Saturday, December 17, 2011

HKG292: Not Quite Full Circle

here we are, not quite ten months into our hong kong adventure, and we are already heading home...back to texas. why? you ask. the bottom line is this : piss poor planning on our part.

oh, the research. my lord, the research. we knew we were flying by the seat of our pants a little (okay, a lot), but we truly believed we'd be able to just do it...just figure it out. we did figure a lot of stuff out quickly and actually found that much general running-a-house-and-family stuff is actually easier here than in the u.s. our issues were the bigger and social lives.

we did as much research as we could from texas (i really need to write a separate post on how BAD web sites are for local stuff here in hong kong. think prehistoric web design in terms of features and searchability and usefulness). we didn't get very far with our internet research. i got the chance to talk with a family that had been expats in shanghai, and also talked with an former boss from my last job who also had been an expat in shanghai. i got some really great information from both women, and it was useful. the big hangup, though...having a school-aged child and trying to figure out the god forsaken int'l school system here. it's awesome academically, but it's a nightmare administratively. we went round and round and round to pretty much no avail. we were extremely lucky that livie was able to get into a really great christian kindergarten (preschool) that doesn't do the whole interview thing, and we have enjoyed it, but it's not the same as her being in the grade she was supposed to be in. this is a HUGE fail on our part. we should have organized some kind of help with school issues before we ever left the u.s., and we didn't.

the major issue that's made life very lonely, though, has been the lack of connections/community/friendships. livie has made friends at school, and we've had a playdate with a classmate, but for the most part, the friendships have not extended outside of school. at the risk of sounding like a petulant child, the biggest issue regarding friends has been mine. i have none. i go days and days without talking to another adult, and i HATE it. i have tried. i try striking up convos with people i meet; sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn't. more often than not, i meet maids/aunties when i'm out with the kids. they are always kind and friendly, but there's a big ol' border there that i'm not supposed to cross (and that most maids/aunties won't cross). i cannot go have a coffee and a chat with someone who calls me ma'am instead of my first name.

i have met a few moms that exchange information and make tentative plans, but the plans rarely (only once in 10 months) come to fruition. i am lonely and frustrated. i created an online group for moms in hong kong on the web site -a site i have been active on for years -and i sent out 41 invitations to moms who listed their location as hong kong. 2 moms responded/joined the online group. neither of them responded to a get-to-know-you survey i posted (asked what part of hk people lived in, how many children they had, and what they like to do for fun with their kids in hk).

it seems a HUGE part of our social limitations is caused by us not having a live in maid. that sounds insane, doesn't it? i knew before we moved here that most households have a live-in maid, and we considered doing the same, but once we got here and saw how small the apartments are and observed family dynamics when we were out and about, we decided the system was not for us (i did not want a stranger living with us 6 days of the week, and i, frankly, did not like what i saw when i observed the dynamics between some families and their helpers when i was out and about). we figured this would be private...our decision...not something that impacts anyone but us. we were wrong. i swear to you that almost every social conversation i have had has come around to the subject of live-in maids/maids within the first five minutes. i have been asked why we don't have a maid, and have been scoffed at/questioned/advised when i give my reply. i had one north american woman roll her eyes at me and tell me "what, are you still morally opposed?!" i sat there, speechless (that was at the one and only book club meeting i attended). i have talked to a couple other women who seemed to understand my thinking but gently told me that not having a maid was making me a social pariah. i have never heard of or experienced anything i have found as bizarre (or isolating) as this particular aspect of our hong kong adventure. it boggles my mind.

so, between the school issues and the lack of social life, we decided to ask josh's employers if we could come home a year early (summer 2012). they were open to the idea, and seemingly before the bosses here in china could even talk to the bosses in the u.s., there was an opportunity for josh in the austin office, and the bonus was that it was an immediate opportunity. so, here we are moving back early and even six months earlier than we had hoped. we are thrilled!!!!!!!!

i think i could write a book on what NOT to do before moving half way around the world. my number one suggestion would be to find mentors. in our case, what we really needed was a family with school-aged kids who had moved here when the kids were school aged (versus moving here before they were born and already knowing to get them on 10 waiting lists before they were 2 years old) to help us understand what we were facing. we had no idea what a corporate debenture was or how to manipulate the wait list situations at various int'l schools or just how to help a five-year-old prepare for and survive the interview process to get into school. having mentors of a western nationality and with school-aged children would have been tremendously helpful. hindsight is always 20/20.

