We are packing up to leave this place. I gather my final thoughts and make note of my experiences.
The first 10 days here there were NO westerners to be found. We were such an oddity that the Chinese wanted us (the kids) to pose for pictures with them like either we were movie stars or zoo animals. SO friendly, so kind, SO taken with the girls eyes. The younger Chinese are more animated than I remember from the last time I was in this part of the world many years ago. Their expressions are what I would call western from my perspective- they wear their emotions on their sleeves. The older crowd still carries the stereotypical Mao blunt affect but their stone faces melt into warm wrinkly smiles when they meet our eyes. To us, Sino-US relations feel well. After the New Year, westerners began to appear, or I guess more accurately reappear, and the Chinese became less interested in us. It became clear that almost all of the walking-around Chinese New Year's week were in visiting from the mainland and Taiwan. It was a unique swap of inhabitants.
We have done some experimenting with fruits, vegetables, beans and distinctive mutations of rice. I have not been able to embrace buying things that are dried up and in need of reconstitution but find it interesting that this pre-refrigeration practice is alive and well. Shredded squid they sell on the street clearly has been dried and reanimated- it tastes like ham. One of the things about food in China that resonates with me is the way they view it. In the west we concern ourselves with the measurement of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and calories in a given food product or meal. Increasing, decreasing or maintaining our weight is the significant connection we have to it. I should add that no matter what our mindset is towards our own weight in the west we try not to insult each other by discussing our observations about each other's weight. In the east they recognize food as an essential part of the weight/energy maintenance like we do, but foods are also heavily considered for their flavors, energies, movements and organic actions. If you are cold in your body you eat something that will warm you like ginger, if you are hot you consume something to cool you like mungo beans, if you have a weak stomach you take sugar, if your kidneys are weakening then its yams. They discuss each other's weights because it is not a sore subject- they are for the most part all slender. A comment that you are little lighter translates that you are working too hard, a little chunkier means you are being well kept at home. In China, it is their height they are sensitive about and is taboo to discuss.
The way food is organized in the Chinese culture is by flavor: sweet, bitter, sour, spicy and salty. Each of the flavors present is a well balanced meal as each connects with a corresponding health benefit. Sour calms the body, bitter clears heat, sweet tonifies (increases energy and balances), spicy expels cold and wind (teehee), salty dissolves stagnation. Each flavor is also in relationship with the wellness of one of five critical organs. Bitter helps the functioning of the heart, sour aids the liver, sweet keeps the spleen, spicy looks after the lungs, salty assists the kidneys (in balance not in abundance). Debating validity and levels to achieve balance is another conversation but I think it's cool that the Chinese have put words to patterns between food and healing/wellness they have observed over the last thousand something years. Elevating food to equal status with medicine seems to make good sense. Food is something we ingest and goes into our blood stream and is carried to our cells so why would it not be viewed as having the same power as when we take a pill?
News reports about night soil (human manure), excessive pesticide residue, unsafe additives, contamination with heavy metals, misuse of veterinary drugs, cancer villages and corruption at levels of government that control food shows that while the Chinese have perhaps mastered what to eat for health, their rise to industrialization has left them in danger of not being able to access the ingredients anymore. With the amount of heavy metals predicted in their soil they are going to have to move to greenhouses of some sort to isolate from the intense pollution. It is surreal to have this contrast in your face. A hike, healthy fruit and veg all under a yellow hazy sky. The smog is such an odd color some days it makes me think I am a character in a science fiction movie that has survived some intense event that has altered the natural world forever.
So props to the diet China, frights for the contamination of the food source…in a funny way I view my country of origin as living with the same poisonous cocktail just in inverse. I hope not foolishly, I generally find comfort in American pollution control and food growing standards. I may be an idiot for having this comfort- part of me thinks I am but for now I will go with it. It is the food pyramid cemented into popular culture by self-interest lobbyists that is the poison in the American drink AND I think the reason why the USA now sadly has the lowest life expectancy of any wealthy nation. My heart breaks over this.
As far as wellbeing, my nation of origin better look to food as a way towards health because healthcare isn't going to ensure wellness. If you are an American this article is an IMPORTANT read: Time Magazine Article on Healthcare. This breaks my heart as well.
This discussion turned diatribe about food, wellbeing and the failures of nations is best ended abruptly because it sucks.
