The Towering Inferno

January 18, 2011

So, last night was certainly one of the most dramatic I’ve had whether in the UK or over here. Myself and my table sharer (TS) had taken ourselves to bed at about 10:30pm (no, don’t worry this blog entry is not going there …) and having read for a bit (or played Angry Birds in her instance) were about to turn off the lights for some sleep when there’s a semi-distant ringing set off. After we both ignored this for about 10 seconds the discussion is along the lines of ‘do you think that alarm is coming from our building?’. Again, another pause whilst I consider whether to get up, put clothes back on, and see what the fuss is about.

With just about my jeans and t-shirt on the rather worrying sight of flashing lights outside and below the bedroom window confirms the worst. The alarm is indeed in our building, and judging by the arrival and activity of the fire engines appliances (yes, plural) then this doesn’t seem to be a drill or an alarm being mistakenly set off. Crap. Really crap …

The first thought was what to take with me – I thought about the little NAS box containing all my photos and irreplaceable documents. In the short space of time available I decided not to. Still in my mind this didn’t seem to be a building burning down moment…

Once outside our apartment (we’re on the 7th floor) it’s a case of taking an internal stairway down. We must have been on about the 1st or 2nd floor when a fireman shouts, at the by now group of people, that we should go back up. No indication as to how far back up though. Our apartments? The roof? Who knows! Even the local Canto speakers don’t know what’s going on, so we retrace our steps this time going up. With the distinct smell of smoke in the stairwell… And the sense that all is not so good after all definitely rising. At each floor of the stairwell are windows that look out into a small area that runs next to the lift shaft. Through one of these windows you can now see the smoke coming up, and just to really top things off, some more embers than I’d care to see shoot up also. The air outside this window is warm, and looking down there is just a lot of smoke to see. As of now, going up doesn’t really appeal to me.

With nowhere else to go we’ve reached floor 18 (the building has 23), and TS decides it’s time to call 999. At the time I thought this was a bit odd, the police and fire services were already here after all, but it turns out this is a good decision, as the operators can (after checking with someone presumably) tell you what you should be doing, rather than simply following a single shouted instruction ‘Go Up!’.

Having been going down and up in the stairwell for about 20 minutes or so a fireman finally arrives on the 18th floor in the stairwell and instructs everyone to return to their apartments. He doesn’t mention whether the fire is out or what is going on. The view from the stairwell window is still smokey but no more embers are visible (which is reassuring) and we traipse back down to our apartment thinking we’re not going to sleep very well tonight with the adrenaline definitely pumping (and the alarm still ringing).

About 50 minutes after the alarm first started ringing and it stops, shortly followed by a fireman knocking on the door to give the all-clear – and confirm with TS that she was ok, as she’d called 999. Definitely a dramatic night, and true enough, not easy to get to sleep afterwards either. The lingering smell of smoke in our clothes didn’t exactly help matters either.

The Next Day …

One of the two lifts (the one servicing our floor) is still out of action, and getting out via the staircase reveals the extent of the damage from the fire. There is a small open area, probably about the size of a lift shaft that runs next to the actual lift shaft. A door on the ground floor to this area is open and all you can see is the blackened remains of whatever was there previously. And black walls. And still quite a bit of water around. With it being an enclosed space I can imagine the risk of the fire spreading quickly would have been pretty high – not a very nice thought. Well, using all the knowledge I’ve gleaned from watching CSI, I’d hypothesise (they don’t guess on those shows after all), that some idiot has been smoking a cigarette in the stairwell, we’d later traipse up and down, and tossed his cigarette butt out the window. A bit later and we get to play a bit part in a Hong Kong version of the Towering Inferno*.

Bit of a puzzle as to why our lift is out of action being opposite the side where the fire seemed to be, and the lift that is next to the fire site is still operating. Answers welcome.

* 23 floors isn’t quite a tower, and it probably wasn’t much of an inferno (but is as close as I’d like to be to one)


The windy city

June 1, 2010

It’s been getting hotter, wetter, and more humid again in Hong Kong … a sure sign that the typhoon season isn’t too far away. Fingers are crossed for T8s in the morning on week days.

The hockey season has finally finished again – HK organisation being what it is meant that nearly 8 weeks passed between the end of the league season and the cup competition. The 8 week gap had not improved our hockey and we, very disappointingly, went out to a golden goal in extra time having fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in normal time. It’s fair to say I didn’t cover myself in glory picking up my first ever yellow card.

It did mean that last weekend was free from hockey, and I was able to take advantage of this by going to see the musical Chicago at the Lyric Theatre here. I wouldn’t exactly be classed as a regular theatre-goer. Thinking back, the last trip I’d have made to a show would have been Shaolin monks doing martial art type stuff in London well before moving to Hong Kong. Chicago has had quite a lot of publicity, as it’s on tour from London – where it has received good reviews apparently.

