Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lions Nature Education Center

For some reason, I have always wanted to get the kids out to the Lions Nature Education Center in Sai Kung. Perhaps it reminded me of our fun nature center visits when we lived in the states. And I remember people telling me about it when we first moved here as a good outing with kids. Well, four years later, we can finally check it off our list of things to do. Recently, we all drove out to Sai Kung, a lovely area in the New Territories with a country park and more remote beaches and spent a morning at the nature center there.

The nature center was founded in 1991 as a joint venture between Lions International and Hong Kong’s agricultural and fisheries departments with the aim to promote environmental education. Today many local school groups visit the site and explore its grounds and exhibits. The site of the nature center is a former government demonstration farm which includes 34 hectares, many ponds and a few short hiking trails. We walked around a bit among some fruit trees, including mangos, lychees and bananas. Being summer in Hong Kong, it is pretty hot and humid here and we really lagged while looking at all the outdoor exhibits.

But we did much better on the indoor ones. We all enjoyed the so-called Insectarium and its various displays. Tori, the owner of both a live stag beetle and a collection of dead insects, enjoyed the Insectarium more than most. Oddly, the exhibit featured something on the parasitic wasp which happens to be an insect Tori talks about a lot. Those of us who were a little queasy quickly moved on to the Shell House, where we learned the ins and outs of shell classification in Hong Kong.

All in all, the nature center was a good outing but not at all reminiscent of our nature center visits in the states. Here the nature center had an older feel, an almost Soviet feel. The kids noticed the signs throughout the center warmed the public of avian flu not swine flu that they still have to fill out daily temperature logs for at school.  The Fisheries Hall at nature center was indicative of this dated design with a welcome sign that featured a fish that moved powered by electricity, sort of like those joke fish that people put up in garages that flap and sing.

Inside the Fisheries Hall, there was an electronic game that our kids gravitated to. Basically, you had to identify fish from about fifty different options. We recognized only one fish and our scores were dismal. A group of elderly Chinese ladies played the game after us. Buzzing sounds and lights celebrated their high score. I explained to the kids that these ladies probably shopped for and cooked many of these fishes. No one liked the idea of eating so many fish very much but the kids seriously pondered this in hopes of improving their scores. So far, no giant grouper or mangrove snapper for dinner yet.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Windsurfing in Stanley

We were looking for a little adventure on the southside of Hong Kong Island recently and found it. We often feel like we have done just about everything there is to do in Stanley. We have hit the Maritime Museum many times. We have played at Stanley Main Beach and Repulse Bay Beach and lots of other beaches in between. But we found something new; wind surfing!

I have been trying half- heartedly to get into a windsurfing class given by Hong Kong’s Department of Leisure via their Water Sports Center in Stanley but have been stymied by bureaucracy. Many of the classes require all sorts of water safety certification and while I support water safety, I can’t figure out where to go or when. Recently, the American Club offered a wind surfing class outsourced to windsurfers in Stanley set up just past the Water Sports Center. This proved the perfect introduction to more varied water sports for our family.

Our first windsurfing class was for kids so Tori gamely signed up. On her first day of lessons, the first typhoon of the season came near to Hong Kong. It only ranked a Typhoon 1 (out of 10) and class went on as planned. The instructor taught her some basics on the beach and then took her and another girl out into the water. Each girl took turns trying to wind surf, while the instructor kayaked nearby. After a couple hours, Tori was zipping around and we were all impressed. Tori came out of the water sore everywhere but definitely ready to have another go.

Typhoons intervened for a number of weeks. Every time the lesson came around, a typhoon came to town. Finally, on a typhoon free day lessons resumed and ultimately proved harder and not as exciting for the windsurfers. This time, Adam happened to know one of the women at the windsurfing beach shop (she works at his school). She got kayaks out for the twins to paddle around in while Tori surfed. And she introduced us to everyone. Apparently, Tori’s teacher was an Olympic windsurfer for Hong Kong in 2000 and 2004 and his uncle, the owner of the beach shop, was an Olympic windsurfer in 1988. Despite all their skills, everyone was more than approachable. At the end of the lesson, Tori asked her Olympic coach if he wanted to look at some interesting shells she found. And he kindly did.

Maybe all those summer typhoons have a silver lining. Hong Kong does seem to have a lot of wind surfing prowess. Hong Kong’s only Olympic medial (a gold in 1996) came in women’s windsurfing. Tori, definitely competitive in everything she does, thought about all this sport's history. She told me that she figured her chances of making an Olympic team would increase if she stayed in Hong Kong or moved to another island. Or maybe she should just kept hanging out with these guys on Stanley Beach.