Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sigh. Oh blog, you mock me with your blank screen. I have been neglecting you. I know. So for this post I will chalk it up to the 8-week photography class I've been taking. And instead of a written post (sorry) I will put up a link to my newly created photo page. Some portraits, some travel-type stuff, and a lot in between. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

As Seen on TV - Chinese Style

For most of my days, I have been occasionally been amused by, but never actually purchased, some of the infinitely useful and reasonably priced gadgets "as seen on TV". The Flowbee hair cutting system, the Chia Pet, the Thighmaster, OrangoGlo appealing as they can be when you are sleep-deprived and nursing an infant at 3:00 a.m. I've managed to avoid dialing that 800 number.

While shopping this past Christmas, however, I somehow fell under the spell of a product so magical, so obviously useful, and so adorable, I just felt that it deserved a coveted place under our Christmas tree.

I stumbled upon it while shopping with a friend at a large Toys 'R Us in the New Territories. Even Geoffrey the Giraffe has managed to set up shop here in Hong Kong. While strolling through the "Fun Cooking" section while my friend was looking for plastic food for her kids, I spotted a large, green contraption that looked like a marble run but was, actually, a complicated slide that doubled as a noodle cooker. You placed your bowl of steaming hot broth at the bottom of the slide, put your pile of rice noodles at the top and poured your boiling water over the top, setting the noodles off on a fun-filled journey toward the soup bowl, and eventually, you stomach. It was 2.5 feet in diameter and stunning in all its glory.

But that's not what I bought. Really, in a three-bedroom apartment, I DO NOT have room for any type of playground equipment for our food.

What I did spot however, was the Pack Sand Maker.

How could I say no?? Such cute sandwiches...such fun for the children...such joy I would bring to their boring little packed lunches.

Egg salad! PB&J! Even chopped up ham and shredded cheese! The possibilities were endless.

Plus, we'd be able to make croutons in the shape of hearts and flowers from the extra bread after we roll out our happy piggy sandwich shapes. Cause, you know, we used croutons so often!

With school starting up again tomorrow, we began to experiment. Darcy opted for egg salad and made it herself. Lucas, always a traditionalist, chose peanut butter. It was clear that we'd have to buy squishy, crustless bread to make sure we could "seal" the edges. Here, in Asia, this bread is everywhere. We even managed to find the wheat version, rather than the Wonder White style that brought back memories from the 70s. According to the directions (suprisingly in English, even!), just line up the guide on the bread, fill it up with your choice of filling...

put the second piece of bread on

And it should look like this

Ummmm, ours? Not so much. They looked like this

Our poor little faceless piggy, oozing peanut butter. Tsk, tsk, tsk. No one seemed to surprised that our new Pack Sand Maker was not churning out the pristine little piggies as shown on the packaging. A family of cynics, that's us.

So, it's now sparkling clean and packed up, ready for the next second-hand sale.Or maybe a small visiting friend who wants to dig out the playdough.

And this is the lunch for tomorrow.

Maybe unsuccessful, but oh, so entertaining.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My nasal passages have been assaulted by two very distinct smells recently. The first is cheese - not a bad smell, in my book. Matt bought a load of cheese to take to our friends in Istanbul as gifts from afar. While Turks do salty, soft, white cheese really really well, the cheddar...not so much. Pork products and cheese are the currency of expats in Istanbul and while living there, I would have much rather received either than flowers at any dinner party I hosted.

But I digress. So he bought all this cheese, and then he forgot it. Oof. He also forgot the salami and parma ham. Those are stored safely in the freezer. But cheese doesn't freeze so well, so I'm left with a mini-fridge full of cheese. And now I'm looking for recipes to use up the cheese, preferably things I can freeze for later. Jalepeno cheddar scones caught my eye, and of course there's macaroni and cheese, but I'm not sure how well that would freeze. And while I will certainly eat some of it before he comes home, even I, cheese-lover that I am, can't eat that much.

So if you are in the Hong Kong area and are thinking, Hmmm, you know what would taste good right now? Some CHEESE. Just come on over. Apples and crackers will also be provided.

The other scent is the pungent odor of mothballs. I took the subway recently and the smell just about knocked me over. Strong and unrelenting, combined with a packed rush-hour train. Looooovely. Since the temperature dropped, everyone has raided their closets and dug out the winter wear. It's gone up above 70F/20C again, so maybe I will be spared for the next week.

Thanksgiving is just a few days away and I have to admit, after 6 years overseas, it's the one holiday that can make me a touch homesick. Why? I think it's the fact that Thanksgiving is a simple, uncomplicated holiday. You eat turkey, maybe play some football (or at least watch it on TV), enjoy crunchy fall weather (at least on the East Coast where we lived), and then eat leftovers. There's not much else involved. And it's a national holiday, with no attachment to religious affiliation. So just about everyone is doing the same thing. And if we were in the US, we would be too.

