Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hong Kong past: Sam Tung Uk Museum

As part of Tori’s class study of Hong Kong past and present, we visited the Sam Tung Uk village last week. The Sam Tung Uk village is an old Hakka village in the New Territories that has recently been restored into a branch office of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. The Hakka people are a subgroup of the Han Chinese, found predominately in the southern Chinese provinces. The Hakka people were mobile, leaving China at time of political or economic unrest. Perhaps because of their migration, the Hakka are associated with agriculture and also with education and public service. It was a lot to learn but the juxtaposition of past and present was easy to grasp. Walking through the main gate of the village, we came to a room with an open roof. Looking up all you see through the ancient roof are modern buildings, tall apartment blocks and offices.

The Sam Tung Uk village was founded by the Chan family in 1786. Sam Tung Uk literally means three beamed building and accurately describes the structure of the village. After entering a large beautiful gate, one comes into three main halls. The halls are placed like steps, ascending upward to the Ancestral Hall, with a large altar. The three halls were the common spaces for the people living in the village. Individual families lived in small contained houses off various lanes for foot traffic. The first graders loved running through the village’s small narrow lanes exploring the houses. I felt okay with the running as the whole village is obviously walled in and no one could get too far.It was a pretty easy field trip to chaperone.

I continue to be impressed with Hong Kong’s museums. Nicely put together, great dual language displays, enough technology to keep it interesting and up to date. We wandered into one of the village houses that had been converted into a display of women’s items, mainly cooking implements and clothing. The Hakka were a patriarchal hierocracy which left the women doing a large portion of the agricultural work while the men were in their public sector jobs. One of the displays talked about how tough the women were particularly duing the rice harvest. Later that night, when Royce was picking up her room under duress, Tori challenged her to be “tough like a Hakka woman”. I am not sure anything there was particularly on point, but something was remembered and something was picked up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Our Disneyland expansion: the hotel

Hong Kong Disneyland has often been criticized for being too small a park, too few big rides, not enough to do. For over a year now, we have laughed off these complaints, loving the small crowds and enough rides to fill an hour or two. But recently, we have started to feel a bit bored. While we enjoying walking around the park with no traffic, Tori really rides one ride over and over again (Space Mountain of course) and the twins have one or two rides they enjoy. So in a bold move we launched our own Disneyland expansion. Prompted by a free night’s coupon, we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and loved it. We are recommending it to everyone, neighbors, friends, and maybe even visitors.

The hotel itself was lovely, very much a resort type place. Our kids ran around on the grass (huge lawns of it) and a maze made of shrubs into Mickey’s likeness. The hotel is connected to the Disneyland park via wide paved walkways. On a friend’s advice, we took the kids’ bikes and scooters and rode and rode along these pathways. Typically, our kids ride their bikes in a circle about 15 feet wide, dodging smaller kids, bigger kids and balls. For them to ride all by themselves for as far as they could see was huge. The Disney theme music playing over loudspeakers made it seem that much more dramatic.

Beyond biking, there was the pool. Since the weather was warm (upper 80’s), we swam outside, tearing down a large waterslide. Some lifeguards made the kids follow basic rules on the slide, while others, foolishly charmed by their western ways, let them reach top speeds on their descents. Staff at the pool asked us hopefully is we were going home after our trip, how far away did we live. Everyone was a little disappointed that we were only from Hong Kong, as was the other family in the pool that we recognized from our south side of the island. I think the staff has seen a lot of the free night coupon visitors as of late.

Being our big Disney weekend, we signed up for the character breakfast. We were not sure what to expect but were not disappointed. Various characters came by our breakfast table. Adam and Royce were overjoyed. Adam hugged Mickey and to Mickey’s credit, he picked up Adam and swung him around in the air multiple times. Tori was a little subdued around all the characters but quickly became excited when she discovered a bowl of M & M candies in the breakfast buffet line. For special effect, she drizzled chocolate sauce all over her breakfast of Mickey Mouse waffles and candy.

