Archive for February, 2008

When we traveled here in the fall of ’06 we stayed in a hotel in causeway bay. It’s a major shopping destination in HK with a lot of foot traffic. Trying to navigate our little stroller at the time up one of the main thoroughfares drove me crazy and I commented to M that I didn’t like causeway bay, other than Victoria Park. How ironic that we will now live there. We found a relatively quiet section of the neighborhood that is half a block from the park. We talked to M’s colleague with a 20-month old who lives around the corner and he said Friday-Sunday is busy, especially getting to the MTR station (HK’s subway system), but otherwise it’s great. All in all, other than the outrageous cost, I think we made the right decision. Here’s hoping…

Now that the housing search is over we dealt with some other major aspects of our life here – childcare and doctors. I need to start working consistent hours again so I went to an agency to find a helper – that’s what nannies are called here because in addition to watching the kids they also clean and in some cases cook. And while our housing costs are very high the price of a fulltime helper is very low. I’m afraid I will become spoiled! I met one woman I liked who will come tomorrow and Friday for a few hours to try her out. I have confidence that both F and T will help me vet her to see if she is a good fit. We also had to take F to the doctor as she’s had a lingering cough that last night turned pretty bad. She has some bronchial inflammation that should clear up soon – hopefully it will. We asked around for doctor referrals and everyone recommended the same practice and now we know why. It’s well run, efficient, a pharmacy in the office, and the doctors seem good. I’m so relieved as our past two doctors have been excellent and I had no idea what to expect here. M and I can also go to the practice as they have pediatricians, OB’s and GP’s – one stop medical shopping!

For me the real adventure begins as M left tonight for London until Sunday so I’m on my own here in honkey town, with the girls, for the first time. He’s attending his awards dinner and we would love to be there but thankfully his parents surprised him and are going to be able to celebrate with him. F is so excited because her grandma promised to send back treats and she told me she’s going to get “Booty, and booty, and booty, and some more booty!” (as in Pirate’s Booty). I’m sure she’ll throw in some M&M’s too and make F’s week. M is excited too because he gets to fly Cathay Pacific’s business class again – but this time without the kids. He’ll probably get the best night sleep since we left home – I’m jealous…


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Hong Kongers are fascinated by our Phil & Ted’s double-decker stroller. People of all ages—oldsters, couples, teenagers—all stop and point at the vehicle.

****I interrupt this entry to shed light on a classic showdown between E and F.

“It’s not quiet time!” Fshouts.

“Lay in bed or I’m shutting the door,” E responds.

“I want Daddy!”

“Daddy’s not here,” E says, blatantly lying.

“Yes he is.”

“He’s leaving.” Also not true.

“I’m pushing my luck, Mom.”

“You are pushing you’re luck,” Ereplies. “I’m not discussing this anymore.”

F: “I’m not discussing this anymore too.”

E: “I’m shutting the door.”

F: “Quiet time is over.”

Ellen: “F….”

F: “I have to go pee-pee.” (Blatant lie).

And so it goes. F is quickly putting the days of an afternoon nap behind her. Honestly, that’s okay with me. With no nap, by 7 pm she’s wiped out and in bed. Last night she wrapped her head in a blanket and said she was a “king.” She paraded around the bedroom, sat down with me and a couple of books, and was asleep in 10 minutes. With a nap under her belt, she’s wired until 9 pm.

So we signed a lease. I’m not even going to say what we’re paying per month (hint: it’s double our old rent). It hurts. We arrived at what appears to be the absolute peak of the real estate market here. Rents have literally doubled in less than a year. But honestly, when you take the incredibly low tax rate here, the cheap hired help, our car-free family, and our upgrade to a 3-bedroom, it’s not that much more than what we’d pay for a 1,500 square foot apartment with 3 bedrooms in New York City. The thought of the four of us functioning in a tiny place with no storage, no oven, no dishwasher, no nearby subway stop, was dreadful. Add to that the bonus of being next to Hong Kong’s largest park—Victoria Park – and I suppose locking this apartment down is a no-brainer. So Causeway Bay is our new home. Bloody expensive though. Now we just need to sort out our child care and F’s schooling.

