Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hong Kong & Shenzhen- the Girl's Weekend Away

Each year I take from the Tuesday before Easter to Easter Monday off work & I travel to Hong Kong. I take along with me anyone who wants to come, as long as they are female, not a child & are physically capable of shopping & walking pretty much all day!

I love Hong Kong-its a great destination,especially if you travel further afield than Nathan Road. There is so much more to it than Kowloon.

When I take the groups over we stay in The Kimberly Hotel, in Kimberly Road, this hotel has reasonable rates, is about a 3 minute walk to the closest MTR station, the rooms are a reasonable size, they do a good buffet breakfast (we are never there for any other meals, so can't comment) & they are close to the night markets & the action of Nathan Road.
There are much cheaper hotels & much more expensive, depending on what you require, but this one ticks all the boxes for our needs.
There are hotels with much cheaper rates over on Hong Kong island & I have stayed in these at other times, but if you are going to shop you need to be on the Kowloon side- it is a PITA to have to travel back all the time. Not much night life for shopping there either.

I make sure everyone in the group has an Octopus card- oh how I wish we had these here in Oz. We put credit on it on the first day & hop on & off trains, buses & ferries with the swipe of a card- you don't even have to take it out of your bag.
Hong Kong has an excellent public transport system & if you need to take a taxi, they are cheap as well. The octopus card can be used to buy MacDonald's, if you feel the need & in plenty of other retail outlets as well-very versatile! I have been using mine for nearly 10 years-I keep it safe & make sure I pack it when going there. You can get the credit back off it by returning it to an MTR station.

First stop on the day we arrived was a trip down Granville Road to my favourite bra shop- Bod Bra (they used to be called My Heaven)- they have bras from A cups through to K & they are pretty as well- I had packed light so needed to get here as a first stop! They fit you, most discreetly & the staff are always helpful- well worth a visit if you need new holders for the 'girls'! & you require larger cup sizes.
We wandered up & down Granville Road-in & out all the shops & had noodles with the locals-you can eat really cheaply, if you eat in the local restaurants- we just pick one that is well attended & point to what we want on the menu! Some of them even have forks, so, if you struggle with chopsticks, try asking. Sometimes they give you a fork instead of chopsticks just presuming you can't use them!
Sasa was next on my list- I had not brought any skin care or make-up with me & wanted at least some face cream. I use Decleor & find it's very expensive here in Australia so stock up when I'm over there-I came away with more than face cream!LOL I love looking at all the products & gadgets they have & all at very good prices compared to here. They are like 7-11's- just about on every corner & you'll find each one has slightly different stock.

Sue & Ashleigh decided they wanted more shopping so headed off to the night market-my sister & I headed back to our room- it was after all after 10pm & we had been up since 430am to get to the airport-we were exhausted!
Next morning it was up for a leisurely buffet style breakfast-& then the train to Lo Wu to do some serious retail therapy in Shenzhen. We boarded the train at Tsim Sha Tsui East- we walked in the labyrinth of walkways under the roads- it's all well sign posted to where you need to go- the other place to get on is Kowloon Tong. I always pay the extra for first class- you get a seat & its far more comfortable- its about $66HK each way- standard fare is about that for the return fare- but after a hard day shopping & with all those parcels in tow its nice to sit down!

