Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 23: Sunday Celebration!

Today we went back to International Baptist Church.  It was a very good service and the people there are very friendly.  I found someone who heard through the grapevine that we had rolled into to town--not sure if that is good or bad but it was sure funny!

After church we went to Pia's house for her son Oliver's birthday.  It was a lovely day with gorgeous weather.  We ate wonderful food from Habibi's Cafe.  Hummus, salad, falafel and pitas it was so great!  The kids played in the ocean on a floating mat attached to a bouey.  Jason had snail races on the patio.  All in all it was a very enjoyable relaxing day.  At the end of the day Oliver lit a couple of Chinese lanterns for his birthday wishes.  We watched them sail into the twilight and then caught our ferry home.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Three Weeks--Tim

After three weeks, a few things happened without notice.  When I walk the street, I rarely notice the odor of the street.  I don’t mean a foul odor.  I mean an amalgamation of street restaurants, incense burnt on the sidewalks, traffic exhaust and traces of other smells that my senses aren’t refined enough to identify.  The smell is starting to feel normal. 

The big city life is also growing on us.  I honestly don’t miss having a car.   Public transportation is so convenient.  Sometimes it takes a while – when we went to Lamma Island for a birthday party it took a full hour between the bus and ferry.  Mostly, it takes 30 minutes or less to get where we want to be.  The thing that I’ve come to appreciate is that funny noise the car makes isn’t my problem, how much it will cost to fix is not my concern.  It also adds independence for the kids.  We were walking through a mall and Devon was bellyaching about wanting to go home and how much longer we were going to be.  After beginning my speech about how we will be done when we are done, it dawned on us that we don’t all have to pile in the car and go home together.  Devon just went and caught the bus home.  It’s just sorta easy.  JP even gets excited about using his “iPod card” – what he calls his Octopus card that works on all public transportation.

Navigation is getting better.  We are learning that Hong Kong Island isn’t so big a landmass.  With the harbours and bays, you can keep your bearings without much effort.  However, the subway tunnels and building skywalks (I should say footbridges) still feel like a labyrinth.  I imagine we will get our navigation down cold, only to have to learn all over again when we move to the south part of the island.  It will kinda be a new center of gravity.

We are also getting into the rhythm of buying a day or two worth of groceries at a time.  We even venture into the wet markets – the street market for meats and produce.  We aren’t quite up to buying the freshly butchered meat yet, but the produce is good.  It’s even enjoyable to engage the locals in our purchases.  It sort of feels better to buy produce from the 60-year-old man working his booth rather than the anonymous grocery store.

I think the really odd feeling after three weeks is that, looking back, it feels like six months since we were stateside. 

Day 22: I won the lottery!

You guessed it!  My new phone.  I have put my name and Tim's name in the pot for the last 9 days and finally it is here!  I am so excited.  It is a pain to be phoneless in a big city although I have survived just fine (surprised myself!)

We headed into Central to get the phone.  Tim, Devon and I--the girls and JP did not want to go.  Then Tim and I were wandering around the IFC which is this huge mall and Devon was getting bored.  We looked at each other and said--go home!  So, Devon head back to the apartment.  It was weird but kind of nice!  Later that night he wanted to head back to the Apple store to ask a question about his iPod and we said--go ahead!  He was back in two hours and had a great adventure.  Of course, it helps that the bus goes directly from our apartment's garage to the garage just below the Apple store.  Almost as good as a private driver!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 21 Three Week Celebration

We were all tired after our day at the beach yesterday so we opted for a quiet day.  Tim brought home moon cake after moon cake and so we did a taste test to discover which we liked best.  The salted egg yolks were not a favorite at our house but the lotus paste is not bad--kind of like a smooth peanut butter and honey taste and consistency.  The little moon cake tasted the best to us.  We do not know what was in it because we could not read it.  Also, it did not taste like anything we had tasted before--so much for getting the same one again!