Overall it was an enjoyable night, with a few things that just mark it out as Hong Kong. It was a hot and humid night, so the ample opportunity to work up an uncomfortable sweat when walking to the theatre was taken. I still haven’t learnt that the direct path between where I am and where I want to be isn’t necessarily the right route to take, especially with the amount of building work going on meaning roads can be randomly blocked off. Three years and you’d think I’d be aware of this.

Upon arrival in the foyer an announcement is made asking everyone to make their way upstairs as the show was about to begin. This was at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start which seemed odd, as I didn’t imagine we’d be getting trailers for upcoming shows somehow. Arriving at the upstairs section, and enthusiastic usher points us towards the section labelled on the ticket … at which point I’m asked ‘where is my sticker?’. I don’t have a sticker. A company called OOCL have sponsored tonight and have two areas which dominate the upstairs section of the entrance. To be part of this party you need a rather flimsy looking sticker. The woman asking for my sticker doesn’t look too impressed with my answer that I don’t have one and I’m just looking for theatre entrance B. Entrance B is nearby, and very obviously not open.

After standing round looking like a lemon thinking there surely must be somewhere I can get a drink for about 5 minutes, a quick enquiry about drinks to the staff member on the door means she has to ask someone else. Following on from this, someone with a clue points back in the direction where the stairs are. It seems the original usher had been a bit over-zealous, and rather than initially offering directions to the bar thought directions to a closed door far more apt.

With the bar found, a pre-show sparkling wine could be enjoyed before having to move back to the door in order to actually get in. This was yet another bar that used a token system. I’m not convinced of the efficiency of token bars. Particularly when the table to buy tokens from is right next to the bar itself. I’m sure in London upon arrival you’d be directed straight to the bar to be parted from your cash in return for over-priced drinks. Here, sometimes, it can be a battle to buy over-priced drinks.

As I said, I found the show itself to be very enjoyable – it was (presumably) subtitled for the Chinese with electronic displays either side of the stage displaying Cantonese* when the speaking parts were in action. Quite how much a non-English speaker would follow when the songs are sung is debatable as they weren’t subtitled. It must make for quite a strange experience. The seating, like the buses here, aren’t designed for Westerners. It’s not even as though I have long legs, but legroom was definitely at a premium, and it was a bit of a squeeze when people had to move through.

There was the expected glow from mobile phones dotted throughout the audience, but as far as I was aware there wasn’t a mobile phone ring during the performance. There was, unfortunately, an annoying child who must have been about 6 years old though in the row behind. I’m not entirely sure what the parents were thinking about bringing a 6 year old to Chicago. It’s not as though the storyline is exactly aimed for that age group, and when he starts fidgeting and whining he’s just upsetting everyone else nearby. Besides, considering the show started at 8:00pm (and finished at 10:30pm), shouldn’t he have been in bed by then? This is what people have live-in maids for in Hong Kong …

I think the biggest surprise of the night though was at the end when they announced the cast and that it was Craig McLachlan playing Billy Flynn, or rather it was ‘Henry from Neighbours’. When it was announced it was definitely an ‘oh yeah, of course!’ moment, and felt as though I should have realised that beforehand. Still, at least I have the excuse I’m not Australian, so could be sort of expected not to know that … unlike who I was with!

* Could have been Mandarin … let’s face it after three years and no knowledge whatsoever of Cantonese, I’m not going to be able to read the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese either.

This is not an error

May 18, 2010

If you’ve received this via an RSS feed – which admittedly wouldn’t have had much traffic from here recently – don’t worry it’s not an error. I’ve decided to write another post up for my blog. I wish I could say this is ‘by popular demand …’ but that would be a bit of a lie. I did have to have a think about how to start the blog again. Should I simply post again, ignoring the rather obvious (in fact just over a year) gap between posts, or should this be addressed? The reasons I could come up with were:

1. Nothing significant has happened in a year? Err, ok, there has probably been some stuff I could have written up.

2. I’ve been so busy I just didn’t have the time? Again, that’s probably not really true.

3. I’m just too lazy to write (or call The Aged Parents on a frequent basis). I think this one has the ring of truth to it …

Anyway, with a General Election having just been held in the UK (the first election I haven’t exercised my right to vote in since turning 18) I figured I could write a few words. It wasn’t through complete apathy I didn’t vote though. The Aged Parents very helpfully directed me to a link to register as an overseas voter … if you’re based in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, it hadn’t escaped their attention that I hadn’t actually lived there for about 10 (ok, closer to 14) years, and they pointed out that I could probably go from there and register for my postal vote.

I sent off, what I thought was a postal vote application form, about the start of April – which would have been pushing it close to the deadline. Absolute silence followed for three weeks until I received an email from someone at Wokingham Borough Council. Apparently, I’m not registered as a voter at the property I own there (we’ll be coming back to the joys of ownership later), and that if I’m resident overseas for 6 months or more I need to register as an overseas voter. I think that has to go down as a fail on my part.

