Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dance and dumplings!

This year, like we do every year, our family went to the ballet to see the holiday classic, the Nutcracker. Watching the Nutcracker here is not much different than watching it in the states but it does have a few unique elements. All in all, we had a lovely day, a great mixture of the familiar, the fun and the still, just a little bit, foreign.

To get to the Nutcracker we take the Star Ferry, Hong Kong’s iconoclastic green and white ferry boat, across Victoria Harbor to the Kowloon side. Though the kids have ridden the Star Ferry many many times, it never disappoints. They love using their Octopus cards, a handy little debit card that can be easily used for public transport as well as Starbucks and McDonalds. They love looking back at the holidays lights put up on most tall buildings in Central. And they love learning the name of the specific boat that we took across, which I think was Northern Star and then Solar Star on the return.

The ballet itself in Hong Kong is enjoyable, particularly now as all three kids can sit through the entire performance. The principal female ballerina was new to us. Actually there was a bit of a scandal last year when the previous ballerina was let go right after the Nutcracker but the new dancer seemed fine to us. The kids all appreciated the return of last year’s lead male dancer from Ukraine. Adam referred to the him as the Ukrainian throughout the performance. Since the new lead ballerina is from Russia, the kids kept saying the Russian, the Ukrainian, etc. It was just like old times.

After the show, we took the kids to Tai Din Fung, a Taiwanese dumpling shop with outlets all over the world. The style of the restaurant is perfect for us. You order your food as soon as you get there and then upon getting a table the food is served almost immediately. The kids ate almost everything, even picking up tricky vegetables with chopsticks. Adam was a little wistful and perhaps still a little hungry when he asked me if I remembered when we used to go out to pizza after the Nutcracker.

To get from the restaurant back to the Star Ferry, we walked a couple blocks along Hong Kong’s major shopping street. The street was essentially wall to wall people. We sort of moved along single file with the kids holding on tight to hands. We got caught in the human traffic and were directed into a mall that we didn’t want to be in but managed to extract ourselves. Finally, we found a little secret to crowd control. All the kids got ice creams cones and ate them on the street as there was no space in the café. Miraculously, the crowds parted and gave our three ice creams eaters some space. As always, it was nice to be in the mix but it was also nice to have a little space, even if only a few inches.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Girl Scout Camp

Though the image is a little hard to reconcile, camping is both possible and fun in Hong Kong. The girls and I recently returned from a Girl Scout camping trip on Lantau Island, way out by Hong Kong’s airport. Tori and I had been camping with the scouts before but this was Royce’s first scout camp. Excitement was high, especially as Royce was camping with Tori’s troop, the older Brownies as opposed to her own troop, the much younger Daisies. It all worked out. We came, we saw, we camped. And while I am breathing a sigh of relief that is it all over, the girls are already counting down the days until next year’s November camping trip.

To get to our camp site, we loaded into buses and drove almost two hours away from our home on Hong Kong Island. My girls rarely go out to Lantau Island except for Disneyland and the airport. As we drove past signs for both of those places, the girls reassured themselves that camping would be much more fun than either of those options. As we approached camp, with over 200 prospective campers in 4 large buses, I was not so sure.

Our site was quite nice, rustic enough to count as camping but with running water and restrooms close by. The site was built on terraces cut into the mountainside so despite our high numbers, we felt almost by ourselves for much of the camp. We hired a catering firm that focuses on outdoor education. They set up the tents and cook the food and help with a craft or two. The staff are mostly college age kids of all nationalities who are on their “gap year,” travelling around and trying to make a little money to extend their travels. The staff and the scouts seemed to have various communal points for conversations, including vacation spots throughout Southeast Asia.

We did all the usual camping activities, including a hike, smores and campfire songs. On the hike, we were not able to correctly name any local trees or flowers but Tori and Royce could read some of the trail markers in Chinese. The smores, invented by girl scouts by the way, were a big hit. As smores experts, Tori and Royce willingly helped other girls prepare their smores. They even ate extra smores that non-Americans found too sticky and too sweet. Our grande finale was campfire songs. Each troop stood up and sang a song. In the dark, with flashlights spotlighting them, the girls sang the same old-fashioned campfire songs everyone sings. It was very sweet. I particularly loved that Royce sang with Tori’s troop. While singing with the big girl troop, Royce snuck in a couple waves to her younger Daisy friends. Of course, kids grow up too fast but if it is as adorable as a little sister following a big sister around at a scouting event, I might be okay with it.