I was a different person when I moved to Hong Kong. I'm pretty sure I was still called Nat, but other than that, I was pretty much chalk. I'm now cheese.
(Has anyone ever tried to combine chalk with cheese? Are they really that different? I guess they are. Plus, not much goes with chalk.)
I digress. I saw many unfamiliar and 'weird' things when I got here in 2009; people hanging meat outside all day long and then eating it, bird's nest, shark fin, dogs in prams, you-name-it.
But one thing that was really strange for me were the domestic helpers. Often called 'amahs', which is similar to 'aunt' in Chinese (and NEVER called 'maids'), these are the ladies who move from places like the Philippines and Indonesia to wait on expat and Chinese families. At first I thought this was reserved for the wealthy folk, much like having a full-time nanny in Australia. But, no... every single person I know in Hong Kong has a helper that comes at least once a week. I've only met two people who decided not to have a full-time helper after they had children.
It's what you do: you move here; you get a helper to do things like cleaning, ironing and washing. You move here and have a baby; you get a full-time, live-in helper who does all of the above, as well as cooking, shopping, nannying - whatever you need her to do. It's more than common. It's just the done thing.
And the reason why most of the population can afford this miracle? Because it's cheap. Because minimum wage for domestic helpers in Hong Kong is low, and because most of us who live and work here can afford it.
And now that B and are 'with child', we're faced with the decision about whether or not to have one of these full-time helpers. A lady who is with us every day, taking away 'the daily grind' off our hands, looking after our child when we need her to, cooking our meals when we need her to, and basically just freeing up my time to parent without the extra pains. The bigger part of me says 'yes'. Why make life harder than it needs to be? Why try and be superwoman, when I don't have to be? And, if everyone else does it, why shouldn't we?
The smaller part of me worries about two things: (1) being physically unable to move back to Australia after becoming reliant on a life without endless buckets of washing and sheet-changing; and (2) that terrible word: 'exploitation'. And that's the tricky one. While it's no-doubt not good that people are paid far less than us per hour to keep our homes clean and our table's full of food, most of these ladies earn far less in their home countries and want the work; particularly when their employer is someone who is kind to them and pays them above minimum wage. Which is what we would do: pay above and beyond the standard, do as much as we can around the house ourselves, and - maybe most importantly - be kind. I have friends here who love their helpers like they're part of their own family. They're not 'maids', they're housekeepers and they're just doing a job.
The woman we interviewed is currently working with a local family who makes her sleep on a wafer-thin mattress on the kitchen floor because they don't have room for her. They ask her to work from 7am to 9pm six days per week, and she's paid the very minimum wage and benefits.
We'll have her work less hours, pay her more overall, and do what extras we can. We'll never boss her around or make her do anything, and she'll live in comfort. We'll get along with her, and we'll be an employer she can count on to treat her as an equal.
Is that really so bad?
Please be honest with me, because I'm cheese. Maybe I need to remember what it's like to be chalk.
No need to run for cover, this isn't a post about me losing my virginity (although that would have been quite the beautiful post.)
I've been feeling myself become all giddy and inspired lately about 'firsts'... first baby coming, first (and hopefully only) wedding, first visit back to Australia in what feels like forever. Firsts are just lovely, aren't they? Except when they're scary. And bad.
But, this post is a little summary of firsts about me and my gorgeous B. Why? Well, that's hardly a difficult question to answer. Because I love him and I'll take any excuse.
At my work Christmas party, circa 2007. I've blogged about this before somewhere... he was the cute guy with an American (but really Canadian) accent in a white shirt and suit pants, I was wearing an off-the-shoulder black dress and must have thought I looked hawt. I thought he was too young for me (ahem, he turned out to be nine years my senior) but his courage to talk reincarnation with a strange woman was charming. Cue sparks.
The only photo I have from the night that we met. I cropped my friends out because I don't know if they're keen on being associated with my blog rambles. p.s. The man kissing me on the cheek is not B... Sadly, I don't have any pics of him from that night.
