Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Dragon's Back

One of the many wonderful features about life in Hong Kong is the proximity to hiking trails. From our front door, albeit the front door of our apartment complex, we can be at the trailhead of a real hiking trail in about five minutes. We all regularly use the Tai Tam trail, a nice wide flat trail on the weekends, with Phil and I branching off that trail on higher harder climbs when we are on our own. Slightly further up the road is one such slightly harder trail, the Dragon’s Back. Probably due both to the cool name and to the fact that our apartment looks directly out onto the trail, our kids were interested in joining us on a Dragon’s Back hike. And so recently, on a cold misty afternoon, we all found ourselves hiking the Dragon’s Back and having a great time.

To get to the Dragon’s Back, we jumped out of a taxi at a crossroads with a correctional facility and a cemetery. From this auspicious start, we climbed a set of concrete stairs to push us up from the road to the trail. The kids turned happily off their regular easy hike onto our harder hike with excitement. As we hiked through bamboo groves and even slightly heavier forest, the kids all remembered my story of seeing a python on that very trail. Seeing the python kept me off this trail for years but seems to have had the opposite effect on everyone else. Luckily we did not see a python that day but everyone hiked along briskly and hopefully. The trail “snakes” through the low lying vegetation and then comes to a kilometer or so of uphill. This uphill bit takes you right on to the ridgeline of a thin peninsula of land that juts out into the South China Sea. As you hike between Wan Cham Shan Peak and Sheko O Peak, the sea and coastline and various small islands are visible on either side.

As the rain picked up a bit, we quickly worked our way down off the top of the ridge into the forest and then out on to the road. The trail just deposits hikers right onto the road with a thin shoulder area. Cold and a bit wet, our moods declined as we waited for the bus. We jumped on the first one that came (not going in the exact right direction but close). The kids got on and immediately climbed up the bus stairs to the top deck, once again happy and excited. Back in our early days, negotiating those bus stairs was impossible. Kids fell and everyone cried. Though the family effort on the Dragon’s Back was solid, it was the family’s easy effort on the double decker bus that really amazed me. Clearly, this crew is now in motion.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Year of the Tiger

Somehow, the Chinese New Year is already upon us. It is now the Year of the Tiger. As the Chinese New Year follows the lunar cycle, the holiday can take place between mid-January and mid-February. This year’s holiday is not a particularly early one but it seemed to sneak up on us all the same. New Year’s Eve was Saturday February 13 with the first day of the Chinese New Year being Sunday February 14. We had a small Valentine’s party on Saturday, kept the decorations up until mid-morning and then switched to our New Year decorations. Luckily, red is a reoccurring color theme in both holidays.

At school this year, all kids were asked to speak at their respective Chinese New Year school assemblies. Tori’s assembly was first and she did a great job with her Mandarin greeting. I had the much easier job of repeating her traditional greeting into English. All the traditional greetings wish everyone luck and good fortune in the coming year. One of the traditional greetings also wishes the students good grades in the year ahead. It is hard to think of an American holidays where the traditional greeting says anything about academics. We just learned that only the top 20% of all students here are given spots at local universities so maybe the academic greeting makes sense. At the lower primary assembly, Adam and Royce also did a great job with their greetings. They followed our friends, the second grade twins, onto stage so that was a cute multiples moment.

This year Royce was invited to attend a friend’s family holiday. She spent the day visiting her friend’s family, grandparents, in-laws, great aunts. Royce said she meet 14 cousins. At all visits, she received candy and lai sei, red envelopes filled with money. This is a well known tradition and we typically hand out a few red envelopes ourselves. But Royce can back with many more than a few red envelopes and much more than a little cash. She loved the whole day and promptly sat down and wrote a thank you note to her friend’s family.

Later that evening, Royce remarked on how odd it was our family was just at home when everyone else was celebrating Chinese New Year. That pretty much summed up my feelings too. On this, our fourth year here, we are much closer to the holiday than before. I have box of holiday decorations. I feel excited when the holiday is near. I know some of the appropriate things to do and say. We even speak (in Mandarin) in all school assemblies. But the closer we get in some regards, the more I realize we are just peeking at the edges in others. We are definitely outsiders, but enthusiastic outsiders. I hope that counts enough to get us a little good fortune, a little flourishing of the dragon and horse spirits and maybe even a few good grades!