Tuesday, March 30, 2004


One of my best friends and most faithful blog readers was accepted as a refugee just a few days ago by the UNHCR.

This acceptance comes after lengthy imprisonment and torture as well as a year in a refugee camp in another African country.

Now that he is accepted the UNHCR will provide accommodation and food and start the process of resettling him in a third country.

When the rest of the asylum seekers got the news everyone was so excited. It was so cool to see how happy they could be for him even though their own cases are so uncertain. Sometimes you really can see the best of people when they are in a difficult situation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004


I've heard some spectacular Honky English names lately:

'Milk' (runs a funky restaurant in Yau Ma Tei)
'Mango 2' (friend of 'Mango 1')
and my favourite: 'Because'

Friday, March 19, 2004

Mama Nancy

I've now reached a very friendly stage in my relationship with the mamas who sit at the doorways on Temple St. It took them a couple of weeks before they stopped seeing me as a potential customer for their younger counterparts upstairs. For the last two weeks they have all just smiled and said hello.

I have two special mama friends. I met one of them when I was in a Nepali restaurant a few weeks and recieved a phone call. I didn't want to be rude and talk at the table so I went out the front door. Finding the street too noisy (as always!) I ducked into a doorway and went on with the conversation. I'd been there a couple of minutes when mama noticed me and thought I was there for a visit and just using the phone as a decoy. The following interaction was very embarrassing but we've become good friends since.

Anyway, my best mama friend by far is Nancy who calls in customers for a room in the building opposite to mine. Nancy works a 13 hour afternoon/evening shift and another mama does mornings. Nancy calls her 'old mama' which means something cos Nancy isn't young either. Nancy was the one who told Daisy and I that she used to see me in the window all the time before I got a bathroom curtain.

Seated on her stool in the street, Nancy sees and knows all. She's becoming my source of local info and yesterday I took her down a cup of tea for her to drink while we had a chat. I found out that she and a mama from two streets across are going to Thailand in a few days for 'swimming, swimming, dancing, dancing, party, party'. Having found out that Nancy only gets $HK22 commission for each customer she recruits (average six per shift) I was a bit surprised at this. Nonetheless, I'm glad that even mamas get to have fun.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Mah jong and mayhem

With work taking all my attention in the last month and a half I have been blind to the fact that I am living in one of the most exciting parts of Hong Kong. Events of the past few days, however, have made it impossible to remain unaware of the full extent of the seediness and violence that is my neighbourhood.

Across the road from my house there is a mah jong parlour (a traditional Chinese game) which has very recently come under new ownership. The parlour is the building on the right hand side of this photo (not taken by me). The sign above is actually advertising a shop on the left that sells mah jong paraphernalia.

Last Thursday night, as I arrived home I noticed that large bouquets of flowers had been placed all around the outside of the shop to celebrate its reopening. It is customary here for other shop owners etc to give these when a new shop opens.

At about four o'clock on the following morning the security alarm of the parlour started sounding and it didn't stop until I left for work just after eight. This noise was even more irritating than the non-stop 'I don't know how to love him' which has succeeded 'You light up my life' in the market stall under my room. As I left the house I noticed that the flowers had been scattered everywhere in a big mess.

That evening I asked Daisy about what had happened. She said that she had not seen the flowers or heard the alarm but she had noticed that one of the new doors had been kicked in. The parlour was then closed for a couple of days, immediately after its opening.

She explained to me that the vandalism was probably triad related. Triad gangs are very active in the area and they take protection money from shops and businesses, particularly ones selling illegal goods or doing business that is a little bit seedy.

Having found that out I then spent about twenty minutes asking Daisy about all the other illegal things going on around our street. It turned out that just a few days ago the old man with the shop where I got all my furniture had got very drunk and sat down at night outside my door yelling at passers by.

He yelled at people in one particular car who then got out with a machete. Poor Daisy then begged them not to do anything to him, telling the guys from the car that he was just a crazy old man.

Having learnt all about the local triad activity I then questioned Daisy about Nancy mama's establishment across the road. I'll leave a description of that for my next entry...

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Madam, we want to get married

My co-worker Sister S and I had a good laugh this week about all the different kinds of advice that people ask from us. We're starting to feel as if we give off some kind of aura that makes people feel that we have the answer to any questions that they may have.

Some of the things I have been asked at work this week include:
- 'How do I shave without getting getting pimples?'
- 'Should I marry someone of a different religion?'
- 'How can I get fat?'
(this is a very common one)
- 'How can I lose weight?' (my first time getting asked this in HK)
- 'Should I give up my UNHCR application?'

The best question for this week was recieved by Sister S. A young couple came in together and the guy said 'Madam we want marry but I asylum seeker, have no visa. Please telling what to do?'.

This couple only have English in common (which limits communication quite severely) and I was intrigued to know how they met. Everyone here was in stitches when the guy proudly told us that when he first moved to Hong Kong their apartment windows were in clear view of each other. They used to look at each other a lot and one day she wrote up a sign asking for his telephone number. He gave it to her and that's how it happened!