Around a week later, B took me for drinks to a trendy city bar (sooooo not him, now that I know him so well), then for dinner at a funky Thai restaurant (much more his style.) We talked and ate until our mouths hurt, and he graciously showed me his secret taxi spot, but didn't kiss me goodnight. Mixed messages, grrrrr.
Pervert much?? Haw haw. It was in his puhretty 1968 Mercedes convertible outside my apartment. Yummy. Cue one of us taking a top hat off and holding it in front of our faces as we smooch while the image turns sepia. Perhaps B can have the top hat, I'd look fairly odd wearing one, especially if he wasn't.
First awkward moment
When we climbed into a taxi with the ghost of Michael Schumacher (who's, uh, actually not dead) behind the wheel on one of our early dates. B got in first, and before I was even in my seat, Michael spun the car around and took off - me flying across the seat and landing right in B's lap. I'm pretty sure he blushed. B that is, not Michael, who was too busy trying to break the sound barrier.
Not really a voices raised type of thing, but the first time I saw B frown at me was when we went to the Blue Mountains for a weekend away and I kept texting my friends from his car. He didn't think it was very social of me to do that and promptly told me. I remember thinking, "whoa... he's wound a lil' tight, inn'he??" But, now I do agree with him. Texting a lot on a couple-ish weekend away is bad form. Sorry, honey.
First holiday together
See previous entry about the Blue Mountains. My friend invited me to his 'masquerade' wedding up there only a few weeks after B and I met, so we faced the nervous decision about whether or not he should come along. Screw it... he joined me in his sexy Zorro mask and we balked in horror when the groom (my dear friend) fainted at the altar. Twice.
First time I embarrassed myself
On that same trip when I decided I'd be all sultry-like and run a bubble bath. Except I poured in the liquid and then turned on the jets, not realising what would happen. I screamed and B ran into the bathroom, laughing at me so hard I still think there's a ruptured spleen soaking in those suds somewhere.
Sexy stuff Nat, sexy stuff.
First time I knew I had a big crush
On our second date, when took me on a long drive through a lovely national park. While beautiful beyond compare, his classic car did this weird thing where the speaker would start making this loud buzz, and the only way to stop it was to bang his hand hard against it several times in a row. I won't forget giggling under my breath as he drove with one hand, the other bashing his radio while trying to still look cool in front of a girl. It was so adorable.
When he picked me up at Toronto airport to meet his family after the world's longest flight (I may have passed the moon and several solar systems on the way.) He was carrying an esky with a Canadian beer in it (bless him) while wearing a dark blue t-shirt, his hair slightly messy, his skin tanned. I don't remember anything else other than thinking, "I love you."
And who wouldn't?
So, there you go... just a few firsts. Let's have plenty more shall we, B? Are you there? Do you even read my blog? Hello?
Nothing says you're 'up the duff' (really not the loveliest expression, is it) quite like maternity jeans.
I mean those hideous jeans with an elastic waistband that fly the comfort pride flag rather than the fashionista one.
I'm hardly Rachel Zoe (and thank God for that) but I never quite imagined myself wearing elastic waistband jeans. In fact, the heavens had a little snigger at me about this very issue just last week... I headed over to a girlfriend's place on Friday night, 15 weeks pregnant. When I arrived, I pulled up my shirt (relax folks, it wasn't that kind of party - not enough champagne) and proudly showed her that I was still fitting into my regular jeans! She oohed and ahhed and kindly served me pasta and cake, and then we settled down to watch The Kennedys mini-series.
Except, after all that pasta and cake I just couldn't concentrate, despite JFK and Bobby and all their rrraow-ness. I kept wriggling and writhing on my friend's couch, even though I was lying flat on my back.
My friend asked me, "Are you OK?"
I replied, "I can't breathe. I need maternity jeans."
No less than a few hours after I was showing off about not needing them. Cue friends' laughter.
So, the next day, I hurtled to the store and picked up two pairs. And, can I tell you a secret folks? I am never taking them off. B can't even get me drunk enough to get these babies off, because I can't get drunk right now. BOOYAH.
