Friday, January 30, 2004

Welcome to Hong Kong

I've been back in Hong Kong a week and it's been great to get caught up in all the excitement of Chinese New Year. It's been a week full of very Honky moments, my favourite was the explanation I got from my friend on why he and his dad had swapped mobile phones: 'Dad was getting too many calls from his mistresses on the mainland'.

Things change fast in Hong Kong. Even though I have only been away a month there are new supermarkets, new train stations and new strains of flu destined to wipe us all out. The biggest surprise for me was seeing my goddaughter M walking confidently. When I left in December she was just taking a couple of steps.

There's plenty more news so I'll be writing again soon. Stay tuned for my new flat (in a very exciting location!), a short trip to China, my first day at work on Monday and the imminent birth of a sibling for M.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Happy Lunar New Year!

I’m flying back to Hong Kong tomorrow and I’ll just make it in time for the end of the New Year holiday. I’m looking forward to fireworks, rice and seeing my god-daughter again.

The last month here has been a lot of fun and I thought I’d trivialise it by writing an obnoxious ‘best and worst of England’ list. So here it is, innit:

A nice cup of tea for: Nan’s cooking, Coronation St, double-glazing, the BBC, very polite driving and Hindi films in cinemas.

A plague of rats upon: metered local calls, expensive petrol, expensive everything, showers that trickle and people complaining about snow even though it hardly happens.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Subject-verb agreement or summat like it

After lengthy and painful grammar study last year I’ve become much more aware of the way that my older relatives speak. Nan and I went around to Aunty Ol’s again on Sunday for cha (yes they call it that here!) and a chat. As we spoke, I tried to subtly write some of the best bits on the back of a receipt…

-‘She says I aint to drink the water what come outta the tap but I told her I’s got to 86 a-drinking the water what come outta the tap’

-‘Didn’t she know?’ ‘Her did!’

-‘Does I know her?’

-‘They can ill afford that, surely to goodness!’

-‘They (the rats) was coming outta the bins and a-following her down the street’

The rat plague is still the talk of the town. It's an exciting tale involving hordes of rats running amok in stores all down Brierly Hill High Street. There are numberous variations on the story and everyone has their own opinions on where the rats came from.

Aunty Ol's theory is that they were disturbed when the garbage men collected a big pile of rubbish bags that had been left behind the pub after Christmas. The only thing she still can't understand is how they got in the automatic doors at 'QuikSave'!

Monday, January 19, 2004


I just woke up to four emails from Hong Kong to say my visa has been approved. It sounds like they are even more excited than I am! It has been done in less than a month and at a very busy time of year. My new boss told me this is a record!

I'm now feeling very good about going back to Hong Kong. I'll be arriving in the middle of the Chinese New Year holiday and the organisation will be closed until the end of January. I will start work sometime in early February.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Carpet, carpet everywhere and not a drop to fall to the floor without soaking into it

Now that I've only got a few more days in England I'm feeling in an evaluative mood. I thought I might put up couple of entries about the bad the good and the bizarre of this country.

My major gripe (yes I have to start with a negative) about England is the abundance of carpet. I'm not entirely against carpet as such but I do think it should be confined to places where it can be kept very clean. And yes, I do know it keeps things warm.

Carpet can be found here in restaurants, pubs, kitchens and bathrooms. I'm looking forward to tiles, wood and apartments where you take off your shoes before entering. :)

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Polite conversation

Nan and I went out yesterday to her cousin’s place along with my great grandma’s sister, Aunty Ol.

Aunty Ol told us some fantastic stories. My favourites were tales of rat plagues, her numerous boyfriends and the illegal betting shop run by Uncle Norman.

I was fascinated to learn that talking about wages was completely taboo when she was younger. It wasn’t even usual for husbands to tell their wives how much they earnt! Aunty Ol did happen to find out once by accident. It was a lot more than she expected and someone was in big trouble after that.

During my uni prac last year, I had to teach a lesson on polite conversation to people who had migrated to Australia. One of the objectives of the lesson was to teach that some topics are inappropriate for a conversation with someone you don’t know well. These included salary, religion and marital status, all appropriate ‘get to know you’ conversation in some places. It's fascinating how the concept of what is private varies across cultures.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Early Retirement

The rest of my family went back to Australia a week ago and since then I've been staying with my grandma near Birmingham. I'll be here for another week and then it's back to Hong Kong, just in time to catch the end of Chinese New Year.

