To Gardeners

When I arrived in Hong Kong I was heavily pregnant and relocating from the Solomon Islands. We had, for the previous three years enjoyed the benefits of a tropical paradise – full coral beachfront, wide palm fringed garden and unobstructed views of the ocean. And we had a gardener!! My home finding at the hands of a local agent had left me in tatters. How could I survive in a 30th floor apartment with no balcony, and planes whizzing past the windows near Kai Tak Airport? I knew people lived in places like Clearwater Bay and the Southside, but we had a budget that wasn’t going there. I was excited when an expat agent suggested I visit Discovery Bay. At last someone who understood. I didn’t even view the rooms of the house when I walked into my first Hong Kong low-rise, and glimpsed a long strip of green grass with a white sand beach beyond. I had found HOME. I had no idea how my husband would get to work but we had a BEACH and a GARDEN! Almost 24 years later, as an agent now myself, I recently leased the same home (with no improvements) for double our budget of 1993 and wondered to myself if the eager tenants really understood what owning a garden in Hong Kong means – I certainly didn’t and I wonder now if I would reconsider if I had.

As a keen member of the HK Gardening Society I moved on – to the New Territories and 4000 sf of unkempt scrub which we stoically built up with composting and cuttings to a sizeable oasis of fruit trees, ponds and contemplation corners.  Along the way I made friends with people who did the same. Gardening people tend to hang together, even in the face of growing doubts that they are sane. Mosquito breeds and snake species came to be part of my vernacular and we fought on, chopping our way out after typhoons and euthanising chickens in a birdflu epidemic, to retain the country lifestyle. Our kids grew up rock climbing and stream hopping and we entertained in the garden and had annual bonfires and luau’s – until we got a divorce.
I had never lived in a high rise – and I had no idea what that meant. It certainly meant less room and certainly didn’t involve garden furniture, but it did involve free time, clean floors and a strange sensation of not quite ever being alone. I’d never even had curtains! The first night I didn’t sleep a wink as I listened to lift bells dinging and chairs scraping on all four sides of my flat. And so for the last three years I have lived without a garden. Let me tell you how that feels.
I miss it.
I miss the smell of plants and fresh cut grass and I miss the sound of plopping turtles. I miss the cool evenings having a glass of wine under the trees and admiring the days effort. I miss the fun of kids running amok and chasing puppies, but I don’t miss all that comes with it – hours and hours of pulling weeds, repositioning hoses, clearing drains and smacking bugs.
Leasing a home with a garden is a bigger noose around your neck than adopting a dog. You will enjoy a garden for about three months a year – in between the rain and the cold. If you are here in October, November and March it will be wonderful. The rest of the year you will either be watering or baling. Now don’t get me wrong – as a Real Estate Agent with some knowledge of HK’s greener sides, I still lease homes with gardens, and some are magnificent, but seldom to people who are seasoned expats. Nowadays, we have so many options to enjoy gardens – public gardens – that owning one yourself is hardly necessary. A few herbs in pots and you are done. A palm in the living room and you are positively transported. Honestly – having a garden is for the birds but this is just my opinion. Now I don’t have a garden!  I am happily enjoying running, and exploring areas of Hong Kong I’ve never really appreciated – Hong Kong IS a garden. A wonderful garden of Eden in all seasons and I love it!

 

Memory Lane – Kam Tin Village

Few areas exhibit the good, the bad and the ugly of Hong Kong in such a distillate as Shek Kong, Kam Tin.  Nestled in the bowl of the ‘ring of fire’ surrounded by ridges in a stunning caldera like valley, this whole area drew little attention since  the weekly Shek Kong market disappeared with the British Army and Gurkha regiments in 1997 along with the tailors ( for mess kit you understand) the Pakistani Shaffi’s naffi and the paddy fields seasonally yielding up gladioli, and cabbages. It remains low key due in part to the Shek Kong Airfield and PLA military camp carving up the centre of the valley, but licking at its fringes are the telltale signs of encroaching development – swamplands, home to endangered Painted Snipe and water buffalo, are being drained, and the lowlands no longer flood thanks to extensive run off canals which have effectively brought drought to the basin. Mid-rise apartment buildings are studding the landscape towards Yuen Long, and the massive carpark of the Kam Sheung Road Rail line daily fills with commuter cars. Quiet little Kam Tin Village is a bit of a traffic jam which affords a birds eye view of village life from your car and the one traffic light even buys you a stop at the centre!

