Keep your calendar open: From January to December there is always something cooking in Hong Kong, and that’s not just the treats for the Hungry Ghost

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From Hungry Ghost to Chinese New Year and Dragon Boat there is always a reason to celebrate in Hong Kong. Unlike the Western religious celebrations, the Chinese festivals are rife with colour, dance, music and shared excitement, while they faithfully preserve the ancient beliefs that generated them. In this part of the world, it is all about fierce dragon parades, romantic lanterns, festive cakes, joyful music and a great vibe, as families and friends all get together to honour the remarkable Chinese traditions.

Here are the major annual Chinese festivals that have crowned Hong Kong empress of Chinese Culture and its fascinating centuries-old customs and beliefs.

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The Big Festival: Lunar New Year or Spring Festival is Hong Kong’s biggest, happiest and most glamorous annual extravaganza, which has been rightly described by Forbes as “Thanksgiving, Christmas and Western New Year’s all rolled into one glorious occasion”. It is certainly a lot louder and busier than Christmas, with people celebrating en masse outdoors in the beats of the carnival and the dragon dances, instead of quietly curled up by the fireplace. It is the time of the year for Chinese people to visit home and reunite with their families, and then take to the streets to enjoy the traditional Chinese performances and the magnificent fireworks. Even though as a tourist you are often advised against travelling in China during this particular period of time, it is a once-in lifetime experience if you are feeling intrepid enough to join in this absolutely massive celebration. Colorful Dragon dances and carnival processions, exuberant flower markets, festive horse-racing events and the world’s most jaw-dropping fireworks displays over Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour iconic skyline,are some of the major highlights of this endless party that in total lasts for about 23 days .

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The Romantic Festival: From ancient Greece to the Aztec Empire, nearly every culture has practiced lunar worship, acknowledging the powerful impact that the Earth’s only satellite has on every living creature on our planet. And thus it is no coincidence that the Chinese Moon festival takes place during Autumn, when the moon is closer to the Earth creating a “supermoon” phenomenon. Once a harvest festival dating back to the Tang dynasty that worshipped the powerful harvest moon on the 15th day of the 8th month, it was also considered to be a symbol of female energy as this was personified in the Moon Goddess of Immortality,Chang’e. With all the Moon bathing, the candles and Chinese lantern displays it is undoubtedly the most romantic and quaint event of the year. Other highlights of this beautiful celebration include carnivals, a fire dragon dance and gorging on scrumptious mooncakes.

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The Sporty Festival: Dragon Boat Festival: Also known as Tueng Ng Festival, Hong Kong’s Dragon Boat Festival is the Summer’s most anticipated cultural highlight. It takes place near the Summer solstice, on the 5th day of the 5th Lunar Month, and it is scattered all around Hong Kong.  There are different theories regarding the origins of this centuries- old festival, one of the most interesting being that the festival originated from the ancient Chinese Dragon Worship. The most prevalent theory has however been that the custom was created to honour the prolific ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself after being banned from court. The boat paddling, is symbolically performed to distract fish from eating his dead body, and for the same reason, people also throw Zongji-rice dumplings-in the water. (It is perfectly normal, however, if in the spirit of the festivities you enjoy the delicious Zongji yourself.) In Hong Kong the races have gradually become really competitive as the racing tradition has been passed from generation to generation. The festival is rife with traditional Chinese imagery: Colourful boats with dragon heads and tails decorated with flowers paddling in the beat of the drum, the cheering of Zongji-appreciating crowds, and a unique carnival vibe, all make the Dragon Boat Festival one of the most iconic Chinese celebrations of the year. Every year the event attracts thousands of visitors and more than 140 participating teams, while its reputation has spread around the world, with its most famous siblings being the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York, and the London Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.

And the Spooky One:  In Hong Kong and in China in general, commemorating the dead an important part of life. Instead of flowers, it is not uncommon to bring fruits, meat, snacks and drinks to the grave of the deceased, as well as to burn incense and paper money or anything else a person can use in the other world.  The Hungry Ghost Festival that takes place every September in Hong Kong is meant to appease the spirits of the dead that roam the earth for a whole month, (the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar.) Bearing fascinating similarities with the Mexican Dia de los Muertos,(which is also related to All-Saints and Halloween) the Hungry Ghost Festival has ancient Chinese roots that reflect the worldwide belief that during certain months of the year the spirits can access our world, and so it is important to make sure our ancestors and malignant spirits don’t get hungry or angry.

The Festival takes place all over the city with paper money and incense burning on pavements and corners of residential buildings, accompanied with lighted candles and food offerings, that eerily remind us that we might not be able to see them but they are among us. Some of the Chinese superstitions to keep the ghosts away and to avoid attracting malevolent spirits include advising people to not cry, whistle, or hold and open umbrella.

