Thursday, 17 December 2015

2015: My year in a nutshell (a rather large nutshell, maybe a coconut shell)

On Facebook this morning a memory popped up from last year.  It was the blog I’d written reviewing what had happened to me in 2014 and it was interesting to read it again, a year further into our Hong Kong adventure.  Above all else, it made me feel thankful for the, at times, challenging path David and I have trodden together, to eventually become settled enough in Hong Kong to call it our home.  Where 2014 was a year of sowing the seeds of new careers and friendships, 2015 has been a year where we have laid down our roots and built fledgling friendships into lasting bonds.  (For anyone who is interested, I published a blog earlier in the year about our, in retrospect, cringe-worthy quest to make new friends in a new country).  So, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and assuage my guilt for not having blogged in months, and document 2015 so I can look back in a year’s time and compare the then and now again.  Make yourself a cuppa – it’s a long one I’m afraid!


David and I woke up very early and clear-headed on 1st January 2015 in Chau Doc, a small Vietnamese town on the Mekong Delta, bereft of a single bar (hence the clear heads)! However, while the final day of 2014 may have been a damp squib, the first day of 2015 was the reverse.  We spent the morning exploring one of the national parks on the Mekong Delta by boat, surrounded by the most exotic array of birds, in brilliant sunshine.  Just the most perfect start to a year.  For David, this was topped the following day when we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, the immense network of tunnels just outside Ho Chi Minh, used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat. David was like a pig in poo, shoe horning himself into the tunnels, crawling around underground and firing AK-47s on the shooting range. 

After a couple of days exploring Ho Chi Minh it was time to head back home to work and to kick-start a new healthy regime.  In preparation for the 2015 San Fernando sailing race from Hong Kong to the Philippines at Easter, I was determined to get fit and healthy.  So, I enthusiastically signed up to an outdoor boot camp, quit drinking and gave up cigarettes.  Unsurprisingly this also coincided with my notable absence from social situations involving booze. 


By February I was feeling virtuous and slightly smug after a nicotine and alcohol-free month of hiking and boot camp.  The muffin tops and bingo wings were diminishing and my halo was glowing brightly.  I was actually relishing my new healthy lifestyle and was leaping out of bed like a young gazelle every morning!

I did have a niggling concern over how I was going to cope with a trip to Sanya, on Hainan island in China, to see the Volvo Ocean Race, but I survived admirably without touching a drop of booze.  It was my first trip to Sanya and I was looking forward to a weekend of Chinese weirdness – Sanya didn’t disappoint.  My highlight was our final night when we went to the bar that all the Volvo Ocean race teams, management and supporters had been frequenting.  It was a Saturday night and the bar was themed as a children’s birthday party – helium balloons everywhere and waitress and bar staff dressed as slutty Minnie Mice.  Obviously not a child was in sight as it was late and not a particularly child-appropriate establishment.  This was until the Filipino band took to the stage with 8 year old backing singers who then started feeding grown men shots of tequila from baby bottles.  All kinds of wrong.

Sanya was swiftly followed by Chinese New Year where we participated in a sailing race from Hong Kong to Macau with our Wonderwall friends.  Despite rough seas, a lot of wind, nauseous crew and a ripped mainsail, we did rather well, achieving second place powered just by our headsail.  Once safely tied up in Macau the crew celebrated with some dubious baked goods which led to an interesting encounter at customs and a lot of laughter.  The trip culminated with one of our friends deftly demonstrating: 1) that pole dancing isn’t nearly as easy as it looks; and 2) it’s extremely difficult to leave Macau without a passport!


At the start of March all my hard work came to a sudden halt when I injured my back slipping while hiking, which was further compounded by me thinking I knew what I was doing at TRX suspension training.  Crippled with pain caused by a misaligned pelvis, sacrum joint damage, disk and tendon injury, most of March was spent at the doctors, orthopaedic consultants, osteopaths, physiotherapist or lying flat on my back.   While popping anti-inflammatories and painkillers went some way to dulling the pain, by the end of March (and just in time for the Hong Kong Sevens), I discovered alcohol offered the most effective pain relief.