We head up to Shenzhen on the Wednesday as we all had tailoring to be done-we then pick it up on the Saturday-this is where real savings can be made.
I have been using Cindy Nancy as my tailor- she's great-its 2 sisters & the husband of one of them- they remember us when we return & we tell new customers to tell her "Pauline & Sue came here & you made clothes for them!" I had packed a lot of fabric into my suitcase (hardly any clothes) & a couple of items I wanted copied- this is where they excel-I ended up with 21 items of clothing being made & Nancy was good enough to rush through 2 pairs of cropped pants & a top so I had something to wear in between our visits! A shirt or trousers costs about $12 to have made- I wouldn't be bothered sewing for that! You can find her on the 5th floor booth no 46.
The 4 of us all had a stack of clothes made- Ashleigh had a beautiful soft leather jacket made to measure & her formal dress for year 12- along with about 20 other items!LOL
If you are into sewing this is the floor to visit- there are thousands of fabrics to choose from- all individual little stores- bargain hard-trims & notions. They tell me if you need curtains it pays for the trip over-even if you post them back (because of the weight).Just take a picture of what you want & the measurements.
Things have changed at Shenzhen since last year. The crowds were much less- the border checks were more efficient than in previous years-especially on the Chinese side.
For Australians travelling you need your passport (Australian) & you can cross without any hassle. You do not need to get a visa prior to going to Shenzhen. I do not know about other passports so please check if you are reading this & you do not travel on an Australian passport.
After you get off the train- just follow the crowds to clear the turn styles -use your Octopus card-head toward the immigration lines- you need your departing Hong Kong slip- if travelling with a group- one go get the forms & then the rest get get in line, pen in hand & fill in as you wait-waste no time-serious shopping is at hand!
You need to go upstairs to Chinese immigration-the forms are outside the office-get 2 for each person so you can have it filled in ready for your return trip if you are coming back. You only need one ticket if you are travelling in a group. The Visa is good for only 1 entry.
You need RMB to get the visa & there is a money exchanger right there outside the office- his rates aren't all that great & it costs about $160 RMB for the visa-only exchange what you need with this guy.
Once you have everything in order its time to go downstairs & go through Chinese immigration-both times we went up on this last trip they were very quick- but I have waited nearly an hour to get through immigration here in the past.
As you follow the crowds to the big shopping centre there is a HSBC auto teller in the corner-right hand side, before you exit- this is where we got our money & if you are returning keep enough for the visa-you only have to pay the money exchanger once! You used to be able to shop in HK $'s- not any more- you need RMB. You can pay large amounts with credit card- but your bargaining power is lessened & they'll charge you 5% of the total in commission to do it!
Beware of pick pockets from the moment you get on the train & all the time you are there-they are a problem & I know first hand what it is like.
I was here with my GF some time back & she had her purse stolen- lost her passport, HK ID , her credit cards & money- the police were of no help & you can't get back without a passport- we stayed the night in a hotel & luckily her purse was returned the next day, minus all the money, but thankfully with her passport & cards untouched. It was a very nasty experience. So beware!

You will be bombarded by touters as you exit- they pick the tourists- this is illegal & if you give them the time of day they will harass you ALL day- I kid you not. They work on a commission to bring customers to other people's shops. We have one girl, Julie, who remembers us & she is very hard to shake & gets irate when we tell her we are not going with her! This is not shopping like at home- its very much in your face. "Missy, Missy you want........"- they will tap you as well, which by the end of the day has you just about screaming! They will also tell you this is my brother,sister,mother- they aren't related at all, mostly, they tell you this so you think they are bringing you to someone trustworthy!

There are a couple of ways to escape this constant bombardment- this is what we do on our return trip to pick up our tailoring- while any final adjustments are being done- we go for a manicure/pedicure- no one does these like the Chinese- they are heaven. We visited Fang Fang Mei Jia Shop 3332B shop on the 3rd floor.
Not only did I have the manicure & pedicure & an hours foot massage, I had false eyelashes done again (these cost next to nothing up here) & I had my eyebrows tattooed on as well! What a great job they did-my sister ended up having hers done as well- they look so natural no one has been able to pick them- other than you have beautiful eyebrows! Now I don't have to draw them on every day! Don't go to Shenzhen & miss the experience of the a manicure & pedicure with a foot massage. I highly recommend them.
Time to take our beautiful selves off to lunch- we ate with the locals again- as long as there are lots of people inside we feel the food cant be too bad- I have even learnt what dishes to pick with my Coeliac disease & never have had a problem with the food- not one reaction!
Time then to look around the shops- pick up some wonderful bargains-the copy industry is still very much alive here- although they have some great designers of their own that aren't copy at all-you just need to look- which can be difficult with "the come into my shop" & "Missy, Missy" all the time!
By the time you pick up your tailoring you are ready to make your escape & sit in first class, exhausted from a day like no other of shopping.
On this trip we did the train ride up to the Peak- well worth it if the weather is clear-we missed it the last 2 trips, as it was just too cloudy.
Catch the bus to Stanley Markets- sit at the top on the front seats for a really incredible experience- you may wish to sit downstairs for the ride home!LOL You need to do the upstairs, front at least once! Not much bargaining at Stanley anymore- but its worth the trip out there to say you've been.

