w r i n k l e d
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
In my time visiting Carol, I had questions: Why move to Hong Kong? What’s life like here? How long will you stay? Don’t you want to go home? Isn’t life here harder? Why is this life of uncertainty better? These questions, I know, are directed as much toward myself as to her. We are, though a decade apart, constantly searching, trying to make for ourselves and our families, a home. She may be my little cousin, but I sought her wisdom. After a week inundated with questions, Carol finally confessed, “Cheong, I’m not sure what comes next, but I know I don’t want to have a mediocre life.”
Needless to say, Carol is pretty cool. Not in the funky-haircut-hipster-clothes way that no one really cares about, but in the way that if she were a donut, her center would be an enthusiastic, emotional, all-in, creamy filling of goodness. So of course is her husband, except Shannon is very sensible, laid back, dry, hilarious and smart. They are the same good penny, opposite sides. Too bad their kids are so horrible. Kidding. Ava and Josiah are the best. The only thing that could have made our time in Hong Kong better was to have her brother Charles, his wonderful wife Sunny, and their two kids join us for an extended family vacation. Poof!
Good thing we got a chance to rest up in Macau because there is a lot to do in Hong Kong and Carol was raring to show us all of it (or kill us trying). A typical day had us up and out at 7:30 am to board a mini bus to the train station where we would meet up with Carol & Co., and then ride the spotlessly clean, super efficient subway to Charles & Co. Some days we’d have urban adventures (Disneyland, Victoria Peak to view the harbor and skyscrapers, the fantastic science museum). Other days were spent watching the fishermen peddle their goods in the bustling seaside village of Sai Kung or swimming in Cheung Chau island. But that’s the really cool thing about Hong Kong – city and nature, old and new, East and West all intermingled in one. It’s a fascinating blend. And despite its citizens’ apprehension as Hong Kong makes its 50 year transition from British to Chinese rule, it will be interesting to witness the transformation of the city and its people.
After eight months of being just the four of us, we had suddenly grown to a group of 12. Crossing an intersection I loved how easily and thoughtlessly Remy or Ava would slip their hand into mine. Sunny caught me up on all the news from home. Charles was always game for tasting something unusual. Shannon and Carol played tour guide and shared their HK knowledge. Everyone had a buddy. Head counts at every exit and entrance. Always someone to play with, to talk to, a hand to hold, a tired little body to carry. On our last night we went into Hong Kong Island for a hot pot dinner. We said our good-byes at the train station with endless shouts and one more hug. After they finally disappeared through the turnstile, Chris turned to us and said, "Well, it's just us again". We all felt such a deep sense of loss and loneliness. But there was no time for crying. We wiped our tears, packed our bags and geared up for Beijing.
You know the trip is going to be good when you get this kind of welcome.
You can get most everything in Hong Kong, except good bagels. This would leave me moaning and groaning, but that's not Carol's way. Instead she just Googles a recipe and viola! fresh homemade bagels hot out of the oven.
Carol & Co. live in the New Territories, about an hour commute from Hong Kong island. Yes, it takes awhile to get to the major sights, but this is the view from the back of their apartment! Another perk? You don't need to don a mask just to take out the trash.
Our view wasn't so shabby either. When we returned from visiting Sylv in Macau, we found that Shannon and Carol had schlepped all of our luggage to a great little apartment in the next village over (even stocking the fridge with groceries!). While their friends were out of town, we crashed in their place and got to drink coffee every morning to this view. Thanks Luke and Natasha for the fabulous stay!
The best cure for jet lag? Noodles, the Chinese breakfast of champions. Charles & Co. hung in there despite a long day of travel.
We stopped by the awesome school where Shannon teaches 6th grade. These very smart kids clearly love their teacher.
Hanging with Bruce at Madame Tussauds.
In the late 1800s, the British settled Victoria Peak to evade the deadly bout of bubonic plague that had overtaken Hong Kong. To protect themselves from the disease, escape the heat and humidity in the valley, and secure the city's best views, Europeans built mansions and lodges at the top and then passed an ordinance barring Chinese from the Peak. We took the tram, but in the olden days, the Europeans traveled by chairmen - sedan chairs heaved up the super steep mountain by the Chinese. Another example of racist policy making? The Light and Pass Ordinance requiring Chinese to carry lanterns while walking the streets after sundown (so Europeans could see them coming and avoid potential criminal activity). The ordinances have long been appealed, and today HK is 93% ethnic Chinese.
Bombarding Carol with questions as we stroll the hiking paths of Victoria Peak.
We celebrated Remy's birthday with a trip to Disneyland. The Hong Kong version is smaller and more manageable than its American counterpart, but just as crowded and fun (no snark intended).
Chris, Isoo and Shannon decided to skip the crowds at Disney and went birding instead. This was just one of two days Shannon took Isoo birding. It's safe to say that Shannon is at the top of Isoo's list of favorite people. Honestly, Shannon's pretty high on my list, too. Not only is he funny, patient and kind, but he forfeited his Spring Break to wake up early every day to help Carol cook, clean, shop and escort her crazy family all over HK. It was a treat to finally get to know Shannon and spend some time with him.