It's just the kids and I this year, so I think we'll have a turkey breast and the basic trimmings. With some cheese thrown in for good measure. And, if we get all the homework done, we can even watch the beginning of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade before bedtime.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Several Random and Completely Unrelated Recent Observations

1. I was at the grocery store the other day, laden with several unwieldy bags. Definitely time for a taxi. I approached the store staff member stationed by the exit door "Excuse me, can you please tell me where the nearest taxi stand is?" She looked at me, smiled, and said, "You want a taxi?" And in that moment, I understood. She did what I so often did in Istanbul. Someone would speak a relatively uncomplicated sentence in Turkish and I would respond with my understanding of what they were asking, in the most basic of terms. Hoping that I got what they were asking.

"Yes, I want a taxi." And thank you. I get it.

2. People here are spoiled. Absolutely no doubt about it. Anyone can find inexpensive domestic help. But... I was walking our dog Teddy the other day when I came upon two domestic helpers walking one small dog. 2 people, 1 dog. They paused by a garbage can, one of them pulled a roll of toilet paper out of her bag, and wiped the dog's butt. I. am. not. joking. Then, she pulled more toilet paper off the roll and wiped each of his feet. In my ever optimistic frame of mind, I hope that was voluntary and not required.

3. The weather dropped below 70F/20C for the first time since we've been here. Bundle up Hong Kong.

4. Halloween was 4 days ago, and the day after, apartment workers were busy unwrapping and preparing Christmas decorations. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Monday, September 21, 2009

So, I’ve been writing this update in my head for a good long time and am now actually sitting down to do it. For the most part, all is well and I cannot complain. Getting settled in Hong Kong is miles easier than getting settled in our last post on so many levels. First, there’s the fact that so many people speak English. We are living in a large apartment block with maintenance people and staff to call when things inevitably go wrong. Supermarkets are well-stocked with plenty of familiar items. But, it’s still a new place where we don’t know anyone.

The kids seem to be doing well at school, adjusting to the new curriculum and sailing along academically. Older daughter has started playing the flute for the band and is trying to catch up to her classmates who started last year. She’s actually doing very well, though she is frustrated that she’s not playing like James Galway from the word go.

She’s also taking swimming lessons that eventually csn lead to a swimming team. The pool is a 50-metre lap pool. HUGE! After the first lesson she wobbled to the stands on legs that looked like they were made of jelly. While she’s swimming (and I’m waiting) I watch the Chinese kids who train in the same pool for the pool’s club team. Imagine 25 kids in each lane, swimming lap after lap after lap, keeping a distance of about 2 feet between swimmers, never more, never less. Like a well-oiled machine they just keep going and going and going. For those practicing backstroke, they take an empty yogurt drink container and have to balance it on their forehead while they swim. Unbelievable!

She's made some friends though there’s some 5th grade girl meanness to deal with. One girl in particular is nice one day, not nice the next. We’re still learning the hierarchy but there seem to be a few small groups and then a large pool of mostly nice girls who sort of float between groups. Girl politics! Ugh.

The smaller boy has also adapted well and is boldly speaking Mandarin enthusiastically. He has a fantastic teacher who I think he feels very comfortable with. The teacher is experienced and encouraging while setting the bar high for the kids. He’s taken up basketball, karate and golf, with lessons each week for both. He’s also playing floor hockey at school. Next term, who knows. There’s rugby, soccer, cricket, tennis – you name it, they can try it!

I marvel at the way they’ve adjusted and then, BAM!, we’ll have a setback or a rough night with someone in tears. Tonight was the smaller boy's turn and I have to admit that I’ve not heard him sob that way in a long time. He was missing his friends from our last post, and named each and every one -- from his friends at school, to friends from our compound, to his favorite 13-year-old guy babysitter. I tried to comfort him by telling him we could send some e-mails tomorrow to say hello and he said, “I don’t want to just e-mail them, I want to TOUCH them.” It just about broke my heart. We’ve arranged for a playdate on Friday after school so slowly, slowly, we are getting there.

My husband's job is only a short 15 minutes away. It has been a real treat to have him often home by 6:30 p.m. for dinner when he’s not traveling. We can actually eat together, or at the very least, have him home to help with a bit of homework and tuck in the kids.

And me? Well there is certainly no excuse for being bored, as every possible activity ever invented is available for those who are interested. And yet, Hong Kong has a way of making you feel utterly and completely lonely sometimes in a way only a large, crowded city can.

I’ve signed up for 8 classes of Catonese which is ridiculously hard as we are not learning to read or write, just speak. Throw in 5 different tones and words that start with a “ts” or “ds” sound and it’s an 1 ½ hour brain scramble. We learned that if you say the word for 9 with a “middle” tone versus a “rising” tone you will instead be saying the word for male genitalia. Proceed with caution!

