Friday, December 31, 2010

One for the books...

Well well well. What a year 2010 has been! Where do I even start?

I left my job after almost 4 years there.
I finished what felt like a very long slog at uni with some hard-core exams and a 10,000 word thesis.
I had the most unbelievably life changing laser-eye surgery.
I left what felt like my home - London.
I said goodbye to some of the best friends I'll ever have.
I said "I do".
I moved my life to Hong Kong.
I've been rocked by serious family illness.
I belted out some anthems with Snoop, Powderfinger, Roachford.
I made some fantastic new friends.
And I took the plunge and started a blog!

A few incredible trips were thrown in there too:
Berlin, Hong Kong, Sydney, Lakes District, Lake Como, Paris, Sydney again, Byron Bay, Maldives and Hong Kong again.....not bad, eh?

It's been a huge year of change, action, ups, downs, new and old. I think most years are like that when you reflect on them but I'm just not sure we're ever really going to have another year quite like this one. It's amazing how much you can cope with, what you can get through, the life-changing decisions you can make. It will certainly go down in the books as one to remember! That's kind of the point though right? Who really wants an uninspiring, boring, uneventful year? Life is here to be lived. So bring on 2011 and all the action we can handle...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My love for the new but not so new...

We moved here from London with a many a box, lots of clothing, much junk and zero furniture. None of the places here are furnished, so purchases just had to be made to make our empty apartment start to feel like a home. The 26 floors of furniture and homewares stores in Horizon Plaza at Ap Lei Chau very swiftly became my purchasing destination of choice (obviously). There are still bits and pieces to come but I wanted to share with you some of the bits that make me smile when I walk in the front door.

Our new couch arrived yesterday - and boy does she make me smile! We've had a rental for the past 6 weeks that was half the size and in 2 pieces (which meant it inevitably split apart after 5 minutes of lounging) - not great for two 6ft+ lanky giants. This one on the other hand? Well - she is everything one could possibly want in a couch. Don't you think?

This gem is from a distant province in China and is 100 years old (or so we were told). Couldn't think of a nicer place to put all my pointless but very well-loved trinkets...

And these, well they just channel that vintage, well-loved feel that makes my heart skip a beat.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Look up

There's always been something about this stance that I absolutely LOVE. I don't really know how to explain it. I think maybe it's because Phil does it when we're on holidays. We might be in Lake Como, Paris, Berlin. We've slowed down, we're taking in everything around us. The people, the smells, the sights, the ocean, the mountains, the food, the wine, the food, the wine, the food, the wine. Did I mention the food and wine? Really opening our eyes. Looking up and looking around. We're pondering, questioning, listening. It's a sign that he's 100% relaxed. Which means I am. And THAT I love.

This is the only time I've seen this stance in Hong Kong since I got here 2 months ago. I think it's a sign that this city isn't about pondering, or slowing down, or taking your time. I'm not sure the high-rises, crowds, and vast number of bankers allow it. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Sometimes I love it. I love the energy, the excitement, the action. Love the crowded restaurants, loud bars, conversation. But sometimes I like the other side. I like looking up.

Maybe it's not always about the city. Maybe it's about perception. Maybe it's up to each person to decide the pace of life they want to enjoy, regardless of where they are. Maybe some people are more observant than others and brilliantly maintain that child-like ability to absorb everything around them. Maybe it only happens when we're on holidays. Or, like these two, when we're old enough to know better. Maybe some people are so absorbed by the chaos of their life at work, at home, that there's no room to absorb anything else. I'm not sure. All I know is that I'm lucky enough to have time on my side at the moment and I plan to walk....with my hands behind my back.....and look up....every day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hanging out

It's not often that you'll be strolling through the centre of a big city and see anything but buildings, traffic, crowds, shops, restaurants. But Hong Kong isn't like other big cities. In this one, there is a touch of something else that gives it that "yes-I'm-really-living-in-Asia" feel.

As I've mentioned, living space is pretty limited here and this results in many a resident having to use all sorts of creative initiative to get through life. All the way along the mid-levels escalator down to Hollywood Rd, look left..... look right...... look up....... and this is what you see...