Who invented these genius devices, and where can I subscribe to their entire being? I may not be cool, but my lord I'm comfortable. **Runs to the store to buy a comfort pride flag and hang it in the window like a Brazilian**.
A loooooong time ago I wrote an 'About Me' page, in which I shamelessly gushed about a few random things: my love for Hong Kong, a freak gift for latin dancing, my boyfriend's basketball obsession - and wanting to be a mother.
I've always wanted to be a mother, as most women do. Someone's obviously been feeding nature's maternal instinct its spinach, as it seems to kicking along, alive and well. Pat on the back, mother nature - here's to a job well done.
I still want to be a mother. I've always known I'd check in as a permanent resident of Heartbreak Hotel if I was one day told I'd never become one. I couldn't bear to think of it.
And now, I've been told I'm going to become one. Provided all goes well, of course. And I really do know how lucky and blessed that makes me.
But, here's the thing... Call me a dreamer, but I always thought that when that moment came, I'd tumble into a huge vat of happiness... Giddily rolling around in it like bubbles dancing in lemonade. But, the reality is, when I found out, my reaction was... different. I panicked. Worried. Freaked out. Wondered. Even cried.
This wasn't a planned pregnancy, this was a surprise. Some say that's the best kind. I kinda think they're all amazing. But, because a MAJOR life decision was made for me (can you say understatement?), the control freak in me froze. I wondered if I was really ready for this, if I could cope with a long pregnancy, if I have the skills to be a mother, if I am capable of putting my needs on hold for, I dunno... the next few decades. And all I saw when I walked the streets were babies crying and toddlers throwing tantrums.
It didn't help that I didn't have a great first trimester. Thank heavens I wasn't vomity, but I did suffer from enormous fatigue and a constant feeling of extreme flu. It's hard to be emotionally strong when your body just isn't there for you. I've always loved to work, socialise, be strong. Physically, I just didn't feel like myself. Because I'm kinda not, right now. There's two of us trying to make it through in here - a shared space.
So, I found myself worrying about what this all meant, rather than spinning cartwheels down the street with sudden joy. And that's fairly frightening to admit, because I'd hate to think my child-to-be would ever think he/she was unwanted. I never didn't want it. In fact, I recall when I was doing my pregnancy test, I was secretly crossing my fingers that it would be positive. But, I can't change the fact that I was totally blind-sided by nature. And now, the good news is, at the start of my second trimester, I am feeling much, much more excited. There might even be some cartwheels in my future. I'm still scared, but I want it. I want it really REALLY bad. And I know how lucky I am.
So maybe this is it... the first of many surprises of motherhood. I've now learned that wistfully dreaming about something usually transforms into a self-portrait of sunshine, roses, and vats of lemonade. The reality of it can look, feel and taste quite different. But that doesn't make it any less important, or any less beautiful. In fact, it's more so. Because it's actually real.
Oh, and does all this also mean I need to edit my 'About Us' page? Because I really can't be bothered.
Oh crap, I fell off the wagon again. It was whirling along at breakneck speed, me practically leaping out of the driver's seat with blogging inspiration (I may have even shouted the odd yeeeee haaaaaaw or two) and then, out of nowhere, the giant hand of 'things to do' reached out and slapped me back to reality, waving its finger and shouting, You do not have time to blog, you worthless creature, your time is MINE, mwahahahahaha.
Oh yikes, I'm clearly rusty at this.
So, allow me to curtsy (perhaps even throw my back out in the process as a courtesy) and officially apologise. I am sorry I haven't blogged in a very long time. I am the world's worst blogger. I won't be mad if you have abandoned me. Sniff.
But, there have been things to do, like coping with the utterly ginormous (I need a word bigger than ginormous, Mr Oxford, I mean come ON, let's think outside the box, shall we) news that I am, in fact, pregnant. Having a baby.
I KNOW. Exactly my reaction.
It is B's, just in case you were wondering. And it all went something like this:
He proposed. I did the kind thing and said yeah, 'spose.
