“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

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Photo copyright Louise Yates ℅ The Argus newspaper

100 years ago today, 4 August 1914 the United Kingdom declared war on Germany after Germany invaded Belgium. Sir Edward Grey, the British Liberal statesman who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the outbreak of the war made the famous statement “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. The second half seems rather at odds with the popular notion that “it would all be over by Christmas”.

At momentous times in UK history I am very glad to be living back in the here. This is my heritage, my culture and my history and I want to share in it and play my part of rememberance.

Countries all over Europe are marking the occasion in their own way and there are events in South Africa, Australia and Canada on 4-5 August too.  In the UK,  the Lights Out campaign http://www.1914.org/events-calendar/?id=EVENT474295 is encouraging people to turn off  lights between 10-11pm, leaving on just one light and using the time to reflect on the war in all its aspects. Wreaths are being laid at cemeteries and on war memorials up and down the country. There are civic and religious services as well as torchlit processions happening in many villages and towns including my local town.

Art exhibitions including this particularly poignant one at the Tower of London are a very visual representation of the war. http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/07/tower-of-london-poppies/  I found this especially moving given the bloody history of the Tower itself. Titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” the final work will consist of 888,246 red ceramic flowers—each representing a British or Colonial military fatality—that flow through grounds around the tower.

So what does it mean to me? It means I am one of the lucky ones. My maternal grandfather was 20 in August 1914 and went to war with his two of his three brothers and his best friend and astonishingly they all survived. We think his youngest brother also went later once he was old enough. The friend then married my Grandad’s sister.

Here is his service record.

Rumsey. J A Pte. RAMC. He joined in 1916 and was drafted to Malta where he was for some time engaged as an orderly in the operating theatre. Later he was sent to Palestine and remained there until January 1919 when he was transferred to France. In October 1919 he returned to England and was demobolised. He holds the General Service and Victory Medals.

This is him in his RAMC uniform and this is him with his three brothers and his sister after the war.

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It also means that my 17 year old son is living in an era where although war is still rampant across the globe, he is not at risk of conscription. Conscription in WW1 had a minimum age of 18 but at 6’4″ my son may well have been one of those young men caught up in the gung-ho attitude of the time who chose to lie about their age and sign up.

So what have we learned from “the war to end all wars” ? The UK is still selling arms, companies still make vast profits out of war and men and women are still dying.

This photo from Oxfam is a stark reminder of how far we still have to go…..

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Hong Kong holiday

Each summer since 2004 my kids and I have left hubby at work in Hong Kong and boarded a flight to the UK. Many expats leave Hong Kong in the summer for a variety of reasons, mostly to see family and friends in their home country and to escape the  heat, rain, typhoons and humidity that make up a Hong Kong summer.

So it was an odd feeling doing the reverse two weeks ago. Just as the UK started to experience really nice weather, well for the UK that is, my son and I waved farewell to my daughter and hubby and boarded the Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. Of course, we landed on the tail end of a typhoon and had three rainy days but that didn’t stop us doing what we came for, meeting up with friends who had stayed for the summer.

Here’s my reflection on our trip before we go home tomorrow.

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Thoughts on returning to Hong Kong in no particular order…..

  • Just brilliant to spend time with long term friends
  • Happy that Facebook has has helped us in touch and plan our time together
  • An unexpected meeting with a cousin and his partner, neither of whom live in Hong Kong!
  • Especially grateful to one friend and family who lent us their apartment whilst they were away
  • Thankful to their helper who looked after us so well
  • The wonderful transport system, MTR, trams, mini buses, ferries and taxis that make it so easy to get around  for very little money
  • A day out on a junk enjoying special time with another returning family who we’d not seen for three years
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  • Air-con!
  • Asian food which definitely tastes different here than back in the UK
  • Access to the pool and the weather to enjoy it
  • Appreciating that part of me will always reside in Hong Kong and that’s ok

Thoughts about returning to the UK

  • Being reunited with our daughter
  • Grateful that my Dad can come and collect us from LHR
  • Catching up with my extended family
  • Having a home to come back to that is ours now our tenants have left
  • Excited to be thinking about plans for our home, making it a centre for our family
  • Giving the gifts I have bought to my family
  • Starting to get excited with our daughter about starting university in September
  • Connecting with ex-HK friends now in the UK and sharing memories and experiences
  • Thinking about going back to paid work……?

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70th anniversary of the D Day landings

Two days after marking the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, I am sat watching the BBC coverage of the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings from Arromanches, France. I am reminded of the struggle for freedom both events share. The message is clear, we must never take freedom for granted.

