Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Now we are six!

Royce and Adam are now six! We just are coming down off a big birthday weekend with, for the first time ever, separate birthday parties. Adam had a party from 12- 2 on a Saturday afternoon and Royce had her birthday party from 4-6 on the same day. While it might sound a little crazy, we all agreed that it was a fine, fun and manageable way to celebrate our six year olds. Royce and Adam and Tori attended all parties and basically loved having more parties to go to and more goodie bags to receive. I think I was the only one feeling a little sad when we sang Happy Birthday to just one child at a time.

In keeping with his recent “never go anywhere without a ball” phase, Adam had a baseball party. Adam had some friends over for hot dogs, crafts and actual baseball. All the little boys sat at one big table with Tori and Royce at a little side table. The girls patiently waited for the boys to get into the party, asking me repeatedly “are the boys ready for the crafts yet?” Once everyone decorated baseball hats, we went off to actually hit a ball. This was complicated by an amber (heavy) rainstorm but we made due with an indoor squash court. Phil pitched to some boys from Ecuador, China and Japan who had never hit before and we were pleased to have everyone hitting the ball by the end of the party.

Also in the rainstorm, Royce had a little luau party to celebrate her birthday. We used a little pizza restaurant at Stanley Main Beach, actually situated on top of the beach showers there. It is a fun casual place with its biggest selling point being proximity to the water. For us this past weekend, its biggest selling point was an indoor room with views of the ocean all around. The girls danced and played in grass skirts and flower leis with the sea, albeit a stormy sea, all around. Royce had a great time playing coconut bowling and musical beach mats. She told me wouldn’t it be nice to live at the beach? I told her we did. And she said that she meant closer to the beach. There is not much closer to the beach than our apartment but the pizza restaurant is closer and probably better in many respects.

While the birthday parties were apart this year, the twins of course remain very close. At school, I brought cupcakes in and we had a joint two classroom cupcake party. They wore matching “six year old” crowns around all day, which was adorable. Even cuter was the start of the birthday day. Early in the morning, well before the usual wake up time, we heard Roycie yell “Happy Birthday Adam!” I could hear Adam’s answer, not coming from his bedroom. He was standing just outside of Royce’s door, waiting for her to wake up.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another swim meet

Tori’s swim team recently hosted a swim meet here in Hong Kong for a number of teams in region. I thought it might not be as exciting as our past meet which we travelled to but it was. Playing with older kids on the team while waiting for her races, Tori had a great time. When a more serious swimmer that we know asked Tori what she would be doing at the meet tomorrow- meaning what races- Tori very sweetly replied that she would be playing in the gym most of the day. That was an accurate summary of her fun weekend.

Tori had some good swims, typically taking about 10 seconds off each event (ah- it is great to be eight!) One of my favorite of Tori’s swims was her 50 meter breast stroke. The meet started early and we almost missed the event. Phil rushed Tori into the pool as the heat before her was already in the water. Tori jumped up on the blocks and took off. Towards the end of the race, she actually looked around at her fellow swimmers and then sprinted to finish first in her heat. I also enjoyed seeing her do her first flip turn in the meet. Exciting stuff, at least for family members.

I had a pretty good vantage point for the swimming action as I spent a good part of the meet as one of the stroke and turn judges. This was a pretty good job, particularly as we were not disqualifying anyone under the age of 10. I got to see the full range of the sport from little kids swimming unbearably slow to the premier swimmer on Tori’s team swimming her last race before college. (She will be back to swim in the East Asian Games in December, an event to which we are already angling to volunteer at and get numerous tickets for). Among the parents and coaches, there were many life long competitive swimmers, including one Olympic medalist, at the meet watching the swims. Perhaps watching their own kids more closely but still following the action at large. The number of combined swimming years on the deck seemed staggering to me. And oddly comforting.

In her early years with the sport, Tori is all enthusiasm. For this meet, she was put on her team’s A 8-under relay team, which went on to win both relays. All four members of the relay received blue heat winner ribbons right at the end of their swim. Thrilled, Tori went home with Phil and the twins while I stayed to do stroke and turn for the rest of the meet. During the clean up, someone handed me Tori’s first place medal for that relay race. When I gave it to her at home that night, she said in hushed awe, “I didn’t think it could get any better than the heat winner ribbon!” I think she might be hooked in to the sport, at least for a decade or two.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Swine Flu in Hong Kong

While the world has worried about swine flu for the past few weeks, life in Hong Kong has mostly continued on at an even keel. Hong Kong of course has been the epicenter of pandemics before including the Hong Kong flu in 1968, SARS in 2003 and an avian flu outbreak in 2005. While the flu spreads, the weather here has been ideal. Typically Hong Kong is in the throes of summer heat and humidity by May. And if not heat, then monsoon rains are usually pouring down. But not this year. Skies are clear and blue. The sun is just warm enough and there is a slight breeze at all times. It is just the sight of others wearing protective face masks and gloves that makes one realize something is wrong here in paradise.

About a week ago, Hong Kong did have its first case of swine flu. The infected individual, visiting from Mexico and transiting through Shanghai, stayed at a hotel in Hong Kong one night before checking himself into a hospital. All hotel guests were quarantined at that hotel for one week and just released this past weekend with no additional flu cases. The hotel staff was moved to a rural campground that was cleared for use in containing the swine flu. Hong Kong authorities reacted quickly to the flu threat and it looks like the flu is contained here in Hong Kong.

The kids’ school is remaining open. Last year their school closed for a couple weeks with a local flu outbreak. We have all been anticipating that school might close but so far not. When entering the school, we all have to have our temperature taken. School nurses have also been talking to kids about hygiene. It just so happened that I was volunteering in Adam’s class when the nurse came to talk to Adam’s class. Royce’s class joined his class for the talk. The nurse randomly picked Adam and Royce to both come up and be the hand washing demonstration team. They were thrilled to have purple glitter spread all over their hands, representing germs and then try to wash it all off in front of their friends.

In our daily life, there are a few somewhat odd signs of the heightened concern. All elevators in our building now have a plastic sheet over the elevator buttons to facilitate cleaning. First the sign said the elevator was washed every four hours. Then the sign stated that the washing was now done every two hours. While there might be some small benefit to me from all this plastic sheeting, it is offset by the fact that the elevator buttons are heat activated and thus hard to push and make go through the plastic.

Even on my regular hike in the middle of the Tai Tam country park, there is a bit with concrete stairs leading up Violet Hill with a handrail. At this point. about an hour hike from any road, there is a small sign on the hand rail stating that it is disinfected every four hours. After reading the small sign, I saw two wild pigs, one on the trail ahead of me and another tearing through the brush off to my left. Maybe the cleaning of the handrail in the country park is a good idea after all. Who knows? Tori seems to have the right approach with her wash your hands a lot but keep smiling approach. Her joke is “How do you cure swine flu? With oink-ment of course!”