 

The Ding Ding Tram Is Proof that Hong Kong Heritage Matters

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When in October 2015 a government proposal to scrap the Hong Kong tram in order to ease traffic congestion was put on table, the public reaction was overwhelming. For many Hong Kongers the Tramways-otherwise affectionately known as the Ding Ding- has been an integral part of the city’s history and just like the Star Ferry and the Peak Tram it belongs to a cultural heritage without which the city would be poorer.

But the tram is not only a charming British hangover that reflects the city’s past. It has traditionally been the most affordable and most environmentally friendly means of transport. Furthermore, its existence as a cultural symbol of Hong Kong has great emotional value for a large part of the local population that do not want to see rapid modernisation and technological innovation destroy the few remaining historical treasures of the city.

In a world that changes with whirlwind speeds, there are still some things that remind us that we sometimes need to slow down and reflect on who we are. Ding Ding is just that, a dear reflection of the Hong Kong’s identity.

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Brief History: The tram was first introduced in 1904 by the British Hong Kong Tramway Electric Company and twenty six single deck trams were imported from England. At the time the trams offered first class and third class seating. A few years later they were replaced by the iconic double deckers we all know, that until today belong to the few remaining double-decker trams in the world. For many older Hong Kongers the tram was the very first transport they ever used and they hold fond memories of those early rides. Unlike bus conductors, the tram conductors were nicer to the people, allowing them to jam in.

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and the Peak Tram-Chatham Path

By the mid 1950s the number of tramcars increased to 146 and they were completely remodelled.The 1950s antique tram 120 is still in use today and it passes through Shau Kei Wan, Happy Valley and Kennedy Town. The 1970s introduced major changes to the tram service.  The tram panels were rented out for advertising purposes, a practice that has since rendered them the chicest and most fashionable means for eye-catching advertising in Hong Kong. Furthermore, female conductors appeared, and class distinction in trams was abolished.

Today,the tram fleet consist of 163 tramcars, two of which are antiques. It is not uncommon to see fully painted ads on trams bodies, a practice that brings life and colour in the busy streets, and attracts art lovers and creative spirits from around the world. The antique tram no 28 is unique with a rare open balcony design and light bulbs that make it glitter at night,  and it is used exclusively for city tours, parties and promotional events.

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So, what are you waiting for? Hop on! The trams, being slower than other means of transport such as the MTR, are less busy and are one of the best ways to see Hong Kong.

The service is pretty straightforward, it goes East and West on the Hong Kong Island, and runs along some of the best parts of the city such as the historic Sheung Wan, the business centre in Central and the commercial Causeway Bay. The passenger can get a good idea of the different aspects and dynamics of the city on a single tram ride. If possible, grab a seat at the front row of the upper deck for breathtaking views of the imposing architecture and the fascinating street life.

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Today there are no tram conductors but your Octopus Card will grant you unlimited use of all Hong Kong’s transport, and you can also use coins. A four day pass is also available that allows you to hop on and off as much as you like.

Taking Tram Journey to a whole new level: Realising the trams immense cultural value, gave birth to a number of different services and creative ideas. The TramOramic Tour is a comfortable and stylish way to see the city on an open top 1920s tram and offers plenty of spectacular 360° snapshot opportunities. It also provides seven thematic journeys including Colonial, Art, Foodies, Shopping and Nature, where passengers get to choose their own itinerary based on their specific preferences and interests. 

Party On a Tram?  One thing that Hong Kongers know how to do well is party. You can party everywhere in Hong Kong, in the streets, at the beach, on a junk boat, on a helicopter and why not, on a vintage open-top double-decker tramcar! This is probably one of the most romantic ways to experience the legendary Hong Kong night lights and the city’s extraordinary festive vibe. Enjoy fine champagne and the city’s balmy nights, as the tram trundles through the bustling streets. Bespoke tram parties and events are available.

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And the most famous Tram of all: The Peak Tram funicular that carries passengers from Central to the Victoria Peak was built in 1881, and it was the first tram in Hong Kong. It was constructed to speed residential development on the hills as well as serve the privileged residents of the Peak,which before that were carried on the mountain by local bearers on sedan chairs. However it was considered a revolutionary form of transport in Asia, and for many today it is the city’s emblem.

Once you are at the Peak take some time to visit  the Peak Galleria where the Hong Kong Trams Station Museum displays valuable Tram memorabilia  including rare old photos and route maps.

I originally wrote this travel guide for Mavel

From traditional Kung Fu to the Triad Gun Fu, the Hong Kong film has shaped Hong Kong Identity

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Hong Kong film is an integral part of the city’s cultural identity. The city’s dramatic cityscape provides a great backdrop for fast-paced action and urban cool.

In one sense Hong Kong resembles a large film-set or a large China-town that encompasses several different micro-worlds in physical proximity.