My paternal Grandad landed on D Day plus 1. He never spoke to me about it, not sure how much he told my Dad or my Aunty and I am inspired to ask them now so that Grandad’s history won’t be lost. He was a medic and he had the job of sorting out the living from the dead on the beach. After the war he went on to train as a psychiatric nurse and worked at a large institution in Yorkshire. There were many refugees there too and my Dad tells stories of mixing with them; one story is about being told off at school in a German lesson for speaking with an Austrian accent, not knowing that it was because an Austrian Jewish refugee lived and worked at the hospital and helped my Dad with his learning! What those men went though, we shall never know.

The only photo I have of him from the war is this one from when he was stationed in India. He is second on the left, standing.

Grandad Leonard in India

Random thoughts I have picked up from today’s coverage:

These service men didn’t opt to have a military career, they were called up and that’s what they had to do.

They rarely spoke about it when they came back, how much they must have still endured silently.

Many soldiers buried in Normandy following D Day were only aged 16-20, the average age of today’s 600+ survivors is 89.

The incredible civil engineering feat, the building of the Mulberry Harbour, that meant that the landings were supported and sustained.

The extraordinary personal stories that have been related today are so moving, one man saying he knew his role was that of cannon fodder and as he waded ashore, he waded through dead bodies just floating around him and then through more on the beach itself.

This photo represents the fallen bodies on one of the beaches.

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Today no-one glorified war or celebrated it, the day was about remembrance, reconciliation and reflection and passing that message on to the next generation.

For more information follow this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0201qc7

The sense of reconciliation came across strongly in the formal speeches as well as in the personal interviews. Watching the German Prime Minister Angela Merkel take her place and be applauded by the crowd was moving, remembering that the fight for freedom was against Naziism not ordinary Germans who, as one person said today, fought for the same things we did, family and friends.

The sense that there are some occasions when present day issues must be put aside; watching Vladimir Putin was hard, but today he represented the millions of Russians who died in the war not his present politics and it is them we remember not him.

When I was born, it was 18 years since the end of the war in Europe. I was one of the lucky ones at school, I had both my Grandads alive (my maternal Grandad had fought in WWI and was too old to serve in WW2). Many of my generation only had grandmas and I knew I was lucky. And that’s just it, luck. Sometimes no matter how much planning, training and skills are put into practise sometimes it comes down to luck as to who survives and who doesn’t. I think that’s why many veterans feel guilty to have survived, they were no better and no worse than the man stood alongside them.

War and evil still exist in our world and we must be vigilant in protecting our freedom and the freedoms of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Lest we forget.

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Tiananmen Square 4 June 1989

I got married on 15 July 1989 but even though I was caught up in wedding plans and excitement for my married life to begin, I vividly remember this event and the weeks afterwards. Here’s how the BBC reported it.

Here’s how photographer Stuart Franklin caught the days leading up to and including 4 June crackdown:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/jun/03/tiananmen-square-1989-in-pictures

This is how my friend’s husband experienced it first hand in Beijing:

http://ellipticalglory.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/upon-high-rock-lent-2c.html

Amnesty International UK is holding an event in London right now.

https://www.facebook.com/events/526597334130443/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

This is how I experienced the march and vigil in Hong Kong in 2013 during an Amber rain storm.

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What saddens me still is the memories of Chinese parents who came into the school library where I worked and asked for books about the event that they could give to their children because it is still not really talked about amongst many Chinese families in Hong Kong where we have much more freedom of the press than on the mainland. Yet the hope and belief these parents had was that their children should know about not only this part of their history but also much more and that’s got to be a good thing.

Education

There is a big debate going on in the UK at the moment over comments made by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, about what books should or shouldn’t be chosen to study for the GCSE English Literature exam sat by children when they reach the age of 16. The Guardian newspaper says “The changes follow the government’s reshaping of the English literature exam syllabus, announced last year, removing the category of “prose from different cultures” and replacing it with “modern works from Britain” – leading to claims that the education secretary was pushing out Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men and other American works.”

It goes on to say: “Gove, who has been inundated with online petitions and complaints on Twitter, has been accused of imposing his tastes and political views on the school curriculum. Critics have included the Observer’s Robert McCrum, who wrote of “new depths of cultural incoherence” displayed by the education secretary: “To exclude American fiction and drama (no Twain, Steinbeck, or Miller, no Faulkner, no Fitzgerald, or TS Eliot) is – to deploy a literary critical term – plain bonkers.” As McCrum points out, the great American writers are steeped in the English literary tradition.” (The Guardian)

This has caused outrage from many authors and educators in the UK including Alan Gibbons, Michael Rosen and the current Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman.

