Sunday, 1 May 2016


One of my favourite things in the world is food. If all food was good for you and had no calories, I'd be eating all day. But alas.... In any case, Hong Kong is an amazing place for food. From €2 fish balls to €200 three star-meals, you will find everything in this foody city.

And we're lucky: we live close to Temple Street Night Market, with its egg waffles, duck skewers, fish balls and spicy crab. Imagine low plastic stools, plastic tables and plastic cups. It's touristy, but locals seem to go there as well and it's fun. We often go for a walk there after dinner (and have an egg waffle for desert while we're there).

Next up from the street markets are the simple local restaurants. Again, we live in the perfect spot. Anthony Bourdain's favourite noodle place, Mak's Noodle Shop is around the corner (and it's amazing!) and we have tried some fantastic cheap Vietnamese, Indian, Thai and Nepalese food as well.

For western food, we usually go to the island, although there is a Jamie's Italian nearby in case we crave pasta and can't be bothered cooking or travelling. On HK Island, there are loads of nice Italian and other places. A few streets are full of slightly fancier restaurants that seem to cater mostly for gweilos. It's easy to go bankrupt if you go here too often, especially if you like your wines. €10 for a simple glass of wine is considered reasonable. But they're fun places to meet friends in the weekend.

Have not been to any of the super fancy 2-3 star places so can't comment on those. Luckily, there are heaps of 1 star restaurants where you can eat cheaply so I have tried a few of those.

One thing I really had to get used to: (very) good restaurants here are often in shopping malls, and you will also find many restaurants on higher floors of buildings. These buildings can look pretty grey and miserable but once inside, the lift takes you to restaurants that can be very nice.

And finally: Sunday brunch! It's a real Hong Kong thing, and if you do it properly, you have the free flow wine or bubbles with it. We've done three of those now (without the free flow), and they're fun.  My favourite of the three was Blue Butcher. A funky restaurant in Sheung Wan, with a fantastic salad buffet, oysters and prawns, a good selection of mains and yum desserts. With live music. A really lovely way to spend a few hours on a Sunday.

It's a miracle I managed to lose some weight here. Thank god for the clubhouse with gym!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Sevens weekend

The social event of the year. Sold out months in advance (although loads of tix going on Facebook in the last few days), and when a colleague offered us her tickets, I was super super excited. The Hong Kong Sevens. For years friends and I have talked about going and once they started having kids, we just never got round to it. It's basically three days of Koningsdag, plus networking. Loads of corporate boxes in the stadium and for weeks people (read: partners) at work had been talking about who would have how many allocations to invite clients.

We went on the Friday, which I guess can be described as quiet. The big countries don't start playing till 6pm and when we got there around 3pm, the South Stand (Party Central) was still pretty empty. As I really wanted to see the matches (read: Sonny Bill Williams, nr. 12 in pix below), we found seats a bit closer to the action but with a good view of the South Stand.

And despite being a bit quieter (or more sober at least) than the weekend days, it was really, really good fun. Some good rugby, a great atmosphere in the stadium, and easy to get booze and food. The opening ceremony included a dragon dance with a dotting of the eye ceremony, and to my excitement Brian O'Driscoll was one of the 'dotters'! David Hasselhoff was the other, but hey....I saw BOD!

Definitely something to do again next year, will mark the 2017 dates as soon as they're announced! And I'll make sure I won't end up like this fella :-)  (photo taken by a friend this arvo)

Sunday, 13 March 2016

A very normal Sunday

Today was our 8th Sunday in Hong Kong. After two Sundays in the luxurious Two MacDonnell Road apartment with the amazing views, four Sundays in the lovely shoebox that was our Shama Fortress Hill apartment and one Sunday in our new home unpacking boxes, this was the first Sunday here that was just normal. Boringly normal. And just what I was craving. Our second week in, our new home is starting to feel just like that: home.

So what is a boringly normal Sunday in Hong Kong? A good hour in the gym, including pool and sauna visit for W. A lovely French lunch down the road. A visit to the flower market. And grocery shopping.

Just like in London, Honkers restaurants offer very good lunch deals. For around €10-12 you should be able to get two courses or a main and a coffee. This bistro was no exception. Crabmeat with some salad and a super tasty pork chop for me and steak for Wilko. For HK$ 60 you could add free flow wine (free flow booze, a normal menu item on HK restaurants in the weekend), but having wine straight after a gym session just didn't quite feel right. And unlike in Dutch restaurants, it's completely fine here to just drink tap water with your meal.

Though we finished most of our furniture shopping, we still needed a few bits and bobs for the bathroom. Google told me Portland Street was the place to go. And indeed, tens of shops for tiles, wallpaper and bathroom stuff. A few minutes down, we found the flower market that I'd been keen to visit. Flowers are expensive here, but the Mongkok flower market is an exception. Not as cheap and as good as at home, but pretty decent. And a house is so much more a home with flowers, at least to me.

