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Archive for April, 2008

One of the great things about Hong Kong is that much of the island is rugged, exotic, and loaded with shoreline and excellent little beaches. Granted, much of the island’s north side has been filled in with dirt and concrete. The south side is more remote and tropical. A popular beach and village for folks looking to get out of the city for a weekend, or forever, is a place called Shek O. It’s a laid back old fishing village with single-story homes and a mellow, beachy kind of vibe. Locals mix with veteran, Hong Kong ex-pats who have outgrown the city and love the peace and quiet near the sea. Rumor has it there’s one real estate agent and his office is on the corner stool of a bar.

Shek O’ is about a 25 minute taxi ride from Causeway Bay. But the only way to get there from Hong Kong proper is to go up, over and around the island’s steep backside. It’s a stomach flipping journey, that F felt first hand. I kept waiting for her to throw up her Pepperidge Farm Goldfish but she didn’t. When we unloaded at the beach she was whimpering from nausea. As soon as her feet hit the sand she took off to the water.

Shek O is a place every traveler to Hong Kong should spend a day. We had a great, ex-pat Saturday there, lounging on the beach, playing in the water. Eight adults and six children under the age of 3 left the beach and headed for the “Thai restaurant.” I still don’t know the real name of the place. They placed an extra-large round table onto an already large round table to accommodate us. We rolled in with a plastic bag filled with cans of beer. People were in flip flops and tank tops. The floor was sandy. It was that kind of place.

Amazingly, we got through dinner with no major meltdowns. The ice cream filled freezer near our table gave the adults another 20 minutes to eat while the kids ate Popsicles. The Popsicle run was started by F, and quickly emulated by the others. Somebody ordered for the entire table. All told, there were probably eight large and different dishes served, including a tin cauldron of lemon-grass chicken and coconut soup. The bill ended up being about $50 US per couple.

It was the kind of day you could do over, and over and over. After nearly an hour in pleasantly warm ocean water “jumping” waves, F was wiped. She fell asleep as E buckled her seatbelt on the cab ride home. T took advantage of the added time for our attention and clapped, literally, the entire way home. That’s her new trick now.

We were a mixture of professionals, with our roots in the states. Journalists, Wall Street types, freelancers. But none of that really mattered. On Shek O that day, we were as far away from work and home as you could get.

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our first night out

I’ve been meaning to write this since last weekend. Now that we have our helper we’re actually able to go out Friday night’s – pretty amazing! Last Friday we decided to stay local. As soon as we walked out of our building we heard drumming and so we decided to check it out. A block and a half up we came upon this performance of a chinese dragon. Then we went to a restaurant a half a block away serving Xinjiang style food – which is Muslim style cuisine from China’s largest and most north-westerly province and is influenced by many different ethnic groups and its middle eastern neighbors. Unbeknownst to us they have a dance performance in the middle of dinner and we were front and center for Pasha, the dancer, owner, and restaurant’s namesake. A lot going on in this little neighborhood of ours…

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You can get away not speaking Cantonese in Hong Kong. But it really, really helps to know the language. Taxi drivers are great. And the fares are cheap. But not all of them know where “the Marriot” is. Catch my drift? Stores, street directions – language issues come up all the time, even in a place that the British ran for a century.

And so it was on Sunday that I had to call our “caretaker” (translation: building superintendent). You see, our toilets have stopped flushing. The torrential rains probably had something to do with this. Sure, nobody can plan for foul weather. And I’ve had vital stuff like water and electricity shut down before in rental apartments. But going without toilets is tough.

So I called our real estate broker, who gave me the phone number of our caretaker.  I thought the conversation went well, ie, he knew what I was talking about. With a Collins Cantonese phrase book in hand, I’m trying to tell him the toilet is broken. I’m saying chi-soh, je waaih-liuh (the toilet is broken). But tone is everything in Cantonese, and the slightest inflection can change the meaning entirely.

You know those stories about the know-it-all who thinks he knows Chinese and instead of telling the driver to turn left he tells him he’s a dog in heat? That really does happen here. Mandarin has four tones – meaning low, medium, high and something else dictate meanings of words and sentences. Cantonese has nine tones.

I was walking around saying “do-jeh” from my phrase book to “thank” people, only to find out that “do-jeh” means a different kind of thank you. You say “do-jeh” when your uncle gives you $1,000 for your wedding. You say “m-goi” when a cabbie drops you off.

Back to my Cantonese attempt. I thought I had a break through when after several tries, the caretaker said “no watah!”. I tell him our apartment number thinking he’s on his way up. But alas, he wasn’t. Hopefully my Cantonese improves.

