Thursday, October 11, 2012



September 12, 2012

I find myself reflecting on the past 28 months. Unbelievably, it has been that long since we left Atlanta to come to Hong Kong. Not exaggerating, it feels like we have been here maybe a year... Until you look at past entries in this blog and all we have done.

When we started talking of taking on this expat adventure, we had several goals: primarily we wanted our children to have the experience to live abroad, to be taken out of their comfort zone, to be put in a position to find out for themselves they would be fine in a new country, school, city. We have accomplished that: both kids have made great friends and have settled in well at school and in their respective other activities. There is no doubt they will both feel confident to go out and study, work and live anywhere in the world they choose to. They have been very adaptable, as children are. 

Another of the goals was to make sure we take full advantage of the experience and especially see as much as Asia as we could. I think we have done that. We have been to 14 countries and there are 4 more on the agenda this year. Our travels have given us a glimpse into the lives of the vast majority of the population of the globe; a life that is often different from our own in ways mostly materialistic, but much the same in all the ways that truly matter. People are people, no matter where you are. Their thoughts and customs shape their actions and reactions but most people have in common a caring and empathetic nature. There are fathers and mothers trying to do their best everywhere for their children. And, in this election season in the US, it is clear that there are politicians everywhere, all doing varying degrees of the same often self-serving "duty" to their country. This being more apparent in some places than others.The more we travel, the more we understand and are reminded that no matter where you go, people's thoughts, needs and wants are very much the same. It is fascinating. This month we will travel to Myanmar, a country that just recently opened up to foreigners and not very well "tourists" developed yet. We are very lucky to be able to visit there before the massive foreign investments predicted flood the place and change lives and customs forever.. I really wish we Westerners weren't so imperialistic still and so convinced our ways, our beliefs and our methods are the best, if not the only, way to go. What havoc we are often causing..

All our travels have made us realize that to travel is much more than to look and see, taste and smell. There is a French expression that says: "Les voyages forment la jeunesse"; literally translated this means "Travels form (or transform) youth". How true is that! To travel shapes who you are because it has a lasting and profound impact on how you see others, how you interpret their circumstances and it gives you a small insight in how it all fits together historically. As a result of travel, you are more tolerant, more patient, more open to others' views and opinions... More respectful as well, of their ways. To visit China or Cambodia or Vietnam or Myanmar is fascinating from a superficial point of view, but also exposes you to ancient civilizations, some of them thousands of years old (!); how they have survived, developed, migrated, maintained their traditions and identities, how they relate to the world.  And how we - and our part of the world - relates to the world as well. Travel is never done. You can return numerous times to the same places and learn, observe something new each time. It is the only way to widen the lens through which we see and understand our own life, our perspective and our environment. It is an indispensable requirement for growth.

This may be our last year in Asia, but I am a strong proponent of staying another year: I love living here, and there are so many other places to see and things to experience. I know that once we return to the US, life will revert back to how it was - albeit great! -, but opportunities to live and travel as we have here will not come again. To take that step will not be simplified by the fact that we have certainly changed. Our lives have changed because our perceptions have changed in many ways. And obviously, although I do look forward to returning home, and I know it will be great to see friends and family, I also realize things have remained mostly the same at home - as they should: babies were born, people got older, activities are the same, routines are pretty set, traditions continue.. Things will be just as they are now, a year from now.

These are challenging decisions brought on by different perspectives. Audrey wants to go back to be with her best friend... Although we all know that 5 minutes after they reunite, it will be as if they were never separated.. Grant is happy go lucky, satisfied to stay or go. He is easy still. Steve has his eye on reduced responsibility, more freedom, less constraints brought on by running a business and caring for its people... I love living abroad and experiencing different people, foods, places and customs. I love that my kids are safe here and that I don't have the constant worry in the back of my mind that some harm may come to them. I love that they have so much freedom. And I will really miss the Chinese people who are by and large very caring, welcoming, helpful, mindful, considerate and so conscientious.

The spring should bring the answers and a decision should be made. Re-admissions at AIS are required, lease termination at both ends and move planning.. Let's see! In the meantime, I try to enjoy every minute and to remind everyone that there is definitely less time ahead than behind us.. So if anyone is following this, stay tuned.

