Friday, March 23, 2018

Full Circle

Wow! It's been a really long time since I've written a post. The reason for that being that I've had a "real job" for the last few years, and writing for a living sapped my will to live write for fun most days. But I'm back, and I hope to be back for good, no matter what other commitments get in the way. Because I love to write. Whether I do it well remains to be seen, but it's something I need to do.

I started this blog almost eight years ago as I was finding my feet as a new parent in a foreign country. If I've realised anything in that time it's that it doesn't really matter where in the world you are; Parenting is a constant process of finding your feet. The fact that I sometimes have to deal with unfamiliar systems, a culture that's not my own and a completely foreign language doesn't mean I have it any harder than anyone else. I have actually struggled at times when parenting in my home country, because I was young and single when I last lived there, and I never had to deal with any of this parenting business back then. So, in truth, I am clueless most of the time regardless.

And each stage of parenting is so very different. Don't you agree? I started writing when I had a newborn at home, and worried about sleep and teething and feeding and every little thing. These days we deal with lost teeth and football and how to contain and channel all that testosterone and energy. My God, the energy! Boundless, endless, deep reserves of it. I wish I had half of it myself. This week alone we've been left perplexed as our eight-year-old has refused to eat dinner two nights in a row. My boys are creatures of habit, and they lean towards fussy at the best of times, but the big guy will almost always eat what he's served. Not this week apparently. He wasn't as vocal about it as his younger brother would be, but it was a very visible protest. The pushing around of food on the plate, the slumping in the chair, the look of utter despair on the face. And all because I have dared to serve something different this week. Nothing fancy. I Googled 'kid friendly dinners' and printed off ten recipes that I thought would be hits. Those we have tried so far, were not... And I remain in a place of trying to find my feet. This week, in the kitchen.

You see, one of the downsides to my real job was the amount of time it consumed. I was constantly feeling guilty that I wasn't "there" more for my kids. That it was often my helper deciding what they would have for dinner, or if I was around, it would be something thrown together at the last minute based purely on what was in the fridge (olives and hummus on toast anyone?). So, when I parted ways with employment I vowed that I would take this time to do all those things on my to-do list, and simply be more present - making more nutritious dinners and lunches was a priority. But after cleaning out the playroom (which basically resulted in a bigger mess that I have yet to clean up), giving old clothes to charity, and organising our 20, 000 photos into some kind of order, I've realised that perhaps I had left these things for so long because they're not any fun, and I'm not very good at them. Same goes for the lunches and dinners. I just used my job as an excuse not to do them.

The positive thing about employment was that it gave me a purpose, I felt fulfilled, and I needed that to balance out the guilt I was feeling over neglecting my children. Now I need to find purpose and fulfilment some other way, and writing again feels like a good place to start. At it's heart that's what this blog is about, the journey and how you find your way through each stage, each moment that feels a little scary and unfamiliar and generally shit. I don't give advice, I don't often have tips on things to do in Hong Kong, but I'm always honest and you may find something here that you relate to, and if you have a moment of "oh fantastic, someone else feels that way too!" then it's all worth it. Will you join me?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Forever Hong Kong

I’ve always had a tricky relationship with Hong Kong. Being an expat has meant that it’s taken me a long time to feel at home here. It’s hard to settle somewhere when you don’t speak the language, or share the same cultural values, and when you simply don’t know how long you’ll stay. But I’m rapidly approaching the 7-year mark, which is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I never imagined I’d still be here to reach this milestone. For a start, it’s the longest period of time I’ve lived anywhere since I moved out of my parent’s home. It also means that I’m eligible for permanent residency in Hong Kong. No more visa renewal, no more sitting on the sidelines as a transient visitor. There’s even a different queue at the airport for those holding a permanent residency card. I’ll never be granted citizenship, but as a permanent resident I can now vote. Given that I’ve lost the right to vote in my native country, this is a pretty big deal to me.

After the events of this week it’s suddenly huge - Occupy Central has been a game changer (for a great explanation of what it’s all about read here). For months there’s been speculation on Occupy Central and many, our government included, have tried to garner support by talking up the negative impact that this movement will have on stock markets, and housing prices and tourism (an excellent piece on this here ). Hong Kong is nothing if not resilient, and it has survived much worse. But one thing is for certain, however these protests end, the ramifications will change the course of the city’s future. 