Like a three dimensional  vertical metropolis, Hong Kong has been a source of inspiration for movie makers around the world. Watching films like Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell  you cannot help identifying various aspects and corners of Hong Kong. It is the epitome of the Asian futuristic metropolis.

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During its early years, the critical factor behind its flourishing success was colonial Hong Kong’s more liberal stance towards martial arts.  The city welcomed numerous talented artists and teachers, who were not allowed to practice their art in the Mainland. In Hong Kong there was no shortage of talent, and there was the freedom to put it to work.

The Kung Fu Tradition in the Spotlight with Enter the Dragon: The famous statue of  Bruce Lee on the Kowloon waterfront blends in with the iconic skyline of Hong Kong Island and becomes part of the city’s narrative. Lee was the kung fu genius who put Hong Kong on the radar with Enter the Dragon (1973), which was one of the most classic-and according to some the greatest- martial arts film ever made.

The Kung Fu genre was the basis upon which the Hong Kong Film industry confidence was built. Not only did it introduce a relatively unexplored genre that shed light on the thousand year old Chinese martial arts traditions, but it was also a tool of empowerment.

It introduced the Chinese hero who stands up to the Western imperialists, a storyline that became a popular theme used until today in the new “nostalgic” martial arts films like Ip Man and its sequels. The foreign official in these films is depicted being the Chinese “Gweilo” , the foreign devil. Narrow minded, unrefined and coarse, the “Gweilo” understands very little of the Confucian principles of peace, dignity and respect that underlies the behaviour of the Chinese hero.

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Jackie Chan has been Hong Kong’s unofficial tourism ambassador

Enter the Dragon showed the world that Hong Kong is more than a British colony, and even though its heritage is no doubt predominantly Cantonese, it is a unique place where cultures, stories and identities meet. In the years that followed its release and the death of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, a talented martial artist, comedian and stuntman reached stardom with comedic kung fu films like Drunken Master and Project A.

The importance of these Kung Fu icons should not be overlooked. They are regarded as legitimate-albeit unofficial- cultural ambassadors of the city and its heritage.  Jackie Chan’s documentary “Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong” is a great example of this.

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Young and Dangerous is the ultimate 90s hit

The Years of Transformation and The Birth of the Triad Film. During the 1980s, as the city frantically speed up its vertical expansion, the Hong Kong Film Industry reached its most prolific period. 

However, with the impending 1997 Handover to China, the awkward Gweilo character was already becoming outdated. The action had shifted to the Triad underworld and its constant battle for power and resources in a complex city-labyrinth that never sleeps. The thin line that separates the policeman and the triad member is a popular theme in these films, that aims to show that there can be goodness in a scoundrel, and evil in a man of law.

John Woo became the pioneer with iconic gangster melodramas such as “For a Better Tomorrow” and “The Killer”  that replaced Kung Fu action with fast-paced gun play-otherwise known as Gun Fu- in the street of Hong Kong. In the 1990’s ‘Young and Dangerous” films made it cool to be a young and hip Hong Kong gang member and combined action with light comedy. 

Even though these first triad films were initially heavily influenced by similar Hollywood classics, they didn’t stray from their cultural origins. Johnnie To’s Election (2005) is one of the most honest depictions of the Triad world, and for some it is considered the Godfather of Asia. American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino was heavily influenced by Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” (1987) when making Reservoir Dogs, while Martin Scorsese’s “the Departed” is the american version of Andrew Lau’s intense cop drama “Infernal Affairs”.

The Triad/Underworld killer became something of a cult figure in Hong Kong film, and a quintessential figure. For example, Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels is a film with stylised parallel story telling, that is more about social alienation in a modern metropolis than a gangster film. However, one of the main characters is a paid killer and member of the underworld. The plot develops mainly at night in the dark alleys and narrow spaces of a complex and claustrophobic city, in the heart of Hong Kong. In a very similar style, the famous Chungking Express by the same director explores the ideas of love and alienation by featuring an underworld killer-a woman this time-  being the mystery woman with which a  lonely policeman,falls in love.

The heart of Hong Kong’s cultural identity and heritage lies in its film industry. Film lovers can only hope that Hong Kong will remain a vibrant art capital that uses film as the vehicle to express the unique imagery, energy and spirit of a truly historical city.

I originally wrote this blog post for Mavel

You don’t need Bear Grylls’ endurance to enjoy Hong Kong’s gorgeous outdoors (and you can still be in time for mojitos at night)

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Don’t let the towering skyscrapers fool you. Hong Kong has mountains, sandy beaches, trekking trails, waterfalls and practically everything you expect to find in any other Southeast asian country that is known for its wild, unspoilt landscape. With 40% of Hong Kong reserved as parkland and 80% of its total area green, it is one of the greenest places on our planet, and is home to a diverse landscape that offers nature lovers endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

For families, Hong Kong is an ideal destination to enjoy nature in one of its large and perfectly preserved country parks, or spend your day soaking up the sun at the beach, while at night you can still return to the top notch food, shopping and entertainment options that the city offers. It is a city that has it all, so why not enjoy it all on your holidays?