I lived in this valley for the majority of my 24 years in Hong Kong and got to know it intimately and now I’m back for a short stay rediscovering places that haven’t changed and those that have.

Working ‘from home’ this week, I have had time to do a little exploring. I have wandered the villages where orange rinds are laid out to dry, laundry lays flat on iron roofs so low you would have to stoop to enter the house, and wild passionfruit rot on the paths where they drop. I have poked around in the back lanes that are now jammed with car yards and scrap merchants carrying bags of cash gather container loads to ship to far off developing nations. I’ve squeezed up lanes where its artful to dodge Pakistani’s in kurta pajamas on bikes and black as pitch Nigerian sunnis with white as snow smiles, heading to makeshift mosques.

Breathing in the pungent aromas of the forests I have rediscovered one of my favorite walks along the Kap Lung Catchment, where Birdwood vines meander beside the path and monkeys occasionally get drunk on the nectar of their flowers – and reconnected with a road sign still telling confused pedestrians “When wig-wag sign goes stop”
I have discovered that despite the behemoth of the Guanzhou fast rail line operation centre laying waste to a large part of the local village land, (incidentally it will take just 14 minutes to shoot from Hong Kong to Shenzhen when it is completed) there is still a wonderful hodge-podge of Cantonese, Hakka, and all manner of ethnicities tilling out a fairly humble existence just yards from the high tech Kam Sheung Westrail line that will take you back to Hong Kong in a relatively leisurely 30 minutes. If you think that you can handle the ‘local culture’, I happily recommend a visit.

Some local treasures:
1. The Sum Ngai Brassware factory http://www.sumngaibrass.com/
2. Kat Hing Wai – one of Hong Kong’s last walled villages complete with a moat https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kat_Hing_Wai
3. The 300 year old house with the tree growing through the middle of it http://annatam.com/tree-house/
4. The Kap Lung Ancient trail http://hiking.gov.hk/eng/trail_list/country_trail/Kap_Lung_Country_Trail/introduction.htm
5. The walk around the Ho Pui Reservoir – this was my children’s favorite walk http://hiking.gov.hk/eng/trail_list/family_walk/Ho_Pui_Family_Walk/introduction.htm
6. See some real soldiers guarding the now PLA compounds up Route Twisk and head to the summit for a bit of hide and seek around the huge boulders on what my children have always called ‘Misty Mountain’ – Tai Mo Shan
7. Have a great curry at the Shek Kong Park dai pai dong bus stop and live to talk about it being the cheapest meal you have ever had in Hong Kong.
8. The weekend open air market at the Kam Sheung Road MTR

Bring a little courage and a willingness to be amazed and you will not be disappointed. This area may not have changed alot on the surface in the last 20 years but by the look of the new monument being built outside the PLA Shek Kong airfield I don’t think that will last, so visit now – before its all turned into history.

 

 

 

 

Summer of Seventeen

Wow is it hot in Hong Kong this year. Not hot enough it seems, to melt tons of Palm Oil that was leaked into the sea after a collision of two ships in Chinese waters four days ago.

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2105625/hong-kong-beaches-closed-after-mystery-oil-washes

I’ll keep this short – I have been so proud of how Hong Kong has rallied to the call to clean up our act since SARS and how we have all contributed to the sustainability of areas of Hong Kong that we treasure but, today Hong Kong… I’m very disappointed.

Palm Oil – well that says it all really. Mountains of Palm Oil from unsustainable plantations tilled over suddenly extinct forests, stripped clear of life and endangered species to make SOAP and stuff we don’t need in our bodies. This ‘accident’ which will now require a gargantuan clean up or be left to fester like the grease pits and uncleaned drains in seedy back alleys, reeking like rancid chip shops was totally, disgracefully avoidable.
Disappointed. Yup and Sad.
Oh well – Ive lived in HK long enough to know it can always get better. Surely we can work on saving the last few dolphins who may be lurking below this globulous goo?

Palm oil.jpg

 

 

Kids are not boxes! Tips on moving to HK with kids.

ASK THE EXPERTS – Our team of agents give some tips to help you transition children to Hong Kong.

Lets get this straight – KIDS are NOT BOXES.

Our Locations team is a varied and vibrant mix of nationalities but one thing we all have in common is KIDS – all ages, from 3 to 23,  at all stages and we know what it means to move them from one ‘location’ to another.

