Sunday, December 16, 2018

Holiday Party: Dogs, Slides and Rustic Italian at Flower World

On Sunday, Jovie and I took Lola to a farm out in the New Territories near Kam Tin, called Flower World.  I am exactly that kind of expat who lives, works and socializes in a tiny, tiny area on Hong Kong Island.  I rarely venture out into Kowloon, much less the New Territories, and can honestly say that I have never been out to this place before!  But, I am always excited for parties, and especially so nowadays if it means I get to introduce Lola to new people and surroundings.

The farm itself was pretty hard to find, as evidenced by the fact that our hosts had to give us a hand-marked Google maps and a youtube video... Along the way we passed a pineapple farm, another vegetable farm...  I wondered what it would be like to live out here.  It is such a contrast to my daily existence!

I love vegetable gardens.  Something about all those beautiful, ripe (or unripe) rows of green vegetables blooming and growing just gets me so happy and excited!

We dressed expecting the coldest kind of Hong Kong winter weather (cold winds, no insulation) but found to our pleasant surprise the warmest and sunniest day.   The place was set up with four tables under tents and then a large grassy area for the kids and dogs to play, with a swing set and sand pit at the edge of the property.

  Rustic Italian food was served al fresco and our hosts poured champagne, cider, white and red wine.  The offerings were plentiful and platters and platters kept appearing: caprese salad, lemon kale and romaine salad, deep fried zucchini and shrimp, fennel and shrimp salad, bread and pickled vegetables, pasta with meat sauce, medium rare steak, grilled freshly picked vegetables, sausage with onions... I really stuffed myself.

For me, the best and most rewarding part of it was how much Lola enjoyed her interactions with the dogs that were there. She has been obsessed with dogs lately and there were not one but three dogs at this party, running around!

As soon as Lola saw the first one, she stretched her little hands out and started following it around the property, crying out "wang wang, wang wang."  She surprised all of the adults with how fearless she was (these dogs were not small).  While one of the dogs barely tolerated Lola's ministrations, the other dog, Lucy, would come running when called.  Her owner held Lucy in place and allowed Lola to touch Lucy's nose and stroke her ears and fur.  There was really nothing sweeter than Lola's delighted cackle when Lucy came running toward Lola and licked Lola's hand.   As Lucy's owner observed, it's safe to say that Lola is a dog person!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

And Just Like That, It's December 15

If you can't already tell from the post title, this one is going to be a long and rambling one to help me catch up on what has been happening since we returned from Taiwan, oh... 13 days ago?!  Where does the time go?!

So, firstly, compounding the difficulties is that I have been fighting a bad cold and a bit of an eye infection (air quality, it's so important), and have generally felt very tired, sluggish and slow.  The building next to my office has been shut down for a massive renovation (real estate, especially prime retail space in Central, is so profitable in Hong Kong that all the developers are knocking down their buildings or adding more floors) which means the loss of my beloved yoga studio.  I had found so many good teachers that I liked there over these past four-five years and the ability to go from being at my desk in a suit to being in the studio in yoga clothes in 10 minutes or less was a luxury of the highest order.  So I felt that loss keenly, which also probably led to my complete lack of energy and feelings of malaise.

Last weekend, I took Lola to try a music class at Spring, one of the (many) playgroups and classes around Hong Kong island.  She made a really cute frog, sang some songs, shook some maracas, but mostly was obsessed with the little mini slide that they had in the classroom.  As I mentioned, she has discovered a new love for slides since our Taiwan trip.  Having attended quite a few classes with her now, I have to admit, she is not a particularly obedient or attentive child.  She is very much drawn toward what interests her and good luck to you if you're trying to make her focus on something that's not the same thing.  It is not at all unusual (in fact, it's probably the norm) for Lola to be doing her own thing far, far from the teacher or the designated activity.
One of the few times she is paying attention (bubbles!)
Getting ready to go down the slide!

