Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One year on

I've decided to republish an old post today, as today is the one-year-anniversary of the tragic loss of "the girl who lives within my heart".

Rest in peace darling girl, I miss you...

This is Joanna Jones, or 'Joey' to me.

She's an awesome girl; we met in Sydney nearly ten years ago. I was on a blind date with a flaming-red-haired bass player, a magnetic man who would naturally go on to break my heart (as all bass players do, every now and again).

For our blind date he had invited me to his gig and I had foolishly accepted, surrendering him the upper hand from the word go - he must have known his rendition of Play That Funky Music would send me a little lolly-eyed. And oh it did.

The only other person who stuck out that night was Joey. She was the singer in his band, originally British but living in Australia with her family. Joey was a wild, funny, bright-eyed, spark plug of a girl - and an amazing singer. Bass player had had too much to drink on our blind date so Joey drove me home, and somehow we had become lifelong friends before we'd even reached my house.

It was one of those effortless, instant soul connections... amplified when bass player broke up with me, and Joey nursed me through my crushed heart. She really helped me through a hard, hard time.

When Joey needed a place to live we soon became flatmates, and soon after that, workmates. Joey needed a job to support her singing career, and I had become jaded about the pretentious world of television and wanted out. We decided to become nursing assistants at our local nursing home, specifically, in the dementia ward. It was possibly my life's most rewarding year - working with some of the lovliest, sweetest, people I have ever met - who are now long gone. Joey and I would chat and laugh about our weekend plans and latest boyfriends, while doing the most perilous of tasks. There was toileting, cleaning, showering, and tending to people who died on our shifts. We look back on those times and still can't believe we did it. And I secretly miss it. It was an honourable job.

Soon after, Joey's family were given terrible news... after four years in Australia, their visa had expired and they were required to leave the country. Even though they were a working, tax-paying family of five, Australia wouldn't have them on a permanent basis, and after a series of long-winded appeals - and almost begging at times - they were deported. It was a heartbreaking time - not just for them - but for me. I was losing my closest friend, and I took it hard. Joey and I stayed in close contact over the next couple of years and our friendship wasn't broken. We visited each other, bought calling cards and spoke regularly. Joey always planned to move back to Australia as soon as she had finished her studies, which would have qualified her to do so. An incredibly ambitious girl, she was always working, studying to become a music teacher, and was in a new band in with her sister. Jo worked so hard on her dreams, and with her talent, I was sure she would be rewarded in the end.

The last time we spoke was on Facebook, about two days before April 1st, 2009. I wished Joey luck for her weekend in Venice, a belated Valentine's Day break with her new boyfriend. She had just completed her studies and had finally become a music teacher. Joey never even made it to the airport. While turning into the carpark at the airport, she was caught in a horrific accident and killed instantly. Everybody else in the crash survived. It was B who broke the news, and I remember believing it was some kind of dark April Fools Day joke. It had to be. When I logged into Facebook and saw so many messages of grief, I knew it was real. It was impossible to contemplate. I couldn't imagine never seeing Joey again.

What got me most of all, what kept me awake in tears every night as B stroked my back, was the sheer cruelty of this tragedy. That a 28-year-old girl, who had her whole life ahead of her, that had so much to live for - marriage, children, her music - was all taken from her. She was a sweet, caring soul, who loved animals. She never did anything to harm anybody.

A couple of weeks before this, my boyfriend had been offered the big move to Hong Kong. While I was genuinely considering coming along because I wanted to be with him (plus a chance to explore the world and shake myself up a bit) I had a really good job as an entertainment reporter in Australia that I'd worked incredibly hard to get, and I had been having nightmares about leaving it. I wasn't sure I could.

Joey's premature and tragic death was the one thing that convinced me that there was more to life than interviewing Angelina Jolie. I decided to accept an opportunity that she will never have and see the world. I'm so sorry I never got to tell her as I had been saving it - she would have been so excited!

I don't believe Joey will ever truly be gone... as all lost loved ones do, she lives within the hearts of people who loved her - and as she was... carefree, youthful, healthy, and full of hope. While memories preserve life, the impact of one person's kindness can echo in the world for an eternity. I truly believe that. I miss her. And if I really listen hard, I can hear her singing with the angels.

Wow this has been a really long post! If you have made it this far, thanks so much for reading it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It's always good to know when you might need a toilet... or a see-saw.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rugby and Drinking

My sister and her boyfriend arrived in Hong Kong yesterday - sooooo excited!

But their visit coincided with the biggest, wildest and drunkest weekend in Hong Kong - the rugby sevens.

The rugby stole all our cabs and we couldn't get to the airport in time - my two peeps were sitting in the arrivals hall twidling their thumbs for half an hour.

The rugby turned our tame little catch up drinks in Lan Kwai Fong into a joint fight to cross the street without one of us becoming swallowed up inside a heaving ocean of people, never to be heard from again.

The rugby turned a few random blokes so drunk, they were literally passing out on the street in front of us (yeeech).

