Thursday, December 1, 2011

Keeping up to date with adventures

Since I last wrote the days have just flown by. In that time we have been to Lamma Island (a wonderful day trip that is a short ferry ride away from central Hong Kong), on a tram party, and to the emergency room (we are all OK). Theo was awarded the gymnast of the month for his gymastics class, which is quite an achievement considering the large number of little girls who have been doing somersaults for years. There is plenty of more detail about our Hong Kong adventures but now I'm writing from Cambodia for a mini-(in time but perhaps mega in substance)adventure. I'm on my own here this evening and two of my mom friends are joining me tomorrow for a long weekend where we plan to visit the much-acclaimed World Heritage site of Angkor Wat and surrounding temples. Think Lara Croft and two friends as the tombs pictured in Tomb Raider are in our plans.

Cambodia has made a lovely first impression - kind of like arriving in Hawaii without being given a flower necklace; people are friendly and pleasant without the edginess that you get in many developing world locations. The first thing I noticed after leaving the very modern and efficient airport is that I could clearly see the stars! This is a rare treat for a city dweller and a real delight. Orion hangs a lot lower in the sky than in temperate climates as we are much closer to the Equator. I'm staying at a lovely small hotel where french is spoken along with English and you feel as if you have stepped back in time. I can hear the frogs croaking and crickets chirping outside. It is a lovely to hear the sounds of nature. I'm scheduled to be out early - 5 am to see the sunrise at one of the wats (temples) so I must go now to get some rest.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Things that children like to eat in Hong Kong

Hi there - I know, back so soon? I had to write as today we had dumplings for lunch. Theo is a huge fan of dumplings, but he is very particular about his preferences. His undisputed favorite is xiao long bao which are special as they have soup broth inside.

To eat them you gently lift them from the top with your chopsticks and put them in your Chinese soup spoon. Carefully poke a small hole with your chopstick in the side and let some of the broth drain into the spoon. You then eat the broth and dumpling together on the spoon - delicious!

I have long known that Theo is a dumpling gourmet. What surprised me today was Quentin. I ordered a side dish of shredded seaweed and tofu served cold with red chili oil. Quentin tried a taste and simply loved it. Between us we had three - yes three! - plates of red chili tofu and seaweed. By that point my mouth felt a little bit numb but little Quentin, who I would add ate far more than me of the dishes - was still asking for more please!

As we ate Quentin kept asking for 'more please' interspersed with vehement shouts of 'no, Mommy, no' whenever I tried to sneak in a bite (as he didn't want to have to share it with me). I would dole out bites to his wide open mouth and like a baby bird (think raptor rather than songbird) he would close his mouth and then slurp in the rest of the green seaweed and brown tofu reminiscent of a bird slurping in the rest of the worms left dangling from his mouth after the initial bite. Neptune would be proud to see the amount of sea plants consumed by Quentin this lunch time!

Friday, November 18, 2011

where has the time gone!?!

Dear friends and family -
There is so much to say - I have been long delayed as I did not know where to start! This has been a transformative year which has gone from knowing nobody here and feeling incredibly unsettled, working hard to make sense of and find our way in this foreign place to finally really loving our lives here. It is a bit like falling down Alice's rabbit hole (with the added challenge of a baby and the asset of having a preschooler who does not hesitate to ask 'why'); there have been times I've felt very large or very small (interestingly, sometimes at the same time like being surrounded by a crowd of mainland Chinese blatantly trying to photograph the children at Repulse Bay beach or walking through the literal wave of people at the Chinese New Year flower market in Kowloon where I towered over most people but had to go with the flow of the wave); and, we have certainly met interesting characters along the way. Now being in Hong Kong is a bit like living life like it is an ongoing party - we are at the Mad Hatters tea party but we understand (most of) the rules so can enjoy the revels rather than feeling flustered by them.
This has truly been a year of tremendous changes, travels and adventures. I'll endeavor to write both about what is going on with us now and also provide reflections on what happened during the time where I did not write - a time in which we lived in 4 different apartments (5 if you count the summer in London), Theo has attended 3 Hong Kong and 1 British school, and Quentin has gone from a baby to a proper toddler who now races around and has started saying compound words (mooncake was his first and his most recent is the carefully spoken pine-apple).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A lot to catch up on....

