Far from home

Yesterday we got the news that Mats' son has come down with encephalitis, a virus infection to the brain. The doctors still don't know what kind of virus, so it's still not known if there is any treatment. For now, rest is what is prescribed.

All of a sudden, we feel very, very far away from home.


Random Meeting at a Restaurant

Last night we went to Nagahama No. 1 Ramen on Lau U Fong together with Mats' boss who is visiting Hong Kong. Nagahama is a small place on a back alley, but it is also our current favorite ramen place in Hong Kong (and since we really haven't had ramen until we came here, it's our current favorite ramen place in the world).

There are just three tables, each seating six people, so naturally you share table with random people. We got our seats, and ordered our ramen and an Asahi beer each. ("Yes, we know the bottles are big, but we still want one each.") Soon two more seats where taken, leaving an empty chair in the middle of the table.

We got our ramen, delicious as ever, and slurped away (you can't eat ramen quietly). A little while later the last seat was taken by a Japanese man. When he got his ramen, I realized that Yvonne and I had ordered way to much extra seaweed, so I offered the plate with my two sheets to the Japanese man.

He seemed utterly surprised at first, but accepted the gift happily. He ordered another Asahi to share with us, and we started talking. Mostly about Japan, but also about Sweden. When we told him that we are going to Japan in May, and mostly for the food, he gave us a number of tips on where to go and what to eat. Obviously, Fukuoka Prefecture, and especially the town Hakata is *the* place to go for ramen. He even tore out the map from his pocket calender and pointed out where it is. And where Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo is. And Sapporo, we really should go there, he said.

A random meeting at a restaurant turned out to make the dinner a really interesting and pleasant evening!


Moving - Again

We've been here for almost three months now. The first month, we lived in Causeway Bay and while the apartment was a cell-like bunker, the area was bustling with life 24/7. Almost a little bit too much, really.

But that's not where we wanted to live. We, or rather Mats, thought that Mid-Levels was the place to stay. Just an elevator ride to/from work, lots and lots of restaurants and nightlife.

It turned out not to be all that nice...

Mid-Levels, especially a block or two on either side of the escalator, is an expat ghetto. Almost all living here are expats, the restaurants and bars are filled with expats, and everything is geared towards the wants and needs of expats. Boring. Extremely boring. So after two months here, we have decided to go to another part of town.

Question is: Where?

Last Sunday, we entered our requirements on a portal site for serviced apartments, asking for offers anywhere from Kennedy Town to Causeway Bay. All on the north shore of Hong Kong island. We got 30+ replies. From all over Hong Kong. From as far away as Shatin and Tin Shui Wai in the Northern Territories, more than an hour away from Hong Kong Island. And we got quite a few way outside of our budget. No, we don't want to pay almost HKD 100'000 per month for a one bedroom apartment, even if it's got harbor view.

But a few of the offers were quite interesting, and we have currently a short list of two places: One in Wan Chai, twenty minutes from work on the tram, and one in Sheung Wan, ten minutes walk from work.

On Tuesday, when we are back from Hanoi, we will make a decision. Hopefully.


More Observations

  • Hong Kong is a city of scents. New scents meet you where ever you go. On the streets, in the markets, in the subways, in the restaurants.
    Not always pleasant, though.
  • You are rarely harassed by street peddlers in Hong Kong (except in the tourist infested Tsim Sha Tsui). Not even in the street markets, where the hawkers ignores you until you pick something up.
    The contrast was startling when we crossed the border into China and the city of Shenzhen. The Mongolian Horde (or at least a bunch of Chinese men) came down on us like, well, the Mongolian Horde!
  • Banking is so different here from in Sweden:
    • In Sweden, you can use any ATM. Not so here. Our bank here is HSBC, and we can only use ATMs belonging to HSBC and Hang Seng.
    • Checks. We got checks! We haven't seen checks in Sweden since the late eighties.
    • Paying your invoices. Done by check. Or in the utility companies shops. Or at seven-11. Not online using a centralized money transfer system as in Sweden.
    • MasterCard/Visa debit cards are basically unheard of. They are credit cards.
  • Eating at restaurants:
    • Don't expect the starter to come in before the main dish! The order is random.
    • In most restaurants the guests are expected to share the dishes.
    • Tips are not expected. There is often a service charge added to the bill.
    • The front and interior of the restaurant give no hint at all on what the food will taste like. We have had some of our best meals in places that seemed to be in serious need of an uplift.
    • Food court restaurants and restaurants at tourist attractions can be really, really good!
    • It's traditional to serve warm water to drink at Chinese restaurants. Quite a surprise the first time.
  • Many restaurants and shops are not located at ground floor but instead you can find them several floors up or in the basement. And the signing is often difficult to see. So bend your neck and look upward.
  • Bus routes numbering are obviously meant to confuse. The same number can be used by any number of routes, even routes running in the same area. And to make things even worse: Not all bus stops have signs. You're supposed to know where to stand and wait for your bus. And you have to flag it down. or it will just go by without picking anyone up.