Read on to discover the top outdoor activities in Hong Kong for families and for those who are looking for easy, enjoyable hikes through the countryside’s most scenic parts.

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Take a Trail or a enjoy a relaxed stroll in Nature: With Dragon’s Back named as Asia’s Best Urban Hiking Trail by TIME magazine and the MacLehose Trail as one of the world’s best hikes by National Geographic, hiking is one of the top activities to enjoy in Hong Kong. Even though the famous mountain peaks are often considered tough treks, there are great alternatives that do not require too much physical strain. And the best part is that you don’t need to travel far to discover emerald hills, shady trails and secret waterfalls.

The Victoria Peak Circle Trail, that runs around the Peak, Hong Kong’s number one attraction, is a gentle 3.5 km hike that allows you to enjoy jaw-dropping ,panoramic views of one of the world’s most jaw-beautiful harbours. To take the trail, simply hop on the Victoria Peak Tram to the Peak, and take the Lugard Road near the Peak Tower. 

To completely escape the cityscape, The Hong Kong Wetland Ecotourism Park in Northwest New Territories is a fantastic place to watch Hong Kong’s native flora and fauna, including birds, butterflies and dragonflies. The park is designed as a hands-on interactive experience in the ecosystem and includes themed exhibition areas, indoor play areas and a cafe. It is ideal for families with small kids.

For a more fearless adventure, the Monkey Mountain in ShaTin’s Kam Shan Country Park will bring you close to 70% of Hong Kong’s Rhesus Macaques population, most of which are descendants of a few pets that were released the 1920s. When close to the animals, pay attention to the signs and do not feed the monkeys or carry food with you, as these sweet creatures can become aggressive. The Kam Shan Country Park facilities include a morning walkers’s area, jogging trails, as well as special barbecue and picnic areas. If on that day you are feeling particularly brave and feel like having an intensive hike with a historic twist, you can head for the Smugglers Pass Trail in Kam Shan, a 6km long trail along steep hills and slopes which is found between two major hiking trails, Wilson and MacLehose. The Smugglers Pass served as an important defence position during the Second World War and thus there are some major wartime ruins such as British military bunkers and trenches still standing among the ridge.

 

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Lamma Island

Visit the gorgeous isles: Hong Kong Island’s’s dense urbanisation often makes visitors forget they are on an island ,but a short ride towards the south reveals a completely different landscape.  The gorgeous Big Wave Bay Beach at Shek O is small oasis that is popular with windsurfers as well as hikers that finish the scenic Dragon’s Back trail. There are easier ways to get there too via MTR and bus, and of course by taxi.

Less than 30 minutes away from Central, the tranquil Lamma Island is one of Hong Kong’s most laid back, picturesque destinations. Being free of cars and public transport and relatively empty makes it ideal for family walks, bike trips and day adventures. The Lamma Island Family Trail is an easy hike in nature that traverses the island and walks you along its beautiful coast past white sand beaches, Buddhist temples and breezy pavilions as well as interesting historic landmarks, such as the  Kamikazee Cave, a spot of strategic importance for the Japanese during the Second World War. The trail starts at the ferry pier of Yung Shue Wan village at the northwest part of the island and finishes at the quiet traditional fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan, with its quaint junk boats and array of waterfront seafood restaurants. Do not leave Lamma without tasting its famous fresh and delicious seafood in one of its well known restaurants, such as Lamma Rainbow.  If you are in Hong Kong this November do not miss the  Lamma Fun Day beach music festival, a fun charity event that has run for sixteen years, and is very popular with music lovers and families.

Shek-O beach …very nice on a sunny weekend!

Shek-O Beach

Another great island destination for a relaxed day trip is Cheung Chau. This island may be tiny and more “modernised” than Lamma, but it offers interesting attractions, such as the colourful 1783 Pak Tai Temple, which is also famous for its April Bun Festival, as well as the Cheung Po Tsai “Pirate” Cave. Cheung Chau is certainly the best way to slow down and have a lazy day outdoors and away from the hustle and bustle of the Hong Kong city. With fresh seafood in every corner, make sure to go there hungry!

I originally wrote this travel guide for Mavel, a blog that is no longer available

Netflix’s Love Ending Was Sloppy and Unfair to Fans

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As you’ve probably already heard, there’ll be no more Love on Netflix. It’s hard to see why Netflix decided to kill Judd Apatow’s seemingly successful series . I however feel that all in all, the gritty romance of Gus and Mickey deserved a more sentient finale.

I watched the whole third final season on a binge and was somewhat disappointed by the hastiness the producers decided to wrap up the story. Let’s not forget that last season ended with Mickey finishing things with ex Dustin behind Gus’s back after a frantic chase at the farmer’s market.

