Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Fall 2010, Embracing the expat life in Asia!
In any case, the fall has been pretty busy. The kids have well settled into school and after school activities. Each are getting satisfactory results, given the new system and the language acquisition they have to surmount. They have established themselves with their teachers as serious students who work hard and will do well in time. I guess that is as good as we can expect, 3 months in the school year.
Sports activities are fun, exciting and challenging for both kids and music lessons are going on with great progress. So overall, they are set and comfortable, I think they are starting to even feel at home in HK. Grant had his 9th birthday party and invited his 9 best buddies; all very nice boys. Audrey and her 3 best friends organized and managed the party. They are definitely well settled.
We had the opportunity to do some traveling as well; we went to Singapore for the fall break in September. Hooked up one afternoon with the Zallers, who lived in Atlanta and whose boys Luc and Leo went to AIS. The kids were happy to reconnect with old friends and had a great time. Steve, Lara, Tom and I had a nice dinner by the river and a nice river cruise while the kids played. We found Singapore to be very clean - figures! - and people to be very friendly, especially the cab drivers, who are all instant tourists guides! They must all go to the same "Welcome to Singapore" school because they are all - without exception! - very informative, outgoing and helpful. Quite different from the Hong Kong cabs where you are lucky if they speak English and are VERY discreet (I am being very politically correct here). We visited Little India under the rain, Arab Street for dinner was the best, we went to the Bird Park - highly recommended - the Night Zoo, The Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands. We had our first ever Fish Spa, which I loved and Steve enjoyed while the kids were literally tickled to death!
In October - lucky us! - we went on our first trip to China. We started in Shanghai, followed by the Wild Wall and finally Beijing and Mutianyu. Shanghai was fantastic. There was not enough time to get together with the Shepherds nor the Hansens, but we did talk. So many things to see and do in Shanghai, it was just very nice. Once you got used to the driving, that is! Never, ever heard so much honking (well actually... until we got to Beijing, but OK). It appears there are two reasons for this: 1- honking replaces direction signals (flickers) and so is used at every lane change, every turn, etc., by everyone. 2- bicycles include pretty much everything with less than 4 wheels: scooters, motorcycles, 3 wheel tricycles, rickshaws, you name it. And ALL of them have bells, horns, etc., and ALL are exempt from any road/traffic rules. They are everywhere, in and out of traffic, crossing on any
light, driving on the sidewalks...It is crazy, dangerous and noisy! No wonder expats packages come with drivers.
Shanghai was great fun. We walked through some great neighborhoods such as the French Concession and Old Shanghai. Went throught the Yuyuan Gardens - just so beautiful - Xintianti and The Bund. We had a nice day to Tongli, an ancient water village where we experienced a true tea ceremony. We went to the Pearl TV Tower where the kids were at first curious, later annoyed at their star quality: it is not every day some Chinese people see "golden" hair and they love to take pictures of themselves with either or both of the children, sometimes quite forcefully! With cameras, with cell phones, all the while talking and laughing in Mandarin so we have no idea what this is all about. Very funny.
On Halloween weekend, we flew to Beijing and traveled about 2 hours north of Beijing to a small village where William Lindesay and his wife Chi and sons Tommy and Jimmy welcomed us into their school house-turned into a hostel home. The temperatures north of Beijing were very cold (-2C at night), and the Barracks are not heated... So we thankfully were well prepared and very cosy in our huge family bed.. Up at 5AM Saturday and Sunday mornings for 12 to 15km hikes up the mountain to the wild wall - unrestored sections of the Great Wall of China, where we hiked as the sun came up and the land warmed up. It was magical. The very best way to experience the wall. William is one of the most well known and recognized proponents of the Conservation movement of the Wall and a great historian. Staying with him and his family, hiking the wall away from any tourist - this particular section was actually closed to tourists - the cool but gloriously beautiful weather, the fantastic home cooked foods and the exciting, interesting lecture on the history of the wall, just made for a fantastic weekend. The kids even got to carve a pumpkin, a very sensitive touch from Chi. (http://www.wildwall.com/home.htm) Call William if you ever find yourself in the Beijing area with a weekend free and want to see the wall.
On Sunday, we traveled back to Beijing where we spent the next 4 days visiting all the sights: Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Lama Temple and so much more. We stayed in a Hutong Hotel: a kind of courtyard style house, had Peking Duck one night and a HotPot another.
Talked with our good friend Dal - who for those curious, is loving Beijing and The Beijing International School.
Then an overnight in Mutianyu - what can be described as a "civilized" trip to the "civilized wall" with chair lifts to the wall and toboggan slides all the way down! Kids loved it. And it was nice to see both aspects of the wall.
This was a trip we were very much looking forward to. We expected to find austerity and greyness from years of communism but instead found vibrant cities, beautifully kept, lots of parks and green spaces, very modern. Friendly people, open and welcoming. Great food and incredible history. Of course, when you talk to people, you can feel the effects of the regime: our young guide's conversation was fascinating when overlaid with our historical perspective and different knowledge of certain events. It is apparent that most people are frugal and take care of each other: grandparents coming home with children is a common sights while mom and dad are at work! Materialism may be up and coming in some Chinese circles, but the vast majority of Chinese seem to live happily on very little, in tiny houses/apartments taking care of grandma and grandpa and vice versa. It was great. Steve, who had only been to Shanghai on business, found a completely different city and got a much better appreciation for this great place. We will go back, China is huge and there are many, many places to visit. The biggest problem is to choose and find the time to do it all. We want to discover new places away from tourists areas, this was a must trip to the well known China. Next, we will venture in less known places. But first, I have to get the kids to like Dim Sum!
As we return to Hong Kong in November, temperatures are dropping - in the teens and low 20sC now - beautiful blue skies, low humidity, just the best time of year. Hiking season is here and we are taking every opportunity between baseball and soccer practices and matches, to enjoy the thousands of forest and mountain trails around the island. You would not believe how much green space is here. My thoughts of HK before getting here was of a huge city full of skyscrapers..And it is! But 85% of the island and territories is actually undeveloped green space, and full of trails of all levels of difficulty. It is the best! Did anyone know hiking is my #1 favorite thing to do? Always has been. I am in hikers paradise here. It is fabulous.
Thanksgiving is upon us, we are invited to our neighbors for a traditional feast. They have invited many US and Chinese families, it will be our very first huge Thanksgiving gathering: we typically celebrate with only family on Fripp. We will miss Santa's arrival on the Firetruck and Mrs Elf!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!