101littledragons

a lifestyle blog about living in Asia

Archive for the tag “Hong Kong”

Let’s go: Kazakhstan

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“What? You are going to Kazakhstan?”

“Yes.”

“For new years eve?”

“Yes.”

“Wow. Why?”

“Why not?”

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Most conversations leading up to, and those conversations on my return from Kazakhstan were much the same – those who would inquire about my holiday plans would be in disbelief, sometimes there was general confusion – why would I spend 1 week of my very limited holiday time visiting the unconventional, yet culturally diverse, Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan – a place famed for the satirical documentary, Borat, rich in natural resources, in the heart of central Asia. Kazakhstan – the destination of my first ‘stan’ trip. Kazakhstan – my new highly recommended destination for all adventurers.

And, so I set off, direct flight with Air Astana from Hong Kong to Almaty, where I would meet my dear, Kazakh friend and hostess with the mostess, Aliya. Aliya, like many young Kazakh people, is well travelled and educated abroad; we met several years ago whilst studying our masters in my hometown of Melbourne.

Wrapped up tightly in thermals and a feather down jacket, we ventured out of the airport, a nice – 17 degrees, to her four-wheel drive. Her friend was also with us, having just flown in from another city of Kazakhstan.

The “Borat” conversation was over within the first 5 minutes of our drive… What do I mean by the Borat conversation… well… Some Kazakh people find it rather entertaining that most (not all) Westerners associate the country with the movie… And to be honest, that movie, as ridiculous as it is, captured the cultural ignorance of some, whilst giving me my first, albeit false, impression of the country.

Almaty is the “old” capital of the country, whereas, Astana, the “new” capital, is a growing city that received its title upon the break up of the Soviet Union. Like the good ol’ rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, or Beijing and Shanghai, there is much political tension between the cities, possibly because Astana is the President’s preferred city.  Most people speak Kazakh (which was suppressed during Soviet times but is becoming increasingly popular these days) and Russian.

I had arrived just in time for all the New Year celebrations. As a Muslim country, Christmas is rarely, if not at all, celebrated. It is New Years Eve that attracts several days of public holidays. Families get together, people feast and give gifts and after a couple of days of partying in the city, people hit the slopes. I am told this is the typical turn of events.

On New Years Eve, we feasted with Aliya’s family on local cuisine such as a horse stew (it was surprisingly succulent), bread type dumplings, and several salads with a Russian twist (with eggs, beets, pickles, potatoes etc).  We drank vodka, as well as lots of tea (another popular choice), and for digestion, we had camel and horse milk. The kids let off fireworks in the backyard and then scoffed sweet cakes and local desserts like a millet based slice and a milk curd slice. At 12am, the family, kids and all, watched the President’s speech. And then… it was time to hit the upscale, VIP/invitation only club, Don’t Worry Papa…Papa should’ve been worried! There were hot Ukrainian go-go dancers on the bar, and French dj’s – it was the ‘it’ party in Almaty.

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I quickly learned that Kazahk girls are seldom bothered by the cold weather outside (-10 and below). In short skirts, and super high heels, immaculate hair and make-up, the girls make their way around the icy city. Day and night – these girls look stunning. No track-pants or ugly beanies in sight.

As well as partying, I was fortunate to hit the slopes, namely Shymbulak (home of the Asian Winter Games 2011 and bid destination for the Winter Olympics 2018) and Akbulak. As one who prefers après skiing, having had the luxury of ‘playing’ in New Zealand, Japan and Canada, these slopes were most definitely comparable. And, so we ventured out, me, the beginner, and my friend, the snowboarding queen – we spent several days on the mountains.

If skiing and general snow-bunny-fun is not your thing, Almaty has a number of other tourist sights – all accessible in Winter (something tells me though, that they are even more beautiful in the Summer).

For a great view of the city, take the funicular to Kok Tube Hill. Wander through the great patriotic war memorial in Panfilov Park, and visit the Zenkov Cathedral for some interesting pics.

In terms of food, Almaty has some very trendy and delicious multi-cultural offerings. Try Navat for something close to the local cuisine. And, whilst in the area, why not try some Georgian or Russian offerings – plenty of restaurants to choose from. If you want to be seen, El Mirador is the place to dine and drink– the food is good quality (not necessarily the best meal of your life but very tasty!) and the shisha (another popular past time) is light and flavoursome.

I could go on and on about my time in Almaty and my adopted Kazakh family! It was one of the best trips of my life. I hope that I get the opportunity to return to Almaty and also visit Astana and surrounding cities over the summer – hiking the mountainous terrain and learning more about the diverse cultural influences of the Mongols and Russians would be an absolute privilege.