At the same time, there is debate around a textbook used in some local schools in Hong Kong and which is also for sale in the leading English book shop chain, Dymocks. The textbook asks pupils to fill in the blanks. The South China Morning Post quotes  “A bubble next to a white man with an English textbook reads, “I am [blank]. I am an English teacher”, while the text next to a woman with darker skin reads, “I am [blank]. I am a domestic helper in Hong Kong”. Choices for the blanks include British, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.”

The Equal Opportunities Commission (HK) has registered its concern and the Education Department (HK) has also gone on the record saying that the book is not on its recommended list, thankfully!

It got me thinking about the fine line between governments setting out standards for education and interference in matters which many think should be left to the professionals. Sometimes we need governments to step in and sometimes we don’t. What we can do as concerned adults is make our voice heard when we get the opportunity to vote and if that opportunity is denied us, use other means to make our voice heard.

Decide for yourselves if Gove is right or wrong, decide for yourselves if stereotypes should be taught in schools in Hong Kong, decide for yourself and your family how you want your children to be educated and be the best role model you can be.

I just thought it was interesting both issues came up in the two places I call home at the same time.

 

 

Dragon Boat Festival, Hong Kong

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I read a post by another expat blogger recently about how expats can be on the outside of local festivals and celebrations because of different religious beliefs and whilst I certainly had that experience of looking in and yet not being of that faith so not practising all the traditions, the Tuen Ng Festival (or Dragon Boat Festival as it is more commonly known especially amongst Hong Kong’s expat community) is an outstanding example where expats and local communities come together.

A brief history of the festival can be found here http://www.hkfastfacts.com/Chinese%20Festivals/dragon_boat_festival.htm#.U4x6YxZvV7Y

We got involved the very first year we arrived in Hong Kong via my husband’s work and hubby then raced and became a trainer for six or seven years. His team trained and raced in Stanley and our family were lucky enough to watch from the company’s junk.

Reading posts on Facebook today and looking at the many photos my friends have posted as either competitors or spectators I am taken back to the sounds of the drums beating, the splash of the paddles, the cheers of the crowds and the amazing array of colours that the teams wear.

Here are some of our photos from years gone by.

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Hong Kong also hosts the International Dragon Boat Festival, the largest one in the world. http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/events-festivals/highlight-events/dragon-boat-carnival.jsp – sadly my photos from 2010 when we stayed in HK for the summer are lost somewhere in “the cloud”!!!

Another blog I follow, Gwolo, old Hong Kong has this post marking the festival in the 1920s http://gwulo.com/node/20042 Fascinating to see racers in long sleeves and hats!

Happy Dragon Boat Festival everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

Maps

I love maps. When I travel, they are always in my luggage either in print or electronic form. My kids love them too and when they were young, I started to teach them how to follow a map by using the Hong Kong MTR map each time we travelled. I realised when my son had learned to follow a particular line and each station on it when he was playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine at home one day and was pushing it across the back of the sofa counting out the stops, cushion, next cushion, Mummy’s hair, another cushion. Got me thinking he was probably ready to move on to bigger and better maps!

In Hong Kong we have the MTR; in London, it’s the Underground or the Tube. Both are fantastic ways of exploring these two amazing cities. The Tube is of course much older dating back in some places to Victorian times and sometimes you can be forgiven to thinking you are riding on a train that old. Hong Kong’s MTR is much smaller but I reckon still carries the same number of passengers, at least until Admiralty.

Anyway, two maps have hit my Facebook page recently and I wanted to share them with you.  Not sure how Londoners will take to anyone who has French blood in them “messing” with their Underground but hey, who am I to comment?

“Put your hands together for Jug Cerović who’s masterfully reworked metro maps for stylish navigation. The French- Serbian architect has standardised 12 underground networks across Europe, Asia and America, enlarging the central part of the maps to make them easier to read. The London Underground version is helpfully labelled with the initial of each line, and stations are laid out in a way that makes more sense geographically. The Overground has also been transformed into a satisfying loop that circles the city so you’ll never get derailed again.” Time Out London.

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Now Hong Kongers have been treated to a literal translation version of their beloved MTR. What great names – just who is Pauline and I dread to think how Oil Pond got its name. However my favourite destination has to be Utmost Peace.

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