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Our Summer Trip: My Top 10 Favourite Things

I have a lovely life in Hong Kong with my family and we are quite settled there. I believe that a home is not made from bricks and mortar but rather that home means being with your family, wherever that may be. Having said that, there are always days when I find myself missing those little comforts and familiar things from Ireland – like some days I can’t stop thinking about these coffee flavoured shortbread biscuits made in the Granary café in Midleton near my Mum’s house or days I yearn for shoe shops that cater more for my sized feet –I’m a completely average UK Size 6 but sometimes, trying to find shoes in Hong Kong, I feel like I have giant feet! I bring my girls back for to Ireland for a long holiday every Summer to see family and friends and to escape the Hong Kong heat. As the summer approaches, I can taste those coffee shortbreads. But are there are other things I look forward to too. So, after giving this much thought, I have compiled a list of my top 10 favourite things about coming back to Ireland for our summer holidays.
1. Family and Friends
Of course, the main reason we come back for our yearly summer holiday is to see our family and friends. It always amazes me how quickly I fall into my old role of sibling when I get together with my 3 sisters – even now as a “grown up” and a mother, I immediately adopt my place as the 2nd youngest and we quickly fall into our old ways. It’s funny how I can spot at a 100 paces my 8 year old subtly trying to wind her 5 year old sister up by a simple look or even just with 1 word.  I explained to her that as one of 4 sisters that I know all the tricks in the book about how to annoy your sister  – funny how nothing has changed since I was a kid…… I like to think that my girls will be these sisters: But in my heart, I know this is them: I look forward to catching up with my old friends, – the ones that know me so well, the friends that know the silly stuff I did when I was in my 20’s. On the other hand, it’s also nice to have newer friends in Hong Kong who don’t know the silly stuff from my 20’s!
2. Driving
The second I sit in the driver’s seat; I find myself humming “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley

“I  can see you, Your brown skin shining in the sun, You got the top pulled down, Radio on baby, I can tell you my love for you will still be strong,After the boys of summer have gone…………”

Being Irish though, my skin is more milky white then a tanned brown and, with our weather, there’s not much demand for convertibles. Still though, the windows are down with a lovely breeze on my face, Ian Dempsey on Today FM is on the radio and the kids are strapped in their car seats in the back, drowsy from the movement of the car. This beats waiting at a bus stop in 40 degree heat raging war with the mosquitos and sand flies and standing on an overcrowded bus in a puddle of sweat. Where we live in Discovery Bay, some of our friends drive golf carts. Private cars are not allowed in the neighbourhood, so people get around by bus or some people own golf carts. According to my daughters , EVERYONE except us has a golf cart.  I can assure you, that this is most certainly not true since these golf carts cost more than a luxury car! Check out our Discovery Bay Golf Carts: It’s a hard one to explain to our friends and family here and yet, to our kids, it is completely normal – to them driving in a car is a novelty!
3. Open Windows
Back in Ireland, when I wake up in the morning, I throw open the bedroom window (unless it’s raining of course) and let the day in. The window stays open all day and even through the night if it happens to be a warm night (no air con needed in Ireland…..). We can, of course, open our windows in Hong Kong too but the still and hot air outside coming in is somewhat less refreshing and of course I’m always thinking about the creepy crawlies that may be coming in my windows along with the air. This brings me onto my next point:  
4. No Creepy Crawlies
I live in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island – someone told me that Lantau Island, before its residential development, used to be called Snake Island as it was where snakes that were found on Hong Kong were brought to be released into the wild. I am so scared of snakes that I can’t bring myself to google this to check if it’s true but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. I love hiking and have the beautiful Tigers Head trail as my back garden. I just try not to think about what is undoubtedly rusting around in the brush. Although, I was living in Hong Kong 3 years before I saw my first snake and then saw 2 on the same hike. The first one, my friends thought not to be a dangerous one, the second one which slithered right across the path in front of us, not so harmless. That certainly woke me up that morning! While not dangerous, I am absolutely revolted by the huge cockroaches. I’m shuddering even writing the word – yeuk, I just can’t add a picture! While the mosquitos and sandflies are irritating, I have made my peace with them – I have simply come to accept that they adore me and there is nothing I can do that seems to deter them. My husband doesn’t even have to use any mosquito spray and they don’t come near him. I, on the other hand, practically shower myself in a variety of mosquito sprays and lotions but the second I step outside the door, word seems to spread in the mosquito community that breakfast, lunch and dinner is on the way! Much to his amusement, one night when we were at a BBQ, my husband noticed that there was literally a small swarm of mosquitos just circling my head……. In Ireland for the summer, I can relax and not worry about stepping on a snake, foul cockroaches or being attacked by mosquitos. You have nothing to worry about here from nature– no snakes (legend says that St. Patrick banished them from Ireland), no mosquitos, no cockroaches, no nasty big spiders. The biggest creepy crawly you will find here is the Daddy Long Legs!