However, apparently postal votes can be sent out as little as four days before an election and must be returned before the election for them to be valid. Bearing in mind the post takes about a week to reach Hong Kong from the UK, and the same time for the return trip, with hindsight I was never going to get a valid vote this time around. It might be cynical to suggest that I might well get an opportunity to vote (by proxy) later this year thanks to the outcome resulting in a hung parliament and a coalition between the Tories and the weirdy-beardy LibDems (except they seem to have stitched up some 55% rule to dissolve parliament).

Normally, I’ve been sitting quite smugly here in Hong Kong not having to worry about the policies being enacted back in the UK … until this morning, when I woke up to read that the Tories (of all damn parties) are suggesting raising capital gains tax to 40% (or even as much as 50%). Well, thanks a lot LibDems! It’s reported the CGT rise is required to pay for the LibDem policy of no income tax on the first £10,000. Hit by this tax are investments such as stocks/shares and ‘buy to let properties’. It only dawned on me after about 5 minutes of reading it. It was definitely an ‘oh crap’ moment, as I have a nasty suspicion that my flat in Wokingham is now going to fall into this lovely CGT trap. It has occurred to me that I didn’t vote for this … but then no-one did, as it wasn’t on anyone’s manifesto.

In all of this, I’m reminded that the advice a friend gave me at the time of my move here about my flat: ‘Sell it’. On reflection, that was without doubt the best advice I’ve not followed. As Homer Simpson would undoubtedly say ‘D’Oh!’

Apologies for the unamusing UK-centric nature of this post, I’ll try to return to normal service (unamusing HK-centric) next time. And that should also be somewhat sooner than the gap between this and the previous post.


May 6, 2009

Mum – don’t worry, I’m fine …

A post to prove that I haven’t succumbed to swine flu and, for the moment at least, am alive and well. If you’re reading this, then I guess you’re not dead from swine flu either – which is apparently at global pandemic proportions. Once the WHO (World Health Organisation, in case you’re wondering) raised the status of a bunch of Mexicans having a cold (yes, I know it’s more serious than that) to global pandemic level, governments kicked their action plans into, errr, action I guess.

In the UK, I’m told this basically means instructing people to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing. Doesn’t this happen anyway, or have hygiene standards in the UK slipped to Hong Kong levels whilst I’ve been away? Fortunately, Hong Kong, having dealt with SARS in the past is well prepared for these non-events. There has been an increase in the number of locals wearing masks (the surgical/sterile variety – not the Hallowe’en ones). There are still more people not wearing them than wearing them though. This does make me wonder if those wearing them are infected with the plague swine flu. Wearing these flimsy little masks does apparently enable you to cough/sneeze even more freely than before without the need for covering one’s mouth. The  MTR is truly delightful at the moment as a result … especially given the thoughts of infected/not infected as expressed above.

Swine flu has hit Hong Kong though. I read in the local free paper (think low quality Metro and you’re still not quite there – yes, it’s worse than thelondoner or whatever it’s called) that the Metropark  Hotel in Wanchai had been quarantined off due to the dreaded swine flu. Apparently, someone from Mexico had brought it in (what a surprise!), but within a couple of days the authorities had already picked up the drivers and cabs that the guy had taken and screened/scrubbed them. Just to clarify, that is they had screened the drivers, and scrubbed the cabs. Wanchai is a fairly large area within Hong Kong Island, so I didn’t give the story much thought (bunch of tourists trapped in a hotel seemed quite funny), until I was out shopping on Monday. Within 300 yards of my apartment there was a police cordon at a street corner, and quite a bit of press activity. Looking across to the building that was surrounded I saw someone leaning out of about a 7th storey window. ‘Nutter about to jump’ was my original thought. Then scanning down to the building name, I saw ‘Metropark Hotel’. Admittedly, it took a few seconds for everything to register and fall into place, but it seems that the swine flu pandemic is on my doorstep.  I still haven’t rushed to the pharmacy chemist to buy sterile masks though – that would be a sign of hypochondria after all, and not at all manly.

As of today, they’re still holed up in the hotel – the guests (prisoners?) must be going mad with cabin-fever by now. Fortunately, as I’m not  infected I was able to enjoy the long weekend just gone. We get Labour Day rather than May Day here, which means we had Friday as a public holiday rather than Monday. To improve the weekend, the weather was blue skies and sunshine over all three days, which was fantastic. Not so fantastic was  playing hockey at 12:30 on Sunday in the heat/humidity though. We lost to the local rivals (Football Club B) 4-2. It was 3-1 at half time despite them having no keeper for the first half. How does that work?

I wasn’t exactly on my best form having been out the night before. One of the Ladies A team had organised post-match roof-top drinks on Saturday night. This civilised small get-together seemed to carry on for quite some time with a rapidly expanding guest list. The roof top became quite busy, wine was flowing, and much fun was had by all. Prime location had to be the hammock though, which was very comfortable. By about 2am I had managed to secure this location for myself and was thoroughly enjoying myself … right up until I somehow tipped myself out of the hammock. I’m still not sure how this happened. I’d like to think other people were to blame for tipping me. What I do know, is that my fall to the ground was ‘cushioned’ by landing on a wine glass which immediately shattered and meant I landed ungracefully on the ground with an assortment of cuts, scrapes, and a nasty looking laceration to my calf.

