Hong Kong, you say? No problem, says I.

I’ve been in Hong Kong for a week, almost exactly. In that time, I have been very busy doing the following things:

Sightseeing

I haven’t seen many sights but the ones I have are worth mentioning, I think. In my seven days, I have managed to go to the Avenue of Stars and the beach at Shek O.

The Avenue of Stars is basically Hong Kong’s answer to Hollywood Boulevard except I think the view from the Avenue of Stars is better. The street runs right next to the mass of water which overlooks Hong Kong Island. It makes for a rather pretty photo

There are many paving stones with famous Chinese actors and directors hand prints. I spotted John Woo, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and Bruce Lee among many other people I have never heard of. It was a fun walk. Whilst we were there, a Junk boat sailed past. They really are interesting bits of kit (and I hear you can party on one every Friday night which is something I will be looking into, naturally).

The avenue is easy to reach from Tsim Sha Tsui station and provides a great view for the daily light show put on from Hong Kong Island at 8pm.

The beach at Shek O was a complete surprise. One moment we were arranging coffee with people, the next, we’re waiting for a bus to take us to the beach. It was truly a fantastic surprise. You exit the MTR at Shau Kei Wan on the island line, board the number 9 bus and, Bob’s your uncle, there a beach!

Meandering around the beach, we spotted an area to the far left which seemed more crowded and vibrant than the sun bathers so we went to investigate. What we found is that you can hire a BBQ and cook your own feast on the beach at Shek O. It’s actually one of the best things I’ve seen for ages! You, of course, have you standard shops peddling food, ice cream, drinks etc but to be able to invite a tonne of friends and make a day out of it with a hired BBQ is, basically, genius. BBQing at Shek O beach has made it onto the list of ‘things to do’.

We were totally unprepared to hit he waves and, as such, sat looking at the sea for most of the afternoon. I did find time for a little paddle though.

Job Hunting

I began my job hunt before I left the UK but it was completely fruitless. I had read on many expat forums that getting a work visa once you have arrived in Hong Kong is no real issue so I decided that’s the method I would follow once I was here. Basically, to get a working visa in Hong Kong, you have to have a job offer from an employer who is willing to ‘sponsor’ you. This ‘sponsorship’ allows you to work legally in Hong Kong whilst you are employed by your sponsor. Your visa can be transferred to a different employer once you have been sponsored for the first time, but that initial sponsorship is the killer. Once you have your working visa, you can apply for an all important HKID card. This card opens up doors to bank accounts and all manner of other joyous and essential things in day to day life. That’s why I was worried about getting sponsored. No sponsorship = no life in Hong Kong.

I’d been looking on various websites (recruit.net, jobsdb.com, ctgoodjobs.hk are a few) for Native English Speaking Teachers (NETs) and an awful lot of vacancies listed a valid Hong Kong working visa as a requirement for the post. This made my already jittery self even more unnerved. Anyway, I ploughed on and applied for all the jobs I was eligible for.

I needn’t have worried as my whiter than white face coupled with my neutral(ish) English accent meant I was a safe bet as an English teacher.

I put in about half a dozen applications and had two interviews scheduled within twenty-four hours. My first interview was six days after I landed in Hong Kong. I was offered the job on the spot. I accepted the next day. That meant I had been unemployed in Hong Kong for a princely seven days. I am now an English teacher for 4, 5 and 6 year olds. Hoorah!

Flat Hunting

Space is a premium in any City but in Hong Kong, it’s amplified. The space gets even tighter when you look at Hong Kong Island. being an island, there’s not a lot can be done to increase land mass (aside from pulling a Dubai and throwing money at it until something sticks i.e. ‘The Palm’). This means that not a lot of space costs you a great deal of money.

Ideally, we wanted to be in the same apartment but renting separate rooms so, if one of us changed jobs and needed to relocate, we weren’t locked into a flat for a long term rent. Looking for rooms to rent in Hong Kong is easy. Finding rooms to rent that aren’t a massive sack of c**p is an entirely different thing.

We knew that, geographically, we wanted to be on Hong Kong Island proper because, if you’re living in Hong Kong, you may as well go the whole hog, right? We knew that, budget wise, we did not have the funds or means for anywhere ‘nice’. We knew, from experience, that wherever I live is always clean so that wasn’t really a massive issue. We also knew that finding a place which had an oven, or even a proper kitchen, would be next to impossible (it’s all hot plates and microwaves here). With these criteria in mind, we set about the hunt.

The websites we used included gumtree.hk, asiaxpat.com, hongkonghomes.com and easyroommate.com.hk. Of all the sites, it was easyroommate.com.hk that came up trumps. Gumtree provided the (expected) scams, asiaxpat was too pricey and hongkonghomes.com was all agencies (tonnes of deposit and long tenancy agreements). Easyroommate lets you find either a place to live or roomates to move into your apartment. I used the equivalent site in the UK for London room with great success.

