Saturday, May 31, 2008

We are five-no jive!

It is true. Adam and Royce, referred to for many years as the “babies,” are now five. It is a shock but maybe only for us, the parents. Adam and Royce both look and act a lot like big kids these days. Both lost two baby teeth as 4 year olds (which is very early in the continuum of teeth loss), prompting Tori to call them the Super Twins of Teeth. Both learned how to ride a bicycle with no training wheels as 4 year olds. Not so surprising except that they live in Hong Kong where there is only about 10 feet to practice bike riding, and that is a densely populated 10 feet. They recently finished preschool and are on to the next thing but not before we feted them medieval style.

We had a big medieval, knights and princesses, party, with crowns and shields and jousting with pool noodles. We rescued princesses, fought dragons, kissed frogs and ate much too much cake. The whole thing was fun, maybe too fun. Phil and I were exhausted and felt that things got a little chaotic. At one point, I saw Royce and another princess sitting on the floor eating cake, while knights literally jumped over them. We are thinking next year’s party will be two separate parties, if only to manage noise levels more effectively.

Separate but equal seems to be the trend lately. Royce has voiced a desire to have her own bedroom, after sharing with Tori for two years. Since we have the room, we are now trying to make a mermaid room for her out of our former toy room. And next year at kindergarten, Royce and Adam will be in separate classrooms per the school’s policy on multiples. Our school here is actually very nicely designed for twins. The kids will be in the same “cluster,” a group of three classrooms that come together for recess, field trips and a couple of other shared study units.

With all these changes just around the corner, the little kid moments seem more poignant to me these days. Like Adam doing his fast dance, feet, arms and tongue flying, around the apartment in his underwear. Royce, of course in her underwear, writing “I love Mom and Dad” all over her body with colored markers. They are big. They are five. But there is still a little baby in there or so I tell myself.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Camping in Hong Kong

While we like to think of ourselves as outdoorsy, we really aren’t anymore. At one point in recent history, we had a bumper sticker on the refrigerator that said “walk on the wild side- have twins!” That is pretty much as adventurous as we have been lately, at least until Tori joined the Girl Scouts. Tori and I are now veteran campers in urban Hong Kong, having survived and loved a hot and humid yet oddly wonderful camping experience in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

At the start of first grade, Tori joined Brownie, which is a precursor to Girl Scouts, Troop #1. Her troop meets afterschool every other week for about an hour. They work on crafts and other projects, including a postcard exchange with American Girl Scouts. I always think this is somewhat poignant that Tori’s pen pal sends her American flags and she writes Mandarin characters for the Iowa girl to see. Earlier this year, Tori and I did an overnight in her school’s library with the Brownies. While other girls ran around playing flashlight tag, Tori curled up with books such as “Experiments with Heat,” and “Industrial Use of Crystals,” but all had fun in their own way. And we all got ready for the real deal; getting outside.

Last week, we did just that. The Girl Scouts were let out of school early and we all took a chartered bus out to Sai Kung Country Park in the New Territories. We drove past the part of the country park we knew, out to a pier. From there, we took a half-hour ferry boat ride to a remote peninsula. We stepped off the boat and set up camp right there in a wide open campsite with campfire and washing facilities.

But it was actually easier even than that. An outfitting group met us there with about 5 guides, who proceeded to help us set up tents and cook. We had a total of about 80 campers and thus about 40 tents. All tents were the same color except one which was robin egg blue. Tori managed to claim the “fancy” tent for us and picked out a great isolated campsite for us. While most tents and troops camped together, we were apart with a great cross breeze blowing through the tent and a great view of the water. With a hot high humidity day, our campsite proved crucial in keeping us sane and able to craft and sing and attend periodic flag ceremonies.

Despite the extreme heat, we had a great time. Tori loved climbing trees and finding bugs. She actually laughed happily as ants crawled all over her arms. She found inch worms and crabs and carried many around on sticks and in jars for our hikes and activities. At one point, Tori was leaning over the railing behind our tent looking at the water and spotted something. She yelled for my attention, saying she said she had spotted a jellyfish. I came over and looked. The water was extremely polluted, with plastic bags and the like floating near the shore. I shook her off, saying no, no that is only garbage. Tori persisted and finally pointed out to me, amidst the trash, a huge and beautiful translucent jellyfish. It seemed so sad and so Hong Kong to be peering into trash to find something natural. But the fact that she could find anything was somehow hopeful. There should always something to wonder at, especially when camping.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One fine day in Stanley

It doesn’t always happen. In fact, more often than not, I am lugging groceries through our crowded little town of Stanley, dodging taxi cabs and tourists and trying to hurry the twins along in order to catch the next shuttle bus home. But sometimes, I suppose like anywhere, it can be glorious. And it recently was as we stumbled upon dragon boat races near the new Stanley pier.