i cannot say that we regret this experience. it truly has been one of a lifetime. we have had many great adventures here in hong kong, and we have had the invaluable opportunity to travel to other parts of asia. my one regret is not better preparing ourselves for this move; i feel that we could have been more successful and happier here if we had just done our homework (thoroughly and completely) and known what we were getting ourselves into. i think we also would have chosen a different part of hong kong to live in if we had done more research. there's that pesky hindsight again ;-p

Friday, December 16, 2011

HKG291: 'Twas the Night Before Moving

christmas display in our apartment lobby

...and all through the house
all the creatures were stirring, even the mouse
the suitcases are packed, and lined up with care
all of us excited because we'll soon be THERE

the kiddos are tucked all snug in their beds
while visions of texas dance in their heads
we're all set to tidy and ready to pack
we're ready to leave and get right on back

back to our family and friends, to our dogs and our cat
we have missed all of them so, sometimes we're knocked flat
so back to texas we go, and from hong kong we leave
it's been real, y'all, in ways you would never believe :-)

our adventures are through, and so we are too
we've seen and done so many things new
it's time to go back to the things we've long known
biking, skating, and throwing the dog's bone

back to texas and family and friends all around
back to running and rolling around on the ground
back to queso and 'ritas and yummy fajitas galore
back to playdates and cookouts, book clubs and more

we are not sad to leave our tiny abode
we've had great fun and tried the camode
but it's time to go back to our home so dear
where family and friends are so near

See Y'all Soon!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

HKG290: Cat Antics

waffle snuggled up with olivia this morning. he looked so calm, peaceful, and cute. usually, he's batting her pens all over the room and trying to sit on her coloring book while she's trying to color. i guess he got his crazies out on me this morning. first he curled up under the lap table i am using and bit my toe nail. then, while backing out from under the lap table, he put his furry little butt INTO my coffee. he then ran off and threw himself down to wash the coffee off his back side all while giving me wounded looks like i was the one who put the coffee there. i guess all of that wore him out b/c it was after that escapade that he curled himself around olivia and went to sleep. man, i love this crazy cat!

today was a more outgoing day than yesterday, but still pretty low key. the kids ran amok this morning while i worked on move-related stuff. just before lunch, we headed out to get q a hair cut and to visit our favorite shop kitties. we wanted to see if their mommies would like to have mansion la fu and scratchy la fu, waffle's kitty condo and scratching post that we cannot take with us. they were happy to sign up to take these items, so we will take them down there at the end of the day tomorrow.

this afternoon, we took a taxi to livie's school so that we could pick up the remainder of her school work. while there, livie got a couple of extra hugs from a couple of her teachers. we decided to walk home from school and stop at our favorite park on the way. josh came home early today, so he was already home when we arrived. livie and i took advantage of this and pretty much turned around and headed right back out the door so we could go get a foot massage. livie LOVES this and has been begging for us to go for a couple weeks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

HKG289: Packing and Downloading

this is what waffle was doing today while the kids were running amok and i was getting move-stuff done. yes, the space heater is on. the weather has improved, and temps are up about 5 degrees, but our apartment is still chilly...and thus the toasty cat.

today was a very low key day. the kids ran amok in the apartment while i downloaded games and youtube clips to my computer for the LOOOONNNNGGG plane ride. downloading games put a fraud alert on my credit card, so i had to spend some quality time skyping with the credit card company. there's nothing like trying to use an automated telephone system while your kid is shrieking in such a way that the automated responder keeps telling you that it did not understand your response :-)

in addition to getting the pc ready, i also started the final packing...DUN DUN DUN! it looks like we will have a suitcase to donate (and one less to haul). i will finish our packing dry run tomorrow so that i know if i need to purge/ship more items on friday.

this evening, the kids and i met up with josh at southorn playground so that the kids could play and then josh could take them to dinner while i did some stocking stuffer shopping at nearby markets.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

HKG288: On the Town Tuesday

this is what some of the jumpin' gym locations look like. this is NOT what today's location looked like :-)

it feels like we have been shut in a lot lately, so today i got the kids out for a couple of fun events. first, we headed out to another jumpin' gym location. this one is in the same district we live in and is relatively close by. unfortunately, it was a super junky location. many of the machines were broken, and the overall appearance of the place was pretty run down. i say "unfortunately," but really, i'm the only one that noticed. the kids had a pretty great time using up our tokens...they played air hockey, bowling, skee ball, and a couple driving games. there was a pizza hut in the same mall, and we headed over thinking we'd get lunch there...until we noticed that this pizza hut was super fancy schmancy. it had linen table cloths, glassware, and mood lighting....and it was filled with business people. we took ourselves elsewhere :-)

this afternoon, the kids were invited to come play with the two boys they have gotten to know through gymnastics. the boys have a baby sister and a DOG, and they live in a really fantastic apartment. bug and q were thrilled to hang out with their friends, play with different toys, love on the baby, and fawn over the dog. they had a fabulous time. they are tuckered out after a good, active day!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

