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Cheung Discovers

Exploring What The World Has To Offer

Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of

Back in December I received wonderful news from one of my best friends from school, he was getting married to the love of his life, and in New York (His wife is from Long Island)! It was going to be a small wedding with just immediate family, with a party back in the UK at a later date, and I felt very privileged to be invited to attend along with another of our best friend Mark. Having never been to New York or the states before, we decided to arrive early and spend some time exploring NYC. You can see all the photos from my New York Travels here.

Now living in a ski resort I wasn’t concerned about the weather in NY, but I did pack all my thermals just in case. And having said that, it was -15°C when I arrived, and it was pretty darn cold with the wind! We found a place to stay on Airbnb in Astoria, Queens, around 20 minutes away from Time Square on the subway so it was quite convenient, and cost us around £280 each between 5 of us for 8 nights.

We went out for food whilst waiting for Mark’s late arrival, unfortunately Mike’s phone died, resulting in Mark left stranded outside the apartment in -15°C! We found him in a pub on the way back, where he got a free pint; Must have been the British accent, or sympathy when they saw that he was just wearing a suit in this weather…

Valentines day, -18°C, I was half dressed like I was ready to go snowboarding. For it still being Chinese New Year we went towards Chinatown as there was a parade, however we just missed it, and went to a place called Fat Cat, a Jazz bar with pool, ping pong, shuffleboard, boardgames and a great selection of beers, ales and ciders. It was a pretty cool place with a nice atmosphere, and I’ve never experienced anything similar in the UK, so was rather unique too. After a few drinks and games of pool and scrabble, we decided to go for Chinese food in celebration of Chinese New Year, and of course I ordered. Was nice to have a bit of home comforts, especially as there’s even a Chinese take away in Whistler. Leaving Mike and Brittany to some romantic time, we went and saw Deadpool; I’ll have to admit it was pretty good and worth a watch!

Still a cold day at -11°C, it was Brittany’s last free day before she had to go back to work,so we decided to do something together rather than sightseeing, which no doubt she’ll have done many times. So, we decided to do an Escape room together and at such short notice we ended up going to Komnata Quest, where we did the 7 sinful pleasures (chose by DSC00549Brittany!), and involved us collecting dildo clues and tying Mike with bondage onto a rotating bed. Apparently we were the quickest team to solve that particular scenario, I don’t know what that says about us! We also played shuffleboard which I have never seen or heard of, but it was essentially like bowls or curling on a table.

New York is full of cool and funky places, we went to a place called Barcade, which was essentially a bar with a big selection of IPAs and ciders, and loads of old school arcade DSC00569machines like Pac-man and Street fighter. The bars in NY I’ve been to have such a large selection of beers and IPAs compared to any bars/pubs I’ve been to in the UK. After a few beers and losing at Pac-man we decided to walk over Brooklyn Bridge, it was night time and snowing, and provided a beautiful view across the bridge where you can also see the Statue of Liberty.

A very grey and wet day followed, so we chose to do something indoors and visited theDSC00606 Natural History Museum, where you can spend all day there! To be fair a lot of things you will have seen before in other Natural History Museums, but it was still spectacular how big it was and how everything was displayed. Still learnt a lot and the highlight was definitely the Titanosaur, a 122 foot (38m) long 70 ton (63500kg) dinosaur that has only recently been discovered. It was so big that it couldn’t fit in the room with part of the head sticking out into the corridor! We also did what most tourists do… trying out American McDonalds! And… it was literally the same but with a coca cola freestyle machine….

A long day of toursity sightseeing followed, taking the Staten Island commuter ferry which is free, and getting to see the Statue of Liberty, it’s worth doing if you’re on a budget instead of paying for a tour boat.We then walked up Manhattan past the charging bull towards Wall Street, and onwards to 9/11 Memorial and the Freedom Tower. Moving on to Grand Central and into Central Park, before making our way back down through Time Square at night to meet up with Brittany and Mike, and his parents who just landed. DSC00684

Finally a wonderful sunny clear skies day, we head towards the Rockafella, and saw amazing views of Manhattan, although we didn’t go up Empire State, I’d say Rockafella was worth it because you also got to see the Empire State, as well as a good view over Central park. With the infamous pizza scene in New York we had to check out the pizza at John’s of Time Square, firstly, the pizza’s are totally different to the pizza’s I’ve been brought up on! I can only assume they are more authentic and not like pizza we know topped with heaps of toppings!

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A must do at broadway was to go see a show! And one I had never seen was Les Miserables. Me and Mark were both really up for this and we queued at the ticket centre for an hour, managing to get pretty decent seats in the stalls! As we had time to kill before the show we went for a drink at a bar, and I must say people are really friendly, people come in on their own and just sit next to you and start chatting! I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Les Mis, and I must say Alfie Boe was a great Jean Valjean!

