Jiu Jitsu needs no translation.

As some of you might know, Sam and I like to fight. Sometimes with each other, sometimes with others, but mostly in a structured and sanctioned context. We had great intentions of getting straight back to training the second we touched down in Hong Kong but we did a lot of celebrating instead. (Please refer to picture of bottle of cider in a cocktail).

We’d done a lot of research before we arrived so we had an idea of where we would like to train. On our first week of work we decided to visit “Hong Kong Jiu Jitsu” for our first venture into martial arts in Asia.

It was incredibly difficult to find. Nestled between a garage and a fried fish ball stand there’s a door which leads to a staircase. We found the gym on the 2nd floor by following the sound of hard work.

There is something overwhelmingly familiar about being at Jiu Jitsu. The feel of the tatami against my bare feet as we warmed up transported me straight back home and I knew we were going to have a great time. Everyone was really friendly regardless of whether they could speak any English or not (I certainly don’t speak Cantonese) and I felt right at home drilling and rolling among the class. It turns out Jiu Jitsu needs no translation. We speak the same language, we know the drill. We bump fists and then we are communicating in a common tongue. We laugh when we crash heads and we roll our eyes when we’re exhausted and we’re told to do shuttle runs between rounds by the coach.

It turns out that Jiu Jitsu in 80% humidity and 34° heat is really hard. Especially when you’ve had a month or so off. 10 minutes into rolling and I could feel myself getting fitter by the second. You would think that fighting in the home of Bruce Lee would give you a mystical boost of some sort but in reality it shows you exactly why he was in such good shape.

Luckily, here in Hong Kong they’ve found a solution to the humidity – more training. Just at the point you think you might throw up because you’re experiencing such intense heat you think you’ve got sunburn on the inside of your lungs, they begin the timer again and you get to cool off by doing a quick circuit and a few more rounds. At then end of the class just in case you have any chance of returning to a reasonable temperature ever again they thrown in a Japan test to really seal the deal. (Japan test = a kind of shuttle run involving squats at either end commonly used in Judo circuits)

It’s a foolproof system. Presumably the idea is that if you sweat enough the room will actually achieve 100% humidity at which point it will transform into a cool pool of tranquil water for us to relax and cool off in. Or maybe I need to adjust to the heat a bit and get back in shape…who knows, everyone was speaking Cantonese

Sam contemplating the meaning of humid.
Absolutely overjoyed to be back on the mats!
We definitely have our priorities in order… the Gi cupboard in our apartment.

It took a few days for us to feel normal again, and we welcomed the weekend with open, achy arms. We were pretty excited to wake up on Sunday morning to realise that for the first time in our lives, we live in a timezone where we can watch the UFC, live, at a normal time where we don’t have to miss any sleep for it. What better way to christen our new TV than by registering for FightPass and watching McGregor vs. Diaz #2 with a bacon sandwich?

FYI: This was our second attempt at a bacon sandwich, the first time, we (read I) managed to buy “uncured bacon” which turned out to be just really thin pork chops and were not good at all in a Sunday morning sandwich.

Week #2 of work and we were finally ready to brave the mats again. This time we tried the Tai Wai branch of “Kowloon Jiu Jitsu” which is only 10 minutes from our apartment. Once again it was incredibly hard to find. We found the gym above an industrial loading bay, on the 3rd floor, only accessible by a fireman’s lift. I was glad I wasn’t by myself as the warehouse below was a ready made set for a zombie apocalypse.

It was great to be training again and the familiar feel of the tatami had me back home once again. This time the humidity wasn’t so bad (or maybe harnessing Bruce Lee after all), though I was still incredibly sweaty. Everyone was really friendly here too (that’s jiu jitsu for you!). We had a great time training with the team at Kowloon Jiu Jitsu and the ease of the journey to training means that we have probably found our new club. It’s feels good to be starting to establish our routines here, and I can’t wait to be back at physical peak!

We survived another session!


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Learning to live with less

Throughout my childhood I was famed for my messy bedroom. My possessions formed a pseudo-carpet which caused nothing but daily inconvenience, yet the idea of tidying prompted such a negative response in me that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

At various intervals the mess would become so ridiculous, so comical, that I would be forced by my parents to tackle the mess and restore order. We would take to my room with a bin bag (or five) and start by removing all the rubbish. A few empty coke cans, out of date cosmetic products, piles and piles of papers accumulated from school. Next we would go through my clothes, trying them on in turn to see if they still fitted and return them to the wardrobe neatly folded and colour coded. At times we would even venture to IKEA (gulp) and seek out a clever new storage system which would help me to keep my possessions in check and room tidy.