The protests here are peaceful. Medical school students are positioned to assist those who are injured, there is a team responsible for clearing away garbage left by protesters - they’re even sorting recyclables. So far no one, with the exception of the local police forces, has resorted to violence. The overwhelming number of images of what’s been labelled, “the most polite protest in the world,” show the sort of civil disobedience you would expect from a nation as law abiding as Hong Kong. No stores have been looted, no cars overturned, no one is rioting. In Causeway Bay last night a chamber ensemble played “Do you hear the people sing?” from Les Miserables in the streets. Once again, it is students who are taking the lead, those who will be most affected by the outcome, and I’m filled with immense pride as I watch it all unfold. They've shown nothing but respect and compassion for their city and fellow citizens that I never expected to see. In a city of 7 million people, it’s very easy to adopt an “every man for himself” mentality. But this movement, this coming together of so many locals, from so many walks of life, shows that this just isn’t the case here at all. There’s a belief in Hong Kong as an independent nation, capable of deciding on its own future, and with such pride in its own unique culture that its citizens have risked unknown ramifications to fight for it. After witnessing the calm and almost well-mannered way they have gone about it, I truly believe these young people deserve to get what they’re asking for, which is simply what they were promised.

I was still a child when the world watched on in horror as the tanks rolled through Tianamen Square, but I remember it vividly – the news footage, our Prime Minister breaking down in tears as he gave a press conference, and the anti-Chinese sentiment that wafted through our tiny town. We were so far removed from those events and yet so engrossed that for just a short while we stopped taking our everyday freedoms for granted. While nowhere near on the same scale, the Occupy Central protests this week have reminded the world just how impassioned people can be when it comes to democracy, and how dangerous it can be when you stand up to those who oppose it.  Many in the media have made comparisons to the fight for democracy in Egypt, Tunisia and the Ukraine, where protesters and subsequent changes did more harm than good. There’s quite a difference between making a point and widespread anarchy, and confusing the two will lead to very different outcomes for the people of Hong Kong. There’s always the risk that Occupy Central will end in bloodshed, and there's a distinct possibility that people will begin to grow tired of the inconvenience and disruption to their daily lives. But there’s an even greater risk that it will all come to nothing in the end. Whether they take the city by force, or simply gradually reduce the degree of autonomy we enjoy, those calling the shots in Beijing won’t simply let the city go. The people of Hong Kong are standing their ground, but I have to wonder whether or not they will politely pack up and go home when more serious interventions are brought in to remove them…

Joyce Man wrote a brilliant piece in the SCMP about leaving Hong Kong earlier this month and for us, reading the perspective of someone who was born and raised here was a real eye opener. She talks about leaving, and the ability to do so, as an “insurance policy.” As expats we always have that insurance policy, we’re free to leave whenever we wish. But her sentiment, that she might one day choose to leave because she can’t bear to see the city that she loves “slip away,” really resonated with me. If China tightens its grip on Hong Kong, which now seems almost inevitable, Hong Kong as we know it will slip away. I’ve come to love this city too, and for my children, who were both born here, it is the only home they’ve ever known. But it’s a very different city to the one we moved to seven years ago, and the difficulties of life here that Joyce Man mentions are the same aspects that have come to frustrate us over time. We’ve always complained about the pollution, the expense of living here and the ever-growing number of tourists poring through the city, but I honestly had not given much thought to local politics until recently. I preferred not to get involved, believing it didn’t really affect me – my expat status affording me the right to live in quiet ignorance of the unrest and disharmony slowly building momentum. And then I realised that if we are to have a future here, to really prove that this is our home now, we need to stand up and own that disharmony. At the end of the day it isn’t our fight, but if we care at all for our neighbours, our colleagues and friends - those who we interact with and rely on on a daily basis - we have a responsibility to support those fighting for change and to make sure their voices are heard.