On the day of my interview, we got a call asking us to come see some flats on that evening. We were happy to do so. We saw two places in Wan Chai and two places in Causeway Bay. The first place in Wan Chai was light, airy and with all mod cons (even a tumble dryer). We liked it. The second place in Wan Chai had no living room and only one room had any natural light. We thought it was ok. The first place in Causeway Bay was unreal. There were two ‘bathrooms’. What there actually was were two rooms with toilets and hand basins in. We were thinking ‘where’s the shower?!’. Well, we spotted it. There was a shower head propped on taps which protruded from the wall. Just a shower head. No tray. No shower holder. No proper drain. Nothing. There was a hole in the wall behind the toilet which I presume was for drainage but I didn’t bother asking. I wasn’t interested. The last place in Causeway Bay was just tiny and awful.

The first place in Wan Chai which was within our budget, not a horror story and in a decent building so we haggled down the monthly rent and took both vacant rooms in it. We can now stagger home from Ladies night (free drink in each bar in Wan Chai for a girl) every Wednesday. Winners.

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The power of asking nicely.

I am a firm believer in politeness and general niceness. When I say ‘have a good day’ to people, or ‘thank you’ to a bus driver, I mean it. I also believe that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Therefore, I always ask, very politely, when boarding flights if there are any spaces left in business class. Sometimes, you don’t get bumped up for free. Other times, you do.

During my flight to Hong Kong, I had a three hour layover in Dubai before my connection left. I was quite tired by this point (I find it impossible to sleep in anything other than a fully horizontal position) and my polite asking for an upgrade from London to Dubai was fruitless. At the boarding gate for my Dubai to Hong Kong leg, I asked again “Are there any business class seats available at all, please?” and I was rewarded with “Yes Miss Emma, we’ve upgraded you just now”. Joy of joys! Thank you upgrade gods. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I was expecting business class to resemble economy but with bigger seats and more gadgets. I was astounded on seeing that, for this aircraft, business class was a little individual pod. I have found a photograph which properly illustrates how awesome the pod is:

Image found on flightglobal.com

You get your own (much larger than normal) screen for movie watching, noise cancelling headphones , extra fleecy blanket, extra plump pillow, electric reclining seat that goes fully horizontal, a mattress should you want to go fully horizontal, flight socks and eye mask, a toiletries bag, your own personal drinks cabinet, complimentary champagne/wine/vodka (my own personal choices), approximately 14 gazillion courses of food and a hand held PDA thingy which controls your massive TV so, should you be too far away to touch the screen itself, you can still alter your viewing.

I spent my seven and a half hours in business class sleeping, eating, getting drunk and watching Downton Abbey. Flight successful.

Moral of the story, always be polite and always ask for an upgrade.

Here comes the sun, do, do, do, do…..

My life is changing again. It’s not a new job. It’s not a new man. It’s a whole new Country. Well, lots of new Countries really. I’m going travelling. Oh yes I am.

This seed of an idea was planted by one of my oldest friends about 18 months ago. She informed me that, after her masters’ degree was complete, she was strolling away from the UK as fast as she could manage. More over, she asked “Why don’t you come with me?”.

My initial reaction to leaving London and the UK was basically in “Don’t be so soft. I’m not leaving!”. Then I stopped to think about it. I actually have no commitments in the UK. No husband, no children, no mortgage, no career to speak of (although my bosses would have disagreed on that one), nothing. The important things to me in the UK are friends and family and they tend to be quite understanding unlike (I imagine) spouses/children/bank managers etc would be.

So, after thinking a little more seriously, I asked myself the standard deal making/breaking question “If I don’t go, will I be an old lady sat in a nursing home wishing she’d gone?”. The answer is yes. Yes, I would. I would be an incredibly crotchety old lady in a home if I sat thinking “I should have” rather than “I shouldn’t have”/”That was a bloody stupid thing to do”. This is the question I ask myself before I do anything ridiculous (e.g. my tattoo, I adore it now but in forty years, I may well not). I would recommend this question to anyone pondering ‘big’ decisions in their life. It’s always the one that sorts my indecisive tendencies out. Anyway, I digress.

I knew for certain what my final decision was on my birthday this year. I sat opening my cards from friends and family over breakfast and suddenly, it hit me. I am in my late twenties. I have to get cracking if I’m going to get through everything on the ‘list’ before I die. That was that. I knew it was now or never to go travelling. I handed in my notice at work two days later.

Approximately two weeks ago, I completed my final day at work and moved away from London. Absolute insanity! I’m now in Hong Kong with my oldest friend and, sort of, ready for whatever adventures come my way.

The logistical side of this has not been hard to deal with. I am the Organisation Queen. Miss List. Lady Logistics. Whatever you want to call me. The killer for me has been leaving life in London, which I love. I had never had it so good! I’d worked hard for my life in London. I put a lot into that City to get the best out of it and I’d just got myself sitting pretty on a job which I didn’t hate, a fabulous group of friends, amazing hobbies and interests which were opening up new opportunities every day and just the best social scene you might ever imagine. Life was really good. I mean, really good. That is why I felt as though my heart might break to leave it all, if only temporarily.