The Daddy Long Legs

5. Penneys
Say Penneys (Primark in the UK) to any expat Mum from Ireland or the UK returning for the summer and to them it means bringing an extra empty suitcase back to stock up on the basics for the kids – t-shirts, shorts, socks, pjs, underwear etc. And, it’s not just for the kids.  It is also the shop where you can put together a snazzy little outfit for yourself for just 20 euro (around HKD$200). It doesn’t stop there either – hair accessories, jewelry, bags, gift paper, party bag fillers, towels, duvet sets, toiletries – Penneys just keeps on giving. It’s more than just a bargain shop though, it’s kind of hard to explain. This shop has seen us through our childhoods by dressing us in our best summer dresses and Disney pjs, bringing us into our teenage years where our pocket-money was spent on jewelry and a new top for the school disco and then into our early working careers where our starter salaries had to stretch a long way. Now, when I can actually afford to spend a bit more on clothes, I still find a nostalgic draw to a browse in Penneys and, of course, there’s also the thrill of the search for that great bargain. I’m so proud when a friend admires a new top –  rather than accepting the compliment graciously, I proudly boast  “Penneys – 10 euro!” If you’re Irish, I know that made you smile, you’ve said that! This gave me a giggle:
6. Pick n’Mix
The first time I went to the cinema in Hong Kong, I had skipped dessert at our dinner before, in anticipation of my usual Pick n’Mix cinema treat. Much to my dismay and absolute puzzlement, Pick n’Mix is not a thing in Hong Kong.  The cinema means pick n’ mix, they just go together! I didn’t even enjoy that first movie being distracted by my pick n’ mix disappointment. Over-priced? Of course! But undeniably awesome. That wall of sweets (yes sweets, not candy – we’re in Ireland now!), the colour and smell of an assortment of sugar presented in so many wonderful ways – white chocolate mice, strawberry flavoured bonbons, creamy fudge squares, chocolate covered honeycomb chunks, liquorice allsorts and chewy refreshers. Even Mr Willy Wonka would be impressed! So many to choose from but that of course is the beauty of Pick n’Mix – a little of everything you like all mixed up together.  Just grab a scoop and fill up your bag. It is absolutely essential to get to the cinema early to factor in enough time not to rush the Pick n’Mix selection. So, the cinema is on my list of things to do when we get back to Ireland. It really doesn’t matter what movie is showing – it’s all about the Pick n’Mix!
7. The Irish Pub
No matter what country you visit in the world, I challenge you not to be able to find an Irish pub. Although you can physically recreate an Irish pub anywhere, it is hard to capture the essence of a true Irish pub and, to me, you will only find this in Ireland. Now I’m not a fan of the taste of Guinness but to my husband it is pure nectar.  Pouring a good pint of Guinness is something of an art form – the secret is time. Remember this guy patiently waiting for his Guinness to be ready?