Disclaimer: There was no baby at that time, folks, rest assured. We are evil and we've shamed the family.
We went to Thailand to celebrate our engage-moon.
Not all contraceptives do what they're meant to.
We came back, and - drum roll - a human started to grow; a cheekily three whole years ahead of my ten-year-plan.
The sound you just heard was God (or someone equivalent) sniggering at my ten-year-plan.
So... it has been hard to blog. I had a secret I couldn't share (there is some crazy rule that you're not supposed to tell anyone for three months, which is when you're quite frankly FREAKING out, feeling like absolute hell, and suddenly unable to do things like drink wine and coffee, of which you are the patron saints.) But, I'm following all the rules, even the nutty ones, like a good mum.
So, here I am, 15 weeks pregnant, and finally able to talk about the fact that we have a critter on the way. I feel like I have lots to share, such as how my reaction was really not what I thought it would be, and how awesome it is to be able to do things like add extra cheese - just because we're meant to fatten up. BOOYAH.
But, I'll save all that for other posts, because this post has already sucked enough time from your day, as well as being formally written in the 'Nat's gone nuts' genre.
But that's OK... I'm pregnant. I have the best excuse now for everything.
I forget to take the garbage out. But honey, I'm pregnant.
(Actually, I just didn't want to.)
I perform poorly in Mandarin Chinese class. But teacher, I'm pregnant.
(Actually, I just couldn't be bothered doing my homework.)
I can't go and get the milk. But honey, I'm pregnant.
(Actually, I'd just rather you did it.)
But it's good to be back. It's great to be able to share this news. We are truly THRILLED. And our baby is going to have the BEST baby-daddy in the world. Now, can it just get his temperament, patience, intelligence, sense of humour, pouty lips, straight nose, soft skin, curly hair and chocolate eyes?
I'll think of a better blog title for this post later, when I've stopped swapping what I'm meant to be doing with lazy, menial indulgent distractions procrastinating.
I am usually a super motivated person... so much so, I've been teased about it most of my life, along the lines of:
"Nat the go-getter!"
"What project is Nat working on now?"
"If Nat tried to sit still, and there was noone there to see it, would she still be Nat?"
My sides are splitting with laughter.
But this week, aliens have evidently caught the number 12 bus down from planet alienville and injected their paralysing vermin into my innocent "please don't probe me!" body.
I've still been working this week, of course. But just the basics... what I have been asked to do. Jobs for clients, with as much thought and time as each deserves. But that's it. No additional work, no ambitious projects, no business development, no supplementary achievements. No go-getting of any kind.
But here's a little of what I have been doing this week...
* Watching Tabitha's Salon Takeover (man, that woman is a beartch)
* Talking long afternoon strolls through Victoria Park with the music up full blast on my iPod
* Sending Glee song requests to Ryan Murphy
* Pruning my plants
* Concocting celebrity baby images
* Lying on the couch gazing out the window at the clear October sky
* Chatting to friends on the phone about nothing at all
* Googling Glee interviews and kicking myself for stumbling across spoilers
* Writing lists of what I should be doing
* Flicking through my diary, realising all the things I didn't do
Wow... quite the high achiever this week, huh? Now I'd stay and write more, but someone has just emailed me a video of a man inventing his own animals, that I simply must watch...
NAT: (obsessing about some random issue, as usual)
But what if X, Y, or Z happens? That'll be just awful. Maybe even the end of the world as I know it.
Do you realise you're worrying about something hasn't happened, or may not even happen?
Yes, but what if X, Y, or Z DOES happen? What will I do then?? Huh?
B: (pause; taking Nat's hand)
Honey... You know, whenever you find one tiny leak in a ship, suddenly that ship is sinking. It's just a leak.
CUT ON NAT'S PENSIVE FACE, PERHAPS TAPPING HER FINGER TO HER JAW.
CUE DRAMATIC EXIT MUSIC.