The following day we went to the Museum of the City of New York, thinking it’d have a lot about the history of New York which I was very intrigued about, it however had a range of topics and areas, such as a display about the New York Marathon and New York Fashion Week, but they did also have a great display from Jacob Riis, who was journalist and photographer who then became a social reformer in the 1890s, using his skills to highlight the issues of poverty and quality of life in the slums of Manhattan. There were displays of his photographs that he used to expose to the middle and upper class, asking for donations to alleviate the bad living conditions of the poor. The other part was a video they had playing in an auditorium about New York’s history, from when it was discovered and how it has transformed into the iconic City we all know today, an interesting fact, NY was first claimed by Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing for the Dutch, and it was originally named New Amsterdam, part of the New Netherlands.

That evening was the stag do after the pre-wedding meal with both families plus me and12743600_10207534609876962_5825634638797215585_n
Mark. It was also the night before the wedding! We went to Mike’s favourite bar, and being the geeks we were in school, whilst playing 21 (where you start with 7 and 14 switched over, and whoever lands on 21 makes a new rule), we had rules like clap on all prime numbers, and change direction on all square numbers… Being in New York, we had to go to a rooftop bar, and went to one with an amazing view of the Empire State Building! After last call we decided to go back to Fat Cat, which was open till 4am, played some cards and pool, and proceeded to be there till close, in which Martin was falling asleep whilst trying to take a shot. For some reason we went to a liqueur store on the way home for more drinks, and it was 6 am by the time we got in…

Having promised to deliver the groom on time and after only 4 hours of sleep getting up to make breakfast, we toasted before we set off for Central Park, after I tied everyone’s ties! It couldn’t have been a nicer day, sunny and warm with clear skies, we definitely looked sharp in our suits travelling on the subway to central park! Arriving first to ladies pavilion overlooking The Lake with a wonderful view of Manhattan skyline behind. Brittany looked stunning in her dress, and you could see all the heads turning as she walked up to the pavilion. I have barely ever seen Mike so emotional until his vows, the ceremony was wonderful, small and intimate, and in a perfect setting. After a walk around the city we split up and were to meet up in the evening at the reception in Brooklyn.

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The reception was held in a apartment found on airbnb and had a pool table, that also converted into a ping pong table. It was certainly a quirky apartment, and was a great setting for the small reception, filled with booze and good food. It was great to meet some of Brittany’s friends, and there was even a Team GB vs Team USA pool game, where me and Mark looked like snooker players in our waistcoats!

Mike, I am so happy for you and I wish you and Brittany a lifetime of happiness, it was a pleasure and privilege to be part of your special day.

 

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New York – Images

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, everything that’s wonderful

After a 12 hour flight and travelling back in time, leaving Hong Kongat 8pm on the 12th October and arriving Vancouver at 4pm on… the 12th October, it was very suiting for the when Marty McFly was due to arrive on the 21st!

After getting the skytrain into a rainy Downtown, just the short 500m walk I witness more homeless people than I have ever before. Despite having a much smaller population to the likes of Toronto and Calgary, apparently because of Vancouver’s warmer weather compared to other cities in Canada, it bares majority of the homeless; an official count last year found 1803 homeless people in Vancouver. I was very surprised to see so many on the street, but turns out the street I was walking down,

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Granville Street, Photo by Casey Yee

Granville Street, was also one of the most popular streets in Vancouver, and that may be why, but also to my surprise, the homeless are very proactive in soliciting, coming up to people asking for change, I even witnessed someone give a homeless person a dollar, and the homeless guy shouted at him “What the F*** am I suppose to do with just a dollar…” and the guy reluctantly gave him more. Some of them are also very creative, I witnessed one person create a fishing boat out of cardboard, hd a stick as a rod, with string tied to a cup with a $ sign on it! It was highly encouraged to not donate money to the homeless but food, so the money does not fund any drug or alcohol addiction; Saying that there are homeless people who genuinely ask for food, which is a way I’d prefer to donate, sharing my 99c (50p) 10 Burger King chicken nuggets.

Anyway I arrive the Samesun Backpackers Lodge, first time I’ve checked into a hostel on my own, like a fresher moving into shared halls! No one else was in my room at this point so I went for a walk around town. It’s set up in blocks like New York (although I’ve never been), but it felt very unusual, with the road system puzzling with all the one way systems! Again to my surprise, there are marijuana dispensaries on every street like there is 7/11’s. Medical marijuana is legal in Vancouver and you need to get a “Green” Card in order to purchase. Although there are rules about where you can smoke marijuana, you can smell it everywhere on the streets.

When I got back to the room an English couple from London and an Sarah, an Australian girl had arrived, who was also heading up to Whistler, we head down to the Beaver Bar, which was part of the hostel for $4 pints and food. Turns out the English couple had come back from Whistler after spending a year there, and was great to get some information off them about where to go and what to do to look for housing etc. At the same time the Vancouver Canucks game was on, by the way they just call it hockey here, and not ice hockey; apparently if you say ice hockey they will correct you and tell you they don’t say grass soccer/football or field rugby.

