Thursday, October 11, 2012



September 12, 2012

I find myself reflecting on the past 28 months. Unbelievably, it has been that long since we left Atlanta to come to Hong Kong. Not exaggerating, it feels like we have been here maybe a year... Until you look at past entries in this blog and all we have done.

When we started talking of taking on this expat adventure, we had several goals: primarily we wanted our children to have the experience to live abroad, to be taken out of their comfort zone, to be put in a position to find out for themselves they would be fine in a new country, school, city. We have accomplished that: both kids have made great friends and have settled in well at school and in their respective other activities. There is no doubt they will both feel confident to go out and study, work and live anywhere in the world they choose to. They have been very adaptable, as children are. 

Another of the goals was to make sure we take full advantage of the experience and especially see as much as Asia as we could. I think we have done that. We have been to 14 countries and there are 4 more on the agenda this year. Our travels have given us a glimpse into the lives of the vast majority of the population of the globe; a life that is often different from our own in ways mostly materialistic, but much the same in all the ways that truly matter. People are people, no matter where you are. Their thoughts and customs shape their actions and reactions but most people have in common a caring and empathetic nature. There are fathers and mothers trying to do their best everywhere for their children. And, in this election season in the US, it is clear that there are politicians everywhere, all doing varying degrees of the same often self-serving "duty" to their country. This being more apparent in some places than others.The more we travel, the more we understand and are reminded that no matter where you go, people's thoughts, needs and wants are very much the same. It is fascinating. This month we will travel to Myanmar, a country that just recently opened up to foreigners and not very well "tourists" developed yet. We are very lucky to be able to visit there before the massive foreign investments predicted flood the place and change lives and customs forever.. I really wish we Westerners weren't so imperialistic still and so convinced our ways, our beliefs and our methods are the best, if not the only, way to go. What havoc we are often causing..

All our travels have made us realize that to travel is much more than to look and see, taste and smell. There is a French expression that says: "Les voyages forment la jeunesse"; literally translated this means "Travels form (or transform) youth". How true is that! To travel shapes who you are because it has a lasting and profound impact on how you see others, how you interpret their circumstances and it gives you a small insight in how it all fits together historically. As a result of travel, you are more tolerant, more patient, more open to others' views and opinions... More respectful as well, of their ways. To visit China or Cambodia or Vietnam or Myanmar is fascinating from a superficial point of view, but also exposes you to ancient civilizations, some of them thousands of years old (!); how they have survived, developed, migrated, maintained their traditions and identities, how they relate to the world.  And how we - and our part of the world - relates to the world as well. Travel is never done. You can return numerous times to the same places and learn, observe something new each time. It is the only way to widen the lens through which we see and understand our own life, our perspective and our environment. It is an indispensable requirement for growth.

This may be our last year in Asia, but I am a strong proponent of staying another year: I love living here, and there are so many other places to see and things to experience. I know that once we return to the US, life will revert back to how it was - albeit great! -, but opportunities to live and travel as we have here will not come again. To take that step will not be simplified by the fact that we have certainly changed. Our lives have changed because our perceptions have changed in many ways. And obviously, although I do look forward to returning home, and I know it will be great to see friends and family, I also realize things have remained mostly the same at home - as they should: babies were born, people got older, activities are the same, routines are pretty set, traditions continue.. Things will be just as they are now, a year from now.

These are challenging decisions brought on by different perspectives. Audrey wants to go back to be with her best friend... Although we all know that 5 minutes after they reunite, it will be as if they were never separated.. Grant is happy go lucky, satisfied to stay or go. He is easy still. Steve has his eye on reduced responsibility, more freedom, less constraints brought on by running a business and caring for its people... I love living abroad and experiencing different people, foods, places and customs. I love that my kids are safe here and that I don't have the constant worry in the back of my mind that some harm may come to them. I love that they have so much freedom. And I will really miss the Chinese people who are by and large very caring, welcoming, helpful, mindful, considerate and so conscientious.

The spring should bring the answers and a decision should be made. Re-admissions at AIS are required, lease termination at both ends and move planning.. Let's see! In the meantime, I try to enjoy every minute and to remind everyone that there is definitely less time ahead than behind us.. So if anyone is following this, stay tuned.

