Getting Along in Hong Kong: Three Months

Hello heat!  The warm weather has hit HK.  Like a red hot poker iron on the arse.  Or like a big steaming hot soup that you are trying to live in.  I am not one of those graceful “glistening” women in the heat.  What is that old saying? “Horses sweat, men perspire and women glisten”? Well, I must be a horse.  Most days are about 90% humidity at the moment and it’s killing me.  I don’t think I am alone though. Even people who have been here for years are saying it is an unusually wet May this year. Today, for instance, it is 33 deg C and 90% humidity.  I shudder to think what July and August will be like!  I also have no idea how anyone lives in Singapore, where the weather is like this nearly the entire year!  

So how am I finding things a few months in?  There is no single word that springs to mind, to be honest.  Some things I am really getting used to and finding my feet with (the grocery shopping for instance, and even venturing out to a wet market) and others are still a mystery to me (like the number 4 bus that supposedly goes into town from Will’s preschool but every time I try to catch it they don’t stop…..). Some good things that have happened over the past month:

– visiting the Science Museum with the kids.  Will, in particular LOVES it.  We now have an annual family membership. The whole place is hands on, science-learning fun!  

– Will started preschool!  After a rocky start with a bit of separation anxiety, he is now loving it and his new teacher, Ms. Preeti (pronounced ‘pretty’, which I think is very sweet for a preschool teacher!) 

– I had a job interview. A bit nerve wracking to have a job interview for the first time in about 6 years. Very happy to get one though!  I have just started to look for a job so I actually got this interview despite not having any contacts at all.  We shall see what comes of it, but regardless, it has been very helpful to dip my toes into the job market pool! 

– Will has decided he loves the movie, The Sound of Music.  This is one of my favourite childhood movies (along with the original Star Wars trilogy, Indiana Jones trilogy, etc. The usual ones for kids from the 80’s….) For once, the kids are watching a movie that I don’t mind seeing 50 times! 

– I have had a number of social engagements this past month.  It’s been nice 🙂  No best friends yet, but some lovely people and it makes a real difference to have some social interaction. Did you know FB has “secret” groups?  They are groups that you can only see if you are a member of them.  Luckily, one of the ladies who lives in our apartment complex added me to a couple of the secret mummy FB groups here so can hopefully find out when some social things are happening. One interesting experience that has been the result of having social engagements, has been spending time away from the boys.  I have been out more in the past three months than the three years preceding our move to HK.  The kids are currently taking turns in melting down when I leave.  I choose to look at it as a positive thing – at least they aren’t BOTH crying when I leave! And it is healthy for them to learn to be without Mummy all the time.  A necessary lesson, as hard as it is for them. Doesn’t make it any more pleasant for all of us though.  

– I finally got around to framing some of the photographs we got done in May/June last year.  I won a photography session plus about a dozen hard copy photographs from Paper Tree Photography last year.  Originally I was going to do a full gallery wall of them, but I no longer have the wall space to hang them all so I chose a few of my favourites and have framed them. Just good ol’ IKEA frames.  With the prospect of more removals in our future, I don’t want to invest real money into frames – they always seem to get damaged.  I chose a trusty Ribba frame for the two that will go in our master bedroom and tried something a little different for the one I had at the desk in the lounge room. I went with a gloss black frame and black matting. And I am LOVING it!  Here it is:

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Apologies for the reflection on it! I have tried to edit it a bit to make it less distracting. It works really well with the tv gallery wall that it sits next to as well.  You remember this one, right?

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Well that picture at the desk looks much more proportional now, and doesn’t disappear on the wall. It’s a small thing, I know, but I think it looks much better:

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And now some of the lowlights from the past month or so:

– Mosquitos and black flies/midges!  OH MY GOD. The mossies are not too bad here – you can usually avoid them I find- but these little midges seem to be everywhere and they are stealth bugs.  You can’t see them and you don’t feel them bite you, you just suddenly get an itch and then it gets more and more itchy.  I am one of those people who mosquitos love to bite so I am quite used to resisting scratching mosquito bites. But these things are monsters.  They last for 2-3 weeks and for some reason, my skin after just a few little itches, it scratches off the skin and ends up as an awful sore.  And worse yet, Will gets it just as bad, if not worse, than me.  Poor little guy.  He had one so bad the other day it had a huge blister on it and when he was asleep I had to go pop it to let all the fluid out and then disinfect it.  He is such a heavy sleeper he didn’t move a muscle the entire time. I hadn’t heard anything about these things before we got here but I tell ya, I certainly have now!  My legs are covered in bites but I have no idea where I get them. I am pretty bloody unimpressed.  It makes me uncomfortable and cranky. 

