Hong Kong: the last 2 months

I knew it would happen, I wanted it to happen, but it happened much faster than I thought it would.

We are leaving Hong Kong at the end of July to return to the UK.

I love Hong Kong to bits, it’s such an amazing city full of contrasts and adventures, yet there are a few issues that mean it may not be the place where we settle.

These issues are:

  • The job market: simply put, I currently do not fit in.

I am a New Product Development Project Manager, but food companies with manufacturing operations in Hong Kong can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The few times I did see an offer, they regarded Chinese food, which I have no knowledge of…  Additionally, I do not speak, read or write Cantonese AND Mandarin fluently.

Mastering both Chinese languages is becoming increasingly mandatory and only a few sectors are exempt (banking being one of them).

 

  • Housing: renting a small apartment at high price doesn’t bother me too much. However, we want to eventually buy property, yet buying anything in Hong Kong seems unachievable. Not only is the price very high, the flats are tiny and the deposit is hefty. It simply isn’t achievable for us in the short/medium term.

 

  • Work culture: this one concerns Jeff rather than me. People at work are extremely competitive and do not hesitate to backstab colleagues and shoe-shine managers in order to get promoted. I’ve been told this behaviour is very common in certain industries/teams with local staff as it is instilled in people since kindergarten.

You see, there are only a handful of universities in Hong Kong, so parents put extreme pressure on their children to stand out from their classmates. This starts at a very young age with kids being enrolled in music, sport, arts & language classes, the only goal being to enter a prestigious primary school, then a prestigious high school and finally university. Children compete with one another on all aspects and this behaviour is carried over into their working lives.

 Hong Kong has so many good points: it’s safe, has easily reachable countryside, varied landscapes and no end of activities to try. Let’s not forget the food, central location for Asian holidays and warm weather.

 

I’ve learnt in the past seven years that no place is perfect and that it’s not about finding the place that ticks all the boxes, but the one that ticks the most important boxes…

I don’t know if England will tick the most important boxes (I’ll be honest and say I am concerned about safety)…but we thought we had to try, so when the opportunity came, we grabbed it.

 

We will try our best, but I would not be surprised if we eventually return to Hong Kong or try another country.

 

 

P.S: I do not plan on stopping the blog for now, even after I return to the UK

 

 

Fishball revolution

The Chinese New Year has started with violent clashes in Mong Kok. Televisions have been blasting images of injured policemen and bloodied civilians’ and the “riot” was the main subject of family gatherings.

It all started off over a fish ball stall.

Street food is common in Hong Kong, especially during Chinese New Year. It is a tradition; it is Hong Kong’s culture.

So when the police decided to remove the food stalls – at this time of the year- people lost it.

 

The issue here is deeper than it looks. As Bernice Chan from the SCMP reports it “Hongkongers feel this ‘fish ball revolution’ is not just about street food, it’s about losing their culture and, losing their culture is also about losing a part of their identity. And there’s not much of the culture left so they feel like they have to grapple onto whatever is left and hang onto it.”

 

The government has slowly been washing away the local culture…

In the past few years there have been protests about amends to Hong Kong’s education curriculum aiming at promoting a deeper identification with Mainland China, Old villages have been destroyed to make space for new properties, owners of a bookstore selling books banned by China have been “kidnapped” and the umbrella revolution is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

 

On the other hand, the Chinese government is overseeing a country made of 56 ethnic groups, 22 provinces and a handful of autonomous and special administrative regions. Keeping things unified and cohesive is a difficult task, yet a priority.

 

 

 

Last day amongst the Karst Mountains

For our last morning in the area we hopped on bikes to get a last sight of the scenery.
We first sopped at a lotus flower field to take photos of the pink flowers.
The fields have become a bit of an attraction with farmers charging a small fee to allow tourists to take pictures.

We then stopped at the great banyan tree. The tree is 7 meters wide and 15 meters high, but it was completely pointless stopping and paying to see it. It is after all a (big) tree that the locals have hyped up to make some money.
We continued our bike ride past a “butterfly cave”, one of my friends had warned me that the cave only had concrete butterflies so it was best to ignore it.
Instead we decided to visit the “cave where the Dragons’ meet”. The cave was beautiful with lakes, boats and many rock formations… greatly enhanced buy colored lights.

 

This little holiday was nice, even though it was damp and absolutely NOT restful.
To anyone planning on going I would say: try your best to not fall into any tourist traps!

 

Karst Mountains of Xingping

The following day we took the bus to XingPing, further up the Li River as the landscape is supposed to be the nicest in that area, however the weather was overcast, ruining my hopes of amazing sunset photographs.

 

We had the choice between renting bikes or a scooter, knowing Chinese driving we opted for the bikes. With hindsight, a scooter would have been better as we would have been able to travel more distance and see more.

