Homewares HK

I was very excited to post my first “vlog” this week, only to be told by my husband that it needs some serious editing! Turns out I really am as bad at technology as I thought. Stay tuned – it’s coming!

Meanwhile, I figure someone should be benefiting from the obscene amount of time I’ve spent researching homewares in Hong Kong, and that person should be YOU! Here’s a list of my favourite furniture and homewares stops in Hong Kong…

IKEA

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Obvious I know – enter any apartment in Hong Kong and it features at least one item from the Swedish furniture giant. But there’s a reason. Not only is the store very conveniently located in Causeway Bay, but IKEA HK offers free delivery AND ASSEMBLY!! No flat packs to be seen my friends! It’s also affordable, fresh and modern – a must stop if you need to save on big basics likes sofas or shelving (we bought the Kivik after our sofa drama and love it), plus of course for my favourite giant white candles and glass tumblers.

Bowerbird

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Bowerbird is a gorgeous store I discovered by reading about the founder, an Aussie, in a local magazine. Walk into the store in Ap Lei Chau and you’ll feel your shoulders relax and a smile creep onto your face. Think giant ginger vases in traditional blues and modern mints, white painted Chinese sideboards, oversized rugs, giant bird cages and a whole lot of neutral linen sofas. It’s Hamptons Chic, Hong Kong style. Be sure to take a credit card with a high limit…

Organic Modernism

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While basically the antithesis to Bowerbird, Organic Modernism is probably my other favourite Hong Kong discovery. It speaks to the other side of my style – dark teak wood, Danish designs with a modern twist, large Turkish rugs and Balinese throws. I love their Vintage style sideboards and mid-century inspired armchairs – I would absolutely have one of the huge rugs in our apartment if only it would fit! There’s a store in Sheung Wan but the Ap Lei Chau store is much larger and worth the trip.

Homeless

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Homeless is a fun, quirky store filled with mostly expensive accessories but some furniture and practical items too. Marketing itself as a “Life Style” store with shops dotted around the island, Homeless sell everything from designer lamp shades to silicone oven mitts. Great for gifts and one off items.

Franc Franc

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I’m yet to actually buy anything at Franc Franc but it’s worth a mention because it’s very Hong Kong, as well as very affordable and diverse. Friends of ours bought a giant copper Toucan from there, while another friend has some great shelves he picked up for less than HK$1000. There are also some more questionable items for sale…but still definitely worth a look and just around the corner from IKEA in Causeway Bay, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

Petit Bazaar

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One for the kids and officially my absolute favourite store in Hong Kong. I am already a Gold VIP, that’s what it’s come to. We ordered Heike’s beautiful big trundle bed (by QUAX) from there the day we arrived, and it’s been a love affair ever since – a play teepee for the living area, a rug for Walter’s room, wall decals, posters, clothes. They have everything and everything they have is worth buying. The staff are so friendly and now Whatsapp me with new arrivals…okay, it’s getting weird. They have stores in Central and Stanley, but I shop just down the road from me in Wan Chai.

Asia Xpat Hong Kong

Be sure to jump online and take a look at the classifieds section on Asia Xpat – there are LOADS of furniture items to be picked up for a bargain, or even for free. If you’re lucky you’ll snap up some rich couple’s designer living room suite for HK$1000 before the hoards of other desperadoes (namely, me) do!

They are just a few of the many, many options for homewares in Hong Kong – my favourites. PLEASE contact me with any questions or suggestions, because I have as I said spent way too much time doing research and would love to save you that time!

Happy Shopping.

Z

Adjustments: Week Three

So, we’ve just finished our third week in Hong Kong. The good news? We’re still loving it. We are even picking up the odd bit of Cantonese (OK, I can say two things but I’m proud) and feeling more like “locals” every day.

Of course, mostly we aren’t feeling like locals. Mostly we’re still feeling really confused and mucking things up all the time. We went out for lunch on Saturday only to find the restaurant we’d chosen was closed for renovations. We then almost got lost trying to find somewhere else to eat, and when we finally found a place and ordered our food came out wrong but we couldn’t explain that properly to the barely-English-speaking waiters. The whole experience took waaaayyy too much time.

I would say that has been the biggest adjustment this week – just not knowing where to find things, and how to communicate.

An example is with the grocery shopping. It would be easier to get our groceries delivered, but all the major brands have a three day wait time for deliveries, so I need to learn to be more organised (Harris Farm same-day delivery, where are you when I need you?!). Instead I’ve been going out to the shops. I’ll then take FOREVER to find what I need or it won’t be there. Or I’ll finally find it and it’s so expensive and I wonder if I really need it. Then when I eventually pay for about half the stuff that was actually on my list, I pray that I have enough money on my card because I haven’t got internet banking set up yet.