Last Saturday afternoon, I also went to a holiday party (which coincided with the grand opening of the offices) of one of my clients.  Coincidentally, their new offices were just one floor below where I used to work (before my firm moved), so I knew the building well.  Stepping into the lobby of that building always brings back a flood of memories from when I first started living and working in Hong Kong - but at the same time, that all feels like so long ago (which it was)! 

Last Sunday, Michael, Lola and I went to brunch at Little Creatures in Kennedy Town where we met up with some friends and enjoyed  big brunch together before the holidays.  My friend was super generous and gifted me with a class Longchamp bag in a beautiful burgundy, and Lola with a soft and pretty pink Hello Kitty book bag (which we now use to stuff full of her books and little toys when we go on trips).

Following brunch, I took Lola to the birthday party of our next door neighbor's daughter, who had her third birthday party at the Maggie and Rose club in Causeway Bay.  There was a magician who performed tricks and made Lola a little balloon dog and balloon flower corsage.  She also got to try grape juice for the first time (I caved) and she promptly sucked down the entire juice carton in nearly one go.  I hid it when she wasn't looking and her recourse was to steal the juice box of the little girl next to her...

So that was a pretty action packed weekend.

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I also booked our travel to the Shangri-la at Cebu in the Philippines over the Chinese New Year holidays and finalized our Taichung vacation (yep, again!) for Easter next year.  They are both short trips (only 4-5 days each) but it takes hours to arrange and plan nonetheless.

This past Tuesday, Lola went in for her one-year check up and vaccinations (chicken pox and measles).  The poor thing got stuck twice and wailed inconsolably until she was allowed to watch Peppa the Pig on TV.  Our doctor is very thorough and I like that, beyond just administering shots or listening for coughs/looking at issues, she spends some time checking how Lola is progressing on height, weight and general milestones. While I firmly believe that every baby is different and advances at her own pace, I also find it helpful to hear from a professional what she thinks Lola needs to improve, or what we need to look out for, if anything.

Her pediatrician says she is doing fantastically - meeting or well exceeding all milestones.  Lola started walking unassisted this past week (woohoo, go Lola!!), and also impressed our doctor with her ability to kick a little ball as she was walking (though it's something she's been doing for a while now); she is grabbing food very well (our doctor offered Lola a puff to see how she would react and to gauge her hand/eye coordination and finger dexterity); and also got our doctor to cheer at how quickly Lola was able to take blocks and put them into a little box, as well as fit circles and squares and triangles into puzzles.  What I find perhaps most adorable is how Lola claps her hands together when she's done, giving herself (well deserved) applause.

This past Thursday, my office threw a holiday party for everyone (all lawyers and staff) and required formal dress (though it really was optional - except I really felt like I needed to dress up, if that makes sense).  The party was held in the main room at restaurant called Statement, held in the former Central Police Station Compound (nicknamed CPS for short) and it was really beautiful. 
This is the large central courtyard - they have done a really great job with this restoration

My wardrobe, however, is in an even worse state than I thought, because I had not one long, formal dress to wear.  Seriously!  My outfits in college were fancier than what I have now, sigh.  I have the opposite problem of a hoarder - I throw everything away before I have a chance to replenish it.  It's also a bad combination of having gotten much busier and also having become much more picky about what I wear.  I panicked when I realized at the last minute that I needed to procure a formal dress that was still reasonably priced at the very, very last minute.  It's not like we have rent-the-runway in Hong Kong.  And I do mean very last minute - it ended up being Net-a-Porter for the win when I finally found a dress on their website on Wednesday evening, which was delivered by hand to my office on Thursday at noon (!)  I ordered two sizes in case and thank goodness one worked.  It was festive, simple, classy and elegant, and amazingly comfortable.  I slipped into it gratefully just 4 short hours later and paired it with my gold Jimmy Choo's.

In my continued efforts to keep Lola occupied, I arranged a trial class for her on Wednesday at Mulberry House, a one hour mandarin immersion class, and a trial class for her on Friday at Maggie and Rose, a half hour (taster) art class.

