Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hong Kong Sevens

If rugby is big in Hong Kong, then the annual Hong Kong Sevens world series tournament is even bigger. For years now, we have seen our friends disappear over the sevens weekend, replaced by rowdy crazily dressed fans. This year, we were able to spend three days in Hong Kong’s Stadium too, courtesy of tickets obtained through Adam’s participation in a mini-rugby league here. Some of us loved the rugby, some of us loved watching the diehard fans, some of us loved the face painting but all of us found something to love this past weekend.

The Hong Kong Sevens atmosphere is like a carnival, with throngs of spectators, lots of drunken diversions, music and costumes. And that is not even touching on the rugby itself! When Tori and I arrived late to the stadium (she had a morning swim meet out in the new Territories), we could not hear Phil on the cell phone and had to find him by following text directions. As we walked past men dressed as women, a crowd of about ten guys dressed as Egyptian pharaohs and a big group of people dressed in hot pink latex, Tori’s eyes widened.

The stadium was a teeming mass of people but we also ran into two groups of people we knew who had moved away from Hong Kong last year and were just in town for the rugby. We saw friends singing in musical sideshows and knew one of the high school kids who streaked across the rugby field chased by security. With all the excitement plus short games and a wide screen television for re-plays, even our non-rugby obsessed girls were able to stay put and interested for more than half the day.

To start the world series, the mini-rugby league teams were invited to play in exhibition games. Over 3,000 kids play rugby here, with the mini-league growing every year. Adam left school early and got to the stadium, where he lined up with his team and marched onto the field. He played a ten minute game on the north pitch. His team won 2-1. Adam was nervous before the game, stretching and jumping up and down. We were nervous after the game, trying to locate him through the crowds after he exited the playing field. Nonetheless, this is Hong Kong where life does many times seem achingly nostalgic of a more innocent time. The parents were all told to write our cell phone numbers on our kid’s arms in case they got separated from the group. People here are worried that the kids might be scared if lost but not that anything worse would happen to them. And we found Adam where he was suppose to be, standing right by his coach and ready to start eating stadium food and refueling after his grueling ten minute match.

Adam loved the rugby this weekend. We watched as the teams warmed up on the sidelines and ran out on to the field at the start of play. Adam enjoyed looking at all the big players and confided to me that he hoped to be as big as a Fiji team player when he grew up. Adam mostly routed for teams that he knew but loved them all. We saw the US team win once, but they lost a couple times after that. Adam and many other little boys dressed in their rugby uniforms, placed themselves right by the tunnel that the players entered and exited from. Adam hung over the side with his rugby jersey and pen in hand. He collected over 30 signatures from whoever he could get to stop. One time, he had an American player holding his jersey but the American ended up not signing it, getting pulled away by his coach. Nonetheless, the entire Fiji team came by and signed his jersey. And Adam told me in hushed tones that one of the Fiji players even had blood on his forehead. And Adam, with a few elbowing rugby skills of his own, got that American player’s signature the very next day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Indoor Time

Generally, we spend more time indoors here in Hong Kong than we did in the states. Of course, we have great hikes and lovely beaches and we use them frequently but we are still inside a lot. The reasons for this are many. First, we live in an apartment without ready access to a yard. The kids all have swings and things hanging from their bedroom ceilings so they are active inside but it is still inside. I well remember the days when we first moved here and Adam used to wake up and run laps around the apartment. Secondly, there is air-conditioning inside and much of the year we need it. We have all adjusted to the humidity in Hong Kong but you do need an air conditioned break from it from time to time.

This week there has been another factor in keeping us inside; the poor air quality outside. Hong Kong monitors their air pollution, collects data on this and publishes a daily Air Pollution Index. Air quality varies greatly all over Hong Kong, particularly for traffic congested roadsides to the ocean side spots like where we live. Much like in California, these API numbers are well known here, part of daily conversation. When the API is over 100, this is considered high and children with respiratory issues are kept inside at recess. In our many years in Hong Kong, the API has only been over 100 a handful of times but to my mind that is already too many times.