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Police

For a month now, I've been teaching a twice weekly English class to asylum seekers. Most of the students are from Ethiopia and Eritrea and the class is very important to them because the UNHCR doesn't currently have a translator for their native languages.

Most of the lessons relate either to surviving in Hong Kong or interacting with the UNHCR. I've been making all the resources myself and today's lesson was titled 'Police'. This is an extremely important topic because when asylum seekers are stopped by the police the way they act can have some influence on whether they will be imprisoned or not.

Asylum seekers in Hong Kong are technically illegal. Hong Kong is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees and asylum seekers here apply to the office of the UN High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR), not the HK government. In the past, the UNHCR referred asylum seekers to the immigration department and they went on an official 'recognizance' arrangement, having to report to immigration once a month.

More recently, HK immigration generally refuses to put asylum seekers on recognizance. Instead, asylum seekers make their application to the UNHCR and then let their HK visa expire while they await the outcome. This means that most of the asylum seekers in Hong Kong (more than 1000 in my estimation) have overstayed their visas.

The government can not afford to lock up all these people and there really is no need to. When police officers stop asylum seekers they generally just check that they have a valid paper from the UNHCR and let them go. On the occasions that they send people into detention it is often the case that the asylum seeker was caught working. Once sent into detention, an asylum seeker's case with the UNHCR will proceed from the inside and UNHCR officers visit the immigration prison frequently.

The stupidity of this situation is that it is at the disgression of the police who they will detain and who they will allow to remain free. In a way, anybody involved in this whole mess is operating outside the realm of law. Asylum seekers are technically illegal and the police are technically neglecting their duty when they allow asylum seekers to remain free. My job thus involves aiding illegal immigrants and helping them to survive in Hong Kong. It's all a very messy grey area and any group providing shelter to homeless asylum seekers in HK (a desparate need) would be housing illegal immigrants.

Anyway, the police lesson was a lot of fun but it came too late for one of our regular visitors who was detained yesterday. This guy is quite young and he called me from the police station last night in tears. He might have been released except that he lied to the police and told them that his passport was with the UNHCR. It was actually at his house but he probably feared that the police would go there and arrest his friends who are also asylum seekers.

Despite this bizarre situation, my class today had lovely things to say about the HK police. In general, everyone agreed that they were polite and much less corrupt than the police in their own countries. Despite their illegal statuus, some students had even approached the Hong Kong police to ask for directions!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Chicken Wing available

7:30 Tuesday night and still no call beckoning me towards Hollywood stardom. If this was my chance to debut with Aishwarya Rai I might be heartbroken but missing the chance to be exploded won't kill me.

Besides which, I really should be at work tomorrow to accompany someone to the doctor.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share this wonderful business card which I noticed today:

Namaste Construction and Laxmi Restaurant
Our services:
- Construction work
- Fresh pork supply. If ordered, pork chop and ribs available.
- Good food cooking by experienced cooks for any party if you order.
- Good quality water supply.
- Chicken Wing available.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

'I was pushed by Milla Jovovich'

Okay, so I went for the casting interview thing on Saturday and got some goss on the film.

It's called 'Ultraviolet' (based on a cartoon I think) and has something to do with vampires. It's supposedly set in the future and I guess that might be why they are shooting stuff in futuristic Honkers.

Anyway, this week they are filming an explosion scene over three days. Since I can only make Wednesday I'm not sure what my chances of getting called are. Basically, Milla and a boy are escaping from a subway that is about to explode. As they run they push through crowds and thus they need a crowd of extras.

I'm not too fussed about the whole thing... actually most of all I'm thinking it might be a good opportunity to finally finish reading 'Middlemarch'. One day of shooting last twelve or so hours so I guess there is a lot of waiting around.

Still, if I do get called in I've decided I'm going to get a t-shirt printed:
'I was pushed by Milla Jovovich'

Friday, March 05, 2004

Well I had a call from my agent yesterday and...

For some time now I've had a running joke with some of my friends that I'm aiming at Bollywood superstardom. I've got the language down and I've been working on the dance moves for quite a while.

Prior to starting working in Hong Kong I had been hoping to take a trip to India. I thought if I went near Bombay I would give a try at turning up at a film studio and seeing what happened.

When my job and visa for HK worked out so fast that idea faded. Never did I expect that my Bollywood dreams might be replaced by Hollywood ambitions.

Okay, okay... so I'm exaggerating a bit but there is some truth in here.

I have a friend here who makes a living out of bit parts in Chinese films. He told me a month ago that his agency is always looking for foreigners for extra roles and I gave him my number to pass on to them.

So yesterday I got a call from 'my agent' Bee (how is it possible that I know two people with this name?!?). I'm to go to the agency tomorrow to register because they are looking for people for a film next week.

The crazy thing is that Gwailo B is going to be in this movie too. I called him today and he was in the studio having costumes fitted (I guess he has a real part!). And the second crazy thing is that it is a Hollywood film starring Mila Jovovich!

Anyway, I might not even get in, esp since I can only spare one day next week. Eitherway I'll try and blog tomorrow about my trip to the agency...