Sorry, 2016, But This Was a Pretty Good Year for Me

2016

 

My favourite number is 13. Not because I was born on the 13th, or that the number 13 has significance in my life, but because I figure that a number that is unlucky for some has to be lucky for someone.

Much in the same way, the year that was essentially a real-life season of Game of Thrones for the world actually turned out to be a pretty awesome year for me personally. And not because I’m a “Leave” supporter or a Donald Trump fan. My year just kind of happened that way.

So sorry (not sorry) to gloat and rub it in your face, 2016, but you did not break me. 2016 had to be lucky for someone, right? Read more

5 Ways to Spend (And Not Spend) Your Birthday in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Birthday

 

My birthday is the 12th March. That means right now you must be saying, ‘Oh, I know someone with that birthday,’ or, even better, ‘That’s my birthday too!’ – and you are certainly not alone. A 12th March birthday can be a blessing and a curse, and must be shared with everyone else that was born between 5th – 13th March, which seems to be everyone else, period.

But one thing a 12th March birthday is not is uneventful. From summer dress snow days at primary school, to Comic Relief sleepovers throwing up, to pub golf mayhem at uni, my birthday always manages to be memorable, if not always for the right reasons. And moving to Hong Kong has not changed any of that. So, just in case you were wondering how to spend your own birthday in HK or elsewhere, here are some ways to do it (and not to do it):

22 – The ‘White Wolf’ Birthday

Hong Kong Birthday - White Wolf

Hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling that 22 is the best age to theme your birthday after your favourite cheap vodka brand. White Wolf vodka, only available at the cheapo store in North Point, is HK$40 for a million litres, and thus the White Wolf theme for my 22nd birthday was born.

Highlights: inventive costume ideas from three-wolf t-shirts to Wolf gladiator lycra suits; getting so wasted that I would apparently only speak to party guests in Cantonese (except my Cantonese is limited to ‘Singapore noodles please’ and ‘Kam Ping Street, North Point’, even now).

Lowlights: taking a swig of ‘snake wine’ before leaving pre-drinks at our flat and not remembering anything after getting off the MTR at Wan Chai; waking up the next morning with no memory, no money, and a makeshift ‘wolf tail’ key-ring digging into my back. Safe to say that The Hangover wolf pack had nothing on my 22nd birthday.

23 – The ‘Harlem Shake’ Birthday

The Harlem Shake Birthday

In the space between my 22nd and 23rd birthdays I had left Hong Kong, lived in Italy for six months, moved back to the UK and then moved back to Hong Kong. Not satisfied with my Wan Chai experience from the previous year, this time I made sure that I would actually make it to Wan Chai by living in Wan Chai, and had everyone round for drinking games on my balcony. It was the spring of 2013 and therefore it was obligatory to make a Harlem Shake video.

Highlights: Ian licking that mop.

Lowlights: if you’re trying to find me in that picture and can’t, it’s because I thought it was an excellent idea to bleach my hair for my birthday.

24 – The ‘Boob Hat’ Birthday

Hong Kong Birthday - Coyotes Boob Hats

The best thing to do on your birthday is move house. Said no one ever. I spent the day in Ikea buying furniture (some of you may remember that this was the infamous year that a certain someone bought me an Ikea voucher for my birthday, ever the romantic), then moved stuff into my new place only to realise I had left all my clothes and make-up at my old place.

Regardless, I continued the tradition of getting drunk in Wan Chai on my birthday by consuming margaritas at Coyotes, wearing a sombrero that looked like a boob.

Highlights: did you not see the picture of the boob hats? Hilarity! And a free hat!

Lowlights: getting drunk and not being able to figure out whether to go home to my new place or old place.

25 – The ‘I missed it, I was napping’ Birthday

Hong Kong Birthday - Nap

The best thing to do on your birthday is move jobs. Said no one ever. I had the day off between moving from one job to another, so I tried to go to the Art Museum for a cultural and classy birthday, but it was closed. Then, I came out in hives for no reason and had to take an anti-histamine, but the anti-histamine made me sleepy so I took a nap. All day.

Highlights: it was a really good nap, though.

Lowlights: no drinking, la!

26 – The ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ Birthday

Breakfast at Tiffany's Birthday

And so it arrived. The big 26. What birthday drama or epic fail would incur on this night, this year? Well… I hate to disappoint, but IT WAS THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.

