Monday, January 5: You can really take me with a grain of salt. No sooner do I write a paragraph about China being able to just stand by and watch HK self-destruct, when China does something. It has sent in a trouble-shooting envoy to replace, Wang Zhimin, the very unpopular one, who was here. The new envoy is Luo Huining, and he has zero experience in Hong Kong, but a ton in settling disputes in other parts of China. He was on the retirement path of a cushy head-office job for five years. Just a few days into it, he was called for HK duty. He wasted no time meeting with Carrie Lam, HK’s chief executive and giving her marching orders to restore order and do something about the terrible living conditions for the poor that are likely at the root of it. Watch this space ten days later.
I was reading the SCMP, while having the Conrad’s lovely brunch, of course. I had managed to have just scrambled eggs most days on the ship and was determined to continue, so I had them again, even though there were lots of temptations, like this char siu bao. OK, so I added it.
I had a lot of travel work to do and plenty of days in HK, so I mainly worked and went to the gym. Soon enough, it was time to go meet Lloyd Chao for dinner at the HK Country Club. Lloyd had been snagged by Vivian and Kenny Wan, who were having dinner with their three sons, when they saw Lloyd, so they ended up adopting both of us. This time of year, the kids are home from their International schools and universities abroad and tables of families abound. Tables of families abound all the time in Hong Kong, just now, the families are complete. The country club was packed. It’s in Deepwater Bay, which is an affluent suburb of HK, near to other affluent suburbs, like Stanley, Tai Tam, Ap Lei Chau, etc. The people there aren’t going to Central for dinner anymore, especially on Sundays, when the protesters are active. They just do the little short drive to the Country Club, where they lament about the state of Hong Kong. The protesters have talked past the sale and now they are damaging the economy. That is not the Hong Kong way.
I got to meet Lloyd’s 89-year-old mother, she who wrote “Remembering Shanghai” a couple of years ago. They are now making it into a TV series. I’ll let you know when you can watch it. There’s a lot of material. It should be good and Lloyd is in that business. While he was waiting with me for my taxi back to Central, I had to step aside so a fan could have her picture taken with him. The only good thing I can see about the protests, is that they sure have cut down on the traffic. There are no more long taxi queues and no traffic to speak of once you get your taxi.
Monday, January 6, I decided it was time to get going on my Chinese furniture project. I had been warned that there were not the number of furniture stores and antique shops that there used to be, but I figured surely Shoeni must still be in business. Some of Elvon’s and my best stuff came from there. Google Maps still had the place on Old Bailey street, just above Lan Quoi Fong, where I remembered it. I took a tram and made for the Mid-Levels escalator. That didn’t do me much good, as they were refurbishing the first section, from Queen’s Rd. to Hollywood Road and that was the part I needed.
So, I trudged up the hill, walked a block to Old Bailey Street and trudged up some more, quite a lot more, actually. And, it wasn’t there. I saw the place I think it was, but no Schoeni. I found one antiques shop on Hollywood Rd. but it didn’t have any big stuff. I walked back down Pottinger Street and made my annual pilgrimage to the lanes, for a red copy watch and some souvenirs, as gifts for friends back in my other two homes. I got back with time to go to the gym and clear my email, before it was time to go to The Dynasty Club, for dinner with my McGill Society friends, Elizabeth Law, Paul Chan, Anna and Yuk Shan Wong, Thomas Shek and Lily Chu.
I decided to walk to The Dynasty Club, which I remembered as being closer to the Conrad than it is. Google said it would take 18 minutes, but I managed to make it take three-quarters of an hour. I had on the shoes that Mary told me to throw out in Dublin. She’ll be glad to know they never stepped out of the Conrad again, at least not on my feet. They were very sore feet by the next morning. I was just twenty minutes late for dinner. It was a delicious dinner. Thomas really knew how to order and we had the place to ourselves. That was not good. Not good for the Club, not good for the economy, not good for Hong Kong. Elvon belonged to that Club and I never saw it empty, back in our day. I realized what a tribute it was for these people to have come out. It was fun to catch up with my good old McGill friends, all of whom are younger than I am. I have a card to photograph and send to Ernie Scalberg, too. YS wanted to be remembered. You’ll find him in this picture, Ernie.