We had a great summer. Another goal when we decided to take on this Asian post, was to promote Chinese cultural understanding in our family and a better knowledge of Mandarin in the children. To that end, we have traveled to China 8 or 9 times in the past 28 months and this summer we spent 4 weeks there, 3 of them in a Mandarin camp in Shanghai. What was to be a great learning experience for the kids was also surprisingly good for me! I enrolled in classes alongside the kids and my Mandarin is coming along great. I have enrolled this fall at Hong Kong University to continue my acquisition of the language. We took this opportunity to take sightseeing tours around Shanghai getting to know the city well, and in the surrounding areas: Hangzhou was a favorite weekend outing and we also loved Jiuzhaigou, a small water town close to Shanghai.

After our camp stay, Steve joined us and we traveled to Xinjiang: the westernmost province of China in the north, close to the border of Kazakhstan, where we visited the desert oases of Dunhuang and Turpan.  What an interesting surprise! We met Uyghurs and Kazakhs; Uyghurs are an important minority of Chinese people whose ancestry is mainly Mediterranean, making them generally look like their Turkish ancestors and follow much of the same customs: they are mostly Muslims, eat kebabs and flat bread, enjoy belly dancing shows. The Kazakhs just spilled over the border but also descend from the Mongols and are nomads who live in Yurts (or Gers - round Mongolian tents).  We rode camels in the Taklamakan Desert, climbed sand dunes, visited caves dating back to the 4th century at a Unesco World Heritage Site: The Mogao Caves. It was a great adventure. Who knew you would find big round green eyed Chinese people? This area sits at the westernmost end of the Great Wall of China and the western beginning of the Silk Road into China and so it was part of the historical Silk Road. It is difficult to imagine the plight of the monks and traders who traveled that route thousand of years ago. Highly recommended for those looking for new destinations in China. A beautiful, dry and rugged part of this huge and ethnically varied country.

This fall, Audrey and I decided to get our Scuba diving certification. It has been a fun challenge and we can now add diving to our travels. We both enjoyed it and will continue our training with a night dive in November. I had no idea that Hong Kong has more coral varieties than the Caribbean! Surely not the same visibility though.. But regardless we had a average of 10 meters visibility, not bad, and saw lots of beautiful fish and corals. Really fun.

Grant meanwhile has been wake boarding and is getting really good at it,  and Steve got certified to be an official Baseball Umpire! Our ex-neighbors and friends Colleen George and her mom Jamie are visiting this week for Colleen's Fall break. The girls are planning a charity sale to benefit "Green Shelter Boxes" a UK non profit organization that donates thousands of shelter boxes to refugees and people in need after natural disasters, political turmoil, etc. The boxes contain everything to provide shelter and warmth and to be able to prepare food, for a family in need. I am proud of them for reaching out to those in need and taking that initiative. I had nothing to do with it! - although I have my weekend cutout for me carrying all the stuff for the sale around...

So we are back into soccer and baseball seasons, this year the kids are also much more involved with scouting which, in Hong Kong, is a real treat with lots of hiking/camping, endurance and hardship activities. Audrey is now APL (Assistant Patrol Leader) with her eye on her PL (Patrol Leader) moving up to Ventures soon... Great responsibility of 5 or 6 younger scouts, especially during camps and service activities. Grant just joined another scouts group and loves the challenges.

It is hiking season again with gorgeous temperatures in the mid to low 80s, no humidity, bright blue skies. The best time in Hong Kong for sure!

Hard to beat view! Gorgeous Hong Kong..

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 in Review!

The most amazing blue lakes in the world, from Christchurch to Queenstown, New Zealand. December 2011

I am amazed that we are already almost the end of June 2012 and I have not posted a single time this year. I have to say - not excusing this sad state of affairs :( - but I have been pretty busy since December, especially with my work for the Women's Association: Charitable Donations and 
Designated Giving, raising funds for 29 charities selected by my committee to
 be granted funds for their projects benefiting the HK community.

Mount Cook

Although very satisfying, what I thought was to be a part time job, ended up being two full time ones! So blogging fell off the wagon.

So for those interested, here is a synopsis of 2012.

We celebrated Christmas 2011 in New Zealand, traveling by camper-car
In the camper-car
from Christchurch to Queenstown. The scenery is out of this world. Snow-capped mountains, the bluest lakes we have ever seen, lots of wildflowers, wildlife.
So many outdoor activities, perfect weather. We hiked, biked, ziplined, swam, even had an accident on a trampoline! (Everybody's fine..). It was just a great time.
Lake Wanaka, Queenstown

58km Milford Track

The second half of our vacation was a 5 day trek on Milford Trail, in the Fjord land National Park, from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. Possibly the most beautiful Sound in the world. We had Christmas dinner in Pompolana Lodge

Christmas dinner
way out in the middle of nowhere. It was really a great vacation, it is an amazing country.

