Thursday, December 1, 2011

The best of Summer and Fall 2011..

Sai Kung Tai Long Wan Beach

I love fall. It's my favorite season. Even in Hong Kong where changes of temps are not so dramatic, fall is distinctively more comfortable than summer. The humidity is down and the skies are clear. It really is a great time of year! And the hiking! Every year I am amazed at the beauty of this area. A fantastic hike 2 weeks ago along the beaches of Sai Kung was just an absolute joy.

We ended the summer vacation with a treat: we hired The Huan, a 90ft traditional Chinese junk (sailboat) and went on a 3 day cruise around HK islands. There are 260 islands around HK, many of which are uninhabited and only accessible by boat. Some of them have incredible geological formations and are protected under the "Geoparks" cultural and natural heritage laws. The cruise gave us a chance to visit some of them and swim at every stop. The water, once away from the Victoria Harbour area, is warm, clear and fantastic! The kids took every opportunity to jump off the sides. It was really nice. At night, we watched movies on the main sail under the stars "Swiss Family Robinson" and "treasure Island": you do have to keep with the ambiance! And we stargazed and slept under the stars. It was a weekend to remember!

For my birthday at the beginning of September, we took a short trip to the Guilin - Yangshuo and Longshen areas where we biked and hiked around some amazing Chinese landscapes. The rices terraces here were just amazing, the Karst mountains so beautiful and I loved visiting the small villages only accessible by foot. The kids were great walking one day 20+km! It was a really nice trip. The more we see of China, the more we love it. It is such a beautiful country, the people are so warm and welcoming, the food is fantastic (really!) and the opportunity for outdoor activities are endless. Each region is different from the other, there will never be enough time to see it all. But if you have an opportunity, stay away from the big cities of Shanghai and Beijing and visit Lijiang, Shangri-La, Yangshuo, Longshen, Chengdu! All super.

School started back and the kids this year are really well settled in the French system, the routine, the studying. Audrey no longer has language problems and stays consistently above average in everything which is such an accomplishment and Grant is "native" now, I even regularly have to remind him to speak English when his father is there.. Who would have thought! Grant was elected class representative by his class mates. He is quite the social butterfly. Audrey, "discreet" is what they call her here, quiet is what I say (!) as ever, concentrates on sports. Her soccer team has yet to loose a game this year; they have won every tournament they have entered. She also started long distance, cross country running, which here is quite an event with ups and downs of typically more than 2000ft each race. She placed 10th in her first race of 170 girls, and she was the youngest. The only one in her school to place (first 10 were medalled).

Both kids have joined the scouts - a mixed troup that includes boys and girls from 8 to 18 years old. The troup is subdivided into Cubs, Scouts and Eagles, but meetings are common. Camps are regular almost monthly, last weekend was Audrey's whose scouts group hiked up Sunset Peak (really tough 3 hour walk uphill) with HUGE backpacks, carrying everything from tents to food. Grant's overnight is this weekend. He just turned 10 (!) I can't believe it! So all in all the kids are well and super busy. It is a joy to see how well adapted they are to life abroad.

Steve and I continue to enjoy living here as well. Steve's business is developing by leaps and bounds, hiring new staff and picking new projects from Lebanon to China. Australia seems to be next in his sights. He does not travel much away from Hong Kong and enjoys having more time with the family. He even became assistant coach of Grant's baseball team! From what I gather, it is frustrating but a fun time with Grant..

I continue to keep everyone and everything busy and organized - which seems to take most of my time. Charitable Donations season starts in earnest after Chinese New Year in January, so I am enjoying the still relatively quiet time with my work. I have gotten into following some heritage festivals which have been great fun and a nice way to better understand the local culture. It is fascinating history dating so far back.

My father and Ginette visited for 6 weeks during which time we went to Bali, Indonesia. We spent a week in Ubud which must be one of the most beautiful and spiritual places on earth. It was great. Than a few days in Lombok which did not turn out so fine, but an experience nevertheless! We saw (again!) every tourist spot in Hong Kong and some not so touristy.. They had enough time to see a lot of Hong Kong and enjoyed the diversity of our new life.