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I know I’ve said this before, but there is about as much open space in Hong Kong as there is cityscape. I know that seems hard to believe in a tightly packed city with a massive skyline. But Hong Kong Island is a large hill, or small mountain if you will. Carved into the base is the city proper, with homes and high rises dotting the hillside all the way up to the peak. Because of this landscape, it turns out there are some excellent urban hiking trails and densely wooded jogging routes, Bowen Road among the most popular. Yes, this is the same, famous road where more than 60 dogs (mainly expat dogs) have been fatally poisoned over the years, usually through laced chicken meat. But we don’t have any dogs, so this is a place we plan on visiting often. (click here for more on Bowen Road, the dogs, etc.)

E and I and the girls met up with the H clan on Saturday and walked the main section of the road. To get there for us, we went through Tin Hau and straight up the hill, until we got to Stubbs Road. There the entrance to Bowen Road is clear, not far from the bus stop. The H’s had the twins in strollers. We decided to try T out in the small red back pack. It was her first time in it. The experiment lasted around fifteen minutes. Once we switched her to the bjorn she was fine. F was in the larger, blue framed back pack, which she really liked. Bowen Road is mostly only accessible to foot traffic, skirting the mountain’s top section high above the city. There are certain spots where below the railing is a straight drop down, hundreds of feet. It’s flat, scenic, and fragrant with spring blossoms.

Bowen Road is packed with runners and walkers. There are lights allowing people to run at night. There’s even a play ground a short distance into the road. Heading west, near the end of the road you start to come upon homes. These are gazzillion dollar homes teetering on Hong Kong’s peak, with gated driveways and Rolls Royces parked by the back door. How people live this high up is beyond me, and how these mansions were built is even more unfathomable.

We then took the kids to the actual peak and ate outside at fancy restaurant there. It was a classic, four parent, four young kid lunch. We all took shifts so the other could eat. Luckily there was a fountain and balloons which probably bought us at least forty five minutes.

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Yesterday I got F these cute mini waffles. She’s eaten this brand before but not these particular waffles. Well, shortly after eating them it was obvious she was having a contact allergic reaction near her mouth and chin. I gave her some benadryl and checked the rest of her body – which was clear. I then asked her if her throat hurt and she said no. I went into the kitchen and about a minute later she followed me in and we had the following interaction:

F in a sad, serious voice, with her hand by her throat: “mom, my throat hurts.”

Me: “Does it kinda, sort of hurt or does it hurt a lot?”

F: Contemplating for a moment, still touching her throat: “kinda sorta of.”

Me: “ok, let me know if it gets any worse.”

WIthin seconds, the story changes and F says: “Mom, actually it hurts a lot…I need a treat to make it feel better.”

I was trying to stifle my laughter and gave her one swedish fish purely for the way she cleverly worked the situation and for not revealing her hand until the end.

She also told me yesterday that we needed to get a new car because we left ours at home. I told her we weren’t getting a car and she said, “but mom, i want to!”

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I was speaking to a colleague who’d been up in Beijing covering some political stuff last week. Somebody asked about the weather, and he said it rained once or twice. “Artificial rain?” another person asked. I forget if my colleague said it was in fact fake rain, or it wasn’t. Eighty-five percent of me thinks he said it was. Call me out of touch, but this is the first I’ve heard of “artificial rain.” Indeed, China has found a way to “seed” clouds and make them rain to clear the smoggy air. Here’s a story about it.

We are beginning to understand the smog issues more and more here. As Northeasterners from the States, we’ve handled more than our fair share of muggy, sticky weather. But the difference here is that unlike a July night in Boston, the smog here isn’t necessarily connected to warm weather.  It just sort of hangs over the city this time of year as if it’s morning fog that won’t burn off. What’s scary is that it’s directly linked to the uptick in coal manufacturing in the mainland that kicked into gear 5 or so years ago. People who have been here a while will say that this stuff wasn’t around when they got here.

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E and I have joined the droves of people addicted to The Wire. I know, I know, people are “Ga Ga” over the series. It’s even high up on the list of Stuff White People Like. To be honest, we tuned in because aside from some horrible movies such as “Catch and Release,” it’s the only thing on our HBO “on demand” system here. Like a book you have a hard time putting down (”A thousand splendid sons” comes to mind), we are hooked. And it’s Season One. The worst part is that we are nearing the end and need to sort out how to get Season Two. A guy at my office has a good “connection” I’ve heard (that’s truly how people refer to it), and is able to produce Sopranos seasons and other HBO series. Pirated of course. We’ll be hitting him up for his source by Tuesday at the latest.

Watching on demand here is an interesting experience. For one, there are dreadfully few options (thank god one of them is The Wire.) For two, our versions edit out the swears and whatever stuff the show has to offer in the form of good old fashioned R rated material. The funniest part is that our system prompts us to remove “parental control” for every on demand selection. We do this (why not). It’s done by typing a pin (think what your luggage combo is and then dumb that down) and then clicking enter. We go through this every episode, and still the show is edited. Not that I need to hear swear words, but the edit jobs do get annoying after a while. Speaking of swearing, I let the mother of all swears fly in front of F today at “Old McDonald’s.”

(pictured is our favorite character, Detective Lester Freamon)

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