A year in the Orient: Lessons Learned

  1. It is possible to sweat from your shins. And your knee caps. And your elbows. Just about anywhere you can think of has the ability to sweat, when it’s 35 degrees at 7am and you’re walking, you just have to accept “sweaty” as your permanent state of being.
  2. Jet lag sucks. I can cope with being tired, I can cope with being awake, but I can’t cope with being starving hungry for lunch at 4am. Set your watch when you hit the plane, sleep as much as possible and avoid caffeine!
  3. Silence is a virtue. Not until we arrived in Japan did I realise that I hadn’t heard nothing for a long time. The constant noise of Hong Kong quickly turns into white noise and it doesn’t bother me at all. Tokyo is a sprawling city meaning that the suburbs are quiet, I couldn’t believe how silent it was and how fresh the air felt. I don’t miss silence when I’m in Hong Kong, but I sure do appreciate it when I’m not.
  4. Take the back alley. The business of Hong Kong means that a 5 minute walk can easily turn into 15 just because of footpath congestion and the zombie like pace of 300 people looking at their phones. If you don’t mind the smell, the back alleys can turn a 10 minute walk into a 3 minute walk, and they provide the most authentic Hong Kong experience – you never know what you might find!

    Back Alley Barber Shop

    A barber’s shop built into a back alley in Mong Kok.

  5. The weather doesn’t mess around. Usually sunny and bright, Hong Kong weather can turn in an instant and the T8 signal (Typhoon signal) can be hoisted at short notice. This weekend we have had a record breaking T10 causing several deaths, shortly followed by a T8. Don’t ignore the signals just because it looks safe outside, the streets are full of unsecured debris.
  6. People will fly 6,000 miles to come and see you. It’s true and we’re very lucky to feel so loved.
  7. Cantonese is the hardest language known to man. We lived in our first apartment for a whole year and still only had a 1 in 5 success rate trying to communicate our address to taxi drivers before having to show it written down. In Mandarin Chinese each phonetic sound has 4 different intonations possible which change the meaning completely. In Cantonese, there are 9. Suffice to say I won’t be fluent any time soon.
  8. The view doesn’t get old. I just can’t help being wowed crossing from Lantau to Kowloon or taking the star ferry across to Hong Kong island. You can’t get bored of the sights.
  9. Connecting in Beijing is a terrible idea. Book a connecting flight through Beijing with extreme caution, you may have to change terminals, go through security again and customs, and immigration without a visa. Best avoid it.
  10. Democracy is precious. For all the complaining we do about politicians in the UK, we are highly protected. Hong Kong is approaching a period of turmoil as the handover to China marches ever closer and injustice is happening. While relatively safe, Hong Kong is experiencing gradual eroding of autonomy and without intervention and protest, the future looks bleak for Hong Kong citizens.

Read about the difficulties faces by Hong Kong here. Thinking about coming to visit…? Search for flights here.

The Year of the Rooster: Making your own luck

This month in Hong Kong we welcomed the Year of the Rooster with much celebration. In Hong Kong, Chinese New Year is a time to be thankful for the good fortune of the previous year and look ahead to the coming year, and there are numerous traditions to take part in to ensure you are blessed with good fortune for the ensuing 12 months.

IMG_0527.JPGCareer, finance and relationships could potentially be in jeopardy and the only words of comfort to be found are “generally, you will stay healthy”. A pretty dull grey as silver linings go. Although Chinese astrology is not part of my culture, I’ve been appreciative to be welcomed into the celebrations here with open arms and it’s got me thinking about luck.

Sam and I constantly recognise how “lucky” we are to be here, to do something we love every day, to have found and be pursuing our passions, to have opportunities and possibilities presented to us at every turn. Us arriving at this moment relied on a series of specific events in which a myriad of variables could have stopped us and we could be doing something very different. As an English teacher I have an embarrassing (or impressive, depending on who you are) talent for being able to draw analogies from Harry Potter at every turn, and, in this instance, arriving at this destination of such an unlikely series of fortunate events feels being hooked to a saline drip laced with Felix Felicis potion.

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While we feel more fortunate than ever, we also recognise that it has not all come down to luck, we worked hard and we took a risk and we’re reaping the benefits, and, while we’re still working hard, we still feel lucky. To quote Dumbledore “I believe one creates one’s own luck.

When you are lucky enough to have an opportunity, or the possibility of an opportunity, or even the glimmer of opportunity on the horizon, it’s up to you to make that luck happen. If you’re in the privileged position to have the possibility of luck, then you have the responsibility not to waste it, because for others, your possibility of luck may just be the glimmer on the horizon.

I spent Chinese New Year in a Casino and I didn’t win a single bet, though I did spend Chinese New Year feeling lucky to be surrounded by good friends, good food and amazing places. I am absolutely certain the year of the rooster will be full of more good fortune.

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An advent calendar, of sorts

This weekend marks the official countdown to our Christmas trip home. I’m starting a Christmas project with my year 10s tomorrow so I feel it’s okay to get a little festive.

Although we won’t be here for Christmas, we figured that the next three weeks still warrant some seasonal decor and so introduced a little festive cheer to the apartment.

Here’s our Christmas highlights so far:

This cozy corner complete with sheepskin. Perfect for watching the final two Harry Potter films before a trip to the cinema next week to see Fantastic Beats.


Lattes in the morning and mulled cider in the evening. Winter treats to frame the day.

A little red lantern complete with cinnamon scented candle and sleepy fiancé.

Some Christmas typography inspired by an early self bought Christmas present, found in a secret bookshop.

Which subsequently found a more permanent home next to some cozy linen sheets.
The wonderful glow of this paper tree, because finding a real one in Hong Kong is a bit of a challenge. 
A brilliant roast dinner with fluffy roast potatoes prepared by a talented cook. A rare treat this far from home, made even more Christmassy by Marks and Spencer’s duck fat and Christmas place mats.
A more ambitious bit of typography. Still festive of course!
Looking forward to a glass bottle of coke and a gingerbread latte, that’s how you know holidays are really coming.

Watching it happen from Hong Kong

For me, the lead up to the election was not tense, the future was not in jeopardy. The election day was merely a formality in which the USA had to participate to confirm that they would indeed not be considering someone who was not only completely unqualified for the job, but is outwardly offensive and oppressive towards so many sections of society.

I watched events unfold from my classroom with my students who come from 28 unique nations. As each result was announced they furiously tried to calculate whether the day could be saved. It couldn’t. Not in the way that we hoped.

For the second time in my life I sat in the staffroom surrounded by grieving colleagues. The first such time was the morning of Brexit. Only 3 members of staff in the department were eligible to vote in the referendum, the others having used their right to free movement of people to come to the UK to teach the children of those who had now voted for them to leave. The post-election staffroom was infinitely worse.

The students began to express their fears. They aren’t worried about whether they are safe in China, or what happens in the stock market, they’re worried about what this means for humanity. One student of Indian heritage told me that she had already heard some of her friends saying that “Trump isn’t that bad”. She told me that the problem with having someone like him in power is that it allows people to think that what he says is okay. It normalises sexism and racism and becomes a springboard for oppression.

A child told me this. Even she gets it.