Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Days of Our Lives

I was speaking to someone recently and she asked me if I was still blogging regularly. She said that she initially thought the project was a little ambitious and had wondered to herself if anyone's life can really be "that interesting." With that in mind, today's post is dedicated to the minutiae of my life (which is apparently what this blog is all about), and you can be the judges of whether or not it's at all interesting!

J woke at 5 again this morning. We're not sure what's suddenly changed but this new routine is not working out for us at all!  I spoke to my friend K about this yesterday and she told me that she gets her boys up at 6, gives them a bottle and puts them straight back to bed. They then get up somewhere between 7.30 and 9 for breakfast. This sounded pretty good to me so I decided to give it a try. J loved the early bottle but would not go back to sleep. We battled for an hour before he crashed but he was up again by 7.30. He passed out around 10 and missed playgroup so I had to take him out in the afternoon. We went to see the triplets but after the early start and only one nap, J was a very grumpy boy indeed. He was in bed by 6.30 and I wasn't far behind him. I think tomorrow we'll go back to what we were doing; ignoring him till 6.30, or until he started shouting at us to come and get him up.

The day started for us at 3.30am. This did not bode well. J woke up crying and couldn't be consoled. We gave him another bottle, and had flashbacks to the days when we were up at that hour every night. In the end I got into the cot with him, an exercise in bendy gymnastics, and rubbed his back till he finally fell asleep around 5. D got up to him at 7 and I got a sleep in, a rare treat but well earned! Our helper was off today so while J napped this morning I tidied up, baked a cake, vacuumed and still had time for a shower! Definitely feeling like supermum today. We missed playgroup again but went to the playground in Mui Wo, which J just loves. He chased another little boy around and came home filthy and exhausted. I was pretty wrecked too but had to leave the boys at home and head to Discovery Bay for the 2nd half of a CPR/First Aid course I've been doing. I did a proper first aid certification several years ago but I never renewed it. I always thought I'd know what to do in an emergency, but if a child was involved I'd probably end up flapping my arms about shouting "help, help!" This course was invaluable, and the procedures for CPR have been simplified so much since I last took the course, now anyone can do it, and should. My helper also did the course and we both agree it was invaluable. I just pray we never have to use our new skills. I came home and watched my little guy sleeping for a while before heading to bed.

I remember reading somewhere that if a baby is habitually waking every night at the same time you should wake them an hour earlier to reset their body clocks. Well, J woke this morning at 6.30, so even though it wasn't intentional, I think yesterday's early start probably did just that. Today we realised that our little man is officially a walker. He still wobbles quite a bit and crawls when he wants to get somewhere quickly but he's walking all the time. He went from taking a few steps here and there to walking across the room so quickly, it almost happened overnight. We filmed him walking towards me, with the biggest, proudest grin on his face and emailed it to the grandparents. We spent most of the day today organising our upcoming trip to Sydney. We fly out on the 1st and it feels like we still have so much to do. There are so many people we want to catch up with, and so many family members who want to see us. It always feels like we spend our time trying to please everyone and we end up disappointing someone. I'm trying not to let it worry me, but I can't help feeling like it'd be easier just to stay home...

Another relatively uneventful day. I have been working on an article for Playtimes magazine, and I finished my first draft today. It still needs a lot of work but I'm very pleased with my efforts, and even more impressed that I finished a draft 6 weeks before the deadline! We took J out shopping today. He's still at an age where a trip to the supermarket and a ride in a shopping trolley counts as an outing. We decided to have some lunch while we were out but it wasn't quite the leisurely seaside meal we used to have once upon a time. J was a bit cranky and restless, he hates sitting still, but once we started feeding him from our plates he was quite content. He played with a drinking straw for about 15 minutes and we ended up having a lovely time. He has started to reject lumps and chunks in his food so we're back to purees this week. At the same time he'll eat anything we're eating. Last night he had spaghetti and tuna off D's plate. I'm not sure he could eat a whole meal of it but we're going to start trying more grown-up food when we're away. D went off to work tonight and he'll be in LA till Sunday night. I had to trim his moustache before he left, it's getting a bit unruly now. He's growing for Movember and has raised quite a bit of money. I don't think he had any idea what he was getting himself into when he drunkenly declared at the rugby that he was going to grow a mo for the month, but I'm very proud of him for following through!