And finally: grocery shopping. Supermarkets here are odd.  There are five or six within a ten minute radius, which is good. And necessary. Items can be stocked one week, but not the other. Writing a shopping list and doing all your shopping in one place just isn't an option here. Prices can also vary a lot, both between shops and over time. So what is a very basic thing at home, becomes slightly more adventurous here. I'm sure we'll get used to it. And if not: we have dozens of cheap local restos on our doorstep. And a gym in our building, luckily!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016


Finally, a place to call home. Our stuff was delivered on Thursday, and we've been sleeping in our own bed since. And oh, the joy of being able to cook a proper meal on Friday night. We're mostly done, just waiting for two of the four legs of a storage rack (thank you Ikea), a rail for our wardrobe (thank you, Ikea) and the sideboard we ordered from Muji last weekend and we should be able to unpack the last few boxes. Pretty happy with the stuff we found to make this place home.

When our agent negotiated the lease, one of the things she managed to get for us were ceiling lamps. With the clear agreement we could choose from a number of options. Tonight a handyman came to install it all. The one above the dining table is totally our taste. The ones in the bedrooms, not so much, but doable. The one in the living room: hidious!! When the landlady sent us a pic, and we carefully suggested something simpler would fit better, her response was 'You will both absolutely love it'. Uhm. No. But it's so awful, it's funny.

And the view. Oh, the views. Such an amazing thing to see the bay from the couch. Skyline of HK island and some small islands. We barely notice the construction site and it's such a luxury in this city to have a view of any sorts.

Another thing to get used to is all the staff working here. When we went to the clubhouse to use the gym on Sunday, three people were standing behind a desk waiting for customers. I counted ten of those in the entire clubhouse. Every entrance (from the street or the tube station) to the compound has a security person. Once I've unlocked the door with my resident pass, a guard immediately opens the gate. In our building (one of the four towers of this compound) the girl behind the desks sprints to the door to open it for you, and then sprints again to the doors to the lifts. It feels a bit uncomfortable but that's Honkers I guess.

And after less than a week in my own bed, I already have to leave it for two nights as I'm off to Singapore tomorrow. Loads of meetings, drinks with friend M and dinner with friend E and back on Friday night. Should be a good trip.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

What a week

Or actually....make that two. Work has been crazy busy, as I was a panelist on a CEO conference this week and obviously wanted to come across well. So it was a crash course in insurance regulation and Fintech in the region. In general, I get the feeling the pace here is high (if only the pace on the pavements would mirror that....). It really feels like a very modern 24/7 economy, despite the archaic banking system (more on that later).

So my past two weeks were pretty much spent working, sleeping and eating, weekend (mostly) excluded. Glad Wilko isn't working yet as he has done loads to prepare our move to a permanent apartment. YES! We signed a contract! It's a large three bedroom, two bathroom in West Kowloon, with a decent sized kitchen (an exception here) and storage room (as we don't have a maid, also the main reason for the tiny kitchens). The place has an indoor and outdoor pool and a gym and a couple of facilities we probably won't use. Disappointed looks when we read we actually have to pay about €40 a month each for the outdoor pool and that guests aren't allowed there (I'm sure we can find a way around that....), but happy with it nonetheless. Infinity pool with views of the Hong Kong skyline, guess that's worth a few bucks. Our days of furniture shopping are almost over. We ordered a sofa, armchair and ottoman at a store in Sheung Wan, are picking up a tv-thing and dining table from other expats this weekend and will do another Ikea visit to order a wardrobe, bookshelves and the likes. Thursday our stuff from Holland will be moved into the new place. After living out of suitcases pretty much since mid December, I cannot wait.

Back to work. People generally come in late here. When I get in at 8 in the morning, a French guy is always there already, but that's it. People also stay pretty late I think but I aim to be out by 6pm and just work from home if I need to finish stuff. Ten hours in an office is enough.... Lunch is like in London, people eat at their desks. Just like when I lived in London, I miss the lunches with the team, it's a good way to get to know your colleagues better and it's nice to not talk about work for half an hour mid day. Then again, few Dutch canteens can beat the quality of Hong Kong food. Another difference with modern Dutch offices: every floor has a coffee lady, who washes the mugs every morning and brings the partners coffee as soon as they come in. Ours is a super friendly lady, it's nice to have someone like her in the office. And labour is cheap here, so it's nothing extravagant.

Then banks. What a bloody nightmare. Think I visit Citi twice a week at the moment. Everyone is friendly but everyone seems to have their own processes and rules and systems aren't integrated. First we couldn't open a joint account without W having proof of address, two weeks later it was no problem at all. My credit card application got rejected because 'they couldn't find me'. When I applied for it, we only had one HK number and that was W's. So we gave the bank that. A week later I got my own number and walked into Citi to provide them with it, but the credit card people use a different system and only had W's number. Long story short: I applied again yesterday and hope for a smoother process this time. But we're getting there. We are the proud owners of three cheque books between us, two ATM cards, and five accounts. And it only took about 38 signatures for me to get all of that. Easy peasy....

So let's see what the next weeks bring. A move and a visit to Singapore for sure, looking forward to both!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Kung hei fat choy!