So Hong Kong Sevens this year was not only memorable for the fact that our friend, Dean, left Europe for the first time in his life to visit us, but also for me falling off the wagon after almost three dry months. 


Due to my back injury I was unable to take part in the San Fernando sailing race to the Philippines.  This was a huge disappointment up until a couple of days before the race, when we saw the weather forecast.  A typhoon was heading directly for the race route resulting in the race being re-routed.  So, for the Wonderwall crew, this meant that rather than a sun-drenched cruise ending up on a gorgeous beach in the Philippines, they were to race around a rock somewhere in the South China Sea in choppy seas and high winds.  The tales from the returning crew reinforced the fact that my back injury may just have been a blessing in disguise.

After Easter I joined David for the weekend at the Singapore Boat Show, which gave me the opportunity to catch-up with an old school friend who was living there.  I didn’t see an awful lot of Singapore except for some very luxurious powerboats, the marina and the W Hotel so a return trip is definitely required.


By May my back was sufficiently recovered for me to be able to gently hurl myself back into exercise.  A friend and I came up with the idea of setting up a whatsapp group called ‘Fit for Fat’ to encourage non-gym bunny friends of ours to meet up to go hiking.  Therefore May was filled with sweaty evening hikes up the Peak and even sweatier weekend hikes further afield with mates.  


Every June is a busy month at my kindergarten, as the children prepare for graduation – a Broadway style production involving choreography, singing and speeches.  Fortunately my involvement was relatively straightforward – to stand on the stage and wave a heart-shaped light on a stick.  I excelled at my duty. However, prior to graduation I was given the taxing responsibility of making a presentation to all the new parents about what their children could expect from their English classes when joining the school the following September.

It quickly became apparent that my school’s mantra is ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’ and anything less than a slick performance is unacceptable.  My powerpoint presentation was scrutinized by a panel of teachers prior to the event, times were diarized for me to practice presenting, and on the day itself I had to be at the venue a couple of hours early for a dress rehearsal.  I am unfazed by presenting to big groups of people and I tend to perform better in front of a crowd.  Therefore my lack-lustre dress-rehearsal clearly panicked my colleagues who found it hard to disguise their disappointment and unease.  However, with an audience of around 300 and a microphone in my hand, I embraced by inner diva and managed to pull off a spectacular performance that was greeted with thunderous applause.  And I’ve even been asked back next year!

As the school year was drawing to a close, I received one of those phone calls that you dread when you live abroad.  I was out sailing and I saw I had a voicemail message from mum.  When I picked up the message, she was speaking in her ‘I’m trying to sound calm so you don’t panic’ voice saying:  “Now you don’t need to worry but your father has been in a car accident and he is in hospital.”  Naturally your first thought is ‘I need to be back home now’.  Suddenly that distance from home, that felt like nothing on Facetime, feels like an unfathomable expanse. 

When I spoke to mum she reassured me that although dad was very battered he would be fine and there was no need to rush home.  Fortunately school broke up in less than a week so I was able to change my flight back to England to help out with my very bruised but remarkably chipper father.


So in early July I arrived back in the UK for the first time in 18 months.  It was lovely to get back to England and to catch up with Winne, family, friends, and my invalid father.  I had a whirlwind six weeks of hen dos, weddings, 40th birthday parties, family gatherings, trips to the seaside and endless dinners and drinks with friends.  It was reassuring to see that nothing had changed, everything was more or less as it had been when we left – with the odd additional baby - and no doubt things would remain much the same until we come back home again one day.  I found this very comforting and reassuring.