Each time we finished, I would hoover my newly found floorspace, make my bed with clean sheets and marvel at how different the space was. I wouldn’t really know what to do next, because of the constant mess, I was used to always having the task of tidying at the back of my mind as something I should be doing. So when the task was finally completed, I didn’t know what I should do. I loved the look and feel of the tidy room but I didn’t know how to use it.

Sunday Coffee Calligraphy

As I would begin to use the space in the days to follow, the mess would start to creep in. Pulling out a t-shirt from the bottom of the colour coded pile and trying two different pairs of jeans with it before making a selection would leave the neatly folded colour coded garments slightly askew, and the next day a bit more, until by the end of the week they would be completely demolished. Packing my bag for school I would remove my P.E kit and maths text-book and replace it with my English books but where was I meant to leave the P.E kit? I was bringing destruction to my sanctuary, as if I had some sort of Midas touch which turned everything to chaos.

It was a frustrating cycle that I didn’t understand. The habit of untidiness paints a picture of an unorganised, lazy child but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I had good grades, was a successful athlete and had worked part-time since I was 14. I felt guilty that I couldn’t keep my room tidy and frustrated that I was constantly living in mess.

Throughout sixth form the need for a tidy space became even more pressing, I was working 16 hours a week, training and competing around 10 hours a week and completing 4 A-Levels with the hope of attending a good university. Often I would travel to work straight from school then eat dinner in the car on the way from work to training, sometimes completing homework tasks when I got home at night before doing the same the next day. My solution was to tidy constantly. Every few days I would embark on a micro-tidy where I would sort laundry, file school papers, fold clothes and return items to their homes.

While I used this solution for around 2 years, it was not without its drawbacks. Firstly, there simply wasn’t enough space for all my possessions, not everything had a home and I would resort to cramming items into drawers and behind the bed to make them fit. In my effort to give every item a home I brought a trunk into the room for storing my training kit, a bookcase for my school books, mini drawers for toiletries. My large bedroom, though easier to tidy, had shrunk. Secondly, I still loathed tidying up. I felt like I was constantly returning items to their homes and I couldn’t understand how people maintained a tidy, uncluttered room never mind a whole house.

A shift began to happen when I went to University. I packed up everything I thought I would need and squashed it into the boot, back seat and footwells of my mum’s car. Even when I had packed everything my room was still full. shelves were still adorned with trinkets, books and keep-sakes, there were still plenty of clothes in my wardrobe and drawers. Living in halls meant that I had to completely empty my dorm room at Christmas and Easter, then again for the summer. When I got my own car and suddenly found myself unloading my possessions by myself, I naturally began to pack less stuff. I developed a routine of packing my clothes into one bag, books and study materials in the other and filling my rucksack with miscellaneous items and valuables such as my laptop.

In my second and third year this routine became even more sparse. I carted the same few items to and from Nottingham every few months though my rooms at University and at home remained well stocked with possessions. As every student and former student will tell you, being at university means you are financially challenged and you don’t have money to spend on clothing and other luxuries. This meant that during my time as a student I didn’t acquire many items.

In my final year as a student athlete I was extremely focused on study and competing and as a result I didn’t really drink much or go out – I still don’t. This meant my budget management was slightly different to the typical student experience but I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by like minded people and we would consult each other on whether we should splash out on some meat, or the ingredients to bake something. I had started to live a more simple life of routine and frugality, and was focusing on the things that were important to me during that time, namely sporting success, my studies and my relationships with people. Living away from home, I happily talked to the most important people in my life via telephone or Skype everyday and although I desperately wanted to be home in Essex, I was contented with the knowledge that university is a temporary experience in order to enable me to have the life I desired.

The summer I moved home was a dream, I was happy to be surrounded by my family and friends, not to mention my long-term boyfriend (now fiancée!) who had patiently supported me throughout university and had endured the inconvenience of distance alongside me. I began training to be a teacher on a course funded by a government bursary equivalent to a graduate salary and the financial pressures of university began to melt away.