The third season felt like it fell short compared to its  predecessors.  For all its soul-searching, it didn’t compensate with hilariously candid action. Mickey’s emotional woes resurface when she finally meets Gus’s parents, but by that time viewers wonder why would anyone want to be serious with someone as wayward and unpredictable as Mickey.

She takes great offence at one of Gus’s careless comments about the relationship (which really isn’t that big a deal compared to the things she has done not so long ago behind his back). This incident eventually triggers the next phase in their relationship, ie. taking things to the next level with Gus.

Perhaps the producers really didn’t have the time to give the couple a more comprehensive finale. But a wedding doesn’t really feel like an organic part of season 3, but rather a forced way to wrap it up. The -problematic-dynamics of their relationship are still there: She is the hot girl dating a less hot guy, who naturally dances to her tunes.

For a few scary moments the final wedding episode even had an awkward Big Bang Theory vibe about it.

The ending didn’t really explain how an impromptu wedding is the solution to keeping Mickey’s  several addictions at bay. What’s more, there seems to be a gaping hole, where the whole Dustin karma should have returned to move the story forward.

The highlight of the whole season is without a doubt Bertie’s much anticipated new romance. “Bertie’s Birthday” is hands down the best episode of the final season, and the one that truly reflects Love’s original spirit. It’s such a relief to see this girl meeting someone more compatible than needy freeloader Randy.

It also gives a final positive, (and why not,also feminist), message: The key to finding love, ladies, isn’t to make safe choices and date less good-looking guys. It is rather to be open-minded, and allow yourself to meet people in whose company you feel great, and who make you want to be a better person.

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong, A Food Mecca For Every Self-Respecting Foodie

Hong kong streets/Image: Hong Kong - November 2011© MojoBaron/Flickr

Hong Kong streets/Image: Hong Kong – November 2011© MojoBaron/Flickr

Other than being an exciting global city, Hong Kong is also a foodie’s paradise. It’s not just the number and quality of high end restaurants in almost every corner of the city, but also the dazzling selection of local and international flavours that satisfies even the most demanding taste buds. So whether you’re in the city for a short break or on a long culinary mission, you should definitely skip your hotel’s all-inclusive buffet meals, and instead explore the numerous gastronomic treats that Hong Kong has to offer.

Here’s a quick introduction to Hong Kong’s essential food map.

Fiery flavors. From trendy Korean eateries and super spicy Sichuan cuisine to  real mexican tacos  (to wash down with Cuban cocktails at Mamasita’s Cantina), Hong Kong has something spicy for those of us who like it hot.

Michelin stars everywhere . There are around 60 Michelin Star restaurants in the city for year 2017. Considering how small Hong Kong is, this clearly shows that food is a serious business in this city. And the best thing is the MS list doesn’t include only upscale restaurants, such as the exquisite Four Seasons Lung King Heen, Umberto Bombana’s vero Italiano Otto e Mezzo or Shikon’s  famous Sushi. The world’s first  Michelin Starred Street food Stall is the latest innovation in a city where street food is little short of sacred.

Street Food Hong Kong Style © David Guyler/Flickr

Street Food Hong Kong Style © David Guyler/Flickr

And speaking of the devil… Nothing beats a good food truck or a quaint food stall. I personally feel instantly happy when I see one, it just adds so much colour and life to a city. Street food, found in the local food stalls otherwise known as dai pai dong  is an important element of the Hong Kong spirit, and a must-try for every serious culinary tourist. Some of the delicious local treats include Hong Kong curry fish balls, egg waffles, egg tarts, and pork ramen. For more adventurous foodies, stinky tofu is another Hong Kong classic.

Traditional Chinese Dim Sum Tea Houses. Dim Sum, the local version of brunch-like tapas, is the heart of the Cantonese culinary culture. You can enjoy dim sum like the locals do, traditionally as a morning tea gathering, or during any time of the day you crave a fluffy white bun and a hot cup of tea. Dim sum signature dishes include steam pork buns, shrimp and pork dumplings, and delicious rice rolls filled with pork, beef and vegetables. Located right in the middle of the high end Central, Luk Yu Tea House has been a dim sum hotspot since colonial times, and has still preserved its colonial-style design and retro charm.

Image: Fresh BBQ pork noodles© Ernesto Andrade/Flickr

Image: Fresh BBQ pork noodles© Ernesto Andrade/Flickr

Hong Kong native Cha Chaan Teng. Since the 60s the Cha Chaan Tengs in Hong Kong have been serving the Chinese version of western food at reasonable prices. Nowadays, they are more a cult thing, but they are still extremely popular as an important part of the city’s identity and history. Famous Cha Chaan Teng such as the Australian Dairy Company, and Capital Cafe serve generous portions of comfort food like scrambled eggs with rich buttery thick toast and milk tea.  Don’t miss Honolulu Coffee Shop’s famous egg tarts, while retro Mido Cafe will take you for a trip down the memory lane to Hong Kong in the 60’s.