Small world, Hong Kong. They talked about the protests, and, for the third night in a row, I heard how much everyone wants it over, and how they worry. The press is not being fair to the police, who, they are convinced, are not exercising police brutality. Au contraire, they need to use more force. The protesters are the ones who are brutal and they need to stop and be content, at least for now, with what they have won. China won’t step in because that’s what the US wants. They wouldn’t be surprised if the protests were US funded, at least the mercenaries, anyway.
YS drove me home to the Conrad, which was a good thing, as I could hardly walk by the end of dinner. (The shoes, not the booze.) I applied liberal amounts of liniment to my ankles and slept like a baby. On Tuesday, the 7th, I could barely make it to the bathroom. My left ankle loosened up enough to get me down to the buffet but I knew I had better put it up for at least a day or two. I went furniture shopping on the Internet. At least, I tried to find the places in Hong Kong that might have what I wanted. The stuff was all over the place twenty five years ago. I googled Schoeni again, this time straight Google, not Google Maps. Its own web page told me it was closed temporarily. I don’t see it opening again any time soon in the Hong Kong of today. There was plenty of work to do on my computer and I could do it from my bed, with my feet up and the best view in the world.
I also took a taxi to the Grand Hyatt to meet the Apps for dinner. Vic and Leona’s daughter, Claire, was in town for the holidays. She’s now a producer/director in LA. I remember when she made her first film in HK, 25 years or so ago. The Grand Hyatt has an amazing buffet, and it, at least, was full. Claire is a vegan, and there was plenty there for her to eat, but it wasn’t the exotic stuff the rest of us had. I ate lobster two ways, chilled with seafood sauce, and hot, Chinese style with ginger and shallots, crab, sushi and sashimi, foie gras, braised short ribs, and three desserts, a mille-feuilles, a charlotte rousse and bread pudding with crème anglaise. I missed the lamb, duck, suckling pig, chicken, 15 hot vegetable dishes, and who knows how many salads.
The Apps have retired in Hong Kong. They bought an apartment across the road from The American Club in Tai Tam. Their son Vic, Jr. lives here too, now, and they keep a flat in London. I am hoping to see them in Montreal, soon, along with the Wongs and a lot of other HK friends. I have a lot of payback to do. I should let you know I am not quite the sponge I appear to be here. I brought very good wine to most of my dinners, Stags Leap Cab Sav, 2014, to be exact. Watson’s Wine shop isn’t giving it away either. I didn’t, mind you, try to compete with David Pong’s wine cellar.
Wednesday, January 8, my ankle was still swollen, and I still had plenty of work to do, so I did it in bed again. It’s such a luxury to be able to. So far, I am having the kind of holiday you have at the seaside, doing your writing and such with your feet up, with the occasional stare at the ocean. I like this better. I have it all, including the ocean, the most beautiful city view I know, and lovely friends for dinner every night. This is my idea of a holiday. I’m just a city girl. It comes with tea in the Executive Lounge, too, where I undo all the good the scrambled eggs do me. It’s the scones and clotted cream kind of tea.
Dinner was at the FCC, with my Mensa friends, Simon Clennell, Don Meyer and Cindy Kwok. Caroline Mo, came, too. We drank the Stags Leap, among other things. I got to eat calf’s liver and we all went home a lot earlier than we did back in the day. So good to catch up, with the friends still living in HK. Simon and Delia might be going back to the UK at some point, though. He has inherited his dad’s house in the country and is starting to fancy himself a country squire, pottering around the garden and all. We’ll see about that.