But an Irish pub is much more than just about the drinks.  The décor is important too – a real Irish pub will smell of rich old wood from the floors, the tables and stools and of course the bar itself. It should feel like you have stepped in from the street to a cosy, familiar place. Old favourite Kehoes in Dublin city centre would remind you of your Granny’s sitting room. And the snug! If I described the Snug as a private room, it would give you the wrong picture. The snug is a small cornered off area inside the door of the pub where you could have some privacy to enjoy your drink. They are found in real old Irish pubs and to be lucky enough to get the snug is guaranteed to be a good night out with your friends! Check out some of the best loved snugs by Dubliners here: The most quintessential part of an Irish pub though is the people. “Cheers” may have been the bar where everyone knows your name but in a true Irish pub, the barman and punters will likely know a lot more about you than just your name.
8. Food
Hong Kong is a melting pot of choice for foodies and I’m a big fan of Dim Sum but there are some things I do miss from Ireland. We wouldn’t be renowned on the world stage as a foodie nation but this is slowly changing and what we do very well is fresh ingredients. We are a small island and I grew up beside the sea where fresh seafood literally meant fresh straight from the sea. It’s also an agricultural country so meat and vegetables are local and fresh. One of my favourite restaurants “Sage” in my home town of Midleton created the popular 12 mile menu where everything on the menu is sourced within a 12 mile radius from farm to table. I often think of this when I am in my local supermarket in Hong Kong buying salmon from Norway or carrots from Australia. Deli counters are a staple in any supermarket or convenience store here and I miss being able to easily buy a little portion of potato salad, coleslaw or tuna salad so I seize any opportunity for a picnic lunch over our holidays. And of course, the chocolate! While we have the same chocolate options in Hong Kong, it tastes different. I’m told that this is because of an anti-melting agent that needs to be added to it which affects the taste. So chocolate will be one of the things vying for space in our suitcases heading home to Hong Kong after our holiday.  
9. The People
I have great friends and lots of wonderful people in our neighbourhood community in Hong Kong, but it is also lovely to spend some time back in the Old Country amongst people that speak the same slang and share the same sense of humour. Irish people are usually quite easy going people that don’t take ourselves very seriously. Our sense of humour tends to be quite self-depreciating and we enjoy a good banter (we would define banter as a friendly teasing exchange). On a few occasions, I have walked away from conversations with people in Hong Kong and only later thought – yikes, I’m not sure they knew I was joking! Us Irish talk a lot (not necessarily saying a lot though!) and just because we don’t know someone generally doesn’t deter us from striking up a conversation. I was shopping (in Penneys!) yesterday and on paying at the till, the cashier lady struck up a conversation with me as she is checking my purchases – she remarks that she has a little girl that would love the LOL dress I was buying for my daughter, chatted about the LOL craze and then, on seeing my Hong Kong credit card, she was interested to know what living in Hong Kong was like. I left the shop smiling. In a world obsessed with constantly staring at our phones, it’s amazing how a little positive social interaction with a stranger can lift your spirits. And our taxi drivers! Sometimes, in Hong Kong, I feel a bit out of touch with what is happening in Ireland but it just takes one taxi ride and the driver will have filled me in on what the government is up to, the state of the property market and what team is likely to win any ongoing sporting event.
10. The Weather
Finally, no conversation with an Irish person is complete without some reference to the weather. Irish people love to complain about the weather – it rains to much (to be fair it does rain a lot but that’s why it’s so green!). Living in Hong Kong, I struggle with the summer weather – it gets sooooooo humid. By June the weather app on my phone will tell me the temperature in Hong Kong is 35 but with the humidity “feels like 41.” Out of habit, I will then check the temperature in Ireland and it will say that its 20 degrees but “feels like 17”. My Hong Kong friends are highly amused when I show them this on my phone. I look forward to escaping the Hong Kong heat and coming back to an Irish summer – which could typically include sun, wind, rain and a wide swing in temperatures and that’s all just in one day! I get to wear jeans without them sticking to my legs and can  even wear make-up without getting melty face. I just love this photo by Craig Fay for The Irish Post which perfectly captures Irish weather: So, last summer, all May as I sweltered in the Hong Kong humidity, I eagerly anticipated a traditional Irish summer. You can imagine my absolute disgust with the heatwave that decided to sweep through Europe during our holiday. While Ireland basked in never ending sunshine and people feasted on daily BBQs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I pined for some cloud and maybe even some light rain. I had to keep this to myself of course. I couldn’t voice these thoughts out loud to my sun starved brethren – in a land where young babies are given daily Vitamin D drops as they don’t get enough natural Vitamin D from sunshine…… So, I have my fingers crossed (discreetly of course) for a more traditional Irish summer this year. It’s about time my girls experienced the traditional Irish summer beach experience – a quick dip in the waves of the cold Irish sea (15 mins max to avoid turning blue) followed by shivering under towels getting dressed while trying to get warm. Ah’ good times, fond memories of an Irish childhood! Our one strength when it comes to weather in Ireland is the long daylight hours we get in the summertime, when it does not get dark until almost 11 pm at night. Every Irish kid will have happy memories of still playing outside at 10pm at night. On the other hand, every Irish parent will also have memories of not being able to get their kids to go to bed during those summer evenings! There it is – my top ten favourite things about coming back to Ireland for the summer! I’m curious to ask my girls what their favourite things are about coming back. I suspect being spoilt by their Grandparents and copious amounts of ice-cream would feature strongly on their list……..

Happy Summer!

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