You can always rest your tired feet in the Bing Sutt Starbucks. The  traditional Bing Sutt restaurant has been something between the basic dai pai dong and the more upmarket Cha Chaan Teng. In the 50s a Bing Sutt was basically the standard Chinese diner serving Chinese Western food classics. A wave of nostalgia in Hong Kong has revived the interest for Bing Sutts, with Starbucks opening the world’s first Bing Sutt Starbucks in Duddell Street. If you’re in Central, you can have Starbucks coffee with a twist, in a 60s cult ambience of tile floors, green-metal-frame windows, old fans and vintage wall posters.

Image: Hong Kong Duddell Street Starbucks© tszchungwing/Flickr

Image: Hong Kong Duddell Street Starbucks© tszchungwing/Flickr

Hong Kong, Asia’s Perfect Example of Feng Shui

The Star Ferry has been one of Hong Kong's Feng Shui hotspots/ Image: Silver Star Hong Kong©Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr

The Star Ferry has been one of Hong Kong’s Feng Shui hotspots/ Image: Silver Star Hong Kong©Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr

With the Year of the Rooster already starting on a rough patch in the Western world, Chinese astrology and Feng Shui are always interesting to follow. As someone who has lived in the “West” most of her life, I was always intrigued by the idea that there’s another way to explain the world, other than our western dualism of good versus evil ,or Christianity’s belief in one higher force that in the end restores the moral order in our world. The Chinese school of thought focuses on a holistic understanding of one’s self and one’s surroundings, and the art Feng Shui and Chinese astrology have been important parts of this idea.

View of the Harbour from the Peak/ Image: The Peak©Eugene Lim/Flickr

View of the Harbour from the Peak/ Image: The Peak©Eugene Lim/Flickr

I first became aware of the importance of Feng Shui while I was travelling in Hong Kong, and I felt amazingly strong and euphoric walking down Victoria Harbour’s Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. I later discovered that this was not incidental: Hong Kong is amongst the most important Feng Shui cities in the world, as it has mountains behind and waters in front.

Here’s what you need to know about this ancient art that has blossomed in a futuristic city.

  • The Chinese Feng Shui (literally meaning Wind and Water) is based on the idea that the energy (chi) of our environment affects the energy of our lives and, subsequently, our health, success, and well-being. When the five natural elements (fire, air, water, wood, metal) around us are balanced, we too are balanced and feel harmonious and happy.

    Chinese Astrology Symbols © GanMed64/Flickr

    Chinese Astrology Symbols © GanMed64/Flickr

  •  Hong Kong’s notable Feng Shui buildings include the HSBC tower whose entrance is guarded by two bronze lion statues, as well as buildings with gaping voids in the middle, also known as dragon holes.
  • Hong Kong’s prosperity has been attributed to its good Feng Shui, but there are great examples of Feng Shui in the West. Think about the most prosperous and culturally rich and diverse cities that you know such as New York, London, Melbourne and Paris. They all have a strong element of water, sea or river, that has energised them and helped them flourish and become global cities.

    Rivers were sacred in ancient Athens/Image: Ancient Athens - Reconstruction 1©Patrick Gray/Flickr

    Rivers were sacred in ancient Athens/Image: Ancient Athens – Reconstruction 1©Patrick Gray/Flickr

  • From the druids to the ancient Greeks, the “West” was also familiar with the importance of the natural elements in life. But in our journey to modernity and to fully embracing logical thought, we lost the connection with this ancient knowledge. In my native Athens our government buried the city’s sacred rivers-which were worshipped as Gods by the ancients– in order to built highways. Athens never came anywhere close to becoming the great city it was known to be in antiquity and in the recent years it has been brought to its knees by poverty and austerity.
  • Being one of the most densely populated cities in the world is not an obstacle to Hong Kong’s good Feng Shui. Energy does not get stale here, but moves effectively and fast. The city’s highways are its “rivers” while its high-rises are the “mountains” that move the energy and bring luck and prosperity, according to the laws of ancient Chinese wisdom.

    Hong Kong's famous elevated walkways/Image: Street bridge walkway, HK © faungg's photos/Flickr

    Hong Kong’s famous elevated walkways/Image: Street bridge walkway, HK © faungg’s photos/Flickr

  • When it comes to big cities in many parts of the world we tend to see the things in a black-and-white scope. Most of us believe that megacities are crowded, polluted and bad for us. In this sense it might appear as a paradox that 70 percent of Hong Kong is countryside, country parks, and protected green areas. Nature feeds the megacity with plenty of Feng Shui  energy.
  • Hong Kong doesn’t only have Feng Shui skyscrapers but also has fantastic Feng Shui spots for nature lovers. Its world-famous Peak is a great spot to feel the city’s great energy, and enjoy breathtaking views of the iconic Victoria Harbour. There are several nature trails for hiking lovers nearby. Asia’s best urban hike, Dragon’s Back, is another idea for those looking for a more intense and memorable hike.