But the rugby also gave us some good laughs, as those in hilarious costumes paraded up and down the street - and certainly sent the atmosphere up a notch (or ten thousand).

But never mind - I get to enjoy the next few days with my sis and our almost-hubbys!

Oh and several thousand rugby fans.

Have a gorgeous weekend x

Friday, March 26, 2010

So this is what $100K looks like

I guess you could say they gave me an offer no woman could refuse.

It was all very Oscars-ish - I made an appointment to hand-select which delicious set I wanted, then carried them home SO carefully in my bag, I thought I was about to have a heart attack with every step and suspected anyone with two arms and legs as a potential thief. I think I checked they were still in my bag about ninety gazillion times.

I really didn't enjoy myself that night - I spent the entire evening with the tips of my fingers fondling the necklace just to make sure it was still there, and not making out with some soggy toilet paper in the ladies bathroom.

Just quietly? I couldn't wait to give them back... the whole experience was a tad too stressful for me.

No more diamonds. Unless they're on my left hand.

So, a year or so later, I'm still required to frock up for work on occasion. Here's a couple of before-and-after pics from yesterday, where I was lucky enough to MC the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens lunch for the Australian Chamber of Commerce.

The bloke in the second shot is my good friend's husband. I also don't know why I look so drunk, because I'll I'd sipped on was coffee.

I also got to sit with two of the Australian rugby players, who were just the sweetest young fellas on Earth. We were talking about work and one of them quietly said to me in a nervous and unsure way, "I do think I have a good job... I mean, I get to travel the world and stuff..."

Um, ya think????

Highlights? I pronounced all tricky names correctly and didn't say anything stupid.

Lowlights? When I called up a sponsor onstage to draw a prize that had been already drawn, and then said "oh sorry, we've done your bit". Eeech. Smooth, Natalie... like silk, really.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Otto's maiden voyage

I always thought it was a bit naff to document the life of a pet; it's sort of like having an amazing dream and then telling someone, but realising they're only pretending to listen - because they weren't there and just can't 'get it'.

BUT - my 14-week-old puppy did have his first-ever walk this week, and I felt the need to post about it.

Like a true mum, I celebrated the occasion with a few happy snaps - well maybe more than a few. B reckons I missed the whole thing because I kept angling for the 'perfect shot'.

I do that sometimes.

Oh, that and my panic attacks about wild cars flying around corners and crunching Otto to bits - I begged "can't we just carry him?" and B pointed out "that's not quite a walk though is it". Oh yehr.

He got the hang of it though and perked up when people began to filter past - he loves humans and was far more interested in hanging out with them than other dogs. He's chic like that.

When we reached the local dog park and a symphony of barks began to emerge (some of which, were rather gruff and deep) he stopped and looked at me with pleading eyes not to take him in there. I think I glimpsed parenthood for a minute.

Then an elderly Chinese man pushing a rickety old cart walked past, and Otto turned and bolted. I understand. Old Chinese men can be unpredictable.

Here's some of my twelve million snaps:


Still panicking.

The boys.

Getting the hang of it!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mmmm, Fatburger...

But I was in one of those 'anything not dim sum' moods.

p.s. I woke up in the morning to this cute little blackboard note from B and Otto and had to post (it's already on my photo blog for today)...

And yes, this means B's name has finally been revealed :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Debut: 'My Chinese Kitchen'

Last week I finally did something I've always wanted to do: attend a cookery course.

In any country, with any cuisine.

So when we moved to the food capital of China, I nudged this long-term goal to the top of my 'extra curricular activities' list, above salsa dancing and Wing Chun martial arts.

It was fitting that the Chinese cookery course was held in Mong Kok, where there are 3000 restaurants alone... it's known to be one of the best places for authentic, 'roll your sleeves up' (as B puts it) Canton cuisine.

Along with two equally-as-nervous-looking gweilos, I made Hong Kong fried rice, Cantonese-style sweet and sour pork, Singaporean stir fried rice noodles, Cantonese-style crispy fish with pickled vegetables and crispy chicken with lemon sauce.

It was a thousand flavours of yum, and tasted even better than Chinese restaurant food (if I do say so myself, which, er, I just did).

Our tutor was a portly Chinese chef called Martha, who had a touch of the no-nonsense Gordon Ramsays and cracked the whip as we scurried around the kitchen, hopelessly trying to get dishes fried to perfection.

Over the next few months I'll be attempting to replicate each of these in my home kitchen, and will post the recipe, tips, photos and result on my blog.

But for now, here's some preparatory tips, courtesy of Martha Ramsay:

1. Looks come first. In a Chinese restaurant, the focus is on sexy presentation above all things - even taste. The locals believe food tastes better if it looks good. So each dish needs to look not only hot, but hawt.

2. Chinese food must be eaten immediately. In restaurants here, people complain if they don't see any steam when the food arrives. The food loses its signature flavour and crispness quickly, and therefore, the pressure's on to chow down asap. This also explains why your dessert will often come out before your entree. Which is kind of annoying.