Emma and Jason took me to the park.  It was decorated for the Autumn Festival.  We thought that it was interesting that the decorations all depict Western kids instead of Asian ones.  JP made friends quickly, although, we do not know what the kids were saying.  They started playing tag of sorts that is universal among all kids everywhere.  At the end when we left they all waved and said, "bye-bye!"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 20: The Beach

Today was another fun day!  We got our school work done by noon and headed for the beach!  Yeah!  Emma and Alexis had fun picking up flowers that had fallen from the trees.  It was a beautiful beach facing the South China Sea.  There was a bit of haze in the background but some ships were sitting out there and there were lots of people sail boarding and sailing.  That happens to be two things on the kid's long list of "to dos" while we are in the area.
Devon headed out to shop with his friend Oliver.  Sounds like they had a great time in army surplus stores and such!  At the end of our day was the bus ride home and even that was beautiful on the double decker bus with front row seats!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 19: Victoria Peak Meet up

Today we went to Victoria Peak to meet with other homeschoolers.  Here are a few of our new friends.  It is gorgeous up there but extremely difficult to get a taxi to take you all the way to the top.  As a new initiate, the right of membership requires that you get tricked into getting out of your taxi too soon and have to trudge the rest of the way up the mountain.  Then you get to meet new friends in a puddle of sweat!  Anyway, this was our second trip and we made it in style, air conditioned taxi the entire way up and we brought our own sack lunch packed by McDonalds!  After the walk down with friends we stopped at Starbucks at the Peak and this is where the photo is.  What a great afternoon!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 18:Closer to home

It was rainy today.  Although, the apartment had no water from 9 am to 1 pm because they were cleaning the fresh water tank, we did not feel like going anywhere!  We worked on some school work. Drank bottled water and then ran to the small closer library to get a couple different books and return a couple of books.  Rainy days are great book days even if it is in Chinese, the photos are still great!  (Especially if you remember the English version!)

Of course, our grocery shopping yielded a weird nut today.  We cannot open it though because we still are in this hotel/apartment without our stuff!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 17: Another week

Today Tim said, "My stomach does not feel twisted inside out today."  Finally, he is beginning to feel better. 

The kids and I started a little school work.  It is not easy with our books still in the crate in storage but we went to the library and got library cards.  We got some Science books and started some outlines and research papers.  We worked on some History of the First Emporer of China.  Emma has a few books to work on.  Anyway, then there are some math drills on the iPad.  It may not be what was planned but at least we are getting started.

On the way back from the Library, we caught an unfamiliar bus got off too soon.  It was not too tragic because we found a park!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 16: Sunday

Today we tried a new church.  It had a pretty good sized youth group.  Yes, it is a long way to go distance wise but it may be well worth it if we found some more friends.  We even met some other homeschooled kids but they live in Discovery Bay which might be another world!

We also tried some different Moon Cakes.  They are white and frozen.  Seems like uncooked pastry, bean past and a blueberry cheese filling.  Still a little odd to our Western pallet but getting better!

Also, I bought some limes for Tim.  They were huge.  The ones I have seen here are so tiny.  However, they were not quite limes.  I still do not know what they were.  Very yummy, somewhere between lime, grapefruit and orange.  Very juicy.

Week 2 by Tim

Week two…Looking back on week two, I have concluded that you can’t hurry adaptation.  It’s not that the learning curve isn’t steep; it’s just that the curve is maxed out.  When I was a kid, my dad flew small twin-engine airplanes.  If he tried to climb in altitude too quickly, we would ‘stall’ and begin a free fall.  I feel the same affect – I try to figure it all out at once, but then the free fall feeling starts.

The difference between visiting and residing is starker in the second week.  When you are visiting, the strange oddities and mannerisms are charming novelties.  When you are residing, the new way of doing things are ways you need to learn to adopt or a work around needs to be found.

We still find that people are welcoming and when we tell them we are fresh off the plane from the States, they typically show a great deal of empathy.  (I have to say the line “We aren’t in Kansas any more” is wearing thin.  I may just start describing us as just from the Mid-West.)  People that have made the move before – some that came for a couple of years 10+ years ago – are full of helpful suggestions and insights.  That is huge as we try to navigate.