I also really want to shop exclusively at City Super or Great Food Hall, but should definitely be shopping at Wellcome because I’m not a gazillionaire. I did try shopping at our local Wan Chai wet market last week, only to come home and question my life choice as a meat eater (visit and see what I mean).

Once I’m done at the shops I’ll realise I have no cash in my wallet. Great. Taxis here only take cash, so you always need some on hand – and when you have a pull-trolley (yes! I bought one!) full of groceries and a 15 month old in a sling you NEED to take a taxi. So my next mission is finding an ATM. ATMs in Hong Kong are not located every 50 metres like they are in Australia. It can be a bit of a mission to find one, and ultimately soul crushing if it is out of service.

Anyway, you get my drift – everything is just that bit harder, that bit more laborious. If you get home and realise you’ve forgotten milk, you will cry.

Communication isn’t a huge issue but it does get to you at times. Knowing at least some Cantonese would be really useful to anyone moving to Hong Kong, and I’m thinking of taking a course recommended to me at the YWCA (can’t find a link anywhere so am going to have to double check the details!). Most expats will tell you “you don’t need ANY Cantonese” but some are like me, people who like to chat to their doormen and cab drivers and random old people on the street. I miss that interaction.

We’ve cooked a bit since we’ve been here but today, I really cooked. I spent a good couple of hours in the kitchen while Walter slept, and cooked some delicious chilli salmon noodles and a big, decadent bread and butter pudding and we ate and it felt like home. Sometimes it’s the small things that help you adjust.

Z

St John’s Play Group

We checked out Hong Kong races last Wednesday night and as well as enjoying a jug of Pimms and losing money on the horses, we met a nice Aussie couple who also have two kids. Asked how I was finding Hong Kong I lamented that, as a stay at home Mum, I was finding it hard to meet other Mums and not just helpers.

They understood what I meant and suggested I check out St John’s play group, which is held in the hall next to St John’s church in Central. The play group is run by a lovely English lady, and the only rules are that children must be two or under, and absolutely no helpers are allowed. Walter and I decided to check it out.

On arrival we were greeted by the lady who runs the group, who explained the process of signing in and paying the very affordable $20HK donation. We were then introduced to a few of the other Mums, some of whom had lived in Hong Kong for many years and others just a few months.

It’s a typical play group set up, loads of toys as well as water, biscuits and tea and coffee making facilities. Walter absolutely LOVES it and plays happily for the full two hours without giving me a spot of trouble (yet! I’m sure that’s still to come). I think his favourite part is the singing at the end.

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Yes I like playgroup!
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Obviously…

All the other Mums I’ve met so far have been lovely and, as I’ve found generally in Hong Kong, very open and willing to engage. I think because Hong Kong is such a transient city, people do need to sometimes say goodbye to friends but are always happy to welcome new ones. I’ve even gotten someone’s number! Yes, it’s like dating.

This is such a fabulous resource for Mums new to Hong Kong, or new Mums who’ve been in Hong Kong for ages. I feel very lucky to have discovered it.

St John’s Playgroup

Thursdays 2.30-4.30

Fanny Li Hall, St John’s Cathedral

4-8 Garden Road, Central

Z

Alone In Hong Kong

I had planned to post yesterday, but didn’t because I was simply exhausted. Exhausted because it is hot, and new, and busy. But also because Walter is sick and had been up half the night, and both kids were up early, and I hadn’t had any kind of me time because Justus is again travelling.

There are loads of bonuses to being an expat wife, being married to someone I not only love but who is ambitious and passionate and has a job with a good salary and lots of perks. Sounds great, right? And mostly it is. But there are also some pretty major cons. Long hours. Missed birthdays and holidays. And lots of alone time.

So, here’s what I am loving and not-so-loving about being alone in Hong Kong…

Loving:

– Loads of alone time

– Chilling with the kids and not worrying if the dishes aren’t done after dinner

– Eating dumplings with them at 5pm like a child

– Not being cold

– Meeting new people

– Exploring new places to play

– Doing my nails and watching bad TV at night

– Going to bed at 8pm

– These pictures taken by Heike today. I love seeing our world through her eyes

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Not Loving:

– Loads of alone time

– Missing my husband

– Not being able to call my Mum or sister and chat

– Being more tired than usual

– Talking to myself

– Hanging out with helpers all the time. I want to meet some more Mums!

Any other stay-at-home expat Mums out there? How do you cope when husband isn’t around?

Z

Adjustments: Week One

Even though technically I’ve just begun my third week as a Hong Kong resident, time has flown by so fast that it’s felt like one reeeeally long week! We’ve had our niece staying with us and have been slowly setting up, getting new furniture, hanging pictures and stocking our pantry. Only now do I feel that real every day living can begin.

