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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

HKG285: Jacket Required

during family nap, waffle curled up on the warmest human: josh.

i'm a total wimp when it comes to cold temps. i LOVE hot weather. love it. cold? hate it. what do i classify as cold? anything below 70 degrees, really. i told you i am a wimp.

the temps here have been in the high sixties during the day and low fifties at night. this should be fine, right? when we are out and about and walking miles and miles, it's PERFECT. i swear to you, though, that it's about 40 degrees inside our apartment. even josh, our resident walking space heater, said he was cold today. i am guessing that the combination of hardwood floors and cement walls along with zero furniture or rugs is what's got this place feeling like a meat locker.

i bought sparky, our space heater, a week or so ago. thing is, if i turn him to a medium high temp AND to the highest fan speed, he starts sparking. this is not something i look for in a space heater. i had to turn sparky off last night and let him cool off for an about 1:30 in the morning, my teeth were chattering. the compromise is to turn sparky to a medium warm temp and the lowest fan speed. this produces wimpy warm air. the warm air is so wimpy that our furred family member...the one covered in fur from his nose to his toes...sleeps directly in front of the space heater. in hopes of combating the cold tonight, we got a second sparky and we have them set up at either end of a short hall that all of the bedrooms come off of. here's hoping we have toasty toes tonight!

i know that the upcoming forecast for pville includes temps about 10 degrees lower than our lows here, but our house in pville has central air, carpets and furniture, and NO SPARKS ;-0

i told you i'm a wimp.

Friday, December 9, 2011

HKG284: Fun Friday

livie is the adorable shepherd closest to the wall on the middle/right side of the pic

the kids have done remarkably well with adjusting to living with few toys, no furniture, and no TV. they each get a lot of time on the computer and nook to play games on pbskids and starfall, and we all watch a lot of random videos on youtube (duck-billed platypus, pugs, bostons, funny cat videos, a plethora of "videos" for music from the 70s (carpenters, beatles, james taylor, and so on)), so they are not exactly deprived :-) more often than not, though, they just get completely goofy as shown above. and then mean mommy has to reign in the goof because there is a high probability that the neighbors below us want to cause bodily harm due to the noise.

the temps dropped a few more degrees again. waffle decided that the weather is too chilly and he is most comfortable laying less than an inch from the space heater.

today was a day of dividing and conquering. though she is no longer enrolled at school, live was allowed to participate in her class christmas play this morning (she was the world's most adorable shepherd). josh got her off to school for that while q and i hung around the apartment and then headed out to lego class.

this afternoon, we mostly kept it pretty quiet, and then had a very simple dinner. we're not sure yet what we will do tomorrow; we are having olivia's bed picked up, but we are not sure yet what time it will be picked up. we are hoping to make one more trip out to macau this weekend to check out the portuguese history of the island, but we're not 100% sure that will be a go.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

HKG283: Language Barrier

this picture doesn't do it justice because you can't taste it, but trust me, this is the world's best chocolate cupcake. the cake is moist and delicious. instead of frosting, the cake is covered in chunks of chocolate that has crisps in it.

today was a pretty good day. the kids and i headed to southorn playground to play for a bit before meeting josh for lunch. we went to pomme again so that livie could experience the world's best chocolate cupcake, and so that we could get some treats to share with her class tomorrow.

after nap, we ran into central to get some errands done. our first errand was to get some gift cards at starbucks to give to livie's teachers to say thank you. i wanted three $350 gift cards (that comes to around 45 USD). it was hectic in the starbucks (it was tea time), and quinn was being quinnado. the clerk either misheard me or misunderstood me, and i ended up with three gift cards that had only 50 HKD on them...that's around 6 USD...barely enough for one cup of coffee. so, tomorrow, josh and olivia will go back to starbucks to get REAL gift cards. i should have ignored the line of nine people behind me and my crazy son doing crazy things and just gotten the cards corrected when we were there, but honestly, i did not have the energy for it.

this evening was quiet...just a quick dinner of yummy leftovers and one more piece of furniture going to a new home.

i worked on purging the kitchen cabinets today, and spending so much time in the kitchen made me really miss the fishies. i didn't really realize how much time i spent looking at them and talking to them (i know) whenever i was in there doing chores/mundane stuff. it was lonely in there one was begging me to feed them or splashing around.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

HKG282: Ten Day Forecast

bug got this shot of us all hanging out in our empty living room

today marks ten days until we move. we can now look at the 10-day forecast for pville, and it means something. today was also the day waffle had to get his health screening and certificate for travel...this had to be done no more than ten days before he travels.

waffle survived his trip to the vet, i survived the kids and cat at the vet, and we all survived sending our beloved fishies to live with a new family. the are all set up in their new house, and their new mommy reports that they are very active and fun to watch. we showed their new family how to pet them, and we warned them that everyone in the tank is basically a dog with fins and will beg for food CONSTANTLY!

we have now gotten rid of 3/4 of our furniture and have plans for the remaining items to find new homes by monday. we have an appointment with our landlord to finalize paperwork, and then we're just about done...just have to pack up the suitcases and our beloved waffle kitty.

the last few days have been a bit crazy AND i have come down with ANOTHER cold, so tomorrow is going to be a very quiet day. we have a few small errands to run, but we will mostly keep it very low key.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

HKG281: Fun Tuesday

on the way to the post office, we stopped to admire this christmas tree.

during quiet time today, livie decided to read to waffle. he loved it.

today was a pretty great day. we didn't do too much in the morning...went out for a run to the sheung wan post office and then to a favorite pet store to stock up on waffle's stinky fish treats. in the afternoon, we had a BALL. we met up with two of livie's school friends (brothers) at playtown candyland for a couple hours of crazy fun, and then we were invited back to their house for dinner and playtime. it was an awesome day! that is the absolute most fun we have had since the b family returned to the states.