Hong Kong ID

As a Hong Kong resident, you are obliged to have (and carry, we guess) a Hong Kong ID. It must be applied for withing thirty days of activating the long term visa. So you go to the Immigration Tower and apply for your ID. A week or so later, the ID is ready to pick up.

The ID is pretty plain, just a picture, some basic information like name and birthday. But also a chip with some biometrics.

And the biometrics makes for a very nice feature: You use it instead of your passport when entering and leaving the country. Fully automated gates works in two stages: First reads you ID and, if accepted, opens the first set of doors. You enter, the doors close behind you. The second stage is a finger print scanner that match the finger print on the chip with what is scans. If OK, the second doors open and the immigration/emigration procedure is done. 20 seconds, tops!

I wish we had an ID like this in Sweden, too.

Did I say you get the ID for free?


Weekend in Guangzhou

We took a short trip to Guangzhou, just over a weekend. Guangzhou was (and is) a blank spot for us, all we knew was that it is know as Canton and that it is the the capital of the Guangdong (Canton) province. The urban area has a population of 11 million, more than Sweden.

We took a train from Hung Hom, a railway station on the south tip of Kowloon. Pretty early, for us.

Boring waiting room at Hung Hom railway station.
And early!
It is just a two hour ride from Hung Hom to Guangzhou, and the ride was pretty uneventful. We had been warned about the Guangzhou East railway station, high risk of pickpockets and/or mugging, so we took the fastest route we saw out if the building. Our worries dissipated fast, IKEA is there to keep us safe!

IKEA - a soothing sight for Swedes on traveling foot.
Our hotel was five km from the station, straight south, so we took aim at the Canton Tower and set off. We didn't really know what to expect, but were surprised never the less. This part of Guangzhou is called the New City and is brand spanking new. Very modern architecture surrounded well designed parks and large open areas for people. Lots and lots of greenery!

A sixty or so meter wide waterfall at the end of what
turned out to be a underground shopping mall.
Growing more and more hungry, we became desperate for a restaurant with English menus. Eventually, we found Buddy's Bistro, what looked like a greasy spoon joint. But we could read the menu (maybe not understand it, though). So we ordered some noodle, a pork chop bun, some dumplings, and some stir fried broccoli with fermented bean curd. They got most of it right. And the food was really good! Surprise number 2.

We reached the hotel, way much more fancy that we had thought (surprise #3). The room was almost as big as our apartment with a generous king size, sofa, desk, and a bathroom that had everything. Including a TV.

The evening came and the view from our hotel windows turned spectacular! We had Canton Tower in full view and it had a light show that was mesmerizing.

Ever changing lights on Canton Tower.
Armed with the name and address for a seafood restaurant, we went out in the night. More lights. More colors. More.

Lights around the park in the middle of New City.
We grabbed a cab, gave the cabbie the address and went for a twenty minute ride to a place just by the river with lots of restaurants, bars, and clubs. Here was the Guang Zhou Hong Xing Seafood Restaurant. English was a problem here, just as at Buddy's Bistro, but they wrangled up two happy boys who did their best, and did fine. This was one of the gigantic Chinese restaurants that probably had room for a thousand seated guest. And a massive staff running around serving the guests. Yvonne wanted steamed fish, so she went off with one of the boys to all the fish tanks with live fish to decide which fish she wanted. And we order some more. Just a little. Some fried rice with seafood (most certainly the best we ever had, ever), some dumpling (ah, these little bundles of exquisite and subtle taste), a few deep fried seafood spring rolls (deep fried = good), some braised pork belly with abalone (pork belly = good, abalone = good, together very good), water cress stir fried with garlic (garlic anything is good). Unfortunately, the portions were quite a lot larger than they are in Hong Kong, so we ended up eating only half of what we ordered.

Half way through and we're already stuffed.
A stroll along the river got us out of the food induced coma.

They love their lights and colors in Guangzhou.
A cab took us back. Cabs are cheap in Guangzhou: A twenty minutes ride cost us just over US$ 3.

The hotel wanted US$ 40 for their buffet breakfast. We didn't want to pay that. So we had a light breakfast at our room. Worked just fine, thank you!

Bagels with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon plus fresh fruits and tea.
Breakfast for champions!
Sunday was spent mostly on Canton Tower. The highest observation deck is 488 m above ground, the highest we have ever been in a building. The view is great, albeit restricted by the hazy smog. You had to pay extra to get to the topmost deck. Money well spent, as we got our own security detail following us around.

What surprised (surprise #4) us when looking at Guangzhou from above was all the parks. Any direction you look, you see more than one park.

The park in the center of New City with the opera house in the lower left hand
corner, the library in the lower right hand corner and a sports arena in the middle.
As a Swede, you know that you should never, ever eat at tourist attractions like the highest building in town. But we gave the Chinese restaurant Color on 103rd floor a chance. Surprise #5: Excellent Dim Sum!

