Friday, September 29, 2006

Stanley: Shopping and Sand

We are all trying to get a fix on where we are. Roycie commonly says “I went to sleep and woke up in Hong Kong!” Which is probably pretty much what it feels like to her except of course for the fact that she did not sleep on the 14 hour flight! Our apartment complex here is called the Manhattan. Adam will drop the “the”, saying “we in Manhattan!” with great joy which perhaps makes us sound quite confused as well. No matter how disorientated we are, it is hard to miss that it is lovely here and that it is indeed beach living. We now know that we are on the south side of Hong Kong Island, about one mile north of Stanley, a small beach town. And we know we can get there via our handy Manhattan shuttle leaving every 20 minutes.

From what I gather reading signs around town, Stanley was the first administrative headquarters for the British after annexation of Hong Kong in 1842. Later the headquarters were moved to what is now Central (where Phil works). Stanley is also where a British division was defeated during the Japanese invasion in 1941. We have wandered through a Tin Hau (Goddess of Heaven and protector of seafarers) Temple built in the 1760’s, minutes from the front door of our grocery store! The temple has an open sun roof in the entrance way. On one grey day, the rain streamed through the roof, while passing folk walked around the square of rain and kneeled to pray. In the temple we saw a large tiger pelt displayed on the wall, apparently shot by British officer in 1940 as it wandered around Stanley. I think the pelt was kept due to its large size, not due to the surprise of a tiger in Stanley. We had to leave abruptly then as the kids were making impolite- to say the least- faces and noises about the extreme incense smell in the temple!

To my mind, at least in these early days, Stanley appears to be pretty evenly divided into shopping and sand. The Stanley Market, a large meandering open air market is the heart of the shopping. Lots of trinkets, silk, knock offs and to our extreme delight princess dress-up clothes. We love to wander around see what is going on and think about what we might buy for friends’ at home once we figure out the post office. Also in Stanley we have a large grocery store, a McDonalds and a good toy store- all of which get plenty of business from us. The open air market is frequented by tourists, including many huge tourist buses from mainland China. As both blonde hair and boy-girl twins are thought to be good luck there, we get lots of attention. At first the kids were a bit scared and shy when patted or touched by strangers. Now I notice all three are hamming it up for whatever tourist happens their way. So far we have been photographed with police, college girls and storekeepers.

The best part of Stanley for us is the beaches. We love Stanley Main Beach, which is an easy walk from our shuttle bus stop. A good sandy beach with great facilities, including showers, locker room, and snack bar. We commonly share the beach with just a handful of beachgoers and lots and lots of beach lifeguards, To Adam’s delight, the lifeguards not only rake the sand but also drive a beach vehicle for sweeping and cleaning hourly. Not to my delight is the shark net, clearly described and marked at the beach. The signage lets you know that sharks could slip through the net at which time a warning flag (with a red shark fin) will be flown. While there have not been shark sightings in recent years, I check the flag pretty frequently throughout our beach day! The water is clean and warm and already many afternoons have been spent playing in the sand and wondering how we ended up on a beach in Hong Kong.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Moving on up: Our apartment in the sky

When we heard we were moving to Hong Kong, we thought great! The adventure, the language, the culture, the food. And then- full stop- we hit the idea of high rise living. With three kids, including two year old twins. With little people who don’t fully reason, who climb trees, who are competitive dare- devils, who think they are invincible in princess dress up clothes and batman capes. I really could not get beyond this despite the well-intentioned and well- reasoned advice of friends. We pored over the internet, looking at photos of our soon to be home on the 22nd floor. It just did not make sense. Even disregarding the height safety issues, what about the stuff? The kids’stuff, the schlepping of backpacks and toys, not to mention the groceries?

Well, after months of worry, we are here on the 22nd floor in the E block of the Manhattan high rise apartment complex. And shockingly it is fine. Thanks to Phils’ office, we have a balcony that is padlocked shut and “grills” on all windows that open. Plus another little device that allows the windows to only open an inch or two. (With all this on the windows, I still can’t bear to think about them too long. They remain windows on the 22nd floor with no screens!) Honestly it is fine and I am not sure how. Besides the safety devices, I think in part we are so high that it is a bit surreal. Also the view out the windows is spectacular. All ocean and islands and pirate ships on one side and lush green vegetation on the other.

And lugging stuff is a non- issue. Since you are not heading out to a car (we take buses or taxis everywhere), you automatically take less. And grocery stores, in fact most stores of any kind including Toys R Us, deliver to your door. You can go into the grocery store spend hundreds of dollars and walk out with a small bag of perishables. The rest to be delivered to your home a few hours later. Home delivery is so shocking and great to new comers it deserves to be in the Hong Kong promotional material.

To date our biggest issue with high rise living is who will push the elevator buttons. Luckily, the kids quickly devised their own system. On a rotating basis, each kid gets to push the buttons for the entire day. As we put on our shoes to head out, we recap who is in control that day and we are off. Not quickly off as we usually have to stop on a couple floors just to have a look around but off nonetheless.