Wednesday, December 31, 2003


I nearly forgot... HAPPY NEW YEAR! Still a few hours to go here and I think we're watching a video. Might go out for a walk... I miss all of you in Sydney, HK and Singapore! And the two of you who are AWOL in China...

Radio Wars

All the family car trips in the last couple of weeks have brought back a lot of childhood memories.

One of the most dramatic element of car trips, both then and now, is the battle to control the radio. Since we've been here we've been doing a lot of flicking between stations to find ones that we like. Unfortunately, most of the pop stations could be described as 'Today's best mix of Victoria Beckham, the Sugarbabes, Robbie Williams and Westlife'.

We do have one definite critera which means a station is quickly dismissed. As Ben yelled yesterday 'Quick! a song dad knows, get it off!'.

Anyway, there is just one more long car trip. On Friday we're off to London and then the rest of my family will leave for the US a few days later. I can't wait to get to London and meet my friend Erin who will be down from Edinburgh at the weekend. She's spent a while working in London and she's the coolest person I know so I'm counting on her to inject some much needed excitement into this holiday!

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Shopping and (tele)communication breakdown

I parted from Yoda (and his companion Sleeping Beauty) on Christmas Eve and have been in the Midlands with the rest of my family since. The part of England that my father’s family come from is about half an hour from the centre of Birmingham. Apart from some nearby areas of countryside there really isn’t much of interest here.

In the past, the main feature of the area was one of England’s largest steel mills. This mill was the employer of many generations of my ancestors. The men would do manual work in the mill and some of the women would be employed as typists and receptionists. This all came to an end when the mill closed in the seventies.

These days the main feature of the area is one of England’s largest shopping malls built on the site of the old mill. The mall has ten thousand parking spaces and is packed out at any time of the day. One reason for the crowds is that people travel from far out of the area to get to this mall. Another reason is that (particularly in winter) going to the mall is the only alternative to sitting at home.

I went shopping at ‘Merry Hill’ on Boxing Day and felt very alien on two counts. Firstly, I was underdressed, and secondly I was the only male there without a Beckham inspired haircut. Matters became worse when I opened my mouth and felt like I was speaking a foreign language:

Me: ‘Do you have a brochure about pre-paid deals?’
Sales Girl With Skunk Hair: ‘yer wot?’
Me: ‘I need a pre-paid sim card. I wanted some information about prices’
SGWSH: ‘Ooh, yer mean pay as yer goo’
Me: ‘yeah, pay as you go, sorry’

I also learnt that calling overseas is best referred to as ‘calling a foreign phone’ and recharging your sim card is called ‘topping oop’. I’m learning!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas

Best wishes from both Yoda and I. I think we will both celebrate by eating.

I hope you all have a fantastic day tomorrow and I also hope you have occasion to think about more than just presents and sunflower seeds.

My life as a hamster

I am now in London. I've been here since Monday morning and I can officially report that London is wet, cold, dirty and old. I'm staying with my aunt, uncle and cousins in their terrace house near Brixton and the area they live in is strangely reminiscent of Chungking because nearly everyone is African or Indian.

As I sit at the computer in their loft I am accompanied by my cousins' pet hamster, Yoda, in his flashy multistorey plastic cage. As a child I always wanted a hamster and felt that they must be more exciting than the mice we were able to have. I have come to the conclusion that they might be a little cuter and less smelly than mice but hamsters make very boring pets.

Yoda has two beds in his cage (one in the loft and another on the bottom level) and he spends 99% of his time sleeping. He would stay in the loft bed 24/7 if he could but he has to descend occasionally for meals. The out of shape jedi master travels between the two hangouts by a precarious looking plastic tube, his only occasion for physical exertion.

I realised this morning that Yoda and I have been living very similar lives over the past few days. His multistorey hamster house bears a freakish resemblance to my aunt and uncle's terrace and both Yoda and I venture out little. Like Yoda, I spend a lot of my time sitting around in the loft, occasionally descending to eat, read and watch tv downstairs via a precarious spiral staircase.

And I'm loving it! It's exactly what I need after a crazy month in Hong Kong and I still can't believe that my aunt and uncle have a video collection including both 'Kath and Kim' and 'Goodness Gracious Me'. Anyway, I leave it all today for a single storey 'hamster flat' in Birmingham. I'm looking forward to seeing all the relatives there as well as the rest of my family who fly from Rome to Birmingham today.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Family Meals

It's been a week of fun-filled mayhem in Chungking. The excitement was sponsored by the Kwai Chung mental hospital who decided to do release their Nepali patients in bulk last weekend. I had known that a few of the fixtures of Chungking were in there and I had been meaning to call the hospital to find out about visiting arrangements.

Instead, one of the hospital residents burst in on us on Monday morning in a black and white jogging outfit and a matching puffy black and white fake Dolce & Gabbana jacket. This was a big improvement on the last time this guy entered the flat wearing nothing except a pair of running shorts. The children's program was on at the time and one of the kids was temporarily taken hostage!

This might all sound a bit scary but this guy is a good friend and arrived on Monday with all kinds of gifts, including a coconut for each of the staff of the organisation where I am volunteering. I had that in mind as I wrote the organisation's Christmas newsletter this week. I included a section about their lunch program and as I wrote I realised that there is a real family atmosphere to the meal that we have every day at two o'clock. This is despite the fact that there are usually about twenty people from almost ten different countries eating together.

Among the mix, there are three working ladies who come up from the ground floor. They sneak up at about quarter to two each day in time for our time of singing before the meal. They come up one at a time so their boss doesn't get too suspicious.

In other news, I am going for my interview for a real job with the new organisation tomorrow. I hope to blog again soon to let you all know how it went.

Saturday, December 06, 2003


I'm Joe and I'm from Sydney. The reason for the title 'Chungking Express' (apart from it being the name of a cool film) is that I'm not in Sydney anymore. I'm in Hong Kong now and spending a lot of my time in Chungking Mansions, the home of cheap mobiles, cockroaches, illegal immigrants and Hong Kong's best curries.

Many Hong Kong residents find Chungking too scary/smelly to go near but for many non-Chinese (particularly South Asians) Chungking is a home away from home. Infact, once you get settled in to the building you realise that it is a very friendly place where people know each other and feel a strong sense of community. I get a rush of excitement every time I enter the place and I'm so glad to be back.