They have emotions, attachments and physical as well as spiritual and psychological needs.
Our panel of staff members are not just Real Estate Agents but parents:
So we asked them for a few tips to help you. Now one would think with a diverse range of nationhoods we would get a diverse range of advice – well true to the addage that dictates that same advice is good advice, we have chosen to print it all – and its very consistent.

If you would like to contact any of us for further guidance or a chat over a coffee or even a skype before you embark we are here with open arms.
We know its not easy but a move to Hong Kong could very well be one you never make again – we all came for ‘two years’ once a long time ago!!

Stuart

Stuart is a ‘trailing spouse’ in the nicest terms. A stay at home Dad of two very active kids ( 4 and 6) who runs a tight ship and keeps up with the daily routine of swimming lessons, school runs and home management along side a new career in Real Estate. A former banking professional Stu found it was possible to change direction while taking care of his family (Reach Stuart)

Top tips:
Relocating to HK with kids as a trailing spouse was at the same time a daunting yet exciting experience for me. A new city, a new culture and a very new role for me as a stay at home Dad

How did I survive ?

Luckily HK is set up for trailing spouses of either gender and if you embrace the change and accept the challenge ( which is certainly not easy at times) then it can be a very rewarding time of your life.

The best thing I did was join a sports club which gave me (and more importantly my family) access to an immediate social network, a place to come to to relax and let the kids run free and also the chance to indulge one of my passions / obsessions in cricket ! Clubs of all shapes and sizes in HK are one of the best ways to meet people and to get involved in HK life and by the time you leave HK you may well have made friends for life through this experience.
Even if joining a club is perhaps not an option for you personally , getting your children involved in sporting activities through the various clubs in HK is just as good and great for the kids to mix with other HK rug rats and to help them make new friends. My two children are both HKCC Gappers through the cricket season (every Saturday morning) and budding rugby players for Valley Fort which has the added bonus of training at the PLA army base in Stanley on occasions with curious Chinese soldiers watching on !

Involve yourself in your childrens school / pre-school life and you will be surprised how many other people you will find who are going through or have been through exactly what you are experiencing. I made two of my best friends in HK (and since) just by dropping my kids off at their pre school and hanging around for 10 minutes afterwards chatting with other parents.

The more you make the effort to get involved in HK life, be it through your children school life, clubs or whatever the more you will get out of it which will make your time in HK well worth the experience.

Nikki

A self confessed power machine of a mum to two boys, Nikki works hard to perfect her role as a mum, a professional Real Estate Agent and a sportwoman participating in HK’s top level of Dragon Boating. A Psychologist by training and a pharma sales leader, who better to ask about transitioning family than a person who never stops working on it even when settled? (Reach Nikki)

Top tips:
Embrace opportunity!
Sport – all sports are on offer in HK.
For children and adults!!
Try some of these…..

Mini rugby clubs in all areas of Hong Kong, for girls and boys
https://www.hkrugby.com/pages/mini-rugby

Many football schools, APSS and Brazilian Football Academy, start from five years and up to older boys and girls with competitive squads.
http://www.apsoccer.hk/

Cricket, try the gappers at the HKCC, early on a Saturday morning.
http://hkcc.org/Cricket-Gappers.aspx

Sailing, learn to sail from age of 6 years at RHKYC
http://www.rhkyc.org.hk/YouthSailTraining.aspx

Netball and Hockey at HKCC
http://www.hkcc.org/netball.aspx
http://www.hkcc.org/hockey.aspx

Multi sport – offering swimming, gymnastics and much more
http://multi-sport.com.hk/

Horse-riding in Pokfulam and the New territories
http://www.hkridingclub.com/
http://www.hongkonglessons.com/en/sub/Sport_Lessons/Horse%20Riding_Lessons/1

Karate – taught at HKFC, Aberdeen Boat club, Country Club
http://www.abclubhk.com/Karate.aspx

Explore
Hong Kong is not just the city, take a look at the green centre when you look up from the city! All of the green area contains kms and kms of hiking trails! Beautiful green lush paths with gurgling streams and gushing water falls. Stunning flowers and wildlife. All levels of hiking area available, to tough climbs which reward with the view when you get there, to concreted trails, suitable for pushchairs.
Further explore hiking options and even camping on beautiful isolated beaches of the outlying islands.
https://www.timeout.com/hong-kong/sport-and-fitness/hiking-trails-for-families-in-hong-kong
http://hiking.gov.hk/eng/longtrail/hktrail/hktrail.htm

