton Christmas special??” Well…

Difference 1: The Weather. Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong gets cold. Well, by ‘popular belief” I mean ‘my belief’, as I never expected it to get quite so chilly. One day I wore a scarf! Our apartment has no heater and so stores the cold much like it stores the heat during the sweaty summer. There were two days of sunshine over New Year and, of course, I was unprepared and managed to get sunburned. Sunburned on January 1st – something only a ginger could achieve. It was so balmy that I even had a New Year’s dip in the sea. Granted, there are people in Scotland who, come January 1st, gleefully chuck themselves in the Firth of Forth but they are a special brand of mental. Thailand, on the other hand, is gloriously warm between November and February and I’m going there next year…DSC_0259

Difference 2: The Food. Not really a difference, as such, as I could get all the usual fare from M & S, although at extortionate prices. I’ve never met an Asian person (and I’ve tried Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean) who likes mince pies. Sweet tofu pudding and red bean soup – OK; but not mince pies… For Chrimbo din-dins I cooked a chicken (no turkey) stir-fry followed by Christmas pudding and brandy sauce. I also remember cooking a proper dinner with all the trimmings for our colleagues in Thailand:

“We’ll need a turkey, potatoes, carrots, sausages, bacon, gravy etc etc etc” I said.

“And rice?” they asked.

“No. Definitely not. We really don’t need rice.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

So, on Christmas day we presented a bronzed turkey, steaming plates of veg and a juicy pudding, only to find a big tray of fried rice already waiting at table. And, do you know what? It was the only dish that got finished.

Difference 3: The music. It’s Christmas music; but not as we know it. ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Frostie the Snowman’ and ‘White Christmas’ are played in all the shops, but the sort of recordings you would buy in petrol station bargain bins. All kids’ choirs and instrumental versions. Leaves you begging for Wizzard, I can tell you. And it keeps playing long after the big day. I passed a shop yesterday (Jan 4th) and Santa Claus was still coming to town.

I’ve added a couple of pics of the decorations, which ranged from the massive (whole skyscrapers draped in lights) to the frankly half-arsed. My favourite ‘attempt’ was in Kowloon Post-Office, where each service window had one little bauble hanging limply from the counter. All in all, Christmas in Hong Kong felt like style over substance: the right songs, the right decorations and the right food (if you were willing to pay for it) but no exchanging presents or dinners with the whole family. After all, I guess it’s not a Christian country and they don’t have the same traditions. On the 25th all the shops opened and people went shopping and out for dinner like any old Saturday.

However, my favourite aspect of Hong Kong Christmas has to be the Christmas Eve ‘Countdown to Christmas’ at midnight in Victoria Harbour. Bearing in mind that the 25th here is just a public holiday, that’s like thousands of people gathering at Edinburgh Castle or along the Thames to welcome in the May Bank Holiday.