The shopping here is overwhelming. There is an ABUNDANCE of fashion and electronics. I don't know how one would even approach it. We are not in the market for adding weight to our suitcases and in fact shed about half our bulk after the last public repack and weigh at the check in. We did however indulge in a few things that Hong Kong serves up like nowhere else. Thanks to a WWonderful friend who gave me a recommendation my husband is leaving Hong Kong even after his minute passage through with two custom suits each with two sets of pants plus five made to order shirts. All were taken from measurement to on the hanger in 48 freaking hours at the cost of just one off the rack suit. It's black magic. My splurge was the purchase of a Chinese drum. Now I just need a gong.
First let me not bow but actually prostrate myself before those who are described by the word TEACHER. Homeschooling three kids is 1000xs harder than I anticipated. We had a bunch of challenges when we started off like the lack of internet plus some of the materials I was relying on didn't work for one reason or another. I also lost my partner so doing all the stuff of daily living on top of preparing lessons and teaching was impacted by the loss of sheer manpower. Even with these challenges we have made do and the kids are all doing math, reading, researching and writing daily. For me, the patience required to do the dance of multiple attempts at mastery that they deserve is extremely hard. Lovingly redirecting their many attempts at distraction with topics and activities irrelevent to the task at hand is laborious. Having your own time constantly accessed and interrupted with a ton of questions x 3 makes it difficult to finish a thought. I don't want to complain, but I must acknowledge...this is an effort not to be discounted.
Aside from my own challenges with the role, the kids are working hard and have produced a lot of good work. Their blogging ranges from a conversational narrative capturing their day to research on a topic. They always have their kindle or ipod in hand during travel or at bedtime. They all have math programs they are working and get just the right amount wrong and right that leads me to believe they are where they need to be. They all LOVE return blog comments. It means alot to them that their work is being read. I do not really count in that regard- they are largely immune to me being impressed by their work. They are however, extremely influenced by my check marks. My youngest especially. If I forget a check when her work is reviewed she brings her work back and demands this stamp of approval. She was just selected as travel blog of the day by our blog hosting site for her dramatic fish story. She was thrilled! Talk about a check mark! The point of growth I most want to help her with is to be able to discriminate when she can run through the proverbial woods, notice every leaf, look under every rock and appreciate every cloud going by VERSUS when it is time to stay focused and stay with one thing in depth while managing the call of the others. Life is one amazing run-on sentence. I hate to be the one to ask her to halt it even for a minute....but we cant get any work done if not. Wish some nasty teacher could take this off my plate.
My middle is amazingly self-directed on her Stanford University math course. There is little oversight and the program tosses out some intense problems to solve but she always seems to be up for and energized by the challenge. Conversely, she cries under the weight of a research paper. Edits send her to the depths of despair…suddenly she is drowning, drowning…anything to get the weight of this never ending black hole of a paper off of my shoulders…. I would love to help her build some sort of method that can support her when she needs the emotional endurance to work towards a goal that is not easily reached. Fortunately short-term creative writing exercises she greatly enjoys and she gets to approach them with a clear mind so experiments with different writing techniques and the use of humor.
The oldest has had a lot of practice with exercising endurance. The challenge with her is that she takes increased time to work her process and that is fine but often comes at the cost of her being able to pursue other things that would be more enjoyable. It is tough to find the balance of her doing her work and having time left to do things that she loves and comes effortlessly to her... like movie making. I have found out on this trip so many more strengths of hers. The most interesting that she is amazingly gifted at teaching people to do things. She has an intuitive way of putting things in graspable chunks, painting a picture with her words, then with great patience and positivity relaying it to others and celebrating when they accomplish. When the opportunity presents having her learn something for the purpose of teaching it to others is a strategy I hope to employ to aid her in her own mastery of a subject.
I so freely list the kids' touchpoints for development; I would be remiss if I didn't list my own. It's PATIENCE! I keep being given opportunities to master it and fear they will continue to come until I do so...that is my work. Perhaps our time in Japan at a monastery will help me go inside myself and find where it is hiding. On top of yet another opportunity to develop patience, it has been rewarding to get to know the children in different ways. That is something I will cherish from this experience.
