Sunday, January 25, 2009

Phil's 4 Peaks Race

We are always on the look out for new things to try in Hong Kong. Phil recently competed in a sailing regatta. He actually did no sailing but was on the boat and did the running bit, so we think it counts as something new.

Every January since 1985, the Abeerden Boat Club hosts the 4 Peaks Sailing Regatta for about 40 racing boats. The boats sail a set course with 4 landings. On each landing, two crew members must row to shore and then run up and down a mountain. The race typically takes 1.5 to 2 days to complete. We have some British friends who sail and needed additional runners and that is how Phil became the only American on a British racing team. Phil came back saying funny words like “kip” for a nap but had a great time and is ready to sign up again for next year.

The race started in Tai Tam Bay, right outside our apartment’s windows one Saturday mid-morning. (We were not able to watch however as Adam was at baseball and Tori was at swimming). The boats sailed from here to Sai Kung, where the runners went up Ma On Shan Mountain. The boats then sailed on to Lamma Island, getting there in the middle of the night. Phil ran up Mount Stenhouse around 1am and made it back to the boat with only a few stumbles coming off the mountain. From there the boats sailed to Lantau Island and runners went up Lantau Peak. Finally, the boats sailed to Repulse Bay and Phil ran up Violet Hill (a hill we commonly hike, that is right behind the kids’ school) and back to the boat for a short sail to the finish line near Middle Island and Ocean Park. They finished in the late afternoon on Sunday.

As the weather was great, the kids and I waited at Repulse Bay Beach for the boats to come in. We saw the first place boat come in and then Phil’s boat come in. We watched the runners get into a small dingy and row into shore. The kids ran around yelling “Go Daddy! Go other guy!” as we did not know all the team mates. At this point, the kids were fully dressed and looked pretty presentable. During that last hour run up the mountain, the kids took off their clothes and went swimming. When the runners came back, the kids ran over for one last cheer, not looking quite as good but just as excited. Phil’s team got into their little dingy and rowed back out to the big sail boat. While we stood on the pier, another team finished running and their sail boat motored into the pier to pick them up. It looked a little like cheating and we were proud that Dad’s team was not using the motor just then.

Phil got home that Sunday evening and the first question he got was did he win the race. Phil explained that the times were still being calculated based on how much motoring the boats had to do. I quess they had moderate winds on Saturday but almost none on Sunday. Undaunted by waiting for final times, both Adam and Royce reported that their Dad won second place at school the next day. As much as we try to say it is all about having fun and trying new things, it really seems to boil down to whether or not you get a medal at our house lately. Phil has no medal but does have a new appreciation of Hong Kong from the water.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Eight is great!

Recently, Tori celebrated her eighth birthday with a few close friends and a “mystery” party. While the girls ran around the apartment looking for fingerprints and clues, Phil and I tried to figure out how Tori was already turning eight! It really is a mystery how little baby Tori in Romania became a second grader in Hong Kong. Despite our disbelief, she is all about eight- reading, writing, swimming, and climbing. She is non-stop energy these days playing all her sports and playing with her friends and of course with her biggest fans, her brother and sister.

This year’s mystery party was based on Tori’s love for reading mysteries (the non-scary kind only!). She is constantly writing secret codes and maps, typically to elude the prying of Adam and Royce. In addition to the mystery part of the party, we also had our very first sleep-over at this house. Though one little girl opted out, two girls spent the night in Tori’s room with Tori and Royce. We were not really sure what to expect but all the girls got into bed and laughed and talked until they fell asleep mid-sentence just before ten pm. All in all, it was pretty easy and fun and a good little step for us into a new world of big kid things.

Going forward the next big kid decision for Tori is whether or not to she should go into a 3rd and 4th grade combination classroom or into a straight third grade classroom next year. The kids’ school offers both options and despite their efforts to educate the parents to the differences, these differences appear subtle and a bit lost on a transient student body. We do plan to be here for all of Tori’s third grade year but beyond that is more unclear. In the meantime, we are happy to enjoy what we have got; an excited eight year old with a whole new year of adventures ahead of her.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Repulse Bay: the school field trip

Repulse Bay Beach is a popular hangout with our family and, quite frankly, with all of Asia. There are moments there of breath-taking beauty with the mountains behind you and the South China Sea in front of you and lots and lots of sandy beach. And then the tour buses arrive and the beach is packed. Today Repulse Bay was crowded but with kindergarteners instead of tourists. Royce and Adam’s classes walked to Repulse Bay (they go to school a few blocks from the beach) to the Tin Hau Temple there for a field trip.

