boarded up HSBC bank where I got my new Integrated account. the only real sign I’ve seen so far of the protests. queues coming out the door and customers coming out with bricks, I mean wads of cash that were as big as bricks, to fill the lucky red envelopes for family and friends.
i am imagining that in future there will be a lucky red envelope phone app, where you choose an envelope style, how much you want to give, to which contact you want to give to, and press ‘send’.
in my shopping basket I have…..how I am loving wandering around the markets here and buying stuff in a process that is as unlike going to Tescos as you can imagine. fish flapping, eggs packed with string into a portable parcel, the scent of oranges filling the air. ladies with flowers taller than themselves, children in celebration costumes.
toilets and basins sold next to lemons next to little and large cherries. Weird meaningless jumpers. I love HK
Such a long time since I was asked to prove I am old enough to be allowed entry. I remember blagging my way into nightclubs in 1976, before I was officially old enough.
Normally I’m so eager to show my coveted HK ID to anyone who is interested. But NOT now, because if I do there is no chance I will get my longed for swim.
I have trekked from the New Territories, (OK, not trekked exactly, but taken the minibus and MTR combo 45 minute journey) to Tsim Sha Tsui, where I stayed during my first ‘hunt for family’ trip. I am returning to my familiar stomping ground. City life and home to one of the few swimming pools, Kowloon Park, listed as being open during the winter. I arrive, so excited and eager and desperate for my first swim in over 10 days, only to find the big main pool is closed for repair until end March and only the level 2 training pool, in which I swam many many times on my last 2 visits, is open. But entry is only, yes I do keep using the word only, if you are, as 5 attendants excitedly point out to me, clearly written on a big notice in English, 1. of impaired vision, extreme myopia doesn’t count 2. disabled 3. a senior citizen Senior citizen here is 60 or over, so I’d qualify for this in 9 months and I am so desperate that I lie (yeah, yeah, who hasn’t) and say in broken Cantonese “me 60”. They look at me in my charity shop Super Dry hoodie, trackie bottoms and flip flops, giggle a lot and confer and one of them rushes off to find a supervisor. “not big enough” one says. And the supervisor is not going to bend the rules even for yours truly. No ID, no admittance. I actually do have my ID with me, but of course it’s useless and will serve only! to highlight my barefaced lie. It stays safely hidden away. The entry turnstile doesn’t turn for me today and I shuffle away defeated for looking too young or perhaps too small, or maybe it is my just reward for being so dishonest!
Apparently a few of you (sounds like I have loads of followers, I don’t!) have been having problems posting your comments. Really sorry. I’ve gone back to basic site design and maybe that’ll sort it. You’ll have to let me know by commenting, or not.
Aside from all the obvious, to my horror, whilst preparing a vegan lunch for my host’s guest, a buddhist nun, I discover buddhist (not sure about Catholic) nuns are not allowed to eat garlic or onion. Whoops. But I was politely informed with enough time to salvage the meal and we all enjoyed a Veganuary feast, even Mr Leung who usually demands meat at every sitting.
Today I’ve enjoyed not having to venture out on public transport of any kind and have taken the chance to try and collate some of my blogs and other writing into some semblance of a book/memoir, so I am all written out and still way off completing this task, so will finish up with a few pictures of our non garlic/onion cuisine and my generous hosts’ spacious typical HK style home.
Here’s an old photo of me aged around 8 with my adoptive sister Ruth when we were two of the Royal Siamese children in a local production of the King and I. How I loved, and still adore that musical, fascinated by the idea of the English governess, Anna Leonowens, sailing all that way to Asia just to teach a load of little children how to speak English. I still sing ‘Getting to Know you’, and ‘Shall we Dance?’ and ‘Whenever I feel afraid’ at every opportunity. In our performances, the royal children (about 20 of us) were each assigned to one of the royal wives, who as well as being our on stage Mother acted as our chaperone behind the scenes. But I remember crying for Anna, the heroine and the governess, to be MY chaperone. She was as kind as I was precocious, and explained she could not, as she was on stage too often, and in return I told her that when I grew up I was going to be just like her. (whether I meant as a performer or a teacher I am not sure).
But no matter, if it was indeed the latter, maybe dreams do come true, in some small way.