Or 'May you prosper'. The standard wish for Chinese New Year.

We were super lucky, four of the five days of the long weekend were sunny and warmish. Perfect weather for a hike! So on Sunday Wilko and I, two English guys he met at a drinks thing and a Finnish colleague of mine took the number 9 bus to Cape Collinson Road to hike Dragon's Back. It's a fairly easy one, with the most amazing views. Next was a Thai lunch in Shek O beach. I just can't stop talking about the food in this city. So good. I could eat the papaya salad we had there every day. We stuffed ourselves completely before bussing it back to the city. A perfect day.

On a Hong Kong Facebook group I saw a photo of the Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon. I looked it up and read many comments about how peaceful and tranquil it was. A great place to visit on the first day of Chinese New Year. And it was peaceful and tranquil. A magical place with beautiful gardens. And not overly busy. So off we went to a nearby temple, looking for more tranquility. We were enjoying this! Well until we actually got there that is.... Hundreds of people were queuing to get in, a process shown on a large screen next to the entrance of the temple. It turned out it was one of the most popular temples for locals to pray on day of Chinese New Year. Will need to come back another time....

Tuesday was going to be the last sunny day of the five day break. Another hike was called for. I remembered Lamma Island from a previous visit to Hong Kong. Quaint villages, good stroll/hike, nice beaches. And it didn't disappoint. 30-40 minutes by ferry from Central and you're in a different world. Fisherman's villages, forest and a hippyish atmosphere. Plus good Indian food, a perfect lunch. Back on the Island, it was a quick (Nepali) dinner with two of our hiking companions, before watching the CNY fireworks. Think I'm spoiled. The fireworks were good but not as good as the ones we had in August during Sail. It's probably more spectacular from the Kowloon side but there's probably also a million more people competing for good spots.

The best part of Chinese New Year was today at work. My secretary had told me there'd be a Lion dance, and I'd promised to be there. I hadn't realised there was also a suckling pig (next to a week chicken) for the entire office. So imagine tens of consultants all standing around a suckling pig, a partner performing a ceremony (that I didn't quite get) with his two cuter-than-cute daughters, followed by a proper Lion dance around the office. While the lions were dancing, catering staff cut up the pig (and a wee chicken) and everyone helped themselves to the juicy meat. At the same time, a whole bunch of more junior staff queued in front of the partners' office to be given Lai See. Lai See is the local custom of giving red packets with money in it. A funny sight to see one Chinese and three western partners lined up giving all these colleagues their red envelopes. As I am new and haven't worked with any of them yet, I only gave Lai See (with two hands, very important!) to my secretary, after having consulted another colleague on what a good amount would be. And after having queued at the bank for crisp notes as used notes are a no. Bloody complicated, but I wanted to get it right! Now I just need to remember all this for next year, by which time we also need to include doormen, hairdressers, managers of restaurants we often go to, and so on.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Our second home

On Thursday we moved from Mid Levels, expat playground, to Fortress Hill, a much more Chinese part of town. When I say 'we', I actually mean Wilko, as he moved our stuff while I was at work. And got me flowers. I knew I married a good egg.  

Our new shoebox has a comfy couch and a great bed so we're happy. Shame I can no longer walk to work though, that was nice while it lasted. Seeing the tai chi in the park was a very calming start of the day. 

Our new (temporary) apartment building is right opposite the tube station and in the middle of a gazillion restaurants. We had dim sum yesterday and some famous noodles for lunch today, followed by a local delicacy: egg waffle. We just followed our nose and according to several locals it was the best place in the area to have these. They were absolutely delicious.

Our apartment hunting is going so so. The view in the previous post won't be ours, as our offer was overbid by a massive HK$4000 a month, (about €480). We also made offers for two of the lower floors but those landlords don't want to get back to us until after Chinese New Year.  Patience is required.... The whole process is pretty interesting here. You offer a package of rent, rent-free period (1-2 weeks is not uncommon), start date and anything you'd like thrown in (like curtains) and then the agent negotiates with the landlord, often through another agent representing said landlord. Hopefully we're just a few negotiations away from signing a contract. And we have some time as our container is only somewhere between Egypt and Singapore.

Other than eating, we spent a fair bit of time getting organised: opening a bank account (a bureaucratic affair and the only reason I now have one is that I have a UK driver's license that has an address on it, albeit one I haven't lived at for 4.5 years), getting a phone contract, and applying for my Hong Kong ID (needed to apply for W's dependant visa, get my phone deposit back and many other things). In a country where everybloodyone is constantly staring at their mobile phones it's pretty shocking how undeveloped things are when it comes to organising things online. To give an example: my payroll account comes with a sort of savings account and online banking. However, the first time I want to transfer money to my savings account, I have to go into their offices. I also noticed many ATMs offer the option to do money transfers.  There's an app for that people!

Ah well. I could do with some patience, and this is a good place to work on that. For now, I'll enjoy my five day sunny weekend.  Kung Hei Fat Choy!