About Spiral Moments

Spiral Moments captures my honest, straight-talking, personal observations on people, culture, travel and current affairs. Based in Hong Kong, Spiral Moments documents my experiences living a lifetime’s ambition, working and playing in the heart of Asia. If I think something is interesting, I’ll share it. I’ve been in Hong Kong for 18 months and it is one of the best cities in the world. I am originally from England in the UK.

Halloween – Send in the Clowns

Ah, All Hallow’s Eve, the only time of the year where the passage between the living and the dead opens, and the deceased souls of those once mortal beings can walk among us again.

These days, I’m not sure any of them would actually bother to come back. The world is a pretty shabby place to be honest.  Halloween is not so much now about pagan rituals, but rather commercialism, cash cows hijacking the true spirit of the festival for the promise of additional pocketed dollars.

Not that I have any serious issue with this.  Unlike Christmas, Halloween is a pretty piss-poor event in the UK.  It is ignored by many and half-heatedly embraced by those who do bother.  I can’t say I’m surprised. We are still Americanising our Christmas festival, despite decades moaning about American’s over-enthusiastic approach to the holiday.  Slowly we are turning our everyday high streets and supermarkets into American-Holiday shrines.  I’m not sure when it happened, but all I know is when I do venture back to for the Christmas holidays, I lose count of the number of huge, gigantic blow up Santa’s hanging off the houses of those who can barely afford the electricity to illuminate them in the first place.

Halloween in the UK has not yet gone down this road.  Perhaps it is its close proximity to November 5th and Bonfire night where we celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes and burn his effigy.  But apart from the usual university and nightclub parties, Halloween itself is usually quiet. The one night of the year the countries Chavs can venture out and cause a public nuisance behind the smoke screen of Halloween festivities.

In Hong Kong, it’s very different.

In a culture rich in long-standing superstition and urban legend, locals are use to the spiritual and such ghostly festivities.  Yet Halloween is very much embraced as a relief from the more serious ancestral days and represents an event for the children to enjoy some old fashioned candy hunting and photo’s with the hundreds of costume clad party goers down in central.

Unlike some western towns, Hong Kong is generally safe from the unsavory behavior that haunts Halloween nights.  A random pelting of eggs and flour from bored youths is unlikely to happen and even in the midst of the masses of drinking crowds, you will not see much disturbance.

For party goers though, the traditional rules of Halloween still apply.

Young females with skinny bodies will wear as a little as possible, using this one night of the year as an excuse to dress like a bit of a slapper.  Men may use this opportunity to explore their feminine side.  Everyone though out and about on Halloween night will get involved.

This year I bought a clown outfit.  I always said I would.  Although it did look a bit like a jester/joker outfit, I made sure I had some juggling balls to entertain the crowds. It was a one size fits all which I was too fat for, so I had my back exposed to the city for most of the night.  But it was fun.  I like wearing makeup.

Political and topical outfits are always the best.  Perhaps sometimes a little distasteful. But you really can’t stop a guy dressing as Jimmy Savile if he really does want to explore this side to his personality.

By midnight it is all irrelevant anyway as your costume will be half-hanging off you, along with any of your female friends you started the night with.  By the early hours you will be Zombie, either off to bed or off to Wanchai, trying to avoid a very different creature of the night.

However you chose to celebrate though, I think many will agree that a Hong Kong Halloween is one of the best around.

5 things that the Hong Kong Autumn Signals

OK so maybe not cool cats in lime helmets, but these 5 symbols of a Hong Kong Autumn are concrete. 

Halloween

A time to fight the crowds of Pottinger Street to purchase that overpriced, highly flammable costume that never looks like it does in the pack, never comes with the accessories that you think it will and is clearly not one-size-fits all…

Fast forward 12 hours and you’ve lost half you outfit, most of your friends, and are wandering the streets of Lan Kwai Fong hammered, searching for a taxi to McDonalds.

Oktoberfest

Traditionally running September to November in Hong Kong, Oktoberfest if all about overindulgence of beer, large German sausages and, well more beer.  The city never needs an excuse to party, but Oktoberfest offers at least structure in the Calendar like the Rugby Seven’s, Junk Season and, yep Halloween.

