On my 10 minute bike ride to Chinese lessons, I ride past 46 restaurants and a big shopping mall with another 25 or so eateries inside. I'm not sure why but I counted them the other day. As if I needed to remind myself that it's convenient and fun to live in the city and to be spoilt for choice!
Some of you may remember my blog post from last month about possibly moving outside the city The idea of a lovely villa with a garden as well as a shorter distance to the kids' school started to seem attractive to us. But there is no denying that my husband and I are city people!
In a city of 25 million people, there are obviously places that are very far away from us but everything we need in our daily lives lies within biking or walking distance from our home. Whether it's work, Chinese lessons, the supermarket, the hairdresser's, the dentists', the dry cleaners or said variety of restaurants.
We like to have the hustle and bustle around us. We do not mind the slightest that you can hear the traffic on the busy road below us from our apartment on the 7th floor, even with all the windows closed. The charm of Chinese 差不多 "quality" housing.
We like how distance is never really an issue when it comes to discovering the sights in the city centre. The fact that we can meet friends in the evening or go listen to some live music without too much planning going into it. The fact that, just by crossing Nong Than Guan Nan Lu, we're in the Tuanjiehu neighbourhood with its markets and communities where it's not uncommon to meet elderly men taking their birds in a cage for a walk. We agree that taking your bikes to the theatre in the evening is priceless - as is biking to the Forbidden city on a Sunday afternoon.
But most of all, we like to feel part of the city. See Beijingers, listen to Běijīng huà being spoken, horns being honked and spit being spat! ....no wait...
If Hong Kong were a relationship status on Facebook, it would probably fall under the category “it’s complicated”- not least after the protests and unrest that are currently going on. But what is Hong Kong actually, why is it so easy to love and what are Hong Kongers fighting so hard for?
Hong Kong is:
Hong Kong has:
After the 156 years of British colonial rule, Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese rule on 1 July 1997. This was known as the “handover” and it was agreed that Hong Kong would remain an integral part of China but that its economic, political and judicial freedoms would continue for 50 years – until 2047. This was an experiment known as the “one country, two systems” framework. But some argue that Beijing has, since 1997, been tightening its grip on some of those freedoms.
As a result, a number of protests have taken place over the years - the most famous ones being in 2014 when Mainland China refused to grant universal suffrage (the right to vote of all adult citizens, regardless of property ownership, income, race, or ethnicity, subject only to minor exceptions) to Hong Kong. This led to protests by students demanding more democracy and independence. The protests lasted almost 3 months and were led by the so-called “Umbrella movement”. Despite the extensive protests, the quest for free elections failed.
Carrie Lam was sworn in as Hong Kong’s Chief executive in 2017 and was chosen by an “election committee”. Voters had no say. During the ceremony, President Xi Jinping warned that any attempt to challenge the power of Beijing is “absolutely impermissible”.
What is going on right now in Hong Kong?
It all started with a proposed bill. The law would allow the extradition of suspects to mainland China for the first time. As put by "The Guardian", supporters say the amendments are key to ensuring the city does not become a criminal refuge, but critics worry Beijing will use the law to extradite political opponents and others to China, where their legal protections cannot be guaranteed.
The bill (which was proposed in March 2019) received prompt support from China and further amendments were announced at the end of May. They caused the first mass demonstration which took place on 9 June and violent clashes followed that same week. After massive pressure, Carrie Lam temporarily suspended the law on 15 June 2019. But protesters refuse to stop until their main demands are met.
In the meantime, China is calling the protesters terrorists. It has gathered the army in the nearby (China Mainland) city of Shenzhen and is exerting a lot of pressure on companies such as the Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific to stop employees from participating in the protests.
The future - and why you should visit Hong Kong
While it's very difficult to predict what will happen next in Hong Kong, my hope is that an acceptable solution will be found so that things (or at least everyday life) can go back to normal. For Hong Kong is a truly wonderful and fascinating place to visit.
It's the perfect mix between urban jungle and lush, green hills overlooking the South China Sea. In Hong Kong, you can shop, hike and swim all on the same day (if you get up early). It is full of life and much of that that life is lived near the water. The iconic Star Ferry sails between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon day and night and the city's skyline as seen from either side of Victoria Harbour is stunning. When you hop on a red double-decker bus and then sit down and enjoy a selection of dim sum, you are reminded of Hong Kong's colonial past and it's Asian heritage at the same time.
Much love and jūk néih hóuwahn from me, dear Hong Kong.
Cooking has always been one of my least favourite chores and since we moved to China I have really tried to find the passion for cooking by buying new cook books, strapping recipes from magazines and watching cooking channels - including my friend Jens's genius youtube channel peking papa. But alas. Ask me to host a dinner party and I'll be quite happy but everyday cooking, not so much.
But I have a solution for that. An incredibly privileged solution! Like 99% of expat families in Beijing, we have an Ayi. A maid. She comes a whopping 5 times a week for 4 hours. She tidies up, washes and irons our clothes, cleans and...cooks. I still have to get used to having a maid so I am still as disorganised as when we lived in Belgium. I would like her to cook but I forget to plan ahead, buy the necessary groceries or ask her to pass by the market so she can pick up what she needs. But all that is going to change now thanks to my new purchase! A cookbook of everyday French dishes with all the recipes written in English AND Chinese! Ladies and gentlemen I give you "Cuisine mei wenti!"! Mei wenti means "no problem" in Mandarin. The book is divided into sections with starters, main dishes, side dishes and desserts and includes useful information about the differences between Western cuisine and Chinese cuisine. For example, point 6 is "MSG is not usually used" [in Western cuisine]. Yes this book is the kind of idea I wish I had had! Just like other great ideas that cater for expats and tackle the language barrier here in China. But the woman who DID have the idea is called Olivia Guinebault and I am very happy that my neighbour Anna passed me her contact. However, I am very curious to see if the book lives up to its promise on the front page: "Daily cooking becomes a pleasure". Well if not for me then for the Ayi :-)