As me and Sarah had both arrived on working holiday visas planning to work the season in Whistler, after free breakfast at the hostel we headed off together the next day to sort our Social Insurance Number, phone numbers and bank accounts. Funnily enough pay as you go plans are more expensive than monthly plans here, and the cost of data is almost 5 times that of England… For banking, they charge you to have an account here! Luckily I went to TD who gave you your first year free, but in Canada if you withdraw money from an ATM that isn’t your bank, you’ll get charged. You’ll also get charged for internet transfers, cashing out cheques, or even having too many transactions in one month!

Now that I got all my admin sorted, I was ready to explore the beautiful city of Vancouver! Nicolina from Finland had arrived the night before, and I also met Mirko from German and Sylvan from Switzerland at breakfast, together with Sarah we decided to go explore Granville Island, which was

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Photo by Alexis Birhill Photography

highly recommended by other backpackers. It was a glorious day of sunshine, and Granville Island was home to a large public market and many artistic galleries and workshops. After a nice lunch and the best mojito ice cream ever! We decided to walk along the harbour, where we saw some of Vancouver’s iconic buildings, as well as a bridge full of locks with love messages, however there were two people going through hundreds of keys trying to take them off, turns out it was just props for a film set for a tv show earlier in the day. You can see some of the photos in my gallery here.

 

As people come and go in the hostel, Ben an Aussie and Lewis a Scotsman had arrived in our room (The English Couple had left by this point). The next day Sarah was leaving at mid-day to head to Whistler, so in the morning us four went to hire bikes, and we cycled around Stanley Park. Again it was a wonderful day of sunshine and Stanley Park is stunning, more beautiful than any urban park I have visited and absolutely massive, at 4km squared, and I’d go to say it’s probably the best city park in the world!

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Vancouver City and Stanley Park

During the cycle round, Ben’s seat fell off and had a painful moment involving the pole of the seat and his arse! As we were around half way, he had to proceed the rest of the journey without sitting down. On the way back, trust his luck, his bike chain snapped, so he had to scooter it back to the rental shop, safe to say he got a full refund. That day I also tried poutine, to the average person, it was essentially chips cheese and gravy, but it’s on of Canada’s national dishes, and it’s so much more epic than the standard chips cheese and gravy we would get back in northern England (since they don’t do chips and gravy in the south!), but they use French fries and cheese curds, usually with options for other meat toppings; it’s sold everywhere including McDonalds and KFC, that’s how big it is here!

Nicolina, Mirko and I wanted to go to Grouse Mountain, and Ben and Lewis agreed to join us. After around 50 minutes of travelling with a ferry ride to North Vancouver and a bus to the base of Grouse Mountain, there was a gondola up to the top, but we chose to take the Grouse Grind, which was a 1.8 mile ascent with an elevation gain of 853 metres, which sounds easy, but oh god it was hard! It was all stoned steps rather than a hike, consisting of 2830 steps!

DSC00200A tough challenge, but thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding to get to the summit, we did it in an hour and half, believe it or not the record for it is 24 minutes… Unfortunately as we started a bit later in the day and got to the top almost gone 5pm, we missed the lumberjack show at the top, but we did see grouses and a wildlife refuge, where we saw two grizzly bears! It was starting to get dark and we were advised to take the skyride gondola back down. As there was a massive queue and we were in no hurry, we sat on the balcony and watched the sunset and at the same time see Vancouver light up; it was truly spectacular and breathtaking, totally worth the grind! Again more photos from this in the gallery.

The next day me and Nicolina wanted to check out the Capilano DSC00273Suspension Bridge, about 30 minutes on the free shuttle we arrived, on the way there were so many beautiful houses, and the thing that struck me was no two houses look the same. It was a $30 entry, which seemed a bit steep for a bridge but the views again were beautiful. The wildlife in Canada is spectacular and I get the sense of calmness and relaxation when surrounded by nature. As well as the main feature of the suspension bridge, there was a tree walk and a cliff walk, which you can see some photos in the gallery. Upon returning to the hostel, I discovered that Ben made and went to an appointment with a GP, who only accepted cash for the appointment, and the doctor essentially guided Ben to answering a health questionnaire before prescribing him to a ‘green’ card. That’s how easy it was for people to get marijuana here… it’s widely accepted by society as well actually, no wonder one of Vancouver’s nicknames is Vansterdam.

