Saturday, 29 September 2007

our house, in the middle of our street

Buying property in HK is an interesting process. Expats and locals tend to look for completely different things, which makes for an interesting market. Quirky old properties are a complete anathema to the average Hong Konger, who prefer brand new, high rise properties with lots of (tiny) rooms.

And so it was that I found myself viewing a 600 sq ft appartment that had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a maid's room and, somehow, a grand piano squeezed into it.

Party like it's 1999

Being a single thirty-something chick is a well worn cliche, and there's really little to be said that hasn't been covered already by the likes of Sex and the City (surprisingly accurate) et al. My parents have largely given up, I think, on ever seeing me married with kids (not that I have - a different story), and they've certainly given up on asking me about my "personal life" ever since, frustrated by their noseyness, I described SATC to them as a documentary rather than a work of fiction.

So, at the risk of treading well worn ground, here we go with some lifestyle observations (perhaps prompted by being a year older, if not wiser, on Monday).

The first is that the grass really is always greener. Many of my friends are now more or less happily married with kids. They have the stability that isn't a feature of my life. Of course, therefore, what they crave is my freedom. What this has led to is the VLP (Vicarious Living Programme). I roll up to see them, often with a dull hangover, and always with a selection of stories from the single side (wild nights in Tokyo fetish bars, unlikely encounters on planes and so on). They lap this up, whilst I play with the kids and marvel at their full fridges and other trappings of domestic bliss.

The trick to this, I've realised, with guidance from modern day gurus like Mariella Frostrup, older single female friend and smug marrieds who tell it how it is, is to truly enjoy what you have when you have it. Nothing is permanent or perfect.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

You and me baby, we ain't nothin' but mammals

One of the things that gets my goat is the assumption that people get things wrong deliberately.

In a previous incarnation, I was a child shrink. My caseload was bad kids - the sort who could get themselves kicked out of nursery for really not fitting in. Whilst some of this was just schools being a bit prissy and not liking the non-conformist kid (who I'd always champion) , some of them were truly disturbed. The one who cut his pet hamster in half with a pair of scissors is a case in point. Needless to say, the prognosis for these kids is not good.

Anyway, a large part of my job was to train parents how to look after their kids in a positive way. So, rather than barking at their kids when they did things wrong/inappropriately/irritatingly etc and then getting more mad when they didn't stop, my job was to teach them to say what they wanted to happen and then reward the kids when they got it right.

Simple principle. Damned hard in practice.

Fast forward 10 years and I'm again in the business of helping people change, only this time the kids are senior execs and so on, the parents are bosses and co-workers, the therapists are consultants and the wages are better. Same problem. Same frustration. Same basic issue that it seems to be easier to criticise than praise, correct rather than pre-empt and knock down rather than build up.

Try it sometime. Rather than "Stop....." try "I want you to......" After all, we're all still just big kids on the inside :-)

Monday, 24 September 2007

it's just a bitter sweet, symphony that's life......

I've begun to notice that certain songs follow me around and pop up at the most opportune moments. You know, just when things are getting too much, or conversely you're surfing life's waves like you've never been knocked over in the swell (been spending too much time at the beach this weekend clearly) a song will appear from no where and remind me of a key lesson learned, unlearned and clearly up for being learned again.

The most poignant for me is the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony", which has a habit of turning up like a charm whenever a big bout of melancholy is lurking around, waiting to pounce and bring me down for a day or so. Although the lyrics are, undoubtedly, mawkish, the irresistable string section pushing the song along plus the message that things might be a bit crap but really all you can do is pull your finger out and get on with it is simple yet effective.

As an example, about a year ago I finally woke up and realised that the "relationship" I was in was 100% no good for me. Why the lying, bullying and infidelity that had been going on for a year or more hadn't alerted me to this reality is best saved for another blog. Anyway, I finally plucked up the courage to DTMFA. After several bruising, angry, hurt conversations he went off to see his therapist and I retired to a bar to get heroically drunk. Finally accepting that the connection I thought we had was nothing, and that the only thing to do was move on, was unbearable.

Several glasses of wine and a torrent of tears later, J got in touch and came to find me. A different man from the angry bully I had left 2 hours previously walked into the bar. He sat down, ordered a drink and for the first time in months I sensed the intelligent, engaged and good man that I had fallen for in the first place. After a couple of minutes of tense silence he looked at me and remarked that he had "behaved without empathy towards me for the past year" and apologised. He was sad and I was sad.

As I left the bar and walked out into the inpersonal madness of London's Oxford Street, I turned my ipod onto shuffle, and, unbidden, Bittersweet Symphony flooded my head.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Living in the City

There are some key things to learn about being an expat in HK that make life easier here.

