Happy Christmas from Hong Kong!

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A post-Christmas lunch walk along the beach at Repulse Bay

As it turns out Christmas Day with a newborn is much like any other day – although I fed him with my tinsel headband on (thank you Ruth for the care package!) and we opened Arlo’s many presents (as well as a couple for ourselves!) in between feeds.  The weather was glorious and I quite enjoyed the juxtaposition of the decorated nordic fur standing in front of a window looking out onto a sunny sea view – though it did make me feel quite far from home!

Most of Hong Kong (those that didn’t participate in the great exodus) head out to one of the hotels for lunch, but we stayed at home for the fanciest takeaway ever from the Mandarin Oriental – a 5kg ham, mashed potatoes, roast squash and madiera sauce complete with a letter from the executive chef setting out precise reheating instructions!  As there were only four of us for lunch we spent Boxing Day making ham pies for the freezer!  After lunch we went for a lovely walk at  Repulse Bay and were in bed by 8pm – crazy…

D had been taking posing tips from the mainlanders!

D had been taking posing tips from the mainlanders!

Christmas lunch, mince pies and other Christmas fare can be ordered from the Mandarin Cake shop – forms are behind the counter and when we went there were no signs advertising the service anywhere.  In fact D thought I had made the whole thing up in my dazed ‘new mum’ state, as if I would!

Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree

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I think we spent more on a Christmas Tree than we ever have or ever will again (except maybe for next year!).  I hope so anyhow!  I had thought that we might struggle to get hold of a real Christmas tree but they DO exist in Hong Kong! Christmas being such a serious business here, the first Christmas Tree flyers actually started arriving in mid October.  True to form we left it right to the end of Dan’s paternity leave so ended up buying one for £100+ from Stanley market – ouch!  Although at least it was delivered and set up in the right place in its stand – in true Hong Kong “convenience is everything” style.  Here it is looking fabulous!

Beautiful tree - with almost all presents for Arlo!

Beautiful tree – with almost all presents for Arlo!

Next year I will be following this sage advice well in advance of mid November order cut off dates!  And if it all goes wrong there is always Ikea…

“Follow the signs to the Flower Market from Prince Edward MTR and you can’t go wrong! This stretch of road is home to tonnes of fresh flower and plant sellers, including a few bigger gardening shops too, who should be happy to arrange home delivery – and prices are likely to be much more reasonable here than on the Island.”

Bird Spotting… and also Bride Spotting

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I am quite excited about this post – because, in this most expensive of cities, here is an activity you can do for free!  That’s right – totally free.  Amazing!

Image 5Hong Kong Park is located in Central – a green oasis surrounded by skyscrapers.  We were there to visit the Edward Youde Aviary, one of the largest walk-through aviaries in the world and home to approximately 90 species of birds.   Ambling along the walkwayImage 3 suspended high above the ground, you can experience a little of what it must be like in a jungle canopy, with tropical birds flying and singing around you.  Until, of course you notice the staff feeding the birds some sweet treats

Also in the park is the Hong Kong Registry Office where a number of weddings were taking place on an unremarkable (as in, I don’t think 20th November was considered a particularly lucky day for a wedding) weekday afternoon.  If you look very carefully at this photo you can see four brides all waiting for their slot!  I didn’t try to count the bridesmaids but there were lots!  I guess this is unsurprising as a Hong Kong registry office marriage ceremony is done and dusted in around 10 minutes – whilst you can have as many guests as you like there are no readings or potential to personalise the ceremony as there would typically be at home.

photoAnd in case the official wedding photographers were in any doubt as to where might be a good spot for photos, park officials have issued this handy guide:

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Need to Know:

Edward Youde Aviary in Hong Kong Park, 19 Cotton Tree Drive, Admiralty. Free. Stroll on a wooden suspension bridge for an eye-level view of 90 species of birds. Open 9 am to 5 pm

Things to do on your due date – take the Star Ferry to the Light Show!

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We got the star ferry over to Kowloon side for the light show

Hong Kong Light Show and Star Ferry

At exactly 40 weeks pregnant as Mum was staying we decided to do something more exciting than hang around at home waiting for something to happen and waddled (well, just me really, although I think D was developing a bit of a ‘sympathy waddle’!) down toStar Ferry (Pier 7) catch the Star Ferry over to Kowloon to watch the “Symphony of Lights” sound and light show.

Apparently there are five scenes to the show (lifting from the tourist board website here) – but most of this was lost on me.  In fact, while the lit up skyscrapers are definitely worth going to see, I thought the whole laser show was quite underwhelming – not sure at all why it is such a tourist ‘must see’.  Anyhow, perhaps if you pay a bit more attention to the music and commentary than I did, this is what you might see!

Scene one – Awakening
Several lines of laser lights represent the wakening of the earth, then the colorful lights brighten the buildings that are involved in the show, showing the process of the birth and growth of Hong Kong.
Scene Two – Energy
Through a gradient effect shining from the bottom to the top, the color of the buildings changes and the laser and search lights’ dancing in the sky show creativity and vibrancy.

40 weeks pregnant watching the light show

40 weeks pregnant watching the light show

Scene Three – Heritage
With the melodious accompaniment of Chinese music, with lucky red and golden lights shining on the buildings on the beaches of Victoria Harbor, traditional Chinese cultural features are paraded before the audiences.
Scene Four – Partnership
With laser and searchlights radiating toward each beach and the colorful lights on both of the beaches interacting, this scene mainly shows that Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula are working together to usher in a brilliant future.