Little things make me grateful for the quality of life I lead. And as I've now discovered, one of them is the ability to dry my knickers away from public view. Simple really.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Baby Wobblybeest

Let me just be clear from the start. Right now, I can barely feel my legs. I don't know if you've been watching that National Geographic "Great Migrations" series on TV, but the other night I saw a baby wildebeest be born, try to get up, to walk for the first time, all slimy and goofy, have absolutely zero control over it's legs and face planting every few steps (very funny to watch I might add). So much so, take a peek.....

That's pretty much me right now. Although granted, I'm not face planting. And I don't have the excuse of being a new-born wildebeest. I've been using these things for almost 30 years.

Why the sore pins you might ask? Well after a particularly over-indulgent silly season, the husband and I thought it time to kick-start those new years resolutions a week early and get-back-into-fitness. Sound familiar? We say it every year as well, don't worry. It was a beautiful, crisp and clear day outside so we decided to tackle one of the better known hiking trails in Hong Kong and raise the heartbeat the natural way - through good-old exercise, rather than the not-so-natural-but-starting-to-feel-worryingly-natural way - through another glass of bubbly.

It was called Twin Peaks. Oh, and after that, Violet Hill. I have won word for you - stairs. Actually it was more like stairs stairs stairs stairs stairs stairs stairs stairs stairs

That is definitely more accurate. They just....did....not...end. You'd think you'd be at the top of the hill, feeling all virtuous because you were almost there and damn a naturally-induced high heart rate felt good - then like a slap in the face, around the next corner was another 455 billion stairs for you to tackle. 

But it was SO worth it. The views after 100 stairs are amazing, let alone from the top. This is one of the reasons I am loving living in Hong Kong. All of this on your doorstep!

 This was me at the end mind you.....

But this was how I rewarded myself.....a hike SO worth it in SO many ways.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Room with a view...

I'm a bit obsessed with houses, flats, apartments - any sort of residential structure to be honest - plus all things homewares, trinkets, home accessories etc etc. So much so that I have a scrapbook full of magazine cut-outs showcasing beautiful dining rooms, living rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms, staircases, interesting pieces of furniture (organised by room I might add). Basically any image that inspires me makes it to the scrapbook all in the hope that the house we will one day buy might just resemble those cut-outs. So you can imagine when it came to finding a new place to call home in Hong Kong, the chance to peek into numerous apartments to see what was on offer wasn't exactly a chore. 

We searched high and low, without much joy. We thought flats in London were small? Well Hong Kong gives small a whole new meaning. On top of that, most apartments don't have an oven, have that unmissable style of architecture inspired by the 1970s (China in the 70s no less - cringe) and as an extra bonus, give around 900 million other apartments an unobstructed view into yours. Sound enticing? No, I didn't think so either. One other slightly alarming house-hunting-issue to contend with is the mammoth amount of construction happening in every corner of this booming city. New high-rise apartment blocks are going up everywhere you look, old ones are having external renovations and these buildings are delightfully covered in bamboo scaffolding and bottle-green mesh. Something like this.....

Apartment owners in these buildings are taking the chance to renovate their somewhat dated apartments so to add to the relentless exterior drilling works, there is the additional banging from interior drilling works in more apartments than really seems necessary. We were warned by friends to question every place we saw in terms of construction happening in and around the building and to avoid at all costs.

So, what do we end up doing? We took an apartment covered in bottle-green mesh. Yep, you heard me right. Drilling? Tick. Banging? Tick. Construction men hanging on skimpy ropes outside my bedroom window when I wake up in the morning? Tick. Tick tick tick tick tick! It was by far the best apartment we saw on the inside (and beauty comes from within, right?), and a lesson I am quickly learning is that life is certainly about opportunity cost. Luckily the bulk of the external work is finished and we've been promised the mesh and bamboo will be down in the next few weeks. But the somewhat broken conversations I seem to have with the management office to get a confirmed date don't give me much hope that this'll come true. 

We do have some really nice views of the city, the harbour and the peak but at the moment they're given a soft bottle-green haze as we peer out through the building's green condom.

This is view from our bedroom....

And the guest bedroom....

Here's hoping the building's 'protection' won't be deemed necessary much longer and we'll finally have a room with a PROPER view!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We've been lucky enough to spend the past few Christmas' with our beautiful friends in various locations around the world.

Whether it be Christmas in a castle in France.....

On the ski slopes of St Anton, Austria....