From the mid-1840’s, pirates used the bay there as a hideout, disrupting trade coming to and from China. Eventually, the HMS Repulse, the last wooden British battleship, was stationed in the bay to counterattack the pirates and hence the name. Around 1910, a beach was developed in the bay and in 1920 the Repulse Bay Hotel opened. The hotel was used as a headquarters base by the British and then taken over by the Japanese in December 1941. After the war, the beach was extended and improved and bus lines to Central were added to increase its viability as recreational area.

Today, the hotel has sadly been turned into a small mall. On the plus side, that hotel mall houses our dentist, pediatrician, physical therapist and the only grocery store I know that regularly carries tortillas and chocolate chips. Closer to the water, another mall is being built but thankfully it has standing empty for sometime now. The Repulse Bay area is known to have many high end properties with Jackie Chan and many others owning villas there.

The kindergarteners walked there to explore the Tin Hau Temple, built for the Goddess of Life Saving. The temple is completely outdoors, built right on to the water. Huge 15 foot statues of Tin Hau and Kwan Yum, the Goddess of Mercy make the temple visually arresting. Many other smaller statues, most made of brightly colored mosaics, fill up the area. A favorite is the Bridge of Longevity which by crossing one can add 3 days to their lives. The kindergarteners went across many times, challenging their understanding of addition by three but undeterred.

As it turned out, none of the teachers or parents had been on this field trip before. Royce and Adam and I were the only repeat field trippers as we went on this field trip with Tori’s class two years ago. Once their position of experience was announced, they each took it seriously. Both literally ran around the temple racing to explain the 4 faced Buddha or the 7 layered pagoda to their classmates. At one point, Royce looked around and asked me where Tori was? I explained she was in her second grade class. Royce said “Tori is only going on the field trips once? Is that enough to learn about temples?” I had the distinct feeling that Royce saw a small crack in her big sister’s authority, at least on temples. Luckily, I have been on two temple field trips and still have some respected knowledge. At least for now.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Great fun on the Great Wall

Lulled by years of warm weather here, the kids have long clamored for snow and ice. We finally caved to the pressure and took everyone to Beijing in late December. While we only had a dusting of snow there, we had plenty of cold weather days. In fact, we were in Beijing on the coldest day there in 50 years!

Buffered by Hong Kong's heat and humidity and plenty of borrowed winter gear, we pushed onward and saw the sites and loved it. The general word here is that now is a great time to see Beijing. Post- Olympics but not too far post, things are cleaned up and organized. Beijing looked great to us. Mammoth and sprawling but without the sky high construction we have in Hong Kong. In Beijing, we could actually drive out of the city and be in someplace rural, where that never happens in Hong Kong. Beijing definitely reminded us of Eastern Europe around the edges.

One day we drove out to Mutianyu to see the Great Wall. There we took a T-bar lift to the top, with Tori screaming with joy, “I had no idea the Great Wall would be so dangerous!” I really did not either, and that was just the ascent. We wandered around on the wall, amazed at it all. Though we were told vastly varying numbers, a tour guide with an Indonesia group said convincingly that the wall was over 6,000 kilometers long and took over 2,000 years to build, roughly from the 7th century B.C to the 17th century A.D. To get off the wall, we took a sled of sorts down a long winding metal slide. We needed one adult per kid, so Phil and I went with the girls and a worker went with Adam. In all cases, the kids were pushing the lever for faster while the adults were frantically pulling on the brakes. We emerged with the kids thrilled and us just plain scared.

We were lucky enough to see many of Beijing’s main sites, including the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. We would typically do something major out in the cold and then dive into the nearest museum. On one cold day, we ended up in the Natural History Museum of Beijing.

While we stood outside in the cold and tried to pay, we finally realized it was free. With our English language headsets, we wandered around, warm, for hours, getting the Chinese take on dinosaurs. We noticed young children, speaking dramatically with hand gestures throughout the museum and thought they were studying for an exam. Later, we learned that the kids were practicing for their work as docents. Little kids Tori’s age were dressed in museum uniforms and leading groups of adults through the museum. Our own kids were shocked to see the Chinese kids in positions of semi- authority. Our kids all thought they knew enough about dinosaurs to fill the job but didn’t think their Chinese was ready yet. We could not help but applaud the nascent American bravo in Beijing. Phil and I could barely order food but the kids are ready to go to work.