Boho Chinoiserie Chic in HK

Sometimes, just for fun, I design rooms for imaginary clients.  I LOVE imaginary clients – they are just the best to work with!  They have whatever budget I want them to have, inevitably agree with what I think is best … Continue reading

Getting Along in HK: 18 months

Well, time certainly flies, doesn’t it?!  Suddenly we have been here for almost eighteen months.  At this stage, I feel like I can finally write a good post about things that I wish I had known before I got here.  … Continue reading

Getting Along in Hong Kong: Six months (or so) into the adventure

I have delayed writing this post. It should have been written a few weeks ago at least, but I debated whether to write it at all. You see, I may be one of only a few people in this city who feels this way, but… I don’t love Hong Kong. There. It’s out. I’ve said it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that I like about the city, but on the whole I would rather live elsewhere. Many people talk about the new “expat family” you create when you live in a place like Hong Kong, and whilst we have made some pretty amazing new friends, whom I love to hang out with and who are extremely supportive, I really, really like my actual family. And I miss them a lot. And my kids miss them a lot.

So let’s delve a little deeper into how six months here has panned out. Let’s start with the positives, because there are always positives to every place you live.

– The biggest positive here is the expat community. There are few things in one’s adult life that compare to the friends you make as an expat. They truly do become almost family because you are all in the same lonely boat in a foreign land trying to figure things out. We have such great friends here and the community feel at our apartment complex is fantastic. If you need something – a cup of sugar or someone to talk to, our friends are always there.

– Helpers: a helper means no housework and a built in babysitter. I don’t think I need to elaborate on why this is good! Ours is also really a lovely person and adores the boys.

– Many, many restaurants to choose from. Like seriously, you could eat at a different place every night for a year I think. And given the reason above, we can actually go out and eat at them!

– My job: I don’t think I would have had the guts to give the E-Design thing a go in Sydney. I always assumed that starting a business would be difficult and expensive. I have no idea if it really is or isn’t difficult to start a business in Australia! But here in HK it is definitely very easy and not at all expensive. And I really love doing the design work, so that is something I will always thank HK for.

Now, it’s not all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns here. There is a reason (a few actually) that I don’t love it here. In the interests of those who may read this blog in preparation for a move here, I feel I should outline some of the things that are not ideal about Honkers.

– POLLUTION. Oh my f’ing god, the pollution. You go to the beach and swim with trash, which is so gross coming from Sydney beaches. You try to look out the window and see what the weather is like and some days you can’t see the clouds for the smog. On the very best days, the air pollution is about a third higher than the WHO maximum recommended pollution levels. I have had to pay almost AUD2,000 for air purifiers for our apartment as we are all coughing, spluttering messes and have been for the past month. And apparently, it gets worse in winter! Eeeeeek. I seriously worry about the long term health effects for the kids (and ourselves) of exposure to this level of pollution.

– Helpers: yes, this is a double edged sword. Although it’s great not to have to clean the apartment and to have a live-in babysitter, I’ve experienced the other option of having a cleaner and day care, and the latter is my preference. It’s not easy having someone else in your space ALL THE TIME. You lose your privacy. We made some changes at the start of August that have made a big difference, but it still is a daily thing for me to accept someone wandering around my house. (What changes, you ask? We put a table and chair on the back balcony where our helper now has her meals, and we also moved to doing the food allowance instead of shared meals. These changes mean much less awkward time trying to make conversation, especially at breakfast, and more independence for both of us. I feel that these were “newbie” mistakes to make when hiring a helper and I wish we’d known the better way to do it from the start! We all seem to be much happier and more comfortable now that we have carved out our own space and time a bit more.)

– Space: as in, the lack of it. Our apartment isn’t small but it’s not big either. There is (obviously) no easily accessible outdoor space for the boys to run around in… not that they can run around in air that looks like toxic soup… I am hopeful we won’t be here for too long and that the boys won’t forget how to explore the outdoors on their own and play in a backyard. Yes, there are hiking trails but I mean the kind of hanging out you do in a backyard: running under the sprinkler in summer, making pretend dirt tracks for your Matchbox cars, building little houses out of leaves and sticks for your toys, tooling around on your trike/bike, eating ice creams that drip everywhere and hosing yourself off after, playing chasey, your dad making you help mow the lawn, bbq dinners with friends. Y’know, the usual childhood things that go on in a backyard!

