Archive for October, 2007

Moving day approaching

October 29, 2007

Things are beginning to get done in terms of moving to my new flat. James, the current tenant and friend from the hockey club, has moved out over the weekend, and tomorrow evening I should be doing an inventory check of the flat, and signing the full tenancy agreement. I’ll also be handing two months worth of rent, in addition to the one month of rent I’ve already paid up. Apparently most tenancy agreements over here run on the basis of two months rent as a security deposit. They also typically run for two years which seems suitably far enough in the future not to worry about. I guess the good news is that at the end of my tenancy I get the lump sum of two months rent back.

I’ve now started thinking about all the stuff I’ll have to buy to kit out the flat. Cutlery, crockery, bed linen etc. Basically all the items that you need to live – I can remember having to do this kind of shopping when I moved from Birmingham down to Bracknell. The prospect of having to do it all over again, wandering around shops I don’t really know, let alone a language I find impenetrable is somewhat daunting.  To be honest I’d much rather be buying gadgets, but I suppose things like seats and kitchenware have there uses too. As I don’t want to accumulate too much stuff whilst I’m out here, I suspect I won’t be buying a full size dinner service – probably just bare essentials.

Another one of the many things I’ve noticed out here is recycling, or rather the complete lack of recycling that I’ve seen. Back home (by the way, for the benefit of the parents, I now view home as Wokingham, so one of my earlier derogatory comments about home was aimed at my home in Wokingham rather than N. Ireland), I’d say that we’re pretty good at recycling, with the various kerb side boxes for paper/cardboard, and cans/plastic bottles etc. Over here though there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of visible recycling going on. I’ve seen a couple of posters in the MTR stations urging recycling, but I’ve not actually seen much in the way of how to actually do this. Of course, living in a serviced apartment means my bin gets magically emptied every day. I somehow doubt, though, that the cleaners are sorting my rubbish for recycling, which would be a little unsettling if they were.

The whole living in a serviced apartment has been pretty good not having to worry about cleaning, bills, and a laundry service (albeit somewhat randomly priced). Before anyone starts worrying that I’ll have to get back in the habit of flat cleaning etc. this is all in hand. James currently has a helper who cleans the flat every Monday, and not wanting to see the woman out of a job, I’ve opted to continue the service! Apparently costs are about HK$70 per hour, and as it’s a small flat it doesn’t take too long. Added bonus is if I want I can have my ironing done. I hate ironing – so will definitely be taking that option… once I’ve bought an iron and ironing board of course.

(If you’re not interested in hockey – you may want to stop reading now)

The hockey season has been continuing, and the mighty C team now have 4 points from 3 games, with one loss, one draw, and one win. The win did come against one of the newly promoted teams, but we had a real test on Friday night against the Vets A team. This is a team of players over 40 rather than animal doctors. A fairly tense first half ended goalless, with both teams having had a few chances we had more short corners than the Vets. I’m now beginning to get used to my centre midfield role – definitely more involving than left back or up on the wings. We had the ball in the net early on in the second half, but somewhat implausibly the umpire decided to blow the whistle and award a short corner to us rather than award the goal. Both the team and the sizable crowd (it’s very weird to play in front of a crowd – far more fun though) were very disappointed with this decision. It probably atoned for the same umpire making the most bizarre decision at the end of the first half though. The Vets had played an innocuous through ball which had been partially stopped by one of our defenders meaning the ball was going towards the byline, but that one of the Vets players was likely to reach it. Out of the D steps our keeper… is he going to play it (legally) with his stick? Not a bit of it. He decides to kick it. Umpire’s decision: blow the whistle and signal half time. Lots of bemused players, with the Vets getting very annoyed. Half the Valley C team have legged it from the pitch and half time is called.  Having come close to opening the scoring we were very disappointed when the Vets then opened the scoring with a weak short corner not much later. Despite then dominating we couldn’t find an equaliser, through a mix of a lack of composure in front of goal or bad short corner routines. With two minutes remaining our coach took the decision to take the keeper off and play eleven outfield players. This seemed to confuse both umpires and opposition, but it had the desired effect and with about one minute left we got our deserved equaliser – a somewhat scrappy affair with the final touch being from about a yard out. Much cheering from the crowd, and we could even have nicked the win in the dying moments…

This sets us up nicely for a Friday night game on 9 November against Valley B team. The B team have had a slow start to the league – they lost 4-3 to the Vets, and currently we’re revelling in the fact that the C team are above them.

