09.09.2011 - 25.09.2011 28 °C
Before I tell you about Hong Kong, I will just fill you in on the last couple of weeks. Nothing majorly exciting has happened (hence no blog update last week), but a couple of really nice social events did take place. The Friday before last I played netball with the girls after school for the first time. I actually quite enjoyed it, although by the end it was hard work! Melissa suggested going for pizza afterwards, which me & Caroline thought was a great idea. After heading home to shower & change, we met at Starbucks (the standard meeting place) at 7pm & walked to Coco Park. We were originally going to go to Papa John’s, but Melissa thought she’d take us to this wonderful Italian restaurant she knows instead. It’s not particularly cheap, but it’s really, really good. It’s upstairs from the other bars in Coco Park, so it’s slightly quieter, with ivy-covered trellises surrounding the outdoors area. The atmosphere is lovely & the staff are very good – most of them speak English & they know the menu well enough to be able to recommend dishes. It was very difficult to choose what to have, but I opted for the sea bass with mussels, clams & prawns in a tomato & basil sauce with pesto linguine on the side. It was delicious. Melissa had king prawns with linguine in garlic butter, & Caroline had the seafood risotto – so much for us having pizza! We all had dessert too (I had crème brulee),
as well as a really good bottle of Chianti, all followed by teas & coffees. The grand total was 400rmb each (about £40), but it was definitely worth it.
The next day, Caroline, Melissa, Emma & myself went round to Jenny & Alex’s. Alex escaped to watch the football, leaving us girls in to watch a movie. After a bit of discussion about what to watch, we watched Hanna, as nobody had seen it except me, & I didn’t mind seeing it again. It’s very good, I’d recommend it. Afterwards, I got to raid Jenny’s dvd collection, & ended up borrowing quite a few – Grey’s Anatomy series 7, The Mentalist series 1, Castle series 2, The Vampire Diaries complete collection, The Karate Kid (the new one with Jackie Chan), Unthinkable, Due Date & The Men Who Stare At Goats. Should keep me going for a while! I’ve not really missed having tv, as I’ve got so many dvds to watch. I would like to get a dvd player though (I’ve got a tv, there’s just no channels as you have to pay for them & I haven’t yet), so I can watch things while I’m doing my planning, as at the moment I’m watching everything on my laptop.
School has been fine, if busy, the last couple of weeks. Nothing much to report there, other than I was asked to share all the interactive resources I brought with me with the rest of the staff in Key Stage 2 (years 3-6) at the staff meeting last Thursday, which was a little daunting. I’ve also been asked, along with Laura, to sort out some training on APP (Assessing Pupils Progress) for all the other staff, as we’ve both had training on it & used it in the UK. I think that’ll be even more daunting when we do it! We’ve got until after October half term (the first week of October) to prepare though, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.
On Friday I played netball again with the girls, & this time a few Year 10 girls from the school joined us, which made the match a little more interesting! I enjoyed it again & wasn’t quite so worn out afterwards this time, so maybe my fitness level is increasing slightly! This time we really did go for pizza afterwards – me, Jenny, Alex, Melissa, Caroline & Emma went to Papa John’s in Coco Park, followed by a trip to the Haagen Dazs café, where we had some delicious, if slightly expensive, ice cream.
So to Hong Kong!
Yesterday I went to Hong Kong for the first time. It was fantastic! There’s so much there to see and do – one day is not nearly enough. I had to get up horribly early for a Saturday – we met at 8am by Starbucks (me, Jenny, Alex, Melissa & Caroline). Apparently, if you get to the border much later, the queues are horrendous – it once took Melissa 3 hours to get across! It only took us about an hour and a half in total to get from Starbucks into Hong Kong, including queuing at the Chinese border (of course we were in the queue with the slowest guard ever!), walking over the long foot bridge to Hong Kong, queuing at passport control on the Hong Kong border & getting the train into the city.
As most of the shops don’t open until 10am, we headed to Starbucks (surprise!) for a bit of breakfast & a nice cup of tea. The metro exited straight into Festival Walk, a huge shopping mall in Kowloon Tong, with 6 floors & lots of recognisable shops, banks & restaurants, as well as others that aren’t China, such as M&S, H&M, HSBC, Accessorize, The Body Shop, Tie Rack, Toys’R’Us & Pizza Express, & a lot of high-end shops, like Chanel, Estee Lauder, Calvin Klein, Vivienne Westwood & Ralph Lauren.
Alex & Jenny had to do their banking, so I thought I’d ask about opening an account. I’ve been told it’s much easier to transfer money home from a Hong Kong HSBC account than it is from a Chinese bank account. With HSBC, you have to go to Hong Kong to pay the money into the account, but once you’ve done that, you can use online banking to transfer money overseas. With a Chinese bank account you can’t use online banking unless you can read Chinese characters, so you have to go into the branch with your passport, housing contract, tax forms from school, pay slips & bank details & it takes about 2 hours (at least) to sort out. I think transferring from the Chinese bank account is slightly cheaper, because you’re only converting your money once, from rmb to pounds, whereas transferring it from Hong Kong means converting it twice, once from rmb to Hong Kong dollars, and then to pounds. However, it’s a lot quicker & easier to transfer it from a Hong Kong bank account - & it gives you an excuse for a trip to Hong Kong once a month!
