Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tai Tong Holiday Camp

The kids’ school here in Hong Kong has a commitment to outdoor education with all kids from 3rd grade through 12th grade going away to camp. The high school kids can choose between a number of trips, ranging from ski trips in the Alps to charity work in India. The middle school goes to China. I know the sixth graders do a week in Beijing without parents. Tori’s school, the upper primary, does three days and two nights at various camps in the New Territories, the part of Hong Kong that is on mainland China. And luckily for me, parent volunteers are needed.

Tori and I just returned from Tai Tong Holiday Camp, about an hour and a half drive away from our home on Hong Kong Island. We all stayed in modest but air conditioned buildings, divided into “cabins” by classroom and gender. We did all the typical camp activities, clean up our rooms, go on hikes, and make smores. In addition to the usual, the kids also had hourly outdoor activities like rock wall climbing, bike riding, swimming and archery. It really was camp with a holiday flair and the name of the place, Tai Tong Holiday Camp, is pretty appropriate.

Tori loved it all. She reported that one of her favorite camp activities was climbing on the ropes courses and doing the hike. On the hike, we found an interesting eucalyptus tree. It looked the same as the eucalyptus trees in California except that all of its bark was peeled off in long strips. The bark lay on the ground in a full circle around the tree. Tori and I tried to figure out what happened until an Australian teacher told us the tree was an Australian import, the ghost gum eucalyptus that shed its bark in that way every year. Tori also enjoyed finding a poisonous bright green bamboo snake right outside our cabin. Another teacher whispered to me that a few years earlier they had actually found a couple of pythons curled up on the pool deck. I think I slept as poorly as the third grade girls that night.

My favorite camp moment was watching Tori figure out how to do archery. When her class first tried, everyone got three chances to shoot an arrow at the bull’s eye target. The bows were large and the distance far. Only one of the bows was able to get an arrow into the target. But it made such a satisfying whack that all eyes turned and we clapped for the boy. Tori had some troubles with her arrows and the Chinese instructor made her shoot with her right hand even though she is left handed. After her failed attempts, she came over by me and watched others shoot, also unsuccessfully, for awhile. Then she told me she figured it out and convinced her teacher to let her go back for another try. Sure enough, she got her arrows into the target. There was no fan fare, everyone else was gone. She put the equipment away and ran to catch up with the next lesson. But I noticed a spring in her step for the rest of the week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Crocodiles in China

Ready  for something wild, we recently joined a small group of families who had organized a bus tour up to the Panyu Xiangjiang Safari Park in mainland China.  There we saw lions and tigers and bears and got to experience a Chinese style safari.

Once on the bus, we hit the border with China in one hour. From there, we drove another two hours into the Guangdong Province of China, staying in the main city of Guangzhou. We first stopped at Crocodile Park, a large outdoor venue with approximately 100,000 crocodiles, the animals those crocodiles ate and a number of other randomly assorted animals. On the way to watch a crocodile wrestling show, we came across a trained dog show performed in front of caged golden retrievers and poodles. The crocodiles themselves were impressive, sometimes kept in enclosures with about twenty other crocodiles and sometimes in larger pens with thousands of other animals. It was all interesting but more than a little sad and our kids were happy to play at the Crocodile Park’s playground rather than go look at more caged crocs.

While the Crocodile Park had a run-down Soviet feel to the place, the rest of the animal park/resort, called Chime Long, did not. The entire area of some 60,000 hectares includes a couple hotels, an amusement park, a water park and an animal safari. It is said to be able to host 50,000 visitors per day. Clearly, it is not getting those numbers. The park had other visitors, mostly tourists visiting from northern China but was not particularly crowded, at least compared to Hong Kong. The Chime Long complex was built about 20 years ago with the aim to attract wealthy visitors from Hong Kong. Everything has changed since then and Chime Long seems to be adapting. Lots of new roads, new hotels and plenty of commercial development.

On our first night there, we went to another one of the local attractions, the Chime Long International Circus. The circus was held in a huge outside though covered stadium. We really had no idea what to expect and were definitely awed. The circus was an acrobatic circus like Cirque de Soleil but without the safety nets and with lots of trained animals thrown in. At one point, zebras and giraffes ran through the circus while white doves were released into the air. The “international” in the show’s title came from the many non-Chinese performers in the show, though the kids wished some of the “international” would have shown up in some English language during the longer skits and routines.