That evening Ben, Lewis and I decided to go see a live hockey match, and on the way we went past a place called New Amsterdam Cafe, which was a 420 friendly place but does not sell the stuff. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I assume they make their money from selling food when people have the munches and selling accessories. Anyway we carried on to the Rogers Arena, home to the Vancouver Canucks, who were playing St Louise Blues, on the way we met a few people who were scalping tickets; Ben being a salesman back at home, someone full of confidence, lead all the pitching, it felt like an episode of the Apprentice! The cheapest tickets online were around $90, and this guy was trying to scalp tickets to us for $80, but Ben’s persistent and determination, saying we were looking at the $20 mark as we were skint backpackers, we managed to get tickets for $30 each! And the seats weren’t that bad at all! The game started with

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Canucks vs Blues

dramatic music and a cool light show, and at the start of each game they sing the national anthem! All patriotic fans standing to their feet singing aloud. We didn’t realise they play 3 thirds of 20 minutes, with 20 minute breaks in between, and the clock stops after each foul, which lead to a pretty long evening, however it was a very exciting final quarter, with the Canucks 3-0 down, they brought it back to 4-3, with quite a good few chances to draw the match in the closing minutes to take the game into overtime. We also witnessed a few fights, and the rule is players are allowed to fight if they both have their gloves off and until one of the players hits the ice! And the fans love it! It was an enjoyable sport and game, more entertaining than majority of football (Soccer) games I’ve seen!

The new few days weren’t great weather, and it felt like I had been in Vancouver for a month already with the amount I had done, so I took it easy and turned my attention to look for housing and a job in Whistler, more about this in my next post about Whistler! The Rugby World Cup Quarter Finals were also on at this point, and South Africa vs Wales and Australia vs Scotland were both such thrilling matches to watch. There was an unbelievable amount of Aussies in the hostel, the only explanation I can think of for this is Australia gets unlimited quota for the number of working holiday visas for Canada, whilst the UK only has 5000.

In order to better my chances of a job, I completed a Serve It Right course, which is required in the British Colombia province if you were to do a job that serves alcohol. It costs $35 dollars and you take the course online, it essentially ensures you are aware of the issues of alcohol, when to stop serving people, how to look after them and how to deal with them. If you are planning on doing a working holiday in Canada and getting a bar job, you should get this done before coming out, it takes about 40 minutes.

On a rainy day me and Lewis decided to have a wonder down to Chinatown, since it is the largest in Canada and has been round since the 1880s. Chinatown here was massive, bigger than any I’ve seen in the UK, it’s an actual town rather than a street. What really urprised me as well is that there is a monument with two statues just outside Chinatown, a stark reminder of the suffering endured by this ethnic group for acceptance in Canada. The first is a railway worker, recognising the thousands of Chinese immigrants who lived and died building the trans-Canadian railway system. The second is a World War 2 era soldier for the Chinese Canadians who volunteered in war efforts, which later earned the Chinese the right to vote. The monument is a remembrance to the struggles of the ancestors of many who still live in the area and a celebration of multiculturalism.

Although initially there was much racism and lack of equality for Chinese immigrants in Vancouver, with media in current affairs highly covered around hatred, whether that’s due to race, religious belief, nationality, class, or even political association, it was great to see recognition and thanks made to an ethnic minority, and the acceptance of multiculturalism and appreciation of what immigrants can bring to a nation. It made me feel a bit disappointed that with the things happening in Syria people are acceptive to multiculturalism, and tend to judge a book by it’s cover rather than it’s content. Being in Chinatown we also of course went for Chinese food; having just been in Hong Kong for two weeks, it obviously did not compare, but was still lovely in comparison to some of the Chinese takeaways I’ve tried in the UK! Chinatown here is also home to a traditional Chinese Garden, although I have seen many before, it was great to see such a large Garden outside of Asia.

So on my final day, I decided I had to try one of the many food trucks here! There are over 100 permitted food trucks, carts and vendors selling a large variety of cuisines and foods on the streets of Vancouver at fair prices. I was so eager and greedy I tried two! First, Japadog, which you can probably guess by the name, Japanese inspired hot dogs with many celebrities and world athletes amongst it’s visitors, including the likes of Ice Cube and IMG_20151020_131337
Zac Efron. I got a Oroshi which consisted of freshly grated radish with a special soya sauce, spot on! Secondly, I can’t remember what it was called but it was a Pad Thai truck, where I got a vege pad thai, good portion sizes, fresh, and authentic.

My journey ended here in Vancouver, it is such a beautiful city, it is no surprise that Vancouver has been in the top 3 most liveable cities in the past 5 years!

I sure I will be back again soon as I am only heading up the road to start the next part of my adventure, Whistler!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to also thank the other travellers I have met along the way so far, the people you meet along the way as well as the places you make the adventures worthwhile.

“Happy People Don’t Have The Best Of Everything, They Make The Best Of Everything!”

Fragrant Harbour

Skyscraper City, Pearl of the Orient, City of Life… Just a few nickname for Hong Kong, a city where East meets West (Or really West meets East as the British came to Hong Kong and colonised it). Hong Kong translates to Fragrant Harbour, as it started out as a fishing village, salt production site and a trading group. Before I summarise my time in Hong Kong, let me tell you a bit about why Hong Kong is such a popular destination for travel.