He's right. The first part of that ramblish I'll-never-win-an-Oscar-for-screenwriting dialogue is just me taking creative liberties again, but the last line is real. B said it to me this week while my mind was performing cartwheels over something random.
And he's right. I do that. I'll often collapse under the weight of a sinking ship when I find a leak, made all the worse if the issue is important to me.
Is this a glass half empty thing? If I have mixed feelings about something, am I sentenced to default to worrying about the worst possibility? Am I the only one sinking ships? And how do I stop? Positive thinking? Mindless distraction? Perhaps just leaning over and kissing the cute boy with the wise words?
And how many questions can I ask in one paragraph before the reader sinks his/her own ship because they're over my upward-inflection-ending questions?
Hong Kong's greatest tradition... the foot massage.
Disclaimer: These hideous shorts, which likely needed to be charged via battery every hour to stay that bright, were most definitely not mine. The lovely masseur lady lent them to me so I didn't give the whole room a show with my skirt hitched up. Hong Kong folk are considerate like that.
Oh yes, it's true. I plead guilty to my own idiot-ness. I figured it out this week while I was watching Glee. Not because I copped a proverbial slap to the face when I realised (a) I was not born in 1994, I was born in the SEVENTIES and (b) I shall never, ever sing and dance as well as those crazy kids.
No, I realised I was an idiot because I really liked Glee. Allow me to explain.
When Glee first came out, I hated it with a venemous passion... people would gush to me, "did you see Glee this w..." - and even though their mouth was still functioning, my ears had totally shut down and were already erecting protest signs.
That stupid show Glee, I would think to myself... I hate that show. American high school kids singing and dancing, urgh.
Which is all good. The free world says I'm allowed to hate Glee. If I've (*cough*) actually seen an episode.
You see, I was avoiding, bad-mouthing, downright despising a show I had never seen. And it's not just Glee. I did this to that darn Da Vinci Code book too, just because it was such a monster hit. Throughout 2004, while attempting a conversation with my friends, I remember their eyes would slightly glaze over before they'd reach into their bag like a Dan Brown-controlled zombie and drool over the latest dog-eared page.
I may have exaggerated just then, but then again, I may have not.
After years of wanting to scratch my face with the words, "I hate all codes pertaining to Da Vinci!" I found myself picking up my sister's copy when I literally had nothing else to read, defiantly turning a page. And then I turned another page... pretty soon I had turned wild and was spotted bellowing from the rooftops to the streetwalkers below, "Haven't you heard??? Jesus was MARRIED!! What are you all DOING just going on with your lives, like this hasn't happened? Look at that darn Da Vinci painting!!"
I may have exaggerated just then, but then again, I may have not.
And then the movie with Tom Hanks came out and I pretty much declared it a farce.
But back to Glee. I have a habit of doing this... rejecting something I've never seen or read, just because it's popular. I've been sick recently, and therefore sentenced to watching TV series on iTunes because Hong Kong television is so bad it's literally un-bloggable. I'd burned through pretty much every series I'd ever heard of, until my rebellious hands gave my attitude the finger (the perks of being a hand) and typed in Glee season one. Screw it. What really turned me was when I found out it had been created by Ryan Murphy, who gave me one of my favourite shows of all time - Nip/Tuck.
And, what do you know, people, I loved it. I watched the whole first season in less than a week. I love the talent, the singing, the dancing, the message, the sweet high school teacher, whoever plays that Finn guy because he's really cute, Lea Michele who is an absolute delight, and I want to have Appletinis with Chris Colfer.
So there you go. The Da Vinci Code is actually a really stellar book. Glee is a seriously well-made show.
Back when I used to be an entertainment reporter, my colleague and I suffered a severe case of desk space lack-of. That is, we had none, because every drawer, nook, cranny, centimetre and crevice of our desks were stuffed to the brim with either music videos or gifts.