Alcohol being a good anesthetic meant I was aware of this, but not in too much pain, although there was some bleeding. No arteries cut, and not masses of blood, but enough to make those queasy feel uncomfortable. I’m told I’ve left a trail of blood from the roof-top down to the kitchen where I was tended to and patched up. The kitchen being nextdoor to the bathroom where the apartment owner was busy throwing up (through alcohol not at the sight of blood). Suffice to say, between the two of us we cleared that party in record time.

Turning up to hockey the next day having to explain the variety of bandages I was wearing as a result of a ‘hammock incident’ is slightly embarrassing. Hospital was suggested for stitches, but I’ve since been told that the queues at hospitals are no fun whatsoever. Lots of hypochondriacs (twice in one post for that word) with a mild sniffle, heat sensors, temperature readings as you walk in, and before you are examined, and surrounded by sick people does not appeal. I’m fully stocked on antiseptic cream and bandages, and will wait for the wounds to heal naturally. I might even get a ‘cool’ scar out of it.

Hope you’re all well, and I’m hoping to plan a trip back to the UK in July to see as many friends and family as possible!

Update: I also meant to add that after the pandemic upgrade, my building put clear plastic over the lift buttons. It took pointing out by friends that this was so they could be wiped (hourly) to sterilise them that this was the purpose of the plastic covering. Sometimes, I can be a bit slow on the uptake.


April 9, 2009

So, on Tuesday night I went to see Oasis play live. This was the first time I’d seen them play live, as I’d always seemed to miss the opportunity for about the past 13 years. A good example of this was when I took a holiday to New York, I found out they were playing, and could not find a ticket anywhere (even the touts were just asking for tickets rather than selling).

The venue was the AsiaWorld Expo which is out towards the airport, and definitely wouldn’t be classed as a big arena. Despite this, there was still a lot of standing room available. The actual set played wasn’t all that long. Maybe abouut 1 hour and 45 minutes, which considering the price of the ticket (HK$780) was quite short. Oasis are also known for their lack of interaction with the crowd, and this did seem to be the case here. Aside from Liam throwing the odd tambourine into the crowd there wasn’t much coming from the band except for the music, of course.

So that’s the negative. It was, after all, Oasis, and they do have some cracking songs in their catalogue with which to entertain. The tour is to promote their current ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ album, and they played most of the album – opening the concert with ‘The Shock of the Lightning’ which met with a lot of crowd approval. Particular highlights for me were ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ and ‘Slide Away’ from Definitely Maybe, and ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, ‘What’s the Story (Morning Glory)’, and ‘Champagne Supernova’ from What’s the Story? (Morning Glory). These two albums seemed to form a major part of the soundtrack to my time at university, so it was very cool to see and hear them performed live (albeit some 13 years after leaving university). I can still vaguely remember playing pool late at night/early in the morning at Rileys in Nottingham with the whole of the Morning Glory album playing through. No support act though, which I thought was unusual.

Hong Kong also hosted Coldplay a couple of weeks ago at the same venue, however I didn’t go to that concert. Reviews from friends suggest that it was an excellent gig. Although I quite like Coldplay, I can’t see them being a great live experience somehow.

Having seen the Manic Street Preachers last year, there’s no more big gigs lined up as far as I’m aware. A lot of the bands will be doing summer festivals. In this part of the world, there are two festivals hosted in Japan – Fujirock and Summer Sonic. Depending on line-ups, I might consider going to one of those. I believe Oasis might be headlining at Fujirock – so it could be a case of missing them for 13 years, and then seeing them twice in quick succession.

Thankfully it’s Easter, and it’s a four day weekend. A chance to recuperate … sort of. We have a mixed hockey tournament on Friday and Saturday, so it’s more likely to be recuperation on Sunday and Monday.

How not to renew a work visa

April 7, 2009

It’s taken me a while to get round to writing this post. As I’ve mentioned previously, as an imported worker, I need a work visa to be able to work here, and last year the immigration department gave me a one year visa. This is pretty much the norm, despite me requesting a two year visa. Normally, I’d be reminded by our office manager/admin prior to the expiry of the visa to start putting the paperwork together. Unfortunately, she had been made redundant towards the end of last year. As a result I never got a reminder, and continued in complete ignorance … right up until departure time for a hockey tour to Bangkok, whereupon trying to exit Hong Kong via the ID card controlled electronic gates, the gates wouldn’t open. An official from immigration arrives and starts typing away on a computer, and the gate opens to release me, and I’m directed down a corridor to the immigration department.