Dim Sum on 103rd floor.
We took the APM (Automatic People Mover) back towards the railway station and walked along the marvelous park in the middle of New City. Winding paths, small streams, benches, calm and serene.

Calm, serene, and anything but crowded.
It was now that we realized that all the parks we walked through, and all the vast open areas for people to mill around in where actually the roofs of vast, multi-storey, underground  malls. Surprise #6. We sauntered through one of them, just one floor, before it was time to head for the railway station and our ride home.

IKEA mini-bag
We know that we have only seen a very small part of Guangzhou, but we really liked what we saw. All we came in contact with were extremely polite and helpful. Language is an issue, as English isn't commonly known, and we don't speak neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, alas. But we want to go back. More than once.


Credit History

In Sweden we have a credit history. Not too surprising, but at the same time nothing that we ever think about. We take it for granted. We want to buy a new apartment? Sure, says the bank, no problem! We want an extra credit card? Why not, says the bank, is SEK xxx high enough credit limit?

Now we are in Hong Kong. And we try to get what we regard as normal services from a local bank.

But we have no credit history. We have no history what so ever.

So the bank requires us to give them proof of address, e.g. a utility bill with our name and address on. Not more than two months old. An original. We don't get utility bills in Sweden, we try to explain. Empty eyes stare at us. We get e-invoices to our internet bank, we try to comply. Is it OK to print those? Still empty stares. Eventually, they accept. Grudgingly.

So we got our payroll accounts.  And ATM cards. And we got checks. Checks? Checks!

But the ATM cards are just that. ATM cards. There are a few places where you use them to pay with, mostly grocery stores. At restaurants, you can't use it. So we asked for MasterCard/Visa.

No problem, said the bank. As soon as you have your first salary deposited, you can apply for a credit card.

Duh? Why? And it dawned on us: We have no credit history.

After some fuckups at the bank, we went to another. Welcome, they said! Of course you can have all your needs and requirements fulfilled here! MasterCard/Visa, too, we asked. Yes, naturally, they answered, as soon as we have seen three months salary at your account.

We have no credit history.

And then we draw a parallel to all the refugees fleeing from their war torn countries, from lives in relative economical stability to, often, more affluent countries. Like Sweden. But they have no economic history. They have no history what so ever. We have a good pay check coming each month, steady as clockwork. We even have a little tucked away at home. We manage without a credit history quite well. But the refugees? Not so much.



One of the benefits of living in Hong Kong is all the exciting places you can go to over weekends. We actually have quite a list of places we would like to go to while being here, categorized by climate. The past weekend we had picked Seoul, mostly because it soon will be too cold to go there.

So Seoul it was!

Neither of us had ever been to South Korea, so we tried to read up on what to do before going. But we still got something of a culture shock. It is quite different from Hong Kong. Just a few speak English, and those who do, do it quite poorly. Road signs are few and far between, and often only in Korean. The so called English menus are in Korean, but with the dishes names transliterated to the Latin alphabet. It doesn't help me to know that the it is call "BongChu", I still don't know what it is. But this is one of the delights with travelling, to take leaps of faith now and then.

First night, we took a stroll along a nice little stream. Someone had told us about it. Thank you, someone! We ended up in an area of hectic nightlife called Gyongpyeong-Dong.
A street in Gyongpyeon-Dong
Lots of restaurants and bars, lots of Koreans, few westerners. We dropped in at a place with "English menus" and ordered a pork dish, "not spicy, only medium spicy" the waiter said. Yea, like sure it was. Hot, but very, very good!

We also tried Soju, a Korean rice wine. Not overly impressed.

Saturday started with a hop-on-hop-off around the city bus tour. We like going on one of these when we come to a new town. They often give you a nice feel for the surroundings and are often good value for money. But not so here! The buss was full from start (we lived just by the starting point), but kept picking up more and more people along the route. Soon the aisle was filled to capacity, and most of the passengers were unable to listen to the commentaries available to the seated passengers. But that didn't mean so much of a difference, since the ones seated couldn't hear much of the commentary either. The on-board guide had a knack of only speaking while the commentaries were rolling, effectively making both himself and the commentary inaudible.

On top of this, the driver drove the bus as if chased by the cops. Max acceleration (with a shift stick) followed by hard breaking kept the standing passengers holding on for dear life. We got off half way through the two hour route. We didn't return, even though we had two-day tickets...

The rest of Saturday was spent shopping. Or at least trying to shop. More walking than shopping. Definitely more walking than shopping.

The Koreans are polite people, at least in comparison with the Chinese. Even young friends bow to each other when meeting, staff at restaurants and other places are very friendly in a polite way. And they seem to appreciate being treated politely. The city is also very neat and clean, maybe not compared to Singapore, but still. At least the very small part we visited.

