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31052009(002)Last Saturday, when the rain stopped and the weather cooled, we decided to head to Pui O for our first family camping trip. Within an hour, E had two back packs packed, I had the girls fed and dressed, and we caught the 1:15 pm ferry to Mui O. Our friend Annie picked us up and drove us up and over the hill to Pui O beach, where she, her husband and 3 daughters put up their massive family-sized tent for us that took up nearly the entire sandy plot.

Pui O is a long beach that is set deep within a bay so the water is extremely shallow and calm. Our one extravagance was an LL Bean bag stuffed with sleeping pillows and stuffed animals–it was an official sign that we, in effect, were car camping. Pui O is a tiny mountain village. The beach is quiet and scenic with steep, jagged ridges in the background and giant gray water buffaloes roaming the nearby rice paddies.

The girls were fascinated with the tent–they spent the first 30 minutes running around inside. We told the girls to wipe their feet to keep the sand out. After the third warning within the first five minutes we stopped enforcing it. Annie, Ben and their kids came by with a bucket of beers and some cook out stuff. We chatted, gave them some cookies, and then they left for the weekend.  After a few hours of roaming the beach and rice paddies, it was time to cook supper in our fire pit.

Getting the fire going took a long, long time. The charcoal was more wood flake than bricket. I tried arranging them in an ingenious, flame inducing pattern but the fire wouldn’t catch. We didn’t have newspaper so I tried toilet paper. None of it worked. I went to the beach store and grabbed a Chinese newspaper and bought a tiny little cylinder that promised to get my fire going. From the box came a flaky charcoal sphere the size and width of my index finger with a bit of string spooled at the top of each half. Damned if this thingy, along with the news print, didn’t finally get some gray burning into the charcoal.

F helped cook some of the hot dogs that we slid onto our long barbecue prongs, a few of which she rested on top of the coals to cook faster. I ate those ones. E had everything organized so that when the dogs did finally started cooking we could quickly serve them up. Despite our efforts, T skipped this meal. All she at were buns and graham crackers.

F devoured her hot dog, perhaps because she was starving, perhaps because she knew it was a means to an end: Smores. Nobody out here has heard of Smores. But F has, and it’s one of her most favorite things. “Dad, can I do it now? Can I do it?” At this point, the sun had set and T was muttering “I cold. I cold” (she wasn’t) and “I wanna go home. Wanna go home. Wanna go see Ya Ya.” We were prepared for the worst in terms of getting her to sleep in a tent. The only way to make this happen was to separate the girls. So after some fidgeting and flopping, both kids fell asleep for the night.

The only noise was a group of young men and women, probably in their early 20s, camping next to us. They didn’t have a speck of beer or wine or anything else at their site that may have led to things getting rowdy. But they were giggly and a big group, and through most of the night they huddled in one tent, laughing, telling stories, laughing. But they were fine.

E and I took some cookies to the beach and a little bit of red wine we brought and chatted amidst a starless night.

Without a sleeping pad and with an antsy 3.5 year old,  I was up at around 3:30 a.m. E came in at one point to get warmer clothes for T. It did get a bit chilly, and all I had was a t-shirt, shorts and part of F’s blanket. Even though the waves that rolled onto Pui O beach were tiny, their crashes were loud. I fell asleep an hour or so later.

F and I were up at 6. I made a desperate attempt at a coffee run. We walked into Pui O village, only to find a handful of Chinese restaurants, that not only most definitely didn’t have coffee, but were closed. The beach restaurant was closed until 1030. T was awake when we came back, so the 3 of us walked up to where the river enters the ocean and went shell collecting.  Every time I scolded T for throwing sand she laughed harder. F played the game we play every day now.

“I’m the mommy, your the daddy, and T is the baby. No, wait. Her name is Sophia.” E was walking down the beach now. “Mommy will be Granny.”

“No. I Emma,” T replies.

“No. You’re Sophia and I’m, ahm…, I’m Kulah (she makes up names).”

“Oh yeah,” T says. She says this a lot.

Five minutes later, F.

“Keelah. Dad, she is Keelah. Her name is Keelah and she’s the Mommy and your the Daddy and I’m the baby. “

“No. I Sophia,” replies her sister.

“No T. You’re Kay…No…Kees. Wait. Dad, what’s her name again?”

“Keelah.”

“Oh, right. Keelah.”

“No I Emma. I not Keelah.” And so on.

30052009(021)At around 10, the four of us did an ocean kayak trip, just along the shallow shore. F sat in front looking for treasures, T sat on E’s lap and I paddled from the back. A strapping, old Aussie swam way out from shore with his two dogs. The water was dirty in some spots. We paddled over to the rocks along the far end of the beach and floated up next to the shark net that arcs along the beach (there haven’t been any shark incidents. Most beaches here have these).

