Sunday, December 31, 2006

Lost in cyberspace

Slowly, we are getting back into the swing of normal life here. Recovering not only from the holidays but also from cyperspace chaos. Taiwan’s Christmas day earthquake, in addition to loss of life and property over there, knocked out six out of the seven submarine telecommunications cables that link Asia with North America. At first when we could not get on-line (or make phone calls as our international phone service is linked to the computer),we thought it was just a temporary problem in our building. Slowly, we all learned this lack of Internet was a regional problem. Boats were dispatched to the site of the cable problem and things looked grim. Now, five days later, the Internet is somehow back up and running, re-routed through different routes.

Connectivity aside, we had a nice Christmas here with all the usual trappings; a Nutcracker performance, Christmas Eve services and of course a tree. The tree came to us in typical Hong Kong pre-earthquake Internet fashion. I sent an email inquiry to a suggested Christmas tree farm in November and never heard anything back. Phil and I were just starting to look into the various venues to get a tree, when I heard back from the original tree source. ( IKEA offers a decent tree for about $50 USD, which is pretty good price in the States and definitely a good price here). The email said our tree would be delivered the next day at 3pm. Not sure what to expect, we got a beautiful nine foot Scottish pine the very next day. And the tree came with no discussion of price. I figure the tree guys know that people with three excited little kids, dazzled by the tree are probably good for the money at some point, even if that point is January.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Endless Summer

After six months of almost daily swimming (2 months in the states and 4 months here), we thought our extended summer of swimming was finally coming to a close. The pool across the street at the American Club was scheduled to close for winter on December 4. Our apartment building’s unheated pool closed in early November. But no, the management decided that with daily temperatures still in the 70's, they would keep their well heated pool open. Though we are the only ones swimming, and people, wearing coats and scarves, stare at us in shock, we are enjoying this endless summer.

Right across the street from our apartment building, between us and the water, is the American Club and our favorite pool. The American Club, around since 1925, is one of Hong Kong’s largest private clubs. It has restaurants, various fitness venues, a spa, and classes of all kinds for kids and adults. (This is where the kids and I take Mandarin and where Tori takes ballet). But its main attraction for us and for many is a small patchy section of lawn and a kids playroom called the Eagle’s Nest. Our kids love to run around on this lawn (maybe the size of three large-ish front lawns in the states) and kick a ball and yell. While I am all for green space, this lawn is really quite ragged, with dinner tables encroaching out on to it during the weekends. It is really not the most wonderful of lawns but points to how space is really limited and loved here.

The Eagle’s Nest, an indoor playground, also speaks to lack of space but is the polar opposite of the patchy pockmarked lawn. The Eagle’s Nest is sort of like a huge McDonald’s play area times ten and with a staff monitoring, cleaning and playing. And without the safety measures of an American playground. There is a slide in the Eagle’s Nest that is literally a straight drop down of about 15 feet that then bottoms out into a ball pit. All of our kids have done it and love it. I am finally at the stage where I can watch them and smile as they free fall. While I would prefer just a walk around our apartment complex, we do hit the Eagle’s Nest weekly, primarily just to hear Royce’s Eagle’s Nest joke which she tells every time we go: "Do you want to hear something funny? There are no eggs in the Eagle’s Nest!"

Friday, December 08, 2006

St. Stephen's Christmas Fete

It really sunk in that we were in Hong Kong this month. Not when we understood a tiny bit of Chinese on the street or walked through an ancient temple but when we saw Santa arrive via helicopter at a Christmas party. Not only did Santa fly in from Central, circling all of us waiting for him on a local sports field a couple times, but he disembarked and drove off to "Santa’s Grotto" in a red convertible Jaguar. Of course, Hong Kong is very affluent and fashion forward but I didn’t realize Santa Claus was too. It is not necessarily a bad thing. Now every time a helicopter flies overhead, the kids look up at Santa and lots of good behavior starts at once.

Our Hong Kong/Santa moment actually happened at our local church, St. Stephen’s, Christmas fete. This fall we quickly found the small Anglican St. Stephen's Chapel, which is minutes away from our apartment and beautifully located on the grounds of St. Stephen’s College. The beautiful location belies a much uglier past. St. Stephen’s Chapel was built in 1949 in remembrance of those who suffered and died when the College itself was part of the Stanley Internment Camp. During World War II, one of the worst attrocites of the final battle of Hong Kong occurred on the grounds of St. Stephen’s. On Christmas Day 1941, 65 doctors, nurses and patients were killed there as the entire area of Stanley surrendered to the Japanese. Over the next four years of the war, Allied civilians were interred at the Stanley Camp.

In spite of or because of all this history, St. Stephen’s is a beautiful calm spot for reflection, with lush greenery all around and views of the South China Sea. There are lovely stain glass windows in the church as well as local art. One paintings shows a Chinese Jesus surrounded by Chinese children. On our first day there, all our kids were staring at this picture during the service and I was anticipating a question about Jesus. Instead, the whole thing became rather introverted and someone said something like oh, so Jesus loves Chinese kids too?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Disneyland Hong Kong

Last February, when we knew with some degree of certainty that we were moving to Hong Kong, we decided to take the kids to Disneyland while visiting my family in California. It seemed like an appropriate Americana type gesture. My brother kindly contacted his friend, who contacted his brother, a Disneyland employee, who got us all into Disneyland for free. While we were explaining our motives for the trip, my brother’s friend’s brother told us that Disneyland had opened in Hong Kong a few months ago. This new Disneyland quickly became the central aspect of our marketing campaign aimed at convincing three little people that Hong Kong was where they wanted to be.

It worked and along the way we became convinced too. So convinced that we are all now Disneyland Hong Kong annual pass members and starting to get familiar with the shows and the character breakfasts. Recently, we all went together, the first time all five of us were there in mass and the rightness of the annual pass became clear. We had a wonderful day with warm weather, no wait longer than 10 minutes and no concession food tempting us to spend extra money. (All food is Asian, roasted spring chickens and pigs.)

Disneyland Hong Kong is smaller in size than the LA one, with just adventure land, fantasy land and tomorrow land, but much more do-able for the younger set. Everything is brand- new and spotless and high on the technology end. We watched a great 3D animated show with visuals, sound, smells and even water splashed on the audience. Disneyland Hong Kong has the Fast Pass system but working somewhat haphazardly. The longest wait in a regular line is about 10 minutes and maybe a minute or two less with the Fast Pass.

Throughout the day we got a lot of attention for the twins and blonde hair from other park go-ers but also from the staff. At one point, we nixed standing in a line to take a picture with Buzz Lightyear. As Buzz Lightyear went on his break, he came over to our kids, whispered something to Adam, kissed Roycie and patted Tori’s hair. The princesses, all imported from the West, made eye contact or small talk with us whenever possible. Beyond all the attention they were showering on us, the characters were rather charming. Oddly, it did sort of take the edge off being far away from home over the holidays to see familiar Cinderella, Snow White and Belle. The fact that the princesses were speaking in Chinese just made them seem smarter and more cosmopolitan than ever before.