Tuesday, September 28, 2004


It's mid-autumn festival in Hong Kong and lanterns are everywhere - ranging from the beautiful traditional paper variety to plastic, battery operated cartoon characters that light up and jiggle to the 'lambada'.

The festivities started for me on Saturday night when I went out for a dinner with Daisy's family. Her mum was leaving the following morning for their village in China and the dinner was their mid-autumn celebration together before she left.

Despite our struggle to communicate, Daisy's mum and I are becoming better friends by the day. After our orchid shopping trip a few weeks ago, she gifted me with a plant from their house. She's also been bragging to everyone on Saigon St about how neatly I fold my t-shirts.

I was very honoured to be invited to the dinner which was just me and the immediate family. Taking my cue from Daisy's mum I dressed up a little, not knowing where we were headed. It turned out that I needn't have bothered.

The restaurant we went to was close to home. Actually, I've been there twice before. Once when Daisy's aunt was visiting from China and a second time two weeks ago with Daisy, Nancy and my friend Y who was about to leave for Canada after being accepted as a refugee.

The mid-autumn meal was hot pot. It was only my second time and I still haven't become a hot pot lover. On Saturday, most of the items for cooking could be categorised as either fish or fungus. Accustomed as I am to rice and bread, a stomach full of fish and fungus felt kind of strange

But even stranger than the feelings in my stomach was the clientele. From geriatric grandparents to triad bosses, there seemed to be at least one person in each group yelling and thumping on the table. The men at the table next to us were engaging in an arm wrestling competition.

But I spotted the weirdest thing when I went to the bathroom. One family on the other side of the restaurant had brought their two pomeranians along for the meal. It might have been unremarkable except that the pomeranians were both seated on chairs like the rest of the family. I didn't notice whether they had plates in front of them.

Maybe Daisy's mum and I can take the orchids for a meal next time. In the meantime, I'm awaiting her return and enjoying the TWO! public holidays this week.

Saturday, September 25, 2004


I just arrived at work and had another visit from yet another ray of sunshine:

ROS: So the name of your organisation is actually a misnomer

Me: How do you mean exactly?

ROS: Well, you're not preaching the gospel

Me: Yes you're right (thinking: yes, then we could call ourselves 'Christian Talking')

I was talking with a friend this week about how I am becoming less and less inclined to reason with people I don't agree with. I hope that it's a sign of maturity and not just an admission of defeat.

Anyway, I'm glad to have friends and people I respect that I do agree with. My favourite example at the moment is the pastor of my church.

Last week was the church's 80th anniversary service and he had invited a Catholic minister to speak. That was especially cool because I had invited a Catholic friend along. This week, the speaker is a Hong Kong Muslim leader. The occasion is an international day of peace.

I should have invited this morning's visitor.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

I love Hong Chong

After a month without swimming I took my first trip back to the pool yesterday.

Why the break?

Hong chong (small red worms often used as fish food) were found in some Hong Kong public pools about a month ago. Although harmless, they caused lengthy pool closures, countless newspaper covers and general hysteria.

Post SARS, the Hong Kong media has realised that nothing sells like a health scare. The funniest part about this latest scare was the abundance of TV cameras that descended on Kowloon Pool when the news broke. Outside the fence, twenty metres away from the water, I'm not sure if they were hoping to zoom in on one of the tiny larvae.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


This morning I sat opposite a very old lady on the MTR. The trip between Admiralty and Tsim Sha Tsui stations takes five minutes and it took her that long to blow her nose once.

She began by opening her bag. It was a large bag with a zipper at the top. Instead of keeping two zips at one end she had them both exactly in the middle. First, she pulled one zip half way between the middle and the end of the bag. She then did the same for the second before pulling the first and then second zipper the whole way to their respective ends.

Reaching into her bag, she rearranged the items within before pulling out a pile of tissues which had been laid flat and then rolled up into a sausage held together with an elastic band. She removed the elastic band and laid the square pile of tissues on her knees before removing the top one and wiping her nose.

She then held the pile of tissues up in the air to make sure they were all lined up exactly on top of each other. Having made some minor adjustments she laid the pile on her knees again and proceeded to roll them up before reapplying the elastic band. She inserted the roll into the bag again, rearranging the contents to put it in its appropriate place.

Finally, she did the same zip ritual in reverse, bringing one zip and then the other halfway to the middle of the bag before bringing first and then second to the centre.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I love Chungking!

Sparkling in the sunshine... these kind of days are rare.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Peasant class

The decision between upper and lower deck on the Star Ferry brings two strong Honky instincts into conflict:

1. For only a very small extra cost, the upper deck is much more luxurious than the lower deck. It has nicer seats, no exhaust fumes and offers a superiour view of the harbour.
2. At the same time, it takes longer to reach the upper deck boarding enterance and priveleged passengers are required to walk up stairs. At times, this extra distance could cost one a ferry.

For me, the choice is easy. I have been a lower deck person ever since my volunteer work days when even saving fifty cents (HK!) mattered. Taking the lower deck was especially natural since I was usually rushing to HK side to get my ferry to Lantau Island. Until now, I usually only take the upper deck when I'm with tourists or die-hard upper deck riders.

Crossing the harbour on the weekend I spotted a ferry docking and convinced one of those die-hard friends that we'd miss it if we took the longer journey up. The following conversation ensued:

DH: 'I feel like Rose in "Titanic"!'
Me: 'Oh, I haven't seen it'
DH: 'Well there's a scene where she goes to a party down below with all the poor people'
Me: 'Does she end up enjoying it?'
DH: 'Yes, it's a bit of a shock at first but she really gets into the swing of things, especially the dancing'

I looked around but the peasants were all seated.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


I woke up this morning to discover that an animal had done something in my bathroom overnight - quite appropriately, on the top of the toilet cistern.