After 30 minutes or so, T started to get tired and asked to “go home.” (Her new thing is:  “I wanna git goin’.” “Git goin’ mommy. Git goin’”)

So I paddled in, trying to ride a mini wave. On the walk back, we asked F if she liked the kayak trip and she said No.

“It was too rough. The waves were bouncing me around.” They weren’t. The biggest wave we encountered would have been knee high on the beach. Oh well. It was a good and safe family excursion.

The rest of the morning was spent goofing around on the beach. F and T adore the water. F wore floaties and did back strokes and “Starfish floats.” T got tired of the water and dug holes in the sand.

On a breakfast of 2 granola bars, juice boxes and stale buns between all of us, we welcomed the restaurant’s opening, and treated ourselves to a kebab lunch–chicken fingers for the girls. We caught the 2:20 p.m. ferry back to Central, just as the heat was picking up. All of us fell asleep on the way home.

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valentines_day_mmMy husband is sick so I took the kids this afternoon to the club so he could get some sleep. During dinner I asked F and T to be my valentine’s and they both said yes. F asked me all about valentine’s day, true love, and our courtship leading up to her and t’s birth. She then informed me that when she grow’s up she wants to be a rugby-playing-princess-arial-doctor and I told her that was awesome and she would be the coolest person I ever met. Wishing you all a great valentine’s day….

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Santa, as he did across the world, made it successfully through Hong Kong on Dec. 25. It’s a miracle. I don’t know how he does it. He just does. But in our case, there was a hitch. F DID NOT want him entering our apartment. She loves the concept of Santa but is petrified of the person. She knows where he lives, knows what he does, etc. She smiles and gasps when she sees images of him. But she whimpers and breaks down into hysterics whenever the bearded man is in her presence. So before bed, she pleaded with us to not let him into our place. Her first suggestion was for him to mail the gifts. Fair enough, but the timing probably wasn’t going to work. The final plan, established five minutes before bed: Dad will stay up late, and meet Santa at the door and bring in the presents himself. Santa won’t step foot into 5A. So that was that.

F woke up around 0200, came into our bed. She doesn’t come into our bed that much anymore. She only does it when something unique is going on—like her anticipation of several new gifts and the possibly of a strange man traipsing through our place . F was a little groggy waking up. Saying “merry Christmas” when I saw those brown eyes open for good didn’t really register with her. So I told the story of how I met Santa at the door and I brought in the gifts. That woke her up. She jumped out of our bed and woke up T. She raced down the hall, and opened each gift with a gasp. After a few skypes and a trip to Starbucks, we realized we had a lot more work to do on the Christmas meal than anticipated. Neither the turkey nor the stuffing was in the oven, and people were coming over in three hours. SPOILER ALERT: Parents reading this, please forgive us, for we had to skip Christmas mass. We were practically out the door when I, and it was me, put the brakes on. No way were we going to pull off a Christmas party in a timely manner and make it to church. I explained to E and anyone else who would listen that Jesus would love the fact that we were having friends over on Christmas day.

When T would open gifts, she’d let out her usual exclamation of joy these days, which is loud and pure gibberish. It’s something like “HillAOhwoaywoiah”. Then she lets out her standard belly laugh, crooked/gap toothed grin and all.

F insisted on opening up and playing with every gift, first. So it wasn’t your typical, open-every-gift, kind of Christmas moment. She opened, T’s gifts first, one by one, and if it was a toy made us open that and played with it for a little while. Then hers, one by one, again playing with each toy she opened and ohhing and ahhing over articles of clothing. And you wonder why we missed mass? Finally E said something to the effect that it’s okay to open all the gifts up first. “No Mom, I have to open them up one at a Ty-ime.”

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I’ve been looking forward to F’s first holiday concert for a long time. I always envisioned chaos, hilarity, adorableness, tears (from adults and children). Maybe the scene in Partenthood is etched in my head. Her school’s 2008 Holiday concert did not disappoint.

I arrived with T about 30 minutes before the concert began, and frankly, about an hour and a half too soon. When it all began at 9:30 AM, T was running around yelling “MaMa” and trying to rush the stage. Attention was turning to her and not the kids, so I took her outside. She ran up and down stairs, dismantled a wicker basket, and walked in on a woman breast feeding. At one point, she walked into a corridor, which is where F’s class was waiting to go on. One of F’s teachers said that she better not see us or she might cry. I thought, hmm, that’s strange. Haven’t had a crying report for a while. E was with her all morning because she is a class parent, and was helping out her class and apparently when she left the group F cried a bit. So that’s why her teacher was afraid of F seeing us.

F did see us on the way to the stage at around 11 A.M. and flashed a huge smile and waved excitedly. She was pumped for the performance and pumped that the family was there to give a shout out. Slowly, her class trickled on stage. Teachers had to physically push (gently) some kids toward the center. One boy immediately started crying. Teachers and parents tried to help but he was inconsolable. His mom finally emerged from the crowd.