Love from your Kazakh convert,

Jacqui

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The Staff Christmas Party

Do’s and don’ts

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1. If your Christmas party is held straight after work, be kind to your co-workers – bring the following necessities to work to prep:

–       a toothbrush – no one likes to have a conversation with Mr Bad Breath.

–       re-apply deodorant – it is highly likely that you’ll throw your arms up at one point or another, whether it be whilst dancing or high fiving your co-workers.

–       put on your face – in other words, touch up your make up.

2. Dress to the theme – if your party is themed, don’t be the party pooper who is too scared to laugh at themselves. Don’t be afraid to look ridiculous. Run with the pack and don’t be the odd one out – you will draw more attention to yourself if you don’t dress to the theme.

3. Bring everything with you (jacket, phone, wallet etc)– do not return to the office!

Last year, a junior team member at my firm, returned to the office after drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Our Christmas party was themed, so he was dressed head to toe in blue spandex (as an Avatar). At about 10:30pm, he decided he would go back to the office to pick up his jacket and phone but instead vomited all over himself, the office and the toilets. What made this worse was the fact that when he went to the toilets, he forgot his swipe pass and got locked out of the office. He passed out only to be found the next day by the cleaners who thought this “blue man” was some sort of intruder.  

4. Talk to people you don’t know – “Hi, I’m X, I work in the X team. I don’t think we have met before?”

5. Avoid conversations that lead back to your work – yes, work might be a common feature of your relationship with your colleagues but sometimes it is nice to have other things to talk about – sport, food, travel, Christmas plans etc.

6. Enter quietly and leave discretely – it is not cool to be the first one at the party or the last one to leave.

7. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol to the point that you do not remember what happened – remember, these people have to see you daily.

8. Stay off social media sites – some workplaces have strict social media guidelines – a dirty photo here or there could actually result in some sort of disciplinary action – be careful!

9. Eat! And drink! (Your boss is paying!)

10. Have fun! 

 

The Surgical Mask

The surgical mask – your fashion (albeit germ-conscious) friend

ImageReviving the blog… with a post about the surgical mask and its popularity in Asia.

In my mind, the only place you would find a surgical mask is at a medical clinic or hospital. But in Hong Kong – if you are feeling sick, it is totally the norm to wear a mask.

My initial thought when I saw people wearing a mask was: EW. DISEASE. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. WHY ARE YOU IN PUBLIC. It is very uncommon to wear a mask when sick in Western culture. When you think about why people would wear a mask and the reasons behind it, it makes a little more sense – it prevents the spread of germs – (duh) – but that is never really our first thought. And, in a city of 7 million + ppl, that is an immensely important (and a considerate) thing to do.

…ESPECIALLY when you consider the whole SARS ordeal in 2003…H7N9 (not that it has been confirmed to spread human-to-human)… and other random strains of disease that seem to be taking over the world *think World War Z style.

Now that I’ve lived in Asia a couple of years, I’m not going to lie – I’m quite the fan of covering my face with a pretty blue or green surgical mask. In fact, wearing such an interesting accessory might be appropriate in situations other than as a prevention of disease… for example… when you need to use a dirty, public squat toilet (anywhere in Asia) and you need to mask the smells… or when you are having an incredibly rough day at work and want to spend the entire time crying… it is more than likely people will avoid you when that mask covers half your face… no one can see your frown…OR… (my personal fave) to hide that horrible puss filled, red, inflamed zit.

So, next time you see someone with a surgical mask, say a little thank you; they are sparing you their germs.

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Love in the Big City

Hong Kong: the city to fall in love… with your job and nothing else?! 

I had been warned, Hong Kong is not a city where people settle down, it is a city for random dates and casual flings. At 24 years of age, that should sound exciting… if only this was a holiday destination and not my home… but the idea of going on numerous dates and trying to impress someone, when there seems to be this universal understanding that things just don’t work that way in HK, can be a little disheartening for this hk-romantic.

Naturally, the warnings from my friends and posts on popular HK blogs were blocked from my mind and replaced with little mantras such as “I will find someone tall, muscular, smart and serious” 😛 if only 😛

About 10 months in and I have had the random date/fling*, here and there… only with other internationals though – an Aussie, a Frenchie and most notably a very handsome Norwegian. The local boys (and those from the mainland) have showed little to no interest. One guy even told my friend (when asked if he found me attractive) that he wasn’t interested in ‘white girls’ – which was a little shocking at the time and is somewhat amusing to me now. As a result, I haven’t yet found my HK prince.

This got me thinking about the lengths people will go to ensure they find ‘the one’. Recently, there was public uproar about a dating company in HK that was charging approx $500 USD per head for local female women to attend an event where international men were invited to dine for free. Pitching HK women as shallow and desperate for international men with money – which isn’t the case. But you have to wonder, if people ARE willing to pay that sort of money for the chance to mingle with eligible partners, what sort of city are we living in?