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Beach day

October 20, 2007

As I’ve previously mentioned, now that I’ve moved over to being a Hong Kong employee I only get fifteen days of official holiday. A bit of a drop from the 25 in the UK. However, this is off-set by the fact that they have something like 18 public holidays a year here. As former work colleagues will quickly point out, the lack of holiday allowance shouldn’t be a problem for me as I rarely took all my days off anyway. (2005 being an exception with the month in Australia, and the Kilimanjaro climb) The drawback to public holidays is you don’t get the flexibility of when to take them, and everyone else is off at the same time – so everywhere is busy as a result. And, apparently, if they fall on a Saturday or Sunday that’s just too bad. We had our last public before Christmas yesterday (Friday, 19th October), I’ve no idea of the reason for it, as you lose track of whatever we’re celebrating. A plan was hatched with some of the guys I’ve met through watching the rugby world cup to go to the beach, drink beer, and have some food at a South African restaurant (The Stoep on Lantau island).

The final plans for this were laid the previous night which turned into quite a late one, so it was with something of a hangover I was woken up at 10:00am by the cleaners about to service my apartment. Fortunately, they heard my shouts of ‘No’ through the door and left me to suffer a little longer. [It seems the serviced apartment cleaners do not have a public holiday] Steeping outside of the apartments and we’ve been lucky with the weather – it’s not great air quality, but it’s blue skies and sunshine, although I did immediately think it might be a bit cool to spend all day on the beach. I guess I’m beginning to acclimatise here as it was about 25 degrees celsius and not very humid. In fact, humidity has dropped noticeably and it’s very comfortable here now. So, it was really a very good day for the beach, and 25 degrees in October does seem very strange to think of as cold…

Getting to Lantau is easy enough via a fast ferry, and then it’s onto a bus to get to Lower Cheung Sha which is where the Stoep is, right on the beach apparently. Of course, as a group we had no idea where to get off for this section of beach and there was a degree of confusion, especially when another group of Brits got off who were clearly heading for the beach. Fortunately, there was another passenger on the bus who did know where we wanted to go and she was able to signal to us when our stop came about. Although, for a moment it seemed the driver wasn’t going to stop at our stop however it turned out he was just looking to stop on the apex of the bend in the road. Not exactly safety conscious, but then the way he’d swung the bus up and over the hills and round the corners this behaviour wasn’t out of the ordinary.

The beach was just down a little hill and the Stoep, as advertised, was right on the edge of the beach. Considering it was a public holiday the beach was not very busy at all, was clean, had the usual roped off swimming area, and also the capability to hire wind surfs, and sea kayaks. All in all it was a great location and a perfect way to just spend a day chilling out. I was able to spend some time reading more the Alistair Campbell diaries that I’m currently reading my way through, throw a rugby ball about for a bit, take some pictures (should have some good sunset pictures), and chill out drinking beer. A better way to spend a Friday I can’t think of, and it made me realise I would never have imagined myself in this position 12 months before.

The meal at the Stoep was excellent – I opted for the mixed BBQ which consisted of a lamb chop, chicken breast, sirloin steak, and boerewors sausage all cooked on a braai. Sadly, the braai wasn’t out in the open so you didn’t get to see the meat cooked in front of you. All washed down with either Tafel or Windhoek lager. Unfortunately, they don’t sell biltong, so I’ll have to keep searching for this South African delicacy.

