Thursday, July 22, 2010


China. The People's Republic of.

The reason why I'm not posting candid photos of delightful Chinese children playing, wrinkled great grandmothers making offerings inside a temple, rolling green hills, or anything resembling a rather large wall, is - I kind of only went to Shenzhen.

I say "kind of only" because it's just across the border, it takes less than an hour to get there, and well, all I did was walk out of the station and straight into a shopping centre before returning again.

I really didn't see any of China.

In fact, this picture I took is of the train station.

How riveting, when can I see it???? I hear you ask.

But Hong Kongers regularly visit Shenzhen to shop. Some even travel all that way, pass through immigration, deal with the hassles, just for a massage that they could get on their own street corner.

Because massages are much cheaper in Shenzhen. In fact, everything is much cheaper.

The adventure began at the border visa office, when I was nearly denied an entry permit. My two girlfriends breezed through and, for some reason, the 'Chinese Working Holiday visa for Hong Kong' that I still had in my passport worried the police. I'm still not sure why - and you can be sure they don't tell you. Perhaps because working holiday visas usually represent binge drinking backpackers?? Especially Australian ones.

But after half an hour of standing around, and no explanations, they returned from some backstage abyss, faces like thunder, stamped my passport and waved me through.

Once my girlfriends and I crossed into Shenzhen, the hassling began. One of my friends has been to 'Shenners' (as we call it) at least 50 times and was clear with her directions.

Do not acknowledge them. Do not leave your bag open. Do not let them touch you. Do not engage with them. Do not be afraid to be firm. Do not take their first price, in fact, offer them a third and then agree on half. Do buy many things.

I've bargained my way through crowded stalls manned by salivating shopkeepers many a time: in Bali, Peru, Bolivia, Vietnam and Thailand. The touching, pushing, shoving, and following is no stranger to me.

But in Shenzhen, if you carry blonde hair, a wallet, and an empty suitcase to stuff your many purchases, then you are a walking, talking, chequebook that obviously hails from Hong Kong (China's rich cousin). And they will do or say anything to get you to sign.

The soundtrack goes something like, "Missy missy, lookey lookey, missy, what you look for missy? California what you look for? Lookey lookey California, velly cheap cheap... Lookey missy!"

Across nearly six hours of shopping, I visited a tailor and ordered six new items of clothing (which they post to you - brilliant), and topped it up with jewellrey, more clothes and shoes, a pedicure and eyebrow threading.

This is serious retail therapy. Rehab just cant compare.

Except for lunch, where I think perhaps jail would have offered a heartier meal. I went the safe route and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich with fries. The one slice of ham was almost rock hard, and the cheese must have been rubber in a former life. The ketchup that arrived with the fries was fizzy.

Fizzy ketchup.

Then when I dashed to the bathroom I stood at the basin waiting to wash my hands for at least ten minutes while a queue of women washed their dishes.

And by 6:30pm that night, I was home in Hong Kong sitting down to dinner with B. As I gushed and flushed and babbled on about the whole experience he gently said, "calm down honey, you're all wound up."

I sure was - can't wait to go back! :)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

First anniversary

With the hilarious Cheech and Chong, a couple of weeks before moving to Hong Kong.

While visiting my blog last week, I noticed that little starry meter to the left-hand side had clocked over to 365 days.

One year since the big move to Hong Kong.

I remember when I first arrived I was constantly meeting new people and being asked, "So how long have you been in Hong Kong?"

At the time I felt embarrassed to say, "Oh only a couple of weeks", feeling like the weird new kid at school and counting the days until I knew this place as well as them and had some sort of 'local cred.'

And those who read my blog will know I love a list. So here goes.

Ten expectations I had before moving to Hong Kong:

1. I would hate the culture and feel really out of place.

2. It would be really crowded, dirty and smelly.
Am I a pessimist?

3. I would spend a lot of time travelling through Asia, and be 'wowed' by mainland China and Japan within my first year.
Phew, something positive.

4. I would find a job presenting on television or reading news on radio.

5. B and I might not survive our first real attempt at living together, especially in a foreign place, and possibly break up.

6. I would learn Cantonese or Mandarin, take cooking lessons, dance lessons, and write a book.
Uh-oh, pessimist meets dreamer. A fatal combination.