With it’s reputation as Asia’s World City, it’s been a popular destination for business and tourism

For business, Hong Kong has one of the most hard-working workforces. It is not unusual for office based jobs to be required to work 40-50 hour weeks, sometimes working Saturdays as half days, and with only 10 days annual leave plus public holidays (17). Compare this to my previous job of 35 hours a week, 27 days annual leave, 3 closure days and 8 bank holidays and a good pay, I had it well! Because longer hours are a common thing and people are hard working, meant Hong Kong has a high productivity and efficiency rate, which led to it also becoming an international city of commerce and finance centre, with one of the highest concentrations of banking institutions in the world, with around 160 different licensed banks.

For tourism, in 2014 Hong Kong received 60.8 million visitors, spending around HK$359 billion. It’s East meets West culture had made Hong Kong a very popular destination with it’s abundance of architecture, cuisines, and goods. For architecture for example, it has the most skyscrappers in the world with around 8000 buildings having 14 floors or more, double that of New York!

In terms of cuisines, probably due to it’s ‘East meets West’ influence when it was a British colony, and it’s long history of being an international city of commerce, Hong Kong has an unlimited variety of food in every class, including the world’s most affordable Michelin Star rated dishes. It’s very common for people to eat out in Hong Kong as kitchens are usually small and cost of food isn’t very high; also culturally, Hong Kong people would meet over food rather than a drink in the pub like the British, but there is an arguement this may be a genetics thing, as during the cultural revolution in China under Mao, there were generations of starvation, this might also be one of the reason why you’d think Chinese people eat weird things such as chicken feet, beef tripe etc, which traditionally was to utilise all aspect of foods. Once the famine was over the dishes just stuck and are still available today, however because of this mentality to use all aspects of an animal, Chinese family produce very little food waste. Hong Kong is also one of the world’s highest per-capita concentrations of cafes and restaurants, at one restaurant for every 600 people!

When it comes to drinking, although expensive (expect around £6 a pint), there is an epic night life, with many roof top parties, and marketing schemes that wouldn’t be legal in the UK, such as a HKD$800 (~£70) entrance fee but all you can drink, or free entry for girls on ladies night, but HKD$600 for guys. If you know the right people or be at the right place at the right time, or although unfair but true, if you are Caucasian, you could have an awesome time and be very well looked after. I went out with a family friend’s daughter the last time I was back in Hong Kong, who came from a very well off background and had rather rich friends, one of the guys who apparently sneaked out from home, took his dad’s credit card, and ordered 16 bottles of premium champagne and a large bottle of premium vodka… and there were only 7 of us, I didn’t pay anything that night.

And finally for goods, there is no VAT/GST, and a top retail destination attracting 84% of the luxury brands. From big malls to atmospheric street markets, with clothing, cosmetics and electronics being the city’s strong suits. The city’s luminous neon lit streets are an indication of how big shopping is in Hong Kong; although I wouldn’t say it’s as much as a bargain as it use to be, there are still plenty good finds. An idea on price, the same 13″ macbook air from the apple store themselves would be almost £100 cheaper in Hong Kong.

My recent trip to Hong Kong was more about spending time with family and relaxing before my travels to Canada, and eventually South America. My dad was very supportive as he wanted to travel when he was younger but never had the opportunity to; my mum was also very supportive but as you can imagine with any mother, was rather emotional that I was potentially going to be away for two years. Both my parents must have been worried I was going to starve whilst travelling, as my 12 days in Hong Kong has been orientated around eating! After each meal we were discussing the next, and I can only remember eating at home four times! Everything from

Christie, Janice and I
Christine, Janice and I

the traditional dim sum and congee to Japanese shashimi and Vietnamese Pho, various noodle soups and hot pots to Mexican tapas and seafood. I did also get to meet up with some old primary school friends as well, considering I came to Hong Kong at the age of 8 and left at 13, every time I go back we seem to pick up where we left off, and always a barrel of laughs, especially at each others accents, British, Canadian, and Australian.

Another thing I always think about, is the saying ‘you don’t really know where you’re going, until you know where you came from’. One of my biggest regrets is not being closer to my grandmother before she passed away almost 6 years ago. I still remember the day I got the call from my uncle whilst I was on a night out, and my immediate feelings were of regret. My grandmother had been what I thought at the time, annoying me, complaining I never called her to let her know how I was getting on etc, and a week before she passed away I had a voicemail from her that I never replied, and I always wish I took the time and effort to call her back. I read a book called Sweet Mandarin, which was about a Chinese family’s journey from China, to Hong Kong, and immigrating to the UK, it was a great read and something I could relate to, it really triggered me to be more interested in my family, Hong Kong and Chinese history. I wished I could turn back time and spent more time with my grandma to get to know her history and my roots; fortunately my dad has many stories of his own and from my grandma, and in this trip back to Hong Kong spending more time with my family allowed me to discover more about my family and our history, where we even went back to where my dad use to live. Hong Kong is full of history itself, from the opium war with the British and start of the colonisation, to Japanese occupation in the second world war, and a good thing in Hong Kong is admission to museums is free on a Wednesday, and a visit to the history museum is a must, something I’d recommend to friends if they plan on visiting Hong Kong.