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Finale – Celebration
Turn on the light that rotates like a kaleidoscope accompanied by flying and shining light effects. It signifies everybody working together to create a brighter future for the Asian metropolis–Hong Kong.

Realising I haven’t really sold this experience – if you’re coming to visit us and you do want to watch the show you can check it out any night at 8pm, it lasts 14 minutes so is easy to fit in before dinner.  You can pay to watch it from a harbour cruise but I would just watch it from Star Avenue where you can also here the music and narration too!

The 8th Estate Winery

So it seems that you might expect there to be no wineries in Hong Kong (given the lack of grapes and everything!) – but then two come along at once!  The AWA had organised a tour and tasting and after being so impressed by the wine at Portrait a few weeks ago, I thought it would be good to go along and try some other locally produced wines.Tasting room at the 8th Estate Winery, Ap Lei Chau

There seems to be a bit of a theme in Hong Kong of finding things in the place where you would least expect them and the 8th Estate winery, on the third floor of an industrial centre in Ap Lei Chau is no exception.  If you didn’t know it was there, there was no way you would simply stumble across it!   We came out of the lift, walked down a concrete corridor and then found ourselves in a cool barrel room that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a chateau in France.Rose wine tasting at 8th Estate Winery, Ap Lei Chau

The 8th Estate targets the more local market throughout Asia and as a consequence the wines are a lot sweeter than most of us were used to.  I tried my first ever rose wine deliberately intended to taste like cherry flavoured boiled candies (according to the official tasting notes so nothing to do with my wonky palate!).  It was also extremely pink in colour – which you can see from the photo, if you drunk too much I would worry it would stain your tongue!  (In the interest of balance the red wines were pretty lovely however).  In the middle of the tasting there was a tour and an explanation of the process – the grapes are flash frozen at the vineyard before being shipped to Hong Kong in a temperature controlled container.  They are defrosted at the winery at room temperature before continuing the familiar wine making process.  It seems there are two main advantages for the winery of producing locally – (i) wine doesn’t always travel well and (ii) tax – import tax on wine is high, but there is no tax on locally produced wine meaning much more of the bottom line can be attributed to the wine maker in Hong Kong!

Going Old School at the Peninsula…

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We thought it was time to try a more traditional Chinese dinner and Spring Moon at the Peninsula didn’t disappoint at all!  It was the first really elegant restaurant we have been to and I felt slightly transported back in time due to the art deco styling and really excellent service (unlike at the Pawn where Jessie had to ask them to change the plates 3 times before all 5 of us each ended up with a clean one!).

The first page of the menu opens with a vast selection of teas – and, of course, there was a resident tea master on hand to help with selection if required!  I was very embarrassed when D threatened to order a beer instead and was grateful when he relented!

Later, when taking our order, the waiter suggested we should also select an appetiser – which given the list of potential options featured shredded jellyfish and fried ducks heart I took as a bit of a challenge!  I was slightly hopeful (although this soon proved to be misplaced) that shredded pig’s stomach would turn out to be a quirky translation of pork belly but no – it was the actual stomach, shredded and covered in a spicy sauce.  Unusually for me I was feeling brave (and also quietly confident that no pregnancy book I had read specifically listed stomach / intestines etc as banned items!!) and can report that it was actually totally delicious (quite squid like in texture if you ever find yourself confronted with similar options!).

Table service at Spring Moon at the Peninsula, Hong Kong

The food arrived sedately, one dish at a time, and each time a waiter would serve some onto two plates on one side of the table before bringing them around to us.  If you finished your plate, seconds were served onto a new clean plate until the dish was finished – amazing, and a total contrast to the more frenetic, stained table-cloth but really tasty food style places we have been to previously.  A totally brilliant evening…

Birthday drinks at Ozone

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For my birthday on Friday Dan booked for us to go for cocktails at Ozone at the Ritz Carlton at the top of the ICC.  He had to use some of his natural charm to get a reservation as they don’t normally take bookings, but they took pity on the heavily pregnant lady and made an exception which was super kind!

Situated on the 118th floor Ozone claims to be the highest bar in the world – we weren’t sure about that and being a bit of a geek I have tried to fact check!  There are four buildings taller than the ICC’s 484m – the tallest (Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 828m) and the second tallest are both in the Middle East so you might think that maybe it figures that there wouldn’t be a bar at the top of either?!  However, apparently the Burj Khalifa does have a bar on the 122nd floor making Ozone the highest bar in Asia but not the world (note for pedants: when measured from street level!).  I think they need to update their website!  Either way, Ozone was fab, the views were amazing and the cocktails lush so we won’t hold it against them…

The prettiest of drinks!…  

If there is a pink cocktail, one which comes with sparklers, flowers or those eighties umbrellas you can guarantee Daniel will choose it from the menu!  He reckons he can pull it off though…

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Views from our window

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We were looking out of the window and saw this odd looking fishing boat in Tai Tam Bay in misty weather (or a pollution haze – take your pick!).

A Hong Kong fishing boatNot sure what they were fishing for so close to the coast but while I was trying to work it out I discovered that in Hong Kong there are no regulations in place to control what, or indeed how much, can be caught by the fishermen.  There are also no restrictions on the method of fishing used – and certain methods such as bottom trawling are causing untold harm to the habitat and food supply of the rare Chinese white dolphin.  This is a real shame as the population of the Chinese white dolphins in the Pearl River Estuary (PRE) is the largest that remains along China’s coastline, despite also inhabiting one of the world’s most congested and polluted marine areas.  Hopefully we might see a few while we are here!