By the way, at the moment, it appears as if E has won the battle of the wills. F is not shouting anymore. T just watches these confrontations with amusement, silently rooting for her sister. Her newest and probably first ever trick is raising her arm up when we yell “hooray!”

Back to Phil & Ted’s. The stroller is a huge hit here, and the fact that we have two cute American kids in it make the vehicle that much more interesting. People laugh. They point. Some older ladies will just walk up to T and start pinching her cheek.

*****I spoke too soon. This just in.

F: “I have to go pee-pee again.”

E: “You really do.”

F: “Yes. I went pee-pee.”

E: “You went pee-pee?”

F: “Mom. I’m done.”

E: “Did you pee in your bed thinking that would get you out of rest?”

F: “Yeah.”

I’ll end this posting with F’s latest effort.

“Mom. I have to go poo-poo too.”

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In the midst of our housing search we’ve come to a slight impasse. We love Lamma island – a funky, hippish, welcoming place that’s great for kids, has a wonderful community, is affordable, and overall a place we would love to live. We would have to take a ferry to hong kong island but the service is pretty good and the ride not more than about half an hour. The problem with Lamma is with two children places are hard to come by. The majority of places on Lamma are 3 story houses each comprising of 700sq. ft. flats per level. The ground floor usually has additional outdoor space, the middle floor a small balcony, and the top floor an additional roof deck which is normally equal to the size of the apartment. There are some 2 story apartments and entire houses but these are rare and hard to come by as all the good places get passed around lamma through word of mouth before they get to a realtor. Additionally the top floor apartments are also very hard to get. So we are left with the trying to assess whether we could swing living in a ground floor apartment which would allow the kids to go outside and we could store a lot outside as well. We don’t mind the small space so much, as long as we had adequate outdoor space – the big problem are the kitchens in the places we’ve seen are horrible. Another problem is in some places we would have considered there is no bathtub just a shower stall. We have a potential lead on a 2-story but it’s a long shot. So we’re feeling very conflicted about the kind of concessions we would have to make in order to make Lamma work for us. Anything we’ve seen on Hong Kong island proper hasn’t appealed to us for a variety of reasons, namely paying a very high price for a pretty bad apartment. Which leaves us with discovery bay where you get a decent place for your money (compared to HK) but without the charm and character of a place like lamma. For the kids it would be great but I feel we would be coping out a bit by settling there and just living in a weird gated community (even though half the residents are local hong kongers). So we are struggling to find something that would work for us on Lamma (we hound the real estate agents but to no avail) and at this point feel like DB is our fall back if we can’t find anything else. Unfortunately the housing search continues…

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disco bay

Hong Kong Pro’s and Con’s so far:

Pro – Superior subway service

Con – Terrible milk

Pro – McDonald’s and Starbucks widely accessible

Con – McDonald’s and Starbucks widely accessible

Pro – Clean parks, streets

Con – Public burping (A chronic, older male habit here)

Pro – Impeccable and omnipresent Taxis

Con – Four-slice loaves of bread

Pro – Line cutting is allowed (if there is a line at all)

Con- Line cutters

On Tuesday, February 19th, we took the ferry to Discovery Bay. This is an area akin to Palo Alto, Calif., as E points out. Immediately after stepping off the 30 minute ferry from Hong Kong’s central pier terminal, you arrive at a squeaky clean plaza. It’s got a high end sandwich shop, a café, bars, restaurants, a McDonald’s, a grocery store, outdoor seating. The people are a mix of local and ex-pat, though you tend to notice the expats more. Discovery Bay, it’s fair to say, is one giant country club. The high rises have private pools and playgrounds, gyms and yoga studios. There are two major resident’s clubs on the island, each of which is walking distance from wherever one lives. Mom’s tended to be good looking, in decent shape, many wearing spandex exercise pants and sun glasses. A lot of Dad’s were out an about as well, casually (in some cases, slovenly) dressed. Which made me wonder. Do these dad’s have jobs? Do they work from home? Did they all just have the day off?

