Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tai Tong school camp: the second time

Another year of camp snuck up on us again. This year Tori’s class returned to the Tai Tong Holiday Camp for the second year in a row for three days and two nights of adventure. Last year, neither Tori or I knew what to expect but this year it was old hat in a good way. We knew our way around from activity to activity. I knew the “cabins” were actually what I would call dorms with air-conditioning. I knew my cell phone had coverage out there. All in all, this was a more relaxed camp experience this go around.

Tori’s camp was great fun from start to finish. The kids all tie-dye class t-shirts and come up with cabin banners. There is a lot of dividing the kids up and encouraging them to make new friends at camp. There is a lot of fostering independence at the dining halls and in the cabins. As our kids go to a religious school, there are prayers before meals. Tori sang on the “praise team,” singing and dancing to religious songs in front of the entire camp. Independence in the dining hall typically found me sitting at a different table than Tori at many meals.

For the activities, we biked and hiked. On our hike, we worked our way up a steep trail with jungle like vegetation on all sides. At the top of the hill, we looked out not on more wilderness but on Shenzen, China’s large industrial city on the border with Hong Kong. The huge buildings were right there. Green space here is all around but literally squeezed in between the many many buildings.

Due to Phil’s travel, I needed to come home from camp one night early to be with the twins. Tori was very grown up at camp and was definitely fine with this change in the plans. Other kids got sad when their parents were leaving but Tori was solid. Right when I was leaving, she asked how long the rest of camp was. She asked me a couple of times if the rest of camp would be like a sleep over and a school day and then she would see us again? It wasn’t much but it was the only glimpse I had of little girl. Sixth grade camp at our school is a week in Beijing with no parents allowed. It seemed impossible last year when Tori was in third grade but already highly probably now that she is a fourth grader.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Water adventure at the Tseung Kwan O Pool

We seem to be spending more and more time at pools these days. Recently, Tori swam at a Hong Kong Division 2 meet at a pool we had never been to before. The swim meet was a little tense as it was Tori’s first ever long course meters meet (her first in a long 50 meter pool). As she waited hours and hours to swim, she kept looking out at the larger pool complex which had slides and play structures. It was all a little poignant and we vowed to get her back there for fun before the next Divisional swim meet.

With navigational help from friends, we easily drove to the pool but remained worried about parking. We followed the signs and drove right to the pool’s car park. We drove into a car park with about six spaces, four of which were vacant. This is pretty typical in Hong Kong where most people take public transportation. It still never fails to amuse me that in a densely populated place like Hong Kong, the parking lots are so small and so wide open.
The pool complex is connected to a large public library. On the Sunday we visited, the pool was not very full but the library was jam packed. As the day went on, the pool filled up a bit and we could only surmised that kids were allowed to swim after they did their Sunday library time.
The pool itself was fantastic; a couple water slides, a couple different climbing structures in the water and my favorite, a huge bucket that filled with water and tipped over every couple of minutes. It was all good fun and just the type of thing we typically seek out on vacation. It here it is in Hong Kong, accessible with my Octopus Card ( a multipurpose payment card used for public transport, McDonalds and lots of other things).
We eventually worked our way over to the diving well, where kids and adults attempted dives and flips all well beyond their abilities. We were amusing and developed a bit of a following. At one point some girls a little older than Tori were following us around. Once they started talking to me- in perfect English- it became clear they wanted to meet Tori, the blonde haired girl. Only then did I notice that we were the only non-Asian folks at the pool that day.
For our next Tseung Kwan O Pool dive, we are going to try find the PC Deli. Over the years I have heard many people rave about this Western style deli. When I told a friend out our swim trip, she reminded me that the deli was right around the corner. The pool snack stand served lots of things like fish ball soup and fried noodles but nothing our kids would eat, even in a swim induced hungry state. The promise of good Western food and good cheap family fun is an intriguing combination and we will be back. We have a pretty good grasp of the directions but I really hope that car park is still open!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival: year five and counting

We have always loved the mid-Autumn festival here in Hong Kong. It is a lovely holiday, sometimes called the moon festival, which falls anywhere from middle to late September, depending on the moon’s cycle. Everyone goes down to the beach with lanterns, candles and day-glo sticks and looks up at the moon. People eat moon cakes, which are sort of like little fruit cakes with eggs on the inside. It is partially a harvest festival, though the warm temperatures in September do not much feel like autumn as many of us know it. People get the day off from work and kids get the day off from school. It is one of the bigger holidays here and we typically look forward to it.

This year the mid-Autumn Festival came during a week of typhoons. The weather was wet and rainy. Visibility was poor. It rained a bit on the evening that folks go down to the beach to admire the moon. Actually none of the bad weather mattered much to us. This year our only plan for the eve of the Autumn Festival was to get all the kids to swim practice. And that is just what we did. And more surprising, everyone was happy about it.

All three kids are now proud members of the Hong Kong Island Stingrays Swim Club, formerly known as Tori’s swim team. Adam and Royce tried out for the team in August. Both made it, though one quick thinking twin asked me what would happen if only one of them made the team? I worried about this scenario as well but it did not come to pass (at least not this year, not this sport). Now Adam and Royce swim on one squad and Tori swims on a different squad with more frequent and longer practices. It is a bit complicated. For example, the girls were recently selected to compete in a dual swim meet but Adam was not. He cheered the girls on and even convinced many parents on our team to yell for our girls. I thought he would be upset about not swimming. Actually, he was quite pleased to play basketball in the gym with big boys and not be in the pool swimming 50 meters of butterfly with his sisters.

The day after the Mid- Autumn evening is the public holiday. The weather was still a bit unstable in the morning and unfortunately the junk boat trip we had planned was postponed. Instead we did what we usually do; we hiked. We all hiked down into Big Wave Bay, a nice beach with little waves. Luckily for us, the little café on the beach recently reopened, so cold drinks and Western food were all possible. The kids got some beach on this holiday, just not the crowded night beach. We are still here, still enjoying it all but perhaps a little less awed. We love our paper lanterns and we love our swim practice too. And we still don’t like moon cakes.