Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hong Kong Sevens

As we inched towards Hong Kong Stadium in massive gridlock, Adam looked out at all fellow rugby fans with a huge smile on this face. “I can’t believe it already the sevens again!” he said excitedly. I agreed but for vastly different reasons. For me, it is just that time flies when all the kids are in school, swimming and scouts. For Adam, it was just that the anticipation of the sevens was over a tiny bit too early. But what an exciting anticipation it was!

Adam finished another fun year at Valley Fort rugby last week. He loved his coaches, he loved his fellow team mates, he loved running the ball and he especially loved learning how to tackle (in preparation for full tackle next year). He was awarded “Best and Fairest” by the coaches, which he think is a little like most improved. By the end of the season, Adam was scoring a try or two in every game and definitely understood that forward passes were not allowed. This was not the case last season. Anyway, all the kids on his team got participation trophies except for him and the “Best and Brightest” boy.” Adam and this boy were awarded their trophies by England’s national team, who also practiced with his team. It was all exciting except for the fact that the trophy he got was smaller than the participation trophy. The England players were a little surprised by the glum faces of the awardees but it was all too much to explain.

After England, Adam had breakfast with the American National Team at the American Club. Adam was thrilled to miss school, thrilled to eat a buffet breakfast and thrilled to win a rugby ball in the lucky draw. He also got busy collecting autographs from the players. One American player signed Adam’s recently shaved head. Another player very sweetly asked Phil’s permission before signing the seven year old’s head. After that it was a free for all on Adam’s head.

As was the case last year, Adam got to play in an exhibition match before the sevens and then march in a parade on the last day of the three day event. The girls were there too, watching the rugby and the fans. One part of the stadium is called the South Stands and it is adult only. We saw a girl dressed and painted all in blue. Tori, very informed, told me that she was an Aviatar girl and probably going to the south stands. Despite lots of crazed fans and lots of beer consumption, the sevens, like all of Hong Kong, is just plain safe. The kids would run down to get autographs and then run back up to us in the stands. Royce said she hated running through “smoke valley,” the designated outdoor smoking area, but she would do it to get the South Africa team’s signatures.

Adam backed off a little from his usual signature mania. He did take off his shirt and hang it over for the players to sign as they walked on and off the field (and yes this was captured on the big screen shown to the entire stadium). But he told me that he wanted to watch the rugby. We all focused on the England versus USA match and tried to cheer for America but could not. For one, they lost badly. Also, we knew the English team by name and had met them all. When New Zealand, Adam’s favorite team, beat England in the final, he wasn’t even that excited. He gave me the stats on the English players. After all these years in Hong Kong, our allegiances are a little confused but we can definitely agree on rugby. Some of the nicest moments came when our kids were cheering on Hong Kong’s National Team with all the little local school boys sitting around us.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ceilidh Time

Our family has long enjoyed family dance parties which typically involve a lot of 80’s music and Adam doing his patented fast dance technique. We took it a step further recently when we all went to a Scottish Ceilidh, a dinner and dance held at our church. While we may have gone just to support the fundraiser, we all had a great time and came back with a spring in our step to say the least.
As soon as we walked into the dance hall, held on the grounds of St. Stephen’s College in Stanley, everyone’s eyes widened. I have been reading the Harry Potter series to the kids and the dance hall, an old gymnasium with dusty sports banners hanging from the rafters, looked just like Hogwarts to them and to me. With some lively gaelic folk music being played, everyone was soon out on the dance floor, trying to learn the moves of the dance. Someone shouted out the appropriate steps and it was fairly easy for even our seven years old to soon catch on. Some dances were harder than others but all involved swinging, stomping and laughing.
The ceildh is not just about dance. More of a social gathering, our event also included a curry dinner. The kids (we brought a few friends too) all tried everything. No one quite knew why we were eating curry but we finally thought it was a British Empire thing. I didn’t feel like explaining haggis to them either.
Dances carried on into the night. Adam insisted on dancing with all the fourth grade girls that we brought with us. The dancing stopped for awhile when the local Red Tartan marching band came to play. Everyone stopped in their tracks and just listened. Way past the kids’ bedtimes, we had to sneak out at this juncture. With the weather unseasonably cool and the bagpipe music hanging in the air, we climbed into our car to drive home. It was definitely yet another only in Hong Kong type of moments.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Korea: the ski trip

Over Chinese New Year, we traveled to Korea to experience some real winter weather. For ages now, the kids have been clamoring for snow, not seen since we moved to Hong Kong five years ago. For the record, we did take them to Snow City in Singapore with artificial snow and sleds but no one was satisfied with that. So this year, we borrowed lots and lots of winter gear and travelled to Korea. As soon as we stepped outside of the airport into the cold wind with a dusting of snow on the concrete, the kids started smiling. I kept waiting for them to get cold and stop liking it but it never happened. Not then and not anytime over the next couple very cold and very snowy days.

We spent a day or so in Seoul, staying at a centrally located hotel and walking through the mall that the hotel was connected to. It was all very easy and out of the snow. The kids kept running outside of the mall whenever there was a door opening out to the world and we kept pulling them back inside. This mall had great aquarium which we all enjoyed. The aquarium staff put on a little show in honor of what is called the Lunar, rather than Chinese, New Year. It was an odd yet captivating show in which staff members, dressed in scuba gear and bunny costumes, dove into a large tank and made a large school of sardines swim around in different directions, flashing the crowd with their shimmering colors. We also enjoyed a folk museum in Seoul. Again, Phil and I stayed inside and learned about family worship in ancient Korea. Our kids, not idolizing and barely even acknowledging their parents, ran outside in the snow yet again.
To ski we drove three hours out of Seoul (not to the north), to the Muji ski resort. Built in the last twenty years to look like a little Alpine village, the check-in lodge was large with high wood beamed ceilings. We were welcomed in with trays of what looked like hot chocolate. The kids dove in only to discover the drink was actually coffee. Our trip was a lot like that first impression; very nice but you had to squint a little. We stayed in the family lodges which were great. The kids’ bedroom was typically Korean, with heated floors and lots of mats and blankets. We bundled into our ski clothes and walked a few minutes to the slopes, where the real fun began.
The kids took ski lessons the first afternoon. We found a very nice ski instructor who spoke English and the kids were off and skiing. At one point, we left them on the bunny hill and came back a few minutes later to discover they were gone. I tried to ask other instructors where they were but no one spoke English. Finally, we saw them at the top of a 1000 meter hill, slowly coming down. Everyone caught on quickly and fairly in-line with their personalities. Adam skied straight down the hills, often crashing into the orange safety netting. Tori skied with a mix of speed and skill work. Royce focused on the fundamentals. And all had fun.
Before the first day was out, all kids were off on their own. Where we were skiing, there were a couple of chair lifts and some fairly long runs. All kids were riding the chair lifts by themselves and going in all directions. I loved to look up and see one of our kids sitting with a middle aged Korean man, deep in conversation.  Everyone was eager to talk to us and very friendly. Though there was not a lot of English, we got by with the kids’ charm, their Chinese and our remedial Russian. It was all very multicultural and fun but I have to say we ate at the on-site Domino’s Pizza much more often than we ate the local kimchee!