Highlights: North Point cooked food market; beers in bowls; Belgian beers; cocktails with chocolate round the rim; Insomnia’s amazing band; TAKE ME TO CHURCH; McDonalds breakfast at Tiffany’s

Lowlights: I wanna do it ALL over again!

Many thanks to all that made it out for an epic birthday night out this year and even bigger hugs and kisses to those who sent cards, pressies, emails and even Facebook messages. It may be my fifth HK birthday, but I certainly don’t feel any less loved than when I had a birthday at home.

So now to my 26th year, the sixth year of being in my early twenties. What do you have in store for me, 26? Older, yes. Wiser? Maybe not yet.

The MacLehose Trail: Stages 1 and 2

Happy Chinese New Year! Wishing you all prosperity, happiness and health for the coming year. Speaking of which, I am currently bedridden after attempting to hike the MacLehose Trail over the Chinese New Year holiday.

When I try to walk I look like I’ve had an accident in my pants and the po pos with their bent backs and walking sticks tut as they overtake me.

Oh, the MacLehose Trail, you say? You can do it in three days! Hiking only 10 hours a day! MacLehose was the Bear Grylls of his time! (Ok, no one really said that.) Contrary to what we heard, it turned out that the trail was not what we expected as old Mac had a few tricks up his sleeve…

MacLehose Trail beach view

Who was MacLehose and why does he have a trail?

The MacLehose Trail is a 100-kilometre walk, divided into 10 stages, which stretches across the New Territories from the east coast to the west of Hong Kong. It starts in Sai Kung and ends in Tuen Mun. It’s one of the toughest, but also one of the best hikes in Hong Kong.

Sir Murray MacLehose was the longest-serving British governor of Hong Kong (1971-1882), who established the country parks and was supposedly an enthusiastic hiker himself.

Funnily enough, there is no evidence that he actually ever attempted the MacLehose Trail either in stages or in its entirety, though there are some references to him enjoying visits to Sai Kung in his private helicopter. How lovely.

The MacLehose Trail is also famous for the Oxfam Trailwalker, a fundraising event that takes place every November, where crazies endurance runners run and hike the whole thing in one go. It takes between 24 to 48 hours

(How do they eat? How do they sleep? And How do they see in the dark? Who are these ridiculous people?).

MacLehose Trail Sign

Getting to the start of the MacLehose Trail

We aimed to set off early, so we left North Point by taxi for Sai Kung around 5am, then took a second taxi to the entrance of Pak Tam Chung Country Park, arriving about 6am. If you would like to try Stages 1 & 2, but don’t fancy a pre-dawn start, there are buses that go there at a godlier hour.

MacLehose Trail Start
6am start in Pak Tam Country Park

MacLehose Trail Stage 1 – 10.6 kilometres – Pak Tam Chung to Long Ke

Stage 1 starts near the entrance of Pak Tam Chung Country Park and is less of a trail and more of a flat and pleasant walk along country roads.

It traverses through the Geopark with its impressive dams and cutesy information boards about hexagonal columns formed by volcanic activity (the cartoon rock introducing himself with “Hello, my name is Dike,” certainly made us titter), eventually turning into more of a trail with steps down to the scenic Long Ke beach.

MacLehose Trail Sunrise

Highlights: Watching the sun rise from behind the mountains, across the reservoir.

Long Ke Beach
Have you ever seen a Long Ke beach than this?

Lowlights: Next to the stunning Long Ke beach there is a super-creepy drug rehabilitation centre. Think faded and peeling pastel paints, rusted white gates and pictures of smiling animals whose eyes seem to follow you as you walk away… pretty sure they shot the opening credits to True Detective there.

MacLehose Trailing

MacLehose Trail Stage 2 – 13.5 kilometres – Long Ke to Pak Tam Au

Stage 2 is a little harder and longer than Stage 1, with lots of ups and downs. However, the views were amazing and totally worth it. We saw the gorgeous Tai Long Wan coastline from angles that we had never seen before.

The trail then winds into familiar territory as we came into Sai Wan village (where the excellent Surf Hong Kong Surf School is) and passed the beautiful natural rock pools made by the spring that feeds into the ocean (no time for cliff diving today though).