We got back to Central in time to have a few more drinks in Lan Kwai Fong, and then head back home. Didn’t feel quite so hungover this morning, and will be taking it easy whilst hopefully England win the rugby world cup (another ungodly 3am kick off here), and then play hockey tomorrow. Unfortunately, with the public holiday we only have 11 players on Sunday, so it means we’re all playing the full 70 minutes. I’m hoping it won’t be quite as hot or as humid as the last time I played, otherwise it could be pretty unpleasant.

Ocean Park

October 15, 2007

Yesterday I took a trip to Ocean Park in a group of about 12 people arranged via Rich from the online expat forums. Ocean Park is the local amusement park and is therefore the natural competitor to Disneyland – which of course, I’ve been to previously and not thought very much of. The descriptions I’d heard of Ocean Park were that it was much bigger with a greater variety of rides. Fingers crossed for a good time. With it being close to Hallowe’en they re-open the park from 5:30pm to midnight with a Hallowe’en theme to it all. Haunted houses, staff members dressed up as zombies, and general scaring going on. All the rides are open as per usual, but the main attractions are the Hallowe’en themed rides/experiences.

Getting there proved straightforward enough with taxis, although as to be expected with a large group it took a bit of time to get co-ordinated. Once in the park itself we decided it would be worth seeing the pandas. There are, so far as I can tell, three pandas at Ocean Park, with the two most recent juveniles having been gifted to China to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover. It was certainly impressive to see the three pandas, but they don’t exactly do very much. I suspect they would give koala bears a run for their money in terms of complete inactivity. Still, it’s one more thing I can tick off: China – seen pandas.

Ocean Park itself seems to be split in two with a great big hill separating the ‘lowlands’ from the ‘headland’. These are linked via a cable car system, and most of the interesting stuff seemed to be in the headland section, so it was time to join our first queue for the cable cars. Not unlike other theme parks I’ve been to over the world, Ocean Park involves a lot of queueing. (only Disneyland Hong Kong didn’t involve a lot of queueing, but that’s because it was crap) After we’d regrouped and walked a bit, itquickly became apparent that it was going to be impossible to please everyone in one large group. After a bit of a discussion we split up into a group of 7 or so who were going to queue for the haunted houses and the jellyfish exhibit, and a smaller group of 4 who fancied walking round the shark exhibit and then doing some of the adrenalin rides. I was part of this latter group – considering as a child I wouldn’t go near the adrenaline rides, I’m making up for it now.

The sharks weren’t bad – sadly no great white in the exhibit, but a pretty cool walk through section where you can watch the sharks above you. Conveniently, it seems during Hallowe’en the queues for the adrenaline rides are much reduced and we were able to get on all the one’s we wanted – once we actually figured out how to get to them. Although we were armed with maps, which had the rides names and general locations on them, the actual paths must have been drawn by Stevie Wonder. The situation was not helped by having lots of temporary signs around (for the haunted attractions) and of course, with it being dark and smoky (smoke is of course spooky) made navigation not easy. Also you could be trampled over by a stampede of frightened Asians (men and women I should add) who would charge at the slightest boo from the staff. I can understand the odd jump, but a stampede is a bit OTT.

Our stratgey of leaving the haunted attractions until later in the night appeared to pay off, as we managed the Dragon (looping rollercoaster), the Abyss (drop seat thingy), the Mine Train (runaway train rollercoaster), and then queued for the Raging Rive. It turned out that Raging River had been coverted into Haunted Ghost Town, so you get the log flume with the added extra of haunting! The haunting was a bit disappointing… Surprising, eh? It consisted of a couple of staff jumping out and shouting Argh! or Boo! at 2 or 3 points along the ride. Considering it was about an hour of queueing, not really worth it. The log flume itself was good fun though, and got soaked. Whilst we were in the queue it was amusing to watch other groupos coming down – quite a few of which were wearing ponchos and other methods of trying to prevent getting wet. Can’t say I really understand why you’d go on the log flume and try not to get wet.

Just to round the night off, we queued and got round one of the haunted houses – Dementia. Pretty well done – with the usual staff jumping out at various points, compressed air things, things that go bang, and the usual wax models who spring out of various places. Not exactly scary – the occasional jumpy moment when you didn’t see it coming. My own opinion is the adrenaline rides were more fun.