Get down the Happy Valley races to hear them play the Birdie Song after every race (yes, apparently this is one of Germany’ lesser known creations).

Fashion Change

With the weather dipping below the 25 degree mark, it’s time to get out your winter gloves and scarf’s ready for that chilly 10 degree weather.  Visit H&M to purchase some ill-fitting jumpers, and M&S for some woolly socks.

Watch out for those morning ‘Cold Weather’ warnings from the HK Observatory, they are critical in avoiding pneumonia on the Monday commute.

Hot Pot

Nothing says welcome autumn like sharing saliva with your friends over an under-cooked pot of E. Coli. The annual ritual of dipping speared live shrimps into a vat of boiling water really is one of the lesser known parts of Chinese culture for tourists.

A group feeding frenzy which, if you are not concentrating on your local friends, can result in an order of goose intestines – hotpot is a right of passage for expats in the city.  I have still not upgraded myself to Congee Hotpot.  I hope I never do.

Hiking

In the summer you battle the intense heat of the trails of Hong Kong whilst trying to stay healthy.  In autumn you battle the locals and their obsessive use of the umbrella. To avoid, you have to increase the intensity, which then increases the pain.  But on any weekend, stepping out onto the Dragons Back is an absolute nightmare.

Although, I do like the guys with the traditional Chinese songs playing on their little radios. Those guys can stay :)

Jack’s Union with Hong Kong

For anyone residing in Hong Kong, you would have to be housebound, blind or at least flag ignorant not to have noticed the increasing use of the Union Jack in modern Hong Kong fashion this year.  The visual identity of the sovereign nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island is cutting a trend through the streets of Hong Kong.

Yesterday I counted at least five tops and T-shirts worn, mainly by young females, with the stamp of the former colonial ruler stylishly showcased. That same evening at a classical music recital of all things, I was welcomed by a chap wearing a massive ‘Great Britain’ top. Brilliantly patriotic.  

In our Jubilee Year, after a summer of quite incredible sporting achievement, it is refreshing to see such recognition for one of the worlds greatest nations.  But is this just designers tapping into the British ‘feel good factor’ or is this something a little deeper?

No-one can argue that there is a certain sense of nostalgia running through the veins of Hong Kongers toward us Brits, despite the Chinese propagandist standpoint that Great Britain’s 140 year rule was an oppressive era of unhappiness, conveniently airbrushing out years of dramatic growth and profitability which made Hong Kong the financial hub of Asia.

But perhaps it is this mainland connection that has fuelled this recent influx of red, white and blue. 

July 1st 1997 is the date when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty. 15 Years on, July 1st is a day symbolic with a certain percentage of Hong Kong’s mood of anger and resentment.  This year the 2012 protests carried with it something a little extra to mark 15 years.  

For accompanying the usual demonstrations against the government and Beijing, there was a sense of taunting the former motherland with feelings of contempt.  Demonstrators were spotted waving the old colonial flag, the one with the Union Jack in the corner. Others just waved traditional Union Jacks.  Support of its former ruler? Unlikely.  Rather more just a big ‘Up-Yours’ to the Beijing bureaucrats who have tried to enforce their communist ideology.

After all, there have been raising tensions of late.  Cultural battles with the number of mainland visitors in the city, favoured Beijing governors and proposed new educational reforms have all lead to a measure of displeasure and distrust.  Identify was something I covered previously. How Hong Kong residents refer to themselves.  It is clear the Peoples Republic of China wishes for its prodigal son to embrace its father yet the distant shadow cast by its once guardian is like a bad smell lingering in the city for those pencil pushers in Beijing.

The city’s style guru’s new love affair with old Jack is unlikely to help Beijing in its quest.

But for a patriotic Brit like myself, I’m all for it!