Travel
Embrace your new home as a jumping off point for travel.
Fantastic opportunity to travel to countless, close by children friendly destinations, to embrace culture, food and the people.
Fantastic experiences for children of all ages..
But first start with Hong Kong!
https://theculturetrip.com/asia/articles/the-10-best-family-friendly-destinations-in-asia/

Others to visit, best make your list now and with around 21 days of public holidays a year to add to the school holidays, you have plenty to time to make the trips!!!
Hainan Island
Vietnam
Cambodia
Borneo
Thailand
Philippines
China
Laos
Malaysia
Japan

And a little further a field
Bali
Sri Lanka
Maldives
And even Australia and New Zealand….

Maeve

Taking a more relaxed approach because she was brought up in Hong Kong, Maeve has a strong educational and sports ethos and is now transitioning some of her children back to a Boarding School while maintaining a very active role in her DB community and her childrens schools. Don’t be deceived by Maeve’s calm exterior – she works 24/7 at networking and keeping her kids involved and has some top tips to share about balance. (Reach Maeve)

Top Tips
Travel as much as you can – HK is an ideal geographical position to see the best of Asia.  It can be so exciting for our children to experience new cultures first hand and often retain more than in the classroom!

Eat local Asian food – be it Cantonese, Peking, Shanghai, Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan – we call our children ‘Asian babies’ as they far prefer Asian fare over Western.

Take to the outdoors – HK is 70% country park and there are so many wonderful hiking trails and beaches to explore.  By foot, junk, ferry or Sampan.

Camping – obviously avoid the very hot seasons (although some of the safari style tents have portable aircons) – but too often in HK, our children don’t learn how to be hardy creatures – learn how to collect appropriate firewood, how to build a fire, campfire cooking, working with untreated water etc.  Experience real nature and all it has to offer – in terms of bird life, the wandering water buffalo on lantau and sai kung – and experience clear clean waters of the New Territories.

Visit the busy Hong Kong markets and regularly attempt a few words of Cantonese with the street sellers.

Meet other families & children throughout HK by joining extra curricular activities of interest.  HK has many sports clubs and weekends can be packed full with team practice and regular tournaments – be it football, rugby, swimming, netball, hockey, tennis, ice hockey.  Non sporting activities in the arts – creative writing, painting/drawing/sewing/knitting, theatre & singing groups – also create a wonderful opportunity for our children to meet a diverse range of friends.

Megan

You may think that coming to the end of expatriate journey of 24 years with children in Hong Kong, Megan could be a little out of touch – well with 16 year old twins doing A levels, and a son graduating from NZ university and now in the job market its never dull but in a different way. Megan attests to the sanctity of Hong Kong as a safe and enriching place to bring up a family in a time tested multicultural environment with all the benefits of a cosmopolitan lifestyle. (Reach Megan)

Top Tips:
EMBRACE Hong Kong by encouraging varied experiences. Enjoy the festivals, and get out and see the different areas Hong Kong has. Islands, mountains.
My kids have grown up tramping and camping in the hills of the New Territories, the beaches of Saikung and eating at the Dai Pai Dong food stalls of the remote villages. I never let my children turn their noses up at local food – it will stop them from starving if they go to university and know how to eat ‘Asian’ Also please help them to learn Cantonese – a few words. My twins now love using it.
Finally have a helper by all means but know the difference between a maid and a slave and respect your helpers – get your children early on to make their own beds and cook a meal with you, do the dishes as a chore and share a laugh with your domestic staff. They can’t take a helper home with them so they may as well take home respect for people from other countries who work and care for them.

Sandra
A long time expatriate Mum of three boys Sandra has special needs as her key area of expertise as she has fully invested her time in HK in supporting her own children with differences. A strong advocate of the rights and responsibilities of parents with children who are needing support you know Sandra is on your side if you need her advice.

Wendy

American Wendy has a grown up family including one member of the HK Sevens team so we could reiterate that sport is a significant part of successfully parenting kids in HK but maybe its not for all kids –  if your kids are not the sporty types you are in the right place for Music, Drama, Art, Language, and Technology – a tech geek paradise awaits. (Reach Wendy)

Don’t forget to take it one day at a time and do not be afraid to reach out to us or any other parents you meet. We won’t all think the same way but we will all have the same goals – to make a family transition into a positive experience. We have all done it, and we know its ok to feel a bit down in the dumps as it makes the high points seem so much higher.

