Monday, August 16, 2010

End of the Summer.. And Back to School!

The view from our home in Hong Kong (lining up not exact but close)

We had momentus last few weeks in Hong Kong after our Australian vacation and before school started: We continued our exploration of Hong Kong with daily outings. We visited many things; bicycling in the New Territories along Tai Po Waterfront, walking along The Peak, visiting the Jade, Fish, Bird and Flower markets, going ice skating at Dragon Center, going to Ocean Park (similar to Sea World), visiting the zoo and botanical gardens as well as Macau, Sai Kung
Town and Hap Mum Bay Beach, we went paddle boating at the TaiTam Reservoir and visited the Space, Maritime and Science Museums.

Also before school started, we took a cruise to go see the endangered Pink Dolphins, and visited a few more museums such as the History, Heritage and Coastal Defense Museums, The Mai Po Wetlands and Inspiration Lake Park. More exploring of Causeway Bay, and finally finding the bus back to Repulse Bay (!): we can now come and go taxi-free. Pretty busy schedule!

Our visit to the bird market was fascinating: thousands of birds in all colors and sizes, parrots speaking every language. Birds are the most popular pet in HK and we decided to join the crowd and got Finch and Sparrow, a couple of Gouldian Finches, also known as Rainbow finches. They are delightful and their song is soft and beautiful. But oops.. a couple of weeks after their arrival to our home, Sparrow was found on the bottom of the cage in eternal sleep.. So no more propagation possibilities. Finch now sings solo.

School finally started September 6th. Grant is happy, making new friends and really enjoying the bus. He got to know several boys in the building who take the bus with him which is great fun.. They are the "cool" older boys who have somehow appropriated the back of the bus. His teacher, Madame Texier, is sweet and efficient. She loves the kids, is very patient and just lots of fun, although Grant says she is now starting to get much stricter! Go Maitresse!!

Audrey also is happy at school; likes her classes and teachers. She is really enjoying Secondaire: lots of freedom, flexible schedule, changing classes and teachers and being treated much more independently. She shows great responsibility, gets things done without being reminded. I see independence growing in more ways than one, not all positive but all in all, excellent! She has made a few friends and enormously enjoys our neighbor Colleen, whom she gets along with perfectly. They had a lemonade/brownie stand this weekend at the playground which was a huge success! "Part" of the proceeds are to go to Unicef.. The rest, to the "Bird's Nest" their private/members only hideout in the service elevator bay.

The house is settled, all is in place and we are very comfortable. Our helper, Carning, has been a GREAT addition to our family (no kidding...) My worries were unfounded. The kids love her and the dogs are super spoiled. Steve is getting into potentially unhealthy habits (if he expects the same treatment at our return to the States, then it's potentially lethal!) and I have more free time than I have ever had. So I am back at the gym with a new trainer, a Swedish guy named Nike that looks like a refrigerator, and I have found a new Pilates instructor as well. I am enrolled in Mahjong classes once a week and Mandarin Classes another day. The classes are called "Survival Chinese": you have no idea how accurate that is! I have joined both the French and the American Women's Associations and will go on hikes and Discovery walks around HK. I have also decided to pursue better knowledge and understanding of photography which I really enjoy while getting to know HK better with the Photography group of one of the organizations. Life in Asia is really nice for expats. I am spoiled. No thoughts of work for now... We'll see if I get tired of this life of leisure!

Steve's work was crazy in August, with travel to the US and Mexico for a month to complete a 7 year old case. He came home, unsurprisingly, sick, tired, gaunt and overall in pretty bad shape. It took us a good week to get him back on his feet and to a normal outlook. Things are looking up with no more extensive travels and him being able to concentrate on the task at hand here in HK, where he really likes the energy, enthusiasm, proffessionalism and ambiance of the place. It is not easy starting something from the ground up, but if anyone can do it, Steve is THE man! So, we have full confidence in his success. I am just hoping it doesn't happen to quickly.. We are enjoying living here very much!

The kids are now involved in boating, sailing once a week each on different days, which is possibly the most convenient and easily accessible sport here. We can actually walk to the Sailing Club from home and they sail right in the bay in front of our building. The bay is beautiful, they are so lucky to have this opportunity. They both show promise, apparently - I can't follow them on the water - and were tagged for the racing team if they continue to train and improve. Very exciting.

Other sports are in place: Audrey plays soccer for HKIS and made the "D" grade team which is the select team that plays in local and international tournaments around the area. She is the only non HKIS student on the team which was picked out of all the players of the League, a selection of 16 girls out of 95. We are pretty proud. Practices twice weekly with games/tournaments on WE. Lots of soccer. But she is excited, so that is good. Aren't you proud of me Kim?

Grant is involved with the local Little League which is ran differently than in the US with teams of boys in the minors from 7 to 11 years old and therefore "kid pitch" and full on rules followed. Looks like he is being trained to be both pitcher and catcher - catcher being his favorite position and pitcher because the coach thinks he has a good arm. Practices Saturdays with games on Sundays against the local teams: Japanese little league, Korean little league, etc. Very interesting set-up, nice families, great coaches, lots of fun. He also continues his TaeKwonDo.

Both kids are set with their music teachers: Grant with Lieke who comes home to teach him piano and Audrey with Henry who she sees on Saturdays, and the French International School Orchestra for Wednesday afternoon practices - no school Wednesday afternoons in the French system.

French is improving DRAMATICALLY daily for both kids in total immersion, while Mandarin is coming along: Audrey has 6 hours per week at school while Grant is in the Wednesday afternoon program. So all in all, everyone is healthy, happy and BUSY!!!

Next up, a trip to Singapore next week for a long weekend, then the last week of October in Shanghai where I hope to connect with Valerie and Sarah, and the first week of November in Beijing to visit the Great Wall, celebrate Grant's birthday and the Fall Break!

