Thursday, December 27, 2007

Boxing Day in Shen Zhen

Boxing Day was a beautifully fine and clear day. We decided to go across the border, and left home before 8 am. Since we had plenty of time, we ambled around some byways - sort of looking for ox tongues, but not finding a suitable shop.

A trip to Wal-Mart scored some eatables, with Eddie getting riled when presented with 'dirty money' change. Chinese notes are usually tatty and grubby , particularly the lower denominations, and certainly the worst ones are not pleasant to handle. (The shop assistants look at crisp new notes suspiciously.) He made rather a fuss, but didn't really get his point across - I noticed everyone looking non-plussed rather than concerned or interested.

Leaving Wal-Mart, we walked on to Eastgate and visited Park'n'Shop (here we got coins for change which could not be complained about). We stocked up on provisions for lunch, and even got 12 eggs for Y 8.60.

Laden, we walked up to Litchi Park, passing the Uighurs with their special bread. We enjoyed a freshly heated flat one sprinkled with sesame seeds with between us.

Litchi Park can be bustling with groups dancing, singing and playing various instruments, both Western and Chinese. This time, however, there weren't many around - we came across a group of dancing students, and 2 girls batting a shuttlecock around and other walkers. A writer in water of poems had left faint traces of his calligraphy along the path. We stopped to watch a bride being photographed (the trend this year is to have the bride lie on the ground amid a flounce of lace and tulle and have the groom lean over her) and finally fetched up at the toilets by the cat's tail tree where the old men were playing chess and cards to an audience.
There we ate our lunch of bread and water, finishing with an ice-block from the nearby store.

We continued to walk around the park, and happened to start chatting to a man who, born in China, had spent many years in Singapore advising the government there. He had retired to Shen Zhen, where he continued to give advice and said he was responsible for much of the upgrade to the old city, including wider roads and footpaths.

Nearer the west gate we came across bridal parties having their photo sessions. Eddie was keen to add to his collection of 'bridal underwear' so we hung around while the subjects were arranged in fetching poses in various locations. The brides all seem to wear jeans and sneakers or other street clothes under their frothy white dresses, and the grooms wander around looking ill-at-ease in white suits of varying styles, carrying the brides' stuff. It seems that the tradition is to have the photos taken long before the actual wedding, and the process can take a very long time with changes of location and clothes involved.

My sciatica and sore muscles were causing me difficulty, so we decided to come home - in fact we didn't get into the house till 4.30 and queues at immigration were long, so it was a wise decision. We put on a DVD and promptly went to sleep after a strenuous day.

Christmas day

We had a quiet Christmas day doing nothing special. Eddie's sisters, Betty and Mary, called, which meant we had a taste of the day in NZ.

We went shopping about midday to get in some provisions, buying an ox tongue from the congee shop downstairs to do for lunch. Ox tongues are made of the same dough as the deep fried devils that are eaten with congee, and they are very tasty if freshly made.

We enjoyed ours as we walked on to Sheung Shui to check the supermarket for marked-down sponge-cakes (there weren't any) and to buy something to make soup with. We bought some beef bones and meat, and then Eddie got more vegetables from the Cheung Wah market while I went ahead and started cooking.

We had enough for two pots; one I made into bak kut teh using a spice packet that had been around a while, the other into carrot soup, both of which I enjoyed but Eddie found too meaty (though it 's good for him).

We had a rest and watched "White Christmas" on a DVD while the soups cooked, and enjoyed our dinner about 7 pm.

Weather was cool but not cold, and the day rather overcast.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It shouldn't rain at Christmas in Hong Kong

And luckily it didn't. There was rain overnight, and we feared it would last the day, but once the sun had risen, the clouds stayed but the rain stopped.

We set off after breakfast to deliver a present to Jacky Chan, a friend of long standing, who teaches at a school for the mentally disabled in Mongkok. It took us longer to get away than we expected, but we met him at about 10. After an exchange of presents (another scarf for me - this time a more tasteful one than other years), and a short chat, we went our separate ways.

We walked on down to TST, through the wet markets. I haven't been to a really good outside wet market for years, and this one was like those of the old days with stalls piled with fruit and vegetables of every kind, dried fish, dried mushrooms, biscuits and cakes, butcher's shops festooned with meat and entrails, poultry shops with hens in cages awaiting the chop, clothes and haberdashery. I didn't see any baskets of frogs or small birds as we used to see at Sham Shui Po years ago, but everything else was there.

After browsing our way through the stalls, we stopped off for a quick bite of dim sum at a restaurant we'd not visited before. We had spare ribs, shao mai, chicken's feet and prawn rice rolls - all tasty and well-cooked. Eddie found it more expensive than he expected at about $9 per dish, which is a reflection of the current state of inflation.

We continued our walk past the Jade market (not open) and down Canton Rd, through the Harbour City complex to the Star Ferry, where we crossed to Wan Chai to look at the computer centre. Lots to look at and reasonably crowded with more foreigners than at the Golden Computer Centre - I think I heard a Kiwi accent in passing. We checked out several floors then continued walking to Central.

We went through the Wan Chai market - this one has been tamed and is mostly in shops rather than stalls on the roadside, and seems to have shrunk from the days it covered several streets. We couldn't find anything that suited both of us for lunch so we carried on walking down Hennessey Rd till we reached 3 Pacific Place. I thought this was where we could see Christmas decoration, though the main buildings are 1 and 2 - but we went to the first floor just in case, and discovered a group of young handbell ringers performing carols. This was well worth the stop, and we enjoyed listening to them for 15 minutes.