Yesterday, most of Hong Kong posted API numbers over 400. The air was not only polluted but also contained suspended particle matter. Apparently, the sandstorms in Beijing are now blowing down to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Recent sandstorms there have been linked to desertification in Inner Mongolia as well as the usual suspects of traffic and industrial pollution. With the air quality over 200 classified as “severe,” yesterday’s (and so far today’s) API caused the government to cancel outdoor recess time and all afterschool activities. We spent a quiet afternoon inside reading and coloring and listening to the foghorns of cargo ships bellow through the pollution induced haze.

Though not directly linked to recent pollution, we all did an interesting indoor activity this weekend. The kids had their first ever ski lessons inside, in downtown Wan Chai to be exact, one of the busiest shopping areas of Hong Kong. We walked into a regular looking office building and quickly found a small room with sloped revolving tract of white carpet. The kids loved it. Tori quickly learned the necessary skills and was soon skiing down nonchalantly with her hands in her pockets. The twins struggled a little longer but they too were able to get down and up the “slope” as well. Who knows but maybe even the great outdoors will be next?

At school yesterday, Adam’s class wrote letters to the Hong Kong government asking them to clean up the air for the next generation. We asked Adam what he wrote. He wrote Dear Sir or Madam, Please clean up the air for me. I am a boy in Hong Kong. I like to run and play. I like to breath. He told me he signed the letter not with his usual ending of Love, Adam but with the more severe Sincerely, Adam. For sweet Adam, that is really sticking it to them and I was proud.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The USS Nimitz

Recently, we all toured the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier and one of the largest warships in the world. The USS Nimitz visited Hong Kong for a rest and relaxation break after many months of deployment in the Persian Gulf. Phil and I have been on visiting aircraft carriers before. In fact, we had come to an evening reception on the USS Nimitz earlier in the week and visited the USS Nimitz when it was in Hong Kong in 2007. The kids however had long wanted to get out to a visiting warship and luckily it all came together for a first-ever fun and inspiring trip to a really big ship for them.

When the aircraft carriers come to Hong Kong, they do not anchor the carrier close to the city (though apparently they used to years ago). Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor is constantly changing via land reclamation projects and of course via much increased shipping traffic. For those reasons and security, the ship is anchored a good distance away from the downtown and the piers. At Fenwick Pier, a pier long used by the US forces, we boarded a small boat that taxied us out to the ship. Travel time was an hour each way. Definitely long enough to make us all feel like we arrived some place new when we reached the USS Nimitz.

The ship is like its own floating city, with multiple hairdressers, places of worship and over 5,000 inhabitants. When we pulled up, sailors were taking loads of garbage off the Nimitz. We later learned that some women pig farmers on Lantau Island had long had the contract for garbage disposal from the Nimitz. It was an interesting image; the huge warship and the much smaller Chinese boats working together over the mundane.

We took a tour of the ship, led by a pilot. The kids kept very close to the pilot leading us around. We have all watched the great IMAX movie The Magic of Flight many times over and thus we were all able to ask more detailed questions than the rest of our tour group. We got to see and touch the sling shot mechanism that shoots the planes off the carrier as well as the hooks that grab on to lines and yank the plane into an abrupt stop on deck.

Many of the pilots were based in Lemoore, California and thus we all had plenty of California Central Valley things to talk about. We got familiar with a couple of the pilots and even saw them out and about when they were visiting Stanley (the part of Hong Kong where we live). The kids asked a lot of questions about controlled spins, which is one of the more exciting maneuvers highlighted in the IMAX film. One of the women pilots told our girls that a controlled spin was just like a rollercoaster ride. Tori and Royce’s faces looked up at this pilot with complete awe.

The kids asked the pilots questions and the pilots asked them questions. The one question that stumped our kids: where are you from? Everyone looked at me for help before they even began to answer. The kids were much better at telling the pilots how to say things in Chinese or what was fun to do in Hong Kong than saying where they were from. It made me realize that even I say the easy answer that I am from California though I have not lived there in decades. The kids have not learned the easy answer yet and maybe for them there is not one.