My ankle was showing improvement, but I worked from my bed again on Thursday, January 9, and, for the first time, I didn’t have a lunch or dinner engagement. I got a lot of travel work done, some moving related work and I finished my log for Distinctive Voyages, from which this blog stems, when I am at sea. I thought I would take a tram into Causeway Bay for dinner alone, but I worked so late, I thought I’d just stay in the Pacific Place Mall. I bought a pair of shoes to replace the ones that did my ankle in. They’re too wide, of course, but they lace. I ate at Yè Shanghai, choosing a starter and two dim sums. The starter was chicken, glass noodles and peanut sauce and I loved it, after I picked the cucumber out. Then I had Shanghai dumplings and pot stickers. I washed it all down with a San Mig and went home to bed.
Friday the 10th, I was still in the room working, but I was back at the desk, where I can work faster. It’s interesting how often they interrupt you, to make up the room, bring fruit, or try to turn it down at 4:30pm. They have an uncanny way of knowing when I am on the toilet. too. It almost never fails. I am still spoiling myself with tea and scones and it has to stop. I bought myself a new outfit, 60% off. It’s a size 12, and just barely closes at the waist. I took my purchases up to my room and came back down for dinner. The mall is practically deserted at every time of day. There’s no traffic when I look down at the city’s main thoroughfares. It’s wrong, very wrong. I don’t like it a bit. I want the hustle bustle back. You can get into usually busy restaurants without a reservation, too. I picked Hom10, a Sushi Bar. That’s a good choice for a single. You order your food by the piece and quit when you’ve had enough. I went through $600HK worth and I only had one beer. I wanted warm sake but I would have had to buy the whole bottle. The food was excellent, though. I was very happy.
On Saturday the 11th, I went to the gym right after breakfast because I didn’t know when Don Meyer’s lunch would be over, and he had offered to escort me to their home in the New Territories. Don’s lunch was over by two something and my ankle was well enough for me to walk over to the Admiralty MTR station to meet him. I bought an Octopus card, and the clerk asked me if I was over 65. Since I am one of the very few people in HK with grey hair, it wasn’t much of a stretch. I asked her if she wanted to see proof and it’s a good thing she didn’t because that would have queered the deal, which is only for HK residents. Anyway, I put down $HK50 and seeded it with $HK20, and for less that ten bucks, $6.40 of which is refundable, I went all over town and have plenty to use again next time. I’m paying $HK2 per ride. There are 7.8 HK dollars in a US dollar, so, a quarter. Taxis are cheap because they are competing with this.
We rode the MTR to the end of its line and got on a train for a couple more miles above ground. Then we hopped a minibus, because it’s straight up to Don and Cindy’s house, and I mean straight up. It’s some hill, and it’s a one lane road, which is quaint with high rise buildings all around. Don and Cindy live on the 4th floor of a low rise near the top of the hill. It’s the top floor. For HK, it’s a very spacious apartment, probably about the size of mine. They overlook a ravine and you’d swear you were in the country, if you didn’t know better. They have an adorable Pekinese rescue dog named “Jolie” and I only heard her bark once, and that was when we came in. A “Hello”, really.
I was planning to take Don and Cindy out for supper in their ‘hood, but it turned out way better. Between our planning on Thursday, and Saturday, they were invited to Cindy’s nephew’s 31st birthday party. It’s a typical Chinese family thing. Everybody’s birthday gets celebrated, so they all get together a couple of times a month, always at least three generations. I was just going to go back to the Conrad, but somehow, while I was sitting there, I got invited, too. I love these things to pieces, 16 people around a big table with a lazy susan full of fabulous food that just keeps coming. The Kwok family has three or four favorite restaurants. This one was called “Honorary Family” and it was huge. They put up a lot of divisions, though, so we had a sort of room of our own. It overlooked the fish tanks and we had these local lobsters.
We also had suckling pig, squid, crab, scallops, chicken, pigeon, BBQ pork, sweet and sour pork, steamed garoupa and a lot of veggie dishes which I managed to ignore. I met Cindy’s parents and her sisters, Patty, who works for Manulife, and Alice, who hosted because Erin, the birthday boy, was her son. Patty’s delightful daughter was there, too, home from school, and about 5 young men, who were brothers and friends, but I kept getting them mixed up. It was totally fabulous, and I loved every yummy minute. More people who can come visit me, as long as they don’t all come at once.
