Sunday, August 24, 2008

Typhoon Nuri

The kids had a short first week of school. One day off for orientation and then another day off for a typhoon. After three days of school, all classes in Hong Kong were cancelled last Friday due to Typhoon Nuri. Typhoon Nuri was forecasted to directly hit Hong Kong Friday, sometime in the late afternoon. Starting on Thursday, the winds began to blow and that anticipatory pre-storm quiet surrounded us. Luckily, Hong Kong was not directly hit. In it’s final approach, Typhoon Nuri swung north, missing the island by about 10 kilometers.

Typhoons, based on the Chinese word tai feng, are cyclones that form over the Pacific, while such storms over the Atlantic are called hurricanes. Here in Hong Kong, the typhoon season is essentially May through November, with August and September being particular peak times. I remember a typhoon coming through right after we moved here in early August 2006. We were a little too jet lagged to notice much but I do remember feeling bad for all the returning to Hong Kong families who were diverted to Tokyo to wait out the storm. Since then we have had a few typhoons come close but never close enough to close school.

To prepare the shipping and fishing industries, as well as the general population, Hong Kong has an elaborate Tropical Cyclone Warning System. Currently, warnings are posted if a cyclone is within 800 kilometers of Hong Kong. Details concerning the storm’s latest position, expected movement, wind strength and sea levels are all given. The warning system goes back to 1884, when the authorities shot off a typhoon gun to warn the local population of the storm. In 1907, a typhoon bomb replaced the gun, with obvious improvements in sound. The last typhoon bomb was detonated in 1937 when radio and other postings prevailed.

The current warnings were devised in 1931 and rate the tropical cyclones from 1 to10, in increasing severity. Typically, a Typhoon 1 signal is hoisted, followed by a Typhoon 3. (Warnings 2,3,4,5,6, and 7 all indicate strong winds and further indicate which direction the wind is blowing from). At Typhoon 8, all schools and businesses are shut down. Typhoon 8 means that storm winds are sustained at 63-117/ kilometers per hour. In 1987, the government started issued a pre- Typhoon 8 warning, allowing schools and others notice prior to closures. Thus, when we went to bed on Thursday night, we knew school was likely to be cancelled the following day. Typhoon Nuri reached a Typhoon 9 warning, but not Typhoon 10, with sustained winds of 118 kilometers per hour and gusts up to 220 kilometers.

As we walked around our apartment complex, we saw all the men who work here as doormen and guards wearing hard hats. We saw police cars drive by with grates on the windows, presumably to protect them from falling objects. We saw a lounge chair from our pool go flying over the building and fall on the other side of the road. At that point, we quickly moved inside but not first without noticing the insect life. Dragon flies were swarming everywhere and other oddities, like foot long bright green stick bugs, seemed to be out in greater numbers. While Tori loved the insects, Adam kept asking me where all the birds were during the typhoon. It seemed like a related mystery but an unresolved one at this point. Despite the fun of a day off, we do need school to be back in session after all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reception 2 times two!

After many excited days and nights, Adam and Royce just started Reception 2, which is what kindergarten is called at their school, the Hong Kong International School. After two years of volunteering in Tori’s classes and going to the library and other school events, Adam and Royce know their way around and were greeted by name by many teachers and students. They got into line, followed directions, and marched up the stairs. They did great. Quite a bit better than a sad Mom and Dad as a matter of fact.

Our school has a twins’ separation policy, which is fine with all of us. However, Adam’s and Royce’s classrooms are right next to each other and they have recesses and most of their elective classes, like Chinese and music, together. We heard they played together at the first recess but went their own ways at the second recess. Both gravitated to girls with long blonde hair to play with.

All the reports (and there are many reports, minute by minute reports) are good. Adam loves his teacher. He told me he winked at her all day but she did not wink back. Royce is also enamored with her teacher. Apparently, Royce cried a little after lunch and got to sit at the teacher’s desk. She liked it so much I fear she might try this tactic again. After their first day of separation, Adam and Royce returned triumphant on the bus, sitting together, smiling and waving like royalty.

On the way to the bus in the morning, we passed a friend of mine with a three year old and one year old twins. While we brushed past her with our uniforms and back packs, she said she wished her kids were older like ours. I, of course, told her I would opt for the baby phase again. She looked at me with such horror that I did snap out of my nostalgia momentarily. The days of princess and super hero dress up were adorable but the school uniforms are cute in their own grown up way. Or so I am trying to tell myself.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to business: Tori in second grade

Tori started second grade today with the usual back to school excitement and nerves and silliness. But somehow the over the top delirium (that we will see on the faces of the twins when they start school tomorrow) is gone. We have a little routine going with a German style schule tute, a poem and a parent riding the bus all on the first day. Tori knows what is coming at home and at school. She likes it. She appreciates it. But she is already intent on her job of being a second grader.

Tori’s school has 9 classes of second graders, all on the 6th floor of her school building. About half of the teachers are new this year and a good many of the students are new as well. Hong Kong is definitely a transitional community with families posted here for a few years with some jobs and cycling through based on the economy with other jobs. Despite all this change, Tori knows about half of her class this year from previous school classes. She told me she was too busy playing and talking to get to the monkey bars at recess, a sure sign that she knows enough people to be comfortable.

As in years past, the kids at Tori’s school have a six day curriculum that they go through every week. (They go to school five days per week.) They all get Chinese, Music, Art, PE, Guidance and Religion on a rolling basis in addition to 1 hour of reading, 1 hour of writing and 1 hour of math every day. Additionally, Tori’s teacher asked her students to write down three things they want to learn this year. Tori wrote genetics/DNA, the names of most stars and multiplication tables. Tori dreams big but knows she has to learn those multiplication tables too. Here’s hoping for a lot of wonder and a bit of realism for all those new second graders, and especially ours.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Our return to Hong Kong: a long strange trip

All things must end, even iconoclastic childhood summers at Grandma’s house. After many weeks of sun and fun in the United States, we recently packed our many bags and headed back home to Hong Kong. And to keep things exciting, this trip included one less adult than usual. With Phil in Singapore, the kids and I flew back by ourselves, our first trans- Pacific flight semi-solo.

Despite lots of trepidation on my part, the trip, or at least the part involving the kids, was fine. Though our short connecting flight was delayed, causing us to miss our connection out of San Francisco, this was our only wrinkle. The kids were just super on our long day and on our long flight. With the flights, we tried again the next day and made it to San Francisco with hours and hours to spare. Getting on our Hong Kong flight, we met families with babies on their way to China for the Olympics. I honestly could not get over it. The fact that they were doing that long flight (13.5 hours) willingly was, and is, too much for me to comprehend. (But now that I am out of the airport and in the grip of Hong Kong’s Olympic fever, I can begin to think about it).

Anyway, the kids were great and we made it. It helped having a man (a policeman) that Phil works with and his family directly behind us. Everyone seemed like seasoned travelers as they wheeled their Spiderman and Princess suitcases through airports and flashed their passports at appropriate junctures. Instead of the more typical “are we there yet?,” Tori asked me constantly throughout the trip if we had passed the international date line yet. This question seems to summarize our existence these days. We might not understand it all but we are going the distance.