As we were leaving, a cleaning lady stopped us and quickly made pipe cleaner rings for each kid in the shape of mouse ears. Of course, everyone wanted different colors and she ended up making two rings for each kid but it was a nice touch. Everyone counted it as their highlight of the weekend until we reminded them of everything else we did. Still, on Monday morning each kid took their pipe cleaner ring to school to show friends. Proof yet again that it really is the little things that count.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tori at seven is heaven

Much to our shock and awe, Tori turned seven last week. While we told her stories of her babyhood, she shrugged them off but the twins were transfixed. They can say with authority oh, that was when Tori was in London, or Paris, or Romania and pretty much get it right. Tori does seem seven with her teeth falling out, her pants all too short now and her busy schedule at school. It has been fast and furious but tons and tons of fun.

Following her most recent interest, we hosted an art party for 15 of her friends from school and our apartment building. We had great fun decorating our building’s clubhouse with streamers and balloons in primary colors, easels, paintbrushes everywhere and of course original art work. Typical of Tori, she spends lots of energy on the party invites and gift bags (both were adorable), but all the rest is somewhat secondary. But all the rest was good, even if the kids did realistic self-portraits despite Tori’s desire for abstract self-portraits.

The planning of the party was much easier this year for a host of reasons. While the concept of art is much easier to grapple with than Ancient Egypt, a large store (maybe a quarter the size of the average Target) has opened. This store, Spotlight, is sort of a mix between Target, a craft store and a Bed, Bath and Beyond. It is a bit of a hodge podge but the store has party supplies and an art supply section and we were covered. Much of Hong Kong life is small stores and lots of little shopping runs, which can be adjusted too but not so easily at party planning time.

Another reason the party was easier was that we were no longer the new family in town. People have come and people have gone. In fact one little kid we know has moved to Switzerland and back to Hong Kong again in the span of a year. As we compiled pictures of Tori on her birthday for various games, Phi and I noticed that we have only been in the same place for Tori’s birthday for her fourth and fifth year and now for her sixth and seventh. Tori really seems at ease with her mix of friends from a number of different countries and more surprising, even a few of a different gender! Tori has always been very girly but is now even making friends with a few of the long dreaded boys.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sai Kung: The Family Walk

Our efforts to explore Hong Kong finally got us over to Sai Kung, a village in the new Territories situated on an inlet from the sea. Phil had a meeting in Sai Kung earlier in the week and thus cased out directions. Even knowing the way, the ride over from our apartment on Hong Kong Island, under Victoria Harbor, through Kowloon and out into the New Territories took us close to 45 minutes. As we pulled into the village, someone in the backseat yelled “Is this the New Territories or what?”, meaning we had been in the car so long we must be far far away from home. All kids were shocked when we said yes, we took you all the way to the New Territories!

Sai Kung is a bit of a vacation village for locals. The village itself looks different from the typical Hong Kong scene. There are lots of little waterfront restaurants, little streets, little markets and little boats in the harbor. We are used to seeing huge tanker ships every day but the little sail boat is a rare thing. While some people come for the ambience, we came for the Sai Kung Country Park. We went right for the so-called family walk, bypassing all the straight up and down trails we could see crossing the surrounding hills. The family hike was great, taking us out over some mud flats, through a few bananas trees and then up a small hill. It was a little disconcerting to occasionally hear loud disco music from a partying campsite but at the same time it was also comforting to know where we were.

The family hike also led us to a great little folk museum, the Sheung Yiu Folk Museum. The museum encompassed a small village founded by the Wong family in the late 19th century. The village was built onto a hill with a large stone gate protecting an interior courtyard and a row of houses. We walked through the houses looking at the tools the Wongs used for their farming, fishing and brick making. The village also operating a lime kiln, where lime was extracted from sea shells. The kids loved it, crawling through the dog/cat doors built into the walls and trying to quess what tools were used for what. Phil and I were oddly comforted by the fact that the Wongs had all emigrated to England in the 1960’s and that Hong Kong, like Ukraine and Romania, keeps these folk museums going for us.

At the end of the trail, we found a good playground. “Good” in Tori’s eyes because it had the monkey bars, whereas most playgrounds here don’t have monkey bars (or swings for that matter). As the kids played, we met another family from Sai Kung who told us monkeys and large green pythons were commonly seen on the family trail and in the playground. Luckily for us, all our little monkeys saw were butterflies.