I felt empowered to make whatever purchases I wanted, I didn’t have to consider carefully whether I really needed new jeans or not, I could just buy them. I began to take the approach that money is just…money, use it to make you happy and as such went on a number of holidays, went shopping almost weekly and ate out constantly.

I loved the freedom I was enjoying but as the year progressed I began to become aware of the great weight of the things I owned. I had enjoyed the ease of keeping a small number of possessions tidy  but this tidiness just didn’t seem achievable anymore. The move to Hong Kong presented itself as the perfect opportunity to confront my possessions once and for all. I would pack only what I needed and discard anything I didn’t.


I read articles, blogs and books about how best to edit my possessions and decide what was truly important and set to getting rid of anything I didn’t want or need. The result was car loads full of donations to charity, one storage box in a garage full of winter coats and useful items that I wouldn’t need to bring to Hong Kong and two suitcases ready to depart.


I had envisaged the packing process to be a nightmare where I would be cramming items into my suitcases and sitting on top of them trying to close the zips but as I began to consider each item I owned honestly, the process became easier and I actually had space left in my cases. The reality of transporting each item quickly revealed its true worth and it became clearer to me which items I genuinely used and which were just accessories that I was laden down with.

I was brutal in the interviews I held with each item, clothing which didn’t sit right, was of a material prone to showing sweat marks or staining, had a label which itched my neck, didn’t match my other clothes or I simply didn’t love didn’t make the cut. Even sentimental items had to put forward a convincing argument in order to make it into storage and not find themselves filed under “B” for bin. The more I purged, the more liberated I felt. I began to look forward to the move not only as a chance to experience a different culture and country, but to be free from my excess of stuff.


Starting from scratch in our apartment we were confronted by a carcass of an apartment. We started by buying the things we needed most to survive in the apartment – a mattress and bed, cooking equipment and a sofa. In the second week we added a bedside table and wardrobes, a TV and a cupboard. We mused about the items we might add next month now that we were furnished enough to function day-to-day. A rug perhaps, and maybe a second bedside table. A piece of furniture to make the bedroom less sparse, maybe an arm-chair and a coffee table.

Experiencing the space of our apartment for a month has made it clear that we don’t need these things, and we won’t be buying them. Operating successfully with what we already have has shown us that we enjoy the space of our apartment more than we desire somewhere to stash more possessions, or another surface to fill. Instead we have filled out apartment with laughter and love. We have filled it with ideas for travel destinations and plans for visits home at Christmas. We have filled it with Skype conversations with family and great meals shared together at our small table. We have filled it with the frustrations experienced during moments in Hong Kong lost in translation but we have also found space for our love of our adventure in the city.

Our experiences are what define us, not our possessions. Though a shadow of a hoarder still roams within me, I hope to purposefully make a shift towards collecting experiences in place of things and embracing each day in this crazy city.

Interested in making the “things” in your life more intentional?  Marie Kondo’s book is a fantastic place to kickstart your decluttering, Erin Boyle’s blog is great for daily inspiration on managing a small space, and check out the minimalists for loads of information on a whole lifestyle shift.

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“So we live here now”

So we packed up everything we own into 4 suitcases and left for Hong Kong. A combination of jetlag and excitement made arriving in Hong Kong a surreal experience. “So we live here now” was the first thing Sam said to me when we landed and although technically true, it didn’t feel like a fact at the time.

IMG_2923Our school is hosting us in a hotel for two weeks to give us time to get grounded in the city and set up our lives.

We have now been in Hong Kong for 10 days including one “T-8” typhoon, one thunderstorm and a torrential downpour and we’ve been adjusting to the weather and climate as well as the “quirks” of the city. It’s been a whirlwind of a week and although we are still living Partridge style in a hotel, Hong Kong is slowly becoming our home.

Getting extremely wet in a downpour!

Day #2 The Octopus Card: The Octopus Card is Hong Kong’s answer to the Oyster card though arguably better. You swipe to pay for train, bus and tram journeys but you can also use your card to pay for items in shops and for meals in restaurants. Obviously, this means that you can fall foul to the contactless trap of the UK where you tap away forgetting you’re spending real money…but this little piece of plastic really has helped us to feel at home. Using an octopus card has meant we haven’t had to fiddle around with odd shaped coins at the 7/11 till with a line of impatient city dwellers huffing behind. Instead we proudly brandish our octopus cards and swipe on out of the store feeling smug and accomplished as real hong-kongers. (Until I realise that although I thought I purchased a bottle of plain old water, I’d in fact managed to buy the grossest, powdery tasting energy drink this side of asia.)  We’re getting there at least!