Sometimes I feel like a small fish in a big ocean when in the UK, occasionally feeling like I’m out of place. Although it’s usually just anxiety, I’ve always been one to challenge the norm, and the saying I mentioned before has never been so true for me, you don’t really know where you’re going, until you know where you came from. My family have come a long way to create a better life for me and my brother, and it’s important to understand what they have gone through in order for us to realise the struggles and sacrifices they have made in order to give us strength to take on what other challenges we may face, and realise the magnitude of the challenges compared to what our ancestors had been through. You may be close to your family already, but I’d encourage everyone to find out more about their family history, and never forget the importance of family.

“From humble beginnings come great things.”

Vancouver – Images

And The Wind Cries Mary

The temperature has cooled down with the high winds, but its still as humid with torrential downpour as typhoon Mujigae comes close to Hong Kong, triggering a hurricane signal number 3 and amber rainstorm warning signal for the past two days, causing 1000 flights to be delayed or cancelled. The typhoon has gone past Hong Kong now, but looking at the weather forecast, for my remaining time that I will be here it’s predicted 4 days of thunderstorms and 2 days of showers… I’ve arrived in the typhoon wet season!

The most interesting thing I’ve done recently, is acupuncture. Some of my friends may remember that I was involved in a bad cycling accident getting hit by a car about a yar ago, I still have slight issues with my back and shoulder. My dad needed to visit for his back as well and told me to go along too. A key component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into acupuncture points in the body. Apparently as well as people key points in the body, the needles are meant to help reduce blood clots and increase blood flow. It was a bit of a pinch when they put the needles in, but they then hook it up to a machine to send electric pulses around the body, which felt rather strange! I felt anxious the whole time that if I moved I’d get stabbed through… After around 10 minutes of the therapy, the acupuncturist then cracked my back a few times like a chiropractor would, but I have never heard so many cracks in one stretch. It was an interesting experience but I did feel a better after though.

Since I haven’t explored out of the flat much because of the weather, and as it’s been just over a year since the Occupy Movement of the Umbrella Revolution here in Hong Kong, I thought I’d give you a bit of background information into the matter, and a bit of an update on where it is now. It’s a good insight, so if you’re interested, keep reading! I’m coming to the end of my stay in Hong Kong, so will have more posts about my other experiences soon!

Hong Kong had spent over 150 years as a British colony, as well as its other successes, it enjoyed, while not full democracy, far more freedom and democracy than the rest of China. In 1997 Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty under the agreement of a ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model for at least 50 years after reunification, meaning they will retain their established system under a high degree of autonomy, basically pretty much everything apart from regional defence. The central Chinese government in 2014 published a controversial “white paper” on Hong Kong’s future, stating that it has ‘complete jurisdiction’ over the territory and is the source of its autonomy. At the time China also denounced the launch of a British parliamentary inquiry into the affairs of Hong Kong, and stated “As Hong K
ong is a Special Administrative Region of China, affairs of Hong Kong are purely China’s domestic affair, China is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposes Britain’s practice, and has lodged solemn representations”.

China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee has ruled that only candidates that Beijing approve of can run to be Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in the 2017 election, whilst notionally allowing universal suffrage, it is perpetuating ‘handpicked politics’.

On 22nd September 2014 the Hong Kong Federation of Students (equivalent to the NUS) and Scholarism (a pro-democracy student activist group started by a number of secondary school students in 2011) led a strike from education; on 26th September they started a sit-in protest outside government headquarters, and were subsequently joined by the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement, collectively being called the umbrella movement, occupying several major city intersections, causing a standstill to traffic (and unsurprisingly causing improved air quality to within the recommended safety levels of the World Health Organisation) and disruption to services and businesses nationally and internationally. As well as against China’s ruling, the protest was about protecting democracy and the freedom of speech.

Hong Kong and Beijing officials both denounced the occupation as “illegal” and “violation of the rule of law” (or more like Hong Kong officials being Sheep to Beijing), with Beijing officials claimed repeatedly that the West had played an “instigating” role in the protests, “sowing confusion” and “misleading society”, as well as undermining the authority of the communist party, they warned of “deaths and injuries and other grave consequences”, leading to fears of a repeat of the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989 (If you haven’t heard of it you’ll probably remember the icon image of a man standing in front of a row of tanks). Political protests are prohibited by Beijing (which has unofficially trickled down to Hong Kong) and Chinese leaders worried that the dissent could spread to the mainland. If there is a free election in Hong Kong, China is worried of a Hong Kong Chief Executive against the central Chinese government, but even more worried about other parts of China demanding the same, causing civil unrest elsewhere.