We may have the luxury of being able to leave but for the first time I can honestly say I don’t want to go. Hong Kong is a part of us, and now after building a life and family here, we are a part of it too. We support the students and protestors, not because we’re pro-democracy, but because we’re pro-Hong Kong, and the outcome of this movement affects us, and our way of life too now. When I vote for the first time in 2017, I want to know I’m voting for a representative chosen by the people of Hong Kong. I’ve been heartened by the number of expats supporting this movement, including those we know who once lived here but have moved away. We may not have been born here, and many of us won’t die here, but I know we will always have a connection to Hong Kong, whether we live here or not. And I will make sure that my boys know that they came from a place where tens of thousands of people took to the streets in 2014 to stand up for their right to decide the future of their country. I truly hope that these will be stories I can tell them with pride one day, and not with sadness.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


A dear friend wrote a wonderful post about love on her own blog this week, and I was inspired to do the same, seeing as how it's Valentine's Day and all.

Like many girls I was brought up on the idea that love is a fairytale, that we are all princesses waiting to meet our princes and find that elusive happily ever after. But love is messy and often complicated, and the reality of it is nothing like a fairytale. The reality is though, far more beautiful. I've loved my husband from the day I met him. I knew he was the missing piece of my puzzle, my other half, "The One." Not in a crazy and romantic way, but in a very practical, oh-so-this-is-how-it's-supposed-to-feel kind of way. Suddenly everything made sense in a way that it never had before. There were days in the first months we were together, that I couldn't imagine ever loving another human being as much as I loved my Dave. The fact that he saw me for who I really was, the good and the bad, and loved me back, was (and still is sometimes) astounding. For the first time in my life I could simply be myself, but a better version of me, and even now I'm grateful to have found that.

There have been times in our life together that have tested us. Getting married, bringing together two families, moving countries, having babies - they all put pressure on any relationship, however sound it seems. Through each trial, small and large, we've held hands and quietly weathered the storms together.  And in each there is usually at least one act of selfless kindness that reminds me why I fell in love in the first place. Whether he's getting up to a crying baby so I can sleep, organising for my best friend to meet me for a drink, making me a playlist of love songs while he's on the other side of the world, or saying exactly the right thing at the right time, it all says "you are loved."

It's impossible to write a post about love without talking about the love we feel for our children. It's a different kind of love of course, but since romantic love is usually how you end up becoming a parent, the two types of love are intertwined. After our first baby was born I thought I was so full of love I might burst. It was all encompassing and terrifying. I wrote about that new and utterly vulnerable love that comes with being a parent in the very early days of this blog (here) and as my boys have grown I've experienced that in more ways than I could have imagined back then. I remember feeling guilty when I was pregnant with Charlie, I didn't know how I could possibly love another child as much as I loved Joshua. I didn't think I had any more room in my heart for someone else! I could not have been more wrong of course because I loved Charlie instantly, completely, just as much as I loved his brother. And each day I find more capacity for love as my boys do new and amazing things. I love seeing them grow and discover the world, and watching them play and be sweet and mischievous together as brothers makes me fall in love with them both all over again.

When babies are tiny parenthood can be a thankless task and until you start to get feedback from them you often wonder why on earth you wanted to be a parent in the first place (well, we did…). But when they start to show that they love you back, that is nothing short of miraculous. Our boys are very affectionate and Josh has been telling us he loves us, several times a day, for a while now. He's very good at compliments too and is usually the first to tell me I'm beautiful, even when I'm far from it. When our boys show how big their own hearts are, mine simply melts. This year I spent Valentine's Day sick in bed. I managed to get up in the morning and lay between the boys on the couch before Josh went off to school. He sat beside me rubbing my cheek with his cool hand saying "poor Mummy, are you ok?" and making sure his little brother didn't jump on me. This morning he wrapped his arms around me and said, "I love you Mummy. I couldn't do anything without you," and I had to hold back the tears. That's love, pure and true, not censored, not prompted and far from complicated. If anything our boys have taught us how to love better, how to let go and wear our hearts on our sleeves. We always thought it would be the other way around...