We had heard about a good, modern Korean restaurant, not so far from the hotel. The Top Cloud at 33rd floor of Jongno Tower. We kind of guessed which house would be the Jongno Tower, but when we got close to it, we saw no trace at all of any restaurant.
Jongno Tower
After looking around, we decided to ask the receptionist in the ginormous lobby on the ground floor of what we thought was the tower. Yupp, we were at the right place, just take the elevator. Not until we were at the elevator did we see a sign for the restaurant. Impossible to see from the street. Oh, well.

The restaurant turned out to be French. And not just French, Guide Michelin Star wannabe French. But what the heck! Let's go French tonight! And we did. Eight courses and three wines later, all at a fantastic view of the city night, we didn't regret a thing. Non, je ne regrette rien!

Sunday was spent touristing. Went to a Hanok, a traditional village in the middle of the city. Like a Korean Skansen. Nice, but a little bit too simplified.

Seoul Tower was next. Took the cable car up the hill, which was a good move. We wouldn't have made it walking. Went to the top of the tower. A good view of the sprawling city. A little like LA, a lot of low houses, with some high-rises here and there. It's a big city. Some 22 million people in the urban area. 2.5 times the population of Sweden. In one city.

Dinner at a place that had just one dish on the menu, BongChu, braised chicken. You could chose how much (2, 3, or 4 portions), and how spicy you want it. Literally burnt from two days earlier, we went for just a little spicy. The food was once again very good, full of flavor and texture, although a bit strange to find parts of the chicken never served in Sweden. Not to humans, at least.

This short trip to Seoul made us want to go back. Nice people, good food, nice and interesting surroundings. Definitely worth a trip. Or two. Or three.


Planning the first trip

In a few days we are going to Seoul, South Korea on a four days trip. As our thoughts have been, we are going to make a long-weekend trip almost once a month. But, it is not just getting to the airport and leave. Things need to be planned, at least a little, to be able to use these few days well in a new city and a new country.
  • When to go? We already have a schedule for this - what months are best for what cities? This narrows the decision, this time we choose Seoul. 
  • How to get there? Flying mostly, but mainland China is reachable by train. We fly to Seoul so it is out on the net to search for the best flight tickets. There are a lot of airline carriers to choose from and this time we had arrival and departure times as the first priority - leave Hong Kong in the morning and return in the afternoon. This gives us half Friday, Saturday, Sunday and half Monday in Seoul. We choose Cathay Pacific to Seoul.
  • Where to stay? Ooops, no idea what part of Seoul is The place to be in. So, ask around, google it and make a pick. We choose to stay in the vicinity of Myeongdong as this is a good area for tourists. Lots of places to see, eat at, and shop in. 
  • Well, which hotel then? There are endless choices and prices vary depending on how and from whom you book. After hours of searching we stumbled upon a reasonable price for a luxury stay at the Koreana Hotel. Yes! :)
  • What to do? As Seoul is completely new to us so we have no idea. Once again we use google. But, the amount of information is enormous. After a few hours and finding a few hot spots we give up. We do have something planned at least. The rest will come when we are there.
  • Where to eat? Korean food can be very good but they have some strange dishes. They eat octopus that still is alive. I think we skip that. But there are a lot of dishes with very good produce, meat, tofu, seafood, vegetables, and of course kimchi with everything. Their national dessert, binju, seems to have an upswing with lots of variants. And I guess we have to try their national spirit, soju, as well.
  • Need to knows! Weather - check! Cooler than in Hong Kong so at least a sweater for Yvonne. Electricity, currency, how to get from the airport, how the metro works, when are the stores open, do we need a visa? An endless list of things to find out.
So, there are a lot to discover but this is part of the trip and (almost) as fun. We are so looking forward to this. No pictures yet, but hopefully when we are back.


A Three Day Weekend

What it was all about.
We are two days into a three day weekend. Friday was a public holiday celebrating the Mid-Autumn full moon. The big party is on Thursday evening, and we headed to Victoria Park to join the festivities. But we were probably too early and nothing really happened. A lot of people were milling around, that's about all.
Mid-Autumn Festivities in Victoria Park

 Later that night, we stumbled upon a gastro pub advertising more than ninety different beers. Sounds like a place for us! And it was. More than decent food, and an impressive list of beer. Even a couple of Nordic beers: Mikkeller, Nögne, and Grythyttan! The latter is surprising, as it'is hard to find even in Sweden.
Oatmeal Stout: Mats was happy!

Friday we thought we'd go to Stanley on the south coast of Hong Kong Island. And so did most others do, too. The bus queue looked pretty bad, but since the buses arrived more or less continuously, it took just ten minutes to board. Unfortunately, not all heading to Stanley did so by bus. It took us forty five minutes to get to Stanley...
Half the bus queue
The Stanley Market is a street market, but not only with the usual touristy crap. There are a lot of stalls with high quality shops selling clothes by their own design, handicraft and so on. Last time we were in Stanley, two years ago, Yvonne bought half a shop of linen clothes.
Inside the maze
We had dinner at a great little Indian restaurant, Curry Tiffin, before heading home again.