– I am learning that HK seems to love rules.  Whether or not they are necessary or even helpful.  They seem to like to take something simple and make it convoluted and complicated. The language barrier doesn’t help in these sorts of situations either.  So for instance, the other day I wanted to (finally) get myself the special card at the grocery store so you can accrue points for gift vouchers.  I get asked every single time if I have one.  So I get myself the paper application (can’t do it online) and dutifully fill it all in.  And it was quite involved, I gotta tell ya.  Not just contact details but all sorts of stuff about what you like to buy, etc.  I get to the end of the form and look for where I need to hand this in or mail it in to.  hmmmm… nothing there.  So I ask at the grocery store. I have to ask a few times to get a cashier who knows what I am asking. Then she hands me a piece of paper with a telephone number and says I need to call that number to get the card!  WHAT THE?! Why the heck did I fill in the twenty question application form if I am just going to make a phone call to get a card?! See? Pointless and unnecessarily complicated! And so Hong Kong! It’s like the whole city is one giant phone/internet company.  (Does anyone else find that no matter what country you are in, phone/internet companies have complicated something that should really be quite simple?!)

 

On the whole though, things are going pretty well and we are adjusting well. I think. 

 

 

Getting Along in Hong Kong: Week 1

Soooooo, we are one week in and I am exhausted.  The boys are a bit sick of such a small apartment and a bit tired too.  This whole “changing countries” thing really takes it outta ya! 

A few observations at this early stage:

– There does not appear to a side of the sidewalk/footpath that you walk on here.  In the US and Australia, you kinda stick to the side that you drive you on.  Makes footpaths much easier when traffic keeps to each side.  This doesn’t seem to happen here.  It’s just a big mash of people and I have to get through with a stroller and a three year old.  Most of the time it isn’t too bad but during busy times it gets a bit hairy and I am sure I have nipped a heel or two!  oops. 

– I thought there would be more expats here. Turns out it is less than 10% non-Chinese in HK (or at least this is what my husband told me).  So many days I am out and about and see only a few Westerners.  Not a big deal really.  And it is silly, but I feel taller!  And for some reason I feel thinner when I feel taller.  So that is nice. 

– The reaction to the kids is bizarre, sweet…. and a bit annoying.  The ladies in the grocery store especially adore my boys.  I mean, I get it – they are pretty bloody cute as kids go and add in Alex’s white blonde hair and blue eyes and Will’s big brown eyes and how much he loves to perform for anyone who will watch him and you know these women are waiting for 4pm-ish each day when I go to the supermarket for dinner supplies.  They give the kids candy and on Friday one of them led Will over to a lady who was stocking shelves and got her to give him some Oreo wafer cookie bar thing.  She just took Will to say hello to her and the lady just snipped open a packet, pulled a cookie bar out, opened it and handed it to Will!  Let’s just say that the grocery store has become a favourite place for the boys…. Mummy, on the other hand, found it sweet and charming at first but is now trying to avoid the meat section at all costs (which is where the most enthralled of the ladies work) as Will starts to carry on getting all excited, doing dances for them, high fiving them, etc.  After a few years here, if they keep getting this level of attention I worry about what it will do to their sense of self.  What will happen when we go back to Australia or the US and no one gives a crap who they are and they are not different?!  And no one hands them candy everywhere we go….   I suspect that once we move to a permanent address, which will be in a more Expat-heavy area, that this sort of thing won’t really happen any more.  Maybe.

– The weather.  Ugh.  When we did our visit in January, HK must have turned it on for us. It was bright and sunny and mild the four days we were here.  We have yet to see the sun since we arrived a week ago!  The tops of many buildings are in cloud for the whole day.  Must be weird for the people who live in them!  It is grey and drizzly.  And as noted above, our dryer is a piece of crap.  It is a combo washer/dryer and after 4 hours in the dryer the clothes are still hot and damp.  The laundry is a constant source of frustration for me as I can’t get it dry! Apparently on Thursday this week the sun will come out.  God, I hope so!

– The octopus card system is great!  So easy and the public transport here is SO cheap.  And so are taxi’s! Very different from Sydney 🙂

– Not sure what the labour laws are here, but since we arrived last Friday night, the same guy has been on the concierge desk EVERY SINGLE TIME I go down there.  Morning, noon or night.  I am beginning to wonder if there are two Lim’s!  (His name is Lim).  Poor guy must be exhausted! 