HKG287: Take Out

kiddos goofing off. olivia started out trying to give q, who is 3/4 her size, a piggy back ride. i quickly put a stop to that, and they settled on playing horsey. this looks painful, but olivia thought it was quite fun, as did quinn.

today was pretty uneventful. the kids ran amok in the apartment while i cleaned out kitchen and bathroom cupboards. all of our kitchen stuff is going to the friend of a person in josh's office, and they're picking up tomorrow. since all of our pots, pans, oven, and rice cooker are leaving tomorrow, we will be taking advantage of the plethora of delicious food available for takeaway/delivery here in hong kong.

other than working on packing/purging, the other big event for today was a walk-thru with our landlord. all went well. paperwork is in order, and we are good to go for turning in our keys/cards saturday morning.

there are only five more days until we are back in texas. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

HKG286: Misery and Mayhem in Macau

the ruins of st. paul's cathedral in macau

dq in macau! we didn't go in, but peeked in as we walked sold only ice cream chicken fried anything :-)

another view of the ruins

ladies holding q and olivia. josh and i were both jealous of how cuddly q was with these ladies. we can never convince q to hold onto us when we hold him...he just flops around or leans back so we're doing all the work. he clung to both of these ladies very tightly (they took turns holding him and taking pictures of themselves holding him).

q really can sleep anywhere. here, he's strapped to my back in an ergo with people crushed against him, loud conversations all around him, and shouting/chanting nearby.

we started off the day with the best laid plans...hop a ferry to macau to check out the portuguese culture of the city. our plan was to head to the city center. previously, we've checked out only the casino areas.

we had no problems getting on the ferry or with the ferry ride. it wasn't until we got to the ferry terminal in macau that all hell broke loose.

we started with a pit stop. q's doing fantastic with potty training, but he's still in the stage where we make timed pit stops. bathrooms are what they are, right. except the one livie and i ended up in was absolutely disgusting. it took some time to clean it up, and while i was doing that, i noticed the sound of someone being very, very, very sick. i am a sympathetic vomiter, so just hearing the sound of someone else being sick makes me nauseous.

we finally escape the bathroom to find that the lines to get through customs are so long that people aren't even in line anymore...they are simply crushed against one another. we plow through this crowd to get to the visitor line, and it's miserable...wall to wall people, shouting, chanting, and near-jeering going on. it sounded like there was a demonstration or protest going on, and the crowd was not moving at all after standing there for 30 minutes. i finally asked someone near me what people were chanting, and she said they were simply asking to go faster.

we stood in that line for more than two hours. q fell asleep on my back for about 30 minutes, stood quietly for a long time, and had a small picnic while sitting on our backpack on the floor (thanks to some sweet, generous korean ladies who kept giving them cookies and candies). the rest of the time we were in that line (the last 30 minutes or so), q and livie were picked up and hugged/kissed/passed around by a group of people from mainland china. it was fun and funny for the first little bit, but when i had to holler to get q back and get pushy to keep one lady from hauling livie deeper into a HUGE crowd, it ceased being fun.

fortunately, while on a potty break for q, josh asked about us using a different line because we hold HK ID was a go. after standing for more than two hours, we got to the front of a new line and got through customs in less than 10 minutes. i still have no idea why the lines were moving so slowly. when we've been to macau before, the lines in this customs area have been long but pretty fast moving.

when we finally got through customs, we hopped into a taxi queue and then headed into the center of the city to check out the ruins of st. paul's cathedral and find some portuguese food. we found the cathedral, and it was beautiful, and we found tons of retail shopping, but we did not find any portuguese restaurants. it was nearly 3:30 and we hadn't had any lunch due to the crazy issue in customs, so we finally stopped at a hole-in-the-wall chinese place and had some truly delicious food. as we were walking away from that particular restaurant, we ended up finding a few portuguese places.

this was one heck of an adventure, but not quite the kind we had in mind for our last weekend in hong kong.