I grew up in a town and knew I didn’t really fit in. I didn’t fit at University either. Neither did I fit at my first graduate job. The pieces never all slotted together. Either the circumstances were right and the place was wrong or the circumstances were wrong and the people were right (so on and so forth).

It always felt like an immense struggle to achieve any balance between the different aspects of life that make it worth living. It didn’t matter how much effort you throw at some places, and how hard you work, some things just won’t ever mesh. London took a little while to form a base but when it did, it was glorious. I built my life faster than I thought was possible. It’s a stunning thing to feel like you really fit somewhere and that’s how my life in London made me feel. I’m sure I will feel the same when I return but that didn’t make leaving it any easier. I cried when I moved away. I cried when I travelled through it on the train to get to Gatwick. I cried waiting at the gate for my flight out of Gatwick. I cried as the plane took off. I finally stopped crying when I was forty or so thousand feet in the air.

I know it sounds ridiculous but that’s just how it goes. I will miss my friends and family horribly but I did my crying about that while I was still with them. It’s odd to lament like this about a City that will still be there in a couple of years.

It’s been a fantastic year to be in London! The Queen’s Jubilee. The Mayoral Election. The Olympics. I mean, London has had it going ON this past year and I’ve been there for all of it. I only hope it holds as much wonder when I return.

Eat ALL THE THINGS!

I like food. I like cooking it, smelling it, looking at it but most of all, I like eating it.

I’ve done a decent amount of good eating in London, so I thought I’d share my five recent favourites.

IC Co

This little gem is on Goodge Street and is completely worth the trip. It’s a no nonsense, no frills pizza place which will serve you, possibly, the tastiest pizza you’ve eaten in a while at a very reasonable cost. They have a small menu but they seem to do every pizza on it extremely well. I aim to sample each one. They offer garlic oil and chilli oil which you should definitely make use of.  It’s not fine dining but it is absolutely the best pizza I’ve eaten in years.

Coq D’Argent

Coq D’Argent is a French style restaurant located very close to Bank tube station on Poultry. You go up in a magic lift and emerge on a roof terrace. The indoor dining area is walled with glass so, sitting inside or outside can provide some excellent views. Both indoor and outdoor dining areas are extensive but, thanks to the English weather, it’s more than likely you will enjoy the indoor area.

The menu is small and everything is always perfectly cooked and presented. They have traditional French dishes e.g. escargot as well as a good selection of dishes with a French twist. I always have the fish when I go to Coq D’Argent as it’s the only place I have found which never overcooks fish and, obviously, it’s extra tasty as a result!

Once you have chosen your meal, you should definitely get the sommelier to reccommend the perfect wine to compliment your choices.

The service in Coq D’Argent is superb. I have never been disappointed with the staff or their professionalism. They are polite, efficient, apologetic when the time calls for it but, more than anything else, they are good at their jobs. Your wine glass will not run dry and you are constantly watched over (not in a creepy stalker way) to ensure that if you look like you have even the slightest need, a server will be at your side in a flash.

Also, if you book via top table, they normally have a fantastic 3 courses for £25 deal. That deal makes what is quite high end dining 100% affordable. Yay!!! The menu choices are, obviously, reduced but the quality of food and service is not.

Finally, the roof terrace isn’t just for dining, there’s a drinking section too so you can enjoy views of the  City (I like the side that faces the Shard most) alongside a well mixed cocktail if you want to.

In summary. Go there as soon as possible and make use of the Top Table deal (as Al a carte is not cheap).

Bodeans

Bodeans is the place for meat. Very well cooked, marinated meat. There are a few Bodeans outlets in London. I have frequented the Poland Street restaurant and never been disappointed.

Bodeans do a good range of quality pork and beef dishes. There’s chicken to be had too but I’ve never ventured into chicken at Bodeans because, that’s what Nando’s is for, right? Last time I visited, they had a Buffalo burger on as a kind of special. Naturally I had to try it and, it was super tasty. The cooks are obviously well schooled in cooking meat to perfection however you want it (medium rare, thanks).

Petch Sayam

This Thai restaurant is a little gem on Leytonstone High Road about a three minute walk from Leytonstone tube station.

The food is very good and the staff are incredibly accommodating. On top of this, the prices are reasonable thanks to it being hidden in zone 3. Worth the extra zone fare out to eat there.

Saravana Bhavan

You can find Saravana Bhavan on Cranbrook Road in Ilford. It’s about a five minute walk from Ilford station (which you can use oysters at). They serve a mixture of tasty and authentic Indian food.

My favourites on the menu are the Indian breakfast items they serve. Their menu is huge so I would do a little research before you head over for a meal otherwise I think you will definitely be bamboozled by the choices available.

The prices are also reasonable for the portions you get. A worthwhile trip out for genuinely authentic Indian breakfast foods (which should be and are enjoyed at all times of the day).