Sunday the 12th the main event was lunch. I have readers who tell me they put weight on just reading my blogs. You can well imagine what it’s doing to me. I brought 2 bottles of Stags Leap to this one, because I knew it was going to be over the top. My hosts were my HK family, the Lams, all present and accounted for, too. Jackie and her daughter, Amanda, home for the holidays, picked me up at the Conrad and we added Allan from his office. Alwin and Agnes and Chi Wai and Isabella were already there. We didn’t wait for Kyung Jin and Natasha, because they were at Natasha’s choir practice and we knew they’d be late. This brunch buffet was about the same size as the Grand Hyatt’s dinner, if not bigger. Lobster, crab, marinated salmon, oysters on the half shell, clams, mussels, everything on four legs except the table, everything that flies through the air except the airplane, everything that swims in the sea except the submarine. The most impressive thing was probably the tomahawk, a very interesting cut of beef, in which the bare bone is the handle and axe shaped part is the meat. It was like roast beef only more tender than you have ever had. We wanted for nothing, and when Jackie’s birthday cake came out, no one had any room for it. So, she took it home. Momentai. (That’s Cantonese for “no problem”). Again, we talked about universities, as the younger generation gets close. Amanda is already there. Again, we’re on the side of the HK police. The protesters lost most HK people when they persisted past the concession. They don’t know how to win and no one respects that.
After lunch Chi Wai dropped me off at Horizon Plaza, where I would have the best chance of finding furniture for my apartment. It’s a 28 story mall, if you can imagine that. Most of the stores are either fashion outlets or furniture and décor. There are only two specializing in Chinese antiques. I found something suitable for a reasonable price but the shipping charges were twice the price of the buffet. I could have added a bunch of other stuff for the same price, but I’m not in the furniture retail business. I went home and started taking a long look at Alibaba.
After that lunch I was able to break the tea habit. I almost broke the supper habit, too. Around 6:30pm, I went to the Executive Lounge for Happy Hour. They had a nice variety of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, and it worked just fine. It also had an interesting looking single man, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. We exchanged a couple of words and went out separate ways. I spent some more time furniture shopping on the Internet.
Monday the 13th, I finally submitted my report to Distinctive Voyages, the first time ever I have met the 14 day deadline for that process. I just knew that if I didn’t get it done in HK, it would be setting the opposite record. Once I am in California and Montreal, there won’t be any free time to speak of. As it is, I sleep more than ever, and just dealing with email takes about three hours a day. Yes, yes, I know there’s travel work mixed in there, and it all gets done, but it doesn’t leave that much for projects, décor shopping, etc. So a bunch of stuff got done and I went to the gym, and I stayed away from tea, in favor of happy hour.
My fella came in again and I offered the other seat at my table. He was meeting his business associate but sat down with me while he waited. We got along like a house on fire. He’s very funny. When his colleague arrived, he introduced me as his sister and the guy believed it. No wonder I thought he was good looking. We really do look like each other. He lives in Shanghai, and for all I know he has a wife and six kids, but a little spark among friends is a nice thing. So, next time I’m in Shanghai. Yeah, right.
Now come a couple of days of both lunch and dinner, when I am lucky to get through my emails and go to the gym. Tuesday I hopped a tram in front of the Conrad and got off at the China Club for lunch with Joachim Isler, who started off as a friend of Cathryn’s and became a friend of our family. He now has a wife and a son and is into this new phase in his life. We all change. Except the China Club. It doesn’t. I spent another hour and a half doing research on which tram I would need to meet the Apps at the Crowne Plaza for the races on Wednesday night. I did it by taking the first one that came and when it didn’t turn, I got off and took a different one. Surprise, surprise, the one marked Happy Valley stopped right in front of the hotel. I just stayed on it and it took me back to the Conrad.