Carol took us all over town. And I mean ALL OVER. I think our biggest transport day had us on a taxi, ferry, bus, bus, train, mini bus, taxi. Our Octopus (transit) Card got a serious work out. But it was a great way to see the city and understand the sprawl of HK.
Skyscrapers and everything! Assuming the position.
Subway station somewhere.
I'm sure at one point the glimmering overpasses, skyscrapers and double-decker buses gave HK Island a futuristic feel. While that may still be the case, the city is starting to show some signs of wear and tear. Mixed in with big buildings are dated towers riddled with ugly balconies and heaving AC units.
Another indicator of the passage of time: Occupy Central. Students continue to line the streets to protest China's proposed electoral reforms, restricting the selection of candidates to those prescribed by Beijing. Many see this violation as a precursor to the changes that will slowly take place in Hong Kong, and fear for the wider, sweeping reforms once the "one country, two systems" amendment expires.
Added to the "Yet another thing I didn't know" file: Hong Kong's domestic helper community is comprised of young Fillipina workers. While they don't get paid much, its more than they would make back at home so they come with the hope of working for a couple of years, saving and then returning back to their homeland. Domestic helpers typically work 6 days a week, taking on tasks such as cleaning, cooking and childcare. Hong Kong law stipulates that in order to work here, they must live-in with their employers. Homes often have a "helper room" in the back of the apartment for just this purpose - a tiny space with a single bed piled high with all of their belongings. Unions have been fighting to change the live-in policy claiming that the law makes domestic helpers more susceptible to physical and sexual abuse. In the meanwhile, as their current situation doesn't afford much space or privacy to entertain, every Sunday thousands of helpers gather near the HSBC Building in Central Hong Kong. They listen to Fillipino music, share their native foods and trade news about life back home.
My favorite HK memory - always having a little hand to hold. Chris and Ava.
Goofing with the cousins.
We took the ferry to the supposedly quaint, sleepy town of Cheung Chau to ride bikes and swim at the beach. Surprisingly, by mid-day, the little island was packed to the gills and it was hard to find a grain of sand on which to stand. We had to wait hours for a spot on the return ferry. Thankfully, the kids (and we) managed to keep each other entertained.
Cheung Chau is a tiny fishing village just 10km southwest of Hong Kong Island. The island is known for its annual Bun Festival, a joyous four day celebration that culminates in the climbing of a giant bamboo tower covered in Chinese buns. For awhile it was also referred to as "Death Island" due to a spate of charcoal-fire suicides that took place in holiday homes in the early 2000s. Renters would light charcoal fires in a sealed room, thereby perishing from carbon monoxide poisoning. It became such a popular method of suicide that the Chinese government replaced charcoal grills in public parks with gas grills, and charcoal manufacturers began printing messages of "Treasure Your Life" on its packing. Nowadays the island is known for its great beaches and narrow, winding streets.
We all went to Easter Sunday service at Carol and Shannon's church. The kids had fun at Sunday School, but the real treat for Isoo was hearing Carol play guitar and sing in the choir (a.k.a. rock band) with Charles guest spotting on drums. Isoo was so impressed he wanted me to 1. Take pictures (wish I did!) and 2. Start going to church. I didn't want to break it to him that not all churches are as super cool as theirs, but I promised we'd try to find the right place for us when we return home.
As for the rest of the day, we had to clear out of the apartment for Luke and Natasha's return. While Chris and I packed up and checked us into a hotel, Carol and Shannon took the kids to an Easter egg hunt and party, and then kept them for a sleepover. Chris and I had our first date night in months! - a great dinner, uninterrupted conversation and a stroll around Temple Street Night Market.
We spent the next morning on the phone with our accountant doing taxes, Shannon took Isoo birding (again) and the rest of the gang took a boat to Hep Mun Bay. Afterwards we all met up in Sai Kung to watch the fishermen sell their catch while Sunny and I failed to stop each other from eating all of the dried squid.
Oona and Colette at Hep Mun Bay.
The pretty ladies of Sai Kung.
In the market for some fresh fish? Sai Kung is the place to go. Make your selection from the pier and the fisherman will send up your purchase in a fishing net.
If you don't want to cook at home visit one of the dockside restaurants. Tanks and tanks overflow with fresh fish.
This hot pot dinner was the last of many great meals in HK. Among the new foods we were able to try - chicken feet (belch), durian (double blech), fish balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese (not bad, but very weird), spicy curry fish balls (yay!). But our hands down favorite meals were at "shirtless man restaurant" where Shannon wowed us with his ability to order dim sum in Cantonese and we were treated to, you guessed it, shirtless men.
The many faces of durian.
Hong Kong sightseeing casualty of the day: Remy (though nearly every kid took a turn on someone's shoulder). Actually, I was impressed by the kids' stamina! Lots of sightseeing and long days on public transport and they all managed to stay happy and cheerful.
Aunt Carol with the crew. My of my favorite pics of HK.