Wednesday, February 9, 2011
We welcome 2011 in China with the Chinese New Year. This is a BIG deal here and a 15 days (!?!) celebration culminating in the Lanterns Festival on the 15th day. There are lights, lanterns and decorations everywhere. Peach blossom trees are in the lobbies of every building and at our residence, with Lay See - the little red envelops with small change inside hanging from the limbs. There are kumquats plants full of a mandarin orange looking small fruit that is apparently edible, every where, in every home. It is very festive. This Saturday, we are going to a New Year Carnival with traditional lion dances, Kung Fu, Fan dances and arts and crafts. It is definitely a HUGE event. So Happy Year of the Rabbit to all, health and prosperity and may you live a 100 years! (Sounds great in Mandarin..)
It is life as usual in the Huyghes' home in HK as it would be anywhere else. Not enough going on to justify a blog that is anything but regular, everyday - not to say mundane - stuff. Except for the trips we are taking which are the definite perk of living here. One hour flight, and you are in another world. So I realize it sounds like we are traveling a lot, but this WAS the goal when we decided to go on this adventure. So we are taking every opportunity!
As a result, this year we celebrated the traditional Christmas Holiday in Malaysia. We traveled via Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi, a small island north of Penang, close to the Thailand border. There we spent a week at Bon Ton Resort, a unique resort where the owners have a passion for finding, moving and restoring authentic traditional Malay homes. Bon Ton is also a rescue center for cats - the island must have millions of them on the streets - and so it was truly paradise for the kids who loved the cats coming in the house and playing with them.
We had lots of fun in Langkawi going Canopy Trekking, Kayaking in the mangroves and island hopping. It was a nice beach vacation. We then flew to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo for a river safari on the Kinabatangan River. This was a very fun part of our vacation, searching for orang outans proboscis monkeys and hornbills.. We visited the bird's nest soup cave, went jungle trekking and saw Pigmy Elephant tracks - no elephants though! - the
Borneo nature is beautiful and unspoiled. It was great and we saw no leeches! Everyone was eager to point out we would probably be bled to death, but no, actually only 1 tiny little leach. So take it from me, no worries, you are perfectly safe from leeches in Borneo!
Back home in Hong Kong to fantastic weather, great hiking season. So we are spending our weekends up and down mountain trails, in between soccer and baseball. The kids have had much better success in school this second trimester with results that would be very respectable for natives and lifers of the French system, so doubly impressive for these non-native foreigners. Audrey still struggles a little with the French, 6th grade level has moved beyond the basics of the language to now explore literature and the mechanics of composition and redaction. So very difficult transition for her and some catching up to do with language basics. Otherwise, on the school front, sports and music, all is well under the tropics!
We decided to spend Chinese New Year school Holiday in Vietnam, where the celebrations are similar but called the TET celebrations. We traveled to Hanoi and then Halong Bay which were cold but fantastic, followed by an interesting - first and last for Steve - overnight train ride to Hue, the ancient Imperial Capital of Vietnam. A couple of days in Hue, then Hoi An: possibly the best place we have been in Asia on vacation. Great old town untouched by any bombings of any wars, great beach, amazing food and restaurants, super shopping and just gorgeous scenery and historical/UNESCO World Heritage sites. I am not much of a shopper, Steve might disagree!, but if I were, Hoi An would be dangerous with the numerous tailors and silk and other fabric shops that can whip up any outfit, from a magazine photo or otherwise, in less than 24 hours, alterations and fittings included, all at incredibly cheap prices! I'll bet anything Ralph Lauren goes there.. I did see some place where they will stitch any logo you want on the clothes..
This trip was also very enlightening as we had the luck of the draw to be accompanied by a Vietnam War veteran who served in the South Vietnamese Air Force, trained by US forces. It was very interesting to hear all his bits and pieces about the war, what lead to it and how it unfolded. Especially for Steve whose many friends where right there then. We got a great book on Mr. Chuong's recommendation about the history of Vietnam to gain a much better understanding of the history of the times, the politics involved and the overall tragedy - we concluded - of this conflict. In any case, it was a great trip, our favorite place in Asia so far. If you want to go to Vietnam, now is the time: there are hundreds of new hotel/resorts and the like, planned all along the eastern shore..