Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Pick a name

As more and more of our friends have babies, I notice that my heart skips a beat every time I mention their little offspring.   

I'm terrified I've got the baby's name wrong.

I'm not usually bad with names, but this onslaught of new arrivals is a bit much for my tiny tiny brain, and not good for my nerves either. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Feel the fear and do it anyway

So I finally decided it was time to start hiking in Hong Kong.  I was tempted to write 'serious hiking', but I don't want to get ahead of myself.  

Over the past two years, I've been procrastinating rather badly, choosing from a list of well used excuses: 

- You know I get blisters
- It's raining
- It looks like it might rain
- You're too fast for me
- What if we go for lunch instead

Anyway, not wanting to look like I wasn't trying hard enough, I decided to take on a somewhat tougher than average hike in Lantao (stages 1 and 2).  The trail takes you up to Sunset peak and then back down again.  I also decided to take on this hike on my own (refer to excuse #4 above).  However, little did I know that I would really be alone, as in A-LONE, and that the hike would be a serious bum buster with endless stairs going up and then the same amount winding all the way down.  

Endless stairs of hell

As only the daughter of paranoid South African parents could feel, I spent about half the hike imagining I was in the Hunger Games and waiting to get shot/stabbed or kidnapped. 

View somewhere after the top

Sighting of small huts on the hill ..somewhat foreboding

 Forging on despite ominous clouds 

Now that I'm feeling more "can" about hiking than "can't" I might even venture out for more next week.   

For those of you who want to know the details, here is a link to an overview.  This should be helpful for those of you who, like me, are navigationally challenged.

Monday, 8 October 2012

French style

What is it with French women and their innate sense of style? 

As I sat next to this girl the other night, I mentioned that I didn't wear polo shirts as they look strange on me.  She asked me where I had tried them on and I told her that I'd only ever tried them at Ralph Lauren.  

She took a sip of her wine and said, "Well, that's the problem.  Ralph Lauren polo shirts are too short.  They're cut too wide.  And the v at the front doesn't go low enough.  That's why they make you look strange.  You should go to H&M.  They have a longer cut, lower V and a slimmer fit.  They're perfect."

That would have taken me about a million years to figure out.  Or never.  

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Last of the summer wine

I sat there expectantly.  The only woman among four men in blue suits and socks sitting in my living room chatting excitedly over mountains of wine, cheese and crackers.  I had thought I would be bored.  Imagining myself having to listen to the ups and downs of the market and whether Hollande really is as bad as he seems to be.  

I was wrong.  The topic that commanded most debate and discussion was actually fridges.  Should fridges have two doors, ice makers, be big enough to sleep in?  Most importantly should they be Miele (No, you pronounce it "Miule".  No! Mielee..) or liebherr. 

Then they all gleefully bundled into the kitchen to make steaks over the stovetop grill (yes, Le Creuset is definitely better than Ikea, says one.  But it's not quite clear if it beats Tefal, says another).

And later.  As as they sat there recovering, blissfully nursing their wine, polishing off the ice-cream and always making sure I was well topped up, sitting comfortably and wanted of nothing.  As I sat there I thought. For the first time in my life.  When we have kids, I wouldn't say no to boys. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Dead ant

I could not believe the sheer number of ants walking up and down our living room last week.  The minute T left on holiday, they must have spotted their opportunity to settle in.  Every night I would come home and find an entire village of them eagerly waiting for me.  They weren't interested in food but were unusually social and only liked to congregate in places near my feet.  Shudder.

I Googled "ants in HK" and found myself with numerous articles describing various strains - brown, red, small, with wings, without, termites...  I wasn't exactly sure which category they fit into, so I ruthlessly murdered one and sat it down next to the computer, so I could give it a full biopsy.  Brown and Big was all I could come up with.

I tolerated them for about three days and then I thought enough is enough and so decided that I needed to exterminate them before they turned into pets.  In comes "Truly Care" who 'guarantee eradication of anything' without ' poisoning your children'.  Sounded perfect.  So I arranged to meet them at x time on x day and raced back from work to let them in and get on with getting this rather unseemly situation under control.

Of course I should have seen this coming.  We walk in and there's not an ant in sight.  Not one.  Even the weevils in the spice drawer had gone into hiding.  I could see the two teenagers from Truly Care with their satchels and chemical tubes rolling their eyes.  They probably have a name for people like me.  People who have phantom pests.