I feel like we are making progress.   Every day, I wake up with a knot in my stomach.  Some days, it goes away during the day and some days it doesn’t.  I suppose that’s just being an expat rookie.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Day 15 Hunt for a Flat Con't.

Today we looked at apartments again.  We found two that we really like.  One was 3 bedroom and the other 4 bedroom.  We have put in an offer on the 4 bedroom and will hope and pray that we get it and get settled soon and that all the other details will fall into place.  It would be nice to sleep in our own beds again.  Especially for Tim whose feet hang over the end of our bed!

After our hunt was over we took a trip to Tim's office and then the mile long escalator to SoHo and the restaurant district.  We tried a great little Greek place and enjoyed Tapas and lunch.  We went back to Central and bought a big container of popcorn kernels and a DVD player--movie tonight!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hong Kong Science Museum

We spent the afternoon discovering the Science Museum.  The kids had such a great time that we did not even get to all the displays and will need to head back some time in the future.  All I can say is that this is Science City on Steroids!  It is huge!  Many interesting exhibits demonstrating how electricity works.  The little people have their own area that they can literally build cities with blocks.  Places where they can see if their tip toeing can really be quiet(not so much with my kids--could not get through without the sensors going off!  A giant "marble works"  They set off that is 3 stories tall and the whole width of the building(literally a block wide!)  A car driving simulator (Emma crashed multiple times, Alexis only one time and Devon was a police man's dream come true--fodder for the speed traps!)  There was a sail boat and electric boat demonstration that I could not peel JP away from (even though we could not understand one word!)  Many more things the kids discovered and would enjoy spending hours exploring but time would not allow.  We will return for sure!

Day 14: Celebrating 2 Weeks!

Today we celebrated with some hard core history lessons about China.  We saw the special exhibit called, “The Majesty of All Under Heaven : The Eternal Realm of China's First Emperor.”  It was amazing.  There were interactive videos that you were actually in and 360 degree movie that you stand inside of to learn the history of the Clay Warriors.  The display itself had some of the actual Terra Cotta Warriors and how they were made.  There were life size horses, helmets, armor, fully restored warriors and pieces of warriors, weapons and a bronze charriot.  Also, a skull of one of the royal family that was found in the tomb.  What a great way to spend our anniversary of two weeks in Hong Kong!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 13: Update on Our Hunt for a Flat!

Current Events:

1)  We made an offer on an apartment that we just love and it is in our budget, however, we are not in Kansas anymore and the landlord is questionable.  I am not giving up on him because I was told yesterday that a lawyer may have written his lease agreement and if he agrees to our changes then we will rent from him.  If he does not there may be some hidden defects in the apartment that he is trying to get a renter to pay for.  Your prayers for clear guidance on this would be appreciated as it is the ideal!  However, I know God's plans are best and I will pursue something different if that is his will.

2) We made and offer on a similar apartment but it is much more for the same apartment with a different landlord.  After praying about it I just do not feel comfortable stretching our budget so much.


1) There is another apartment on the 4th floor that is supposed to be similar, I will either see it Saturday.  I am not sure if the windows look into a wall or not.  I am also not sure of the rent amount.  I am a little disappointed with the way it sounds but I will check it out.

2) There are 2 three bedroom apartments available which will be an awful crunch for us with 4 kids and many school supplies that we will not have space for.  (The realtor says these might be available at the end of October if they do not renew.) I am not sure we will be able to look at them.

3)  There are other 3 bedroom apartments in our price range in the areas we like but mostly without pools and we just love pools so that is disappointing.

4) We could look at a different area. 

So, we are not locked in or without help.  We are clinging to the Lord for clear guidance on our next step.  Negotiating is long and drawn out here, you don't just, "okay--where do I sign, can I write you a check?" like in the US.  It is culturally different.  I am trying to be patient and wait on the Lord. The timing of our entire move has been strange but has worked perfectly, according to God's plan.