Then, it’s up and over a final hill to Ham Tin beach, where we stopped for a double helping of Yang Zhou fried rice, Singapore noodles and beef udon to keep us going before heading back up the hill to the end of Stage 2.

MacLehose Trail Stage 2
Squint and you can just about see us…

Highlights: incredible views across to the aptly named Sharp Peak as well as Tai Long Wan; Singapore noodles, get in my belly.

Ham Rim Beach Bridge
What’s a trip to Tai Long Wan without testing your core strength on this wonder of engineering?

Lowlights: couldn’t MacLeHose have built a bridge from one mountain to the other to save our hamstrings?

Tai Long Wan Coastline

MacLehose Trail Stage 3, camping and (sob) turning back

Our good friend MacLehose certainly had a sense of humour, as his trail from the east to west of Hong Kong involves doing a full circle up and down mountains and around the reservoir before actually going inland. So, with two stages out of three down, we were nearly back where we started.

We started Stage 3 around 4.30pm, knowing there was probably no way we would get to our intended campsite before we lost the sun (10.2 kilometres away up a very steep hill on the most difficult leg of the whole trail).

Sure enough, we lost the light with six kilometres still to go, but found a smaller campsite to stay at rather than attempting the last two to three hours of walking in the dark.

MacLehose Trail Marker
Stop taunting us, Mac…

We had originally planned to make up the time the following day by rising early, setting off before sunrise and trying to walk at a faster pace. However, the night proved to be incredibly cold, with none of us sleeping a wink and one of our party spraining an ankle when trying to run about to keep warm.

In the morning, seeing the frost on our tents (frost in Hong Kong!), Sabrina’s swollen ankle and knowing we wouldn’t be able to camp another night in those conditions, we decided to turn back and get a bus home.

On the plus side, we saw a monkey! On the first day of the Year of the Monkey – that’s a good omen and cancels out our bad luck, right?

Camping
Yep, that is FROST on that tent.

Lowlights: walking about a thousand steps up a mountain, being the coldest I have ever been in my life, having to turn back the next day and walk the thousand steps back down the same mountain, blisters, swollen knees, sprained ankles, sunburn and very sore legs.

Highlights: it turns out that 7-Eleven’s finest King Robert whiskey does have some use – swigging it around a campfire and looking up at the rarely-seen stars is the best way to keep warm.

Chinese New Year Monkey
Cheeky Chinese New Year Monkey!

MacLehose Trail Stages 1 & 2 Review

So, even though we didn’t manage the full trail, we were still very proud of hiking a very hilly 20-something kilometres in 13 hours and I take my hat off to those that manage to walk the whole trail, especially those that somehow do the whole thing in one go!

We may have been overly ambitious, but we’ll definitely return to do the following stages (but maybe just as day hikes next time). Perhaps the MacLehose Trail really is best enjoyed as it is marked out – in shorter stages.

Or, even better, as MacLehose himself enjoyed it – from the passenger side of his private helicopter…

To be continued…

MacLehose Trail Stage 1

MacLehose Trailer Trash

For more about hiking in Hong Kong, read my post on the best hikes in HK. For more technical info about the trail, visit the Discover Hong Kong website.

10 Surprising Things About Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year

Kung Hei Fat Choy! (Happy Chinese New Year!)

The lanterns are up, the banks are busy and preparations are well underway for the biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar: Chinese New Year! And when you consider how many Chinese people there are in the world, does that make it the biggest and most-celebrated festival on the planet? Probably.

But before you say, ‘Oh yeah, Chinese New Year, isn’t that like their Christmas?’ have a read below to get clued up on ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. Here are 10 surprising things I have learnt about Spring Festival (‘What? It has another name?!’ – see what I mean) during my time living in Hong Kong:

God of Wealth Prosperity Fortune
Chinese Santa…?

Chinese New Year is not ‘Chinese Christmas’

So it turns out that Chinese New Year has been around for over 4,500 years. When you remember that JC has only recently celebrated his 2,000th birthday, he pales as a moody teenager in comparison.

If anything, Christmas is a Western Chinese New Year. Except of course that it isn’t because they are completely different things.

Year of the Monkey

Chinese New Year moves every year

The Chinese lunar calendar follows the moon’s cycles, so Chinese New Year always falls in a different place between 21st January and 20th February each year.