For here I am teaching in HK. No, I’m not working for a King, in a golden palace, but I have got myself a little temporary job at the weekends, teaching English to a lot of children, aged between 6 to 16. I did 4 hours yesterday and 6 today. I am loving every minute of working with children and young people again, and unlike the children I used to work with, most of whom had learning difficulties and behavioural problems, my HK pupils are all super keen, polite and hardworking. It’s like a dream job for me, where I can use a combination of everything I know to help motivate and enable them to flourish. We have a week’s holiday for CNY so I will be able to get to know the syllabus a bit better before my next sessions. And maybe remember the full lyrics to the song Getting to Know You, as singing is encouraged at the centre, even my less than perfect attempts and getting to know each of my 28 pupils quickly is a key target for me. My favourite part of today was helping 6 giggly teenagers say “my favourite flavour of ice cream is vanilla” and “would you like fish and chips and mushy peas?” I guess with this as my piece de resistance I’m never going to get a job teaching royal children any time soon, but me and the kids of Shek Lei housing estate are perfectly matched, wouldn’t you agree?
I have a letter where my adoptive Mum, in her report to social services, tells how if I am losing an argument with my siblings, I try to win it by ending with “well that’s how they do it in China.”
So many decades later, here I am reliving my 5 year old self, arguing a little with my host Mr Leung, who likes to order his wife, and sometimes me about. at one point I heard myself saying “in England we……” oh dear, some things never change. (Martin please don’t worry it’s all very respectful banter).
I awoke Friday quite late to Eva and Francis (my hosts) using their brand new rice roll maker, (wice woll for bwekfust is vely hard for Chinese to say!) Actually they were washing it up after making and eating their first batch. Despite my protestations they insisted on making another batch of batter, with Mr Leung telling Eva what and what not to do. I helped a little, the results were mixed. It was like being on the generation game, for those who remember Bruce Forsythe’s Saturday night show, where it looks like it should be so easy but you end up with a disaster. was a bit like making thin crepes and steaming and quickly rolling them, but made with water, chestnut, rice and cornflour, and no egg. I ate a little as I wasn’t actually hungry and offered to wash up. It’s quite a messy process and I had to boil water to wash 3 greasy metal trays as they do not have instant hot water to the sink. Eva was very anxious that my dishwashing endeavours were spoiling my holiday. Not so. As I scraped off the residue sticky batter and restored the trays to gleaming I smiled to myself. I really am doing exactly as they do in China.
I can see how easy it would be to become addicted to being a minor celeb’. Everyone rushing to meet you, greeting you with smiles and hugs, carrying your stuff, ordering you anything you desire – in my case tofu, vegetables and rice.
I didn’t arrive at my family reunion dinner by car like a celeb. Was proud I managed to flag down the 20P minibus to Tai Po Market and make my way to the restaurant and to the private room that my family are given now we are so many without losing my way – private room allows my gregarious second big brother to indulge in a spot, actually a lot, of Karaoke.
“Arnty Lorla, Arnty Lorla, welcome home” is the first greeting I hear and there in front of me is a room full of beaming familiar faces. I am hugged and kissed and showered with little presents. I can quite literally feel the dopamine kick in, an instant sky high happy head rush. I try out my Cantonese, “ngoh ho hoisum ….” Happy to se you, (literally translates as ‘good open heart’). And indeed my heart IS so full and so very open it might burst, and stays that way for the next few hours, only fluttering for a moment when the dishes with the feet and beaks and wings arrive. But I’ve learnt the phrase ‘no thank you, I’ll help myself’ to fend off the generous gifts of the best animal morsels being ceremoniously put on MY plate, because surely every self respecting vegetarian C lister has to fend for herself some of the time.
I can see how easy it would be to become addicted to being a minor celeb’. Everyone rushing to meet you, greeting you with smiles and hugs, carrying your stuff, ordering you anything you desire.
I didn’t arrive at my family reunion dinner by car like a celeb, I caught the 20P minibus to Tai Po Market MTR and walked to the restaurant and found my way to the private room that my family are given now we are so many and allows second big brother to indulge in a spot of Karaoke.