Anyway, they reluctantly sprayed our immacultately clean and pest-free apartment and left.  I haven't seen an ant since, and have been feeling rather good about my proactivity, organization and domestic management skills.  So good, in fact, that we invited people over for dinner last night.  And just as we were sitting down for dessert, one girl discreetly reaches for me and says "I think there might be an insect under the table."  I look and there it is.  The very picture of ant revenge.  The hugest cockroach I've seen in a long time.  Lying on its back under the table.  The Lord works in mysterious ways.  

Thursday, 19 July 2012

And so


... we finally jumped on the Hong Kong real estate bandwagon and bought the tiniest little apartment in Kennedy Town. 

It was in rather poor condition as a family of 3 (+ maid) had somehow managed to squeeze themselves in there for the past 7 years.  That's 4 people in about 400 square feet.  

In fact, they were so tightly squeezed that when I went to first visit, I couldn't actually see anything, as the beds, cupboards and people were everywhere my eye fell.  The kitchen was the hardest to get a good look at, as I was only allowed to visit at 7pm, which meant the maid was always cooking up a storm surrounded by Snoopy-stickered walls and curtains - you know those curtains that people use instead of a door?  Sometimes beads are used.  Here we chose Snoopy curtains.  

Anyway, Snoopy has now been removed, and we are in the process of heavy renovations/gutting.  When I say "we", I really mean that t has rather lavishly employed someone to renovate as we're just sitting ducks to Hong Kong contractors.  Can you imagine me negotiating the price of wooden flooring?  I don't think so.

The problem, of course, with outsourcing the job, is that you're expected to "let go" and "relax" as you're in "good hands" and "that's what you're paying for" after all.  The problem is I can't.  I secretly visit my little gem every day at lunch and check to see how things are coming along, and then I micro-manage like mad.  

In my head.  

Monday, 9 July 2012

What's in a font

Borrowed from Pinterest

I've thrown myself into personalised correspondence cards in a big way.  Surely, now that I have a new married name, everyone will want to see it at the top of my letters? Or not.

Anyway, I've decided to get them done in Sheung Wan, in a tiny little outpost, where a man sits under a plastic tent with a computer.  He's just down the road from the snake poison shop amongst all the chop stands.

Publishing outpost

But the humbleness of this little stand is a little mis-leading.  Sitting under the plastic cover, my knees squeezed up again his tiny table, I asked him "do you have any samples?".  To which he climbed out from behind the stand and reached over me to a huge tupperware, which contained a full selection of paper (any colour, any thickness, any size) and envelopes. "Pick one!".  

So, paper and envelopes pretty much under control, the only thing I'm in charge of is the font.  Who would have thought that picking a font would be so darn difficult?  I've spent probably 10 hours mulling over Times, Copperplate, Engraved, Bodoni and Arial agonizing over what they say about me.  What does it mean if the G is too big, or round or thick or swirly?  Will it make me look too serious, ditsy, blonde, boring, weird? What if it's too big? Too bright? 

The hidden world of stationery (under plastic)

Anyway, tomorrow I'm going back to my man under the plastic and I'd better have a font picked out, because he's going to press print and then there's going to be no going back.  If you need me, I'll be on Google trying to carve out a personality. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


I am sick to death of traveling.  Over the past 7 weeks I've been in Singapore (twice!), New Zealand, Paris and Beijing.  Most of the trips involved long hours in conference rooms and endless PowerPoint slides.  When I'm in charge, I'm going to forbid that awful program.

Someone asked me the other day how long I'm planning to stay in Hong Kong.  I don't think I've arrived.

Here's Beijing.

Messing around in boats in front of the Summer Palace 

798 Art District.  They do pipes in a big way

 798 Art District. Again

  798 Art District. One of many galleries

  798 Art District. Spanish Exhibition

  798 Art District. Food

  Forbidden City

  Our hotel.  Loved it

  798 Art District. Again

 Fair enough

Forbidden City in the sun

Next trip - The Wall!

Bumf for the enthusiastic traveler: 
Grace Hotel - wonderful paradise just 15 minutes out of town
G Hotel - If you like purple walls and changing colored windows, then this is your place
Da Dong - Best duck in town
Capital M - High tea by Tienanmen
Dali's Courtyard - Perfect for dinner under the stars
Amalal - Mojitos 

p.s. We loved it here, are learning Mandarin, and would like to live here and start a street stand selling pancakes

Friday, 8 June 2012

Z Listers

I was a little surprised to be the only woman in the small and shabby hotel gym today in Auckland.  I was also a little perplexed as to why the Jacuzzi was so full of men who all obviously knew each other. 

Had I mistaken the men's changing room for the gym?  I stepped outside to check.  No.  It definitely said  "hotel gym and pool".  Odd.  