– The cost of living: this is one thing we weren’t fully prepared for. Not that you really can be I think – you can’t know your cost of living until you are living it! Yes, we knew what to expect for rent but we had no idea how expensive groceries would be. I guess if we thought about the fact that pretty much everything is imported, we might have realised this a bit earlier. And not only is it expensive but the fresh food is pretty awful at the grocery store. You have to go shopping almost every day as meat and fruit/veggies go off within two days. Sometimes less. Once the food has travelled halfway around the world, let’s just say it isn’t at its best by the time you are purchasing it! Now, HK is a place where money can buy you everything and yes, you can get organic veggies from Australia and NZ flown in but it is really expensive so we have to make do with things from the local market and the grocery store. I am not the kind of person who likes to “make do”.

So six months into it and although I don’t love it here, I don’t hate it either. I enjoy my life and once our air purifiers arrive I have hopes that our cloud of illness will lift so we can all feel better and the two kids can sleep through the night more often than once a week. They used to be outstanding sleepers but the past month has been rough and the bags under my eyes are proof of it! My hesitation with this post is that I didn’t want it to seem overly negative. I think ultimately I would prefer to live elsewhere, which causes me to feel frustrated sometimes, but I try to consider the good points of living here.

So to finish on a positive note, we have created a list of places close to HK that we want to visit and that is another thing to look forward to. In November we will do Phuket, and in December Fritz and I will go to Macau. Other places on our list include Danang/Hoi An in Vietnam, Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and maybe Cebu in the Philippines. We aren’t sure where in China we will go. I am thinking X’ian but we shall have to see. I want the kids to be a little older for China as it won’t be a “relaxing” holiday but a “sightseeing” one. We need to be past the stage of naps and diapers and strollers for that to be enjoyable for me! But for now, that beach in Phuket is calling and I can’t wait for it in November!

Getting Along in Hong Kong: Three Months

Hello heat!  The warm weather has hit HK.  Like a red hot poker iron on the arse.  Or like a big steaming hot soup that you are trying to live in.  I am not one of those graceful “glistening” women in the heat.  What is that old saying? “Horses sweat, men perspire and women glisten”? Well, I must be a horse.  Most days are about 90% humidity at the moment and it’s killing me.  I don’t think I am alone though. Even people who have been here for years are saying it is an unusually wet May this year. Today, for instance, it is 33 deg C and 90% humidity.  I shudder to think what July and August will be like!  I also have no idea how anyone lives in Singapore, where the weather is like this nearly the entire year!  

So how am I finding things a few months in?  There is no single word that springs to mind, to be honest.  Some things I am really getting used to and finding my feet with (the grocery shopping for instance, and even venturing out to a wet market) and others are still a mystery to me (like the number 4 bus that supposedly goes into town from Will’s preschool but every time I try to catch it they don’t stop…..). Some good things that have happened over the past month:

– visiting the Science Museum with the kids.  Will, in particular LOVES it.  We now have an annual family membership. The whole place is hands on, science-learning fun!  

– Will started preschool!  After a rocky start with a bit of separation anxiety, he is now loving it and his new teacher, Ms. Preeti (pronounced ‘pretty’, which I think is very sweet for a preschool teacher!) 

– I had a job interview. A bit nerve wracking to have a job interview for the first time in about 6 years. Very happy to get one though!  I have just started to look for a job so I actually got this interview despite not having any contacts at all.  We shall see what comes of it, but regardless, it has been very helpful to dip my toes into the job market pool! 

– Will has decided he loves the movie, The Sound of Music.  This is one of my favourite childhood movies (along with the original Star Wars trilogy, Indiana Jones trilogy, etc. The usual ones for kids from the 80’s….) For once, the kids are watching a movie that I don’t mind seeing 50 times! 

– I have had a number of social engagements this past month.  It’s been nice 🙂  No best friends yet, but some lovely people and it makes a real difference to have some social interaction. Did you know FB has “secret” groups?  They are groups that you can only see if you are a member of them.  Luckily, one of the ladies who lives in our apartment complex added me to a couple of the secret mummy FB groups here so can hopefully find out when some social things are happening. One interesting experience that has been the result of having social engagements, has been spending time away from the boys.  I have been out more in the past three months than the three years preceding our move to HK.  The kids are currently taking turns in melting down when I leave.  I choose to look at it as a positive thing – at least they aren’t BOTH crying when I leave! And it is healthy for them to learn to be without Mummy all the time.  A necessary lesson, as hard as it is for them. Doesn’t make it any more pleasant for all of us though.  

