So as I sit in the airport lounge awaiting the 11.45 pm flight back to Heathrow thus ending in perfect symmetry leaving on the 21st May after leaving UK on 21st 6 October. 7 months to the day. Its been a memorable last week with an international conference (see pic above) which ended with a wonderful Cultural Evening last night though an Italian American introduced me to Limonetta, a lemony liquor which made today’s cleaning and packing an arduous affair. But it was a good event and it was great to meet a lot of old and some new contacts and to meet some eminent criminological figures from around the world and enjoy for the last time the atmosphere of Hong Kong. This week too I was taken to a lovely old Tea Shop by colleagues at SCOPE to enjoy a traditional serving of chinese tea, in my case, the flower scented Jasmine Bloom which was wonderful. So a lovely chinese feel to my last week which was somehow fitting.
I am not going to dwell here on what I might be meeting when I get back to the UK but rather to reflect back on my seven months here, the highs and lows and offer a humorous take on the Oscars by naming my favorite and less favorite moments, people and events. I suppose the big question I posed to myself when I came out here was this – was I going to last 7 months away from the UK, my longest stint out of my home country? Well without hesitation I have to say yes I have managed it and enjoyed it so much that returning might be quite a difficult adjustment.
So to my Hong Kong Oscars:
So many to choose from this is a very difficult start. I would shortlist the following five:
- my farewell/birthday lunch last week
- my keynote speech at the NGO Forum in December
- Discovery of the joy of Lamma Island with R and J
- My trip with Joe to a traditional chinese village of the Hau Family for their ancestral festival
- Christmas day with Hannah
And the winner is ……………………………………….. my trip to Lamma with R and J. This started a whole series of trips to Lamma with friends and on my own and it became the perfect antidote to the bustle of Hong Kong and yet so accessible and easy to reach. The discovery of the walk (though we went the wrong way on the first occasion) was great and once I did it the easier route with Joe it became a favourite.
Best regular ‘haunt’
There is little competition here. Though I enjoyed my visits to the CityU Staff Chinese Restaurant with many of my colleagues, and some restaurants offered tempting fare to which I would return, Jasmine in Festival Walk stood out, and the Waterfront Bar and Restaurant at Lamma gets an honourable mention for my many visits there as the perfect relaxing vista over the harbour to enjoy draft Tsing Tao and the perfect view. But the place most visited offering me an extended lounge in the evenings was my trips to the Pacific Coffee Company in Festival Walk. This became such a regular retreat in the evenings with TV not offering its usual diversions. I would take my latest novel and reach out for my Grand Latte (the many waiters there got to predict my order) and stay often one, two or three hours to enjoy some wonderful novels and the occasional people watching was fun too. The lack of desire to make you move on when your drink was finished is typical of chinese catering outlets. Students spend all day in this place and seemed genuinely working whilst sipping on one drink for hours. At first my usual British temptation to leave as soon as my drink was finished was replaced by a sense of ownership of my seat which often meant I was last out at closing, a leisurely 11 pm or midnight on Friday and Saturdays. I still prefer Starbucks coffee though and enjoyed some big Starbucks in HK and Taiwan but Pacific Coffee was near and big and friendly. My last drink tonight before I left for the airport was Grande Latte at Pacific Coffee. Bliss.
Well this is a difficult one as both my children visited on different occasions and fleetingly V did too en route to Sydney. Colleagues from SHU dropped into the Eaton and enabled me to enjoy a few free nights in the e-lounge there and thanks to all of them for their hospitality and glimpses of home. But the prize go to my very good friends, R and J, whose 10 day visit was so enjoyed and included many highlights including the trip to Lamma, but the concerts, the food, and the generosity of spirit and good humour shown by J and even by R!! The best moment of the visit was our wonderful trip on Chinese New Year Day to see the fireworks. The taking of the suitcases all the way to Hong Kong station and back to the apartment tested R’s and even J’s patience but watching the fireworks on the TV was just about compensation.