We had a great summer. Another goal when we decided to take on this Asian post, was to promote Chinese cultural understanding in our family and a better knowledge of Mandarin in the children. To that end, we have traveled to China 8 or 9 times in the past 28 months and this summer we spent 4 weeks there, 3 of them in a Mandarin camp in Shanghai. What was to be a great learning experience for the kids was also surprisingly good for me! I enrolled in classes alongside the kids and my Mandarin is coming along great. I have enrolled this fall at Hong Kong University to continue my acquisition of the language. We took this opportunity to take sightseeing tours around Shanghai getting to know the city well, and in the surrounding areas: Hangzhou was a favorite weekend outing and we also loved Jiuzhaigou, a small water town close to Shanghai.

After our camp stay, Steve joined us and we traveled to Xinjiang: the westernmost province of China in the north, close to the border of Kazakhstan, where we visited the desert oases of Dunhuang and Turpan.  What an interesting surprise! We met Uyghurs and Kazakhs; Uyghurs are an important minority of Chinese people whose ancestry is mainly Mediterranean, making them generally look like their Turkish ancestors and follow much of the same customs: they are mostly Muslims, eat kebabs and flat bread, enjoy belly dancing shows. The Kazakhs just spilled over the border but also descend from the Mongols and are nomads who live in Yurts (or Gers - round Mongolian tents).  We rode camels in the Taklamakan Desert, climbed sand dunes, visited caves dating back to the 4th century at a Unesco World Heritage Site: The Mogao Caves. It was a great adventure. Who knew you would find big round green eyed Chinese people? This area sits at the westernmost end of the Great Wall of China and the western beginning of the Silk Road into China and so it was part of the historical Silk Road. It is difficult to imagine the plight of the monks and traders who traveled that route thousand of years ago. Highly recommended for those looking for new destinations in China. A beautiful, dry and rugged part of this huge and ethnically varied country.

This fall, Audrey and I decided to get our Scuba diving certification. It has been a fun challenge and we can now add diving to our travels. We both enjoyed it and will continue our training with a night dive in November. I had no idea that Hong Kong has more coral varieties than the Caribbean! Surely not the same visibility though.. But regardless we had a average of 10 meters visibility, not bad, and saw lots of beautiful fish and corals. Really fun.

Grant meanwhile has been wake boarding and is getting really good at it,  and Steve got certified to be an official Baseball Umpire! Our ex-neighbors and friends Colleen George and her mom Jamie are visiting this week for Colleen's Fall break. The girls are planning a charity sale to benefit "Green Shelter Boxes" a UK non profit organization that donates thousands of shelter boxes to refugees and people in need after natural disasters, political turmoil, etc. The boxes contain everything to provide shelter and warmth and to be able to prepare food, for a family in need. I am proud of them for reaching out to those in need and taking that initiative. I had nothing to do with it! - although I have my weekend cutout for me carrying all the stuff for the sale around...

So we are back into soccer and baseball seasons, this year the kids are also much more involved with scouting which, in Hong Kong, is a real treat with lots of hiking/camping, endurance and hardship activities. Audrey is now APL (Assistant Patrol Leader) with her eye on her PL (Patrol Leader) moving up to Ventures soon... Great responsibility of 5 or 6 younger scouts, especially during camps and service activities. Grant just joined another scouts group and loves the challenges.

It is hiking season again with gorgeous temperatures in the mid to low 80s, no humidity, bright blue skies. The best time in Hong Kong for sure!

Hard to beat view! Gorgeous Hong Kong..

1 comment:

  1. Natalie, I love your blog and really understand your love of travel and getting to visit other cultures! I want to see so many more places! We are going to be in Hong Kong in July - around the 15th-18th and would love to see you. Will you all be there then? It will be me, Gerry, Anna and her best friend Christina. We will be traveling through China and Japan for three weeks. I have never been to China and am really looking forward to it! Keep up your blog! It is wonderful! Also, please email me at to let me know if we can plan a time to see you while we are there - for dinner or lunch. Thanks! Patty Hull