The two of us have settled into a comfortable routine now. It's cold and the sun comes up late so we usually don't get out of the house until after lunch. When we venture out, it's either for a brief shopping mission or for a walk in the countryside. This is our favourite view from Kinver Edge.

Evenings are the highlight of the day, and I have to confess I'm starting to look forward to 'Coronation St' so much that it's scaring me. Nan's getting me hooked on a lot of her soaps and detective shows but it's not all one way indoctrination.

The next door neighbour has lent me a heap of Hindi movies with subtitles and Nan and I invested 3 hours 40 mins yesterday to watch 'Lagaan'. It's a film about a cricket match (yet I still liked it!) and it was nominated for the 'best foreign film' oscar in 2002. The film was shot in Gujurat and I first saw this poster when I visited there after the earthquake a couple of years ago. The poster was signed and stuck up in a restaurant that had huge cracks running down the walls.

I'm very much looking forward to starting something constructive soon but I'm also realising that I'm going to make a great old person :)

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Food and cultural difference

There’s a HSBC advertisement on television here in England that bears a freakish resemblance to an experience I had when I first arrived in Hong Kong at the end of 1997.

The ad is set in a Chinese restaurant and there is a very stuffed looking white guy in a business suit with a plate of food in front of him. The voiceover goes ‘In England it is considered rude not to finish what is on your plate. In China it is considered rude to finish all the food that is in front of you’.

As the poor guy finishes plate after plate of exotic animals, his Chinese hosts keep calling the waiter to bring more. Although I pride myself on being able to adapt to different cultures this is one custom that I will never get used to, having been trained as a kid to never leave anything. My Dad always used to tell us how his mum would keep food that he didn’t finish and bring it out again cold at the next mealtime. He couldn’t eat anything else until he had finished the previous meal.

Another food related custom that I struggle with is the Indian tradition of eating at the end of the night. Life without toilet paper I can handle but eating late at night I can’t. I’m used to eating earlier and socialising after the meal over coffee or tea. After all the meals I’ve had in Indian homes I still can’t see the point in sitting around hungry and drinking tea all night and then going to bed completely bloated.

But the prize for cultural confusion in the area of food goes to a restaurant that I’ve spotted on the way to Merry Hill. It’s called ‘The Olympia’ and it’s painted with the colours of the Italian national flag. The sign on the side advertises its specialties as ‘Fish and Chips, Burgers and Kebabs’.

Friday, January 09, 2004

If tomorrow never comes...

Bombay Dreams was a fantastic spectacle. The music, dancing, costumes and sets were amazing. I loved the way water was used on stage. There were several scenes with a pool and another with pouring rain. There was even a traditional wet sari scene where the heroine and other dancers pranced around amidst jets of water shooting from the floor. My only complaint was that the story didn’t really grab me. It didn’t try to be anything more than a tribute to the typical Bollywood love story.

The following evening I went to see a Hindi film at Leicester Square and I realised that nothing compares to the real thing. ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ (roughly, ‘if tomorrow never comes’) is Bollywood’s latest ‘superhit’. The film is unusual in that it does not have any scenes set in India (the story happens in New York) and it is even more unusual in the way that it presents America and the Indians who live there. Many Hindi films present Western countries as being in complete moral decay. In such films, the Indians who have migrated have often abandoned all of their ‘traditional values’. They wear miniskirts, have affairs, insult their grandparents and refuse to make or eat Indian food (gasp!).

KHNH was not only very moving, it was also hilarious. It was obvious that a lot of the humour was aimed at the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) audience because many of the jokes were funnier in the English translation than they were in Hindi. Some of the funniest things were lifted from other movies like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and ‘Father of the Bride’ but this is how Hindi cinema usually works. It borrows from everywhere and on occasion manages to take the material to new heights. The best example of this is the Hindi version of ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ (Chachi 420 – Aunty 420). I mean why didn’t the makers of the original film think of making Sally Field’s dad fall madly in love with Robin Williams in drag!

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Bombay Dreams

About two years ago I found out something very exciting. Andrew Lloyd Weber was producing a 'Bollywood' style musical with a score by my favourite Hindi film composer A.R. Rahman. On top of that, the script was to be written by funny lady Meera Syal.

When I was in London in 2002, the musical was two weeks from starting and the huge billboard at the Apollo Theatre was like a cruel taunt. My aunt and uncle sent me the audio CD for my birthday that year and I've been listening to it non-stop since.

Anyway, I'm finally off to see the musical tonight. I'm so excited!