Chinese New Year in London

Decorations are up in London again, this time for Chinese New Year.   Although today is the first day of the lunar New Year, the main festivities are scheduled for the weekend.

CNY sign The next sign is less inviting, with the same “Avoid the Area” message sent out for Christmas events.

P1170769 - Version 2

If you are in Chinatown this week, what can you see?  Lots and lots of red lanterns.

Newport Place sign with lanterns

Chinese lanternsIf you want to combine two February festivals, go to the Chinese supermarket selling these bamboo branches with  heart decorations for Valentine’s Day.

bamboo valentine

Lanterns are also hanging at the Chinese Embassy (click here to see an earlier photo) and at the Fo Guang Shan Temple in Fitzrovia.

Fo Guang Shan Temple


Welcome to the Year of the Monkey!



Chinese New Year monkey


28 Photos Later: Day 19 in China

Welcome to Day 19 of “28 Photos Later”.

car number plate T4119

It’s Chinese New Year.  So my “19” is hidden in the Shanghai car number plate above.  You can tell it’s from Shanghai because the 沪 character denotes the region.

And today’s photo is “Gong Xi Fa Cai”.  This balloon adorned my apartment in Shanghai for one Spring Festival.  The characters offer a traditional New Year greeting and wish for prosperity –  “Gong Xi Fa Cai!”

gongxifacai balloon

In my half-hearted attempts to continue studying just a little bit of Chinese, I sometimes read John Pasden’s Sinosplice blog.  This week John gave us a link to “Spring Festival Wishes from Around China”.  There are 15 audio clips of Chinese people wishing each other a Happy New Year.  The Beijing clip has an audible “r”; the Shanghai Chongming Island clip honestly sounds like someone I know in Shanghai; but the best one is the super-enthusiastic man from Luzhou, Sichuan. Click on the link and enjoy, even if you don’t know a word of Chinese.

“Spring Festival Wishes from Around China”

28 Photos Later: Day 18 in China

Welcome to Day 18 of “28 Photos Later”, which is another day of build-up to the Chinese New Year.

eighteen pomelos

One thing I remember from living in China was that I should hang our red “fu” 福 signs upside down to bring good luck, by using a play on words between “good fortune is upside down” and “good fortune has arrived”.  Here is an example from a door in Tongli (the town that I described yesterday).

chinese door



28 Photos Later: Day 17 in China

Welcome to Day 17 of “28 Photos Later”.


The blog is focusing on China this week, to mark the run-up to Chinese New Year.  So today’s photo is “Red Lantern”.

red lantern

I spotted the lantern in Tong Li, one of the old “water towns” popular with tourists near Shanghai.  I spent a fun day there in 2011 with a tiny camera – this Sony CyberShot T900.

KC Selfie Tongli

Wish I could go back now with my Nikon D90 and tripod!

Hong Kong: Chun Yeung Market

I’m back in the UK now after a month-long trip to Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia.   As an antidote to jetlag and the grey British winter, I’m posting these colourful photos from Hong Kong markets.

Peppers and Veg

My first stop, the source of those red chillies, was the wet market on Chun Yeung Street, near North Point on Hong Kong Island.

Chun Yeung Street sign

The whole street is double-lined with market stalls and shops selling meat, fish and seafood, Chinese medicine, clothes, and household items.  And of course, a huge range of tropical fruit and vegetables, like these shiny red wax apples.

Wax apples

And Chinese cabbages.  These bring back memories of my time in north-east China.  Every winter, people in Dalian would buy these cabbages, and then store them in the open air, on the roof of their apartment buildings.  No fridge or freezer needed when the winter air is cold and dry enough.


Back in Hong Kong, in another market near Graham Street, I found these pomelos.  I miss these – sour grapefruits are no substitute.  I wonder if I can buy them somewhere in London.


There will be more posts from my holiday.  If they appear at odd hours, blame the jetlag.

Hong Kong: Expat or Tourist?

I’ve just spent a week in Hong Kong.  Some days, when I walked around with my camera, I was the archetypal tourist.

Star Ferry rings

Hong Kong decorations

On other days I felt like an expat again.   I spent many happy hours with my old friends in Central and Aberdeen, relying on them to find the best foot massage, the best Singaporean laksa and the best Sichuanese garlicky-tofu.

The best thing about expat life must be this lasting benefit, of making friends around the world.  People from Singapore, the UK and the Philippines meet in north-east China; and ten years later we are together in Hong Kong, talking happily about our other friends who have scattered across the continents to Norway, Japan, India, Indonesia and the USA.

On the other hand, the best thing about being a tourist is seeing the unexpected, like a dog running a shop in North Point.

Hong Kong shopkeeping dog

Top Trunks

No birds today – just trees.

If you move from India to the UK, don’t move in December.  You condemn yourself to weeks of dark mornings and grey afternoons.  But when the sun does shine in London in winter, it shines low in the sky and gives a beautiful light, showing off this tree in Regent’s Park in February.

Shadow of tree in Regent's Park

The winter sun also gave me this great shadow in London’s Tavistock Square in January, of a drainpipe trying to be a tree.

Tree shadow Tavistock Sq

Like the first photo, this was taken around 11am, so the low angle of the sun isn’t coming from the sunrise or the “golden hour”. It’s just the effect of winter at a latitude of 51 degrees north.  I don’t remember light like this in Bangalore, which lies much closer to the equator at 13 degrees north.

But I do remember one tree from India.  A banyan tree that sticks in my mind, because I spent two years hating it.

banyan 13

It lurks on the 13th hole of Clovergreens golf course.  And I would love to know how it causes every golf ball hit down that fairway to veer sharply to the right and lodge beside, behind, or inside the tree.

International Shipping of Statues and Toast

What would you ship home from your life overseas?
Crown label
We packed up our stuff in India on 5 December – remember this picture? Twelve weeks later everything has been unpacked on the distant drumlin.

The packers from Crown Relocations did a great job at both ends of the move, from wrapping each item in plenty of paper, numbering and (creatively) labelling the cardboard boxes, and carrying the heavy furniture out of an Indian villa and into an Irish farmhouse.

What happened between Palm Meadows and the distant drumlin? After our shipment was cleared by Customs authorities in India, a wooden crate was built around the boxes, and the crate was loaded inside a container for shipping.  The ship was delayed at least once by port congestion in Sri Lanka, but it finally arrived in the port of Felixstowe in England, ready to face UK Customs.

Crown Relocations dismantled the wooden crate in the south of England, and waited for the wind and rain to stop. When they spotted a gap in the weather, they sent the boxes in a van by road to Scotland, by ferry across the Irish Sea to Belfast, and by road again up to the top of the drumlin.

We had one heavy item in its own crate – everything else was just in cardboard.


Here are some packing lessons, from the collective wisdom (from our foolish past experiences) of my expat friends and me.

1.  If the waste-paper baskets around your home are full of rubbish on moving day, don’t pack the trash and cart it halfway round the world.

2.  If you are eating breakfast when the packers come, don’t let them pack the toast inside the toaster.

3.  If your serviced apartment is full of items thoughtfully provided by the letting company, don’t steal them!  (This is the only one that actually happened to us. We were leaving Shanghai, and opened the boxes back in London to find coat-hangers, hairdryers and umbrellas all labelled with the landlord’s name).

4.  Don’t let the movers pack your passport just before your international move.

5.  Do clean the BBQ.  If insects have crawled in there to explore the crumbs of meat, you may end up fumigating your new house.

6.  Do bring the beautiful statue that you bought in India.  Will it still look good without the backdrop of sunshine and bougainvillea? Yes of course it will.