It was really easy to open the bank account at HSBC – all I needed was my passport & UK driving licence (as proof of my address) & then I wrote down my Chinese address for my correspondence address. I was given an ATM card & PIN straight away, which I then changed at the ATM, got out HKD1,000 (about 800rmb or £80) & paid it into my new account through the cash deposit machine. Quickest I’ve ever opened a bank account! By the time I’d finished, Caroline had gone to meet her friend who lives in Hong Kong, & Melissa & Jenny had gone shopping , but Alex kindly waited for me (as I don’t think he was that interested in clothes shopping!) & we met up with the girls in H&M. The clothes there are really cheap – I bought 4 tops & 2 pairs of leggings for about HKD500 (400rmb or £40). Clothes are cheaper in Hong Kong quite often, because they are the same price but in HKD, which because of the exchange rate makes them cheaper. There is also a lot more choice of clothes shops with sizes to fit average (Western) people – most Chinese women are very slim & petit, which means it can be quite difficult to get clothes any larger than about a UK size 10 in China.
Alex & Jenny had to head back after that, but Melissa had a few other things to do so I stayed with her in Hong Kong for a while longer. Once we’d finished in H&M, we headed back to the metro, caught the light blue line to Hung Hom, then one stop on the pink line to East Tsim Sha Tsui, walked to the adjoining Tsuim Sha Tsui station (a bit like walking from one line to another at Kings Cross), went one stop on the red line to Admiralty on Hong Kong island & one stop on the dark blue line to Wan Chai. It sounds long & complicated, but actually it was really straightforward & only took about 20 minutes. I used my new Octopus card – very similar to the London Oyster card, except you can also use it in a lot of shops as well as on the buses & metro. We then hunted for Western Union so Melissa could send money home to Canada & on the way I spotted a M&S Food shop – so guess where we went next?! I was so excited! It was quite a small shop, but they had all the same food they have in M&S at home, but of course more expensive because it’s imported. I spent a small fortune on food in there! Although I did get a lot – real teabags (Everyday & Earl Grey), blackcurrant squash, pink grapefruit squash, tinned mackerel, tinned red salmon, pesto, pasta sauce, sea salt & balsamic vinegar crisps, super berry smoothie, pink lemonade, roulade, spinach & ricotta cannelloni, wafer curl biscuits, a chocolate brownie & a nice bottle of Italian wine – which cost about HKD600 (about 480rmb or £48). I figured that I haven’t been many places yet (mostly because of my foot & cold) & I haven’t spent much money this month, plus it’s a treat which I won’t do that often, & I get paid on Friday, so why not! It’s amazing the things you miss & get excited about when you’re away from home for a while.
Once Melissa had managed to drag me away from M&S, we got on the metro back to Tsim Sha Tsui station & the nearby Harbour City shopping mall, where they have a great supermarket called City Super – a bit like their version of Waitrose. I had another field day in there, because they had a huge counter with more cheese than I’ve seen since I arrived in China! (The Chinese don’t eat much cheese, so again it’s not that easy to get – most supermarkets just have the plastic cheese we put on burgers & very little proper cheese, if any.) I then spent a small fortune on cheese, thinking I’d better stock up while I have the chance – cheddar, Edam, smoked gouda, double Gloucester, parmesan, feta & mini babybels. I also found Nutella & Marmite, which of course I had to buy. Thank goodness I brought a rucksack with me to carry everything back! Melissa advised me to put the cheese in my handbag, because it wasn’t pre-packaged & sealed & they were less likely to look in my handbag than my rucksack. As it was, the security staff at customs didn’t look in any bags – we didn’t even have to put them through the x-ray machine.
Before we left City Super, we picked up a couple of bits to eat on the bus on the way back, being 2.50pm by this point & we hadn’t stopped for lunch. We had to leave then because Melissa had to be back for a friend’s birthday, otherwise I’d have been happy to stay a lot longer. We walked about 15 minutes from the shops to the bus station, where we got a bus ticket for HKD35 (about 28rmb or £2.80) to take us from Tsim Sha Tsui across the border at the Futian Checkpoint, which is about 10 minutes from where we both live. It took about half an hour on the bus to get to the border, where we had to get off the bus, go through the Hong Kong passport control, get back on the bus for about 2 minutes, then get off again to go through Chinese passport control & customs. We got a taxi home from there & got back about 4pm. I needed a nap at that point, as I’d had a headache all day & was shattered from too many late nights & early mornings!
Saturday evening, after Skyping my sister, I met up with Emma to watch a dvd & have a drink at hers. As it turned out, we didn’t watch a movie at all, but stayed up chatting until about 3.30am! It was really nice getting to know her. Another good thing about Shenzhen is that it always feels really safe. No matter what time you walk home, there are always people around, cars on the street & security guards outside shops & apartment complexes.
Today (after a nice lie in) I’ve spent most of the day planning, apart from a break to eat my M&S spinach & ricotta cannelloni, followed by my M&S chocolate brownie, while watching Doctor Who.
I can’t wait to go back to Hong Kong again & do some more exploring, plus all the other places I want to visit. But in the meantime, back to work tomorrow!