– I finally got around to framing some of the photographs we got done in May/June last year.  I won a photography session plus about a dozen hard copy photographs from Paper Tree Photography last year.  Originally I was going to do a full gallery wall of them, but I no longer have the wall space to hang them all so I chose a few of my favourites and have framed them. Just good ol’ IKEA frames.  With the prospect of more removals in our future, I don’t want to invest real money into frames – they always seem to get damaged.  I chose a trusty Ribba frame for the two that will go in our master bedroom and tried something a little different for the one I had at the desk in the lounge room. I went with a gloss black frame and black matting. And I am LOVING it!  Here it is:

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Apologies for the reflection on it! I have tried to edit it a bit to make it less distracting. It works really well with the tv gallery wall that it sits next to as well.  You remember this one, right?

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Well that picture at the desk looks much more proportional now, and doesn’t disappear on the wall. It’s a small thing, I know, but I think it looks much better:

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And now some of the lowlights from the past month or so:

– Mosquitos and black flies/midges!  OH MY GOD. The mossies are not too bad here – you can usually avoid them I find- but these little midges seem to be everywhere and they are stealth bugs.  You can’t see them and you don’t feel them bite you, you just suddenly get an itch and then it gets more and more itchy.  I am one of those people who mosquitos love to bite so I am quite used to resisting scratching mosquito bites. But these things are monsters.  They last for 2-3 weeks and for some reason, my skin after just a few little itches, it scratches off the skin and ends up as an awful sore.  And worse yet, Will gets it just as bad, if not worse, than me.  Poor little guy.  He had one so bad the other day it had a huge blister on it and when he was asleep I had to go pop it to let all the fluid out and then disinfect it.  He is such a heavy sleeper he didn’t move a muscle the entire time. I hadn’t heard anything about these things before we got here but I tell ya, I certainly have now!  My legs are covered in bites but I have no idea where I get them. I am pretty bloody unimpressed.  It makes me uncomfortable and cranky. 

– I am learning that HK seems to love rules.  Whether or not they are necessary or even helpful.  They seem to like to take something simple and make it convoluted and complicated. The language barrier doesn’t help in these sorts of situations either.  So for instance, the other day I wanted to (finally) get myself the special card at the grocery store so you can accrue points for gift vouchers.  I get asked every single time if I have one.  So I get myself the paper application (can’t do it online) and dutifully fill it all in.  And it was quite involved, I gotta tell ya.  Not just contact details but all sorts of stuff about what you like to buy, etc.  I get to the end of the form and look for where I need to hand this in or mail it in to.  hmmmm… nothing there.  So I ask at the grocery store. I have to ask a few times to get a cashier who knows what I am asking. Then she hands me a piece of paper with a telephone number and says I need to call that number to get the card!  WHAT THE?! Why the heck did I fill in the twenty question application form if I am just going to make a phone call to get a card?! See? Pointless and unnecessarily complicated! And so Hong Kong! It’s like the whole city is one giant phone/internet company.  (Does anyone else find that no matter what country you are in, phone/internet companies have complicated something that should really be quite simple?!)

 

On the whole though, things are going pretty well and we are adjusting well. I think. 

 

 

Our HK Home: Living Large

Well, not really.   When you live in an apartment, you are living compactly.  When you are living in a HK apartment, you are living VERY compactly!  I keep trawling interiors websites for some new and amazing “living in small spaces” tip that will magically make our apartment seem huuuuuuuuge.   No luck yet!  To be honest, I don’t know why people keep writing these articles!  If you have nothing new beyond “use mirrors, use light and bright colour schemes, have built-ins made to use every little inch, have dual use furniture with hidden storage” then why keep re-hashing these same ideas?!  But I keep looking for some new and amazing idea that will suddenly transform my life….

But I digress. As usual.  Back to our apartment.  Today, I thought I would show you the living room.  Our place has an open plan living/dining area but today it will be just the living room you will see as the dining room is currently storing some parts to Will’s old crib that I need to take to our storage unit. Actually, it’s more like a cupboard than a storage unit as that is really the size of it – 4ft x 4ft x 10ft high.  We needed it for the Xmas stuff, big suitcases, travel crib, etc. I plan to take my husband’s golf clubs over there too (ssshhhhh, don’t tell him…) as they take up too much room in our spare room cupboard. So no pics of the dining room until it’s a tad more presentable!

Our old house in Sydney had a formal lounge area as well as a family room area, which had to be whittled down to just this one area.  This room also has to store pretty much aaaaalllll the kids toys because their bedroom is so small (check it out here) that there is no room to swing a cat in there, let alone have any kids toys. Will’s room also used to have his little play kitchen plus about a third of the toys. Before we left Sydney I did a big cull of the toys.  If it wasn’t played with almost daily, or if it was broken in any way at all, or if it was just ugly and I didn’t really like it (!); it went!