When you're married with children it's very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stuff and forget just how precious this gift of love is. We sometimes feel like ships passing in the night, especially now we have two kids. We can go a whole day without a hug or a proper non-kid related conversation, and that makes me sad. The fact is there wouldn't be a family to get caught up in if there hadn't first been two people falling in love. Our children were born because we loved each other enough to want to create something amazing together, and seeing ourselves in them reminds us of that. Whatever your feelings about Valentine's Day, sometimes we all need a day to remind us to go back to the place where it all started. In the beginning there were only the two of us and in the end it will still just be us. Everything we've done, we've done together. The moments we've shared, from having a baby in the car to sitting in that wretched hospital while Josh had surgery, no one in the world knows what those moments were like but us, and we endured them because we were together. Those shared experiences and the emotions behind them are what makes a life together so beautiful. Our love is a constant presence that drives everything that we do, but it needs attention and care. Those knowing smiles across the room, the gentle hand in the small of your back, or the whispered conversations in the dark keep you more connected than roses or jewellery (although they can be quite lovely too!).

The reality of love is that it's not always romantic. It shines through when you least expect it to, and it reveals itself in quiet and simple moments. Just when you think your heart will surely overflow with love, the people you love do something so beautiful and splendid that you love them just that little bit more. Seeing my husband as a father, another heart bursting life experience, made me realise how little we really know each other before we become parents. I never questioned the kind of husband and father he would be, and I never really considered that he might not be what I needed him to be. But he's been there for us in ways I never knew I would need him to be. He's involved and committed and does things many dads don't do, without questioning it, and often without being asked. We are his world, and he shows us in a million little ways every day, and that means more to me than flowers or a date on Valentine's Day. At the end of the day, however you spend it, it's about being together and celebrating that togetherness, and I couldn't think of a worthier cause. Happy Valentines Day xx

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Restoration

You might have guessed from my prolonged absence from blogging that we've had quite the year. It's been a shitty year, our "Annus Horribilis" if you will. We've really put the the vow "in sickness and health" to the test, and now that I think about it, "for richer or poorer" too… I've been sick, Dave's been sick, both boys have had nights in hospital under general anaesthetics. We've lost loved ones, we've moved (a gut wrenching trial that I will share later), we've had ups and downs with school and work, and experienced both the best and worst aspects of life in a small community. We've watched friends and family go through their own truly terrible times, and wished for the end of 2013, as if that would somehow fix everything.

A friend recently mentioned that doing anything out of the ordinary, with even the slightest possibility of something going wrong would be like "tempting fate" after the year we've had, so with that thought echoing in my ears, and my heart in my throat, I went away last month. By myself. To New York. I was determined to end the year on a high. To have just one good thing that came out of 2013. It was a trip that came about purely by accident after a conversation with a friend who was about to venture off on her own. She suggested I do the same, and when I laughingly told my husband about the idea, his response was "why not?"

And within a week, that conversation somehow miraculously evolved into me being in what is arguably the coolest city on the planet for a week. By myself. Did I mention I was there without my husband, without the boys, completely alone? I didn't quite believe it until I was on the plane, and I didn't quite relax until I was safely ensconced in my mid-town hotel room, but it was nothing short of bliss. I shopped and had time to try things on, I walked, no, I meandered through museums. I ate 3 meals a day without being rushed or shouting at someone else to hurry up and finish their dinner. I saw the Lion King on Broadway and cried because it was so beautiful, and I didn't have to explain to anyone why I was crying, or pretend that I wasn't moved (it was also the point in the whole week when I missed my boys the most). I sat in cafes and drank hot chocolate and ate cake and was quiet and still. I did the same in Central Park, for two hours! And I slept. I slept whenever I wanted to, for however long I wanted to. Deep, uninterrupted, perfect, healing sleep. I slept like someone who has no place to be and is not accountable to anyone. Central Park, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, sunset from the top of the Empire State Building, Christmas shopping at Macy's - none of it compared to the sleep. It was restorative, and the best thing that could've happened to me all year. Despite being 12 hours off my body clock, and a little run down from the travel and cold, the sleep made me feel well for the first time since this time last year.

I missed the boys terribly, and I felt awfully guilty, often. But lately I'd begun to feel like I wasn't doing a very good job of being their mum. After a particularly vile Sunday at home with them on my own, I said to my husband that if this were an actual job, I'd have been fired by now. Or at least had a very unfavourable performance review… We needed this. All of us. And I knew I would be a better mother if I had a chance to be by myself for a while, and if my boys had a chance to miss me. I feel like I've been swallowed up by motherhood.  I accept that sometimes there are things you choose to sacrifice when you have babies, and the rewards for that sacrifice are above and beyond anything that you might give up. But I needed reminding that there's more to me than who I have been lately. With all that glorious sleep I woke up a part of me that had been hibernating, and I came back feeling like I can give my boys so much more.

