Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cheung Chau: a piratical adventure

Recently, we made a return visit to Cheung Chau, a small island to the southwest of Hong Kong Island (where we live). To get to Cheung Chau, we take a ferry from the Central Pier. Experience has taught us to pay a few dollars more for the fast ferry, which gets you there in just over 30 minutes as opposed to the regular ferry, which takes at least one hour. In the early days, we were happy just to get off Hong Kong Island and explore a bit. Now, we know to check for fast ferries, to sit on the upper deck and to always check the return ferry schedule. After close to five years, we have also cased out all options for a good cup of coffee between Hong Kong and Cheung Chau, so the adults are fully adventure ready too.
Cheung Chau is mostly a fishing village, with some hotels and holiday homes for those trying to get away from the urban grind. Cheung Chau has a population of about 20,000 but feels even smaller than that as there are no cars on the island. This is not strictly true as my kids always point out. There are specially made and very small police cars and ambulances driving around but all in all, people get around by bicycle. This is in fact that main allure of the island for us. As it is rather hard to ride bikes around our apartment complex, we now go out to Cheung Chau to rent bikes. It is a long way to go for a bike ride but somehow it all seems worth it. The kids hear a lot of Chinese along the way. Tori reads us a few signs that she can make out. The kids test ride their bikes in a large plaza that has a Tin Hau temple (protector of fishermen) on one end and the sea and all its boat traffic on the other.
Cheung Chau is also well-known as a possible hideout for Cheung Po Tsai, the famous 19th century pirate (1783-1822). Cheung Po Tsai was kidnapped as a boy by a pair of famous pirates, Cheng I and his wife Ching Shih. These pirates adopted him and Cheung Po Tsai then took over the family business.  At the height of his powers, he had 50,000 followers and a fleet of over 600 ships. He surrendered to the Qing Imperial Government and later made a navy colonel for the Chinese. It is thought that a certain cave on Cheung Chau was Cheung Po Tsai’s treasure hideout.
We followed the signs to the pirate cave. It was essentially a hole opening down into the rocks. I thought we would look at the hole and leave. Then we noticed others going into the hole. All kids went right down, though Royce came back up. We stood around waiting until someone else told us the cave opened up about 40 yards away on the other side of the rocky cliff. We ran around to the other side just as our kids were emerging with big smiles. The kids went through the cave over and over again. Phil somehow got lured in and emerged to say it was terrifying. He described creeping along in pitch dark, climbing a ladder in the dark and walking hunched over until he finally saw the light at the end of the cave. Tori and Adam described as the best thing ever and even did it without their flashlights. There is probably something to be learned here about whether the cave is half dark or half light but I did not learn it. I stayed out of the cave and just clapped for everyone who made it to the other side.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Double digits: Tori is ten!

With Tori’s January birthday, our family holiday season is always extended. The blur of party and excitement has just passed and we can all take a deep breath now. But somehow I can’t quite bring myself to reflect on the bigger picture here, what it means in terms of who is growing up and who is growing old. While I feel sentimental and am constantly pulling out baby photo albums, Tori is taking double digits in stride. Little sister Royce is the only other person walking around the house a little stunned by it all. Royce has said on numerous occasions, “I just can’t believe I have a ten year old sister!” I know exactly how she feels.
This year, defying years of “theme parties” (ah, it seems like just yesterday we were hiding moon rocks for the outer space party or making mummy cupcakes for the Ancient Egypt party), we had a pool party. It was perfect, it was easy and it was fun. We rented out the high school pool and it came equipped with fun props like monkey bars over the water, pedal powered boats, a zip line, and lifeguards! The kids played for a couple of hours with music playing on the sound system. This is the same pool where the kids train during the week. We know the lifeguards well. That pool really is our home away from home and thus a pretty appropriate place to celebrate Tori.
The next day after her party, Tori was back at swim practice. In the past, we have always brought cupcakes to Tori’s class and to Tori’s swim team and her other activities. These days Tori keeps busy with swim, tennis, student council, piano, cello and now drums! That is a lot of activities and a lot of cupcakes. Defying grocery store shortages of cake mix and frosting, we got all the cupcakes made only to find out Tori was lukewarm on delivering the cupcakes. I wondered if she thought bringing treats was too babyish but luckily that was not it at all. In keeping with the growing up theme, Tori recently had an expander put into the top of her mouth. It is a big metal orthodontic device that we have to occasionally crank to eventually widen her palate. All in all, it makes eating anything, even cupcakes, difficult.  That’s our new ten year old; a little more pragmatic but still very sweet.