Curry Tiffin in Stanley
Saturday we decided to go to IKEA here in Causeway Bay. It was really interesting to see how different it was, at the same time as it was undoubtedly IKEA. The differences were in the size of the furnished "rooms" where they show how one could use their products.

These rooms were tiny and they had their respective sizes displayed.

But of course the rooms here are smaller. The display rooms at IKEA in Sweden are the size of an decent apartment here.

A product you don't see at IKEA in Sweden.
(The name ALLÄTARE translates to omnivore.)
We needed nourishment after IKEA and went to SOGO for High Tea. Not as good as in York, but still...

High Tea at SOGO
Tomorrow Hong Kong will be hit by a severe typhoon. Interesting.


On Public Transportation Fares

We have been complaining about the Stockholm public transportation fares. It's a very stupid system they have implemented there. But it's consistent.

In Hong Kong it's not.

There are six different types of public transportation here:

  • MTR - the subway
    Nine lines, very long train sets, stations spread out. Built for mass transport, and very good at it.
  • City buses
    Mostly double-decked, frequent, stops are often far between.
  • Mini-buses
    All over the place! Small buses, capacity just 16, scuttles around almost non-stop.
  • Tram
    100+ years old trams, frequent, a lot of stops.
  • Light rail
    Used far out in Tuen Mun. Only read about them so far. Will be ignore for now.
  • Star Ferry
    Across the harbor.
Of the five we care about right now, there are no less than four different ways of calculating and charging the fares!
  • On MTR, you check in and out and get the fare calculated on how far you actually have traveled.
  • On buses, both big and small, you check in and pay a fare that depends on how far into the bus' route you get on the bus.  Same price, no matter how many stops you travel.
  • On the tram, you check out when leaving, paying a flat rate (HK$2.30).
  • The Star Ferry charges you before boarding, flat rates. On the upper deck, the fare is slightly higher (HK$2.30).
On at least one of the subway/commuter lines, the one heading towards the Chinese border, they have first class cars. The fare is doubled for travelers in first class, and you have to check in for first class at the platform, not the turnstiles, before entering the car. 

Maybe the Stockholm system isn't so bad, after all?


Eventful Couple of Days

On Wednesday we had a date with the Immigration Authorities to apply for Hong Kong IDs. Have HK IDs is compulsory and must be applied for within 30 days of getting a long-term visa. It is also good to have when opening bank accounts and things like that.

So at a quarter to two we entered the Immigration Tower, and headed to the reception. Only to be told that we had to activate our visas first...

Our visas wasn't activate yet, as this could only be done when entering the country. And since we got here before we got the visas, we were in the country as visitors. Bummer. Nothing to do but to go back to the office and plan a trip to where-ever and to book a new appointment at the Immigration Authorities.

When looking for an appointment, they had an opening the day after. Next available time was two weeks later. We grabbed the time and started thinking about how to activate our visas in less than 24 hours.

The guys at the office told us we could get a five day visa at the Chinese border, just take the subway, walk across the border bridge, and pay a small fee, that's all!

First class railway cars to/from the border
Away we went after work. Got thoroughly confused when trying to find the right subway line to take us to the border. The reason behind the confusion was that Mats had looked at a faulty subway map on the Internet.

When at the Chinese immigration police we applied for visas. The officer asked us what we were planning on doing in Shenzen. Have dinner, we replied. Somewhat surprised, she asked again. Have dinner, we replied, again. It actually made her giggle. It is a clear victory to get an immigration officer to giggle!

It took less than five minutes to get the visas. Pretty cheap, too. Only RMB 168 pp. A warning, though: If you are an American or French citizen, it is illegal for you to even apply for a short term visa. You will be fined for trying!

The square outside the border crossing, Shangri La hotel at
other end.
When through the border, we walked across a large square filled with people re-packing tonnes of stuff they had brought with them from HK. All of it either baby formula or diapers.

We had a quite good dinner at the Shangri La hotel: Cantonese cuisine with grilled meats and stir fried prawn. The tea was the most expensive item at RMB 168.

Eventually we went back to the border, had our visas activated by a very friendly border control officer, even though we went to the wrong queue.

Thursday morning, we went back to the Immigration Tower and breezed through the process in practically no time at all. Now we have our (temporary) HK IDs. Now we can call ourselves residents!


Ups and Downs

The last few days has had its ups and downs. On Saturday, we met with friends from Thailand and Sweden for drink and dinner. We guided, they paid, an excellent arrangement!