Autumn Festival and Moon Cakes

One evening we came in foot sore and weary, like always, to discover the lobby had been decorated for Autumn Festival.  The kids and I stood spinning and looking up at all the lovely lights and decorations.  "Look a bird, a fish, lights!!!"  yelled Jp in almost the same breath.  We asked about it but we do not know when it is or how long it lasts or what it is really all about.  We did find out that people buy fake money and clothes and things to burn at their loved one grave/shrine.  But we also found out they eat moon cakes and sweets.  So, the next day we set out on a mission to buy moon cakes.  They are really wonderful looking pastries that are quite rich.  They are decorated with all different fancy pastry stamps maybe they mean different things.  The insides might also be different but we cannot read the signs.  Anyway, here is a photo of the ones we bought.  They had a  sweet peanut butter middle with this yellow salty thing that we later identified as an egg yoke.  It was a fun outing.  Many people exclaimed and were excited that we were eating their food.  More than one person stopped and chatted with us.  Unfortunately, the unfamiliar taste was not as fully appreciated by the American pallette as it may be after further initiation.  However, it really was a fun experience!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 12 Elevator Tag!

Elevator tag is the only way to describe it!  We were getting ready to go to our appointment in Immigration Tower and get our Hong Kong identity cards.  The appointment was for 10:45 am.  Cheryl (the relocation specialist assigned to us by Tim's work) was picking us up with a driver at 10:20 am.  Of course the room service came at 10 and was cleaning and we were a little late getting ready.  Anyway, Devon, JP and Emma were ready so I sent them down to the lobby to wait.  Alexis and I were one elevator behind them.  I get off and no Emma!  Just then I see Cheryl and the driver out the lobby window so I sent Alexis, Devon and JP to the car while I stand there biting my nails waiting for Emma to come back down in the elevator!  What on earth was she thinking!  (I did not dare get into an elevator and go after her!)  Finally, at 10:25 am she is back in the lobby.  We dash toward the door only to get the sinking realization that the car with Alexis, Devon and JP in it is gone!  Aaaaah!  So we stood there until 10:37 am (my stomach was churning) wondering if they would come back.  I still do not have a cell so a phone call requires  me to go back up the elevator to the apartment.  Should I just grab a cab?  Anyway, I opted to run back to the room and call.  Apparently, the driver, Albert, on seeing two adults (Devon and Alexis) and a child, drove to the appointment.  Fortunately, Devon and Alexis said something and they returned to pick us up.  After my call Emma and I rush back to the elevators and there is Devon saying, "hurry!"  Tag--we were it!  We did make it to the appointment--only 5 minutes late thank-goodness! Hong Kong island is geographically small.

Everyone Loves JP by Tim

As we’ve said, the people in Hong Kong are warm and welcoming.  But we’ve noticed that JP is getting more love and attention than the rest of us.  Today, we went to the Immigration Office to apply for Hong Kong ID cards.  JP and Emma are not required to get ID cards (or they’re ineligible depending on your perspective) so when they took pictures for the ID cards, JP was left out of the fun.  In an effort to temper his disappointment from being left out, I offered to take his picture with my phone.   As I knelt down to show the picture to JP, his sister come up behind him and put her arms around him for a big embracing hug – except when I looked up it wasn’t his sister.  It was a Chinese woman that worked in the Immigration Office.  Hello!  STRANGER DANGER!!!  Several women began gathering around doting over JP, offering candy, hugs, high-fives, fist-bumps and anything else that would get his attention.

 We’ve had similar experiences on the train, in restaurants and about the city.  Amazingly – and concerningly – our shy boy is starting to ham it up!  He used to hide behind his mom if a close family friend addressed him to say hi.  Now he’s proclaiming that he is ‘3’ and loves moths to all of Hong Kong!