These are in addition to the regularly scheduled 1 hour or 2 hour playgroups that Lola attends.  I am careful not to pack her schedule with too much, although there has been a lot going on recently.  But  Lola also absolutely adores being outdoors or in new environments.  She likes meeting different people and being in the mix.  She is a social butterfly!  And I really enjoy seeing her enjoy herself so much.  We will tone it down when we return to Hong Kong in the new year.

Oh, yeah,  I also figured out Lola's new schedule for 2019 because she is moving into a different age group in most of her classes.  Part of the reason for all of these trial classes is that I have been shopping around to try to find another playgroup for her.  In addition to Baby Buddies and Woodlands, I just made the decision to enroll Lola in Wilderness in the new year.  I think that gives her a good mix of different languages and styles of instruction.

After the Friday art class, my friend and I went with our babies to get some brunch at A Happy Pancake, a Japanese restaurant in Lee Garden Three.  Their pancakes are pretty phenomenal and I see why there is constantly a line.  I ordered the one with fresh fruit so that I could share it with Lola, and evidencing how quickly she gobbled down everything I cut up for her, she concurs.  They are probably nearly 2 inches thick but so, so fluffy and soft and just... magical.  No wonder it's called a Happy Pancake and no wonder it's Japanese.  Apparently they employ an incredibly technical and precise cooking method involving infrared thermometers and induction baking sheets.


In anticipation of the mayhem and insanity of next week and the Christmas festivities the following week, my to-do list, usually pretty impressively long already, has been epic as of late. 

Yes, that's right, mayhem and insanity next week because we leave for the U.S. (New York, first) on Monday evening and I. am. terrified.  I am thinking about that 17 hour non stop flight as akin to labor: something that I know has to happen and will happen, come what may.  The weeks and weeks of jetlag thereafter though... I guess that's like the traveling equivalent of the fourth trimester.  Screen time rules be damned, Michael is loading up that iPad with hours' worth of Moana, Peppa the Pig and nursery songs and shows (although we are drawing the line at drugs, do not worry).

For Christmas, we will be headed to Cleveland (poor Lola, 17 hours worth of travel on Monday night and not even a week later she will be struggling with us through the US domestic airports) which is very exciting because sh will get to meet all of her aunts and uncles and cousins on Michael's side of the family!  Plus there will be dogs!

After Christmas in Cleveland, we return to New York where we will have another week with my family.  This trip will be Lola's first meeting with all of my extended relatives as well, including both of my grandmothers (her great grandmothers) and her cousins. And then we have to brace ourselves because before we know it we will be back on another 17 hour flight - and this time, we won't even have the luxury of a night flight when she will be sleepy and ready for bed.

There are so many people for her to meet on this trip, and places to see and things to do, it will be an absolute whirlwind!  It is kind of amazing for me to realize that my baby, despite holding an American passport and clearly being an American, has never set foot in the country!  And this will be her sixth trip since she was born!  Gosh, how different her childhood is shaping up to be from mine and Michael's!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Fengjia Night Market and Street Scenes from Taichung

One night in Taichung, while my parents babysat for us while Lola slept, Michael and I went to the nearby Fengjia night market for a stroll.  Here are some of the typical street scenes.  It's completely normal for kitchens to be on the street or food carts to be on the sidewalk, connected to people's homes.  In this Taichung still reminds me of Hanoi.  Life is lived everywhere and anywhere there is space.  This means private and public lines are blurred, but it also feels so much more authentic and communal.

 Various intestines, fried tofu, seaweed, eggs and other crunchy parts, marinated in a soy sauce broth.
I know this is not for everyone, but believe me when I say plenty of people find these items delicious!  Yum!

Just look at the sheer number of people on foot, the number of motorbikes on the street, and the bewildering amount of bright lights and loud signs!