We started at the Ozone bar, an open air bar on 118th floor on the west side of Kowloon. Expensive drinks, but a fantastic view. A clear and definitive up! It got even better when Mats got a telling off by a British couple. They shouldn't have. Soon they stormed out of the bar. They lost. :-)

Dinner followed at Din Tai Fung. It was wonderful to see the happy faces of our friends when the tasted all the tasty Dim Sum dishes.

Otherwise, Mats spent most of the weekend in bed with a cold. Indisputable a down. Sunday evening we went to the Temple Street Night market. Pretty much like most other street markets we've seen, another down. Had dinner at a small Indian restaurant, everything seemed authentic (but neither of us has been to India, so what do we know?). Decent dinner at low cost. An up.

Monday night, we went to Quarry Bay to have dinner at a gastro-pub with a good selection of beer. Never found it in the maze-like building complex and ended up at a restaurant that looked pretty upscale, both on the outside and when seeing the prices. This was our first disappointment foodwise. The boiled potatoes was served raw, the wonderful Dove sole was smothered in garlic, the steak was to rare even for Mats, the aioli was hardly made from mayonnaise and lacked garlic, the estragon Bearnaise (are there any other kind?) was bland. A major down.

Tuesday night we went to an Italian restaurant in Causeway Bay. Instead of asking when not hearing/understanding, the staff just ignored you; Yvonne got the wrong pasta dish, no beer was served until we asked where it was. Both pasta dishes where almost completely void of flavors. And on top of it all: The beer selection sucked! Maybe not as big a down as the Monday dinner, but not far from. A little compensation was the tasty sago pudding we bought from a hole in a wall.

Tomorrow we will apply for Hong Kong IDs. It will be interesting to meet face to face with Hong Kong bureaucrats!


One Week Later

Our first working week here in Hong Kong is done. Work-wise it has been what could be expected, mostly. A lot of catching up after a three week vacation, new computers to install and configure (Mats got a new desktop Windows on it, something had to be done!), brand spanking new monitors (we each got two 27", 2560x1440 monitors, we've never had that much real estate on our desks before!), new colleagues, and a new Boss (no, not Bruce!).  It has been a good week at work. We feel like we're up to speed.

The lunches has been great, partly because the food is new to us (and quite different from the Stockholm lunch offering), but mostly because it has been, without exception, well made food tasting great and at low cost.

This week we have had:

  • Japanese lunch-box, fried chicken, pickled vegetables, rice: Simple, but very tasty. HK$55 pp.
  • Hong Kong Dim Sum, the boss took our team to a welcome lunch at a Dim Sum place nearby. Too many dishes to remember, with a few exception, tripe being one, very good! Price unknown, but Dim Sum for a company of ten is often surprisingly cheap.
  • Nepalese, Yvonne had Chicken Masala, Mats had Palak Paneer. The Masala deep, rich in flavor, the Palak Paneer unusually spicy. Both excellent. HK$ 60 pp, including nan, rice, salad, tea/coffee.
  • Turkish Chicken/Beef Doner Kebab. With the hot sauce, the chicken kebab was the best I have ever had, says Mats. HK$45 pp.
  • Malaysian Laksa with chicken, fish cake, tofu, and egg noddles: Pretty mild soup, deep in flavors. HK$55 pp.
When out shopping for lunch on Friday, we found a place selling Banh Mi. Guess what we are having for lunch Monday?

Tonight, we are meeting up with the first of friends coming to Hong Kong to visit the city and us. Welcome to Honkers, Tomas and Giftzy!


First Day at Work

Vacation is over, no vacation until June 2014, except for extended weekends. It is our own choice, so I am not complaining. We want to travel around East and South East Asia as much as we can. Hence a number of micro-vacations instead of just one three week long (we have fifteen days vacation during the nine months here).

So today we got up early, and to the MTR to Central and the office. The commute is just half an hour, but it is extremely long compared to the 3½ minutes walk we have in Stockholm.

At the office we got the good news that our visa has come through! Now we are Hong Kong residents. Feel slightly strange, but very, very good.

A lot of catching up at the office, a lot of new faces, a few good old friends, too.

Bought Japanese Lunch Box, wish there are lunch boxes like that in Stockholm. A lunch box with fried chicken, pickled vegetables, and rice steamed to perfection for HKD 55.

Celebrated end of vacation + being residents with a dinner at Under the Bridge Spice Crab.

We have planned to be active after work, seeing things, going places. Not tonight, tonight we will drag ourselves to bed early. Jet lag is a b...


Mixed Experiences

Today was a day of mixed experiences.

We took the tram to North Point to take a look at the Chung Yeung Street street market. It is very hard to understand why the trams should take a detour off of King's Road to thread them between various stalls selling fish, meat, produce, and clothes. Strange, indeed!

Once there, we wanted some refreshments and dropped in on a, what we thought, iced tea shop. The lady didn't speak English, so the communication halted somewhat. She showed us a menu in English with very imaginative names. We picked one at chance sat down. In came to cups of dark tea colored, steady but gelatinous something. And a can of sugar syrup. The taste was, let us put it mildly, interesting...