So I decided to ignore them and set myself to running and crying along with sob stories on CNN.  

Afterwards I thought again how unusual it is for people to know each other in a business hotel.  Seriously, when last did you go with your colleagues or clients to the basement hotel gym?

So I asked Reception what the story was with all these sporty guests.  He paused and blinked for a moment and said, 

"Have you heard of the All Blacks?"


Saturday, 19 May 2012

How not to eat pepper crab

I knew the crab was a bad idea.  The minute I gave into my Thai colleague's pleas that you-can't-come-to-Jumbo-seafood-in-Singapore-and-not-eat-the-crab, I knew things might go pear shaped. 

A bib would have helped, but as none of my colleagues nor my client were wearing one, I didn't think it would be appropriate to ask.  But I was wearing a white shirt and cream trousers, so of course they were the perfect palette for "crab aux chemise" or "cangrejo con salsa de Massimo Dutti". 

Needless to say, the crab went all over my shirt (as I tried to tame its claws with a chopstick and a clamper).  

So I decided that the most sensible option would be to go to the bathroom and wash it.

The bathrooms were actually public bathrooms, so there were a lot of interested ladies walking in and out as I put too much hand soap onto my hand and smeared it all over my front.  I then vigorously scrubbed my shirt, rinsed it, and while dripping wet, looked around for the much needed hand dryer.  Given the way this evening was going, of course it had to be one of those new Dyson dryers where you put your hands into a little slot, rather than letting the air go anywhere.  Not helpful when I couldn't exactly take my shirt off (this wasn't the airport) and I couldn't quite fit into the air dryer slot either.  

So I resorted to flicking my shirt (with feeling), hoping to get rid of some of the water.  Clearly my flicking was too vigorous, as the next thing I notice is that I've completely shredded my shirt.  Big, gaping gashes.  Hulk meets Spring Break 2012 style.

So out Hulk walked.  Chin up.  Demanded a bib from a waitress and sat down.  No, I won't have any more crab - thanks, but-it-was-quite-delicious. 

Friday, 11 May 2012


In New York, I felt eternally young, while in Hong Kong sometimes I feel like I'm all grown up.  Maybe that's because I was 29 and single for much of my time in New York, while in Hong Kong I'm a married woman who gets her hair done regularly and hosts small, yet entertaining dinner parties.  Yawn.

Just as I was starting to feel particularly desperate housewifey, I was saved by the Nasser concert.  Who's Nasser?  No idea.  Some random French electo-pop group from Marseille who I'd never heard of before.  But the concert poster showed them looking sufficiently wild, sweaty and keen on lasers, that there didn't seem much to lose.  The notification that the concert was going to be held in an old factory somewhere in the depths of Kowloon only added to the appeal.  

We arrived at the concert to find we were literally 15 years older than everyone in the audience.  And boy were they having fun.  Girls were kissing boys who were kissing girls who had their hands up skirts and chain smoking and posing and jumping off the stage.  And this was before the show.

And then Nasser arrived, and the crowd went wild.  And we danced and jumped and drunk out of beer cans we'd had to bring in from 7-Eleven

And then the lights changed colour and more people jumped and sang and sweated as the A/C machines stopped working and the keyboard player took his shirt off 

And then we traipsed back to Tai Hang for dinner.

Refreshed and ready for civilized life again

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Weekend at home

It's so easy to fall into a rut and get used to doing the same thing and going to the same places.  So last weekend, T and I decided we'd venture out from in front of our movie projector and poke around Hong Kong a bit.

Our mini adventure started in Cafe Loisl. A small Viennese cafe which reminded me of Barcelona more than Vienna.  Clearly I wasn't the only one, as 2 of the 6 tables had Spaniards sitting at them. Its tucked away location far away from the road and peaceful setting - broken only by the grinding of coffee beans - made it the perfect spot for me to catch up on Kahneman (fave book right now) and T to read the Inrocks (T's fave mag ever on earth).

Serene hideaway for Apple Strudel fans.  Hang around there on a Saturday for the mouth watering mille-feuille 

The next day (we wouldn't want to exert ourselves too much), we headed off to Piccolo in Kennedy Town. It has quite a reputation as it's owned by the famous Les Amis group who also own Cepage. However, Piccolo couldn't really be much more different.

Pizza looked fantastic. I had salad. Saint.