It also means that you just get back from Christmas break and before you can look miserably out at the cold January weather and sigh, ‘I really need a holiday…’ bang! You are already in one.

Fireworks Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is super-long

Think Chinese New Year is just a countdown from ten to one followed by a fireworks display? Think again. Chinese New Year goes on forever, and there are celebrations and parts of the festival that traditionally continue up until the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.

There are also all kinds of rules about certain days when you should visit one side of your family, and then other days when you visit the other side, and days when you should just stay at home… the list goes on.

Lai See

People give you money

People give each other money for Chinese New Year rather than gifts, though a box of biscuits or traditional snacks for the family in a ‘tray of togetherness’ doesn’t go amiss. The cash is always a crisp, new note and is handed over in a red envelope called a lai see.

If someone gives you a lai see, you should receive it with both hands, say thank you (doh je) and definitely not open it in front of the person giving it to you.

You should also only give lai see if you are married, if you are giving them to your employees (or your doorman for instance), or if you are a person of seniority.

The amount of money you give is up to you, but obviously you don’t want to look cheap. Tip: if you are working as a English teacher, you get all the lai see and this will be your yearly bonus!

Lion Dance Chinese New Year

No one goes and sees the parade

If you want to see what three million tonnes of glitter and shameless marketing looks like, by all means go and see the big televised Chinese New Year parade in town. But you won’t catch me waiting in the cold and rain to watch the ‘Sponsored by HSBC!’ ‘Visit Ocean Park today!’ floats.

Instead, I’ve found that there are plenty more traditional and authentic dragon and lion dances (you can hear the drumming a mile off) that pop up around town during the festive period.

Firecrackers Chinese New Year

There are no firecrackers

Contrary to all the cute pictures of kids playing with firecrackers that you see in many depictions of Chinese New Year, firecrackers are super-illegal because they are super-dangerous.

They are banned in Hong Kong, Taiwan, urban areas of Mainland China, and many other places (though I hear that those rules don’t always stop people setting them off).

Vietnamese New Year
Not just China? Are you kidding me?

It’s not just China

China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore obviously celebrate Chinese New Year, but many other countries celebrate a Lunar New Year during this period too (Korea, Vietnam and Japan to name but a few).

Not to mention the huge Chinese communities that live all over the globe. I hear that San Francisco has one of the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations in the world!

Haircut China

It’s the best time of year to get a haircut

Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival, so it’s only fitting that a spring clean is in order. Houses are thoroughly cleaned before the New Year, people get their hair cut and nails done, and buy a new set of clothes (and underwear) to wear on New Year’s Day.

Then, they leave it as long as possible after the New Year before they throw out rubbish, get a hair cut or have a shower. Even though it’s gross, it’s about not throwing out your New Year luck. Plus, all the expats get free reign over their hairdresser’s empty schedule for a few weeks!

Year of the Monkey - Monkey Mountain

If it’s your zodiac year, you’re in for a surprise

After 2015’s confusion over whether it was the Year of the Ram, Goat or Sheep (the Chinese word doesn’t discriminate between these, and it can also depend on where you live and which animals live there), at the time of writing this, the clear and finite Year of the Monkey is finally upon us.

But if you’re going, ‘Hey! I was born in the Year of the Monkey! Does that mean this is my lucky year?’ then hold your bananas, because it actually means that this year will be much harder for you and ‘full of surprises’… whatever that means.

Chinese New Year Flower Market
But what are you?

There are a million other things to get your head around

Don’t cut your noodles because the Chinese word for noodles sort-of sounds like the word for ‘life’ or something. You should definitely go to the flower market and get one of those trees with the weird-shaped yellow things on. Wear red. Here’s an orange, eat it!

There’s a guy dressed up in a costume with a long droopy moustache and he brings good fortune. Why? Because Chinese New Year.

After four years, I’m still just a gwei mui (ghost girl) with a foreigner’s perspective, only managing to scratch the surface of Chinese New Year, while also wondering where best to spend the public holiday dates.

Yet, with each passing Spring Festival, I’m learning more and more about Chinese New Year and Chinese culture in general, so there’s always next year to learn just a little bit more. Plus, I now know the best time of year to get an appointment at the hairdresser’s…

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous Year of the Monkey!

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