Monday, December 5, 2011

HKG280: Mommy Goes All MacGyver

photographer's self portrait

q doing a forward roll with coach bill's taken some doing, but q has finally mastered the forward roll without looking like he's breaking his own neck.

my cute little monkey hangin' from a bar

me and q headed off to some gymnastc adventure

today was a pretty low key day. the kids each had their final gymnastics class at the YWCA, and we had a park playdate in the evening. livie took on the role of photographer for q's gymnastics class, and she did a great job.

the big excitement of the day came at bath time. i let q play with one of waffle's toy balls in the tub. and then i removed the drain plug. and then i couldn't figure out why q was losing his doo-doo. um. yeah. the ball got sucked into the bath-water-is-draining vortex.

i got the kids dried and dressed and then left them to play while i tried to figure out how to get the ball out of the drain. i have had to use a pair of kitchen tongs to retrieve various and sundry items from the bathtub drain, but nothing as rolly as a ball. after some pondering, i decided to tape together two chopsticks, put a big sticky mass of tape on one end of them, and grab the ball. this worked except that the tape wasn't sticky enough and the ball kept falling back in each time i got it 3/4 of the way up. i then switched to veet leg wax strips. those suckers are STICKY. i fgured they'd do the trick. they did, except that the ball kept getting stuck at the very top/opening of the drain. so, i had to use the chopsticks, wax strip, and a fork to leverage/pull the ball out. the ball is now in the trash, and i plan to hide the rest of waffle's toy balls so that this doesn't happen again. i honestly do not know how it hasn't happened sooner considering that waffle loves nothing more than to throw his toys in the tub and bat/chase them around the slippery surface.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

HKG279: Cupcake Sunday

mmmm! fundamiddle cupcake!

now that the temps have dropped, i am waffle kitty's space-heater-human. the minute i sit down, he curls up in my lap. i love it!

q's developed a habit of biting his lower lip and now has a nasty-looking rash to show for it. we are keeping a close eye on the rash...worried about it being impetigo, which can develop after strep/scarlet fever.

today was a nice, slow, low key day. we just putzed around the apartment for the morning. josh got a wild hair and baked up a box of fundamiddles cupcakes that my mom sent. they were delish...a little too delish.

late in the morning, josh took the kids on an errand and to have lunch while i did my own thing...ate lunch, played on the 'puter, straightened the house, and then went out to run some errands.

this evening has been more of the same...nice and low key!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

HKG278: Sai Kung

today, we headed to sai kung, which is an old fishing village in what is now called the new territories.

we had a great time strolling along the waterfront, taking in the spectacular scenery, and having a delicious seafood lunch. we enjoyed the quiet and the slower pace in sai kung. we saw a lot of dogs (and got to pet many of them), and just plain enjoyed ourselves. it was a great day!

Friday, December 2, 2011

HKG277: A Symphony of Lights

today was a pretty great day. the kids were feeling better, and we got out a little bit this afternoon to run errands and go to a park.

this evening, we met up with josh and went to a hamburger joint called triple o's. it was okay...not bad, but just not a typical american burger. i need some wendy's :-) or whataburger. even better...some dan's :-) or culvers. or freddy's. or carl's jr. you get the picture.

after our dinner, we went looking for a jacket for olivia. temps have dropped a bit, and she left her jacket at school (and is no longer enrolled...we will have a chance to retrieve the jacket next week, though). it was a bit of an adventure finding a jacket for her, but we finally did, and she's adorable in it.

our next stop was the symphony of lights show that takes place in victoria harbor. it was pretty spectacular. this is one of the last few things to do on our list. tomorrow, we hope to visit sai kung...also a todo on our list.

christmas lighting on buildings near victoria harbor

laser light show on the TST side of the harbor

decorated ferry that runs during the light show

Thursday, December 1, 2011

HKG276: Shippy Shippy!

rubbermaid hatchery all ready for transport

while the UPS guys were here, i cordoned off the kids and keep the kids out of the UPS guys' hair, and to keep waffle from escaping.

during his exile, q kept escaping and trying to romp through the rubbermaid hatchery. eventually, he cuddled up on his bed and played quietly.

during her exile, the bug curled up in bed...always a sure sign that she feels poorly.

wooooooooooooooooo hooooooooooooooooooooooooo! our household goods are bound for texas!

the kids and i all woke up feeling crummy with a cold this morning, so it was already going to be a quiet day, but we also were waiting for UPS to return and take our shipment. our mover in the states was able to get the issues we had yesterday all cleared up, and the shipment went off with very few issues today.

the apartment is getting really empty...makes me wish i had some roller skates :-)

depending on how we are all doing tomorrow, i am hoping we can get out for some kind of adventure. the past couple days have been too quiet. livie's out of school is nice for us to have her home, but i also know she's missing school and that we're quite boring when compared with her school friends and teachers.