    Dragon's Back hike, Hong Kong © Rick McCharles/Flickr

    Dragon’s Back hike, Hong Kong © Rick McCharles/Flickr

  • The famous Victoria Harbour and the Star Ferry are what has been described as Hong Kong’s Feng Shui  centre of the city. An integral part of the city’s history and cultural heritage, the Star Ferry has never had any difficulty winning the hearts of the people, and it has been described the perfect combination of the five natural “chi” elements.

Debunking a few Parenthood Myths

This is my third year into motherhood so I feel morally obliged to share some insights. It has changed my life immensely and it has been by far the biggest blessing I ever received, but I wish there were more sincere aspects of the hurdles of first time parenthood on the web to prepare women for this life-changing experience.

So here it goes, debunking some myths:

“Balancing career and motherhood will sort out itself ”: The African saying “It takes a Village to Raise a Childprobably sums this up best.When you decide to start a family and you are a professional person, the first thing you need to do is look around you and identify what is your support network. Are your parents or your in-laws retired and willing to give you a hand once you return to work? Can your salaries afford you a nanny or daycare, and would you feel comfortable leaving your new born with strangers for nine hours per day? Obviously these are questions that should be addressed beforehand.

Breast is Best. Ok, this is such a sensitive topic. Obviously breast is best. But sometimes I feel I agree with the French on this one. You should always do what keeps you balanced and sane. You are an intelligent human, not a feeding machine. Couples today, eager to be the best parents possible, go to extreme lengths to prolong breastfeeding, and are very proud when little Sofia, that has a mouth full of teeth and can speak sentences,pulls mom’s blouse down in public to drink milk. Stop feeling a failure or guilty if breastfeeding did not work out or you simply did not enjoy it.

Early Potty Training. Just like breastfeeding potty training is another topic that sparks lively database and attracts the most condescending and smug  comments from parents that trained their baby as soon as he could hold his head up. Enough with this madness. Sooner or later they will learn, and rest assured, they will not go to school wearing nappies.

Playdates: As a new mother I felt obliged to take my daughter to playdates way before she was interested in engaging with others or even inclined to liking others. I would say that toddlers from the age of two onwards are likely to look for the company of children but earlier than that, I am sorry to say, but it is a waste of time. Yes, it can be also a social opportunity for the mom to meet other moms but don’t expect to get a second for an adult conversation,let alone an intelligent conversation of any kind. Most of the time you will be either pretending to tell off your baby not to scream, cry and throw things down (and pretend in front of others that there is some logical explanation for that “This is totally because she didn’t have a nap today”) and, secretly planning your escape when she gives her best and loudest performance. “I ll take her home for that nap that we were saying”.

I take care of my baby while I work from home. Since I became a parent I came across this urban legend of the professional (usually a mom) that works from home while she takes care of her baby. Even though I am not familiar with the specific working arrangements of every person this sounds like the equivalent of trying to write a text when you are driving a motorbike at high speed. When I work I need to be able to focus on what i am doing, which is virtually impossible with an awake baby in the house. If however someone offered me the kind of job that you can do while taking care of a baby, and paid me with real money for it, i would take it in a heartbeat.

The second one will be a breeze. I left my favourite for the end. In life you can never keep people happy. When you are single people want to know when you will tie the knot, and when that happens they regularly interrogate you when are you planning to get pregnant. Just when you thought you have ticked all the boxes and they will finally leave you alone, there is the question of the second baby.I once had a mom that tried to convince me that having two kids is easier than having one just because they keep busy playing with each other. As a new mom of one, I thought it was one of the most outrageous arguments I had ever heard.  Even if it holds true for some part especially when the children are older, the popular idea that the second baby is a breeze and it will simplify your life is ridiculous. Sure, you already have all the know-how but that does not make the 3am feeds any easier, or lessens the overall responsibility of raising another human being.

So have more kids, but because you welcome the joy and the hard work, not only to provide the first one with a play mate.

Why I am refusing to put that pizza slice down

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A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. If a powerful genie appeared and offered to grant me just one wish, the first thing that comes in mind is this: I would like to be able to eat everything that I want and not gain a gram. If your first reaction is to mock my base instincts and lack of sophistication, please try to reconsider. Just imagine all those delicious comfort food feasts I could enjoy: pizzas and beers, buckets of buttery pop corn and eating ice-cream out of the box would definitely make life sweeter, once the prospect of looking like a bloated whale was removed from the equation.