Coming home was wonderful, and the looks on my boys' faces when I walked through the door told me I had done the right thing. They had a great week with their dad, and they were perfectly fine without me. The sky didn't fall in, the house didn't burn down, no one broke any limbs. More importantly, we all missed each other enough to appreciate each other just a little bit more. I got my wish and ended the year on a high note, and with everything I have in me, I'm very much hoping it's the start of something better.

Friday, September 13, 2013

And Away He Goes...

I've written before about the insanity that is the Hong Kong school system, and as we dive headfirst into it, I'm just as perplexed as I was back then. A quick recap for those not familiar with how it works here: Everybody does a playgroup of some sort from about the time a little one can sit; at two years of age they go unaccompanied to either playgroup or nursery; and then at 3 they embark on Kindergarten or reception at 4; followed swiftly by primary school one-two years later. I'm sure there are a couple of cultural elements behind the drive to have kids in school so young here. Parents work long hours in this city and preschools and kindergartens are basically the equivalent of child-care centres, but with uniforms and curriculums. There's also a strong emphasis on academic success and getting ahead, and there's a conviction that the younger a child starts learning, the more likely they'll be to do well. As a stay-at-home mum I know too well the temptation to have the kids occupied and out of your hair every day too! But very few seem to question just how much this pressure to be educated really impacts on little ones.

Most schools base their intake on a child's year of birth. This proved problematic for us as Josh was born in December and in most cases would have been one of the youngest in his class. In theory he should have started kindergarten last year, at the tender age of 2 years 9 months, which just seemed absurd to me. We fought the system, and found many schools to be unwavering in their policy on holding children back, despite the evidence (read this!) that shows that there are numerous benefits to delaying school, and the fact that many children here who should've been allowed to start later end up repeating a year of primary anyway...  We were alone in our quest to delay schooling, and most people thought we were mad, it was a really frustrating time. Luckily we found a school that allowed us to keep Josh at playgroup another year, and we sent him 5 mornings a week to ensure he wasn't bored. He had a chance to play, and grow, and be a kid, and it gave us a chance to deal with his eyesight issues and for the rest of the time enjoy his company a bit.

He started K1 a few weeks ago at the same school that he's been going to for playgroup. We were ready for him to take the next step, we knew we had made the right decision in giving him another year at home, and we were excited about the year ahead. For a number of reasons this particular kindergarten didn't work out - the words "epic fail" spring to mind - and we withdrew him before the daily distress over school took its toll. We had him at home for two days and briefly toyed with the idea of homeschooling him for another year. We have applied to a primary school here that has a different intake, and he's not due to start there until next year. Not having something for him to do was not a big deal, and I was even a little bit relieved. Then I turned to the Hong Kong Schools forum on Facebook where it appears that everyone is planning and talking about school options from a very young age. Toddlers going off to school by themselves isn't just the norm, it's expected. I stopped reading the comments as I began to feel like I was being quite negligent for even considering that my son would benefit more from a year at home with me than from a fully-equipped educational institution.

Josh is a very bright and social kid who needs constant interaction and a lot of stimulation, so we decided to try one of the other schools over this way. All the kids who went on ahead of him last year are at this school, and loving it, but I was very reluctant. All the effort that went into holding him back and the careful sculpting of his circle of friends and trusted teachers would all be thrown out the window, and we'd be starting him at a new school, as one of the youngest in the class, exactly where we hadn't wanted him to be! The school were very supportive of our request for a trial day, just to see how he coped with it, which was today. It's also a much longer day than he's used to so I sat by the phone all day, expecting at any minute to be called to come and get him. What I wasn't expecting was to be greeted at 2.15 by a child positively beaming. He simply radiated happiness, and appeared completely besotted with his new teacher. He had a wonderful day, and fit in so well that one of the other children said, "we like Josh, can we keep him?" All the stress that had built up after two weeks of a little boy screaming every day because he didn't want to go to school, and the "are we doing the right thing?" anxiety of the last few days, melted away when I saw his gorgeous, smiling, utterly exhausted little face. So, he's enrolled. I collect his uniform tomorrow and he officially starts Monday, 5 days a week, 9.15-2.15. It's not what we had planned, and if I had my way he'd still be at home with me until he's 6, but we're letting Josh lead the way on this one. I have to focus on how happy he is, and right now that's the only thing stopping me from freaking out about the fact that my 3 year old is at school full-time. Because this is it for the next 14 years now... My baby boy's schooling has begun in earnest. He's more than ready, and now I need to catch up to him.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Facing the Future