Continuing on to 1 and 2, we found that the decorations weren't quite as mean as Eddie thought - the theme was "White Christmas" and featured several Christmas trees and an ornate Santa House in European style.

Having enjoyed the decorations, we went through Queensway, then on to Statue Square, where there is hardly any glitter and sparkle. The main tree is skeletal - a cone with some gold strings inside, surrounded by a few angels. It's not as tall as last year's tree which was across De Voeux Rd and seemed much more impressive, if only because that one looked like a proper Christmas tree.

While we were having a rest, we were asked by a visiting couple to take their photo. Eddie got talking and found out they were from Beijing, on a day trip to Hong Kong. He is a retired shipbuilding researcher, with very good English. We helped them get on the MTR for Lo Wu, and hope they got back to Shen Zhen in time to meet the friend who was taking them on to Guangzhou by bus.

We crossed the harbour again, and bought something for tea from Wellcome in Harbour City, sitting outside the Cultural Centre to eat. We had a long wait before the performance (6-7 pm) that we wanted to see, but it was worth it. The young a capella singers were clever and entertaining, well deserving their applause, and a larger audience. (Hayden singers on Youtube 2006?).

At the end of the concert, we walked back through the crowds to the train - unfortunately many of the subways and exits were blocked off and we had a longer walk than intended to get to the station. East TST was colourful, but not as busy as we expected. I think the hawkers who used to add liveliness selling their coloured lights and santa hats have been banned. There didn't seem to be as many impromptu carol singing groups as previously, unless the night was too early for them. We were tired, and keen to get to bed, so we didn't wait round, and took the next train home .

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Living at Eddie's in Hong Kong is still like camping even after 16 years.

Today is one of those timeless days - the grey overcast sky makes it difficult to tell what time it is, and at 20 past 2, we were both surprised it was still so early. It felt more like 4.30.

Since it was afternoon tea time, I made a batch of pikelets - from about a cup of self-raising flour (new in April), a dollop of condensed milk, an egg and water - I got to the "I wonder what I've left out" stage before remembering salt, and I had to cook a couple of batches to see what else was missing. It's a different taste without golden syrup, and I had to add more sugar.

Using up the packet of 'brown sugar' which turned out to be coffee crystals was a bit of a mistake. The first batch after was rather crunchy, but by the next, the crystals had dissolved.

We had no jam to eat them with, and eschewed marmalade (it didn't feel right), compromising on some very runny honey. They were OK but I'd like to make some proper ones before I go. There is something like a 1/4 cup of plain flour left, so we will have to buy provisions if I do.

Last night our dinner of fried noodles was made with spaghetti - it really is camping chez nous. Luckily I have a proper stove to cook on (but no oven). I'd like to make sourdough, but Eddie is already unimpressed with my sourdough crackers, so I think it would be a lost cause.

Back in Hong Kong

Nothing much of note has happened in the past few months (the life crises I've touched have all been other people's), but now I am back in Hong Kong till mid-January and there may be more days worth a diary entry.

I left Auckland in the early hours of Thursday 20 December, and arrived in a windy, grey Hong Kong morning. I was home by 8 a.m. - unfortunately I had to wait more than half an hour for a bus, or it would have been sooner, as I was off the plane and through formalities in less than 20 mins.

Thursday was spent posting Mary's and Eileen's Christmas cards, and arranging a China visa for me. We got the passport in just before close-off time of 12 noon, and then went to HK side to see about lunch. Slim pickings there, especially after we waited for a long time at a stall in dai pai dong with no service. We left after nothing seemed to happen to our order and we were running out of time for an appointment at Jardine Flemings.

After meeting our adviser we came directly home, where I heard of the death of a long-time friend, Andrea French. It was not unexpected news, but saddening nonetheless, as we will not be able to attend her service on Monday. I was pleased to have seen her several times this year.

On Friday we went to see an old school friend of Eddie's who is retired and living in a village near Fo Tan station (Lok Lo Ha village). Apart from the 'Everest steps' one has to climb to get to his house - 114? I lost count at 10 and was out of breath at 30 - it's a very pleasant spot, with a good outlook, a hill behind for good feng shui, and not too many people around.

We went to help him with his computer - I did what I could and he seemed happy enough with the results. I hadn't worked with Vista before, but it wasn't too difficult. Anyway, he had done most of the work installing his own copy of Office and once I removed the second copy he had installed in frustration, it worked well.

The day was fine and warm, but not too humid, and we continued on to TST East to collect my passport and visa, had scraps from the supermarket for lunch, then came home for early dinner and sleep.

Saturday was spent at home, tidying up, and sleeping. We were both wide awake and busy from 2 am to 4 because of the early night, so we went back to sleep for a while, before doing some washing that became a marathon as more and more items were found to wash. Unfortunately the humidity was high, and with little wind and no sun, nothing dried.

Eddie fished out his portable clothes drier, figured out how to assemble it, and we had everything dry by bedtime. It was so much easier than waiting for the sun to come back out. The washing would have been mouldy first, although the forecast is for finer and drier later next week.

Sunday has slso been a day at home - we listed Eddie's books and he has spent more time scanning stuff before junking it.