August 9 - 20
Things have been busy here. The week of August 9th we were still working to overcome jet-lag. We helped achieve this by signing Theo up for summer camp at the American Club. It is on the far side of HK island from where we are currently living and it takes from about 40 minutes - 50 minutes to get there (the best we have done is 30 minutes). At first Theo was a little shy at summer camp and then warmed to the idea by the end of the week. While he was at summer camp I had a chance to meet some other moms which was really nice.

The week of the 16th Theo was back at summer camp on Monday/Weds/Fri. We are looking at temporary housing for when our current housing expires on September 25th and in tandem looking at some schools for Theo. His school and teacher in London are wonderful so I still have a hard time getting comfortable with the idea that he'll temporarily have to go to school in Hong Kong. As I mentioned in an earlier posting there are all sorts of horror stories about trying to get kids into schools. We have found at least 4 pre-schools that still have some space for Theo's age and plan to visit a few more. Because our housing options (for short-term housing to avoid having a 2 year lease commitment) are limited that will help us to decide upon the school based on location as well as suitability. We are doing this in tandem as we want housing where there is a suitable school.

On August 15th Martin and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary! Martin arranged the amazing surprise for us to take a helicopter flight around the island. The boys loved it and I did too. It was a great way to get a view of the landscape and different areas of the city. Theo was co-pilot (though he didn't have to take command at any point) riding up front with the pilot. Quentin didn't like the noise but seemed quite happy once he had the noise cancellation head phones on. During the flight we could hear an occasional happy burble from him through the microphone.

Theo continues to improve his swimming at an amazing speed. He can now swim across the width of the pool by himself (really!) taking about 5 breaths along the way. It has been great to see him enjoy his swimming. Quentin also likes the pool and kicks his legs in the water.

I have much more to say and will write more soon....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sesame Street in Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Day 12 - Sunday 8th August. We found the Catholic mass schedule on-line and selected a church nearby in Kowloon (e.g. a 15 min taxi ride). It was called the St Ignatius Chapel and was affiliated with a local College. It was an extremely large chapel (bigger than our Church in London) and the English mass was very full. Aside from one other woman we were the only non-Asian people at mass. It was a somewhat weird experience and people stared at us openly. The church was not particularly friendly - after mass started they projected a sign that said parents whose children were "having a tantrum were encouraged to take them outside the building". Then, during the sermon the priest literally stopped and then said to a family with three young children whose middle child (who was only probably about 18 months) was making some minor sounds 'I see he wants to escape from mass early'. And didn't start again until the father took the child outside. I thought it was a terribly un-Christian way to engage with families. So by that point I felt not only out of place but I felt mortified at the thought of the priest stopping a sermon to tell me to take my child out of mass. Of course Quentin started to to get fussy and just as I was taking him out the priest said the same thing to me - I was mortified and felt so unwelcome. I felt that the approach of this priest was totally against the teaching of Jesus (who when he preached to crowds surely had children fuss sometimes). I told Martin that we'd never be going back to that Church as we needed to find somewhere more welcoming and Christian in their interactions with people.

