Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Top Gear

In an effort towards cultural equality and to make up for years of going to the ballet, we all recently went to a car show. Top Gear, a BBC television show about cars, which we have never seen but many people here rave about, was in town over the weekend and we had tickets. Leading up to the show, Adam was honestly excited. Phil was mildly interested and the girls were oblivious. Not thinking cars at all, I was just worried about a 6:30 pm show on a Sunday night before Monday school.

The Top Gear show involved a car exhibition beforehand, where you could look at fancy cars. Adam ran up to cars and touched them. He asked a man if he could sit in one and was told he could. We were pleasantly surprised as Hong Kong is typically a hands off place for kids. Hong Kong is, however, all about fancy cars. Phil only half jokingly said we could have saved the admission cost and just walked through the parking lot in our apartment building, which Adam tells me includes two Ferrari, lots of Porsches and lots of mini Coopers. Just this past weekend, we took the kids to a birthday party at a cupcake bakery. To get to the cupcakes, we parked (our Mitshibushi Space Rover, for the record) in front of the local Ferrari dealership. On our way home from the party, we actually saw someone buy a red Ferrari and drive off the lot. While I first thought we should not stare, I then thought our attention probably made the moment even more so of whatever a buying a Ferrari moment is.

The Top Gear show itself was loud and over the top, with cars and motorcycles doing stunts. Lots of cars squealing around, flashing lights and smoke. In one of the more gimmicky moments, some little cars played a game of soccer with a big inflatable ball. Half of the cars were on England’s team and the other half made up the Hong Kong team. There was a lot of ribbing back and forth about who has the better team, who has David Beckham etc. Once the game was underway, our kids unabashedly cheered for Hong Kong. We were all about stomping England at car soccer and suddenly it did seem like a very American moment in a twisted sort of way.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Macau: the day trip

Feeling constrained by island living, we recently decided to go to Macau for a day trip. Phil often goes to Macau for work and Roycie and I went in the fall but our other two family members had not yet been. And though Macau’s main industry is gambling, there are other things to do there. And we had a restaurant recommendation. So we crowded into a morning ferry boat for the hour ride over to Macau, intent on enjoying the post- Portuguese, rather then post- British experience, for the day.

Though we stayed clear of the casinos, we did have our fair share of good luck. On the ride over, we kept asking that all our five seats be together. When you buy a ticket on the Macau ferry, you go through customs with your ticket and then get your seat assignment as you board the ferry. We were told not to worry but with a very full boat we did. But with luck on our side, we were all seated in an enclosed VIP room for the trip over.

Once in Macau, we took a taxi out of the city to the Portuguese restaurant Fernando’s. Fernando’s is one of many little restaurants along Hac Sa Beach, covered with vines and without much signage. We were told it would be busy and with no reservations, a wait was likely. Sure enough, we walked through the restaurant to an open air courtyard where we waited for at least an hour for a table. The kids ran around in the yard with some animals and then started going down to the beach. Phil and I ate bread from the on site bakery. The whole thing was very informal and oddly European. The food was fine but the wait was actually great.

In the afternoon, we all went to the Macau Museum of Art. The Museum was hosting a big exhibition on Chinese Opera that went over our heads but the pencil sketches of Macau 150 years ago were excellent. We also made our way over to the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a famous landmark in Macau. All that remains is the façade of the cathedral, which was built back in 1602. Right next to the Cathedral facade, out of the postcard picture you typically see, is a little Buddhist temple. Macau is just like that, a city of contrasts. A Chinese city with a European downtown. I am sure we will be back to stumble around again and learn a little more. Adam is hoping our return trip will coincide with Macau’s other big claim to fame, the International Grand Prix in November but I am not so sure. Casinos plus car races might be too much for me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Year of the Ox

We are all about the holidays this year in Hong Kong. It seems that Christmas just ended, the kids went back to school, Tori had her birthday and all of a sudden Chinese New Year was upon us. Chinese New Year is a flexible date, typically taking place in February but following the lunar cycles. The holiday always falls on the first day of the first lunar month of the year and this year that was January 26, 2009. The holiday then ends 15 days later with a concluding lantern festival.

All Chinese years are linked to the Chinese zodiac. This year is the Year of the Ox, the second in the 12 year cycle. In addition to the zodiac animal, certain years are also linked with elements from both heaven and earth. For example, our first year here was the Year of the Golden Pig. I don’t understand this secondary cycle very well and can’t even say which type of Year of the Ox we are now starting. I do know that Tori is not just a dragon but a golden dragon. Tori was born in January 2001, the Year of the Snake. Prior to moving to Asia, we always thought she was a snake but now realize her zodiac depends on when the lunar New Year falls, not just the calendar year. Anyway, she is not a snake but instead a golden dragon. Tori is thrilled with her recent upgrade.

Chinese New Year traditions all have their roots in ancient myths. At this time of year, the most prevalent myth is centered around the sea creature called Nian. Nian used to emerge every year and take food, livestock and children from local villages. At some point, villagers realized that Nian was scared by a child’s red coat. Since then the color red and firecrackers have been used at the New Year to scare away Nian and any possible bad luck.

For the first time ever, we all went to see the fireworks in Hong Kong at night. The Hong Kong government hosts a fireworks display in the harbor on the second day of the New Year. We weren’t thinking so much about bad luck as we were about the fact that the kids are a little older and can stay awake later. Also, the kids had the whole week off from school due to the holiday so no need to wake up early. Anyway, we went out on the harbor on a boat and watched the fireworks from the water. As we ate our picnic dinner and watched the fireworks with the city skyline as a backdrop, it definitely seemed like a holiday. The display ended with a fireworks launching boat catching on fire and police boats whizzing around. Despite the side-line drama, we were there in Central, celebrating the holiday in a traditional way along with everyone else. For the first time Chinese New Year felt like a holiday, even for us.