So, my plan is to write a weekly post about things I’m having to adjust to, things that are totally different to home. Since this week has actually been two weeks and they were the first two I’m expecting this post to be rather long but let’s see what happens.

Okay so the first thing is the heat. Everyone tells you the humidity will be horrid and you kind of go, “Yeah yeah but I’m from Australia, where it’s hot, and at least it’s not winter! I’m escaping winter, yeah!” No. It is really, really difficult to adjust to everyday life in this humidity. And the worst of it hasn’t even hit yet. Then the flip side of the heat is the freezing cold air conditioning inside every building, which feels like sweet relief for the first two minutes after being outdoors, after which time you’re wishing you’d brought a jacket. It’s no wonder we’re all struck down with colds at the moment (except Heike, who is made of very strong stuff).

The second major thing is that getting around thing is harder than I expected. Hong Kong is SO not pram friendly, and I need to take a pram out. Walter wants to walk but is too little to do so safely or with great aptitude. Meanwhile Heike is more than capable of walking but is guaranteed to have a shit fit at some point and refuse to walk (which I must say is understandable given the aforementioned heat). But whenever I do take the pram out it’s a hassle – there are stairs everywhere and narrow footpaths. Last week a Chinese man started screaming at me and gesturing wildly at the pram when he couldn’t get past me (with his giant old people shopping trolley thing, middle finger to you sir!). Anyway I am hoping my solution is buying this pram, which folds up and slings over your shoulder. I’ve heard great reviews and the best thing is you can take it on the plane as carry on, which is perfect for a jet-setting family like ours.

Grocery shopping is another thing I was warned about and yes, it has been tricky. I don’t even want to think about how much we’ve spent on groceries in the past couple of weeks. It was REALLY stupid of us not to bring a suitcase full of pantry essentials – herbs, spices, flour, spreads etc. We’re not only having to spend big on pricey items such as meat (I have seen mince for AUD$50/kilo!) but start our pantry from scratch. If you’re moving overseas, don’t make the same mistake as us. We also don’t have a car, but luckily most of the big supermarkets (Taste, Wellcome) do offer delivery services – even Great Food Hall delivers, if you’re flush with cash. Still, I am seriously thinking about getting an old person’s shopping trolley thing. Old Chinese guy had the right idea, although I’m not sure how he’d feel about me pushing my stroller with one hand and dragging that behind me with the other. Probably angry.

The helper situation is interesting too. Everyone who is anyone has a helper here. Even people who aren’t really anyone (i.e. me), they have them too. We found a really nice lady on AsiaExpat as we were interested in just using a part time helper, and she has been great. Really friendly, talented ironer and lovely with the kids. But it’s weird, right? Sometimes I have to think really hard about things for her to do…and I constantly feel guilty for doing anything that could seem like a leisure activity (e.g. writing blog posts!) while she is around. I’m sure I will get used to it – every other man and his dog seems to have. But it’s an adjustment.

I’m sure there are plenty more little things – never knowing where I am, putting my three year old on the bus each day, people speaking less English than I thought they would, lots of things being really progressive and other things SO backwards (which always prompt Justus and I to give each other a look and sigh “China”) – but they aren’t a huge deal. Overall I think we’re coping pretty well. What’s more, we love it here!

Z

Discovering Hong Kong’s Playrooms

Hong Kong is in many ways the worst place to have two toddlers, and in other ways perfect. There’s really limited outdoor space in the city, and the humidity and pollution mean it’s not that pleasant to be outside anyway. But the city has recognised this dilemma and provided the perfect solution – a seemingly unlimited number of organised activities that are both affordable and accessible.

My kids have been REALLY struggling in the heat, particularly my little boy, who is a solid guy and breaks into a sweat the minute he walks out our apartment door. I decided to investigate some air conditioned play/activity options and keep us all cool.

Little Beetles, Wan Chai

Little Beetles is a toy store/playroom in the Hopewell Centre, which is conveniently located about 500 metres from our building. But that’s not the only reason I love it! It’s affordable, at $50HK for half an hour or $800 for 10x1hr sessions. It also provides only wooden, HABA toys, which for a half-German family is very appealing.

It is a small space, but that’s what you get in Hong Kong. I find it particularly great for my daughter, who is more into imaginary than active play – it has a toy kitchen set up, a shop, an ice cream van and so forth. But my son loves it too, particularly the plane swing that he wildly flails about in. We bought the ten visit pass and I’m sure will go through quite a few of those in our time in this apartment.

Tip: Don’t forget socks!