I really wondered if F would sing. When you ask her to sing Chinese songs she won’t. The only way you hear it is when she’s singing under her breath. She is easily embarrassed, shy, and has no problem standing her ground if she doesn’t want to participate in something.

On Friday, if I may say so myself, F was awesome. She belted out every song, to the point where you would occasionally hear her voice over the din. They sang “Feliz Navidad,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Ding Dong Ding” plus a Chinese song I didn’t recognize.

It was amazing. She waved to us several times, one of them I captured on film. I loved that the boy on the far left, who is short, had his arm around his classmate most of the time (who is quite a bit taller). Also, at one point, it looks as if her classmates are supposed to jump. But the only ones doing this are the “big kids” in the back.

F was one of the few kids who remembered to blow kisses to the audience after their gig. She nailed it.

I have to say, I was very, very impressed with the program. It didn’t sound great, but it was a diverse body of songs and there was minimal distractions, except for a few tears here and there. The teachers and organizers deserved a long weekend (and some strong drinks afterwards) for their coordination.

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Christmas Trees are available in Hong Kong, for those of you wondering. They’re expensive, and the ones we’ve seen so far are thin and smell weird. A five foot tree will run you at least HK$650, or around $80. We bought a six foot tree and, let me tell you, it’s the worst tree we’ve ever gotten. So let’s talk about our tree ordeal.

I had a bad feeling when I reached in to carry the thing home. My arm was immediately covered in dead pine needles. Things were snapping. I carried it around the corner and through the apartment building, leaving a trail of green for our poor doorman, Lai. When we brought it into the house and I cut the plastic wrapping stuff open, we had an explosion of needles. Literally half the tree fell to the ground. The picture above is after we cleaned up needles.

At this point, T is hysterical. She has no idea why on earth we’ve brought this tree into our house. The whole situation scared the crap out of her.  F, meanwhile, was ecstatic. Practically out of breath. Sprinting around the house. Offering to do this, offering to do that. “F, can you get the broom?” “Okay!” And bam, she was off, and back before you could turn around. She caught on that the dead pine needles were an issue, but we assured her it was fine. We opened all the ornaments at F’s demand. T thought we’d purchased balls, so she started throwing the ornaments. Thankfully the large, cantaloupe sized ones were fine to throw, we learned. T loved the fact that they bounced when she tossed them. We had to move the ornaments once she threw a glass one and broke it. F started crying. T laughed.

So many needles fell off that there’s hardly a speck of green on the last 12 inches of the tree, like the bare tail of an opossum.

And if that wasn’t enough, we think E is almost definitely allergic to the conifer. She starts coughing wildly whenever she gets near it and when she’s out of the house she feels much better.

However, I’m starting to think that, overall, the tree has character, other than its awful top. E, thank god, found an outdoor deck ornament meant for hanging. It’s an orange star and it fits perfectly on top of the tree. F hung so many ornaments we had to put the rest away. She hangs them all in one place, often three to a branch. F flipped out when E tried to put our red sofa blanket around the base of the tree to make the bottom look decent before we had friends over. I was with F on that one and she won that argument.

We played the Muppets and John Denver Christmas album. It was when they sang “Deck the Halls,” led by Ms. Piggy of course, that I realized F only knows the Chinese version of the song. She was singing it in Mandarin!

My Mom has mentioned on several occasions that this tree could be a fire hazard. It’s not a hazard, yet. We are contemplating going back and asking for a slightly more alive tree (what do you expect, I suppose, when you cut the trunk). I don’t know where this tree comes from, but by the looks of it I’d say Sweden, or the Saharan Desert.

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Thank you Seth and Amy

poehler_meyersSo lately when disciplining my 3 year-old I’ve taken to using the “Really?!” line from Saturday Night Live’s Weekend update with Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler. When F starts to tantrum or do ridiculous things to try and get her way I just look at her and say “Really?! Do you Really think by hitting the lamp and then yourself I’m going to give you chocolate? Really?! Or do you think you’re going to get in trouble and have a time out and no chocolate?” The amazing thing is it totally stops her from going wild and makes her laugh. She quickly and amusingly says,  “No, I’ll get a timeout” and then, oddly, the situation is diffused. It’s been about a week now and I’m having a lot of success. Can you believe it – Really!?

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img_8545Since moving to Honkey Town in February ’08 we’ve been keeping a fairly consistent blog for family and friends back home. In the course of doing so we’ve realized that there is information, musings, and general reflections from our experiences that we think would be interesting to share publicly. So from here onward we’re unveling our public face for a wider audience. Below are posts we’ve altered for our new public life and we’ll add content as we go. Welcome and we hope you (if there are any you’s out there) enjoy!

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