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**For those who received this in super-super small text, I’m using a new wordpress backend which, inshort, is a bit crap.**

A brief hello… and I’m back…

So after a brief hiatus from my blog, I am now back and focused on giving you all some insight into what’s going on in Hong Kong and Asia.  Not that I have much to discuss today mind.  For those who don’t know though, I recently changed jobs and upgraded myself as a professional.  I wanted to continue my stay in Hong Kong but needed something else to focus on, to keep my interest in the city high and to stop that usual 2 years-in feeling of staleness and boredom.

I had a choice. 

I could either find a new job which would take more of my time and energy, or find a new challenge in the form of a hobby. 

Given my previous disastrous attempts at learning a local language, this was quickly out the equation.  No one deserves to have to deal with me on a Tuesday evening trying to prounounce “Ngóh go mèhng giu Wai On!”  I considered Dragon Boating but decided that I would again defer this commitment for another year.  I have friends who have started baking, gardening, painting, hiking… but for me, that is one hell of a weekend and I really don’t have the vigour for this sort of lifestyle.

So a change of career it was… 

Shall be adding some new stories, experience and observations soon!

For now though, I just wanted to say hi!

Rocket Man’s Doomed Failure…

So, our reclusive and secretive Asian neighbour has successfully failed to launch a rocket and its apparent weather ‘satellite’ into orbit, after a grand show by the new young Supreme Leader of their intent on, well, being able to launch rockets. 

Unhan-3 was to most of the world an UN-breaching Ballistic missile test, masquerading as a weather satellite, seen as part of their much longed desire to have the capabilities of delivering nuclear payloads to pretty much every other country.  Indeed if North Korea was a teenager, it would be one of those America grungy types that walk around in trench-coats, listening to Slipknot and slowly going mad inside their own mind as they concoct the best way to blow the heads off their more civilized and normal classmates.

The launch was supposed to fly into ‘polar-orbit’ down the west coast of the Korean peninsula, delivering the satellite and allowing those much sort after weather system feedbacks that could be reported to the rest of the North Korean population, you know, those who live without electricity.  It was supposedly to be a triumphant moment, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of national founder Kim II-sung.

It ended though as many predicted.  A Spectacular Failure.

As Barack Obama said the day after:

“They have been trying to launch rockets now for over a decade…they don’t seem to be very good at it…they should maybe focus on feeding their people”.

What is different about this failure though, is that Pyongyang has taken an unusual step in confirming the failure of the mission.  Most announcements from this propaganda infected state focus on the country’s many successes and the usual praise for the ‘Great One’.

Yet amid detailed US, South Korean and Japanese reports of rocket debris falling from the rockets predicted path, Pyongyang has acknowledged things didn’t quite go as according to plan and have not delivered to the international community the usual BS.  That’s not to suggest that those inside North Korea have also heard this truth.  Most likely, they are now under the impression the rocket was a raving success, placed into orbit with the help and guidance of a mysterious crane like creature that lives in the clouds and nursed the rocket to eternal Korean glory in respect for the oh-holy one. 

That fact that they lap up this sort of dribble is testament to how great the North is at inventing this fantasy, Trueman Show like world for its population.

The North of course won’t give up until they achieve their ultimate goal of Nuclear Armageddon.  After revealing two rather hideous looking statues to the former Great Leaders, the news agencies observing their progress seem to suggest a third Nuclear device test is on the cards, so we can be assured of more aggressive developments to come and more finger-pointing and laughing moments.

If you are going to try to launch rogue rockets though, try to send something up that doesn’t look like a ten-year olds papier-mâché science project.

Remember you are friends with China.  China invented fireworks.  These are mini-rockets. China also makes big rockets.  Ask your friend how to make rockets in the future.

My Ching Ming Festival

Hong Kong and China is the home of some random public holidays.  Sporadically scattered throughout the year, Hong Kong enjoys 17 and although some are random midweek days, it’s always good to have a day off work!

Last Wednesday, it was the Ching Ming Festival

Dating back thousands of years, this traditional Chinese public holiday is observed as a day where the Chinese visit the graves or burial grounds of their departed loved ones and ancestors.  Affectingly known as Grave-Sweeping or Spring-Remembrance, young and old will spend the day praying before their ancestors and will sweep their tombs, offering gifts of food and drink.  Chopsticks will be offered and Joss Paper (Gold Paper) will be burned to ensure the spirits of the departed have a lot of items in the afterlife.  These papier-mâché type offerings can come in the form of money, cars, houses and even mobile phones. 