The Lion Dance
My very first (of now what has become many) lion dance was on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year in our neighborhood. IT is my favorite thing to watch- it trumps any dragon dance as far as I am concerned. The lion dance group comes in their silky colorful outfits with their big drum, heavy wooden sticks, a gong and cymbals. If it is an accomplished troupe they perform High Jong, which means they will have a series of poles so the dance can happen while the dancers are elevated 6 feet in the air. The trained lion dancers adorn themselves in a lion costume- one dancer operates the head and the other the rear. The drums start. Dum dah, da, dum, dum, dumdumdum… Over New Years you hear this familiar beat echoing all over the island. The lion is led to someone of importance that paints their eyes and enchants them to come to life. Lights on the lion's head now start to flash and glow, the lion spirit has arrived. There is some more ritual, a ribbon is tied onto the lion horn (yes, these lions have horns) and then the lion is led off. The drums have not let up this whole time. The dance starts and the martial arts experts animate the lion- their deliberate moves make it mimic a finicky playful cat. The lion scratches, puts its rear down and shifts it to one side. It blinks its eyes with expression and gets in pounce position as well as stands on its hind legs. This last feat takes great gymnastics ability by the lion dancers as it is accomplished by the front dancer balancing on the shoulders of the rear dancer. It all takes place under the heavy weight of a costume and highly obstructed vision. They leap onto the 6-foot high poles in unison and traverse around cat style with great expression back and forth on the poles. After this goes on for a while the drums mark a change of pace and the lion approaches a chunk of lettuce hanging from a red ribbon from some source even higher than the poles. It is an amazing gymnastic feat involving standing on shoulders WHILE on the poles to access it. These poles have just small 8" round feet platforms for them to work with! Once the lion eats the lettuce it then spits it back out at the important person that first animated it, then the whole troupe shouts HEY. HEY. HEY, HEY, HEY. A scroll is then passed to the lion, which is now parading around like a dog with that just captured a ball. The lion unrolls the scroll with its mouth and displays its message to the crowd. Red envelopes with cash are then passed out to the dancers and other VIPs involved and the kids pet the lion and usually even get to pose with the lion for a snapshot- it is a real community event. Some dances even involve 2 lions (4 lion dancers). There are many different lion colors which all mean something different and the head styles differ from region to region all throughout Asia. One of the last dances we saw was a week into New Years in a mall where a lion was going from store to store dancing, grabbing the lettuce and collecting red envelopes. Apparently it is a practice for prosperity in the upcoming year.
The Drama of the Fish
I wanted to be the cool Mom for once and unseat my kids' idea that I was all militant and rule-following SO I let one of them talk me into buying some fish in the goldfish market with minimal selling. Their heads spun and jaws dropped, which was extremely fun to see. Yay me! I accomplished the goal of ousting their expectation that I would be sensible and boring, but I brought upon us a great…drama. The kids picked out a group of fish in a bag and we added a small aquarium, some supposed oxygenating gravel and liquid, and a sunken ship. The sunken ship was foreshadowing. The next morning we woke to a fish kill. The water began to get murky…just in time for Chinese New Year when everything was closed. I shed my illusions that fish sold in a bag have different oxygen needs and worked with the kids online to research how to oxygenate water with basic kitchen items. We found that if you take some murky smelly water out of the tank and pour it back into the tank from high levels that the bubbles will introduce O2 into the water. So bubblings took place numerous times of the day- mess everywhere and oh the stink. We lost several of our very limited kitchen items as they were murky water fish-germed and unfit for future human use. The bubbling seemed to pause the death spiral but the issue of the water smelling up the entire apartment became the new intolerable problem to solve. The fish market remained closed; Chinese New Year would prove not a challenge for buying groceries, but fish supplies were impossible. I innovated to try to stop the splashstink so introduced a dish soap container for the bubbling- it was ok, but still stinky, drippy and messy. I was clueless about what spring water would have suspended in it that fish wouldn't like so took tap water and put some in an old spring water container to prepare it for introduction into the tank. I remember from having fish as a kid that leaving it out for 24 hours dechlorinates it….leaving it out for 2-3 days here in pollution central should do the trick. A couple more fish died- they were on the water transplant list but it just didnt come in time- poor things. One major bad day my youngest daughter's favorite fish Mazy dies- oh the tears. The fish have become a noose around my neck.
They must be cold...we turn off the AC and throw a towel on them. We dart from one hypothesis to another and trying to solve the problems we see with kitchen items and the internet. The days have passed so I change 20% of the murky water with fresh. The fish tolerate the change. If you could have seen our joy- we want to celebrate with drums. We go to bubble in the new clearer water and miracle of miracles, my youngest daughter's favorite fish, Mazy, is not dead! It was a case of mistaken identity- she was hiding in the sunken ship. It felt like Easter.