FunZone, Kennedy Town

Now here’s one for the boys! FunZone is a (comparatively) huge soft play area located in The Winston in Kennedy Town, though there are multiple Fun Zones across Hong Kong. There’s a toddler area for the under 3’s that’s pretty big in its own right and full of toys as well as climbing options and a small ball pit. Both my kids spent most of their time here, even though my daughter is nearly 4 (but she as mentioned is a less active four year old).

The “big kids” area is at least five times the size and your kids could definitely get lost in there – in fact, mine did (just what I needed, the only six foot tall white woman in the place getting stuck in the climbing equipment looking for a cheeky one year old!). There’s a fun/terrifying area where seven year olds gather to shoot balls at each other’s heads from large guns, and lots of slides and hidey holes.

Fun Zone also runs classes such as ballet, Kindermusik, MiniSport and Yoga (cute!) which I imagine would be a great chance to meet other Mums (or helpers, more likely). Admission is HK100 for 1-2 year olds and HK120 for older children, and one accompanying adult is free – plus you can stay as long as you like.

Tip: Don’t wear a short dress! Be prepared to run around. Also, socks.

Baumhaus, Wan Chai

This was today’s discovery, and one word – wow! Baumhaus is the playroom attached to KinderMusik with Crisel, so you can choose to use just the playroom or sign up to classes. Signing up means you can attend unlimited classes and have unlimited access to the playroom, so if you’re local (as we are) it’s definitely worth it.

The playroom itself is basically a large Baumhaus (Treehouse) with areas for climbing, hiding or sliding, as well as some great wooden toys and activities. There’s a cafe attached so you can grab a coffee and watch the kids play.

We attended a music class with Crisel herself, who is great with the kids and an amazing singer. The kids sing, dance and use shakers, bells and scarves, as well as practice their listening and cooperation skills. Walter and I were very happy (and exhausted!) after a 15 minute play and 45 minute class.

One thing I would say is that it’s definitely on the pricey side (HK320/week), but would definitely be worthwhile if you’re going to make use of the unlimited access.

Tip: Siblings can also use the Baumhaus if one child is enrolled in music classes.

Happy playing!

Z

Hidden Gems

Hong Kong is similar to New York in that it has a magical quality. It’s such a melting pot of people and cultures, and it shouldn’t work but it does. People grow to hate it but find they can’t leave, or yearn to return. And you really never know what waits for you around the corner – literally.

On Saturday we went on quite a mission to go out for lunch and check out some shops in Sheung Wan, followed by a street party a friend of a friend was throwing. At some point Heike decided she’d had enough, understandably, and promptly refused to walk any further.  I had to use my best manipulative techniques and explain to her that we were not only almost there, but we were walking down a magical street where we might find fairies or crystals – we just had to look really hard.

She looked at me sceptically but decided to give it a try. So off we went up the street, which turned out to be quite a steep hill. She was doing really well and I encouraged her, keep going, almost there. And then she SCREAMS with delight. Because lo and behold right before our eyes is a giant bloody crystal!! On the side of the road?! A big purple one, with a few smaller bits nearby that had fallen off. It was pretty much abandoned there so we said she could take one of the smaller pieces, and thus guaranteed utter elation and perfect behaviour for the rest of the weekend.

(I still can’t quite believe that story, but it happened!)

Anyway, this week Miss Heike has started catching the bus to and from school. For Hong Kong locals this probably doesn’t seem like such a big deal – it’s fairly standard for small private buses to pick up children from outside apartment blocks all over the city. But for us this was a big deal! It caused a lot of anxiety (okay, it was only me who was anxious) and it was definitely a milestone moment as I waved her off on Monday morning. She’s growing up, not a toddler anymore but a little girl, with funny ideas and opinions and a scary amount of independence.

This meant that Walter and I had the morning free, and we decided to check out what turned out to be another hidden gem – the Bowen Road Hiking Trail, which is easily accessed out the front of our building.

The first great thing about this trail is that for us to access it we need to power up a very steep hill, which in Hong Kong’s crazy hot/humid weather works up quite a sweat. I love this because you quickly get the heart racing, and it can be easily sustained with a brisk walking pace.

The second great thing is that it is super pram friendly. Once you get to the top it is flat and paved, and there is also a playground right off the track in the Bowen Road Garden, so you can stop for a play after your workout. This garden also has some outdoor exercise equipment installed. It’s a 4km track, but you can break off or turn around at any point if you’re short on time (or energy).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat’s amazing about this track is that you feel like you’re in a tropical rainforest (which you kind of are) but you’re sitting just above the bustle of Wan Chai/Mid Levels, and in fact the city is in full view to the north for much of your walk. There’s a fabulous sense of tranquility amongst madness.

This beautiful city...
This beautiful city…

All in all, a perfect way to burn off all the Tsing Tao we’ve been drinking.

Z