The jade Market was another place on the to do list this time- this place is fascinating & there are 2 buildings so make sure you go to both- everything from precious stones, jade & junky jewellery- if you know your stones then go go with your loupe & check out the quality before buying. Bargaining here- which is half the fun. I took pics here the others came away with all sorts of things!
The Ladies market & the night market we found had much the same as what you can get in Shenzhen, only dearer & what you find in Paddy's markets here! These places are very crowded- watch your bags- bargaining here is getting less & less.
We all needed new glasses so a trip to our favourite Optometrist was in order as well. You can take prescription with you or you can have your eyes tested there- but glasses in HK are much cheaper than at home. I can get designer frames, plastic lenses, photo sensitive & my reading glasses or bi-focal cheaper than I can get one pair here with glass lenses with the photo- grey! I can't claim them on health insurance- but they are so much cheaper I don't care. They also do a super fine lens- they don't look much thicker than paper- he was telling me the cost of these varies depending on the correction needed- but boy they looked fantastic! No thick lenses. He'll even mail new glasses to Australia for you-just email him what you require. Sunrise Optical Co Ltd, 6D Carnarvon Road Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.
I have never been able to buy shoes in Hong Kong but have found an outlet over on HK island that has big sizes (up to a 42). Vickie Shoes Co 6 Li Yuen street east, Central, Hong Kong. I went in looking for a pair of shoes & came out with 2 pairs of sandals- I didn't need sandals- but they fitted so well I couldn't resist!!LOL Li Yuen is 2 streets with markets- make sure you look behind the shops & go downstairs to the bag shop as well-hidden away down in the basement- they usually have some nice bags down there.
Don't forget to catch the ferry across the harbour- you can't go to HK without at least one trip across & back- very pretty at dusk & there is a laser light display down there about 730pm each evening.
If you want to buy a new camera or computer gear- know your prices of the newest models before you go & stick to what you want. I found prices comaparable to Australia in a lot of cases. I did buy a new camera but had all the prices prior to my leaving home.
Our bags weighed between 23 & 20 kilograms coming back- just made the baggage allowance! The grouped them for check in -what a great trip! We came back all shopped out!
Next year the girls have asked for a change... looks like Saigon will be our girls weekend away-now I need to reseach that destination- luckily our daughter & MOTH have been there recently.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oatley Park

Today saw me with a little bit of spare time in between calls & no where to go for coffee, so I grabbed a take away & headed down to Oatley Park -for some peace & quiet & a few quick pics with the new camera.

Oatley park is beautiful. Well maintained, lots of walking tracks & picnic areas & the bird life abundant. As I sipped my coffee I heard the plaintiff cries of crows overhead, the answering calls of the Currajongs, the raucous screeching of the low flying cockatoos, the tinkling calls of the Crimson Rosellas & the unmistakable song of the Laughing Kookaburras. What a wonderful way to spend some time.

The park was relatively quiet today as it had been raining on & off all morning but this did not deter a few serious walkers & runners & even a couple of swimmers down in the fenced off pool. Personally I thought it a bit nippy to be braving the cold water of the George's River-but there are always a few who seem to be immune to the cold.

I managed a few pics of the cockatoos, while they dive-bombed me & some of the kookaburras. The noisy minor allowed me to come quite close to take its picture!
There were a family out fishing- they managed to tell me, in broken English, that the fish weren't biting- the kids seemed to be having fun!
This park has become a favourite haunt of mine when I have 20 minutes to spare- there is always something to photograph. The birds are so used to humans that they don't always fly away, but allow you to come in quite close or dive bomb you in the case of the Kookaburras & the Cockatoos!. I have been told that the Kookaburras are to be watched if you are B-B-Q'ing- they have been known to swoop in & take the sausages right off the BBQ plate to the astonishment of those doing the cooking!
Happy Crafting
Oz- Tralien

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Short Attention Span.

It would appear that my attention span for knitting socks is about 1 week. I am struggling with the socks I started prior to going to Hong Kong, back in the week of Easter.The first sock is done & looks quite good & I am one pattern repeat from starting the heel on the second sock, but I am so over these socks! This afternoon I wound the 'sunshine' coloured sock yarn in readiness for the next pair & can't wait to get started on them-haven't even picked a pattern, I just want to move on.
Once, when travelling through India an old man read my palm-he said I liked to travel- well, that was a no-brainer-I was in the backwoods of India & obviously not Indian! but he did tell me that I had a mind that flittered like a butterfly-once I learnt how to do something I then flittered off to learn something new.....that describes me pretty well much to a tee! And this sock is holding me back-its time to move on with it! He told me lots of other things that were pretty accurate as well-I sometimes wonder how they do it-read body language, guess,or is it really in our stars, our palms or our numbers.....
Its taken me all week to get back into some order after the very hectic week in Hong Kong-a separate blog on that, hopefully through the week. Suffice to be said we had a great time-spent lots, saw lots, did lots. I think most of my stuff is now packed away & the laundry caught up- the downside of having to return home at some point.