The day is very busy with routes to cemeteries jammed.  Extra public transport is usually run to cope with the increased traffic to the burial areas around the city.  I heard my neighbours leave around 6am, off to their own personal sites to spend the day.

And it’s not just a Chinese festival.  Even in Asian counties where the holiday is not acknowledged, such as Singapore and Malaysia, the festival is seriously observed with its tradition and ritual religiously followed. 

The festival sums up that great Chinese tradition of family and respect.  I admit when I first heard of the ‘Grave-Sweeping’ Festival, I found the concept hard to grasp, but at times you do feel that this sense of importance is something that is missing from Western culture.

Would British society be better if we had this sense of respect?

As I become more rounded with Asian culture, I feel privileged to have this exposure and to learn these valuable insights.  For me, I spent Wednesday in the mountains of the New Territories hiking with friends with the wild Monkey’s and exploring the World War II tunnels.  It was a great day with just as much significance.  I may not have been brought up to worship and provide for my ancestors, but I was brought up to acknowledge and respect history, and the sacrifices made to keep British history alive.  I may not have known them, but I respect those British and allied forces who have died protecting our interests.

After all, I most likely wouldn’t be in Hong Kong without it.

Air vent to the outside world, spiral moments

How not to cycle Lantau Island…

Last Saturday, in an attempt to avoid another weekend on the Hong Kong Booze trail, drowning in sambucca and burping segments of sick, a few of us decided to try and stay fit by tackling one of the many Mountain Bike trails on Lantau Island.  We had a route in mind, an 11K loop starting and ending in Mui Wo, taking in the vast terrain and beautiful sights of ‘Snake Island’. 

We set off on the 11am Ferry to Mui Wo with coffees, pastries and hangovers in tow.  After a quick stop for water, sodium based snacks and a much required bacon sandwich; we got our bikes and checked the route. 

Now being the Western mountain bike Supremos that we are, we of course knew best and didn’t listen to the nice, local, Lantau born-and-bred lady renting us the bikes who advised that our chosen route was perhaps a bit too challenging and not enjoyable. 

She was correct.

It turned out to be a 1.5K trek until the start of the trail where we carried the bikes for about 1.499999K of that.  When we did find a straight, it brought with it a fierce downhill which inevitably sucked in our pack leader who flew over her handle bars after a touch too much front brake.  That was 5 minutes into us actually cycling. 

After an hour of hills, steps, steep drops and more hills, we arrived at the start of the trail.  It was like ultimate hiking with bikes.  The sort of hiking the Gurkhas do.  Once on the ‘official mountain biking trail’ it got no better.  Boulders the size of small houses began blocking our route at every turn.  The bikes ended up on our shoulders more than we ended up on the bikes. 

Mountain bike trail my arse.Hard to take a clear picture when on a bike

20 minutes later the next member of our little group took a tumble.  On a flat piece of dirt tack, we again encountered another random and pointless set of boulders.  Braking to dismount, the back wheel skidded out and over the edge.  Not able to balance herself, we watched as the front began to rear up and in slow motion, she disappeared over the edge and down a 5 foot drop into some rather unforgiving and mean looking brambles.

I’m still giggling as I write this.

Battered, bruised and ultimately knackered we persisted, now battling the heat and humidity.  As the trail became denser, the insects started to bite more, adding to the overall joy of the experience.  At one stage I could bearly see such was the sweat pouring from my brow and into my eyes.

Two bike chain jams, another fall and the eventual snapping of said jammed chain brought an end to our cycling.  4k out from our destination, we hiked the rest, pushing the bastard bikes as we progressed as slow as a funeral procession.  Not that it really mattered; we wouldn’t have been able to cycle it anyway.  It was horrific.

Silently and grazed, bruised, bleeding, bitten and sunburnt we limped along until after 5 hours we found a small shop which provided us with water, food and beer.  A taxi van was ordered and we returned to the rental shop notably less enthusiastic then when we started.