They’re not all that impressed that my visa has expired, and ask for my passport and boarding card, which I hand over, and then begin to panic ever so slightly. After a few awkward questions about expired visas, and submitting visa extension applications, I’m told that I can pay for an extension to the current day for HK$160. I’m pretty sure that’s the fastest I’ve reached for my wallet and am thrusting the money at the immigration officer as quickly as possible. After another 10 minutes or so my boarding card and passport are returned to me, and I’m told to go on my way, with a lot of relief. The beer at the airport bar is most welcome – as well as trying to explain my interview with immigration to the rest of the team …

On arrival back I need to enter on a visitor visa, where I’m told I can’t work. In fact this is a similar situation as to when I first arrived. The first thing I do when I get home is access the immigration website and start downloading extension of stay forms, and getting in touch with the office to get my letter of employment drafted. This all takes a bit of time to oragnise and collate, and in between I have another hockey tour which I exit for and return on my touist visa with no problems whatsoever, thankfully.

Back in Hong Kong the form requires a letter from my employer and the employer’s business registration number. Realising on the day of my appointment, I don’t know this number I quickly IM the office finance guy who says he’ll have it to hand and we agree I’ll drop into the office in about half an hour. Twenty minutes later I’m in the office and there’s no sign of anyone as they’ve all cleared off for lunch. Not helpful. As time ticks onwards towards my appointment time I realise he’s not coming back in time, and am about to give up with a view to phoning the office on my way to immigration when I notice the stupid registration certificate is framed on the wall. Number printed clearly. Smack forehead a bit, but overall a result! Upon reaching immigration with the various paperwork ready, I wait in the seated area for my interview for the extension of stay application, when an immigration officer comes up to the seats near where I’m sitting and starts barking at a lady ‘why you overstay your visa?’. I’m almost tempted to stand up and say he has the wrong person, and he probably means me, but decide to sit tight and see if I get called to one of the booths instead. This proves to be the correct action, and I’m called to a booth to be informed that my visa has expired and I’m currently in on a tourist visa. Well, duh! Apparently, what I need is a change of status not a visa extension. I’m also asked if I’m working for the same employer as before. This is awkward, as technically, I believe I am not allowed to work. Unapid leave is agreed with the immigration authorities, but that work will recommence with the same employer. I’m in the wrong office however, and can apply for the change of status back on Hong Kong island.

I get back to Hong Kong island (from Kowloon Bay) as quickly as possible and push through the usual crowds that walk slowly in both directions to immigration in Wanchai, and start the process of applying for a change of status. This seems to be pretty straightforward, until they notice that my employment letter is not the original, but a print out. It’s a pretty good print out – in my rush from the office I’d not noticed. My worry is that this is only going to delay matters further, but it turns out that my application is processed and I’m told to return three weeks later, with passport, HK$140, and the original employment letter and that it will all be sorted.

Fast forward three weeks, and true to their word, the visa is completed – I now have a new sticker in my passport, and everything is legal again. I think it goes without saying that the next time I need a visa extension, I’ll make sure I get it sorted in plenty of time before it expires though. Plenty of uncomfortable minutes spent trying to get this sorted out. It’s a definite relief to be legal again!

HK half marathon

February 11, 2009

Last Sunday (8th February) was the date of the Hong Kong half marathon. I’d definitely not done as much training prior to the race as I have for other half marathons, so I wasn’t expecting to set a good time. In fact, some training runs – especially in the gym on the treadmills – had me concerned that breaking 2 hours could be a problem this time around.

I’d found that running in the gym, with poor air-conditioning, and quite high humidity in the gym made for harder work than I was used to. In fact, I was struggling to run at 12km/h for 40 minutes, which was always my steady run back in the UK. I also seemed to find that I would be struggling for breath rather than the legs not wanting to continue. Possibly a reduced aerobic capacity?

The race itself started at 6:50am on Sunday morning, so a quiet Saturday night was had (avoiding a Valley party that night unfortunately). In fact, the MTR started early on Sunday morning and there was definitely some crossover between Saturday night drunks revellers and Sunday morning runners. Finding the actual start was not easy – there were signposts, but these took a rather circular route only to end up back where thhe MTR exit was but on the other side of the road. Definitely not as well organised as Reading in that respect.

The race itself isn’t actually very interesting. The first part of the race runs up through Kowloon on a highway, so no spectators lining the course. And avoiding people dawdling on the pavements here can be tricky it was even worse in parts of the race where the course was quite narrow. The course also loops back on itself so you get a view of the leaders running back the way you’ve come at some point. With the realisation that they’re running bloody quickly and there’s quite a long way to go…

My target time was 1:45 (hopefully a steady 12km/h), but just after the first kilometre I noticed that my left shin was beginning to ache. I’d had an attack of shin splints whilst playng hockey a couple of weeks before, and have ocassionally had my shin become painful in the last 5 or so years when training. But never before in a race, and not so early on in a run. After another kilometre I knew this was going to become considerably more painful, but I was stubbornly determined to continue and finish. Especially as another 4 guys from hockey were running, including a coach. And, if I’m honest, the competitive part of me really wanted to be first out of our group. Running through the pain is not something I’ve done before, but as it was a steady pace and not involving lots of stops and starts I figured it would be manageable.