We rolled into the Chime Long Hotel fairly late at night, not really noticing our surroundings. In the morning on the way to breakfast, the kids spotted about ten white tigers prowling around the inner courtyard of our hotel! Though we didn’t really get many details, we found out that the hotel has 70 white tigers, all inbred for the white coloring. Again, fairly sad to think about but hard to not watch the tiger rolling around on the ground as you have your coffee. At breakfast, the kids successfully negotiated in Mandarin for ice cream. We said if they could make themselves clear they could eat that rather than the sticky rice cakes offered. Tori even managed to buy the only four Diet Cokes in Guangzhou for us. We were proud but mostly grateful.

Our final stop was the Panyu Xiangjiang Safari Park, home to 400 species and 20,000 animals. As we entered the park, we were told that our tickets were tied to our finger prints, taken earlier at the hotel. The whole system was barely functioning and caused a sizeable delay. At one point, a park attendant grabbed Tori’s hand and was pressing all of her fingers on to the electronic pad. Tori was in tears and we all realized that the customer relations bit still had a ways to go. We all recovered once we found out the Safari Park was home to the only known koala twins in the world. Excitedly, Adam and Royce let fellow park goers know they were twins too. Adam was less pleased to learn that the koala twins were both girls. As the Hong Kong Zoo is fairly modest, it was fun for the kids to see some animals. But after a couple days, we were all relieved to leave the man-made safari land for the urban jungle we call home.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The arm: cast number two!

Sad but true, we have a new hot pink cast at our house! New cast, same girl. Royce, who fractured her wrist in August, ended up breaking her elbow in late September. The injury occurred while we were playing on the side lines of a sports field, watching a middle school rugby game. During the game, a boy broke his femur and the twins and I watched as an ambulance took the poor boy away. We talked about broken bones and then minutes later, got first-hand experience when Royce fell. She begged me not to call the ambulance and we did not. We called Dad instead.

Phil took Royce to Adventist Hospital in Happy Valley, about 20 minutes from our house. Very nice friends in our building watched our other kids while I joined Royce at the hospital for midnight surgery. Royce was very brave and her surgery went well. We were the only family out in the hospital halls. Apparently the hospital shuts down at 6pm and most comply with this. We were at a private hospital, the same one Adam had his tonsils out at, and not at a public hospital which might have been busier. A team of nurses and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon were called in for Royce. They came, wheeling big pieces of hospital equipment with them. When it was done, the equipment came out first and then the little girl. Royce spent one night in the hospital and left the next day.

For periodic checks, we visit Royce’s doctor at his office, not the hospital. With an emphasis on pediatrics, he has juice and snacks in the waiting room and various small toys one can take for being brave. And on top of all that, he gave Royce a present. In Hong Kong, many people enjoy Royce chocolates, a Japanese brand of chocolates aimed at an adult consumer. Not only did we get Royce chocolates but we also got many Royce bags and tins. The whole thing was pretty exciting. I heard that Royce shared with her class about the Royce chocolates but not about the surgery or cast. Needless to say, Royce is quite the star in first grade with two broken bones this year and two lost teeth.

Weather in Hong Kong has been rainy. This has helped keep us all about of the pool while Royce is in her cast. We even stayed away from the mid-Autumn festival celebrations down at the beach over the weekend in an attempt to keep the sand out of the cast and the cast out of the sea. But we caved when our friends (the same ones who helped during the emergency!) invited us on a junk boat. Royce put a plastic bag around her cast and joined the party, riding the banana boat behind us and jumping off the junk boat into the sea. While the other un-injured kids jumped off the highest level of the boat, about 15 feet, Royce jumped off the lower level, at about 7 feet. She would jump off the boat and immediately raise her pink cast out of the water and then swim, one-arm out of the water, back to the boat. While others might have been appalled by this, I was okay with it. It showed she is still our active girl but one who is exercising, hopefully, a little more caution.