5th December 2008
We hope this letter finds you in good spirits and full of festive cheer. As I write this from a cloudless sunny Hong Kong, and read reports of snow in the UK, I feel a twinge of regret that we will not be back for Christmas this year, seeing friends and family. It seems a long time since we were back in August when we spent an idyllic week in Treyarnon Bay with the Clough’s (senior and not so senior) and an energetic week roaming around Hampshire staying with the Cripps clan and other friends in the vicinity.
Thanks so much for all of you who put us up (perhaps put up with us might be more accurate) or travelled many miles to see us. We really appreciate all the effort you made and we’re sorry we didn’t get to everyone -- we just ran out of time, & energy!
Some of you have asked what Christmas is like in Hong Kong.
Firstly cold (ish): The HK observatory predicts there will be a cold snap and the temperature will drop to around 19 degrees centrigrade. But what is really strange is that the humidity has recently dropped to 30%, it’s normally around 90% which we’ve grown accustomed too, so at the moment we’re permanently thirsty, our hair resembles Struwwelpeter’s and we’re having to soak ourselves in moisturiser and lip balm.
Secondly food: although Billy would be equally happy with dim sum or sushi - on Christmas Day we’ll be having turkey, (except Mark who became a vegetarian earlier this year and will be having a nut roast) and we’ll be cooking all the traditional fare, bread sauce, sprouts and roast potatoes etc but joy of joys with ten people coming to lunch, there will be no early start for us - the turkey will be delivered to our door, already cooked. It’s amazing how quickly you get accustomed to expat life in a city that never sleeps, and where you can get anything day or night.
Generally speaking, life in Hong Kong is vibrant and highly entertaining. Christmas decorations have been up since mid November and all the skyscrapers overlooking the harbour are bearing ‘holiday’ lights. Actually Christmas holds little significance for the locals other than a chance to worship the god of Mammon and participate in the national hobby – shopping. On Christmas Day that’s what the locals will be doing and although the recession has certainly hit here, there are still long queues to get into Louis Vuitton and gleaming shopping malls full of luxury brands seem to spring up every month. And just a short hop over the South China sea, in Macau, which now rivals Las Vegas in gambling revenues if not for sheer volume of people.
This weekend Father Christmas came to our local church fete in Stanley, arriving by helicopter and departing in a black Porsche. Naturally. This exhibition sums up life in Hong Kong. On one hand there’s an exuberant joy in displaying personal wealth which would appal most Brits. No self-respecting Chinese has a car over a year old, and even your average office girl sports a Prada handbag. Yet in spite of the wealth and apparent superficiality it’s a fascinating place and every week we discover somewhere new or learn something about the culture. We’ve been welcomed and inundated with kindness; been encouraged when trying out our cantonese and mandarin phrases, and overwhelmed by their respect for children.
This year, as last, has been pretty active and we’ve been lucky enough to visit the Philippines, Thailand and Bali on family holidays – with both Singapore and Indonesia on the agenda for the New Year. Mark is non-stop travelling - spending pretty much every other week in China and India so is at home in both countries. In fact he can order a beer now in about 12 different languages. If you have an idle moment or two, we have a webblog of photos and observations about our time here together with some photos of the places we’ve visited. (www.crippong.blogspot.com).
Staying on the active front what started as a ploy to get sporting membership at cheap rates for the Hong Kong Cricket Club, by joining the hockey team, has turned into a fully fledged commitment after our team gained promotion twice in one season and won the cup. Billy and Archie come to watch and to eat cookies that magically appear after every game. I think that it’s the cookies that they come for. Billy continues to enjoy Chinese Kung Fu and next weekend will be graded for a brown belt – two belts to Black belt and I’m thinking we might need to watch our backs… Archie started tennis and rugby this season and along with Billy, they spend every Sunday morning at Stanley Fort , now occupied by the Chinese Army and kindly rented to Valley Fort Rugby Club, doing drills and learning the offside rule whilst we discuss the previous night’s events over coffee. Mark has got the sailing bug, and after a week’s intense course in the Whitsunday Isles (Australia) in November, now spends Saturday mornings skulking around the HK yacht club offering his services as crew. His first week was spent in the company of two America’s cup veterans - they invited him back the next week, and asked him to bring a few cans with him…
We moved house mid Summer, from Repulse Bay to Stanley, when the management decided to put up the rent by 30%. We love our new ‘hood’. It’s right on the beach, very laid back and a totally different vibe from the expat resort feel of Repulse Bay. Just at the back of our house is the Tai Tam country park and the infamous Twins (massive hills). It’s a stunning backdrop and I’ve got myself into the habit of starting the weekend hiking up the 1,500 steps. I can also report it is very beautiful at 7am. Now is the time of the year to hike, and last weekend Billy, Archie and I hiked round the island from our house to the cricket club (about 4km) - encountering nothing more fierce than a police man training his alsation. One of our friends was chased by a cobra, but thankfully we’ve had no such experience.
Mark, Billy, Archie and I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a New Year packed full of experiences and opportunities. We plan to be here for at least another year, so if you are considering a visit out East, make it next year. We would be absolutely thrilled to have your name inscribed in our Visitor’s book along with the intrepid eight who have got here already.