Paddling Dragons

1431594119808_RHKYC2_469653We are very excited in our office as Nikki Green our South-side residing consultant is sharpening up her blades for tomorrow’s Dragon Boat Festival.
The festival kicks off at Stanley and there are races all over Hong Kong.
Nikki races as a member of the RHKYC Royal X team of over 100 on the roster but tomorrow she will be one of four crews, 90 paddlers including 46 men and 37 women; its a long day and if lucky they will race 3.5 minutes !! In 270 meters there is only one thing on their mind – EVERYTHING!  Thats the catch cry of team captain Melissa who doesn’t take prisoners and if you are still standing and can talk you clearly haven’t put it in!!
Nikki’s captain asked them to remember the mistakes they WON’T be making – clearly a day when nerves are overruled by courage, guts and determination to keep the cup in the club. As defending champs these teams are tenacious.

So Nikki and team – all the best
If our agents at Locations can still breathe after viewing with you – they haven’t shown you enough? Hmmmm. At least we can say we have stamina.

Its a gorgeous day in HK for a paddle or to spectate this annual spectacular from a vantage on a boat or on the shore – the festivities are something HK’ers look forward to.

winners2Nikki

In honor or Buddha’s Birthday

According to this legend, briefly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer named Asita visited the young prince’s father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.

Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king, so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Gautama ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights—he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest. He spent the rest of his life perfecting meditation to find the peace within and teaching the techniques to anyone who wished to know.

Having attended a 10 day Buddhist meditation retreat 8 years ago, I now make a 20 minute meditation a part of every day and this has, over the years paid off in spades. I highly recommend meditation for relaxation, stress relief and it helps when crossing Hong Kong’s busy pedestrian pathways!

“I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything that is useful for you, I have already given. Be your own guiding light.”
– The Buddha, while leaving his body at the age of eighty

In China, celebrations often occur in Buddhist temples where people light incense and bring food offerings for the monks. In Hong Kong, Buddha’s birthday is a public holiday. Lanterns are lit to symbolise the Buddha’s enlightenment and many people visit the temple to pay their respects. The bathing of the Buddha is a major feature of Buddha’s birthday celebrations in the city.

It is remarkable that a man of simple stature, having given up his royal status, could affect the course of history and bring peace to so many. In a frenetic city like Hong Kong, calm descends for just a day. If you have time to visit one of the many Buddhist shrines around the city, today probably isn’t the best day to do so. But take a moment to enjoy the country side, the beauty of Hong Kong’s natural places, and todays glorious weather because with the factories of China turned ‘off’ during Golden Week, we are sure to enjoy cool spring skies and some fresh air for a few days – perfect for getting our breathing techniques focussed in line with Buddha’s teachings.

 

Rugby Sevens Kick-off

There is a magic that descends on Hong Kong around 7’s time. Visitors start to book your sofa. Work ramps up and interest takes the down escalator. Kids plan costumes, adults plan costumes. People you never thought would, wear costumes they wish they never had. You see your bank manager wearing a maniki or your local Starbucks server wearing a tutu and crown and HE has never smiled like that when you ordered your morning latte.
Ah the ‘Sevens” – Hong Kong’s nod to liberation, freedom of expression, patriotism, national pride, over indulgence of alcohol and unfettered schmoozing for tickets and best seats.

New Zealand and SA, UK and Aus as the usual top four have slunk down in the hustings and while they may still carry out the cup, USA and Canada and Japan ( even Hong Kong)  have risen and up has risen the party atmosphere that comes from underdogs winning. Music and rugby, meeting old friends and cheering on Hong Kong and Kenya and hearing the drums of Samoa and the vuvuzelas of the South Africans in the South Stand. Seeing monkeys and madonnas smooching and feeling the camaradarie of a crowd of 45,000 fans who put aside all worldly worry to enjoy a mix of social and culture and sport cocktails ( get your hangover cures ready)

We don our war paint – mine is a mix of my own heritage ( Born in Fiji, from NZ, living in HKG with UK/NZ kids) I have it covered. Black and Black and Blue and Red and White and … its a kaleidescope of fantastic fun.

I suggest you get a ticket if you can and come to the big Gweilo Party – every taxi driver knows where to go!