In my 20s I did not value food that much. That did not mean I did not like food (quite the contrary) but i was happy to have a couple of glasses of wine for dinner. When I took a holiday I never looked for the the best restaurants or best ice-cream parlours, and neither did i try to educate myself on the local cuisine. Spending money on restaurants was not good on my wallet, and neither was it on my waistline. You see, being single and overenjoying your food is never such a good idea in today’s market, as you ladies probably already know.

Today when I travel I could probably skip a few museums, historic churches and monuments. If I have a great meal somewhere this makes it a nice holiday. If I am so lucky as  to eat well every day it is simply unforgettable, even without the museums and the churches. I guess it is one of the hidden advantages of growing older: You find more pleasure in the small things that when you were younger you either did not care for or you took for granted.

I remember when I was pregnant we travelled to New York. Before the trip, I spent hours, if not days, looking for things I would like to eat and restaurants I would like to visit. In this capital of fashion, not being able to indulge in cloth shopping was liberating. We visited twice Lombardi’s and both times I enjoyed a huge  NYC style Italian pizza. No guilty afterthoughts either. It was all “for the baby”.

Food gives us humans so much pleasure. There are of course numerous other pleasures in life that can make us incredibly happy. But at the end of the day, life is tough and, for better of for worse, the pleasure of food often requires less effort and is more readily available than other things.

I am not saying that eating like pigs and accepting obesity is a good thing. I am not obese and I would definitely not enjoy being one. We all hold on to the phantasy that one day that Jennifer Anniston diet will work its miracles and we will look so effortlessly chic and naturally glowing. (Diet? Daaarling, I eat everything in moderation) But as I said, life is not always a piece of cake. So you sometimes need a piece of cake to make things right after what appears to have been the shittiest of days. When this happens you should eat without a hint of guilt or sense of failure. Give yourself a break.

You deserve it.

Losing the extra weight: What I have learnt

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Being someone who has always experimented with weight loss, I have my own observations that I would like to share. With the exception of my post pregnancy weight where I had to shed around 28kg or 62 pounds, my main concern has always been the last stubborn five kilos (10 pounds), the result of love for food, loss of motivation and ignoring the caloric value of certain foods. I have never consulted a nutritionist or a dietician, (even when I successfully shed those 28 kg) but I always had a good general idea of the things I should and should not eat and I made my own diet plan according to my personal judgement.

Disclaimer: When you must lose  more than 6-7 kg it is best to visit an expert and get a a professional diet plan. The dietician will give you the right food combinations to cover your nutritional needs while cutting down on calories, and inform you about your personal ideal pace of weight loss.

However no dietician can make you thin, you are the the only person that can do that. Your motivation is your best friend in your weight loss journey, your driving force without which your goal cannot be achieved.

Below are some tips that I hope will help you keep it up and succeed.

Honesty with the scales: I myself have noticed that the times I tend to put on weight are those that I avoid stepping on the scales. Even though you should avoid obsessing over a number (numbers can lie) you still need to be honest about weight gain. No you are not “bloated” every day and it is impossible to gain significant muscle with little or no weight training, so just  be brave enough to admit that those pizzas and buckets of pop corn have turned into body fat that you now need to get rid of.

And now what? Relax.Once you get a cleat picture of the amount of extra weight that you want to lose, take a long deep breath. Success in weight loss requires that you are focused, yet relaxed. Stress, obsession, worry and impatience are only obstacles. The popular role model of the lycra clad  woman in a constant obsessive fighting mode against fat is likely create more stress and waste of your vital energy. Acknowledging that these extra pounds do not change a thing about you being a beautiful, sexy, intelligent person, but you would feel  so much better without them, is the way to start your journey.

Weight loss journey. Weight loss in a journey whether you need to lose 4 or 64 pounds. It is a change of attitudes and the realisation that healthy eating and exercise is a way of life. In fact, you need to accept that excessive eating and, unhealthy foods will always make those extra pounds creep back on. Unfortunately, the older you get, the more you have to watch your diet and eat clean.

Weight Plateaus: Embrace the idea that they exist. If there is one thing to be said about weight loss this is that is is not linear. It might appear that you are dieting for one or two months and the scales has not moved. The truth is that your body fat is a result of long term eating habits and what you need to do is to readjust these habits- in the longterm-to eventually find your weight where  you want it to be.

Learn to say no: Myself being Greek means that I come from a culture where throwing food away and not emptying your plate is the gravest of sins. I still remember as a young child my mother coaxing me to eat the last piece of bread “because children in some places in the world die of hunger”. Having this attitude makes it hard for you not to transgress, especially if you have a partner or child that orders pizzas and heaps of french fries and then does not finish them.Take responsibility for yourself and learn to say no to food. Are you willing to eat all the food available in the restaurant or all the food sold at the supermarket to rid the world of hunger? I thought so.

So do not give up. Weight loss is above all an attitude and a mental state . If you get there with your mind, the body will follow.