Or in a cottage in the South of France...

Sharing Christmas with friends when you are away from home is a special experience. Memories are made that will never be forgotten and I'm sure this year will be no different. Today we're off to celebrate with some lovely new friends in Hong Kong at a very cool restaurant called Oolaa. Great name, no?

I hope wherever you are in the world that you are celebrating with great friends, family, food and fun. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Taxi talk

Taxi drivers here are something else. Some of them are the kindest, sweetest men going around, others don't want a bar of you and converse via hand signals only. Have had some funny chats with a few in the past week. They went something like this:

Scene 1:
[Phil (husband) and I in taxi on way home from dim-sum in Happy Valley - can barely speak due to horrendous champagne hangover. Fabulous restaurant by the way called, funnily enough, Dim Sum]

Taxi driver: Harro. You move here from home country?
Phil: Yes, yes. We're Australian. We moved here 6 weeks ago.
Taxi driver: Ahhhhhhh.....thank you....for keeping......Hong Kong economy going. You big boss [huge grin from taxi driver].
P&B: [fits of hysterics]

Scene 2:
[Me on the way to Phil's office to collect his keys as while I was out new cleaner has left keys in house, locked the door and left. Helpful.]

Taxi driver: go meet boyfriend?
Me: No, I'm meeting my husband.
Taxi driver: meet boyfriend - rush. You meet husband - no rush.
Me: [ true].

[Arrive at IFC, Phil waiting outside with keys. I jump out grab keys and hop back in taxi]

Taxi driver: Ahhhh.....your husband, he very good looking.
Me: Oh! Yes, I agree. Very good looking! [Smiling]
Taxi driver: Hmmmmm......but little bit fat.
Me: [Biggest fits of hysterics]

Ahhhhh....they sure do make me laugh! And just for the record, my husband isn't fat. The Chinese seem to think that anyone over 5"10' with a decent set of shoulders (ie. most Australians) are fat - and they're sure not afraid to tell us. 

This is my husband, quite the handsome devil isn't he?  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Hills...

And no ladies (you know who you are), I am not referring to that addictive show and our uber-rich friends Lauren, Lo and Audrina. Although I have to admit another series would be nice?

I've come to realise in my time so far in Hong Kong that I am living on a very mountainous island. I know, it's obvious right? But it's only really started to hit home a few months in. And another thing? We live half way up that mountain. And that means that we have to climb up and down half a mountain EVERY DAY! Granted - there is an escalator (affectionately known to me as my "Stairway to Heaven") which helps us conquer that half-a-mountain however it only ever goes one way and 90% of the day, as in after 10am, it goes uphill. Logical of course, as most people have made the commute down the mountain on their way to work while the escalator is going down. But as I and probably you know all too well, I ain't got a job. What it means is that I am walking up and down hills, little hills, big hills, bush-lined hills, crowded hills, smelly hills and food-lined hills all day long. Oh yes, great for the calves and the butt, not so great on the knees and feet. All part of the experience though right?

Most of the hills that are making an impact on me in this new city are the beautiful, bush-lined, picturesque, quiet escape routes full of flora and fauna that make you feel like you live in a little remote village in China somewhere, far far from the reality that is one of the most densely populated cities on earth.

Luckily for us, we have 3 of these on our doorstep. Firstly, 'The Peak'. Makes you shiver doesn't it? It even sounds high. Well it is, over 500 metres above sea level in fact. There are 2 routes up - one is Old Peak Rd which is 40 minutes of unyielding steepness that would drive Madonna's butt wild. This is where you see the hard core Tai Tais (TTs) strutting their stuff, head down, ear-phones in, early in the morning, in preparation for a hard day of shopping, lunching and pampering ahead. I'm cruel aren't I? The second route is one called 'The Morning Trail'. Sounds much nicer doesn't it? Well it is. And the experience is somewhat different to the afore mentioned butt buster. It is of course still up hill for 40 minutes but the atmosphere is something else - and mostly due to the bounding, smiling, scarily-energetic looking retirees that strut the track. They say "Harro" to strangers without blinking an eye and I've even seen some air punches happening in support of the common goal you share in conquering that mountain. Bless their broken-English, always makes me smile. The third track on our doorstep, Bowen Rd, involves a few smaller and more manageable hills en route, but once you arrive is flllaaaaattt. That's when I start air-punching. It's a beautiful 4km track that winds around the mountain from Mid-levels to Happy Valley and is an absolute pleasure to walk/run - whatever you fancy. This track is infamous for 2 polar opposite reasons. The first, the existence of an infamous serial dog killer! I know! Who would do that? Some maniac puts poisoned chicken on the road and awaits the multitude of ignorant dogs that get walked there every day to take a sniff and woof it up like nothing happened. Poor muts. 22 dogs have been killed by this nutcase. Unbelievable. The second reason for it's fame is for the magical "Lover's Rock". The rock is said to have the power of giving happy marriages for those who worship it. I've been meaning to get back into some form of worship (that isn't edible), and considering my recent transition to wife-hood, this rock sounds like a good place to start?