3. Never serve a Chinese person chicken breast. It's considered rude. While Westerners usually view it as the prime piece of the chicken, in China, you'll pay more for chicken feet than breast - they think it tastes urgh, and will always reach for thighs or wings first. I guess they just aren't 'breast people'.

4. With sauce-based dishes (e.g. lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork) you don't want a thick, syrupy sauce: you only want a fine coating around each piece, otherwise the dish becomes too overpowering. It should taste shchweet, not sweet.

5. Singapore noodles are not necessarily Singaporian. While the Sings do make their own version, it's different from the Cantonese style, which is what we made. So when you order this dish in China, you're not 'ordering outside the region', this is very much a local dish. And it's one of my favourites!

6. In fried rice, egg should be completely invisible. It's extraordinarily difficult to pull that off; in professional Chinese chef school (attended by Martha, who later taught there) if any portion of egg is visible in fried rice, it's an automatic fail. The trick to absorbing the egg is to keep the rice moving very quickly at all times in the wok, especially when the egg is first added. Good luck with this - it's a nightmare.

7. You'll spend all your time on preparation. Dishes can take an hour or more to prepare, due to the delicate chopping required of each ingredient - each piece should be very small and evenly cut. In that same chef school, Martha told us students spend 6 months on cutting carrots, and will only pass when they can turn one small carrot into 1600 evenly-sized pieces. Let's leave that one to the pros, shall we.

8. Once a dish is prepared, the actual frying is intense and super-fast. In a restaurant, they'll whip up Singapore noodles in less than 45 seconds. When we attempted it, we were madly grabbing and throwing food in with one hand, whilst vigorously attacking it in the wok with the other - Martha was over our shoulder calling it like a horse race... with food sprayed all over the walls and floor, it was possibly the most painful 45 seconds of my life.

Next step: see if I can repeat any of this in my home kitchen!

Good luck with that, Natalie.

What I made:

Hong Kong fried rice with BBQ pork, shrimp and green peas.

Cantonese-style Singaporean stir fried rice noodles.

Cantonese-style crispy fish with pickled vegetables in sweet and sour sauce.

Crispy chicken with lemon sauce.

Cantonese-style sweet and sour pork with pineapple and peppers.

Pics from the day:

Now THAT's a knife. Or possibly a cleaver.

Chopping, chopping, chopping. And yet more chopping.

Making fried rice.

Preparing crispy fish.

Martha shows us how to fry it up.

This one will go straight to your thighs.

Preparing sweet and sour pork.

A lot of notes!
Chinese food: It's complicated.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Street Food: Mong Kok

Friends from Home

We went to university together and have known each other for ten years.

When I met B, he told me he works for a huge international financial news company called Bloomberg.

I asked him if he knew of my friend Heidi, who also works there.

He told me they sit next to each other!

So B and I met independently, and the three of us are now good friends - Heidi insists on making a speech at our wedding, about how she almost-introduced-us.

Last night we hit Lan Kwai Fong (Hong Kong's famous nightlife district) followed by Chinese dinner at a funky restaurant in Soho called Bistro Manchu.

We then finished up with a few drinks at an institution watering hole called Stauntons.

I am a bit headachy today!

Now we're off to the people-packed Mongkok Ladies Market.

More headaches.

I see love and beauty all around

Monday, March 15, 2010

Happy Valley

It's nestled up against Hong Kong's famous shopping hub Causeway Bay, home to a world famous racecourse, and ironically, named after the total devastation and death that festered here when it was nothing more than a Malaria-ridden swamp.

You see, Happy Valley wasn't always so, well, happy.

In the early 19th century, Happy Valley (then known as Wong Nai Chung Valley) was home to a British army camp. That abruptly closed down after a series of soldiers mysteriously died after coming down with a sudden fever (later discovered to be Malaria).

After incredibly high death rates that, at that time, wasn't attributed to deadly mosquitos, the township then became known as a ground for the dead.

Which is when it received a shiny new name card: Happy Valley.

Which is all a bit creepy, really.

Luckily, they've cleaned it up a bit, since nowadays it's quite a posh area sweetie, and home to oodles of Canton-celebrities... sometimes I share a lift in my building with attractive, well dressed, pouty-lipped, perfume-saturated princesses, and I wonder they're "famous'.

But anyhoo, here are a few random pics I snapped yesterday and even a few oldies, of the place I now call home.

No Malaria this time.

The Happy Valley tram: less than one Australian dollar a ride, no matter how far you travel. You might want to take a year off to get there though.

Main Street, Happy Valley. (Otherwise known as Sing Woo Road).

Looking back through the Valley towards downtown.

View of the racecourse from my friend's balcony.

Wall art on Tsui Man Street, which is pronounced Choy-Man-Guy (the street, not the wall art).

That Chinese thing where they hang raw meat outside all day long. Smells fragrant.

B wanted to live on Kwing Kong Street. I think he's seen to many King Kwong movies.

Otto's local.

My local.

It's not good, it's not great, it's just a fine mansion.

And a view of the valley itself from my bedroom:

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