When I started to think about this room, my main concern was that I didn’t want it to look like a kids play room, even though it would need to house all these kiddy toys.  The family room in our old place had a brightly coloured rug and bright artwork and I was over it.  I wanted something adult, with less colour and overall a very masculine look really.  Not that I am over pink.  Not at all – in a few weeks you will see what the spare room is and that is going to be a hive of prettiness!  But I have been a little bit in love with walnut wood this past year – the texture and pattern and the deep, warm colour.  But it’s not glossy or too dark the way the “chocolate” furniture can be.   I just managed to get rid of pretty much ALL our chocolate brown “wood” furniture.  I got sick of dusting it and then having it look dusty again two seconds later.  Natural textures are very forgiving!  All that variation can hide a multitude of sins….

Anyhoo, I got rid of our very large lounge set that we brought back from the US, got rid of side tables, put art in different spots in the house and moved the cow hides from the dining room into the lounge room and spare room.  I pulled together a board to see how different bits and pieces from around the house could be put together in the living room instead.  With a small space to work with, I wanted the lounge dining areas to work together, but not necessarily match completely, and I also needed to use existing furniture and not buy any more!  There is no room for any more!  So this was my design board:

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So we have our existing family room couch, media cabinet and Expedit. The cowhide was in the dining room in our Sydney house, the gold swan chair was in our bedroom, the art was previously in our formal lounge and master bedroom. Put it all together with a couple of new cushions and a side table (from IKEA, no less!) and voila:  The new living room plan!

Having made up a gazillion design boards, I love it when I get to see one translated into an actual room.  It doesn’t happen often and I find it a great learning process to see the actualisation of something that has previously only lived in my head 🙂  I haven’t purchased the cushions in this board yet (I am using cushions that were in our master bedroom in Sydney) and I haven’t gotten the woven baskets yet (IKEA was out of stock, unfortunately), but I think it is complete enough to get the idea.  So here it is in real life:

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The IKEA Expedit bookcase is directly behind the couch, with about two and a half feet as the walkway behind the couch.  I just bought the black door inserts as I found the colours in all the kids toys was too bright for my new palette!  I hated the crappy little handles they had though – these awful matt silver cylinders.   So I changed them up to look like this:

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All I did was superglue on some $HK2 coins!  The coins are a lovely flower shape and I think they are really pretty.  So I cleaned four of them and just glued them on.  The added bonus is that the kids can open the doors much more easily now than they could before.

For the tv wall, I wanted to try a gallery wall.  I had been meaning to do this in our old place in Sydney but just never managed to find the time to hang extra pictures!  But I love the idea of making the tv seem a little less prominent in a room.  So I picked pieces that had a lot of gold and black to “match” the black of the tv!  I am really happy with how it turned out:

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And where are all the toys you say?!  Well, they are behind the two doors of the tv cabinet, in the baskets under the tv cabinet and also in the bottom half of the Expedit. The little play kitchen is tucked in between the bookcase and the window.  By the way, those baskets under the tv cabinet were bought from Freedom Furniture over TEN years ago.  They have lasted longer than I ever would have expected! I’ve used them to hold so many different things over the years.  One of those things that although they seemed a bit pricey when I bought them (back then I was 25 years old and lived in a share house!), they have proven their worth one hundred times over.  Small storage is something you never regret buying, especially in natural textures as it’s so versatile.

The desk was a late addition due to necessity.  We were going to put it in the spare room but we realised two things: firstly, the spare room is smaller than I had remembered so it doesn’t fit very well, and secondly, we needed somewhere to keep a computer in our living space. We use Apple tv to stream tv shows and movies ALL the time so we constantly had the laptop floating around being put in different places. But it never had a “spot”.  It annoys me when things don’t have a home.  Looks messy and you never know where to find it.  It has been so useful having a work space in the lounge room.  The kids just don’t let me go off into a room on my own and work but they will happily play while I work on the computer near them.   The desk itself is an IKEA one that I got second hand on EBay for $1.25. I used a $3 roll of zebra print vinyl from Bunnings and now I have a desk.  It’s very compact (only 60cm x 100cm) and the top is just resting on the two aluminium bases so it’s very light and easy to move around.  I wanted to spray paint some gold feet on the desk but I ran out of time in Sydney and living in an apartment now, spray painting isn’t possible! I may try gold leafing, Rub’n’buff, or just a gold pen. I will keep you posted if I find somewhere to buy some sort of supplies to attempt this.

So there you go!  That is our living room right now.  What do you think?!

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