Seriously unassuming decor - such a relief from all those places pretending to be unpretentious but failing miserably (think Pulino's in NYC)

We ended the weekend at Caffe Habitu in Causeway Bay.  Probably the most comfortable armchairs in Hong Kong.  Food looks pretty mediocre but cupcakes and coffee deliver.  Perfect spot to recover from IKEA in (unless you're one of those people who "test the beds" in IKEA, in which case you won't be needing any more rest).

Chaos and cupcakes at Habitu at Leighton Centre

Still can't do this at home


Yes, we're still in China 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Vietnam and Cambodia in pictures part III

Mui Ne is on the South East coast of Vietnam and chosen by some of us for its kitesurfing. No surprises there. Luckily for the rest of us, I picked up a fantastic page turner in Saigon and spent most of the stay immersed in a story about Chinese girls in the 19th Century getting their feet bound and married off to men in neighbouring villages.

Mia Resort - mosquito nets and sunset happy hours

Fishing village nearby - famous for its round boats

Women take charge on the shore while men hang out on their mopeds and boats

Dunes. Dunes?? Yes, dunes. People were up here at 6am in their cocktail attire posing for pictures. One girl wore her wedding dress

Here's where my book came in handy

Additional info:
Mui Ne is rather heavy on the Russian tourism side of things. Our hotel (Mia Resort) wasn't, but everywhere else was, so practice your Spasibas before hitting the supermarket
Mui Ne can only be reached by car - see previous post
Addictive reading material for kitesurfing groupies: Snowflower and the secret fan

Friday, 13 April 2012

The drive

After Saigon, we took on the 5 hour drive down to Mui Ne. To say that was one of the most terrifying times in my life wouldn't be an exaggeration.

Our driver's (and everyone else's) attitude seemed to be: keep your foot on the accelerator and hoot every time you see anything going slower than you or heading straight into you, which is often the case. So, there was much hooting, glaring headlights from oncoming traffic (in the same lane) and the occasional swerve to avoid entire families stacked on mopeds. What a nightmare.

There was even a fire on the road at one point, which our driver barely missed thanks to a last minute pull on the wheel. I don't think I've ever feared for my life as much as I did on that drive.

And, to make matters worse, the driver was listening to a "learn English" tape and following the exercises with great enthusiasm, often taking his eye off the road to look at us for approval. Believe me, the words "handbag", "school" and "cinema" won't ever be the same again.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Vietnam and Cambodia in pictures part II

Cambodia was followed by Vietnam, where we went to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Mui Ne. Ho Chi Minh involved strolls along tree-lined streets, visits to rather harrowing museums and delicious Pho and lattes in various spots.

The exhilaration of jaywalking

Noodles at Pho Hoa (pronounced "Fur" as in "ry")

Coffee and cupcakes at L'Usine

Temporary lunch and coffee bars on the sidewalk, with fresh mandarin juice, sliced mangoes and coffee with condensed milk readily available

Reunification Palace - not quite clear who was reunified. Filled with ostentatious meeting rooms. The library included the following books, "Planning and operating motels" and "The game of doubles in tennis". Odd

Some extra info:
If you like swimming pools and padding around in soft gowns, then stay at the Park Hyatt
Skip hotel breakfast for coffee at L'Usine, Annam Market (think Bon Marche supermarket) or the pavement
Eat at Pho Hoa for lunch and Temple Club for dinner
If you're French, finish your evenings with the Creme Brulee at the Park Hyatt

Vietnam and Cambodia in pictures part I

Given that Vietnam and Cambodia are only a couple of hour's flight from Hong Kong, they seemed the obvious Easter break choice. The fact that United Airways made it 12 hours away (thanks to bumping us off the flight) is a detail I'm just mentioning in passing in case any of you are thinking of ever-flying-United. I just-want-to-say: don't.

Anyway, flights aside, both Vietnam and Cambodia were wonderful. Cambodia lived up to its self-promoted "7th Wonder of the World" reputation, awarded to itself because it has so many bloody temples. Vietnam offered more surprises, which isn't saying much given that all I knew about the country before going was what I'd learnt in Form Four history class.

We started our trip in Siem Reap in Cambodia, which, by the way, has the most efficient visa system known to mankind (speaking of 7 Wonders).

Hotel in Siem Reap - think teak floors, fans and vintage cars. Rooms have a bath in the middle of them, a shower off to the side, another shower in the garden and a steam room. Needless to say cleanliness wasn't a problem.

The next two days then involved a lot of panting our way up and down stairs in temples, taking pictures of other temples from the temples we were on and having a guide talking with the most impossible accent on earth about how King Suryavaran II who ruled from 1113 c, sorry no, 1110 c, built Angkor Wat to worship Vishnu but then King Jayavaran VII took over and made it Buddhist which is why (pointing at the 100000th Linga) this Linga is etched over an original engraving of a Buddha (and vice versa). And so we went.