Discovery Bay kind of gets a bad rep – a combination of Disneyland and downtown Greenwich, Connecticut. There are no cars allowed, so the wealthy families get around in golf carts – no joke. Yes, the Stepford Wives comparison is made quite a bit, and for good reason. Clearly there were a lot of moms who looked like their husbands were Western born bankers or lawyers. We didn’t exactly get a warm feeling from these ladies.

But then again, a lot of them looked like they really, really enjoyed living in a place that would appear to some to be utopic. You could literally drop your child off in a remote part of town and within minutes they’d be returned to you. The only threat to them would be walking into the ocean, or walking in front of a golf cart. I suppose it’s kind of an island paradise of sorts. How bad can that be?

F loved the abundant play grounds. “Hey Dad, Mom. Look. A play ground? Can I go on it?” She said this in all 6 apartments we visited because all 6 had views of nearby play grounds. Most of the apartments had direct views of the ocean. When I say direct, several of them were practically spitting distance to the water.

Both girls loved riding in the golf cart. T would flap her arms when we picked up speed in the cart – driven by our smart and very nice agent Kevin. F got tired and hungry half way through. At the Chianti – a luxury high rise part of DB – she lost it. I looked over and heard her wailing, while holding onto E’s leg. E was reading a map, trying to ignore her. The person who was supposed to give Kevin a key didn’t show up, and the waiting did F in. We quickly visited an extravagant, but expensive apartment and went to the plaza for lunch. F downed her favorite lunch – chicken fingers with ketchup. We somehow felt better feeding her chicken fingers and French fries from a high end sandwhich shop, rather than McDonald’s. She had some of our fish too. When we finished looking at apartments, we collected our stroller. Within 45 seconds of sitting in it, F fell asleep.

To be honest, we’re really struggling with the Disco bay thing. On the one hand, we didn’t move to Hong Kong to live in a country club. On the other, Hong Kong is 30 minutes away by ferry, and it’s tough to argue with the amenities. The housing hunt continues…

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Believe people when they say that space is limited in Hong Kong. Our first apartment hunt began on Thursday, February 16, 2008, and got off to a tough start. The appointed real estate agent, Agnes, is very nice, mind you. But communication between us isn’t great, and we found ourselves loading the kids in a cab with no car seats. Nobody cares what kids wear when driving here. You could have an infant lying in the back seat and nobody would care. I told Agnes that I wasn’t happy about this, but agreed nonetheless to visit 4 apartnments in the TinHau area.

The taxi driver whipped us up Tin Hau’s steep hill. T was in a bjorn, buckled into E’s seat belt (quite dangerous) and F was buckled into the middle seat. F kept asking, “Mom, Dad. Mom, Dad (she’s into repeating that lately). Are we in a taxi? Are we driving in a taxi?” She then sang the taxi song she learned in school with Alison. “Taxi, taxi riding in the back seat roll the window up, roll the window down.  Put the money in the slot, see you later, thanks alot. Sure beats walking cross town.” At which point she’d laugh and say “that’s my school song.” I asked Agnes to tell the driver to drive slow. I stopped asking after our second taxi. It was futile. The second taxi didn’t even have middle seat belts.

The first batch of apartments we looked at were in a high rise, high up on the hill in Braemer Hill. When I say hill, in Hong Kong it’s really more like a cliff, since the city is carved into a steep mountain. It was a gated high rise, with tons of Asian ex-pat kids running around. The 3 bedroom apartments we looked at were tiny, no storage space, no oven, no dish washer. Each had two bathrooms. In the back of the kitchens, there was a tiny sliver of a bathroom and small space for “storage” as E described it. I informed her that the area, probably 100 square feet in total, was dedicated for the live-in help. E still can’t believe people live in those spaces.

It was a depressing field trip, given that not only were the apartments small, they were expensive—roughly HK$30,000 per month, or $3,800.

One apartment had mold on the walls, another smelled like old garbage. The last one was the biggest, about 1,500 square feet, but was really more like 900 sq. ft. —without a single closet. The security guard who let us into the apartment stood in the corner while we looked. He let out a loud burp at one point, as if it were no big deal. That’s common here.

This trip reaffirmed our inclination that island life may suit us better, where space is more available and the rents are cheaper.

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