As ever with these places, getting away is always tricky. There were loads of taxis at the exit as well as buses back to Admiralty. Three of us from our groupo decided to take the bus back and then get a taxi from there on back home. Sadly there seemed to be one bus for about 300 people which rapidly filled up. So, standing in the queue the officials in charge of filling the buses suddenly seemed to pick people at random out of the queue and indicate to them they could get on the bus. With about 100 people in front of us one of the officials passes us and says that this bus is nearly full (we’d kind of seen that), and that the next bus has been delayed, but if we’re in a hurry we can get on this bus. Bearing in mind, it’s about 12:30am by now, we couldn’t really see that we were in any more hurry than anyone else. Obviously some people were in such a hurry. To just top off the comedy aspect of this announcement over the official’s shoulder we see two more buses due to go Admiralty arriving. Big delay then! Despite the slightly chaotic feel to things, we did get hom quickly and easily in the end.

So, overall, I’d say Ocean Park is good. Much bigger than Disneyland, and rides that are actually good fun and a bit of a rush. The map is pretty poor, and the fact that the cable car is a bottleneck is a bit unfortunate. Apparently they’re blasting a tunnel through the hill that separates the park in two and creating a funnicular (similar to the peak tram system). I’d probably be tempted to go again as well – except next time I’d buy a privilege ticket. Like a lot of theme parks, these give you acclereated access to the main attractions, for an extra fee of course…

I pick up my ID card tomorrow. As per a previous post on the subject I’m absolutely delighted by the prospect.

ID cards

October 5, 2007

When you’re permanent resident in Hong Kong you’re expected to own a Hong Kong ID card (HKID). If you don’t hold an HKID card then you’re legally required to carry your passport with you on all occasions so that you can be identified. I’ve previously found this out when the pub/bar I was enjoying a drink in was rudely raided by the police who were less than impressed with my UK driving license as proof of ID. So, upon arriving back in September I booked myself an appointment to apply for an HKID card. The appointment was scheduled for 2:15 on Tuesday October 2nd. If you miss your scheduled time you have to rebook. Booking is a straightforward process and is handled online.

I downloaded the PDF file for application – fortunately only one page, and containing the expected questions: name, age, work, address, where you were born, length of stay etc. All fairly easy really. The process of applying for an HKID is remarkably efficient. You arrive at the office at the alotted time, queue up to be assigned a number, then wait whilst your number appears on a scoreboard directing you to a booth. Once at this booth, you handover your form, have your mugshot taken, and confirm that everything is fine with your application form with one of the immigration people. You then get passed into another queue, to wait for your number to appear to go to another booth, have another chat with another immigration who issues you a temporary ID, and gives you a date to collect your permanent HKID card.

Of course, being me this wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. At the first booth, in answer to the question “Is this part of England?” as he points at my place of birth (Larne, Northern Ireland) my repsonse is “Er, no, it’s part of the UK”. This is clearly not the answer he was expecting so we spend about a minute having establishing where I’m from, and why Northern Ireland isn’t part of England, but part of the UK… He hands my form back to me, and in the section of place of birth I’m told to add UK. Our next query comes from the fact that my current work visa expires in February, and the immigration official is pretty puzzled why I’m bothering applying for an HKID if I’m out of here in February. Explaining that I actually arrived in May, then brings about why I’ve left it until now to apply for an HKID card. So he gets the full story that I’ve passed on to what seems like hundredsof people already. He then lines me up in front of the camera and gives me a choice of one two mugshots to be on the ID card. (Mugshot as ever looking like a criminal. Although I believe in UK passport photos you are now no longer allowed to smile or be at a slight angle. Suits me fine – I’ve been doing photos like that for years…)

There is, however, one little detail I’ve omitted. At this first booth, you have to have both of your thumbs digitally scanned via a thumbprint reader. These digital thumbprints are then actually part of the ID card in a chip, and retained on record. I’m not for ID cards in the UK, and to be honest not entirely happy with the prospect of a digital identity here. But, it’s the law here, so no choice really…