And so, here I am, realising that these warnings might have some truth. Don’t get me wrong – I am not jaded or desperate but I am intrigued. Thus, enter the next best thing? THE SET UP!

Yes – finally I have agreed to be set up with a man who appears to be paper perfect. Only time will tell. A new experience. An exciting experience? Naturally, I am going into this with no expectations and with the thought that this will be a bit of fun… and hey – it has given me something to entertain you with, right?!

Wish me luck!

* Date/fling – doesn’t necessarily mean I slept with these guys. A lady never kisses and tells.

One of the well written warnings: http://sassyhongkong.com/hong-kong-isnt-for-love/

Hong Kong: the transit city

4 weeks of exam hell (preparation included) and now I am finally back to the fabulous world of blogging.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come to the realisation that HK really is a transit city. I knew on the surface that it was and is a temporary destination for many – as an international financial hub the city attracts talented people from around the world… it wasn’t until I had to say goodbye to some dear friends that I started contemplating the effects of a ‘transit city’ on the expat lifestyle.

People are always coming and going – secondments can be as brief as one to two months and the majority of postgraduate courses only last a year… In and out.

The main advantage of living in a transit city is that people are always open to forming new friendships. However, with that, comes the horrible realisation that sometimes these friendships are short lived – not always by choice, usually because of the surrounding circumstances.

As I was saying goodbye to a new friend, she mentioned that there are 3 types of friends in life:

1)   the ‘best’ friend – they are the ones you have history with and adore, they mean the world to you and you could hang out with them endlessly;

2)   the ‘hang out’ friend – the ones you love to just hang out with and can call on at any time for a laugh;

3)   the ‘fave’ friend – the ones that you don’t necessarily hang out with all the time but they could be a bestie if given the chance– 100% enjoyable to hang out with.

It got me thinking, in the last month, I’ve said goodbye to 1 ‘fave friend’ and 2 ‘hang out friends’ (although… at some point I also had a little crush on one of my ‘hang out friends’). It is kinda sad. My HK family and perception has changed. Transit. My HK family will eventually be an international family – friends scattered around the globe. It is all part of being an expat.

 

New Traditions: Easter with my new family in Hong Kong

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My lasagne – ready to hit the oven… mmmm

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family – old and new

New Traditions

Feels like a million years since my last post… Over the last week and a half I’ve played ‘host’ and ‘tour guide’. A dear friend that I studied with in my masters programme was in town… AND THEN!!! Two of my best friends (from Melbourne) spontaneously booked their tickets on Tuesday and Wednesday to come to HK for Easter weekend!

I’ve realised that you only start to appreciate family traditions with age and distance. I come from a big Italian family and the one part of our Italian heritage that lives on post my parents/grandparents immigration to Australia is our love of food. It is our family tradition at Easter (and other religious holidays) to eat lasagne and feast on a variety of salads and meats.Thus, all religious holidays go hand in hand with gutsing ourselves silly until we cannot move. It is fabulous.

I wanted to re-live ‘the feast’ in Hong Kong. On Easter Sunday, after a ‘night of crazy’ that ended at 4:30am, I woke up early to make my mum’s famous lasagne. The menu for our original party of 6 was as follows:

– Cold cut meats and cheese/starters (my friend who is currently kitchen-less was going to bring the first course)

– lasagne (as cooked by moi)

– potato puree with truffle, and a fig, basil and buffalo cheese salad (to be cooked by my foodie friend)

– apple crumble (whipped up by my roomie).

If only it was that easy.

At about 11:20am, one of my party-boy friends called to say he would be making an appearance at my local Church. So at 11:30am I rushed off to Easter mass, leaving the others to sleep/nurse their heads…

Within a few hours that morning, our party of 6 grew to a party of 9. The more the merrier I thought 😛 The 3 additions were close friends anyway and the only reason I didn’t invite them from the very start was my concern about space in our apartment (HK apartments are tiny). Nevertheless, I knew we’d make do; I was happy that they would be joining us for our family lunch.

1:30pm comes and goes… 8 of us are sitting around the table. Starving. My friend, who was doing the starters, is running late. We all keep looking at each other… hunger pains set in. We eventually decide to scoff the salad and potato mash…

2pm arrives… and my friend waltzes in… we all look at her eagerly… she holds up 2 bottles of wine as she screams ‘hiiiiiiiii’…

‘we’ve been waiting – we are starving’ – we all proceed.

‘oh? I brought wine!’ At this point I look around for the plastic bag of cold cuts. Nothing. ‘Do you want to get the cold cuts/starters out?’ I ask.

‘I thought we’d have a liquid lunch!’

