Friday, December 21, 2007

Party crashing at Tin Hau Temple in Stanley

As we worked our way home from preschool last week with friends, we came across a lion dance in front of the Tin Hau Temple in Stanley. Last year it seemed to me that there were always lion dances and I had no idea why. This year I have a vague sense of Chinese holidays but this still did not help. Someone in the small crowd in front told me the lion dance was celebrating the completion of renovations inside the temple. With the omnipresent construction in Stanley (the small road we walk on to get to the temple has been under repair since the day we arrived), I did not even notice the temple renovations were underway. However, we were happy any part of Hong Kong reconstruction was done and very happy they chose to celebrate with a great lion dance, concluded on slits, with drums and confetti all around.

Our Tin Hau Temple in Stanley was founded in 1767. Apparently, the renovations returned many of the gold gilt pieces from the original construction to the altar place. The inside does look beautiful, though I can’t say I specifically notice any differences. I am usually too busy corralling kids and avoiding a cross-religions incident to examine the details. During World War II, villagers took shelter in the Stanley temple. A Japanese bomb fell on the temple but did not detonate.

There are over 60 Tin Hau temples throughout Hong Kong and many more world wide. Tin Hau is the goddess of the sea and the protector of seafarers, thus explaining her popularity here in Hong Kong. She is typically depicted in red gowns, staring out at the sea. Tin Hau herself was thought to be a girl born around 960 AD in China. Though her family were fishermen and she lived her whole life by the water, she apparently did not learn to swim until the age of 15. At this point, she quickly became a strong swimmer and earned some fame for her skills. In her early 20’s, Tin Hau’s brothers and fathers were lost at sea in a storm. The story has it that in a trance like state on shore, she pulled them out of the sea. The story concludes with either her drowning at sea or climbing a mountain and flying away to become a goddess. Either way, she has been worshipped ever since as a protector of people on the sea.

As the lion dance concluded, large tables full of food were pulled out. Some local politicians came out and waved and then the crowd of about 50 elderly Chinese joined the feast. The tables were piled high with all sorts of local food; fish, meat of all kinds, noodles of all kinds and lots of other things I could not even begin to classify. A few of the folks who seemed to be in charge very kindly invited us to join in. A politician invited us to join in. A little old lady pulled Adam to the table. We of course said yes. We sampled a few things, chatted a little, felt like citizens of Stanley and then promptly headed to the nearby McDonalds for another lunch.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Toothless in Hong Kong again!

Right after Tori lost her latest tooth last week, Adam followed with his own tooth loss! This was a little shocking to us all as Adam is only four years old and typically four year olds don’t lose their teeth yet. As Adam was opening the refrigerator (a common activity for him), his first tooth just fell out. Adam feels like a real big boy now and we were all excited for him. With zero twins’ jealousy, Royce ran around the apartment yelling “two thumbs up for Adam!” Phil was working late that night and we needed someone else to tell the exciting news so we headed to the management office and the security guards for our apartment complex. To their credit, they all admired Adam’s gaping hole and all exclaimed “Ai-ya!,” a typical Chinese exclamation. There is really nothing else to say when faced with Adam and Tori's combined teeth loss these days.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toothless in Hong Kong

In an effort to catch up with her peers, Tori has started losing teeth at a fast and furious pace. She has lost 3 teeth in the last 10 days, with many more very loose and ready to follow suit. Her latest loss occurred during a Chinese lesson at our house. In keeping with Chinese academic standards, the class continued on. At the end of the lesson, Tori emerged bloody and ecstatic. Her teacher told me that Tori needed to drink more milk. I tried to explain that this was a normal childhood process but her teacher was not convinced.

When the tooth exodus started, Tori was keen to follow local traditions in regards to the tooth fairy. Pinning down what was “local” proved to be harder than we thought. Chinese tradition is that the child throws the upper teeth up to the roof and the lower teeth down to the ground. Neither of these options are possible when you live in a high rise apartment complex. (The kids quickly assumed this must be the tradition in mainland China!) Other “local” kids we know are all expatriates as well. Some German kids on the playground told Tori that the tooth fairy only comes for the first three teeth. This was distressing as Tori has lost more than three teeth already. Some Brazilian kids told her that a rat comes to take the tooth. This was also distressing. We quickly gave up our survey and called on the American tooth fairy to come. She did, but just barely. Cash is a little tricky to get here on the south side.

As we are in high holiday season already, there are lots of opportunities for fancy clothes and photos these days. The kids all had a piano recital last weekend during which they recited a poem, played a song, and then for a grand finale played “Silent Night” together. Tori also performed in a Grade One Music Share, where all the classes sang a number of songs including “All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth.” With perfect timing, she lost one of her front teeth right afterward the performance. Singing skills have diminished, photos look a little gruesome but excitement is sky high.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Shanghai: Adam in mainland China

For a special treat, Adam and I (sans the girls) travelled to Shanghai where we met my mother for a day while she toured China with a larger group. While I knew Adam was excited to go on a special trip and to see Grandma, I did not really expect him to be excited about Shanghai but he was. I sort of forgot that he has taken over a year of Chinese language lessons and heard mainland China referred to many many times in conversation. I also think that he was anticipating a Chinese resort, similar to our vacation trip to Hainan Island, an island off the southern tip of China. Regardless of the motivation, when our airplane touched down in Shanghai Adam yelled, “Is this mainland China? It looks like Paris!”

Shanghai seemed like old hat to me, a hat I misplaced in Eastern Europe years ago. The infrastructure, the endless paperwork, the registering of passports with the local police, the cash deposits for hotel linens, the corn for sale on every corner, the constant smoking. It all seemed very similar to post-communist Ukraine 10 years ago but with commercialism and consumerism kicked into hyper drive. When I asked Adam what he noticed, he immediately pointed out the ad hoc taxi service, with many different colored cars, private cars,vans and trucks all working as taxis. Again, the Shanghai system bore a strong resemblance to Ukraine’s transport many years ago. Adam and I both loved a traffic sign that Shanghai had and Ukraine did not which showed which of Shanghai’s six leveled highways were open, congested or stopped with traffic.

We joined my mom’s tour group for a day’s worth of sights around Shanghai, including the Bund, a historic downtown promenade, a silk factory, China town and the Shanghai Museum. Adam (and me too to be honest) loved the ease and security of travelling with the tour group. We had a bus. We had a guide. Towards the end of the day, when we started deviating from the group, Adam got a little nervous. He was very happy when we reconnected with the group for a final activity- a visit to a modern style circus with acrobats, live music and motorcycle show!

Really, we had a wonderful time together and with my mother, though of course we missed the girls. When we were thinking back about what we saw on our flight back to Hong Kong, Adam noted that “people in mainland China love silk and they love me!” From the perspective of a little blonde boy who went to a silk factory and who was hugged and photographed repeatedly all weekend by Chinese folks ( in addition to mom and grandma), that pretty much sums it up.