Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Crazy Eights!

Time flies when you are having fun. And to prove the point, the twins just turned eight! It is funny to think that when we moved to Hong Kong five years ago they were called the babies, drank out of sippy cups and took naps! Recently, our family walked a little course around the Peak, a high point in Hong Kong with great views of the harbor and sea. When we first moved here, we took that walk with the twins in a stroller! Well, time has flown on to big adventure parties, many cakes and lots of good friends.
Following in their big sister’s example, the twins opted to have a water adventure party at our high school swimming pool. This is the pool where all kids practice a couple times a week and where we parents sit for many hours every week. In short, it feels like home. And the twins acted like it was home. They greeted the local lifeguards by name, went into the back room to turn up the music and led the charge on the zip line across the pool.
For the first time in years, Adam and Royce opted for a joint birthday party. As time is getting tight here at the end of the school year, we supported this idea fully. In a surprisingly show of unity, both kids came into each other’s classroom for the classroom celebration. Royce sang and passed out cupcakes in Adam’s class and Adam did the same in Royce’s class. It was all very cozy and sweet. I think it might have been a ploy to get an extra cupcake but I am trying to ignore that.
In the excitement of the birthday presents, Adam asked me if he could get an iphone for his birthday. I said no. He expressed a little dismay over this decision. Recovering quickly, he asked me if he could have “food” for his birthday. I said sure. We all laughed remembering Adam as a toddler asking for a special trip, just him and mom, to the grocery store. Inflated food prices in Hong Kong plus Adam’s huge appetite just about equal the price of an iphone but so it goes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May Meet: third time is a charm!

Another May Meet with our swim team has come and gone! Our third May Meet but our first with three official members of the Hong Kong Island Stingrays Swim Club, The twins have long been welcomed on the team, primarily because of their enthusiastic cheering for their sister during practices and meets. Adam in fact used to act as a timer at practice meets. Finally he started coming to time in his swim suit and jumping in the race whenever there was an empty lane. Royce too has swum in past May meets but never before in the official team suit and cap. The gear made all the difference.
Perhaps it was our official status, but all kids bettered every single time. Royce started the action fast and furious with her 100 IM. She did the first 25 fly much faster than usual. She touched the wall in first place. Her loyal supporters were almost shocked into silence. Phil walking from one end of the pool to the other to get the photo had to definitely pick up the pace. Royce kept it up all weekend, earning including the most coveted, for its instant gratification, heat winner ribbon. She was thrilled and immediately started calculating her chances for overall high point awards.
Adam had a number of good swims, working hard on improving his notoriously low slow dive. On the blocks, Adam would look over at me, acting as the starter, and wave. I would motion him to put on his goggles and then we would get that race going. Adam was one of the very few 7 year old swimmers on our team. As soon as he was done racing the 7-8 year old boys, he would go back to the gym and hang out with the 9-10 year old boys. The big boys were perhaps the secret to Adam’s success. He was very keen to get out of the pool quickly and get back to boys his own size.
Tori had some fast swims, taking 10 seconds off her 100 IM and off her 100 free. Both times she turned to me, and gave me a little nod and thumbs up. It was all very understated and very Tori. Tori took all of her races very seriously, getting to the pool at 5:50 am for her warm up.  A friend and her parents picked up Tori and they did the early warm ups together, sans me. I was working on the pool deck the entire meet and never made it into the gym to help Tori get to her races. She has got all the procedures down pat, perhaps even the attitude. At the end of the meet, she told me she wished the May Meet was every weekend. I asked why? Without a second hesitation, she answered “the racing!”
At the end of the long weekend, all the kids, plus swim team friends, came home to our apartment and jumped in the pool. They swam a few more hours while I sat in a daze by the pool. The longer we stayed in the pool more and more kids from our swim team wandered down to the pool. It was nice to see that despite the pressure, the anxiety, the awards or lack thereof, the kids still enjoyed it. The kids might be doing long butterfly sets most days but they still can rally for a game of Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows. Not the end of the innocence yet, thank goodness.

Camping at Pui O

Just the idea of camping in Hong Kong seems to be a contradiction in term but, oddly, it is not. To fulfill my longstanding desire to camp on the beach here, we recently left the urban jungle for the real jungle. With the kids’ adventurous godmother in tow, we all camped on Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach. We managed to squeeze in a weekend before Hong Kong’ rainy season and before the extreme heat and humidity. We had fun but it really is a jungle out there.

To get away from it all, we really had to work at it. We drove to the central piers and then took a one hour ferry from Hong Kong Island to Lantau. From there, we took a bus from Mui O, through Lantau South Country Park to the small village of Pui O. We got off the bus and started walking in the only direction other people were walking. Following a short dirt road, we passed through fields with wild buffalo roaming throughout. Apparently years ago when farmers left Lantau they abandoned their buffalo. These buffalos, close to 300 in total, wander around docilely,evoking a bygone era.

We camped on a public holiday in Hong Kong. We have long ago learned to just stay home on public holidays as everything gets too crowded. Somehow we forgot this adage and found ourselves in a rollicking party down at the public campgrounds (room for at least 52 tents) at Pui O. We booked a campsite, complete with tent and grill, just off the beach and were thus slightly removed from the main party. Our campsite was managed by the Oh La La Restaurant, owned by Hong Kong born Canadians. We ate our meals at the restaurant, using our grill only for smores. In the morning, once we had drank all the instant coffee we had brought with us, we and the other dad camping with his kids, sat just outside the restaurant, waiting desperately for them to open their espresso bar. A little sad but true.
Pui O Beach itself is nice though not extremely picturesque. The beach runs the length of the village and has rolling green hills on either side. The beach includes a wetland, where a river from the hills flows into the South China Sea. A Tin Hau Temple, built during the Ming Dynasty in 1798, is at one end of the beach. As we walked along on morning with early rising children, the Temple began a celebration with a parade and fireworks. We think it was Tin Hau’s birthday but never got clarification on that. One end of the beach has white sand though the other had black sand and lots of sea weed. The kids ran and played while all other local beach goers gathered sea weed and searched for clams. The kids climbed through the mangroves growing near the shore and constructed “forts” out of whatever they could find.
Through the camping trip, we were close to many nice moments though pollution and overcrowding got the better of these moments many times. While on the beach, we saw what looked like a small hot air balloon go up. We asked around and found out these were wish balloons, on which one could write a wish and then launch. We quickly bought three at the beach side stand that sold them. The launch itself was a little harder, getting the lump of wax to ignite and then create enough hot air for takeoff. But once, in flight, it was magical. Though concerned about trash from the balloon once is falls, we went with it. Somehow the balloon episode captured the camping trip exactly; the intermingling of the beautiful and the trashy. It might even epitomize more than that but we need not get enough sleep to say for sure.