On to the next booth, and before anything is discussed, I have to verfiy my identity by providing my thumbprints. Like I’m going to have miraculously changed or something? Once the next immigration officer (in a uniform unlike the last guy) is happy I’m who I say I am (or at least said I was to the last guy), we can proceed and he goes through some of the same questions as the last guy (“yes – this is my first time applying for a card thanks). FInally, he produces a printed out piece of paper with my earlier mugshot on it and a few other pieces of information. This, it appears, is my temporary ID ‘card’ and must be carried with my passport at all times. Of course… My permanent ID will be available in two weeks time and should only take 10 minutes to collect. Tuesday’s little adventure lasted the best part of two hours.

There were lots of people going through the system, so there’s obviously a high turnover of HKID cards. If you lose yours you have to pay for a new one, whereas the first one is free. Appointments booked online are typically booked at least two weeks in advance. As far as the process goes, it’s well worked out. They process you quickly and efficiently, and not charging for the card is definitely a good thing. However, now owning being about to own an actual ID card with various details and my thumbprints digitally embedded in it I’m still against them in principle, and hope they’re not introduced back in the UK. And let’s face it, if they come into the UK, the system will be less efficient and more expensive…

Flat hunting

October 1, 2007

As per my last post, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to flat hunting, or more especially the time that could be spent going round various grotty places. In the end, I’ve managed to land nicely on my feet. I figured searching for somewhere to live would boil down to three factors; location, size, and cost – and that I could probably have two from three. I’ve taken the easy way out and am moving into a flat currently rented by one of the guys I play hockey with. Basically, he’s got a new job which provides housing, so he’s got to move out, and needs someone to take over his rental agreement.

This works out well for me, as it means I don’t have to look round a succession of decidedly unpleasant flats, the location is great for me – being in Admiralty I’m one stop on the MTR away from work, and easy access to Kowloon side of Hong Kong. So, what was the compromise? Obviously not location. It’s costing HK$14K per month for me, which is within the budget I set for myself. Which leaves size… It’s listed at 450 sq feet. I must admit I didn’t have much interest in looking when I read this description. My current serviced apartment, affectionately known to me as either a shoebox or a rabbit hutch, is listed at 470 sq feet according to the building’s web site: http://www.112apartments.com (one of the 01 rooms if you’re suitably interested).

The prospect of moving to a smaller apartment was not a good one. However, it seems there’s a certain amount of flexibility to dimensions in Hong Kong (either that or my current place has a kind of reverse Tardis quality to it…). The 450 sq foot studio apartment is considerably larger than my 470 sq foot serviced apartment. So much so that I’ve almost been tempted to go out and buy a tape measure to see how small my current place really is! I’ve signed the pre-rental agreement today (one month’s rent up front unfortunately) and shold have a moving date for later in October, which is convenient as I will finish my stay in 112 Apartments on 4th November. At that point a further two months rental is due, so it’s quite expensive to get started renting in Hong Kong (as essentially a two month deposit is required).

Other positives about taking this particular apartment: it has a fully fitted kitchen which means fridge, freezer, 4 ring hob, and most importantly an oven. Means I’ll be able to cook if I want to. It also has quite a lot of storage space designed around it – not that I have accumulated a lot of crap yet. And lastly, it’s been recently decorated and fitted out by a professional interior designer – so it actually looks pretty stylish. Admittedly some of it not necessarily to my taste, but it is pretty stylish. Which, of course, means if I break things like lights it will be expensive to repair/replace. Rather embarrassingly, I found out when signing the agreement today it was featured in a style magazine over here (Marie Claire I think). I’m sure one half of the Aged Parents will be impressed about that, can’t say it does much for me though.

Definitely approve of these bank holidays being close together. Apparently there’s another one coming up round about the 19th October. Being off today meant I didn’t need to worry about staying up late to watch Ireland lose to Argentina to round off what has been a very miserable Rugby World Cup.