There is no doubt that eating out in Hong Kong is the only thing to do. It is an institution there and busy people rarely eat in. Its their sign of friendship and lunches and dinners have been enjoyed aplenty. Picking out the best is difficult as sometimes the food is good, sometimes the company is great and sometimes they combine to make a terrific occasion. I am going for the food mainly here and have to discount the meal with R and J which showed a marked inability to read simple numbers and convey them to the paper accurately thus leading to a completely different meal than what we had thought we had ordered, but enjoyed nevertheless. Again I shortlist five meals:
- Seafood in Lei Yue Mon in early November – a banquet of exquisite tastes
- the basin meal at the hau family Festival gathering
- Chiu Chow Chinese food this week in Kowloon City
- Christmas banquet with SCOPE colleagues and R and J in CityU Staff restaurant
- Banquet and Cultural Evening at Lippo Centre, Admiralty just last night
Many more spring to mind but I think for the sheer array of tastes and quality of food the meal I had in November with colleagues from IVE was so outstanding that it remains in my memory even nearly 7 months on. So many fish – lobster, crab, steamed fish, chicken, pork, rice etc etc a sheer joy. It was narrow thing though as the Christmas meal was excellent fare too. An honourable mention to the the Peking Duck I enjoyed in Taiwan on my short visit there. Its location makes it ineligible but it was good!!
Most annoying thing about Hong Kong
An unusual category you might think but I wanted to reflect briefly on whether anything here in HK had irritated me signficantly. I find that in general there is so little to complain about here,. You get used to people never saying no and the protocols you have to weave your way through to get answers and ways forward. That’s just cultural differences which can frustrate but you respect at the same time. I guess the one thing which has been mildly annoying is the lack of awareness of pathways and queues in escalators, on pathways and getting onto and off transport. At first I thought this was rude as people cut in front of you, did not look up when walking along thus forcing you to divert your path, rarely gave in when crossing on the diagonal from another direction and seemed unaware of others presence when alighting for escalators and cutting in front of you to get to their destination. As I studied it and was victim to it I relaxed as this was the norm and it was never intended maliciously. I began to perform differently to avoid getting stuck as I let people come through and it will be interesting to see if this behaviour will continue in the UK causing consternation from others. You could too also complain about the humidity but I was here the best time of the year to avoid that. So that’s my only minor complaint.
I am going for novels here and read 35 whilst there, 5 a month which I hope to continue upon my return. Such a variety of styles and lengths it is difficult to choose. I shall short list five.
- Any Human Heart by William Boyd
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stig Larsson
- Freedom by Jonathon Frantzen
- The Thing about Thugs by Tabish Khair
- The Memory of Love by Aminetta Forma
Such different books from different traditions. I loved the Larsson trilogy and for once want to see the film which is a mark of how impactful thew character of Lisbeth Salander was upon me. I have chosen the first one of those though it is hard to choose between them. As a trilogy it is unsurpassed. I managed to get into William Boyd and enjoyed the 3 I read which started with and was headed by the great novel Any Human Heart. I have included The Memory of Love which I think will be my favorite Orange Fiction book of the short list though Nicole Krauss runs it close. Frantzen was a tour de force but I am glad I read it and certainly of the two I read this was by far the better book. And my choice for the Man Asian Literary Prize has to join the list. So many of the others should get honourable mentions and the collage inserted is testimony to the sheer joy of reading them all.
My winner is The Memory of Love and I hope it goes on to win the Orange Fiction Prize.
I have met so many new people, enjoyed some great food and some great new places, felt relaxed and happy and contented during my stay in Hong Kong. It will always be a memorable and loved part of my adult life and I am a little sad to have left and returned home though there are compensations in being back too. Maybe just maybe I shall return one day on a semi-permanent basis rather than the fleeting visits I have enjoyed for the past 10 years.
Thanks for enjoying my journey with me. If there was a prize for my favorite reader it would of course go to G who has been most loyal and vocal over the last seven months.