MOTH is still in Kuala Lumpar- he leaves tomorrow for London-appears he is having wonderful time-he must be, he isn't phoning me every single night telling me he feels guilty for going away & leaving me at home, again.....this guilt is always good for a guilt gift.Diamond earrings, laptop computers, handbags-he always buys me something when he gets to feeling guilty about his travelling-I can live with it!LOL

This weekend saw me do some sewing-all requests-an apron for a birthday present, 2 towels for a couple & a baby towel. I do have one more baby towel to do-if its a boy it'll be Joe & I have the name all done to transfer to the machine....if its a girl, then they haven't picked a name. This couple have 2 girls already but didn't want to know the sex prior to the birth. The baby will be delivered tomorrow at 10am, so I'm told,-she has a C section, so its all arranged.
It is much easier for me if I know the sex ahead of time at least then I can do things that are gender appropriate! Thirty years ago we did not have this luxury of knowing the gender prior to the birth.

Thirty years ago we didn't have ultra sounds as a routine exam in a pregnancy. I remember that I had to have one when I was pregnant with our twins (they are 27)-the first one was done to give dates as I had no idea the month, let alone date of my last period, I just wasn't paying attention & I did have an IUD in!!! Can imagine every one's surprise when they found 2, not 1 foetuses in there! Even when I had the second scan to check weights I never even thought to ask if they could tell what sex they were-mind you I told everyone that it would be 2 boys as that is what my family had always produced for some reason. Nothing changed. I produced twin boys as well-didn't need an ultra sound to tell me! These days everyone gets scanned & a lot find out the gender-I find it difficult not knowing these days if I'm sewing for the baby....ah well-there are always those non- gender colours of white, lemon & green!
Happy crafting,

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sock it to Me!

I finished another pair of socks today & started yet another pair, the needles hardly have time to cool down!-this will be my 7 th pair this year-I certainly seem to have caught the sock bug!

Socks are so easy to knit, they are very transportable, you can try out different patterns on not too many stitches & everyone who doesn't knit is fascinated at what you are knitting.

This last pair I have started are from Jeanie Townsend- sock knitter extraordinaire-they are called Lilac socks- but mine are blues rather than mauve.
Some weeks back I ordered 4 balls of Patonyle sock yarn in white & I have it in hanks ready to dye whatever colours take my fancy-it was blue-y/turquoise the other night. If I keep knitting at this rate I may even knit up all my sock yarn stash before the winter is out. That would be something.

I really don't think I'll get too much knitting done in the next week as I leave for Hong Kong very early Tuesday morning & wont be back until the the following Monday morning. This year there are 4 of us going-a nice small number for me to handle as the 'tour guide'.

During the past week I have researched prices on cameras & lenses-its always best to know your prices before striking up a deal with those shifty Kowloon salesman. One thing I have learnt is that they will tell you they have no stock if they don't want to bargain with you- if the price offered is too low for them. This is a change from many years ago when they'd rob you blind if you bargained too hard with them!

Hong Kong is a great destination- I think this is my 18 th trip there- I've really lost count these days. Its safe,its interesting (especially if you leave Kowloon & Nathan Road & get out a bit) & its a shoppers paradise.
We will travel up to Shenzhen on the Wednesday- hopefully we will still be able to get special visas to go over the border there. I know things have changed since last year,so it will be interesting to see what is going on there. I was told that all shopping there now is in CNY$ not HK$- so that will be a change for us.

My bags are not packed- although I do have some fabric pulled from my stash ready to pack to take to the tailors if we are able to get over the border. Last year I had tailored pants made for $12 a pair-this year its more trousers & tops. I do find it better to take something that fits well & have it copied- this is where they excel.
Baggage allowances have also become stricter since we were away this time last year. I was told by someone who works for an airline that they now get bonuses if they get lots in excess baggage from the passengers.....hmmmm...seems unfair!
I remember last year a very nice gent at Heathrow told me that my bags were 15 kg over weight & that I would have to pay for the excess. I reminded him that I was on a RTW ticket & had gone through North America first, which gave me 2 bags at 23kg each. There was no charge. Seems unfair that they will still carry the excess but charge you excessively for it-in my case there may have been no charge, but unless I knew this bit of information I would have been charged! I need to check the allowances prior to the USA trip this year.

MOTH has finally come around on the camera- I have done lots more research & will buy the Nikon D80 or a Sony A200- I have decided it is time to change cameras. The prices are on my notepad to pack with me.
Hopefully I'll get lots of pics while we are in HK-not that I don't have lots! but there is always something fun to see.

Until next time, happy crafting,
Oz- tralien