It was, it turned out, something healing made from turtles and tea. We didn't finish our "tea."

In the afternoon, we started looking for SIM cards to our phones. Just buy a prepaid SIM at any 7/11, people had told us. Yeah, like sure! We have brand new ASUS Padfones with nano-SIMs. Just making the clerks understand that we need a smaller SIM than micro-SIMs proved to be a challenge. And eventually, we got the same reply everywhere: No nano-SIMs!

Today is our last day of vacation, tomorrow we start working at the Hong Kong office. Our visa hasn't come through yet, so for the time being, we are still employed at the Stockholm office.


Some Observations

After five days in our new home town, we have made some observations.

  1. There is no structure what so ever as to how people move along sidewalks or underground walkways. Instead of all keeping to the right, the movements are completely random. A very interesting experience was today when, in an underground walkway, traffic shifted from left-hand to right-hand mid-tunnel.
  2. People are not walking, they are ambling along. Normally, there is a direct correlation between a city's size and how fast people are walking. This city is about seven times bigger than Stockholm, but the speed of walking is like in Skellefteå, population 32 000, on sunny Sunday afternoon.
  3. Beards are strange. At least full beards like Mats'. Children either look scared or point at it. Grown ups tend to look, but not more. Except a few, like the waiter that wished us Merry Christmas, or the cashier at the bread shop who could hardly contain herself from all the giggling.


Best Dinner So Far

Last night we had the best dinner so far. We went to Yu, 4 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay, a small Sichuan restaurant just two block away from Time Square. We were lucky to get a table as we arrived, later there was a constant queue outside.

We had an assortment of dishes, the killer dish was woked chicken with peanuts and asparagus. Spicy,  but not fiery, with Sichuan pepper, contrasted by a hint of cardamom. We will be back for more shortly!

Today we are going back to Central to look at an apartment. It may be our next home.


Looking for Lodgings

The apartment we have now, is only until end of September, so we need to get something else. Causeway Bay is fascinating with all its shops, malls, and restaurants. But it is also crowded. Constantly. At first, we thought it was a Sunday phenomenon, but now we realize it is all days, all times. It is kind of cool to walk through these hordes now. In ten months time? Maybe not so much.
A small part of the Mid-Levels Escalator

So we went to Central, up the Mid-Levels Escalator to a couple of addresses. It was an interesting experience when we had passed through SoHo (South of Hollywood, a bar and restaurant area halfway up the escalator): Everything got calm! It even got cooler! We will try to get something on Robinson Rd or Mosque St. Maybe.

We also made a quick visit at the office. Looking forward to working there!

Mats is making himself known: People stop and laugh, pointing at the beard. Or, as a waiter did, wishes us a Merry Christmas!


First Day Is Over

Quite jet lagged, the first day concentrated on a few things:

  • Getting a decent breakfastf. (failed: Mats was starving and the Banh Mi placed we read about had closed, ended up at Starbucks)
  • Getting a look around the neighborhood
  • Taking a nap
  • Getting stuff for our new home, e.g. a proper kitchen knife

Main part of our abode. Behind the wall is just room enough for the bed.
We live at Time Square, in the middle of what seems to be a shopping area. There are shops and department store everywhere. Just across the road is a massive one with at least 14 floors, Lane Crawford. In the basement is what will be our local supermarket.

Our local supermarket, pretty upscale and not cheap. 
Dinner at Din Tai Fung, after dinner beer at East End Brewery.


Let the Adventure Begin!

After a completely uneventful flight, we are finally in Hong Kong.

Lovely Aily met us at the airport, with Erik and both daughters and gave us a silvery spoon to symbolize our birth as Hong Kong residents.

A long cab ride later, we are settled in our home for the coming month. It is a very long time since we lived in such a tight quarters.

Now it is time to get some food.

On Our Way!

At last we're on our way!

I miscalculated the amount of baggage grossly, even with the brand new suitecase, I needed two extra bags. All in all almost 100 kg. Well below our allowance, but still impressive. Or scaring.

Now we are in the Aurora lounge at Arlanda. Nice selection of beers: Melleruds Pilsner and Sleepy Bulldog, both on tap.


T-1, and counting

We leave Stockholm tomorrow.

Packing is close to frantic, but under absolute control, or so we think/hope.

Today we got information about where we will be staying the first month: Shama Serviced Apartments in Causeway Bay. It is not exactly where we wanted to stay, but due to a misunderstanding between us and the Hong Kong office, nothing had been arranged for us. This was discovered last night, and with only one day to make arrangements, we had to make do with whatever was available at this short notice.

This is the place: Shama Causeway Bay (map)

The floor plan is to the right.

It is on the small side, just ~50 m².