Bayon Temple - one of many ancient Khmer temples suffering from a Hindu/Buddhist personality disorder

Angkor Wat

Setting for the famous "hollywoo" movie: Lara Croft

Lots of bushwhacking here

Mildly useful info for anyone thinking of going to Siem Reap:
Stay at Heritage Suites Hotel
Don't get a guide to take you around the temples unless you want to hear the same thing over and over again
Eat at Hotel de la Paix for slightly over-rated South Beach Miami food, The Sugar Palm for "true" Cambodian fare. Hotel food was also delish

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Rock 'n' Roll

Who needs lipstick when you have a Gretsch?

Everyone knows that the key to male success with the other sex (or anyone really) is to stand somewhere looking lost with one of the following: a baby, a dog or a broken leg. Today I discovered a similar accessory for women - the guitar.

As I traipsed through JFK airport last night with a guitar case in one hand and my suitcase in the other, I realised the unleashed potential of musical instruments in the art of seduction. What was I doing with a guitar, one may ask. The short story is I was earning brownie points with T by offering to buy him a guitar and schleping it back to Hong Kong for him. Points have been earned and have been stashed away for later use when nice shoes, bags and back rubs are needed.

Anyway, as I walked through the airport, I noticed that all eyes zoomed in on the guitar case. I could see them lighting up and then glazing over, as they dreamt of rock concerts, fame and fortunes. I could also see them Photoshopping me into whatever musical icon they revered.

The guitar case not only got me a whole lot of unnecessary attention, but its "beer goggle" effect on my persona also got me past a bunch of red tape about 'not-being-allowed-fly-with-guitars-in-the-cabin' or something. An outburst of a few celebrity tears, and I was through, guitar and all.

Rock 'n' Roll, baby.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

What's the point?

Much to T's despair, I'm a Lady Gaga fan. I wouldn't go as far to say I'm a "Little Monster" but when I received the "exclusive priority booking invitation to all American Express holders" to buy advanced tickets to her Hong Kong concert, I couldn't resist.

But here's the problem. What's the point of sending out an "exclusive priority booking invitation to all American Express holders" if you're not going to prepare your call centre and website for the hoards of American Express holders who are clambering on top of one another to get their tickets??

I mean, why bother if all Amex has achieved through their "exclusive invitation" is to seriously p** me off. How many times can I refresh their overloaded website? How many times can I call their busy call centre? If you want to lose a customer, here's how to do it: over promise. under deliver.

Thanks, Amex.

One very annoyed customer.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Tao Bao

Bertoia chair

This is it! We have finally tapped into the art of Chinese bargain online shopping! ebay and Amazon are now things of the past thanks to Tao Bao. For those of you who don't know it, Tao Bao is the biggest online shopping site in Asia. You can buy anything on it, quite literally, and at any price point.

After starting our furniture hunting for our new apartment, we quickly realised there are two types of furniture shops in Hong Kong: IKEA and overpriced rip off millionaire shops for the terribly rich or terribly unimaginative. So, once we'd bought every possible item at IKEA (think glasses and jam jars), we then needed to find something with a bit of "charm" without the price tag. In comes Tao Bao - home of all trendy furniture knock-offs that have been lovingly made in China.

Z lamp care of Tao Bao

The funny thing is that while we perceive getting incredible designer furniture from China as being a blessing from heaven, my Hong Kong colleagues are all shocked and appalled that I would "buy dangerous and bad quality products from China" as "everything from China is terribly made and really really bad".

Another colleague of mine said, "Look, g, it's ok if you buy things that look pretty, but don't buy anything that has to carry weight or that might kill somebody if it falls. Because if it's from Tao Bao, then it probably will."

Great. So with that local vote of confidence, T and I threw ourselves into buying low-danger, high aesthetic appeal items. The only teensy weensy detail is that you have to understand Mandarin to use Tao Bao. And Google Chrome only gets you halfway there e.g. "product" is translated as "baby"... slightly confusing.

You also need to be able to chat online with the sellers to find out important things like "well, if you buy the eames chair in white, then it's made out of white plastic, but if you buy it black, then we spray paint it black for you." Good to know.

Another tall lamp thing

p.s. Yes, I finally got an iPhone after I left my Nokia in Cape Town and my Blackberry got stolen in the sheet section at IKEA
p.p.s Many thanks to our friend M.A. who introduced us to the Tao Bao shopping experience