Tori and I were walking home from church, going through Stanley and the grocery store en route. During church, we could hear the beating drums of the dragon boats in the distance. With the electricity inexplicably out in the church, the atmosphere was definitely foreign, if not exotic. As we rounded a corner, popping out of Stanley’s tiny winding alleyways crowded with kiosks of all kinds, we came upon Stanley harbor brimming with color and noise and excitement.

Unbeknown to us, Stanley was having the local version of dragon boats races. In early June, there is another dragon boat race series, more widely known as the expatriate race series. Historically, dragon boats rushed out to save a drowning poet, who was committing suicide to protest state corruption. The drums were meant to scare up the fish, which would buoy up the drowning man. While it did not work, the racing tradition lives on in Stanley and all over Asia.

The dragon boat races we discovered didn’t appear to have much signage or sponsorship but had plenty of spirit. We watched transfixed as heats of five dragon boats each races in about 400 yards, from out in the harbor to right where we were all standing. The view area was excellent. The expat dragon boat races are at a different beach and harder for crowds to watch. Because of this, we have long heard the dragon boats and watched them train outside our apartment windows but had never seen a race. I really had no idea the race was such a sprint (and am now reconsidering my commitment to join a team next year. I am not a sprinter, not ever).

The event was so festive and colorful and just plain fun, that we called Phil, Adam and Royce to join us. They came down and were also amazed at the transformation in Stanley. The kids licked ice cream cones and watched a sporting event. They tried to bet on which team would win. They (and we) had no idea what was going on or why but were excited to be there. All in all, it was not far different from an outing to a baseball game and thus, in its own way, a little preparation for our soon to be summer of little league game watching in the states.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Farewell USS Kitty Hawk

One of the surprise perks of Phil’s job is access to US aircraft carrier receptions. When these super carriers are in town for rest and relaxation visits, these receptions are sought after events, with a wide range of people vying for the spots on board. Recently, with the USS Kitty Hawk in town, Phil and I and some friends had the opportunity to check out one of these receptions. While it was my first such reception, we learned it was the last official reception to be held on the Kitty Hawk before its decommissioning later this year. From our point of view, the Kitty Hawk ended a long tradition of service -and receptions -in great form. It was an impressive event in a whole host of ways, the size of the ship being just one of those!

To get out to the Kitty Hawk, we started off in a ferry from Fenwick Pier in Central Hong Kong. We slowly worked our way out across busy Victoria Harbor. After about 30 minutes, we came in, past 3 support ships anchored nearby, to the Kitty Hawk herself. As the huge Kitty Hawk swayed, our much smaller ferry boat rocked against the side of the carrier. Getting physically on board the Kitty Hawk was harder than expected. And then there was a steep series of steps up to the main deck. With lots of people watching, and lots of seamen helping, we made it up to where we were suppose to be and started learning about where we were.

The Kitty Hawk, first in a class of 3 super carriers, was commissioned in 1961. It is over 1,000 feet in length, with 4 engines and 8 broilers. It is the last traditionally powered aircraft carrier. When the Kitty Hawk is decommissioned, the Navy will transferred aircraft and staff to the USS George Washington, which is powered by 2 nuclear reactors. The Kitty Hawk was stationed in Victoria Harbor by 2 anchors, each weighing 30 tons each, hanging on chains with each link weighing 360 pounds.

The Kitty Hawk has over 7,000 people working onboard and in addition to all the pilots and mechanics, 6 doctors, 3 chaplains and 2 lawyers. All these folks have been based out of Yokosuka, Japan and came to Hong Kong for their rest and relaxation visit. This R&R visit was suppose to happen last Thanksgiving but was cancelled at the last minute when the Chinese government denied them entry. Political differences have been ironed out and the Kitty Hawk arrived in Hong Kong ready to relax.

At the start of the reception, an honor guard came down from the flight deck with an F-14 behind them on a giant elevator. We then got on this elevator and zoomed up to the flight deck, where we met poised and polished pilots ready to talk about everything from the mechanics of flight to life aboard the carrier. Standing with the Hong Kong skyline all around us, talking to pilots from California, the world seemed a smaller place. It seemed that lots of folks end up living and working far from home. Despite the many different reasons we call one place “home,” it was somehow encouraging to be with a bunch of people who were all thinking and talking about your home and you, theirs.