– Eating out (Asian food) is CHEAP. Each main meal in a small restaurant/take out noodle place is about $5US. Which is great as there are many days this week when I have run out steam by the time dinner rolled round and we just nipped downstairs to one of the noodle places and got dinner.  But I did feel the need to make spaghetti bolognaise at the end of this week – we were all in need of a bit of comfort food and all the boys (Fritz included) wolfed it down and were very happy chappies after it! 

– Sunday is Maid Day. It is the day off for all the Home Helpers and the streets get cray-cray with all the helpers sitting on the footpaths on tarps – cooking, eating, chatting to each other or on the phone, doing macrame or other crafts. Just like hanging out. But on the side walk.  Even when it is kinda raining. Our area seems to be the place the Indonesian Helpers gather (Causeway Bay is where we are staying).  I will avoid going walking on Sundays if I can!

– Not really related to being in HK, but Will had a real Three Year Old Moment the other day.  We were looking at apartments with our Relocation Specialist, Kay, (who is awesome, by the way!) and Will, completely out of the blue, asks Kay if she has a penis.  Oh dear.  Thank god Kay is as fabulous as she is, and has two boys herself (who are all grown up now).  She didn’t miss an beat and just said, “Not the last time I looked”!

So the first week has been full of firsts – and that is exciting but also tiring.  Nothing is easy or familiar so it means you need a bit more energy to get through the day.  And apartment hunting with a one year old and three year old is especially exhausting!  We will all be happy to settle on a place and get moved in towards the end of the month.  Toys are being missed, space is required and routines need to be re-established. Hopefully we will have decided on a place by the middle of the week and then we wait for our shipment to arrive so we can move in! 

Flying High…

Well, we survived the flight and our first weekend in HK with a one year old and a three year old.

Just a brief update on the flight today and tomorrow (or maybe Wed depending on how things go!) I will post on our initial thoughts on HK.

We did the flight on Friday. Originally, we were going to come on Saturday but decided that since my husband had to go to work on Monday, we better try to get us all over the jet lag as much as possible before then. It’s only a three hour difference but when your kids wake at 6:30am Sydney time and that is 3:30am HK time, it makes a big difference!

Will has been super excited about the plane ride to HK for weeks. Almost every day for the two weeks preceding he asked if we could go to HK today. So of course, I asked him on Friday morning “where are we going today?” After guessing “daycare?” (Points to him as he would usually go to daycare on a Friday!) and then the Opera House, he was out of ideas! Oh, the excitement when I told him it was THE day when he gets to go on the big plane ride to HK!

So we get in our minibus with our dozen bags/suitcases. I am not kidding. We had 11 checked pieces if luggage plus a back pack, briefcase, my hand bag and two little backpacks that the boys “carried”. I say “carried” because they only carried them part if the time – Mum and Dad had the chore most of the time…

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A very happy little boy in the cab to the airport!

Thank goodness for business class and thank heavens for it being half empty! Being under two, no seat was purchased for Alex but there were plenty of spare seats so we ended up with a seat each once we were up in the air.

Will loved the sleeping socks and sleeping mask:

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Alex loved bugging Will:

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A quick check of the emergency procedures and they were ready for take off:

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I will gloss over the next eight and a half hours. Will was a CHAMP. Seriously, couldn’t have asked for a better kid than him. He watched movies, ate his food, loved his “airplane presents” (small gifts they got to unwrap every few hours as part of the Entertainment Strategy!) and was generally an all-round awesome kid.

Alex was good for a 16 month old but containment plus 16 month old’s don’t mix well. The first half went quite well
but the second half was pretty trying on us all. Mostly me. My husband handles these things much more calmly than I do! But we made it alive and without too many of those looks from other passengers. We breeeeeezed through Immigration and Customs in record time, got straight out to the waiting van and came straight into HK.

Then we spent over half an hour looking for our accommodation. Not at all the driver’s fault. None of us could see it. Our temporary accommodation is at a serviced apartment place called ‘V’. Can you see it?

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No?! Neither could we! Eventually after a half dozen laps around the block our poor driver had to admit defeat and called the place – I am guessing this has happened before as the guy said he would come out onto the street to show us. And here is an example of the most subtle (and useless) signage you will ever find:

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So we made it! And then got upstairs to our apartment and I had to laugh. A slightly hysterical laugh. I have never seen a smaller apartment IN MY LIFE. I have had hotel rooms bigger than this entire apartment. That four of us have to live in. For at least a month. Oi.