My pace slowed from the hoped for 12km/h, and I’d lost 3:30 within the first 5km – as much down to the throbbing ache in my left shin and simply not zig-zagging as much and running at a pace closer to those around me. There was no split into projected time groups, and no official pacemakers for specific times like Reading had. The featureless highway soon looped back on itself and we were heading back down towards HK island and the Western tunnel. The first section of the course is relatively flat (and boring in case I’ve not said that already). The tunnel represented the first real undulations with an obvious drop initially, and being met with a ‘wall of noise’ as the runners are encouraged to shout (anything) whilst going through the tunnel. I saved my energy by not shouting…

The exit to the tunnel is a fairly steep incline, and more annoyingly has a camber from left to right which made for uncomfortable running. The tunnel is also noticeably warmer and the air quality is reputed to be pretty rubbish (I would concur). Emerging onto HK island, and there’s only about 6km left by this stage. For me, both lower legs are now painful, the left one had sibsided to a dull throb every time my left foot landed on the ground. The most surreal moment of running through the tunnel had to be overtaking a tall (6’5″ I would guess), skinny, black guy who really looked like a typical African long distance runner type, and he was going so slowly. I wish it could have been me going so quickly…

Running through the traffic on Hong Kong island is not something I’d want to repeat, it’s hot, dusty, and the traffic is flowing on the other side of the road. There are also a few underpasses and overpasses to run through. The final km sign was most welcome, and the final run into Victoria Park where the finish was located was eagerly awaited. I even found a little energy remaining to speed up my run to cross the finish line just before the official timing reached 1:53:00. I’d bought a watch to time myself as well, but for some weird reason the stopwatch ‘ticks over’ at 1:39:59, so having pressed a few buttons I thought I’d gone round in about 1:50:40 but not sure. Not impressed with the watch from New Balance – who are a running company after all. Why would you have a watch that doesn’t time beyond 1:39:59! That’s a rhetorical question – and the answer is most definitely not to run faster!

Times have been confirmed as 1:52:55 and 1:50:32 on the HK marathon website,

A few odds and ends; the medal for the run is given out when you collect your number and chip etc. How weird is that? The medal and the t-shirt both say 2009 marathon – no distinction made for the half marathon. The ‘halfway time’ is listed as 40 minutes or so – definitely not the case. They didn’t have the timing mat at the halfway point…

I don’t think I’ll run this one again, but maybe somewhere else … and London still remains a definite temptation. Still, I’ve now run in 3 continents.





And, of course I finished first amongst the hockey players … although the hockey coach running with little/no training beforehand was only about 2 minutes behind.

Christmas (and New Year) in Hong Kong

January 12, 2009

For, I think, only the second time I spent Christmas not in Northern Ireland. I’d decided to skip Christmas in the UK last time round, and having been back to the UK in October I’d caught up with pretty much everyone I wanted to see. Also, travelling at Christmas just seems to add to the stress of travelling anyway, and having managed to get a dose of the norovirus last year I was happy to be giving it a miss.

Hong Kong doesn’t really feel Christmassy like the UK. We do still get decorations put up on buildings and naff Christmas music piped into shops, but for obvious reasons it’s not the massive festival of shopping that it is in the UK. The warm weather also contributes to a general lack of Christmas feeling. Having spent the Saturday before Christmas Day having a beach barbeque really doesn’t make one feel very festive. These are just some of my excuses for being crap at Christmas shopping. It’s not something I enjoy at the best of times, and I’m afraid I just resorted to using online shopping in the UK. I also had Christmas cards left over from last year, but didn’t figure on Mum remembering keeping last year’s card, and therefore rumbling my clever scheme. Typical.

Fortunately, Christmas Day did not involve me sitting alone  in my flat eating a Pot Noodle. One of my friend’s offered to host a Christmas dinner for 5 of us in total, so long as booze (and in my case, cutlery and crockery as well) was provided. I received a text at about 9:30am asking for more stuffing to be bought from one of the more up-market western supermarkets. Normally in the UK, on Christmas Day, forget it. Here though, no problem at all. It felt very weird seeing shops open on Christmas Day.

It was a very enjoyable day, with good food, good company, and plenty of booze drunk. We even had a traditional game of Monopoly afterwards, which I did not win, and got the blame for making a deal which lead to the eventual winner getting two sets. Ah well – I fnished ahead in chess 2-1.

New Year was quiet, as there is a bigger celebration for Lunar New Year at the end of January. Next year will be the year of the Ox. But more importantly, we get 3 days off I think. Before then, I am visited by the ‘aged parents’ for a few days in January while they are en route to Australia, and then for one day (I think) in February. Not quite sure what entertainment to line up for January yet. I should probably get a move on though as they arrive on Friday. Having been asked what they should bring, my advice was ‘coats’. It’s cold here. The weather reports say it’s about 15C, but it feels colder. It’s certainly warmer than the UK, but then that’s not really a good reference point.

Still alive

November 10, 2008

It’s been just over two months since the previous post. There’s no real reason for a lack of posting other than life has been pretty normal since then. Had I only arrived a couple of months ago then obviously everything would seem new and unusual and worth writing about. 18 months in and I guess Hong Kong is now home and there doesn’t seem to be so much to write about now.

