Posts Tagged With: Hong Kong

Meanwhile, at Crossroads…

I feel like I’ve posted a lot of touristy things (which is all fun and interesting, and there’s plenty more where that came from), but wanted to let you know that in between the weekends of Hong Kong adventures, there has been lots happening at Crossroads where I came to spend the bulk of my time.

In just the last few weeks, containers have been packed full of furniture / clothes / blankets / hospital beds / school desks and chairs / computer equipment / cooking and hygiene kits / all sorts of good useful stuff to be shipped around the world to places like the Philippines, Nicaragua, Uganda (2 containers!), and Vietnam, and all kinds of goods continue to be processed and packed up ready for more upcoming shipments that will help all kinds or organisations doing great work in places of great need.

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One of the containers had FABBAS written on the side in large letters, so you can imagine the kind of music I sang a lot that day as I walked around the site looking after our many volunteers ūüôā

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I was passing the loading area last Saturday just in time to snap a picture of these ingenious garden furniture wheelchairs while they were waiting to be packed into the container for Vietnam. ¬†A plastic outdoor chair. ¬†Some bike wheels (in this case I think they’re actual wheel-chair wheels with the extra rim). ¬†Some straps and harnessing. ¬†Bam – wheelchair. ¬†Imagine the difference that could make to one person’s life. ¬†To their family. ¬†A community. ¬†The effect multiplies so quickly, for such a small initial cost.

While all that goodness has been heading outwards through Hong Kong’s enormous port area, many local people in Hong Kong who are struggling for many reasons have come to Crossroads in order to pick out furniture and electrical appliances and small household goods that will help them immeasurably in their own situations. ¬†About half the goods that come into Crossroads is redistributed locally, within Hong Kong. ¬†This is a hugely important part of the work here.

Meanwhile, generous people – individuals and businesses – have donated all kinds of interesting stuff for us to redistribute to those who need it. ¬†It’s not always immediately obvious how all the items will be useful (50 karaoke machines for example, or a single carousel horse – sans carousel). ¬†And sometimes it is a huge effort to get the goods here (like the entire contents of 26 serviced apartments – had to be picked up 3 days after we got the initial call as the new fit out was happening on the 4th day. ¬†If we couldn’t take it, the whole lot would have been thrown out!) ¬†And sometimes the processing required seems Everest-like (2 x 40 foot containers of hand sanitizer – donated as it had been labelled incorrectly and shipped here all the way from Antwerp. ¬†We will relabel every single one of the thousands of bottles before we send it all out again to many willing recipients.)

But always, a way is made where one is needed.  We can only do this because cheerfully willing volunteers from the local community continue to appear to help the much smaller number who are here full time.  Some come regularly for years, others occasionally and some just once.  It has been both incredibly challenging and a great joy to be part of that process Рmeeting the people, and finding tasks for them that will match both their skills and abilities, and our needs.

And while the Hong Kong tourist-adventuring has been great, it’s my time at Crossroads that I’ll carry away with me from here when I go. ¬†All too soon.

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Chinese New Year – postscript

The Lunar New Year festivities are mostly over in Hong Kong now. ¬†Today, in fact, they’ve been comprehensively swamped by some seriously cheesy Valentine’s Day drivel. ¬†But I digress. ¬†There were just a few other little Chinese-New-Year-related snippets that I wanted to share before moving on to other things.

Dim Sum and Lai See

Families enjoyed Dim Sum together on the first day of the Lunar New Year

On New Year’s Day, the first morning of the Lunar New Year, a few of us were planning to head out to the Peak – one of Hong Kong’s ‘must see’ tourist attractions. ¬†Unfortunately the weather was terrible, so we ¬†revised the plan and instead headed to a nearby town centre area called Tsing Yi.

Expecting all the shops to be closed, I was surprised as we wandered into the big shopping centre that (a) Marks and Spencer was open, and (b) there were a surprising number of people about. ¬†I couldn’t quite work out where they were all coming and going from, as Marks and Spencer clearly wasn’t attracting a great deal of business at that time of that day.

It wasn’t until we found our way to Starbucks (I know – the Canadian with us was overjoyed though), and took a seat near a railing overlooking the lower ground floor that it became clear… The lower floor of the centre was a large restaurant, and it was packed with Chinese families out for their New Year’s Day dim sum!

Big tables, lots of dishes, endless tea, scurrying red-coated waitresses, a large crowd waiting with varying degrees of patience at the front desk, and lots and lots of families sharing meals together.

Just by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, I watched as one family arrived in a couple of separate groups, exchanging new year greetings with each other by standing and clasping their hands together, then sitting and passing out lai see Рthe red packets containing lucky money that are given according to convoluted hierarchical rules.  It was a lovely moment.