Please keep in touch, we miss our Atlanta friends. Take care and back to you in October!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Steve's Birthday Down Under

I like to think of Australia as Texas on stereoids.. Of course, I have never been to Texas, so just think stereotyope here. HUGE country, long distances, the biggest, meanest crocodiles - not to be mistaken for our friendly/tame alligators (really?) - millions of birds, lots of Wallabies (where are the kangaroos?), water buffalos that can kill you if you get in their way - so NO running on your own Steve, I will be happy to follow you in a 4X4, no worries mate!..., the biggest termites mounts you have ever seen, the greatest number of things that can kill you from poisonous toads, to snakes, to the most inviting little orange berries: 4 hours, they tell us, you taste one of those growing along the road, and you are done for!

Thank goodness we had read Alan's "Australia for Dummies"!

This was the vacation of a lifetime, just as we hoped for. We first flew to Sidney where the temperatures were cool, requiring jeans, sweaters and a light wind breaker.. Heaven for the sweaty HongKongers that we have become. 2 days of touristing in Sidney was very enjoyable. We stayed at Circular Quay which was walking distance to The Rocks, the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens, and not far from Darling Harbour which were all very nice.

Thanks Diane for the recommendation! We had a great time.

We then flew to Cairns - pronounced Kains - then took a bus to Port Douglas, a charming tourist town, our base for snorkeling trips to the Great Barrier Reef.

The weather was perfect. But this being winter in Australia, the pool and ocean were a little on the chilly side, not helped by the north winds blowing. So a little cold for my taste but the Reef - in wetsuits - was fantastic. We also had dinner at a restaurant in Port Douglas called The Nautilus: if you ever find yourself there, you cannot miss that place. It was, very possibly, the most beautiful restaurant I have ever been to, and the food - French - was very good. The decor is worth the stop, you will just not believe it.

Finally after 4 days in Port Douglas, snorkeling, bicycling and fishing,we flew to Darwin where we were picked up the next morning by Sab Lord, our guide and host for the next 8 days.

There is no way that I will be able to convey how amazing this trip was, nor do the pictures do justice to the beauty and wilderness of the places we went. But here goes. Sab Lord - Lords Safaris - Kakadu National Park & ArnHemland - picked us up in his Toyota Land Trooper with custom made trailer carrying all the gear, food/drink, tents, camping stuff, towels (which we managed to loose one of, among other things (!..)) and everything you could possibly need for a week out in nowhere with no convenience store around.
We first drove to a nature interpretation center that described a little of the flora, fauna and habitats we would encounter while in Kakadu National Park. That's when we found out about the nice little orange killer berries growing in the parking lot!. We then took an Adelaide River cruise to see the famous jumping crocodiles.
The kids were very impressed - didn't need to be told twice to keep arms in the boat. These were 4-5 meters crocodiles! Neat.

We then drove - lots of driving in Australia! - south - I think - toward Sweet Water Creek Station for a 2 nights stay at Bamurru Lodge, a just amazing place. Very luxurious bush experience with permanent structures all solar powered, fantastic accommodations a nice infinity pool, wonderful staff and great food. This Lodge is located on a privately owed "station" the equivalent of a Texas ranch I would say, but 200,000 acres big! This is a water buffalo and cattle station on a wonderful flooded plain where airboat rides took us to fields of lotus flowers, water lilies and other flora that was incredible. Mangroves type of under woods and birds in so many species and numbers, it felt really incredible to be there. Picture yourself on an airboat (Skippy the Kangaroo TV show anyone?) with thousands of spooked egrets, ducks of several varieties and other birds just taking off right in front and sides of the boat. Something I won't forget. That was the best of Bamurru.

We then left with Sab for the less pampered portion of the trip - so I thought - but as it turns out, camping with Sab was a 5 star experience. Great campsites and tents, super beds and swags, and excellent food, all in the bush, all cooked over an open flame and all 3 course meals, including warm pies and ice cream. In the bush! Several nights of camping, several days of hiking in some of the most remote and beautiful places you would ever want to be in, with noone - not one tourist, other than us that is, but as Sab says: "There are tourists and then there are the Huyghes!"- around!

First camping night at Gunlum where an incredible pond with a high cliff and waterfall were the site of a scene in Crocodile Dundee. Next morning took us to Barramundi Gorge on an incredible hike..

We jumped off cliffs into pristine natural billabongs and swam from pool to pool, under waterfalls in waters we actually filled our water bottles from. THAT clean! Koolpin Gorge, for anyone interested, is worth the effort and the hike. Sab carried picnic lunches of meats and veggies, rolls and fruits in his backpack and set us up overlooking Grand Canyon-like places, like we were Royalty.

We continued on toward ArnHemLand and the Aboriginal community of Maningrida where we visited some fantastic caves covered in Aboriginal art dating as far back as 10,000 years. Our guide Nelson, an Aboriginal young man talked to us for several hours about his people, his culture, the life of today and the ceremonies boys still to this day must follow to become men. It was fascinating. We later spent the night at an Aboriginal lodge where we met Lea and Stuart, who showed us how to fish, cook, find materials to make spears for fishing, how to find the right roots to use for staining fibers, which fibers to use for baskets making, how to prepare and stain the fibers and so much more. A whole day with them, on their land, living like one of them. It was memorable, especially when Crocodile Dundee Sab decided to join Stuart and sample the local grub, a nice plump 3inch worm...

Not appetizing that was...

Overall a really nice trip, a memorable adventure. We were very lucky to happen upon Sab and Ann-Maree to prepare our Outback experience, and recommend their service to anyone in search of true experience in Australia's Northen Territories (

Next up, back in Hong Kong, more exploring, sailing camp and return to school! Keep in touch.