Thankfully, or perhaps disappointingly from other people’s perspective, I am now avoiding the more unpleasant food that can be on offer here. Even my office colleagues don’t seem to throw themselves into ordering ‘weird’ food for me with the same enthusiasm as when I first arrived. This is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

So what has been going on in Hong Kong? We recently had a Bledisloe Cup match hosted. Unfortunately the actual Cup had already been decided with the All Blacks beating the Wallabies in Brisbane a couple of weeks beforehand. Despite this, it was a very enjoyable match [with the All Blacks coming back in the second half to win 19-14]. Initially it was assumed tickets would be in high demand, as occurs for the Sevens. This never turned out to be the case. There certainly doesn’t appear to be a massive local market for rugby in the same way that there would be for football, specifically English Premier League football. The vast majority of the crowd were expats or Aussies/Kiwis who had flown over for the game, and being a one-off match there was never the same atmosphere as happens at the Sevens.

There was also some sort of election held here in September. I’d been meaning to write something about elections, government, and democracy here for some time, but thought I’d wait until I had a better understanding of how it all works here. This will never happen. To say it is confusing is a bit of an understatement, so here goes with an attempt … There’s a Legislative Council (LegCo) which is responsible for running Hong Kong SAR. Not really too sure how many members this has, but that’s not especially important. Permanent Residents (i.e. not me) get to vote. However, some people get more than one vote, because there are ‘special voting categories’ (this isn’t the correct terminology) for things like finance, law, and other sectors of the community here. And by community, I really mean business community. You can probably see that these communities therefore have a much bigger say in the vote. It’s actually possible to have lots of votes by being associated with plenty of voting groups. Like I said, I really have not figured how all this works, and probably never will. LegCo isn’t fully elected (as far as I can tell), with some of it’s members (possibly up to half) being appointed by Beijing. Of course, the ‘party’ names here are Monty Python-esque, with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (yes, seriously) being pro-Beijing, and the Social Democrats being more pro-democracy. There still isn’t universal suffrage here, although that is a provision of the Basic Law agreed between China and the UK at the time of the handover.

So, we have LegCo as a mix of Beijing appointees and members elected by some of the Hong Kong population. LegCo members then elect a Chief Executive who is pretty much the head honcho. At the moment it’s Sir Donald Tsang. He was knighted by the UK prior to the handover, but now doesn’t like to use the title of Sir as it obviously demonstrates that he was part of the governing regime when the UK were nominally in charge. The choice of Chief Executive can be over-ruled by Beijing, as far as I know. LegCo pretty much control the running of Hong Kong with a few major exceptions like defence and foreign policy etc. Clearly the make up of the Council is tilted in the favour of business and Beijing. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few odd-balls who manage to get elected. There is one member who is nicknamed Long Hair on account of his having long hair. He’s even referred to in the press as Long Hair. Another member is nicknamed Mad Dog. I’m not sure if he owns a mad dog, but he apparently threw a bunch of bananas at Donald Tsang as he gave a speech in LegCo as a means of protest. So at least he lives up to the mad part… I’m really not sure of the siginificance of the bananas but a few days later another member of LegCo was beaten up in the street (not a laughing matter) and force fed a banana by a random person. This person has since been collared by the police and locked up in a lunatic asylum psychiatric hospital. The press were quick to link the two incidents in an attempt to make LegCo behave ‘more properly’.

There was a comedy night held here last week which had a few comedians brought over from the UK, one of whom had appeared on Mock the Week. We get all the highest calibre performers here! It was a setup that anyone familiar with Jongleurs/The Comedy Store in the UK would recognise. A few beers, and seats round a stage with a compere who introduces the acts. Again the audience was 99% expat, mostly Brits with a fair number of Aussies and Kiwis and some Americans filling out the numbers. It totalled about 2 hours worth of comedy and was a good fun night out, with the Americans getting some stick (and the rather predictable ‘well done on electing Obama’ comment). There was also the obligatory person with the cackling laugh who got thoroughly ripped into by one of the comedians … only for him to find out she worked for one of the night’s sponsors. That didn’t seem to slow him down though.

The most unintentionally funny part of the night was watching the look on the face of a Chinese girl who was obviously the girlfriend of a British guy sitting across the room. Sometimes British humour doesn’t travel well, and it’s fair to say she looked totally bemused and puzzled for the entire 2 hours.

I’ve also got a ticket booked to see Manic Street Preachers (a popular beat-combo, Mum/Dad) towards the end of November, who I’ve seen at the V festival before, but figure it should be a good night out.

The Olympics

August 26, 2008

So that’s the ‘greatest show on earth’ over for another our years until the Olympic Games open in London in 2012. What a lot of people (particularly anti-Olympic whingers in the UK) fail to realise is that the venues for an Olympic Games can be split over a wide variety of locations, and don’t have to be centred around the main stadium. Beijing 2008 is a prime example of this with the rowing, sailing, and cycling taking place considerable distances away from Beijing. I mention these three sports as it turns out the UK did rather well in these disciplines. There was much fun to be had winding up the Aussies over here that Team GB were ahead (and finished ahead) of Australia in the overall medal table. Getting retaliation in first for the Ashes next year really.