We all look forward to our camping and hiking trip to New Zealand for Christmas, we will hike the Milford Track of Milford Sound, South island. Can't wait! Then my sister visits for New Year with her busband and daughter. Some more touristing on the books then! But seriously, there is so much to do and see in Hong Kong, it is always fun to take visitors around. Do consider coming to visit! You will have a great time. Here's an endorsement!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer 2011, Xi'An, Friends, Hong Kong's Best!!

Xi'An's Terra Cotta Army, Xi'An Shaanxi Province, China

June marked the end of the school year, departure of our much loved neighbor Colleen and her family, the end of soccer and baseball seasons and beginning of summer!

To celebrate a successful academic year, we went for a long weekend to Xi'An, first capital of the Chinese Empire and home of the Terra Cotta Warriors Army. It was a great weekend to learn much about the history of China and get a little more immersed in the traditions and life of the locals. We rented an appartment from a Chinese family and spent the weekend in a local community, visited the Cave Dwellers and Peasant Farmers. Who knew that 30 million Chinese people - in the Shaanxi province alone! - have been and still live in caves... Generations of families live in these naturally air conditioned dwellings since centuries. It was fascinating. We also travelled a day a few hours away from the tourist center of Xi'An to beautiful countryside of agriculture and small villages to visit a peasant painter: Li Fenglan whose art survived the Cultural Revolution and whose enthusiasm and joy of life was infectuous. She loved seeing the children: typically only adult groups venture this far into the countryside. So she whipped up a painting for them of two chicks and lychees.. Her husband was adamant it would be worth millions (of Yuans) after her death!... Resulting in a small donation on our part of course. But what fun that was in any case.

The rest of the summer went by in a flash with Lara Zaller from Atlanta's AIS, and her family spending a weekend with us, Natalie Caron, my Montreal college rommate visiting for a couple of days and Marie-Claude, my Ministry of Tourism co-worker and long time friend spending 10 days with us. Thanks to them, we re-visited most of Hong Kong's great sites and re-discovered how much this place has to offer. It was exhausting and fun.

Hong Kong at night during the Symphony of Lights - from Avenue of the Stars!

The kids have kept busy with Surf Camp, Adventure Camp and Baseball Camps. We are still planning a visit to Ocean Park and maybe HK Disneyland which we have not visited yet, before school starts September 2nd. Also trying to find a local cruise of the HK outlying islands for a couple days in August.

It is life as usual at the Huyghes, looking forward to September and a short biking trip to Guilin/Yongshuan on the River Li.

Thinking of all, keep in touch!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Save The Japanese Children victim of the Tsunami fundraiser, Easter in Yunnan hiking, May in Mongolia discovering!

Black Dragon Pool at Snow Dragon Mountains, Lijiang, China

The adventures continue. After looking so much forward to our Japan trip for Audrey's 12th birthday, the unfortunate events of early March caused us to reconsider and adjust our vacation plans. Japan will be for next year, hopefully. The kids were so touched by the plight of the Japanese people, they organized a huge neighborhood collection of toys, books and cakes/cookies and set up shop two consecutive Sundays on the residence playground. Their efforts resulted in raising over HK$8000 (over $1000USD!!!) which we donated to Save The Children - Japan Tsunami Relief. We are so proud of them, their empathy and industriousness. This was a huge undertaking, collecting items for weeks and then dedicating two full weekends to sorting, fixing, tagging, and selling. They are great!

We spent Easter Holidays in Yunnan Province, Southwest of Hong Kong. Yunnan, which means Clouds of the South, is bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar as well as Tibet to the northwest. It has the most concentration of ethnic groups in China with Han, Yi, Naxi and Tibetan among those we met.
We flew to Lijiang - the capital of the Naxi Kingdom where women are the man of the house while the men are responsible only for intellectual endeavours (imagine that) - a beautiful town set in a valley with huge snow capped mountains as a backdrop, and Unesco World Heritage site. Lijiang's Old Town where we stayed is a labyrinth of cobbled alleys lined with wooden houses, cafes, shops and art galeries of traditional craftsmen. Irrigation channels line every street with little wood or stone bridges everywhere adding to the charm of the town.