My friend had substituted cold cuts for alcohol. It was hilarious. 8 hungry faces look around the table… My best friends from Melbourne look at each other confused that we aren’t feasting in the usual Italian way.

Eventually, one of the (hungry) boys got up with a promise that he would return with glorious food so we could start ‘feasting’. He returned with McDonald chicken nuggets, roasted pork (Chinese style), roasted duck (Chinese style), and some more salad.

I didn’t get my traditional feast, but I did start a new tradition! I had the best time and just thinking about it makes me so grateful for the new friends (and old ones) that I’ve made. My disastrous lunch was fabulous. I hope to do the same thing next year with my new Hong Kong family.

Future Easter menu:

– wine, wine and more wine

– lasagne (some things never change)

– McDonalds chicken nuggets

– roast pork (Chinese style)

– roast duck (Chinese style)

– fig, basil and buffalo cheese salad

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wine?

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 time to eat!!

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gimme some of that duck!

Rugby Sevens, Rugby Fashions

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My lil lamb – we call her Kimbo… 

 

Tickets to the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens sold out within 5 minutes. I naively found this out when I went to look up ticket prices, a couple of days after they went on sale. Not to worry- the Sevens isn’t all about the sport, it is however, very much about the beer and fashion.

Hong Kongers take pride in their costumes. When I talk about fashion and outfits in a rugby context, I don’t mean the conventional preppy rugby jersey and jeans look. Hong Kongers, and visitors to HK, spend weeks, if not months, planning their costumes and matching them with their friends. They tend to wear the same outfit for the whole 3 day series – from early morning through to.. well, I guess early morning 😛 You can see sheep, gladiators, super women and men, cowboys and sailors, hippies in colorful wigs roaming the streets, on the MTR, in the supermarket… These fabulous costumed people take over the city.

At the end of each game day, the crowds head to LKF and Wan Chai. LKF is barricaded and beer stalls are set up on the street. The ‘normal people’ [this includes me and the rest of HK that failed to get tickets] and the sheep, gladiators, sailors, smurfs etc all integrate! It becomes one wild costume party!

I will not be so naive to miss out on tickets next year. I love costumes, the Sevens provides an excellent excuse to dress up. Oh, and might I add – the rugby itself is somewhat interesting too – C’mon Aussies!

[The Sevens was held a couple weeks back… some of my friends are still getting over the aftershock of the 3 day binge… Hence, the late write up – needed to seek approval from the sober kids for the uploading of the following pictures]

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Cluck Cluck

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Life savers? You can save me anytime 😉

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WW – you are fabulous!

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piggy piggy

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My lil gladiator

Earth Hour in Hong Kong

ImageThe Island I now call home – Hong Kong Island. 

ImageThe Bank of China Building… lights off

Lights on… lights off…

Looking over the iconic skyline and beautiful lights of Hong Kong is one of my ultimate favourite things to do (in the world!). I don’t think I will ever get tired of the concrete beauty that lines the Island. Day and night – this city is mesmerizing. The laser show and frantic lights are always on.

After spending a full day at uni/at the High Court for a mock trial, I came home absolutely exhausted… and then remembered… Earth Hour! I have previously ‘celebrated’ Earth Hour with my pals back home… this involved turning off every light in the house. I also took pleasure in implementing a no phone policy – which my friends hated me for… [Living in the dark is much easier than living without your phone.] This year, I was curious to see if HK could actually observe Earth Hour. This city seems to be connected to one giant Duracell battery that never dies – the lights flash on and off – at all hours.

My roomie was agreeable when I insisted we turn off the lights in our apartment… and come 830pm, I watched the lights turn off in the Hopewell Centre (a landmark in HK that also happens to be viewable from my bedroom window).

Considering I was so exhausted from my long day, I didn’t feel like venturing across to the Kowloon side to look across to the harbour. Instead, I trammed to central, took a few photos, trammed back and then walked along the harbour in Wan Chai.

Hong Kong doesn’t feel the same without the flashing lights. It feels sleepy. Or, perhaps, I felt sleepy?! But as I was walking, the most unusual song came to mind:

Baby when the lights go out

every single word cannot express, the love and tenderness

ill show u what its all about

baby, I swear, you will (so) come to me,

when the lights go out

[circa nineteen ninety something?! Thanks Five – for that fabulous flashback]

Happy Earth Hour, Hong Kong! You did it – naturally the city was still well lit… however the landmark buildings had ‘turned out the lights’ 😉

PS I realise there are a number of other songs about lights – but for some reason this popped into my brain?! Child of the 90s… our minds work in mysterious ways!

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 IFC – lights off

ImageHSBC Building – lights offImage

ImageHK Convention Centre and ICC Tower – lights off

ImageICC Tower – lights off

Imageone hour later – lights on

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