7. No matter what happened, I wouldn't return to live in Sydney for at least two years.

8. I would get food poisoning within my first month.

9. I wouldn't miss my job because I would find something better and move on from it.

10. Despite all, I would never regret the decision to come.

My local cafe in Sydney where I would sit and ponder my upcoming move.

My ten first impressions of Hong Kong:

1. The city was buzzing; there were always people out and about, something to see, something to do. I loved the energy.

2. It was crowded and, at times, smelly, but certainly not dirty.

3. While parts were a concrete jungle, much of the island was a gorgeous green, brimming with hiking trails and places to hide with nature.

4. The expat community was fantastic; there were so many great people who genuinely wanted to become friends, and nights out were so fun they were almost criminal.

5. There really wasn't that much work in my area of TV. How rubbish.

6. Shopping was not cheap, it was actually ridiculously expensive. I had moved into Prada-town.

7. It was love at first sight all over again at the airport. B and I were looking promising.

8. The food looked and smelled scary... I refused to get food poisoning and would remain 'safe' by sticking with Western food.

9. Writing a book was too hard. So was learning Cantonese and Mandarin.

10. I couldn't shake an unmistakeable feeling that I had done the right thing.

One year on, my ten views of Hong Kong now:

1. I am so glad I came. I've met incredible people, had more fun that I could imagine, and have grown as a person.

2. This city is is a fantastic place to live and everyone should move here - fun, safe, cultural, convenient. It's so alive.

3. B and I have grown even closer and celebrated by buying two amazing dogs.

4. Travelling through Asia is not as simple or affordable as I had thought: still no China or Japan, but great experiences in Thailand and Vietnam in the bag. More to come.

5. Hong Kong-Chinese people are incredibly sweet. And there really are a lot of them.

6. TV work here has been a bust (so far) and radio is almost non-existent. Starting my own business and experiencing freedom has been an excellent second-best.

7. But - I have missed my past job much more than I anticipated and, had I known, might have been much more reluctant to come.

8. Chinese food tastes amazing! Leaves most Western food for dead. Avoiding it became too hard. Oh and I never did get food poisoning.

9. Living abroad is much more important than life-changing - it's soul-changing.

10. While it hasn't been perfect (what a silly word that is) I know in my heart that coming here was the right move.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Because we'll always have something to talk about.

Several years ago, I met a boy. Not the boy I'm currently with. But hear me out.

I met this other boy in Italy. Not an Italian; a Scandinavian (taller, blonder, didn't live with his mum).

A charged moment of eye contact and two months later, he boarded a plane in Europe to spend a few months with me in Australia. All we had known of each other was that one dinner.

And he was really good looking so, naturally, I thought would marry him.

At every chance I could, I showed off to people about our magical, 'Roman Holiday-style' tale.

All were impressed... "Wow, so you met in an Italian piazza, and he had to leave straight away, but then chased you all the way to Australia?? Does he have a brother?"

The enchantment of it charmed everyone; all except one person.

As we chatted over dinner at Charlie Chaplin's old table inside a dimly-lit vintage Hollywood diner, I gushed and flushed about my relationship with Scand-man. I even proudly dished out a dog-eared photo of the blonde curly locks and clear green eyes.

Family-friend didn't exactly gush, flush, or look back me with pride. He frowned and took a long hard look at the photo.

"So he's Scandinavian."


"And you met him in a Roman piazza?"

"Yup... isn't that wild??"


"Well, given he lives overseas, and English isn't his first language, do you still spend hours chatting away?"

I paused.

I don't think I'll ever forget that moment. It swung at me like an unpredictable left hook from a burly boxer on a vengeance mission.

"His English is very good," I contested. Family-friend sensed my defensiveness.

While Scand-man charmed me upon a fairy tale of romance, chased me across oceans, and happened to look like he'd stepped out of Valentino's latest catalogue, what family-friend said worried me. Because we really had not that much to talk about.

I had been suppressing the realities of our stilted conversations for two years, and was frustrated to realise we had very little in common: different views of the world, different tastes in music, different plans for the future, different interests.

He was very religious; I wasn't.

He was a professional jazz musician; I couldn't stand the self-indulgent rubbish.

