Life has come full circle for stylist Liz Keeling, who is back in Sai Kung with her headmaster husband and baby son in tow, after living there as a child in the 1980s.
I grew up in Sai Kung. I was born at the Matilda Hospital and my family lived in Nam Wai Village, just up the road, until I was ten. The 1980s was Cathay Pacific’s heyday: my father was a flight engineer, and most of my parents’ friends worked for the airline. Many of them lived in Sai Kung because it was near the old airport at Kai Tak – expatriates here were either pilots, or teachers at the nearby ESF school. My early memories centre around playing outside with my friends in the compound, swimming at the beach, and our Filipino helper Emma cooking us sardines and rice.
I used to ride up at Bea’s River, and when we moved back to the UK my parents promised me my own pony. They kept their promise, but returning to England was a rude shock. Most of my new school friends lived miles away, not just down the road, and I really missed the sun and outdoor life. It was a shock for my mother too, I think. All her friends were around her in Nam Wai, and she was quite lonely in our small village in Somerset.
My mum and I first went back to Hong Kong when I was in my twenties, to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and I just felt like I’d come home. From then on, I planned to return, and when my husband Ben was offered a job here (as principal at Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong), we jumped at the chance. After we arrived, I continued my work in interiors with The Home Stylist.
Ben and I met in the UK, but we did a stint in Jakarta prior to coming to Hong Kong; we both knew we wanted to work and live abroad. All my family are travellers; perhaps being an expatriate gives you a thirst for travel, and you see the world as a less intimidating place. We had such awesome trips, growing up in Asia. I remember one holiday my father drove us from Jakarta to Bali, but there were no other tourists around. We stopped at the temple at Borobodur, but it was completely overgrown, not the tourist attraction it is today! Now my oldest brother lives in Johannesburg, and my middle brother in Australia. My parents lived in Bahrain before coming to Hong Kong, so the travel bug is obviously in the family.
My favourite piece is my Star Ferry bench; it was a surprise birthday present from Ben. He couldn’t get hold of an original bench, so he commissioned a craftsman to have it made to exact specifications. The guy made quite a few trips on the ferry, taking photos and measurements to make sure it was exactly the same: the back-rest moves forwards and backwards too, just like the real thing!
Otherwise, I’m very fond of the 1950s-style furniture we brought with us from Indonesia. It’s beautiful old warm wood, but I’ve mixed the pieces up with brightly coloured chairs from Mirth, a contemporary sofa from TREE, and some quirky accessories I’ve collected from around the globe. When we first arrived in Jakarta, this furniture had fallen out of favour with young Indonesians, who felt it belonged to their grandparents’ era, and the furniture shops were piled high with cheap pieces classified as “antiques”. I upcycled a lot and ended up selling a few.
I’m environmentally conscious, but I do like things that are a bit different, and it’s also in my blood! My parents bought a huge old house when we moved back to Somerset, and my mother used to buy furniture at auctions to upcycle. I remember being allowed, at the age of 12, to paint all our kitchen chairs. Upcycling is a big trend now, but my mother was definitely ahead of the curve. Eventually the 50s-style Indonesian furniture became more popular. You’d go back to the same furniture shops a year later and the retailers would tell us everything had been sold to a trendy restaurant or café, who were also upcycling!
We tend to stay around Sai Kung at the weekends, especially now we have a young baby. We’re very near the Lions’ Nature Reserve and the Hong Kong Yacht Club, so we’ll stroll down to the Marina at weekends. Trio Beach is a stone’s throw from the house, too. We’re more into coffee houses than bars these days, and Little Cove in Sai Kung is one of my favourites. Otherwise, we love dim sum at the weekends, at one of the many seafood restaurants overlooking the harbour.
There’s so much movement here at the moment. Shops open and close quickly in Sai Kung because the rents are so high, and developers are building two brand new luxury apartment complexes in the centre of the village. The character of Sai Kung is changing fast, and there are so many expatriate families here now. Sometimes I fall a little out of love with Hong Kong, especially with the humidity, pollution and cost of living, but then I go into Central at night, and nothing beats the lights, neon and buzz. It’s such an awesome city, isn’t it? So exciting and vibrant! It’s definitely a hard city to leave.
Wine & dine
Little Cove Espresso Siu Yat Building Block A, G/F, Hoi Pong Square, Sai Kung 9572 8560
Home & Beauty
H&M Home hm.com/hk/en
Pro Wave Salon 19 Sai Kung Main Street, Sai Kung
Pepper & Mint Boutique pepperandmintboutique.com
The Ginger Jar Lamp Co the-ginger-jar-lamp-co.myshopify.com
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This article first appeared in the October/November 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.