First, HK is small, really small. Despite having a population of close on 7 million, it's surprising just how limited your social circle becomes, and also how it's impossible to have a social circle that's separate from other spheres of your life. This basic lesson was brought home to me with force on Thursday. Following on from La Grange Poobah's illness (much better now, thanks for asking) I cleared out all client work from my diary. This included moving a lunch with a client, using the reason that I was below par (true). That same evening I'd taken a table at the Room to Read Charity Dinner (if you've any spare cash, this lot are GREAT) and felt duty bound to attend. After a power nap in the afternoon, I slapped on Jodie Marsh-esque amounts of make up, got a grip and headed out. Imagine my horror to run into said client at the do, who revelled in my obvious discomfort. Simply awful.

Secondly, it's the kind of place where anything goes. At various times of the year this includes stuff like pedal kart (pedal a man powered noddy car around a race track for 24 hours), any number of extreme sports events, and, today, Flash Veg. At 5.03 we will gather at the threatened wet market in Gage Street, buy vegetables and wave them in the air shouting "How much!!?!?!" The crowd will then peacefully disperse. Hilarious. This is all part of a campaign called High and Dry, which is standing for sympathetic development in HK. Given that there is no meaningful planning process, public consultation or seemingly interest in conservation here, it's an uphill struggle, but I love what they're doing and so, at 5.03, will be waving my bok choi with the best of them. I'm really up for chaining myself to a bulldozer when the time comes, but I've got some time to prepare for that.

BTW High and Dry is on Facebook, so if you want to check out any of their events.....

Finally (told you things happen in threes, must look into why), HK is transient. I love it here and can imagine staying. There's an energy here that's infectious. However, many, particularly in the expat world, are here on 2 year contracts and live like it's an extended university term. It's also the kind of place where you have to get used to people you care for moving on - often to another expat posting, occasionally back home. In the past year two of my closest friends have moved away, and yesterday a third has started looking at a role in Shanghai. It's bitter sweet really. Whilst OF COURSE as a mature, grounded, proper grown up I'm delighted that they have found interesting things to move onto, my inner 5 year old usually chucks a strop about people I love and care for having the cheek to leave.

Anyway, enough for now. Save the markets!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Comin' around again

Today "The Week" arrived - a digest of Britain's best journalism and a lifeline to home. One of the few things I miss about the UK is the quality and variety of the press, something that Asia is sadly lacking (the South China Morning Post and its kind are like Jane Austen with the racy bits taken out).

Anyway, an article in this week's Week got me thinking. It's about the lot of women in the UK who grew up post the great war. So many men were killed in the trenches that the entire social fabric of the UK changed, causing, amongst other things, the pernicious UK class system to weaken (no titled men to marry), millions of women to enter the work force (no men to work) and a complete change in the expectations of young women of their lot (er, no ordinary guys to marry either). According to the article, of young women in 1917 only 1 in 10 could expect to marry and have children - and this in a society where gender roles were tightly proscribed. Devastating, I imagine.

Fast forward 90 years and I'm writing this on mainland China's doorstep (HK ain't part of China really - no one here truly thinks so anyway, least of all the HK Chinese). Here the situation is startlingly reversed. There is a dearth of women in China and India due to cultural preferences for boys over girls. At the most sophisticated end of the scale this means selective abortions early in pregnancy. At its most brutal it's infanticide and the abandonment of unwanted girls. The social costs of this are huge. For starters, many men will grow up with no realistic prospect of marriage and children. This might not seem too significant.....but for the fact that marriage tends to have a stabilising effect (especially on men) and large numbers of young men lacking meaningful work and/or relationships is a recipe for trouble.

Anyone fancy a gaze into the crystal ball 90 years hence to see where this trend takes us??

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Being boring....

Today I'm officially ill, and so in a position to ponder the big questions of the day like:
  • why, when using a recyclable mug in Pacific Coffee, do the baristas insist on making the coffee in a paper cup first before then pouring it into the reusable plastic one and chucking the paper one?
  • why, Jodie Marsh? Just why? Back in the UK recently I was struck by the enormous billboards of her in a soft porn bridal outfit, with "who's going to take her up the aisle?" plastered all over what turned out to be an ad for a TV show. Setting aside the fact that "who's going to take her up the aisle" was first (and funniest) used by the Sun WRT Elton John (and given my views on recycling maybe I should approve), Jodie and the whole premise of this show epitomises dumbed down Britain. Add into the mix that the other top stories in the UK at the time were Harry Potter and The Beckhams Move to California (10 points if you can spot the fictional story there) - a fascinating insight into the issues that really capture the public imagination. Apparently the only reason they're on the front pages is that it's what "we" want to read.....
  • why do things always happen in threes?