I worked in a newsroom and always wanted to discuss the latest developments; he didn't watch the news.

I wanted to live in Australia; he wanted to live in Scandinavia.

And once we'd exhausted the many hours reminiscing every last detail of our perfect meeting, there really wasn't a whole lot left.

While family-friend didn't mean to unleash the poison that was quietly menacing around the edges of our romance, I'm glad he did.

It was hard to break up with that man. Not just because we had written two years of history, but also because I was approaching 30 years old and I wanted so badly for a relationship - any relationship - to work out.

But we both needed something to talk about.

So two years after me met, we broke up in our traditional style: via webcam. It was an upsetting time for many reasons.

Nearly a year of ridiculous attempts at dating later, I met B.

As I listened to him talk, I also noticed he had a cute, but soft, American accent. Bonus! I love a cute, but soft, American accent. My friend could sense some sparkage and the conversation began to shift to myself and B.

Me: "Whereabouts in the States are you from?"

B: "Ah, that elusive state called Canada."

Me: "It's a faux pas to call a Canadian American, isn't it."

He smiled. He had a lovely smile. We chatted for the rest of the night and somehow ended up on the topic of reincarnation. Cute and spiritual. More bonus.

B asked for my number and got in touch right away. None of this, "treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen", Aussie bloke nonsense.

We planned a first date and, as usual, I found things to fret about. For one, we hadn't met in an Italian piazza. I also knew he worked in the finance industry, and I had only ever dated artists. I simply did not date finance guys. Ever. I had always been judgmental to assume they were far too money-driven for me, and I had always found that a turn off.

I also knew he was far too young for me. I was 28, and I picked him to be no more than 24.

A 24-year-old who works in the finance industry and probably polishes his beamer every Saturday morning before parading it up and down Bondi beach.
This really isn't going to work.

He took me to a great Thai place in Sydney's The Rocks. I wish I could remember what we talked about, but there was simply so much conversation, every syllable and topic blended into the next. It was effortless. Cliches aside, It was like I had known him my whole life.

At one point that night B began rubbing the side of his face and I asked him if he was ok. He replied with a gentle smile, "my jaw is hurting from so much talking."

And later in the evening he shifted uncomfortably in his seat and said, "Nat, I have to tell you something."

It turned out this wouldn't be the first time he would scare me with those words. The second time, it was to break it to me that he owned a pet snake.
But this first time, it was something else. It was time for me to shift uncomfortably in my seat.

"What do you need to say?"

"I'm often told I don't look my age."

Oh fark. He's a 21-year-old finance guy.

"Oh. How old are you?" I faintly asked. And this night had been going so well!

"I'm 37."

WTF? The 24-year-old was actually NINE years older than me? His ridiculously youthful appearance made me look like a washed up old hag.

"It runs in my family, apparently," continued B. "My mum, sister, brother, we all look really young."

Wow, some genes to have.

So, after flipping my fixation to whether I could date a man nine years older than me, B and I continued to see each other. There were drives to the beach, movie premieres, and long nights listening to vintage music.

And we haven't stopped talking since.

Sure, there's more to it: there's attraction, passion, major sparkage. I still get butterflies when I hear his key in the door, or hear the phone ring and hope it's him. He's funny and smart and kind and sexy. It's all there.

But as family-friend had pointed out, if this thing is going to go the distance, we'll always need something to talk about. And for the first year of our relationship we were continually late for everything; nattering away while he was tying his shoe laces and I attempted to apply lipstick onto moving lips.

I have been amazed to discover that me, who manages to find boredom even in the most thrilling of circumstances, never gets sick of listening to this intelligent and funny man speak.

I could sit with him in any location,

in any corner of the world,

and we'll always find something to talk about.

The sequel to Titanic: "Titanic Two: The Surface"

Hey peeps,

Meet my latest blog development: posting silly You Tube videos for your enjoyment.

I often come across videos that sneak a few childish laughs into my otherwise adult work day, so I've decided to share some of them with you now and again (which may have already made an appearance somewhere on your Facebook or email inbox).

Here's the first one: the long-awaited sequel to "Titanic", "The Surface". It's pretty cute.

James Cameron: can we make this movie please?


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