There I freshened up and changed for dinner and a little junk trip in the harbor. It’s a tourist package that I had never done, but a few people, including Dr. Sue, had told me it was great. The weather was fine, my friend, Mabel Lam, was agreeable, and off we went. The restaurant is Hutong on the top floor of a high rise facing the water from the Kowloon side. When it first opened it was fine dining. I wouldn’t call it that anymore, but it was decent, and they kept us to our time schedule. It wasn’t hard, because the tourist trade is so down that there were less than ten of us in the restaurant, who were going on the junk. So, the junk sold to all comers at the pier and I probably could have got it a lot cheaper, but it didn’t matter. It was a fun evening and we did see a lot of pretty lights, while sipping our wine.
Mabel and Ramon are nearing retirement age and they likely will retire in Hong Kong, too. She’s from Vancouver and he’s from New Zealand. They have one kid settled in Canada and one in Australia. Mabel’s mom, who has Alzheimer’s, is back in Hong Kong, in a flat in Taikoo Shing, with a caregiver. It’s a nicer, cheaper option than a memory care place, and when she’s done, Ramon and Mabel will still own the apartment. Mabel takes over the care-giving role one day a week, on the maid’s day off. Her mom doesn’t know her anymore. Terrible bloody disease that.
Another morning, another breakfast with the South China Morning Post. On January 15th, its lead headline was: “Lam U-Turn hands billions more to poor and elderly”. Mind you $1.7 billion of it will lower the age to get $HK2 rides on public transportation. The rest is for housing and subsidies for those waiting for it, more public holidays, government payments to provident fund for those who don’t earn enough to be paying in and a policy of listening more to the people.
SCMP, also on Page 1: “Police could get stun guns or net weapons to subdue protesters” Now refer back to mine of January 5, about Carrie Lam’s interview with Luo Huining
Also, according to today’s SCMP, the US and China are in a “cold war over the artic”. I read the full-page article and Canada wasn’t even mentioned. It has to do with trade routes, which are opening up, thanks to Global Warming. China is already heavily invested in Iceland and Greenland. We saw that last summer and I expect to see it on my next two cruises. China is taking over by investment. Russia is accepting. I wonder where Canada stands.
Plus, there’s a half page article about HK parents sending their children to Singapore’s bilingual schools. Next thing you know, HK people will be moving there. They are probably already buying the apartments.
This time it was Agnes Lam who picked me up for lunch. I was out waiting ten minutes early, as no Lam family member is ever late. This was different, after there having been no traffic in HK for months, there was this lunchtime, and it was all around the Conrad and the Shangri La, next door. We are getting close to Chinese New Year and the lunches have started, it seems. We were a good half hour late for lunch and it was a busy restaurant, so Agnes just phoned it from the car and ordered. The restaurant was Lei Garden in the International Finance Centre and this was the Lam ladies lunch. Remember the restaurant. They had all the usual Cantonese lunch items, but what was special was they nailed each one. Everything was done to perfection, so the chicken was crispy but still moist, the green things were bright green, the dumplings were of a perfect consistency, and so on. The daan tart was to die for. In my case it will be to diet for, soon.
I went straight back to the Conrad and called Oriental Home in Horizon Plaza and said I wanted the Tibetan mirror. I figured I could take that on the plane with me. Agnes had surprised me with a tea box gift that was pretty heavy but could be packed easily with the mirror. I should have done this the day before, but on spec, I sent an email to my old friend who used to give me the horse race tips. I hadn’t connected with him in years, but I knew he was doing it again, from the 2018 Bloomberg article. Then I went to the gym and got ready for the races. Since I was going by tram, I had to leave early. I checked my email, nothing. Off I went.
The Apps were standing outside the Crowne Plaza when I got there ten minutes early. We were still waiting for John Ball. We waited about a half hour. Vic called him, no answer. Finally, Leona and I walked to the American Club box. About ten minutes later, Vic and John came in. He had been dozing in the lobby of the hotel and somehow, they had missed him. Anyway, we had a blast. Our fun was enhanced by having the entire box to ourselves. It was actually a joint American Club – Hong Kong Golf Club box. And we had it to ourselves. It was never like that before. So we hooted and hollered and had a ball. I, of course, made no money, because I only do exotic bets and if don’t know how to pick the horses, well, I lose. The other three all made a bit of money and I was so happy for them and grateful that they had arranged this super night. The next morning, I found the tips in my email. If I had had them, I would have made some money, too. Just one quinella, but it would have covered dinner and bets, and then some. I miss playing twice a week. It was such fun. I do look forward to hosting these people soon in Montreal. I just have 110 boxes to unpack.