Shopping is also a huge part of night markets.  Here, a lot of really cute baby shoes.
We also took the opportunity to visit my dad's alma mater, Fengjia University, which is right in the heart of the night market.  It is a large oasis of peace, calm and quiet in a very bustling area.  We walked into the courtyard and gazed at the various trees, grassy courtyards, and buildings.  

It's hard to imagine that over 40 years ago my father was here, a young, skinny, single, bespectacled college student, studying textile engineering, riding his bicycle, having not yet met my mother, not yet set foot on an airplane (much less seen America)... When we asked him about the area during his university days, my dad said it was all rice fields!  I wonder, back then, as he studied and went to classes, if he had any inkling of what his future life would hold or what experiences lay awaiting for him. 

I am sure the campus did not look like it does now, but I was most impressed by the banyan trees.  With their huge trunks and graceful, lush umbrellas, they appeared so stately and majestic.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not note that traffic during the day in Taichung is not much better than at night.  Having driven in so many countries, Michael remarked admiringly on this trip that Taichung had to be one of, if not the most, challenging cities he has ever driven.  There is an endless, steady stream of motorbikes and Vespas that come from in front of and behind your vehicle, enveloping you from the right and the left.  Streets (if they can even be called that) are very narrow and everyone encroaches on the road with their illegal parking and potted plants that stretch out beyond their property.  Some lanes are so tight that cars have to wait on either end in order to pass through one at a time.  Traffic lights, turning lanes and turn signals are a courtesy or an afterthought.  No one honks, but no one follows the rules either.

The mighty motorbike - ubiquitous in Taichung

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Lola's First Birthday - Part III (Travel Disasters, Island Aurora and Farewell Lunch)

Back to the last bit on Lola's birthday - it was so nice to see Lola enjoying the children's indoor playgroup that we visited on our first day.
Playing together.  So freaking cute.
Lola clearly loved her cousin at first sight because promptly gave "jie jie" (meaning older sister) all of her toys
Here, Lola is in good spirits after the briefest of power naps.
Going back to the very beginning of the trip, the first part of the first day of this Taichung trip will probably go down in history as one of our worst travel experiences, ever.  Having traveled to four different countries with Lola to date (this one being the fifth), we managed to forget to pack her pacifier.  Like, entirely.  Not just in the carry-on diaper bag, but also in the regular suitcase.  On the one hand, our helper messed this up so, so badly because even though she told me she had checked the packing list and assured me we got everything, it was clear we didn't.  She ended up leaving behind not only Lola's pacifiers (perhaps the most essential thing) but also her toothbrush.  On the other hand, this teaches me and Michael a very important lesson - no matter how much we double check with our helper, we need to double check the suitcase itself.  This one faux pas made our journey to Taichung hellish, which coupled with a bunch of other crap just made everything horrific.

We were catching an early morning flight, so we had to rouse Lola from her peaceful sleep at 7:50 am (which was already the last possible minute, really).  We ordered an Uber, which took nearly 15 minutes to show up, and when it showed up, we were dismayed to see it was the tiniest possible car (with no trunk space).  Not happening with two adults, a baby and suitcases and carry-on bags galore.

We waited another 15 minutes for an Uber black to show up.  By this time, we were cutting it pretty close.

Then, just a little bit more than halfway to the airport, we came to a complete standstill.  The tunnel had been shut down - no traffic coming in or out for approximately 10 minutes.  In my entire seven years here I have never encountered traffic on the way to the HK airport.  But this time, the one time we were really cutting it close, it looked like there were cars backed up for miles.  By now, Michael and I were panicking because we were certain we were not going to make it.  We even tried to call the airport counter to tell them that we were on our way, almost there, and to please hold the check in counter open for us.  We finally pulled into the airport at 9:15 am for a 10:10 am flight.  By the grace of God (and the efficiency of the Hong Kong airport) no one even blinked an eye as we proceeded to check in three huge bags and make our way to the boarding gate.  It is insane how closely you can cut it here and still make a flight.