Dragons in the market

Dragons come to the market to eat the lai see offered by the stall holders for good luck in the year ahead

I looked this up, and I think what’s in the photo here is a lion (because the dancers are hidden inside and are on the ground). ¬†But there were definitely dragons too (with several dancers mostly up on poles – which apparently makes the animal in question a dragon). ¬†I’m happy to be corrected however, so feel free to set me straight in the comments and save me from appalling cultural insensitivity.

Anyhow, several days into the new year, I took a day to wander the markets of Mong Kok. ¬†I spent a very pleasant morning wandering Flower Market St, the bird street, the goldfish-and-every-other-aquatic-pet-you-can-imagine street, and finally came to the Ladies Market. ¬†It’s a colourful, lively place where you can haggle over bags and scarves and slippers and sunglasses and wallets and shirts and trinkets and baubles and … you get the idea.

In the Ladies Market were three traditional dragons (or possibly one lion and two dragons, but to avoid further confusion from here on I’ll just call them all dragons). ¬†I could hear them well before I could see them, as they had the usual entourage of drums, cymbals and general accompanying noise makers. ¬†They were moving very slowly through the market and it took me a while to work out what they were doing.

Finally I was close enough to observe that most stall holders had put out lai see (the red packets again), and some also had bunches of carrots / cabbage / other edible greenery hanging in their shops.  The dragons were working their way down the market, with a helpful spotter going ahead, and entering each stall where they danced a bit and tossed their heads and batted their eyelashes (I love that bit!) before eating the red packets and any available greenery!

A lai see packet hangs in a market stall for the dragon to eat

This could be quite a delicate operation given the limitations of a puppet-type head and mouth arrangement, and depending upon where the stall holder had chosen to put the red packet.  There were dragons of three heights (one on the ground and two on poles of varying heights) to cater for all situations.  The taller dragons in particular were doing some impressive athletic contortions to achieve the packet eating!

I didn’t actually get to full story on why this happens, but it seems that it is another Chinese New Year tradition for good luck in the year ahead, and I was just fortunate enough to happen upon it as I was passing by.


Spring Lantern Festival

Pretty lanterns

Finally, thanks to a tip in the guide book (hooray for Lonely Planet), I discovered that the official New Year festival celebrations ended this year on February 6th, with the spring lantern festival – supposed to be the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day.

Assuming that would mean there must be lanterns about somewhere, my flatmate and I did a bit of internet research and ended up heading home from a big day at Ocean Park (that’s another story) via the cultural centre forecourt at Tsim Sha Tsui. ¬†There we found all the brightly lit goodness we could have hoped for, and some bonus Cantonese opera excerpts being performed before appreciative crowds.

It was a good way to end my quest to experience all the Chinese New Year festivities I could manage during my time in Hong Kong.  Happy Dragon Year!

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

Since I arrived in Hong Kong on 1 January, there has been a distinct transition going on in the decorations around buildings, shopping centres, parks and public squares.  The Christmas trees (and their various accompaniments with mostly questionable relevance to Christmas Рlike cartoon characters or kitsch/cute animal figurines) have been coming down, and everywhere the Chinese New Year decorations have been going up.

Every shopping centre, no matter how street-corner-suburban, has had displays of some kind, most involving lots of gold, fruit and flowers, lanterns, the chinese characters for good fortune and blessing, and plenty of DRAGONS. For this lunar new year, it is the year of the dragon in the Chinese calendar.

Along with the decorations of public spaces, people have been undertaking the yearly rituals of cleaning out their homes, buying new clothes and having a hair cut before the start of the new year. The anticipation has been building, and finally, last weekend, the new year arrived with the resounding clatter of drums, cymbals, and lots and lots of fireworks – large and small, public and private, echoing around the hills at all hours of the day and night!

Over the loooong weekend (hooray for public holidays), I managed to take in some of the major Hong Kong festivities, including the light parade and the fireworks on the harbour. ¬†But without doubt, the highlight of my Chinese New Year weekend was the Lunar New Year’s Eve fair, a.k.a. the Victoria Park Flower Market.

This market runs for several days in the lead up to new year’s eve, ending in the wee small hours of new year’s day.

Victoria Park is a big place, and the market probably covers the area of several football fields. ¬†Local roads are closed to traffic and public transport is rearranged to cope with the crowds. ¬†I popped in during the afternoon of new year’s eve (Sunday 22 January) when things were just starting to get busy.

There’s a one-way pedestrian flow plan around the market, with large signs indicating direction in each aisle. ¬†People happily ignore these and crowd chaos ensues. ¬†However the mood is so festive that nobody seems to mind standing in the barely-moving crush. ¬†And there’s so much to feast one’s eyes on, that moving so slowly isn’t a problem at all!

Traditionally a pure flower market as people shop for the perfect bloom for the new year, the Victoria Park market is now about half flowers. ¬†Beautiful orchids, citrus of all shapes and sizes, bulbs, blossoms, tall gladioli spears… There were cut flowers in all colours of the rainbow (literally – some of those colours definitely weren’t natural!), and some in shapes I have never seen before. ¬†The scent was delightful – truly a feast for the senses.