I'm 34. Only 34. I have to remind myself of that often, and then I have to remind myself that 34 is really still quite young. I forget this of course because most days I feel REALLY old. My body hurts in a lot of places and I'm tired all.the.time. Two pregnancies, four years of sleep deprivation and the stress of the last 6 months have taken their toll. Big time.

I've become one of those women who rely on products like "primer" and "concealer" as if I'm prepping an unsightly old wall before covering it with something far more appealing. Mascara and lip gloss are essentials these days. I don't bother with much else because I'd still prefer to sleep a bit longer in the mornings, but one day, in the not so distant future I'm pretty sure I'll be setting an alarm so I have time to "put my face on" before I leave the house...

I've also noticed random grey hairs popping up on my head, and damn it if they aren't more wiry and unruly than all my nice brunette hairs! Pretty soon I'm going to have to bite the bullet and add regular dye jobs to my list of things to do.

Fortunately here in Hong Kong there are countless products available to help girls like me hide our flaws. From skin whiteners and BB cream, to fake eyelashes, whatever you need can be bought on almost every street corner. Manicures, pedicures, facials and waxing, massage, detox, weight loss clinics, botox, dermabrasion, laser hair removal, and something called Hypoxi (which I don't really want to know about) - it's all available, all the time.

It has never even entered my mind that I might like to be someone who ages gracefully. I'm still too young to age. Maybe when I hit my mid forties I'll come to grips with the fact that there's no turning back the clock anymore, but for now I want to at least look 34, even if I don't necessarily feel it. Maybe it is so important to me because I don't feel it...

I know I'm not setting a good example. I don't want my kids to grow up thinking that looks are important, and I definitely want them to know that beauty comes from within, so I'm hoping my quiet little rebellion against the sands of time goes mostly unnoticed at home. Given that I have two boys it probably will.

It's not all bad: I'm skinnier than I've been since I left university (last century). I have moments, in the right kind of light, where I feel like I'm doing ok. But until I start to feel my age physically, I'm going to have to fake it. In the meantime I'm beginning to understand why my nanna never leaves the house without lipstick, and that makes me feel even older!

Are you ageing gracefully? Is it possible to look and feel your age when you have kids? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Time Out

I had grand plans last month for more exploring and lots more blogging. But as with many things, our "Staycation" didn't go as planned. Dave lost his beloved Nan and had to make an unscheduled trip back to Brisbane. We decided after that that we needed to be around family, so we packed the boys up and headed to Manila for a weekend. Then we kind of got caught up with a bunch of stuff.

Despite the unexpected turn of events, I desperately wanted to make more of our everyday lives here, so I tried to add a little adventure to the stuff we had to do. We took Josh into town for a doctor's appointment, and for the first time ever, we went on a tram. I can't believe it's taken us this long to use one of the most basic and underrated forms of local transport! The fact that we weren't actually going anywhere meant that it truly was just about the journey, and not the destination, for a kid who simply loves going for a ride...

The following week Josh had an MRI. Not a big deal, just a follow-up to some of the findings from tests in Aus during his surgery. It meant spending an afternoon up at Canossa hospital, so again we tried to find the adventure in an otherwise quite boring activity. We rarely venture into Central with the boys, and even less often go beyond Queens Road, so a ride on the escalator was hugely exciting. I have never taken it beyond Caine Road, I didn't even know it went further, but it does, and we went all the way to the top...

 (The stroller is normally reserved for Charlie, but on this trip it was essential!)

We then walked from the escalator across to Hong Kong Park. It took us an hour to get from the ferry pier to the park so we didn't have much time to wander, but it was great to spend time in a part of the city that we rarely get to see.

I love the oasis that is HK Park, and the view of the city from way up there... We wandered through the park at a more leisurely pace after the MRI but Josh was out cold and missed it all. A good excuse for another trip!