Either a cat or a large rat must have come in through the window. Aiyaa!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Collecting for income

Next to my desk there is a phone for client use. Here is a collecters instruction guide compiled from overheard conversations and stories I've been told:

Andrew's tips to collecting:

1. Locating
- If this step is to be done in person then Star Ferry or Kowloon Park are recommended as starting locations. The real pros, however, are a little more clever. A highly recommended move is to make a visit to MacDonalds at a crowded time when you will be forced to share a table with someone.
- Some people get phone numbers from friends, 'I found this number on a piece of paper in my bag. I haven't seen the paper before but I wanted to see who it is'.

2. Impressing
Follows location. Possible lines are:
'Yes, I'm calling now from my office'
'Actually I do have a mobile phone but I dropped it in a bucket of water this morning. Do you mind to call me on this number?'
'Well I'm part Nigerian, part American'

3. Falling in love
'I love you three million times'
[repeated kissing sounds]

4. Earning
'$50! Baby! I need $150! I thought you loved me?'
'Andrew's girlfriend gives him much more than that!'
'Darling, I need a mobile phone so that I can call you. I miss you so much when I'm not with you... no, it should be a Nokia.'

5. Repeat steps 1-4 according to desired income
Creativity may be required when complications arise. Particularly on Sunday when all girlfriends have a day off at once.
'Honey, I'll be in church until two. And I have a prayer meeting at five so I can only see you in the afternoon... nono... it's African church so you won't understand the language'

Thursday, September 09, 2004


The men of Chungking and the domestic helpers are a natural match. Ironically, they generally pair off according to a Muslim/Christian religious divide - Pakistanis with Indonesians and Philippinos with Africans.

The complication, however, is visible on any Sunday walk in Kowloon Park (or anywhere near Star Ferry). The men of Chungking are greatly outnumbered, resulting in a phenomena which has become known as collecting.

For some, collecting is a choice, possibly reflective of acceptance of polygamy in their country of origin. These men have usually come to Hong Kong to do business and for them collecting means expenditure. The amount of girlfriends collected at any one time is representative of financial capacity.

For others, collecting is a method of survival. Many men pay large amounts of money to agents who promise to bring them to Hong Kong and put them in well paid work. When they realise that they are stuck in Hong Kong with limited options, collecting is often the easiet ways of earning money to live. The more girlfriends collected the greater the income. The same often goes for asylum seekers who have to wait months or years in Hong Kong without being allowed to work.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Disparity (a 'joe investigates' series)

It's a commonly held opinion that China and India are heading for a problematic social situation because of the increasing number of males relative to females.

Those wishing to investigate the possible results of this trend would do well to look at ethnic minority community in Hong Kong. Kowloon Park on any given Sunday is future China or India in microcosm.

A look at the Hong Kong government web site informed me that there are 340,000 non-Chinese living in Hong Kong. Over 50% of these are domestic helpers, mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Apart from the occasional driver, domestic helpers are always female.

The remainder of Hong Kong's ethnic minority community are mostly South Asians who are residents of Hong Kong (or their dependents). Among these residents, the gender ratio is fairly equal.

But there is another group who make a valiant yet futile attempt to address the numerical dominance of women among the Hong Kong ethnic minority community. I will call them 'the men of Chungking' - South Asians and Africans who are working illegally or seeking asylum in Hong Kong, all of whom have only a tourist visa. Those who work renew their visas by fortnightly trips to China and back. To avoid trouble they also have to make periodic trips back to their country, sometimes to take a fresh passport.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Special treatment

I've had a lovely day today. Church in the morning and a trip to the flower markets in the afternoon with Daisy's mum.

It was good to be back in church for the first time in several weeks. Stuff was just as usual - excellent sermon, slightly radical prayers and a 'young people's choice' hymn that was over 100 years old.

Probably because of my three week absence, I got a personal welcome from the pastor as he administered me communion. Unfortunately, he forgot that he still had the roaming mike on. Nobody else got special treatment and I was very embarrassed.

I got home from church and told Daisy (in the shop below) that I was planning a trip to the flower markets for new orchids. To get her mum out of the shop, Daisy suggested that the two of us make the trip together.

Daisy's mum is heaps of fun. We speak in Cantonese which means that we can't say much. Usually this doesn't matter because Daisy's mum erupts in hysterical laughter after every sentence (or part thereof) that I utter.

After an hour of looking at orchids I settled on a type that I liked. The flowers are very little and maroon and white in colour. It's a little unusual looking, the kind of orchid that you really could imagine growing in the wild somewhere.

When we got back I asked Daisy if she liked them. She said 'Of course you like it. Gwailo like plain. Chinese like big, colourful, expensive'. That certainly explained why it took so long to find something that i liked.

Friday, September 03, 2004


'Meaningful' is a word I hear a lot in Hong Kong. The word is very firmly rooted in the Honky English lexicon and most local people applaud my decision to work in an NGO with 'that is very meaningful'.

In true Honky style, my organisation has come up with a very meaningful fundraiser, to be staged on the runway of the old airport at Kai Tak. It took me a while to figure out exactly what the following meant:

- Use 900 cars and 3,000 participants (car owners/drivers and their families/ friends) to make a meaningful picture for setting world record.

But it gets even better. There is to be a publicity lead up to the event, a series of shopping mall appearances by two up and coming pop/film/tv/sports stars. I'll be working tomorrow and won't be able to make the first appearance in Causeway Bay. I might have to ask my friend in the communications department to get me autographs.