Climbing all these mountains (or half-mountains or flat tracks....details, details) every day is somewhat of an under-rated achievement I think. And perhaps a metaphor for the rest of life going on around me. I'll take my lessons from the air-punching oldies who seem to be ridiculously excited at the challenge of conquering something massive. That's the approach I've decided to commit myself to with my new life in Hong Kong. Smile the whole way, throw in an air-punch and enjoy the journey. Luckily it's in my family's blood to smile so shouldn't be too hard, right?

Stepford Wife? I think not!

I read an article today about how modern-day women are reinvigorating the Stepford Wife stereotype, giving up their jobs, their long-held career aspirations and years of hard work to move abroad or just somewhere new, in order to support their husband's careers. 

The old notion that the man is the breadwinner has never sat all that well with me and that 'stepford' stereotype was never something I aspired to. To be honest, it was a notion that left a bitter taste in my mouth. I'm not a feminist by any means but I've always believed women (and men) should be able to do as they please, work hard and succeed in a way that makes them happy, in whatever form that takes.

As I read that article earlier today, some very loud bells starting ringing in my head as moving abroad to support my husband's career is exactly what I have just done! I'm an educated woman, with 2 healthcare-related degrees, and diverse career experience that has so far changed my life for the better. I am trying, without much luck at all, to find myself a job here in Hong Kong. As I'm finding out (the hard way), this city supports those in finance, property, recruitment and not much else...lest you have the much needed Cantonese or Mandarin language skills or are willing to spend 4 out of 5 days living and working in China, spending only your weekends in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I lack the skills for the former and without question do not desire the latter. I moved here to support my husband after all, not to spend 4/7 days away from him!

I have a strong yearning to take the next step in my career, utilise my new degree, justify all that hard work, earn some money, gain respect, get promoted, progress, progress. However, it seems like the realities of my new life in Hong Kong might just prevent me from doing just that! Not ideal!

So.....I find myself (as the poms would say) in a pit of a pickle!! And not a pickle I've coped well with, to be completely frank. I've felt frustrated, annoyed, cheated, resentful, disrespected but mostly disappointed that from the early signs, life in HK isn't going to work out for me the way I thought it might. Months ago, I knew who I was, had a job that helped shape my identity, friends in a city I knew so well. And now? Well the questions are endless. Am I ever going to get a job? Am I really going to be one of those women? Who plays house? Who hangs out with other Tai Tai's over lunch, in shopping malls? Really? Seriously?

The reason I've found myself nattering on about that article is that after reading it at 8am this morning, all of sudden, for the first time in 2 months, I felt like my struggles accepting this possible new 'role' wasn't just me being a difficult, needy, pain-in-the-a*%s wife, and that other educated, ambitious women were going through exactly the same thing and feeling just like me! Those feelings of frustration, disappointment and loneliness I now understand are a product of a modern woman falling back into a not-so-modern woman's role. It's not just me. What relief!

I've been thinking about starting a blog since the day I got here. Literally. I'm experiencing so many new things, meeting so many new people, eating new food, seeing new things, hearing new sounds. For some reason, reading that article this morning has given me the final nudge I needed to get on with it. This blog is going to be something for me, something I can work on and progress and see grow. A way to document and share our adventures with family and friends and anyone interested! Everyone needs to feel worthwhile, to have a goal, to achieve in some way. So this is going to be my way! Although I'm slightly nervous about putting my thoughts out there for everyone to read, I'm more excited about where it'll take me and how it'll help me be. Here in a new city, as a new wife with a new life...