We loved it!

MacKinnon Pass at Mitre's Peak, mile 16! 1154 meters.

Then my sister Marika and her husband Michael and daughter Lara visited us for New Year's 2012 celebrations.

It was really nice to have them here and Lara - who is 5 - took to Audrey as a big sister, holding her hand everywhere they went. For my introverted Audrey, this was very cute to see.

January brought return to school and organized sports. All is well now, routines are set, kids are settled. Nice that they are doing well and have good friends and are happy.
Ankor Wat

Audrey's sunrise at beautiful Ankor Wat
At the end of January, the kids and I took a short trip to Cambodia and went to the famous Ankor Wat world heritage site. Those temples are amazing, dating back to the 4th century, some of them.

You can't imagine the work involved and how this was done without machinery, trucks and cranes. It is just fascinating. We also visited our "adopted daughter" Samkhann while there; a young lady in the 8th grade, just a little older than Audrey. We have been supporting her studies in a school for gifted children since our arrival in HK. She regularly writes us and we correspond on her and her family's lives, her studies, etc. Her English is not too bad and it is good practice for her. She recently made it to national math testing - only for the top 5 students in each province. She wants to be an accountant and live in Phnom Phen.

This would be an amazing blessing to her family and for us to be able to help her reach that goal is an incredible opportunity. It was so heart warming to meet her and spend the day with her while in Cambodia.

The Ninja Huyghes
 For Easter, we finally made it to Japan, first Tokyo, then the mountains and countryside around Mount Fuji and finally Kyoto. Japan is a treat to visit. The Japanese people are so polite and courteous, it actually makes you very self conscious of your own lack of social graces and manners. But to be there for several days is great.

We visited a Ninja Dojo and learnt the ways of the ancient art in Tokyo, went on a bike ride in Takayama by Mount Fuji in a blizzard - the kids were besides themselves, so excited with the snow for 3 days! It was freezing...

The food is a challenge at every meal since you never know what you're going to get, a difficulty amplified by kids who are sick of being "Food Adventurers".

 But in any case, the scenery, the weather, the sites,
Golden Pavillon, Kyoto
all are impressive and beautiful. We were lucky to be there right when all the cherry trees were in full blossom. Lucky for the sites' beauty, but oh boy! so many onlookers!
Kyoto blooms


Audrey celebrated her 13th birthday with a "Hunger Games Light" survival contest and games at Victoria Peak Garden with her 7 best friends. They had a great time building a shelter in the woods, shooting rocks with slingshots through targets, sword fighting and a nice picnic. A very nice day.

Phoebe, Heloise, Fanny, Anne, Floris Angie, Juliette, Audrey and Grant

Anne made Audrey a cup with her favorite cat on it! She was super excited!
Desert Adventures, we did ride the camel.. See the moon between us? Full moon night! Awesome!

I just last week was invited  - almost a first, as I was reminded that I was invited once before to Denver when Audrey was 8 months old - with her - to join Steve on a business trip to Dubai.

Steve and Sheesha..
I LOVED it! My HK friend Chris lived there for 6 years and had prepared an itinerary for me. It was so much fun. Steve and I went on a desert adventure with Sheesha smoking, camel riding, belly dancing and a Bedouin BBQ.

 I visited several Mosques and lots of souks, we had fantastic meals, a drink at sunset on a rooftop terrace, AND an afternoon indulgence at Burj Al-Arab spa, in the world's only 7 star hotel (the building that looks like a sail). Oh my!..
Burj Al-Arab 7 star hotel

We are now in June and school is almost out. We will go back to Australia for 2 weeks in July to visit Perth and Sydney while Steve meets the people of the new offices his firm has opened there. Then back to HK for a little while before going to Shanghai for a month for Mandarin camp! The kids and I all will be going to camp for 3 weeks, followed by a week on the Silk Road in the western-northenmost provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu of China in the Tanklamakan desert and Altun Mountains of the border area with Inner Mongolia. This area is close to Kazakhstan and the ethnic minorities there are mostly nomads. It should be interesting and definitely off the beaten path.

Wishing all a wonderful summer!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The best of Summer and Fall 2011..