The holiday passes and we make our way back to the fish market and buy chemicals so we can change water freely and a small pump with some filtering capability. The tank instantly shapes up. We have a renewed sense, we have gone through the dark days of self bubbling and now have mastered the tank and have all the kit. The youngest is motivated to research and learns her fav fish Mazy is actually a boy. We all follow her lead and deny this information has come to light. We have a couple of days feeling large and in charge and get a little too comfortable- we stop running to the tank in the morning to take the death count which the kids have now created in spreadsheet form taped to the refrigerator. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water….
Mazy the wonder fish has been found dead in her ship dead of unknown causes. The obituary went on from there…
We relive the whole death scene again. The toilet seems to be her favorite spot to grieve…it is really the only place of private space. She plans a funeral and a take-away box from the night before serves as the vessel for the beloved fish to be taken across the street to the park. Her final resting place in an amazing bunch of red fuzzy pom pom plants with a view of the skyline. The question comes up- was Mazy Chinese? Perhaps to work through her sadness my youngest does intense research about all the ways we have failed the fish starting with the tank requirements, need for certain plants…and warmth. I think heshe froze to death. Each fact is like a bitter pill for the cool Mom to swallow. We are down from 15 to 6. The question remains how I will act when confronted again by Coolio Mom. I may smack her upside her head.
We ventured farther and farther each day and the blue dot quickly became obsolete. We ventured to Lantau stupidly during Chinese New Year and waited for 6 hours to see the Giant Buddha for 2 hours. It was still cool. You take a half-hour long gondola ride that crosses many peaks to get there. In line there was a ton of propaganda from Falun Gong, which is a social movement quite vocal about the Chinese government. More power to them for having something they believe in, but I have no interest in getting involved. We ate street food and hung out with some cows that wander the monastery and eat out of the trash. This is a strange site to me- a cow foraging through a bin like a raccoon. One cow elevates the leg of my eldest with its horn in a pre-gore stance. She ran screaming like she had just seen a spider and the surrounding Chinese fell out in laughter. Yes, we are the only westerners and this is what we sound like under duress. One Taiwanese guy was so taken with us that not only did he collect several pictures but he also touched base a couple of times over the course of the day. We couldn't share more than a few words but he forever changed my out of date idea of what made in Taiwan really means. xo Mr. Taiwan man
We went to Hong Kong Disney and it was of comparable size to Paris. The fireworks were great, the castle was small. Apparently Chinese Mickey subscribes to feng shui (and speaks Cantonese).
We noticed things that were unique. All the cabs here are fueled by LPG (liquid propane gas). It can be done! We saw signs telling you to wear a mask if you were sick. My middle daughter had a cold and decided to wear one of her own accord. She wanted to see what it would be like and shortly proclaimed it was a drag. Antibacterial stations are everywhere in shopping centers and in the MTR. Methinks controlling epidemics is a thing here. Density has certain realities.
We went to the Hong Kong museum of history and learned a lot about the Opium wars, British occupation, Japanese occupation, British return to rule, and Chinese reunification. The museum was extremely well done. There was a striking contrast to any other museum I had ever been in as the timeline to be covered was extensive- there are thousands of years of history to be presented here. The use of multimedia made it very interactive and fun. We drank rice tea, saw movies and watched the peaks of Hong Kong form. Picture a mountain range that is flooded…that's what happened, that's what it looks like. Sheer vertical drop into the sea with some reclaimed land around the harbor for a flat platform.
I realized how similar this place is to Gibraltar. A peak held by the Brits with tons of tunnels inside. Gibraltar could learn so much from studying Hong Kong and how they have managed to grow into a world class city in such a vertical terrain.
We went to Ocean Park, which is a super fun amusement park and much better than Disney. It is built over a peak and into the mountain. There is a roller coaster right at the top. Their sea life presentation included some live nautilus, which I had never seen in my life. Every other sea life center just shows their empty cross-sectioned shells. I thought they were extinct! I will put a movie of them on the videos so you can see them. There were also funny signs asking people to think before they act and not eat sea horses. Can you imagine that? I also never had the development of an atoll featured in a museum nor had I ever seen or known about fire foxes aka red pandas. They are my new favorite animals. LOVE them. Yingying and Lele traditional Pandas were still there SB. I don't know if Yingying is of any relation to the Mao-Nixon famous panda diplomacy event. With the small number of Pandas left in China I suppose they are all related these days.