I feel like there are serious ramifications to this, but I can’t quite grasp what they are yet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Day 11--Bird Street and Flower Market

Feeling rested and adventurous again with Octopus Cards in hand we rode buses and trains all the way to Mong Kok which is on the Kowloon side of things across the harbor.  Of course no outing is without adventure!  First, we cannot read Chinese and so it is very difficult to figure out where we are going with street signs, although there are a fair amount of English signs you have to ferret them out from all the Chinese characters slung everywhere.  Secondly, my sense of direction is sadly lacking.  We have to walk a block or two before I can triangulate where we are on the map.  Thirdly, I was told there are pick pockets who prey on tourists and a dead giveaway is a person with a map.  So, silly me was trying to memorize how to get there but I had to keep pulling out my map book and "sneaking a peak."  Finally, after thinking about it, I started laughing so hard!  Here we are trying to not look like tourists but umm, we don't exactly fit in! (It might have been the lady that took JP and Emma's photo that clued me in!)  So, with that process and map book in hand we finally made it to Bird Street and Flower Street!  It was such a treat.  So many different tropical plants, herbs and flowers.  The kids wanted to buy everything they saw.  Then we went to the next street and there were hundreds of birds and the kids wanted to buy every bird they saw!  Anyway, we settled for the open street market and got Emma a new purse so she can carry her own Octopus Card.  Alexis--owner of the shredded bathing suit--bought two new swim suits!  I got 4 umbrellas, 3 for us to share and one for Tim (Happy Birthday by the way!)  Then we headed back but starving children had to have food.  So of all the cool places we stopped . . .yep you guessed it . . .McDonalds!  At least here they have sea weed to sprinkle on your fries so they are healthy, right?  And Fried Chicken is okay if it is not processed and has bones, right?  Also, don't bother ordering lemonade--you will always get sweet lemon tea. We rode the MTR train back and caught a bus to our apartment.  Sooo, tired!  The kids were dying to watch TV but the only thing on was about a freaky homeschool family--The Duggers.  Okay, we really enjoyed that!  I wish my kids would be as kind to each other as those kids are!  So, then we cleaned up and put together a birthday party for Tim.  I found a cake!  (It was violet with a pink candle but it was soo great!)  I found some thin cut beef from Canada in the freezer of our grocery store and some scallops so we had surf and turf!  I made some pasta with veggies and white sauce as a side, steamed carrots and green veggies with sesame oil and soy sauce(no clue what they are but they are yummy!  The kids cut up fruit for us too.  JP greeted Tim with "We got you a surprise! An umbrella!" Good thing he did not know about the cake.  Tim was so surprised. You should have seen the look on his face!  Tomorrow--Hong Kong identity cards!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Day 10--The Pool

Today we decided to give our blisters the day off.  So, we spent the day relaxing by the pool.

Thoughts on Our First Week by Tim

Last Friday night marked one week since we touched down in Hong Kong.  What a week it's been.  As I mulled over the past week, I tried thinking of a way of describing things more than some quick-witted postings on Facebook.  I mentioned it to Shelley and she told me that she has blog postings of the whole week.  I guess in the haze of figuring out how to open a bank account, buy rice milk and find transportation to work, there are just some things that we didn’t discuss.

As I reflect on the last week, I think I convinced myself in the time leading up to the move that the culture shock wouldn't be THAT extreme.  After all, most everyone speaks English and with all the Westerners here it should be just be like living in an exotic NYC.  I am naivete incarnate.

Our temporary flat is a VERY small three-bedroom furnished apartment on the 31st floor (we are happy to have a kitchen, but literally only one person can fit in there at once).  It has a nice view overlooking the harbor teeming with boats, barges, junks, etc.  It's in a district called Kennedy Town.  It has some expats, but definitely predominantly Chinese.  

As previously described, our first bold venture was to buy some groceries (I know, an aggressive idea).  There isn't exactly a Price Chopper near by and we learned that a grocery store is more of a Western concept; the locals do their shopping in local street markets and buy for a day at a time – think of rows and rows of booths with people selling produce, meat, etc.  (A quick note about the meat:  It appears to be butchered on the spot and they just display the raw meat exposed in the air.  I suppose that's fine, I'm just not at a point where that works for me.)  Alas, they do have a couple of grocery store chains so that's where we headed.  Think small.  Small packages.  Small selections.  Small baskets.  BIG prices.  Dairy products just aren't popular here.  Milk and cheeses are pricey.  Forget buying gold...I'm putting my money on ice cream futures.  Oh, and right there next to the pork chops are chickens' feet packaged and labeled with a 'best if used by date' just like it's no big deal.