Hong Kong also had the privilege of being a host venue. Hong Kong was hosting the equestrian events at Sha Tin which is where the larger of the two racecourses is in Hong Kong. Essentially the event was being hosted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club who run Sha Tin racecourse. According to the various buses emblazoned with the Beijing 2008 advertising they were ‘sharing the spirit, sharing the dream’ or something like that. The truth is actually that equine disease is apparently rampant in mainland China, and getting the large numbers of international horses in and out of China would have been a nightmare. The obvious solution was to ‘share the Olympic spirit’ with Hong Kong. Despite that, it has been wonderful to be located in a host venue. Plenty of Olympic logos, banners, merchandising has been around, and a lot of teams chose to base themselves out of Hong Kong and Macau to prepare for Beijing. I’m not sure the Australian reason of avoiding the air pollution in Beijing had quite the ring of truth to it though…

Fortunately the GB, New Zealand, and Canadian hockey teams had decided to play some pre-Olympic matches in Macau and Hong Kong so I was able to see some international hockey here. Despite playing in very hot and humid conditions the game pace was significantly higher than usual, and was great fun to watch. GB beat New Zealand 3-2, and Canada beat a Hong Kong league Barbarians team 4-0. Just a shame GB were a bit inconsistent in Beijing and only drew against Canada… However, 5th place overall was probably what they aimed for originally. I could have got tickets for some of the equestrian events in Hong Kong, but horsey things really aren’t my idea of fun, so chose not to go. From reports here it seems dressage definitely wasn’t the local’s cup of tea either with lots of the spectators leaving during the course of the day(s) that it was on.

An idea that had been floated by some guys in the hockey club had been to go up to Beijing and try and get tickets ‘on the street’. Typically this has been fairly easy at previous Olympics, and tickets weren’t registered against names. So, in theory this should have been possible. Except that leading up to the Games Chinese visas became more expensive and harder to get. You could only get a single entry visa (not an issue of itself), and buying tickets on the street is illegal. This is the main reason I chose not to go. Being caught by the Chinese police illegally buying tickets probably wouldn’t be viewed to well, and seeing the inside of a Beijing police cell is way down my list of things to do whilst I’m here. Still, there’s always tv… or so you’d think.

Television coverage here was absolutely rubbish compared to the BBC. Whilst in the UK you can get BBC coverage via terrestrial, digital, and the web, in Hong Kong the rights were held by one terrestrial channel (we don’t have the equivalent of ‘Freeview’ here) and some channels on a cable television provider. Unfortunately, I get television delivered via broadband, not cable, and worse, my flat does not seem to have a terrestrial socket anywhere. Basically, I had no Olympic coverage at home. This wasn’t a disaster, as to be honest, there were only a small number of events I was actually concerned about watching. Notably GB hockey matches and some athletics. Online TV schedules suggested that GB v Holland would be screened on terrestrial live on a Wednesday night. Having arranged to watch this with friends in a pub on the night, it’s somewhat disappointing to be faced with coverage of lots of sports featuring China… Yes, I know, I’m in China and it’s kind of to be expected to follow the ‘home nation’. However, most of these events weren’t live, and what’s the point of a schedule? Clearly a work of fiction. We did get the last 25 minutes of the match, which included the solitary goal, unfortunately for the Dutch… bah.

The overall feeling in Hong Kong was that the local population became a lot more pro-China than usual. Particularly the local media in Hong Kong. There is a free press in Hong Kong which for the main part either looks to Beijing for direction or is blatantly pro-Beijing. During the last few weeks though it’s felt like all the media are taking a more pro-Beijing line than usual. The Chinese goal to ‘beat’ the US at the medal count has also been felt quite obviously. Although, I did get the impression that (to a certain extent anyway) it felt that only gold really mattered. For example, a shopping centre I sometimes get lunch at had a big screen showing sports during the day with seats in front so people could watch and cheer etc. They also had a medal counter below this screen… except it was counting only the golds. (for China in case that’s not obvious) The Americans then used the sneaky tactic of counting total medals won to show USA at the top of the medal table…

It’s been great to be in the right timezone for these Games and in order to get a fix of Olympic action I ended up downloading some of the BBC Olympics Today highlights programs so I got to see the major moments I think. I also managed to catch some of the closing ceremony in a mainly expat bar on Sunday night. Biggest cheer definitely had to be Boris Johnson receiving the Olympic flag.

As per my last post, there was indeed a storm on the way. The T8 signal was hoisted on Friday morning at 7:40am which meant no requirement to go into work that day. I think I received my first invite to the pub by about 11:00am. We did actually get a T9 for about 11 hours, but it never really got violent on Hong Kong island. A few trees blown down or requiring removal afterwards seemed to be about the extent of it. Still, a day ‘off’ work is not to be criticised.