Sunday, September 27, 2009

Horse racing!

After the kids took a couple horse riding lessons over the summer, we returned to Hong Kong with a renewed interest in its favorite pastime, horse racing. While Phil and I have been to races over the years, the kids have not. And they are not likely to go as the horse races near us are typically at night. And there is the whole gambling angle to explain. We opted for an easier way to experience the races and recently visited the Hong Kong Racing Museum in Happy Valley.

The Racing Museum is located in the building surrounding the Happy Valley racetrack. While the racetrack itself can seat approximately 40,000, the Racing Museum is a small museum with only a few rooms. Like most museums in Hong Kong, it is beautifully done and strikingly empty. The museum has a fantastic view of the thick grass racetrack and all the activities going on in the middle of the track, mostly rugby practices taking advantage of the open space. Though no races were going on there when we visited, a number of spectators were in the stands watching a large screen with live feed of races elsewhere in Hong Kong.

Horse racing in Hong Kong goes back over 140 years with the Hong Kong Jockey Club organized and administrating races for the past 125 years. In the early days the horses were all Mongolian ponies brought in from the mainland. Now only thoroughbreds bred and trained all over the world, race in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Jockey Club hosts a number of annual races with large awards. Two of Hong Kong champion horses were displayed in the museum. Champion River Verdon, large and stuffed, and Champion Silver Lining’s skeleton both are integral parts of the museum. Oddly, the skeleton displayed with various videos of Silver Lining winning races seemed okay to us, exposing both the physical and actual uniqueness of this competitive winner.

A lot of the information about the training of the horses was not terribly interesting to us, though Royce did gravitate to a mid-sized still life display of the horse stables at the racetrack. Everyone perked up when we started reading the names of the Hong Kong Horses of the Year. The champion horses all had great names like Silver Lining and Electric Unicorn. Once home, the girls immediately renamed their toy horses more majestic names. No one has laid any bets on the newly named horses yet but we are sure that will be next.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Typhoon Koppu

Our swine flu vacation was over but the kids still had more time off. Not only is it flu season here in Hong Kong, it is also typhoon season. Typhoon season typically is late summer through early fall here, with plenty of opportunity to disrupt the school day. The occasional day off of school is fine but after the previous week of no school, everyone was getting at little agitated. My kids even asked about “virtual school,” something that was set up for them during the week off. While we had no virtual school, everyone was happy, maybe even relieved, to do a few math worksheets that day.

Typhoon Koppu, our first typhoon since our return to Hong Kong after the summer, slammed into us late on a Monday night. Typhoon Koppu reach T-8 status at Monday night at 6pm. Activities were cancelled that afternoon and some businesses shut down early. The kids and I wandered around the deserted playground at our apartment building, enjoying the gusting winds. Hong Kong has been very hot and humid this year, breaking all sorts of temperature records. The winds and the cloud cover brought some relief to the relentless heat and we loved it. Almost immediately as the clock turned to six, the pre-storm calm ended and rain started down on us. We ran back to our apartment to watch from there.

While many storms are all warning and no real storm, this was different. The winds howled around our apartment all through the night. Thunder and lightning storms raged around us with Hong Kong Island recording 13,000 lightning strikes in a two hour period. We tried to clear the plants and BBQ off our balcony but were only partially successful. It was almost too windy to open the balcony door. The kids went to bed and sleep through the night. Most adults appeared to be up that day based on the number of emails and instant responses I got while on-line.

At 6 am the next morning, Typhoon Koppu was still rated as a T-8 typhoon. Schools and businesses remained closed. Views out of our apartment showed roads empty of traffic and broken branches everywhere. By 10:30 that morning, the signal was lowered to T-3. Businesses re-opened but schools did not. As usual we made our way down to the pool, noticing lots of broken glass along the way. Looking up we also saw glass balconies in our apartment building that had been blown out. Management had very quickly covered these holes with plywood. Tori noted, with authority, that typhoons usually break windows in Pacific Place, the apartment across the street from us and a bit closer to the water but not the Manhattan’s. It was a humbling moment. All these days off of school have lulled us into a state of sustained caution with no actual danger. The broken glass was a reminder that typhoon season, and even the flu season, are indeed real.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Swine Flu Vacation

Here in Hong Kong, the kids swim in the pool or ocean every day. It really does feel like endless summer, especially this year. Ten days into the new term, the kids’ school closed for a week because of the flu. After learning the routines of the school day, the kids were off again. Luckily for us, none of us were sick so our down time was just that; time down at the pool.

Our school closed down, following inspections by Hong Kong’s Department of Health. Since spring, schools have been checking children’s temperatures as they enter the campus. Schools are required to report absences and flu-like symptoms to the Department of Health. The current rule is that if any school is experiencing absences of 10% of the student body or has 1% of the student body hospitalized, the school needs to shut down for seven days. While shutting the school might seem extreme to those of us from the states, Hong Kong’s strong stance on swine flu is understandable given its history with the SARS epidemic and its position as a transit point into southeast Asia and China.

In Hong Kong today there are approximately 20,000 cases of swine flu with 500 new cases reported daily. Other parents report that their children are often tested for either strain A or B of the flu but not always specifically for H1N1. When we were making medical visits for Royce’s fractured wrist, we passed through various swine flu triage points set up outside of clinics and hospitals. All that being said, in Hong Kong as is the case everywhere, many of the flu cases have mild symptoms.

So, the most immediate impact on us is no school! We, well actually only the children, have to have their temperature taken when entering the American Club, a recreational club, across the street. We all have our temperatures taken before we jump in the swimming pool at our apartment complex. Ramifications are felt even at church where we were told not to drink directly from the chalice during communion.

We are willing to comply but it all just seems so futile. Daily, we record the kids’ temperatures in a log book that goes back and forth from school. To make our compliance easier, Phil picked up new thermometers for us in the states, the quick reading ear thermometer kind. While the health benefits of this temperature taking might be negligible, other positives are appearing. Like most families, we are a little overscheduled this fall, with swimming, tennis and musical instruments but with flu-mandated shut downs, our schedules are manageable. The twins are also learning about “every day numbers” at school. They were both able to give many thermometer based examples and are particularly good at writing their numbers 96-99.