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Today’s guest post comes from Lauren, an English expat who is working and living on Lamma Island in Hong Kong.
Not many people know this unless they visit, but Hong Kong is made up of a network of 263 islands, many of which can be reached by ferry and each island has it’s own distinct vibe. I live on Lamma Island, which is about 20 minutes away from downtown HK by boat. Lamma is a small island with two main villages and a scattering of hamlets in between. There are no cars allowed and the entire island generally has a bit of a hippie reputation as the island seems to attract painters, writers, musicians and lots of other interesting creative folk! I run a handbag and accessories business from here, Louella Odié, together with my mother, Karen, in our print studio in one of the main villages.
Our schedule varies enormously as we’re still a young business (2 years in November!) so on any given day Karen might be printing in one room whilst I’m on the phone to retailers next door, or we might be out on the beach in front of my house shooting photos for our latest product.
I cycle to the studio everyday, which is ten minutes away from my house, and every morning I buy freshly steamed char sui bao (BBQ pork in a steamed white bun) from one of the outdoor street dim sum restaurants in the village, which I pop in my bicycle basket and take to the studio to share with Karen. I love watching the staff at the restaurant delivering the enormous, steaming bamboo baskets of dimsum to the front counter and stacking them up high before serving everyone with a rapid fire of dim sum dishes flying out!
One of my favourite things to do in HK is to go out to the markets and areas in HK where you find all of the art suppliers. Sham Shui Po in an area on the Kowloon side of HK and is well known as the best starting point for finding any sort of creative supplies, from little leather workshops to milliners supplies to beads, threads, paint. Anything you can think of they will have! It’s an explorers’ heaven as you can go and get lost in the side streets. Karen and I visit often to stock up on things for the studio and it makes for a fascinating day out (and you’re guaranteed to come home with materials for projects you hadn’t even dreamed up before you set off!) HK is very good like that, there are lots of people carving out a living for themselves and running small businesses. If you want to have something unique custom-made you can find it here at a great price, if you are prepared to go looking for it.
My parents moved back to Hong Kong about a year after I did, and eventually Karen and I started Louella Odié together. Karen uses traditional hand-carved lino print techniques to create enormous art pieces that are inspired by our life here in Asia. We then take those prints and turn them in to patterns for handbags and scarves which we sell through independent boutiques and hotel gift shops around HK, Singapore and Macau!
We are lucky that we get on very well (partly because we are so different – our strengths and weaknesses compliment the other) so sharing a studio and my day to day life with her has only enhanced my overall experience of living in Hong Kong. I think the one reason that most expats find it hard to engage with a local community here is because they lack the family support network to put down roots and it is easy to feel isolated and far from everyone you know. With my parents here, as well as living in a small island community, Hong Kong has truly become a second home to me.
The Hong Kong norm is to eat out all of the time because kitchens are normally tiny and local food is so cheap, however because my house is a good 15 minute walk from the nearest village we cook at home a lot! It is easy and cheap to get hold of local vegetables on Lamma, so we make a lot of fresh salads or local dishes such as fried rice and pak choi cooked with garlic. Good quality meat is harder to find however so we tend to only eat that once or twice a week when either my boyfriend or I have been to the market on HK main island.
Getting to know the rural side of Hong Kong, I’ve been fascinated to discover living through the seasons in the tropics (everyone in the city is reading this thinking ‘Hong Kong doesn’t have seasons’…yes it does actually, you just aren’t seeing it in town!) We eat fresh papaya, pineapple, star fruit and lychee, straight from the garden when they are in season and we get to see this whole other side to Hong Kong that I just didn’t know existed.
Not speaking Cantonese means you are basically out of the loop for local news and happenings all of the time. My best friend is a local HK lifer who speaks Canto and when we discuss things sometimes it is like we are talking about different countries because I only understand half of the situations that we both observe. I’ve picked up a few key phrases and words, but Cantonese is quite complex and generally isn’t the kind of language you can just absorb walking about in the village. Taking a regular Cantonese class is one thing I am planning to start soon to combat that!
In the evenings or on the weekends, we paddle board, go hiking on HK’s fantastic trails, sail or swim! Although a lot of people think that coming to visit Lamma is a huge mission, my best friends have come to love it here almost as much as I do, so they often come over and spend a night or two, which means we can make the most of the day on the beach and have a few glasses of wine, or seven, in the evening!
Lamma is small island really, so you start to recognise a lot of people by face very quickly. Getting involved in local events and groups really helped me meet others living around here, for instance there is a yoga meditation group who meet once a month on the beach next to the house. I went along the first time as a guest of a friend, and loved it. Through Louella Odié we have also recently opened an exhibition of Karen’s latest work (prints and drawings) that were inspired by life on Lamma and a lot of locals came along to the opening night which was a fantastic way to finally put a name to some of the people I’d been saying ‘good morning’ to for so long!