Oh yes, the gloriousness that is 'the gift.' Because of our horrible job, we got sent everything, turning our poor newsroom counterparts (who didn't get flown to LA to interview Angelina Jolie) into green-eyed monsters with LOTS for desk space. For the three years I was there, I didn't buy one CD. All the latest albums were couriered to us every week. The newest magazine issues arrived on our desk the same day they hit newsstands (including Zoo Weekly, which was just downright embarrassing). There were knickers, bottles of plonk, random articles of clothing, and beauty products. Drool. Makeup, face creams, hair elixirs, fragrances, lotions and potions.*
*n.b.: we did share a lot of this stuff around the newsroom, you know, when it wasn't, like, Chanel. I happily gave away my twenty-thousand sea-salt hair spritzers and disposable razors, I'm not selfish.
BTW, I still have no idea what tangerine lipstick has to do with entertainment reporting, but I wore it on the red carpet - does that count??
Call me a freebie junkie or a downright materialistic-whore (whoa, settle down there, reader) but I miss those weekly surprises almost as much as I miss body contact with Matt Damon (someone call the 'drool' back in - we're not done here).
So, getting to the point while we're all still young, I was thrilled to discover MyLuxBox has just opened in Hong Kong.*
*n.b.: This is NOT a sponsored post in any way... I'll just as soon tell you if I think MyLuxBox turns out to be a bunch of (expletive!) if they do turn out to be a bunch of (expletive!)
I've seen similar initiatives in the USA and I've been looking for something similar in Hong Kong for the loooongest time. Basically, you pay a small amount of money each month, and a little gift pack featuring the latest beauty and cosmetic samples are couriered to your door once a month! You first complete a beauty wish-list of sorts, so your kit is slightly tailored to your profile, and then- viola! (not the instrument, the French fancy word thingy, although a little viola tune would work here too) - a little beauty gift pack is all yours for the devouring each month.
It's genius. And, it feels like a return to the gift-receiving days of the entertainment desk, even though I'm, like, paying for it. Shhhhh.
Now he's done putting out fires in California, please let Arnold Schwarzenegger NOT return to an eighth Terminator film called 'T-8'. I loved the whole "I'll be back" thing as much as the next sucker, but truly, please don't come back. Anymore. Plus, a T-8 movie would mean seven before it, and we've got enough Rockys, Die Hards and Indiana Joneses to take us well into the next century. (Retract comment about Indiana Jones: the man has a whip and a hat, which qualifies him as an eternal babe.)
Luckily for me, in these parts, a T-8 translates to a 'typhoon warning signal #8', which is what's going down on China's chin today.
Typhoon Nesat is its name, and it isn't hitting us directly (because that would be just rude), but instead, is squeezing past us somewhere to the southwest, carrying in its knapsack gale-force winds that have already reached local speeds of 115 km per hour. I'm not a wind expert (or expert in anything, really) but apparently that's really friggin' fast.
While a T-8 is a serious panic for those living in beachfront mud huts, it's admittedly a bit of a party for most city folk who get an automatic day off work. Oh, except for my precious B, because he works in media where the show must go on - rain, hail or hurricane. The media's answer to a tyhoon 8? Pffffft. My pen is mightier than your winds, NESAT. What kind of name is Nesat, anyway? *Repeat pfffft*.
To follow T-8 warning signal instructions, I'm meant to lock all windows and doors, and insert reinforced shutters and gates if I have them (I don't.) I'm also urged to not stand near any windows, and move all furniture and valuable objects away from them. Of course, taking a dip at the local beach is advised only for those who are sick of living. Public transport also shuts down, and if I were to make an afternoon coffee I'd planned with a friend today, I'd have to bribe a maniac cab driver to take me there.
But in reality, I'm with the media: Pfffft. All I can hear is the soft patter of rain on the window panes, because we're low to the ground and protected on all sides. There is a serious lack of typhoon action here unlike our last apartment on the 28th floor, where during one particularly bad-ass typhoon, B and I couldn't sleep because the barking winds kept getting in the way.
So, wishing Nesat a safe journey to nowhereland. You leave those mud hut folk alone, 'ya hear, or you'll have to deal with me and my(insert scary weapon device thingy.)