Epic Fail.

Now, would I recommend it?  Sure.  To the delusional and clinically insane.

Should you fit that bill and wish to give it a go, you will need the following: 

  • CountryPark Bike permits which will not arrive in time.
  • HK$300 for the rental of old and crippled mountain bikes
  • Plasters and bandages
  • A satellite phone
  • Strong biceps
  • Spare change for a taxi
  • To listen when someone warns you not to do the trail

 

Why I let the Rugby Sevens Destroy Me… Again

Anyone order a pussy cat?

The Rugby Sevens weekend has once again given me the biggest hangover of the year so far, and I now as I write this, I am watching the finals on TV as I cannot actually move from the sofa.  Last year I enjoyed the finals live in the Stadium, seeing England lose in the final of the cup to New Zealand.  Today I saw them go out in the semi-finals and New Zealand lose the final to Fiji, after my first Saturday in the stadium, and blimey what a day!

For those of you unfamiliar with the 7’s, it’s a global event of 9 competitions (10 next year) where nations compete in teams of 7 for 7 minute half’s.  It’s full sized pitch, quick style rugby where if you have the ball you work it up the pitch to score the try, and if you don’t have it, you do everything to can to win it back!  Matches can be decided in seconds.  It’s a great concept, with the usual rules of rugby applying.  At times you watch in awe as teams make the aches of grass space disappear, clamping down the oppositions space. 

It’s physical, quick, athletic and brutal.  In short – it’s awesome.

The whole city embraces this weekend, with expats and local’s alike hunting down tickets months in advance – tickets that are harder to find than gold dust!  Rugby fans and clubs pour into the city throughout the week, staking claim to the bars and clubs of Wanchai and LKF and really kick-starting the year for the Hong Kong social scene.

The special and prestigious 3-day tournament which has seen a surge in popularity these last few years brings with it an incredible atmosphere in and out of the stadium and some quality rugby!  Fancy dress is the order of the day with many arriving around 8am in the morning to queue for the much sorted spot in the South Stand where the party really gets going!  Singing, drinking, and at times they also watch the rugby!

Outside the chilled beer garden looks after those without tickets or who have been written off by the drinking levels inside the stadium, streaming the live matches on the Big Screen.

HK fans live it up like no one else.  It’s a great party! 

This year I was with friends in the East Stand, and after a heavy night out on Friday to kick-start the weekend, I peeled my face off the pillow on the Saturday morning and had the first pint in my hand for breakfast come 10am.  No fancy dress from me this year, I’m still recovering from my stint at the Christmas party where I dressed as Dame Edna Everage.  However, I had the spirit of the rest of the occasion down to a tee.  The day onward went something like this:

Drinking, rugby, drinking, rugby, chanting, singing, drinking, rugby, pizza cones, crisps, rugby, drinking, chatting up Carlsberg girls, drinking, rugby, camera phone pictures, drinking, rugby, abusing friends on text, drinking, rugby, misspelling texts, clowning around, drinking, rugby, Hey-Ho – let’s go, failed Mexican waves, drinking and more rugby…

In the end – I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing.  Although I do remember the rugby, my body clock was all over the place.  4pm felt like it should have been 4am.  My head was a mess of confusion.  Post-rugby, we went to the beer tent for more drinking and dancing. The rest is a bit hazy, although I remember wandering around LKF in the early hours… wowzers is all I can.

I guess I let the 7’s destroy me each year as I consider it a right of passage for those of us living and working in Hong Kong.  As a mate said to me on Friday night when I secured my ticket for Saturday. “Oh glad to see you’re not chickening out on me!!”  With my party reputation to be upheld, I couldn’t let this weekend pass without the 7’s punching my liver in and reminding me of my place in the drinking society.

This post is not that articulate as I am really struggling to write at the moment, however in conclusion I can honestly say that the 7’s is a great social event to see friends, but not engage in any meaningful conversation!

Bring on 2013.  And if you’ve never come out for it, get yourself here!