Getting around is OK, you just have to be deliberate about it.  The taxis are inexpensive, but their English isn't reliable.  And when you get a cabbie that doesn't speak English it does no good to write out the address for them because if it's not in Chinese characters it's no help (showing a map with English and Chinese is the most effective).  Shelley is doing a better job than me studying the bus/tram maps.  We all got Octopus cards, a sort of prepaid debit card that allows you to pay for public transportation.  In theory, we are fully mobile.

The kids seem to like things OK.  Our flat is so small, they are incentivized to get out and explore.  During my first week in the office, they've been to the Big Buddha (not the official name of the temple, but the statue of Buddha is big, like Statue of Liberty big), the beach, the Peak, etc.  JP is the most resistant to the time zone change.  He just falls asleep at 2:00 in the afternoon; then wakes up in the middle of the night.

To say it is hot and humid is a gross understatement.  My first day of work, I ended up taking a rather circuitous route to the office from the bus stop - fine, I got lost - and by the time I arrived, it looked like I jogged to the office.  My suit was task is to locate dry cleaning.

We are searching for a more permanent flat.  To that end, we opened a bank account (I may call Mit Romney’s accountants and find out what the regulatory implication’s of that are – wait, that’s my employer!).  Just today, we received our Hong Kong ATM card!  The international ATM charges from our US accounts have been a killer so I’m more than a little excited.  But more importantly, Shelley bought a coffee maker this week and Starbucks coffee beans (my version of a security blanket).  

Our language studies are progressing nicely – that is learning British English (e.g., elevator=lift, bathroom=washroom, etc.).  Whenever talking to someone who is Chinese, I carefully listen to make sure I understand what is said.  I just realized that when I listen to someone speaking English, I find myself listening just as closely.  As silly as it sounds, the lexicon and accent is different enough that feel that I’m always straining to understand.  I feel like a dolt having to say, ‘I don’t understand that right theeere. Can you speak slower and use more American words?!?’.  That said, we are very cognizant of the fact that we are the foreigners so we really are trying to figure it out rather than trying to make millions of Hong Kongers convert to our way of thinking.  In fact, we are finding that they are very forgiving of our strange and brutish ways.

Speaking of adapting, we have an appointment next week to obtain Hong Kong ID cards.  With HK ID cards, I hear amazing doors are opened to us such as being able to travel to nearby Asian countries and getting a library card.

On to week two…more sensory overload.  Hopefully we will learn one or two more things that will help us adapt.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 9--Sunday--Church, friends, pasta and library

We met Jim and Mary Briggs at Island Baptist Church. (Jeanie's brother from Mill Creek)  It was a great service filled with warm friendly people.  They sang hymns which made me home sick for my Mom!  Afterwards, we went with Mary and Jim to The Spaghetti House!  Great food and great friends! 

Jim had another meeting to attend and we went with Mary to the huge Central Library in Tin Hau (not to be confused with Central district).  The library is near Victoria Park.  On a Sunday afternoon, the park is swarming with throngs of people, mostly Filipino women sitting on blankets eating and laughing and talking.  Sunday is the official "helper's day off."  All across the city, household helpers get the day off so they congregate with friends in the parks and throughout the Central district.  It was quite the sight to take in.  I can think of nothing comparable at home.

After our field trip, we set out to take the bus home.  After perusing the maps and waiting and waiting, we determined that the bus routes we needed weren't running Sunday afternoon.  We found a tram that was headed to our flat in Kennedy Town.  On the tram we learned two things:  1) the buses were interrupted for people marching in the street either in protest of something important or a parade (it was in Chinese so it's hard to tell), and 2) the tram is probably the slowest way to cover a long distance short of walking.  We are learning, slowly.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 8--Found Tortillas

We were so excited to find some things to make Mexican food with!  Burritos, funky black beans (sort of) salsa and chips!  Wish I could find cilantro and cummin.  That was lunch--unfortunately, Tim missed it.  After he got home from work we took him out for pizza.  (It did not even have thousand island on it!)

Friday, September 14, 2012