A Little Bit About Hong Kong

Hong Kong - Fragrant Harbor

Hong Kong Sweden
Population 7,061,200 101st 9,555,893 89th
Area 1,204 km² 179th 449,964 km² 57th
Density 6,400 /km² 4th 21 /km² 195th


Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Norther Territories. plus almost 300 islands. Since the area is very hilly, only some 25% of the land is developed, mainly in Kowloon and the northern side of Hong Kong Island. This must mean that the actual population density is four times higher!


About 94% of the population is of Chinese descent, the rest a mix of South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, and some Vietnamese). A number of expats from Great Britain, USA, Canada, Japan, and Korean are working in the commercial and financial sectors. An estimated 250,000 domestic helpers are from Indonesia and the Philippines.


Cantonese is Hong Kong's de facto official language. English, also an official language, is spoken by slightly less than 40% of the population. As a visitor or an expat, there is no problem getting around using English.


Whatever cuisine you want, you will most probably find it someplace in Hong Kong.  All Chinese cuisines are represented at restaurants, with Cantonese being the "local" kitchen. Beside the Chinese restaurants, you will find all East and South East Asian cuisines everywhere. And of course American and European. A true Hong Kong experience is yum cha (飲茶), drink tea, i.e. dim sum with tea.

More on what and where to eat in out blog Eating in Hong Kong.


One Week to Go!

It is now just one week to before we leave for Hong Kong. It will be a tough week, trying not to climb the walls in anticipation. We are pretty much set; the infrastructure is ready to switch off and pack (must have the infrastructure up and running first thing we arrive!), most/all clothes and stuff is ready to be packed.

Only one thing that isn't quite ready yet: The visa. Sure, we can enter Hong Kong and stay there for three months without a visa, but we cannot be employed without the visa. I am not the worrying kind, but I really would like to have the visa soon...



Pizzas and Beer

With just over a week until we go, we had some colleagues over for pizzas and beer. Or maybe beer and pizza. Kind of a so long, and thanks for all the fish, but not so definite.

We know there are a lot of very nice and socially competent people at the Hong Kong office, too, but even so we will miss our Stockholm friends and colleagues.

They had better arrange a dev fest in Honkers this winter!

Still haven't started packing. The infrastructure is ready to switch off and pack, and that is the main thing. We must have everything up and running and be connected first thing we arrive! Priorities are important!


Why Hong Kong?

We are both big city people, preferring to live in the city and to go to cities on vacations. We both love big cities like London and New York. For a long time, San Francisco was our absolute favorite, having been there a number of times in the eighties and nineties, much because of it being a cultural melting pot where everyone is accepted. There is an air of tolerance that permeates the entire city that we really appreciate.

In 2006, we came to Kuala Lumpur on our first trip backpacking in Southeast Asia. KL is also a big city with a very diverse ethnicity; Malays, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, and others, live side by side in tolerance. Another factor making KL our favorite city is all the good and exciting food! Plus, of course, very friendly people.

Early 2011, I went to Hong Kong the first time. Visited ORC's Hong Kong office to spread the gospel of performance testing. Hong Kong almost instantly dethroned KL. It is a cultural melting pot of epic proportions. Its architecture is breathtaking with 40+ story high-rises with a-room-and-a-half footprint next to shacks. The food is so diverse with all the Chinese cuisines, all of the rest of Asia (even found a Nepalese restaurant!), and of course the ubiquitous European and American restaurant (which I avoided). And all the people filling the streets, the sidewalks, and the walkways!

When home again, I started a campaign with the goal of going to Hong Kong with Yvonne on a vacation. In September the goal was reached as we landed on Hong Kong International. I was somewhat wary that I might have over-sold it, but my fears came to rest at once: Yvonne loved Hong Kong as much as I do!

But everything is not due to Hong Kong's virtues, our friends Aily and Erik (Erik is a colleague of ours) helped making us feel both welcomed and special. We hope to repay them when they, in a few years, move to Sweden.


Visa Woes

Today we got a mail from the Hong Kong immigration authorities requesting proofs of my academic merits. Of which I have none. Proofs, that is.

To make things easier(?) we decided to apply for only one visa and for no reason at all, I am the applicant. Yvonne is a "dependent" on my application. There is essentially no difference if one of us is a "dependent" or if we have separate visas, the "dependent" is allowed to work, too.

But it is I who must prove my academic merits. And I have no such proofs, never had. I have never been asked to present any proofs before.

So I mailed the Archives Department at Stockholm University and requested transcripts. Don't know how long it will take. Probably quite a while.

Until the proofs have been presented, the visa application is in hiatus.




There are tons of things to prepare before moving to another country. We need visas with working permit, someplace to live, browse the market for a decent bank and a good mobile phone operator. And we need to decide what to do with our Stockholm apartment while away.

Luckily, we have the fantastic Joanne at the Hong Kong office helping us with the visas. She will also set us up with someplace to live the first month.

The Internet is invaluable, too. We can sit at home, browsing the markets, looking for deals, making lists of which banks look good and so on.