“Arnty Lorla, Arnty Lorla, welcome home” is the first greeting I hear and there in front of me is a room full of beaming familiar faces. I am hugged and kissed and showered with little presents. I can quite literally feel the dopamine kick in, an instant sky high happy head rush. I try out my Cantonese, “ngoh ho hoisum ….” Happy to se you, (literally translates as ‘good open heart’). And indeed my heart IS so full and so open and stays that way for the next few hours, only fluttering for a moment when the dishes with the feet and beaks and wings arrive. But I’ve learnt the phrase ‘no thank you, I’ll help myself’ to fend off the gifts of the best animal morsels, because surely every self respecting vegetarian C lister has to fend for herself some of the time.
I am settling in. Well. I think. No jet lag and even though I haven’t swum for days I’m feeling OK. One of the big bonuses from my last two visits was finally getting all the files from the various institutions involved in my adoption. Containing volumes about my early days pre and post adoption. Incluing hand written letters from my adoptive mother, intervews with my birth mother, and reports from the orphanage and my foster home in Hong Kong. I’ve done a lot of settling into new homes in my life, these early experiences served me well for today’s nomadic life. One of my favourite documents says I didn’t stop eating when I arrived in the UK. My adoptive mum could not find anything I would not eat! No real change there. One of the biggest thrills of returning back ‘home’ is the food. Within hours I was at the wet food market in Tai Po buying fish and tofu, vegetables and fruit with my friend Jo, that were served in my welcome dinner on Monday evening. Tuesday morning I was invited to yumcha with Mr and Mrs Leung, my hosts, and our neighbours, Mr and Mrs Chan. More about these lovely people will follow in another post.
I am getting to grips with some basic cantonese. Just as I am described as grasping English all those years ago, monosyllabic babble. But I am determined and practise with a personal old school CD player and a set of discs. I love the marking off of progress as I move onto the next CD, and the lack of distraction and temptation of apps on my new android mobile. Yesterday I succesfullly battled with technology and obtained a Birdie, no contract SIM, so am now a proud owner of a HK telephone number and UK same number on one device.
Life here in rural HK is gentle and nourishing. I awake to birdsong and there is a butterfly farm minutes away. Nurseries of both kinds nearby and a circulatary mini bus on demand. I could bike to my little sister’s from here. Tai Po waterfront is half an hour away. And there’s a small shopping centre with a great restaurant, delighful shops and a post office 10 minutes walk, and a little community centre where I am going to do tai chi, yoga an stretch class for around 3 pounds a class. (Yoga is 30 pounds a class in the city). If I walk for 10 minutes the other way I can climb the mountain that soars above the area to make my way to a deserted, but for one restaurant, village.
Tonight I see my family. I am hoping all six of us siblings will be together for the first time. I am excited to see them again, but at the same time am enjoying not being bossed around and given a busy schedule as ‘little sister! Striking a fine balance between family and eager hosts, autonomous UK woman and little sister, wanting to be fully present and reflect on the past is an art I am cultivating. Mr Leung, my host is keen to tell me all about his passion for a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine he teaches when in London and has already sent me 10 links to read and watch. So much to do. As I type Eva, my host, has summoned me for a hot drink before we walk to the community centre to take class. she is excited as she has never been before!
Well that was fun! Imagine 30 women who have come to the end of their traditional scarf dancing class short course and a couple of newbies, one of whom cannot follow the verbal instructions. The first part of the class was pretty straightforward but the scarf dancing will take a few sessions to master. Harbour Spa groupies would have laughed at my scarf flicking and fluttering attempts, but who knows what a few weeks may reveal. All the walking and exercise before 09.00am is tiring, but luckily Eva conceded to a minibus ride home.
The local minibus/bus system is as awesome as the MTR. After class and some congee and turnip cake sustenance we walked to Tai Po Central. From there I can catch a bus to almost anywhere on HK island or Kowloon for pennies. I wish our public transport system was as efficient and cheap, and haven’t yet worked out exactly why it’s not. Answers on a postcard please.
25th January 2020 is Chinese New Year. The year of the rat. An auspicious year for anyone born on or after 25th, and those who are 12 24 36 48 60 72 84 96 108 or 120 (unlikely, but who knows?)
So it is my big year. Not sure how it can get much bigger than last year but I’m so happy to be back in HK, with my fast track immigration permanent resident status. Moments before this selfie I have already been told off twice! before even getting through. Once for wearing my hat, on the moving walkway, and secondly for taking a picture of the Hong Kong permanent residents entry lanes.
but we rats are a resilient bunch. and with a hop skip and a jump, and a thumbprint verification, I’m officially in and still smiling.