The rest of the day was much more fun. After a relaxing lunch and a short relax we went over to the HK Island side to the Arts Center where we saw a Sesame Street live show 'when Elmo grows up'. Theo was absolutely delighted. Quentin also enjoyed it but I think became over-stimulated and then fell asleep for about 2/3 of the show, waking in delight to watch the final scene. As we entered the Arts Center one of the ushers looked at Quentin and said 'minimum age 1 - how old is he?' Thanks to his size my pleasant response of 'he'll be ok, he's almost 1' seemed to suffice once I showed her that, yes, we had purchased four tickets and were not trying to sneak a baby into the show. She then said that she was worried that the flashing lights would scare him - his ability to sleep through most of the show demonstrated that this was an unnecessary concern. Someone I met here told me that Hong Kong is full of rules but that really anything is possible in Hong Kong (e.g. that the 'rules' often get broken). When Quentin gets bigger I'm sure that he'll be delighted to know that at just under 5 months (and toothless) I was able to depict him as 'nearly 1'. We have no babysitter right now so if we wanted to see the show as a family we needed to all go together.

We briefly visited the pool but then had an early night as Theo starts 'summer camp' tomorrow.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Museum pass

Day 11 - Saturday 7th August. Today we had breakfast overlooking the Harbor in the hotel dining room. It was really fun to watch the cranes loading and unloading containers and to see all the activity at the port. Afterwards we went to the Science Museum where we purchased a Museum pass - after purchasing it I realized that the pass was good for about 8 (how lucky!) museums run by the Hong Kong Culture Ministry so it was a particularly great deal for about 20 pounds total for all three of us for an annual family pass. The Science Museum was pretty good - they had many exhibits including a special exhibit about biodiversity in Hong Kong and China.

After the Science Museum we had planned to have dim sum across the harbor in Central. Theo has been asking nearly daily about riding the legendary Star Ferry which crosses the harbor. Martin thought we could walk to the ferry pier - we did but it was longer than planned and we were all dripping with sweat by the time we reached the ferry. The ferry ride was quick and delighted Theo but I think I will save it for when it is cooler as the walks on both sides of the ferry were not insignificant.

We wandered along an upper walkway, taking a detour through air conditioning at one point to obtain some relief from the heat. The cityscape is deceiving as destinations often appear closer than they are and actually reaching a location is often complicated by building works, major roads, another building, steps, etc.

We finally found Maxim's in City Hall which is well known for dim sum. It was a massive ballroom with impressive chandeliers and a beautiful Oriental rug in a pale peach. The service was by little carts that women wheeled around the stately room and you could choose the dim sum dished you wanted when they stopped by. We had a lovely time and enjoyed the dim sum.

When we returned we all went to the pool for awhile - the water was colder than previous days from yesterday's thunderstorm. After the children were in bed there was a tremendous thunderstorm - perhaps one of the largest I've ever seen. The rain was so steady that we could not see the lights from across the harbor. I enjoy a summer thunderstorm so this natural display of nature's power was a real treat (though the pool is probably going to be even colder now!). Despite the mid-day walk in the heat (yes, thank goodness for those British passports) today was a really fun day. Theo and I have talked about how we are looking forward to going back to the Science Museum and exploring other museums too.

You say 'play with me, I say Sesame'

Day 10 - Friday 6th August. Theo said he thought we should have a lazy day today and I agreed. The pollution had rolled in on Wednesday and was particularly hazy yesterday and today - to the extent that we could not see buildings that made up part of our normal skyline. We watched some of Toy Story in the morning, played, had lunch and then went for an earlier ice-skating lesson at 1:30. Theo had the same instructor and is doing well on the ice - it is amazing how much progress he has made from his original entry onto the ice on a chair. He can (with arms extended and very slow slides) go about 1/4 of the rink on his own. He seems to enjoy the ice skating which I still find an odd activity to be doing in the tropical heat. After ice skating we saw the rest of Toy Story and then watched a new Sesame Street video. To Theo's delight it included the songs: "you say play with me, I say Sesame" and "Be my Echo." For someone who rarely watched television programs today was a real a treat for Theo. We briefly went outside to the playground but found it to be not that great as some of the equipment was broken. Also, it was weird as everybody stared at us as we were the only non-Chinese people and nobody said anything to us. We only stayed about 15 minutes as a thunderstorm looked like it was about to start. Indeed it did - we made it back to our apartment just in time.