It has a lovely modern decor but it’s like someone took a real apartment and put it in the dryer and shrank it a bit. This is the kitchen:

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This is the bathroom:

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And our bedroom:

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The boys bedroom is considered the master I think, since it has the tv and phone in it, but we had to put the kids in it because Alex’s travel crib couldn’t fit into the other room!

And finally, this is the living/dining area that I have to be in with two little boys:

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Sorry the photos aren’t better. I could do with better lighting but if I don’t get this post out now, I know events will overtake me and it will not happen! But regardless, no miracle lighting will make this place magically grow. I could really use a Tardis apartment! (And yes, I totally love Dr Who – or at least from the 10th Dr onwards). But alas, there is no more space that will magically appear here 😦

On the plus side, it means that the previously-tiny sized three bed apartment that I thought we would be living in, will now seem HUGE after this place!! There’s always a silver lining, eh?!

Fears and Opportunities

We have eight more days until we fly to Hong Kong. When I write that, it seems like a reasonable amount of time but when I say “Friday next week” it seems very, very close. It is less than a week until the removalists come to ‘removal’ our life here. The house has entire rooms that are empty now and once the last few furniture items get picked up by their buyers on the weekend, it will feel (and sound) even more like an empty house. It’s something about the way sounds echo in a room without enough furniture in there. Having been to 13 schools and lived in about two dozen houses/apartments in my life, I like to think I am a pretty resilient person. Usually that echo is, to me, the sound of a new adventure about to start, the fun of a new house to try out and the refreshing experience of change. I am truly one of those people who finds a change is as good as a holiday. So I find it a bit odd that this time round, the echo is just giving me a feeling of emptiness. I am not sure what has changed: is it because I have kids now? Is it because I am older and find it a bit tiring to think of starting from scratch again in a new country? Is it because my parents and Grandma are older and it’s not a given that they will always be there when I return? I think ultimately though, it is that after Hong Kong there is no guarantee that we will ever live in Australia again. My husband’s company is headquartered in NYC so that is where the majority of the senior management positions are and most likely where we will go after HK. And this makes me sad. Not regretful – we made the decision to move to HK jointly as something that is good for us as individuals and as a family – but still sad. I am not quite ready to be an Expat for the rest of my life.

In pensive times like these, a few words always come to mind for me. Wise words that I find help me muddle my way through life: “Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens….” I think you know the rest of the song! Yes, I find that simply thinking of a few of my favourite things when I am scared or worried can do wonders! Or in this case, I try to think of what might become my new favourite things.

So let’s look on the bright side, shall we? Coming into a large expat community like HK shall hopefully mean making new friends will be a bit easier. When you are all in the same boat it is pretty amazing how friendly and helpful people can be. And bonus: You all have something in common already!

There is no denying that having a live-in helper will be a nice experience. I am the first to admit that I really don’t enjoy domestic chores (who does?!) and that I will thoroughly enjoy the ability to go somewhere on my own once in a while. Without the encumbrance of changes of clothes and nappies/diapers, wipes, snacks, water bottles, toy trains, stroller, bottles… This hinges on us finding a good helper though – so fingers crossed, eh?!

If we do manage to get Will into a school, the standard of schooling is very high in HK. Of course, I may have to sell a kidney to afford it but the schools we have applied to have fantastic opportunities for kids to have a very well-rounded education, including Mandarin from the very start. I have always regretted not mastering a second language so I really want to encourage it for my children.

Experiencing a new culture is never a bad thing. May not be the easiest thing, but it really is one of those things I don’t think you will ever regret doing in the long term.

So there are definitely some things to look forward to with this move. But I will certainly miss living in Sydney and this being the view from my kitchen window:

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All the green-ness….
But I won’t miss how ridiculously expensive child care is here, or how ridiculously expensive pretty much everything is really!

And I will not miss our stupidly low clothes line. Seriously, it is right at forehead height for me and being only 5’4″, I am not used to watching my head on things and I once walked right into that thing and had a lump for two weeks! TWO weeks! It is so awkward to use a clothes line at eye level. It has made me curse at least once EVERY single time I have used it. So yeah, not gonna miss that.

See? There are always whiskers on kittens to be found in life 🙂