Sai Kung Tai Long Wan Beach

I love fall. It's my favorite season. Even in Hong Kong where changes of temps are not so dramatic, fall is distinctively more comfortable than summer. The humidity is down and the skies are clear. It really is a great time of year! And the hiking! Every year I am amazed at the beauty of this area. A fantastic hike 2 weeks ago along the beaches of Sai Kung was just an absolute joy.

We ended the summer vacation with a treat: we hired The Huan, a 90ft traditional Chinese junk (sailboat) and went on a 3 day cruise around HK islands. There are 260 islands around HK, many of which are uninhabited and only accessible by boat. Some of them have incredible geological formations and are protected under the "Geoparks" cultural and natural heritage laws. The cruise gave us a chance to visit some of them and swim at every stop. The water, once away from the Victoria Harbour area, is warm, clear and fantastic! The kids took every opportunity to jump off the sides. It was really nice. At night, we watched movies on the main sail under the stars "Swiss Family Robinson" and "treasure Island": you do have to keep with the ambiance! And we stargazed and slept under the stars. It was a weekend to remember!

For my birthday at the beginning of September, we took a short trip to the Guilin - Yangshuo and Longshen areas where we biked and hiked around some amazing Chinese landscapes. The rices terraces here were just amazing, the Karst mountains so beautiful and I loved visiting the small villages only accessible by foot. The kids were great walking one day 20+km! It was a really nice trip. The more we see of China, the more we love it. It is such a beautiful country, the people are so warm and welcoming, the food is fantastic (really!) and the opportunity for outdoor activities are endless. Each region is different from the other, there will never be enough time to see it all. But if you have an opportunity, stay away from the big cities of Shanghai and Beijing and visit Lijiang, Shangri-La, Yangshuo, Longshen, Chengdu! All super.

School started back and the kids this year are really well settled in the French system, the routine, the studying. Audrey no longer has language problems and stays consistently above average in everything which is such an accomplishment and Grant is "native" now, I even regularly have to remind him to speak English when his father is there.. Who would have thought! Grant was elected class representative by his class mates. He is quite the social butterfly. Audrey, "discreet" is what they call her here, quiet is what I say (!) as ever, concentrates on sports. Her soccer team has yet to loose a game this year; they have won every tournament they have entered. She also started long distance, cross country running, which here is quite an event with ups and downs of typically more than 2000ft each race. She placed 10th in her first race of 170 girls, and she was the youngest. The only one in her school to place (first 10 were medalled).

Both kids have joined the scouts - a mixed troup that includes boys and girls from 8 to 18 years old. The troup is subdivided into Cubs, Scouts and Eagles, but meetings are common. Camps are regular almost monthly, last weekend was Audrey's whose scouts group hiked up Sunset Peak (really tough 3 hour walk uphill) with HUGE backpacks, carrying everything from tents to food. Grant's overnight is this weekend. He just turned 10 (!) I can't believe it! So all in all the kids are well and super busy. It is a joy to see how well adapted they are to life abroad.

Steve and I continue to enjoy living here as well. Steve's business is developing by leaps and bounds, hiring new staff and picking new projects from Lebanon to China. Australia seems to be next in his sights. He does not travel much away from Hong Kong and enjoys having more time with the family. He even became assistant coach of Grant's baseball team! From what I gather, it is frustrating but a fun time with Grant..

I continue to keep everyone and everything busy and organized - which seems to take most of my time. Charitable Donations season starts in earnest after Chinese New Year in January, so I am enjoying the still relatively quiet time with my work. I have gotten into following some heritage festivals which have been great fun and a nice way to better understand the local culture. It is fascinating history dating so far back.

My father and Ginette visited for 6 weeks during which time we went to Bali, Indonesia. We spent a week in Ubud which must be one of the most beautiful and spiritual places on earth. It was great. Than a few days in Lombok which did not turn out so fine, but an experience nevertheless! We saw (again!) every tourist spot in Hong Kong and some not so touristy.. They had enough time to see a lot of Hong Kong and enjoyed the diversity of our new life.

We all look forward to our camping and hiking trip to New Zealand for Christmas, we will hike the Milford Track of Milford Sound, South island. Can't wait! Then my sister visits for New Year with her busband and daughter. Some more touristing on the books then! But seriously, there is so much to do and see in Hong Kong, it is always fun to take visitors around. Do consider coming to visit! You will have a great time. Here's an endorsement!