In August I travelled to Piso Livadi on Paros (one of the Greek islands) – marking 30 years since my first ever trip there.  I stayed with my friend Lydia (who I first met when we were working in next door bars on Paros 25 years earlier) and her husband and kids.  We spent the most gorgeous week catching up, reminiscing, laughing and drinking aperol spritz together.  My highlight was getting the giggles while being serenaded by a man old enough to be my father while Lydia looked on aghast. 

At the end of August, I returned to humid Hong Kong, a good few pounds heavier, after an indulgent summer.


September marked the start of the new school year and 200 new names for me to learn.  It also marked the combined 35th Anniversary of three of our close friends being in Hong Kong and therefore a great excuse for a big party.  The party was held at a beach bar on Lamma Island and we were kindly lent Wonderwall for the weekend so we could anchor in the bay and stay overnight.  The party was one of the best of 2015 as the combination of a great venue, fabulous friends, wonderful weather and awesome accommodation were perfect.  The evening ended with an after party aboard Wonderwall and Ymir, drunken moonlit paddle-boarding, swimming, dancing in the cockpit, merkins, UDIs (not mine for once!) and lost rings.  Waking up the next day to glorious sunshine, on-board a gently rocking yacht and just stepping off the side for a wake-up swim was quite literally heaven.

September ended and October began with visits from our friends Sophie and Ben and a fun-packed week of tour guiding and silliness.


I love October in Hong Kong as the skies clear, the heavy showers stop and the humidity drops. And this October seemed better than ever as it turned out to be the month of the party.  There were junk parties, sailing parties, Hallowe’en parties, but best of all was a friend’s birthday party at a dai pai dong (street food market) in North Point. This place has a reputation for being a really crazy party venue and it didn’t disappoint.  As we arrived it was absolutely buzzing with loud music and loads of inebriated locals surrounded by empty plates, whisky and beer bottles. We were ushered to a large table in the middle of it all.  Once we had sat down our attention was drawn to the three local men on the table next to us.  They appeared to have finished their meal but they were literally so drunk they couldn’t stand up to leave.  One of the party then vomited on the floor by their table, this was swiftly followed up by him falling over into his own vomit.  At this point the least annihilated of the group attempted to pay the bill, while the puker decided this was an opportune moment to change out of his sick-splattered clothes into a clean outfit in front of us all. Watching him sliding around in the regurgitated contents of his stomach, while attempting to get his legs into his shorts was quite literally one of the funniest and most disgusting things I have ever seen.  North Point dai pai dong on a Saturday night is firmly on my Hong Kong tour itinerary for visitors from now on.


Having had a good nine months to recover from our previous trip to Macau, it was time to return for a weekend of gambling fun.  The weekend started in the vein it was to continue – by accidently upsetting people at the Macau ferry waiting room by welcoming them with F1 celebration style volcano of M&S sloe gin fizz –covering them all in sweet, sticky alcohol.  What ensued from this point was a version of The Hangover with the odd flashback to winning at roulette, lots of sangria and white port, being ushered off a bus by the police, dancing in the nightclub at The Venetian, and finally waking up dribbling on the shoulder of a bemused local man on the ferry back to Hong Kong at 4am.

November was rounded off by surviving Macau so we could go to Clockenflap, Hong Kong’s answer to Glastonbury!  I love a music festival and Clockenflap with its Hong Kong island backdrop, and eclectic line-up didn’t disappoint.  Watching Dave’s happy little face as he stood right in the front row for The Cuban Brothers and finally got to meet ‘his heroes’ was the high point.


And so we’ve made it through to December again and we’ve already done more than our fair share of Christmas celebrations – from mulled wine on the beach, to cookie decorating parties, to Christmas horse racing to carol singing.  And now I’m feeling rather jaded and more than ready for school to break up and for a long rest on the beach in Thailand over Christmas and New Year.  Then it will be back to a new year, a new health regime and time to do it all over again!

2015 has been an awesome year for David and I and we’re looking forward to seeing what 2016 has in store.  Thank you to all our friends and family who have helped to make it such a good one.  Merry Christmas to you all and Happy New Year!

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