After a wonderful few days in Lijiang, we took off for a 2 day hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge.
The trek goes through one of China's deepest gorges, supposedly named after a tiger escaped hunters by leaping at its narrowest point . With peaks on either side reaching an average of 13,000ft (4000m) the gorge is very impressive and the 26km trek very exciting. We stayed the night in a mountain lodge called Old TeaHorse Guesthouse and continued on the next day toward Zhongdian, also known as "Shangri-La". This town, located at about 10,000ft in altitude is as close as you are going to get to Tibet, while not actually crossing the border. It was immortalized in James Hilton's novel "Lost Horizon". It has the largest Tibetan Monastery in the SouthWest: Ganden Sumtseling Gompa which is home to over 600 monks. It was built 400 years ago by the 5th Dalai Lama. The scenery was breathtaking and the cold temperatures (2C in the morning) awesome. The food was excellent and our hotel was absolutely beautiful. The kids had a blast just running around the grounds.

In May, I joined 15 other ladies and traveled to Mongolia for a week. I had always wanted to see but wasn't sure it would be an appropriate family vacation spot. Actually, Mongolia would be great with kids, but only if you flew from one place to the other, the distance and the scope of everything is so vast.

Why Mongolia? The very name conjures up visions of nomads, camels, horses, and of course the most famous Mongolian of all: Genghis Khan (or Chinggis Khaan as his name is transcribed in Mongolia).

First stop was Ulan Batar, the capital city of Mongolia. With a population of just over one million it is the largest city in the country. We boarded a comfortable bus for a 2-hour drive outside the city to our first Ger Camp experience in a national park. Gers are the Mongolian equivalent of the American Indian teepee—a portable tent that can be put together (and taken down) between thirty and sixty minutes. After checking in, we were treated to a small version of the Mongolian Naadam Festival, which is a huge national sporting and cultural festival held in July every year. The main activities of the festival are archery, horseback riding, and Mongolian wrestling (the style is similar to Japanese Sumo, though the participants are of normal size). After the festival we took part in a special Mongolian meal called “Khorkhog” which is meat (usually mutton) cooked in hot stones and served with potatoes and other vegetables.

The following day we toured the Ulan Batar area which included the famous 28-meter monument of Chinggiss Khaan made of stainless steel, a history museum, and the winter palace of the last Mongolian King.

From Day 4 through Day 7, we traveled west and south in Toyota Land Cruisers, first traveling to Karakorum the ancient capital of the Mongol empire where Chinggiss Khaan launched his cavalry that eventually conquered half of the European world. We then continued on through the Gobi Desert. Our “highways” were dirt tracks where we viewed some of the most unique terrain in the world with very few sightings of any other human beings. The landscape included scrub, sand dunes, and red cliffs. We passed flocks of sheep, herds of goats and camels, and an occasional sighting of a lone horseman keeping a watchful eye on his livestock. We stopped to visit a local nomadic family and learned more about this particularly harsh way of life. Many of us were surprised to learn that this nomadic way of life, despite urbanization, lives on in Mongolia.

On our visit to a “camel camp” where we rode camels through the desert, we happened on a live birth of a baby camel! What an incredible experience. It was like an episode of “Animal Planet.”

We ended our trip with a wonderful, though bitterly cold, trek in a mountain canyon to view a glacier, followed by a local flight back to Ulan Batar in the afternoon from Dalanzadgad. (Our pilot, we found out, was from Connecticut!) That evening we were treated to a lively Mongolian folk show and a farewell dinner of the real “Mongolian BBQ” to complete our whirlwind week. We all felt as if we had traveled back in time to a much simpler, though rugged, way of life. I have renewed respect for hot showers and flushing toilets!