The Hong Kong government used court orders and it’s police force to remove protesters from the sites with unnecessary violence, using tear gas, pepper spray, and batons against majority peaceful protesters, with the use of umbrellas to protect themselves, hence the umbrella revolution. The police force came in like a wrecking ball, and final major site being removed on 14th December 2014. Throughout the protests the Hong Kong government’s use of the police and courts to resolve political issues led to accusations that these institutions had been turned into a political tools, compromising the police and judicial system in the territory and eroding the rule of law in favour of “rule by law”. In an interview, CY Leung (Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Officer) said that open elections would result in pressure on candidates to create a welfare state, arguing that “If it’s entirely a numbers game (numeric representation) then obviously you’d be talking to half the people in Hong Kong that earn less than US$1,800 a month (the median wage in HK). You would end up with that kind of politics and policies”.

Internationally, other nations and the UN condemned China’s action in general and against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The communist party’s argument that Hong Kong is a sovereign part of China’s territory is very difficult to argue with, stating “The covenant is not a measure for Hong Kong’s political reform”, and that China’s policy on Hong Kong’s elections had “unshakable legal status and effect”. China believes there is no precedent in international law for others to intervene in the “internal matter”.

Furthermore, China issued the following: “All websites must immediately clear away information about Hong Kong students violently assaulting the government and about ‘Occupy Central.’ Promptly report any issues. Strictly manage interactive channels, and resolutely delete harmful information. This [directive] must be followed precisely.” Many posts were deleted by the government, with a number of people arrested for showing support for the Hong Kong protests. Facebook and Twitter are already blocked in China, but the protest also lead to Instagram being blocked, as well as temporary blocks to the BBC and CNN at the time.

Unfortunately the occupation was not successful in changing China’s ruling, but it was successful in gaining international media coverage, highlighting China’s manipulation and lack of human rights.

After the occupation CY Leung said “Other than economic losses, I believe the greatest loss Hong Kong society has suffered is the damage to the rule of law by a small group of people… If we just talk about democracy without talking about the rule of law, it’s not real democracy but a state of no government”. Today, people of Hong Kong still seek universal suffrage, the student groups are discussing with the likes of Taiwan and Macau for joint activism, and China, still manipulates Hong Kong. The battle may had been lost, but the war goes on.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps” Confucius 

What Have I Come Back To?

Ok so this is a long one, and I’m warning you in advance that this is more of an update on Hong Kong since I last visited, it’s more one of my current affair type posts, if this still interests you, read on!

After 22 hours of travelling I finally arrived Hong Kong around 8:30pm on the 30th. My trip did not have a glamorous start, for the journey from Doha to Hong Kong, I was sat next to an overweight lady with a not so pleasant smell who took her socks off for the flight, and was coughing up a lung the whole way, using a sick bag as a spit bag…

The next day after I arrived was ‘National Day of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’, an annual national holiday to celebrate when the PRC was founded, or in other words, when the communists party took power over China. This national holiday is only a day in Hong Kong, but it is glorified in China with a ‘Golden Week’ of 7 days holiday (the only other 7 day holiday is Chinese New Year). The day has no celebration in the history of China or it’s culture, but usually consists of a military parade, fireworks, and a national public gallery of portraits of Chairman Mao, essentially a celebration of the political party; can you imagine if there was a national holiday every year on May 5th to celebrate the Conservative party?! Personally I think it’s part of their propaganda trying to ‘amplify’ the greatness of the party, by showing how they treat their people well allowing them 7 days off.

At this point I want to point out I’m not against China or it’s people, but I am against the Communist Party, I’m sure you’ve all heard of it’s lack of human rights and freedom of speech; therefore I will not celebrate this “national” day, but I did watch the firework display that evening on TV, which was ironic at one point when it was played to Imagine by John Lennon.

Mainlanders packing goods into suitcases

My parents have a place in Sheung Shui (上水), which is in the North District and near the boarder to mainland China. As we went for a stroll round town, something that was very notable is the number of “pharmacies” that have opened. As a bit of background knowledge, in mainland China there has been a lot of cases of fake products. Yes you’d expect fake Louis Vuittons, Prada and Gucci etc, but they’ve also been producing fake consumables that have caused many fatalities, which questions the faith in humanity when they knowingly risk people’s lives for a quick buck; for example fake baby milk formula, where it is believed that chemicals were added deliberately to substandard milk in order to pass nutrition test, causing 300,000 babies to be taken ill according to the China’s health ministry. This has resulted a massive parallel goods industry developed for the demand of mainland Chinese people wanting genuine and trustworthy products and brands, and willing to pay a lot of money for them, causing a big shortage and sky-rocketing prices, with traffickers claiming to be travellers and goods are for personal consumption (which is not true in majority of cases), evading taxes. Sheung Shui being one stop on the trainline from mainland China, it’s one of the prime locations for the traffickers, and the boom in pharmacies has been to supply this trade, which has unfortunately meant the closure of many local independent businesses to make way for these pharmacies. The traffickers have also caused general nuisance as they will purchase in bulk, and then pack them into suitcases outside the station leaving behind waste, causing blockages, crowding, and in generally just quite rude, it hasn’t left a great atmosphere in Sheung Shui (I haven’t really ventured out to the main city yet so)… I know I’m not selling Hong Kong right now, but please don’t let this put you off, as there is still plenty that Hong Kong has to offer, it’s unfortunate that the above has unfolded on my doorstep.