We stopped to snap a few pictures of the view featured on the 20 Yuen note and continued our journey through fields and farmer hamlets. We saw buffalos, cows, dogs, fields, Karst Mountains and quite a few westerns on rented scooters. There weren’t that many people around and it was a nice change from the crowded and smelly Yangshuo city.

 

I had imagined that the road would be alongside the river, but it wasn’t, meaning we caught only a few glimpses of the water.

Compared to the Yulong River, the Li River is wider, more powerful and has many cruise boats.

I personally preferred the Yulong river as it was more peaceful and we got to see the landscape from fairly close.

 

We had seen amazing pictures of the bend in the Li River taken from the Lao Zhai Shan Mountain, so asked a restaurant owner about it.

The man told us that the path was made of stones loosely arranged as stairs that would be slippery in this rainy weather. He also said the way up was a bit tiring but the way down was a breeze.

Soon after we set off, we realized that the path wasn’t a staircase, but rather big stones thrown on top of each other. Once we got half way up, we noticed that going up wasn’t an issue, going down was. The way was steep, slippery with not many areas to place our feet.

We decided it was best to turn back, instead of going all the way up and trying to come back down with exhausted knees.

It took us way longer to get down, we had to use our hands for grip and I got an awful amount of insects’ bites along the way.

Once we got back down from our adventure, we asked locals about cormorant fishermen. We were told than none of them fished anymore, they would simply pose for tourists during peak season, so none of them would be around at this time of the year. Once again, my hopes of awesome photographs were dashed!

 

Bamboo rafting down the Yulong River

We left our hotel in Ping’an quite early in the morning and just as we were walking through the village to get to the bus, a storm broke out.

The stone stairs and alleyways transformed into torrents and we were the only two people outside.

By the time we got to the bus stop at the entry of the village our trainers were soaked.

It was so bad Jeff threw his shoes away and I bought a pair of extra cheap (€4) Chinese trainers to wear for the next couple of days. My original shoes took 3 days to dry.

 

The journey from Ping’An to Yangshuo isn’t the easiest and involves different buses leaving from different stations. After a 4 hour journey we arrived in Yangshuo.

I had imagined a picturesque fishing village by the river… boy was I wrong! Yangshuo is town of 300 000 inhabitants… all aiming to make money off tourists.

We quickly realized that if we wanted to see the famous landscape and get a bit of peace we had to get out of the city.

We started by rafting down the Yulong river. The rafts are made of real bamboo and are steered by a gondolier with a bamboo stick. The river has many weirs and going through them on the raft is really fun… we just had to make sure any expensive electronics were secure!

We were surprised to see several “official” cameramen with their very own floating platforms (equipped with computers and printers) selling pictures to tourists.

The bamboo rafting was a great way to see the scenery and we even caught a water buffalo having a swim.

 

Note:

The Yulong River is much nicer than the bigger Li River for a bamboo raft ride.

The rafts on the Li river are made of plastic and are motorized, the current is also much faster making it less relaxing to enjoy the scenery.

Rice terraces in Ping’An

After a long period of not doing much, we took a (much needed) break to the Guangxi province of China to see rice paddies and Karst Mountains.

Most people refer to this area as “Guilin”, which is the major town in the area, even though said landscapes are located 100km away from this city.

Guilin itself is ugly and so polluted I felt like I had my head in an exhaust pipe. Luckily we only transited via this town.

 

After a 3 hour bus ride and a steep drive up the mountain we arrived at Ping’An village where the air was fresh and crisp.

The village is full of wooden houses, chickens wondering around and villagers selling artifacts to tourists.

The area is famed for its rice paddies, meals cooked inside bamboo trunks and the Yao tribe of women with extremely long hair.

 

The weather was decent so we immediately started hiking and playing around with our cameras.

Camera wise, I had bought a graduated filter for this trip and I am so gald I did, otherwise the skies would have been blown out on all pictures!

 

It is very common for foreigners to hire Chinese tour guides while visiting the area so most locals thought Jeff was my private guide….and were amazed when they discovered he was my partner.

 

Jeff has a few tricks up his sleeve to avoid being scammed in Mainland China:

  • Speak perfect Mandarin with no accent so people can’t tell he is from Hong Kong
  • Tell people he is from Guangzhou in Mainland China (instead of Hong Kong)
  • Tell locals he is my tour guide and isn’t being paid a lot (so people don’t think he is a rich man with a foreign wife)

We don’t know how well these white lies work…but at least we didn’t get charged any extortionate rates for food or taxi rides.

 

Quite a few interesting things happened during our stay:

  • Some foreign students were refused a student discount, even though they had student IDs…because they looked too old.
  • A storm broke out, stopping the electricity supply, flooding the alleyways and our shoes in the process.
  • A house at the entrance of the village was destroyed by a landslide during the storm.