Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Fourth of July Hong Kong style

After four years of residence in Hong Kong, we finally spent our first ever Fourth of July holiday here. While there wasn’t much Americana going on, sunny weather and extraordinarily clear skies did make the holiday feel like a vacation for us.

In contrast to other countries where we have lived, the general population here seems to have less of an awareness of the Fourth of July. Perhaps a hangover from British rule? Generally, most people mistook our patriotic dress for some sort of World Cup mania. In charge of flowers at our Anglican church on the Sunday of July 4th, we felt quite clever in arranging for red, white and blue flowers to be delivered. No one really got it.

We spent the day doing Fourth of July crafts and then wore some of these crafts to dinner across the street. The American Club here held a Fourth of July BBQ, which we were happy to attend. The event ended up being more elaborate than we thought, with the Marine guards from presenting the colors, a live band and a woman singing the National Anthem. A tall man on stilts dressed like Uncle Sam and strawberries dipped in white and blue chocolate were just as exciting to the majority of our family.

Phil got the Monday following the Fourth of July off from work and we all spent the day in the air conditioned splendor of the Hong Kong Science Museum and the Hong Kong History Museum, both long time favorites of ours. As it happened, Phil had another day off earlier in the week. Hong Kong’s handover day is on July 1, celebrating when the Brits handed Hong Kong back to China. This July marked the 13th anniversary of the handover and there was a small parade and fireworks in Central for the occasion. Happy to have Dad home and caught up in all these holidays, Adam asked us hopefully when the US had its handover day? Rest assured, Tori gave him an earful of American history and we trust he is now squared away. At least until China’s National Day rolls around on October 1.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Around the world: Germany

After London, we flew into Frankfurt. We met Phil’s Dad at the airport, rented a big black van and headed north. The idea was to get the kids out of the city as soon as possible and it worked. Within hours of landing in Germany, everyone was running around on the grass outside our rented cabin.

We spent a week in a quiet area of Germany, the same area where Phil’s Dad spent many of the war years. We drove to the small village where Opa was sent to live with relatives, saw the farm he lived on and the little school he went to. We did try to see something historical each day but by the end of the week the kids were over castles but definitely not over climbing in trees.

Once again, European playgrounds were a hit with all sorts of play equipment that would be deemed unsafe in Hong Kong or the states. Joining a group of German kids (all still in school to our kids’ amazement), our kids learned to overload the playground’s zip line (a much smaller version of what we did in Mexico) making it go even faster. The German kids asked our kids to leave the park and run across the street to their yard where they had a huge trampoline. Needless to say, this was all very exciting on a variety of levels.

During the week, the kids took pony riding lessons. Royce, a real lover of animals, took it very seriously and talked about her pony non-stop. The stables near our cabin were not used to American students but took it all in stride so to speak. Lessons were in German with Phil translating from time to time. We are not sure how much German the kids picked up but they definitely learned some phrases with “verboten” in them.

We spent time in Heidelberg and Frankfurt, with the kids meeting some of Phil’s relatives and family friends for the first time. Again, playgrounds played an integral role in keeping the whole family happy. We found a playground in Frankfurt that we all loved. The kids loved the playground equipment and we loved the little café there with lattes, ice cream and fresh strawberries.

At the park, Adam inserted himself into a few soccer games on the grassy lawn there. It was a little touch and go for awhile in Germany with Adam’s World Cup allegiances. While we were there (and watching in a big public square on a wide screen television), both the US and Germany won their games to advance to the second round of play. In the end, everyone was so excited and due to the proximity of Germany gear, the kids decided to support Germany. This decision proved a good one for the long run. But the fact that USA’s star player Landon Donovan is a twin kept us all rooting for the states until the bitter end and beyond.

Around the world: England

After the wedding, we headed for London to visit our good friend and the twins’ godmother. We landed awake and practically giddy after the “short” flight, only 8 plus hours and we were thrilled. Outside the cool grey skies seemed perfect to us. Once our Irish driver dropped us at our hotel, the kids asked which language he was speaking.

We walked the streets of London in sweatshirts and sweaters. The kids enjoyed being able to read the street signs. With Hong Kong’s road traffic driving on the left hand side, we were all well prepared for crossing streets and such. We enjoyed the locally grown produce and marveled at the “low” prices. Hong Kong food prices, with everything imported, are perhaps the only food prices that can make London’s look low. Regardless, we had much fresh fruit and vegetables and loved it.

Our friend showed us all a great time, taking us to museums and helping us navigate public transportation. As always getting there was as much fun as the destination with the kids. We were also taken to see Wicked which was a big hit with everyone. We have plans afoot for a Wicked Party (green face paint and mint ice cream are as far as we have gotten) later in the summer.

A highlight of our London time was time spent walking in the Hampstead Heath, a huge green space near our friend’s place. With lakes and trails and open fields of grass, it was paradise to us urban folk. On the first day, we found a playground there and returned regularly. The playground there was about 10x bigger than any playground we have in Hong Kong and we were all happy for the space to spread out. I thought a little wistfully that the next time we are all in Europe the kids might have outgrown playgrounds. But then again, maybe not.

At this Heath playground, Adam kicked a ball around with another boy. We overheard the boy ask Adam which football team he supported? We were not sure how Adam would respond. Would he think American football? Did he know any teams either from American or European football? Without missing a beat, Adam said he supported Barcelona! In that instance, Adam seemed much more worldly than he ever has before or since. Now he has Germany tattoos all over and talks non-stop about the World Cup. He went from savvy to fanatic in a blink of an eye.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Around the world: Mexico

Expatriate life in Hong Kong, and perhaps all over the world, typically includes a summer of travel back to one’s country of origin. Thus Hong Kong, and particularly the apartment building where we live which is populated by mostly expatriate families, begins to fill like a college town in summer in June. This summer we enjoyed much travel though not back to the states, except to catch a connecting flight.

This year we boldly journeyed around the world, basically going in a circle west from Hong Kong and returned from the east. Summer began early for us with a trip to Mexico for my brother’s wedding the first weekend of June. Everyone was excited about the wedding and thus in good spirits for the long travel day from Hong Kong to Mexico. We flew to San Francisco (with just a few minutes to go into the Cal/Stanford shop there) and on to Phoenix. Just when we all started to sag, we randomly ran into my brother and his wife to be in the Phoenix airport and caught a second wind. We powered on the rest of the way fueled by American ice cream (the non- red bean variety, which is a popular flavor in Hong Kong) and proximity to the bride and groom.

The wedding was lovely and right on the beach. The kids were thrilled with their roles as flower girls and ring boy and took this all very seriously. Adam worked out a series of signals with the man officiating over the ceremony just to make sure he would know when to bring up the ring. The reception afterwards was right in the villas where we all were staying. Enjoying ourselves, we kept the kids up and at the party until Royce disappeared and came back in her pajamas to wish us good night.

Ready to get out of dress clothes, the kids quickly zeroed in on para-sailing, where the participant wearing a parachute is towed behind a boat and pulled into the air. Phil negotiated with El Gato on the beach to get all three kids in the air for a somewhat fair price. We thought the twins would not go and we would take their turns. To our surprise, all three kids got airborne and loved it. Another day we all tried zip lining in the jungle canopy. I can’t really describe it except to say we zipped across lines strapped in a harness with the jungle hundreds of feet below us. Watching the kids, tear out of the zip line station ahead of me, their little beings suspended way above the ground, I think I went from being proud of the kids’ adventurous spirit to being afraid. Needless to say, my favorite part of the excursion was the slow mule ride up out of the canyon and their favorite part of the day was the zip line called Speedy Gonzalez.