I suppose the most ‘exciting’ part of my first day was going for a haircut. My dad took me to a place called QB House, a Japanese style barber’s kiosk that offers a 10 minute no nonsense haircut with no time wasting or gimmicks. You pay in advance and get a ticket to join the queue, then when it’s your turn they aim to cut your hair within 10 minutes. The most unusual thing was, they have a hoover (or air washer as they call it) with a soft brush end they use to hoover your head to get rid of any excess hair! I’m not fond of the cut they gave me as I look like I’ve had a pancake on my head and look a right tool, but it’s done the job to tackle the heat.

Speaking of the heat, it’s been around 30oC and 80% humidity in Hong Kong. The heat is fine, but the humidity means your sweat can’t evaporate and everything feels clamy. And since I don’t own any sandals, I’ve even done something I never thought I would do, wear a pair of crocs that were spare lying around…

I hear you asking why I haven’t mention anything about the food yet! Don’t you worry, that will come in a separate post soon!

To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.Confucius 

Not a Goodbye, But a See You Later

20 hours till departure!

After a slight scare on Friday with my dad losing my bank card, to find he left it on top of the toilet about two hours later, I finally paid for my travel insurance and hostel costs at the weekend, have checked in online, and just need to pack (yes, I haven’t started yet!).

This weekend I was fortunate to have some of my closest friends visit to give a me a lovely send off. At one point it felt like a wake as everyone went round introducing themselves and telling everyone how they knew me and some highlight memories… I was quickly made to promise that I’d come back alive! It was great however to see so many of my friends from different social circles to have got on so well, and especially with Andrew S who I was best friends with when I was 5 in primary school, but lost contact when I moved to Hong Kong and reuniting after 20 years having bumped into his parents at a restaurant about a month ago!

Thanks everyone! I will miss you all!

Even the England Rugby team’s performance couldn’t bring a downer to the evening, as I felt truly blessed to have such a great group of people that I call friends.

An evening full of laughter, playing games like Killer (sort of an advanced version of wink murderer) which Gaz managed to turn all my friends against me!, the rugby, plenty of food and drink, and general chit chat; it was an evening to truly remember. There was also a very random and spontaneous burst into a sing-along led by our own Disney fanatic Michael Dignen to Let It Go!

Although I may not have any responsibilities in terms of mortgages or a family, I’ve still had to make sacrifices which I have often felt guilty about, but I’m very grateful for my family and friends who have provided me with reassurance and support, and I feel privileged that I will be sharing my adventure with them. Thanks to everyone who came along and particularly those who had to travel from afar, especially to Sarah who came after having just landed back from Brazil on a 20 hour travel journey!

I am sad that some people could not attend, and I was particularly gutted to not get to see a few individuals; but I hope to keep you updated with this blog, and with modern technology allowing instant chat to just be a click away, I hope we keep in touch.

I’m feeling more and more apprehensive the closer I get to departure, but I know the first steps are always the hardest, and I’ll be up and running in no time. See you all in a year (or two?)! Best get packing!

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”

The End of One Chapter, Is The Beginning of Another.

After 5 years of my student and sabbatical officer days in Newcastle, Sheffield was where my next chapter unfolded, working at the University of Sheffield. I came to this city for the first time for the job, working with disadvantaged young people to raise their aspirations and attainment, encouraging them to make informed decisions about their future, something that I really enjoy doing. Having been here for over two years, its been a big part of my life; I’ve had many ups and downs whilst in Sheffield (probably partially because Newcastle was a hard act to follow!), but I have no doubt enjoyed the steel city and the nearby Peak District. And least to say I met one of my best friends in Sheffield, who without I would probably have left earlier…

The Arts Tower from Western Park. Photo Credit: Alex Wilcock

One of the things I will miss is the Arts Tower, which has been my work place for the past two years. Once the tallest building in Sheffield (now the second) and currently the tallest university building in the UK since 1966, it’s also home to one of the biggest paternoster lifts of the few that are remaining, something that I have never seen or even heard of before I came to Sheffield! Situated on the top of Western Bank, it really had wonderful views over Sheffield.

Card and presents from colleagues at the University

Along with this I’m going to miss my colleagues, who have been a joy to work with and a barrel of laughs! It’s commonly said that it’s the people you work with that make the job satisfying, and this is very true in my case; I’ve made some great friends from work, and they are one of the many reasons why I’ve decided to start this blog and keep them updated.

From the highs of seeing Annie Mac to the lows of being burgled, all these experiences have help shape the person I am today. Saying goodbye to Sheffield wasn’t easy, but I am glad Sheffield has been a part of my life.

Good times come and go, but the memories will last forever. Thank you Sheffield.

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