After breakfast on Thursday the 16th, I went to the gym to get that out of the way and then took a taxi to Horizon Plaza. The tea box was heavy. Johnny, my salesman wasn’t there, because he has had a bad bit of seafood the night before and had gone home very sick. Maria helped me and got Sam, the owner to come in and pack it with her. It’s a pretty impressive job of packing, but I am confident that tea box and mirror will arrive safely. This isn’t cheap shipping, either. I had forgotten I am taking two planes. United just charged me $200 for the oversized package and I am pretty sure Air Canada will do the same. Methinks I should have given it to FedEx, after all. It’s going to be a huge PIA, in my rental car in California, too, and on the other end in Montreal. I’ll let you know.
That night I was meeting Richard Feldman for dinner at his Peak Café and Bar in Lan Quoi Fong. Richard was one of the first people I met when I went to Hong Kong in 1989. When you relocate, you arrive with a list of people to connect with, gleaned from every friend and business associate you have who knows anyone. Richard was only 24 at the time and had been in HK about 3 years. He’s still there. He had been doing very well and owns four restaurants/bars in trendy, expat and tourist Lan Quoi Fong and Soho. The trouble is what I had been seeing. Nobody is going out at night anymore. There were only three or four tables full. He barely covers the rent, not to mention the staff. This can only go on so long. We had a lovely night and I was so glad to have reconnected with this lovely man on a one-on-one basis, with the time to share the details of our lives. I am so happy I took the time to meet a lot of people that way this time. The big parties are fun, but this trip was real. I felt like a Hongkonger again, and I loved it. I am just sad for the state it’s in and so hope it gets to come back.
I had my first Hong Kong hangover the next morning, which is amazing, with all the eating and drinking. It wasn’t very bad, and after a bit longer lie in bed, and a good shower, I was myself again. It was a good thing as I was going to a wine dinner at The Football Club that night. It was Italy meets Australia and we had wines from both countries with every course. It was also the best deal in town, great food, pretty decent wine and lots of it for about $75 a head. The company was a great deal, too. It was Mabel and Ramon, Helen Pakchung’s sister, Janice and her husband Merv, and another Canadian couple Sharon and Don, who have become new friends and I hope I see them in Montreal, too.
Saturday, I took it easy. Other than regular email and its duties, all I did was pack and go to the gym. I went back to Yè Shanghai for dinner, as it never disappoints. I went to bed early, woke up at 3:00 am, to another California phone call I couldn’t answer, and never got back to sleep. I rousted myself around six, and 16 hours later, I have just finished writing this. Next chapter, Napa and Sonoma and tales of the oversized checked baggage.
Dear Helen what a nice interesting trip. Enjoy, see you in Montreal.
Judy Symansky said:
Wow this is a long one. Many more places and people to recognize – such fun! Especially enjoyed the Lam picture.
See you soon.
frank j schultz said:
hi helen– loved your excitement at being back in HK and seeing old friends. i see shanghai in your future. hope to see you in wine country this spring. — frank schultz
Deborah Scipio said:
Dominique and I are continuing to enjoy your posts. Your energy and social life still amaze us. We found this one about your time in Hong Kong particularly interesting since our daughter, Nadia, will be moving to Hong Kong next summer. I hope you don’t mind but I sent an excerpt of this post of yours to her.
Nadia works for the Canadian Foreign Affairs and will be working for the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong. She is currently learning Mandarin (full time in Ottawa) in preparation of this move, although she wonders how useful it will be to know Mandarin since the language in Hong Kong is Cantonese. But there you go – the Canadian government must follow the official language protocol. Anyway, I thought she would be interested in learning about your views about life in Hong Kong now. It is hard to believe that the protesters believe they are doing anything positive.
Looking forward to seeing you once you are back in Montreal.