Day #6 Phone & Apartment: The majority of our first week in the city was occupied by various induction events run by the organisation and although we’d had a great time and were starting to get our body clocks in sync with the timezone, we only had 8 days to move out of the hotel into an apartment. The problem with trying to navigate the fast moving real estate market in Hong Kong when you have only just arrived is that you don’t have a phone number. While you can get by using whatsapp to contact friends and family, when you are trying to find somewhere to live, negotiate with estate agents and set up utilities, not being able to make phone calls is a real hassle. Day #6 represented a major success in our mission to call Hong Kong home. We woke up uncontactable and homeless and went to bed with new phones and an apartment.

Sam enjoying our first meal in our new home.

Day #7 Sight seeing: We had been so busy trying to find somewhere to live we hadn’t actually seen much of our new home. We decided to take a day to visit the Big Buddha on Lantau Island (close to disneyland…!) on the advice of lonely planet. Although taking a cable car is not my preferred method of transport, it was amazing to experience the natural beauty of Hong Kong and take a day away from the pushing and shoving (so help me god) of the city.

Definitely worth the treck in 36 degree heat!

Day #8 Candles: So far in Hong Kong we seem to be doing much more each day than we usually would (out of necessity more than anything!). On day 8 we visited our new school for the first time and saw where we would be teaching. Although 6000 miles from Essex, the school was comfortingly familiar, each corridor and classroom is filled with the same lockers, tables and posters we see day in, day out in the UK. There are, however, some notable differences. Not only is there a turtle pool in the playground which serves as a refuge and sanctuary for rescued pets, the facilities are industry leading and on par with universities across the UK. The school has high expectations of both teachers and students, but the facilities and resources empower both to excel. We absolutely cannot wait to meet the students and start teaching!


We ate an authentic dim sum lunch with the staff (including chicken lung) before spending an hour searching for two different mattress stores which turned out not to exist. We finally managed to purchase a bed and a sofa along with a few free extras thrown in. Walking out of the store with a delivery notice and a blood orange and bergamot scented candle in my hand, we decided to go for a celebratory dinner. Admittedly getting a free candle with your sofa is not normally a cause for celebration…but this was our very first item to furnish our completely empty apartment. We had succeeded in securing somewhere to live in just over a week after arriving and had a bed to sleep on.

Celebrating with extravagant cocktails!

Day #9 IKEA: Furniture and homewares are incredibly expensive in Hong Kong so on the advice of colleagues, friends, the internet and guidebooks, we braved the perils of IKEA. Not only is IKEA in Hong Kong somewhat of a tourist attraction, with visitors coming from all over to wander aimlessly through the showrooms and unhelpfully clog up the aisles in the market place, it’s also a “thing” for people to sleep on the beds and sofas. We went mid morning and although the actual shopping experience was fairly painless transporting a car load of stuff to your new apartment is pretty difficult when you don’t have a car.

We had planned to take a taxi but we could barely fit our stuff in the lift out of IKEA, never mind the boot of a taxi. We decided to take the plunge and try out “Go Go Van”, a kind of Uber taxi service but for transit vans and lorries. We typed in our location and destination and our journey was instantly accepted by a driver. Communicating over the phone with our driver was somewhat of a challenge, given that I don’t speak Cantonese and he didn’t speak much English. After leaving Sam on the side of the road with 5 IKEA blue bags, a bathroom bin and a clothes horse the driver and I eventually found each other. (Well he found me, the sweaty girl sprinting around the perimeter of the shopping center in a Disney T-Shirt). Despite the 20 minute delay, the driver only charged £6 for the entire service! Hong Kong can be an incredibly cheap place sometimes.

Success! En route to our apartment with a van full of furniture and home essentials!

Day #10 Sorted: Today is day 10 and we are all set to move into our apartment tomorrow. We spent the day at the New Town Plaza in Sha Tin shopping for the final items to create our new home. We treated ourselves to a gratuitous TV because although we’re travelling light, we still found room for Sam’s play station. Of course we bought a Nespresso machine too, because what’s a kitchen without a coffee machine? After ANOTHER day of shopping another celebratory dinner was in order…

Returning to normality – Sam eating a full pound of burger and looking pretty pleased.
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