We had experiential Peking duck. It was not just a dish, it was an experience…best ever.
We went from seeing sea cucumbers on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to seeing them on the menu in just about every Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong.
We went to restaurants in very old China parts of Kowloon that have no English menus, no one speaks English, and we survived. Weird practices like having to pay for your napkins were all interesting things to traverse.
We went to see some kung fu where they congregate in a corner of Kowloon park on Sunday afternoons. I LOVED seeing the little future kung fu masters get awards and go and present them to the elders in their family with a bow of gratefulness. We then continued out journey inland to a monastery they call the 10,000 Buddhas. The monastery was closed so we only saw like 500 Buddhas on the righteous climb up to the gate. Each Buddha had its own distinct personality. By the time we passed them again on the way down I was convinced there was a message here.
My Mom used to take me for a MacDonald's Hot Apple Pie as a reward. Loved those hot bubbly things. Then we all figured out that was not very healthy so she replaced them with massages as the celebratory be-good-to-yourself action to plug in when appropriate. She mailed me massages as hugs from afar to get me through the days of no sleep for each of my children. So it's what I do, I get massaged, and I like it. Being able to experience them in different parts of the world is going to be a treat. Here in Hong Kong I had one that started in a reclining chair but in no time I was asked to sit on stool with no back with my feet soaking in a bucket. The massage was through my clothes and would have been much better if I didn't have to hold myself upright on a stool the whole time. Having to sit up straight and then ask those same muscles to relax was frustrating. I had another in a random back room of Kowloon- they got the girls and I in with a flyer and a moment of weakness. It was originally for my daughter who had a pain in her back but hey I could not let her go it alone. The kids were all treated with kindness but I was attacked. My joints, which are a major weak spot in my body were tugged and pulled, my requests for mercy were met with indifference, and her mounting of my rear section was alarming. I was in extreme pain the next day- car accident like. But the next day everything was clear. I had one last one that was called an aromatherapy massage. It was like a Swedish massage with oil on my bare skin while I was lying on a massage table and the closest to familiar but very frustrating that she would only massage up to my ankles and not touch my feet. The verdict- this is not the massage capital of the world. As a public service I will continue my worldwide study.
I got my roots done. The salon was staffed by super hip, super chic Hong Kongers with different colored hair. The ability to deliver curly hair was their claim to fame and contraptions of pin curls hooked up to wires that traced back to an orb were visible everywhere. The guys were dressed SO trendy cool. Everything was kind of normal except the shampoo. The chair was replaced by a bed up on a platform so your neck was not wrenched backwards- it was just in a natural lying position into the sink. Makes SO much sense! The guy lifted my head so gentle like it was an egg and totally scrubbed the nape of my neck instead of leaving it to me to point out it is loaded with goo like I always have to do in the UK and USA. Then, Mr. Shampoo gave me the head massage of a lifetime. He started traced my hairline, gave ample attention to my crown then paid more attention to my cerebellum than one girl can handle. He cradled it, and I let him. Shhh.
We went to the Stanley market and Jumbos floating restaurant. Stanley is SUCH a quaint lazy fishing village. It is amazing that such a place exists just a 15-minute cab ride out of a major city. Jumbos is a restaurant that you take a boat to, and it serves crazy sea life.
We saw ANTI Falon Gong propaganda at the Star Ferry terminal. Still not interested.
We saw the 8pm light show. The buildings on the waterfront have snakes and fish that swarm them, lasers and a generally amazing techno show. The Hong Kong skyline is seriously impressive.
We saw a 20-30-something Chinese woman absolutely freaking out on her cell phone probably to he boyfriend. Oh that shrill. It was scary.
My husband finally came back into town with 3 days to spare. I love you, I hate you, kiss me, slap....then repeat.
2 Macdonnell Rd is a great spot. We learned 2 nights before we left you can even get mattress pads from housekeeping. :-O If you are here under a week go to the Landmark or Mandarin Oriental in Central or Intercontinental or Shangrila in Kowloon. Anything over a week come to my place here...just ask for the mattress pad when you make the reservation and see me for the way to town. You can find other Hong Kong apartments here http://www.squarefoot.com.hk/serviced-apartments/
Goodbye to Hong Kong at 22.3000° N, 114.1667° E.