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

 

 

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.

 

Mid-Autumn Mooncake Munchies

Ooh the annual mooncake munchathon is upon us and I am delighted to take a break from sugar free and totally healthy and join this most fun of festivals in Hong Kong.

Its a time we all watch the weather – is that Typhoon coming, or not, to rain on our parade? No apparently not this year!
Is there going to be a basket of candies and fruit to deliver – a few this year again and its a pleasure ( thanks to all our wonderful clients for supporting us)

And then there is the BIG debate – which is the best mooncake to buy, give or relish…Well this year I am going to put my neck on the line for the NO EGG, nutty, not so sweet cake as opposed to my collegues choices of mango centred chocolate mocchi or green tea snowy ones that melt before you eat them. As time goes by it seems the traditional two egg yoke cakes are disappearing – I have never liked them and I guess more Western tastes are creeping in. Soon we will see McDonalds making twoallbeefpattylettucecheesespecialsauceonasesameseedmooncake and then I reckon the west will have won and we can all go home… Thankfully this is not yet. We all live in  Asia and happy to participate in this cherished family activity.

Have a wonderful Mid-Autumn Festival with friends and family, relishing the love of your kin if not the mooncakes in your tin.

 

Is the world so horrible?

It hardly seems that I can turn on any form of media these days without learning of tragedy and horror and political extremism and naturally one forms a view – not always balanced. But just for a moment I am taking a breather and soaking up the happiness of diversity in a community in which I live. Its a multi racial, international, religiously varied vegetable patch of tastes and temperatures, and for some its a hot bed of complaint or compassion.

Recently my small community (Lantau where I live) social media Facebook page has been a venting opportunity for anti religious, racist comments and more than a few accusations even backed up with shaming photos. But having been fairly disgusted by some of the comments shared I have refrained from comment. Others have been less restrained. Tempers have flared.

Slowly, I have begun to witness a turn of the tide. People seem to be fed up with a diet of racism and divide and they are fighting back with love. The people I live near are reaching out to each other and showing support to anyone who dares to stand up to a deeply troubling undercurrent of hatred. Bigotry and bullying are being banished!!

The moderators of our social media site have been admonished for not moderating. People have been thrown out and the community has reasserted itself as a safe and loving place.

How long will it be before the world rejects hatred and distrust?
So grateful to live in Hong Kong – feeling safe, being able to bring up my family with values of self awareness and respect, and knowing my community has my back, regardless of colour or creed. And if they don’t – they are learning. Progress not perfection.

Summer Exodus

 

Its that time of year again. The annual flight of the expat species that finds itself in a place that isn’t home, roosting in lofty heights, succumbing to social habits it had to first learn and eating a diet that just isn’t what it grew up with. So the annual ‘go home’ journey is a chance to reconnect with family, friends, food habits and breathe the air of familiarity. Or is it?
My personal ‘home’ is no longer where I came from 23 years ago, and while I relish a bit of Kiwi fare I no longer need it to feel comfortable.

This summer I have already taken a trip across from Siberia to Beijing on the train, and for a few days that monotonous humm and jiggle gave me  pause to reflect on exactly what part of home I miss.
Beijing – Family, comfort and food. Mongolia – sheep and green. Siberia – clear skies and fresh lakes.
Done, recharged … and all on my doorstep a little north of Hong Kong.

I wish all of the home travellers a happy summer and safe travel back to Hong Kong refreshed and ready to tackle the flurry to find a house, get kids settled back to school, make up for lost time and get ready to plan Christmas and Thanksgiving travel. I’m home for the summer if anyone is passing through.

We are very busy at Locations – so many families coming and going over summer.
Let me know if you need our help with finding a new home to roost in !!!
http://www.locations.com.hk