Grocery shopping, as I said, is relatively easy as there are plenty of familiar foods available. All displayed neatly next to the unfamiliar yet entertaining foods like chicken feet (imported from Brazil!), tongue, pigs hooves, and snacks such as BBQ-flavored shrimp puffs. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because for so many years it was easy to keep my kids off crappy American snack food as we couldn’t find it or it was unbelievably expensive. Here, you can often find it and it’s merely more expensive. A slippery slope. And of course, there are 4 or 5 major chains and you can’t find everything you need at one place. Things come and go, so buy when you see it as it may not be there tomorrow!

The weather has gone from scorching hot to just blazing hot. When the humidity’s below 70% it’s bearable. And when it’s higher, yuck. The kids have off a week at the end of October so we’ve decided to stay here and play tourists, doing all the stuff we would have liked to do when we first got here but couldn’t because it was just too hot.

Ocean Park and giant buddha - here we come!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

So, two hazy days in Hong Kong - hazy for so many reasons. The weather's been alternately rainy, foggy, drizzly, cloudy, stormy, basically anything but sunny. And warm in a way that reminds me of an unpleasant visit to a 70s-era retirement home, or a crowded, stuffy doctors office when you don't feel well. My mind's been in an award-winning haze from the 12-hour time difference and jet lag, trying to pull myself out of it; wide awake at 4:00 a.m. (always with Lucas) and at 4:00 p.m. feeling like I'd stayed up all night and drank too much the night before.

Fun, no? While it sounds rather unpleasant, it's not. we are all happily, lazily, investigating our new surroundings. Swimming in between the raindrops in the super-duper pool downstairs. Spending time each day with Teddy in the quarantine facility. Discovering the small grocery store a short walk away. I just know Darcy is already imagining herself walking there to grab some milk. Taking the apartment shuttle that drops you in a completely convenient shopping street to try and find a hair dryer. Opening up a joint bank account (wow! I don't even have to have a work visa!).

Here are two of the oddest moments so far:

- in the bank, opening up our local bank account. While waiting for the bank rep to type in all our information, I was looking through the details of the rental insurance. Turns out, you can add Golfer's Insurance. It covers you for up to HK$3,000 (just under US$400) for Hole-in-One celebrations. I chuckled, and showed Matt, thinking it was some sort of vanity option. He told me, no, it's serious business. Apparently in much of Asia, and especially if you are playing with Japanese businessmen, and you score a hole-in-one, you are expected to share your celebration with everyone you are playing with, and you foot the bill. It's an extra US$5 per month. We'll decline and risk it.

- in a cab on the way back from visiting Teddy. I speak no Chinese. Not one word. I can't even say please or thank you, yes or no. Before moving to Turkey and Thailand, I did manage to learn a few words before getting off the plane. For no apparent reason, I've not made the same attempt here just yet. Will do, but haven't. But most people here understand the minimum of English to get by.

So when the taxi driver kept muttering to himself I wasn't worried per se, but aware. His muttering got increasingly animated and I kept wondering if we were offending in some way, if the kids were too loud, what the problem was. I also suddenly thought one of us has stepped in dog doodoo while visiting Teddy. Crap, he's pissed off at us. (no pun intended!)

Suddenly, he's waving at the available taxi that's in front of us as we approach a stop sign on a busy, busy road. I ask, "Are you OK?" and he says "OK, OK YOU GO THAT CAB". What?? In the middle of a major road?

Then he says, "I GO TOILET". Now, I am very familiar with the need to sometimes use the present tense of a verb in a language you don't really speak very well because at the very moment you need to speak that language, you are flustered and upset or in a bit of a crisis. I hustle the kids out the cab, and feel bad for the man that's hopefully speaking in the future tense, and not, poor guy, the present or the past.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

After four years in Istanbul, we are down to 3 more days. Incredible. Where did the time go? I keep thinking I have time for one more trip here, one more stop there. But I don’t. The packers have come and gone and the house is empty (imagine major echo here). There are a few things left; the dregs of a lively, laughing, sometimes screaming house full of… us. It’s so sad to see a stray hair clip or action figure leg lying helplessly in a corner.

The past 2 days have been a train that has picked up speed and is DEFINITELY on autopilot. I have nothing to do with any of it now. Our suitcases are packed and I expect to arrive in the US like a kid on a bike that hasn’t learned how to stop, careening in, slamming on the brakes, overstuffed suitcases leaking Turkish delight and stray socks and one last pair of silver earrings and lovely cards from much loved friends and last minute purchases of our favorite lentils tucked in to every corner.

Ahhhh, vacation. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it does keep getting brighter. A few more hurdles – award ceremony at school tomorrow, goodbyes to our great friends who are leaving for vacation, a half-day last day of school, no doubt full of tears and hugs and laughing. Turning over the keys, one last lap around the compound, a swim in the pool and our last night dinner with friends. Bittersweet. I’m not really one for cloying sentiments – I never liked those big-headed kids who were all over the “Love is…” paraphernalia of the 70s. But I did recently hear something that made me smile, a smile of understanding, sadness, and sweetness all rolled into one.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”
--Dr. Seuss