We boarded the plane, and poor Lola just wanted to go back to sleep.  Usually she needs her first nap around 10:30 or 11, because she can't last as long in the morning.  Well, this was when we discovered we had absolutely nothing to soothe her during takeoff or landing, or to calm her to sleep.  Horrors.  I cringe even typing it right now.  It was heartbreaking because she kept saying "nei nei, nei nei" which is her word for her pacifier and cried inconsolably, leading to Michael locking himself in the bathroom with Lola for nearly 30 minutes as she made herself nearly delirious from wailing and screaming.  He was so distracted that, forgetful at the best of times, he lost his phone on the airplane, only discovering the loss when we were at baggage claim.  Then he went to lost and found to try to get them to locate it, they could not find it but also only looked after other passengers had already boarded the plane... all while we still had to pick up our rental car, and procure a pacifier for Lola, etc. etc.  I'm going to stop dwelling on this part of the trip now.

Here we are when we just arrived in Taichung.  Lola is going on nearly 6 hours without a nap at this point, but still very curious about her new surroundings.

It turned out my mom and I wore the same shirt!  And look, Lola was still smiling!  She was so happy to see her LaoLao and LaoYe.

After we finally got our rental car, we drove straight to a baby store to pick up her pacifiers.  We bought two, even though they were 20 dollars each (!), just in case.  Trust me, we were not taking any chances.  As soon as my mom brought the pacifiers to the car, Michael rinsed them off with water, and we popped one into Lola's mouth.  She zonked out in about 15 seconds flat, on my shoulder, snoring slightly.  She has never fallen asleep like that before.  When we got to the hotel, I reluctantly got out of the car which, as I suspected, woke her up and she refused to sleep again.  All in all I think she probably slept 30 minutes.  But that was enough for her to recover to her usual happy self again.

From our hotel, we headed to Island Aurora, a cute indoor playground for kids (that also served food) to play from 4 to 6.  Here Lola met my family members for the first time and discovered how much she loves slides (the answer is, a lot)!
She is such a little adventurer.  I love this smile - it's just full of gumption and energy and mischief and spunk!
 She liked the ball pit, the various play areas...

...and she is really independent and pretty fearless when it comes to ledges, steps, and various play contraptions... 

but she clearly, definitely, really enjoyed the slides the best!

Lola also enjoyed the baby meal (pasta with meat sauce, a steamed egg and a bowl of fruit) while the adults dug into individual hot pot portions (so delicious).

So that was our first full day in Taichung.  On each morning of our trip, I met my parents in the basement of our hotel to enjoy a plentiful buffet breakfast with Lola.  There was a lot of variety so plenty of stuff for her to try.  She really, really loves corn on the cob.  I think between that and the sweet potatoes she was in foodie heaven.
So happy!
On our last day (Sunday), we gathered with more friends and family for a huge (there is no such thing as a small meal here) lunch at a Beijing duck restaurant.  
I love this picture, taken just after someone asked Lola how old she was.  Her response was one, as indicated by her little index finger.
Michael is really popular with the aunties here, and after parking the car was accosted for a group picture.  It's very sweet and while he may pretend otherwise, he loves feeling like a celebrity.
Lola, me, and my mom!  Three generations, three sets of pretty flower prints.  That's our way!
Here, Lola was really trying to walk.  She likes her new shoes.
 She didn't want to be held even though that's all my dad wanted to do!
Lola was clearly exhausted after everything because she fell asleep in a recliner in the lounge.  Our return flight home was significantly better than our flight to Taichung, but then again, I'm not sure how it could have gotten any worse.

When we landed in Hong Kong airport, Lola was so tired (having refused to sleep on the plane at all) yet she still insisted on dragging her father everywhere while we waited for our bags.  

All in all, it was such a great trip and I'm really glad we got to celebrate over such a fun filled weekend!  We loved it so much I came back and promptly booked us for another long weekend in Taichung over Easter next year.