The other half of the market? ¬†Well… it’s the biggest, most fascinating and eclectic selection of stuff you just don’t need that I’ve ever seen in one place. ¬†It puts the detritus from the bottom of Royal Easter show bags completely in the shade. ¬†I loved it!!

There were ridiculous hats and inflatable hammers; ridiculous inflatable hats; plush toys of all shapes and sizes; the world’s most amazing shower screen scourer / bag organiser / shoe polish / mop / saucepan lid; drums and various other noise makers; helium balloons; colourful things that whirl in the breeze; unidentifiable dried foodstuffs in large heaps; phone covers with so much bling on them you’d need to buy a larger bag (fortunately available at the next store); cushions that look like phone app logos; slippers (with or without claws); many many dragons in many many forms…

… and store holders that don’t sit back and wait for the sale to come to them… oh no! ¬†Every store has someone yelling about their wares, some of them from precarious buoy-like structures in the middle of the pedestrian flow. ¬†Just in case you weren’t sure that you really needed a special set of cartoon character toys designed to sit in your sneakers when you’re not wearing them. ¬†Or a hat that looks like a dripping tap. ¬†Or a tall inflatable giraffe.

It was wonderful watching serious-looking old chinese men wander through the crowd with their tall bunch of gladis or blossom branches in one hand, and a large toy banana in the other.  It was also occasionally quite challenging to avoid losing an eye to passing hazards in the crowd, including spear-like flowers, food on sticks, or miscellaneous novelty items that are difficult to carry in a compact manner.

Of course, there was also novelty food to be sampled, and I am pleased to report that I survived my first encounter with mystery dumplings in a cup, which come served straight out of a large boiling pot, are doused with brown sauce and eaten with a wooden skewer.  I was also very pleased to rediscover strawberries on a stick Рthese ones were frozen and covered in toffee.  Delicious!  All in all, a wonderful afternoon of fun and frivolity at the fair.  Happy Chinese New Year!

Categories: Chinese New Year, Hong Kong | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

Stop Press!

I have much to tell you about how I spent the Chinese New Year long weekend (awesome crazy markets, street parade, fireworks), and the Australia Day celebrations here (flags, vegemite, damper, terrible aussie slang and a screening of “Australia”), but in briefer news…

…in case you missed it in the Australia Day honours list, today Malcolm and Sally Begbie were both made Officers of the Order of Australia. ¬†Malcolm and Sally are the founders and directors of Crossroads Foundation, which is where I am! ¬†So, as you can imagine, the team here is thrilled.

You can read a bit more about it here¬†(although there is an error in the article – the Begbie’s started Crossroads in 1995, not 2005 as stated). ¬†Also featured on the Crossroads website here.

If you’re the kind of person who gives thanks, then do that for these wonderful humble servants who continue to help so many through their work.

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Volunteering with the volunteers

While I’m in Hong Kong, I’m visiting a group called Crossroads Foundation. ¬†I have had a number of friends come here over the years, so I’ve been in touch with their work for a while. ¬†It’s very exciting to be here in person – see the site and meet the people I’ve been hearing about in monthly newsletters for more than 10 years!

Crossroads is operated by a team of full time unpaid volunteers, which includes people who are here ‘permanently’, and those (like me) who breeze in for shorter periods – from a few weeks to a few years. ¬†There are about 60 people on full time team at the moment. ¬†None of these people are paid – all their living expenses etc come from other generous financial supporters.

This is not nearly enough people do all the work that goes on here, so we rely heavily on ‘community volunteers’. ¬†These are local individuals, school and corporate groups and occasional international teams. ¬†Some come regularly, and some just once or very occasionally.

I tell you this, because while I’m here I’m helping out in the volunteers office, where two of us try to work out who is coming in each week, and where to place them according to what work needs to be done. ¬†It involves a fair bit of admin, being welcoming and friendly to all the volunteers and knowing lots about everything that’s going on around the place. ¬†Very importantly, it also involves developing good relationships with all the department managers so you can variously tell them there’s no volunteers available today to do the job they want done, or cajole them into taking lots of ¬†volunteers and finding worthwhile tasks for them to do when they may not have expected any! ¬†It’s busy, interesting and people-intensive, and I’m enjoying it so far.

I’m working with a lovely lady called Mandy, who most recently lived in Darwin, so the heating in our office is always ‘tropical’. ¬†Mind you, for the last three days (count them, three!) there has been blue sky and intermittent sun here (amazing!) so there was actually a fleeting moment of having the office window open today!

Flowers and fruit trees are decorating the site at the moment ahead of  Chinese New Year Рa major festival in Hong Kong starting this weekend

Reception / volunteers (that’s me!) / Silk Road Cafe / Global Handicrafts shop… all this way. And note the blue sky in the background!

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