The little man woke early again today but it meant that he had an early nap, so we finally made it to playgroup. When we got home I spent some time rearranging the furniture in his room, something I've been wanting to do since we moved in. I was sick and had a newborn baby when we moved so everything was done for me. We had a huge wardrobe in J's room and D laid out the furniture differently to how I would've done it. It's always bothered me and this week I was determined to rectify it (while my husband was away and couldn't argue with me). I think it's important that little people have their own space. I hated that we used J's room to store our crap, and I felt like he deserved better. So with our helper by my side, I put things right, and I'm so happy with how the room looks now. By 2pm J and I were both pretty tired so we had an afternoon nap. J's favourite game at the moment is hiding things under the sofa or behind the curtains. He hides something and holds his hands up and makes a sound that we know means "where is it?" Tonight while he was eating his dinner he was repeating 'daddadadadad' over and over, then he stopped, looked at me, held up his hands and said "where is he?" It's only been in the last month or so that J has started to notice that his dad goes away. He gets very excited when Daddy comes home (as do I), and I'm starting to wonder how long it will be before we gets tantrums when Daddy leaves...

J slept last night from 7pm-6am, and I took that as a sign that he also loves his new room. We're on our own for the whole weekend so we took the dog for a walk and while J had his morning nap I did the dishes and tidied up. I don't mind being on my own now, and it's definitely manageable, but it does make it harder to achieve anything. We went out to Tung Chung, something I hate doing on the weekend but couldn't avoid. We went to Taste and J was quite happy until we got to the  checkout. Of course there were about a million people in the queue and I had to try a few different tricks to avoid a complete meltdown. In the end I pulled the straw off a juice box and he played with that till we were done. Unfortunately I realised at the checkout that I had had a mummy-brain moment the day before and hadn't noticed. I had been at Park N' Shop on Friday (yes, we do go to the supermarket an awful lot!) and paid with my card to get cash out. Only, they didn't give me my cash and I didn't notice. So after Tung Chung we made a quick trip to Mui Wo where I explained my dilemma and the helpful staff at Park N' Shop corrected their mistake. Thank goodness they were helpful, I don't know how I would've explained to my husband that I left $500 at the supermarket! After that a coffee and a quiet afternoon were in order. I also weighed myself today and the scales (might be broken) showed that I had hit a 10 year low, so I celebrated with pizza and chocolate for dinner.

J didn't have the best night's sleep last night so we both woke up at 6am feeling pretty shabby. After breakfast I ran upstairs to get my glasses so we could go out for a walk and "had a fall" on the way back down. It was the kind of fall that knocks the wind out of you and breaks hips in older people, and the only thing that stopped me from bursting into tears was J standing at the bottom of the stairs with a look that was equal parts concern and impatience. I brushed off my bruised ego (and elbow and bum) and we went out. Still feeling pretty rotten I decided that there was only one thing to do when we got home; put on Christmas carols and kick off Pudding Sunday. But that's another story...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Beginnings

Firstly I have to say a huge thank you to our friends who came and helped us celebrate J's birthday last weekend. It was a lovely afternoon and even though our little man was a little grumpy, in the end we all had such a good time. Looking at the photos of the 3 of us together cutting the cake, it amazed me how quickly the year has passed. Our son is not our baby anymore, he's a toddler, and a very cute one at that. It was great to have our friends together to celebrate that.

Our friends all ignored the "no presents" remark on the invitation and J received some great gifts, but one present stood out amongst them all, and that was a special gift for his parents. It was a charming wicker basket, disguised as a cardboard box, containing all sorts of grown-up goodies; wine, chocolate, fruit, cheese, and oysters. It came with the warning that the contents might lead to romance, and that romance can lead to first birthdays! It was an incredibly thoughtful gift and we were both really touched that someone had thought to acknowledge that we deserved a treat for the last 12 months. The sweet couple who gave us this gift don't have children (yet) and my first thought was a cynical one. Yes, it's all fun and games with your liquor and aphrodisiacs, but where's the romance nine months later when you have your knees in the air and a human being is coming out of you headfirst and hungry!? Little did they know, I thought to myself. Then, very quickly, the romantic in me took over. I started thinking about the start of a new life, the different ways our babies are created, and I loved the idea that our childless friends still have hope that a little bit of romance and some quality time is all it takes. And I realised that, even though we're not thinking about baby number two yet, I share that hope.

We've had friends who have fallen pregnant without even trying, by accident or design. Others fall pregnant easily enough, but have trouble staying that way. Some babies are planned and carefully timed, with a mummy and a daddy who are loving and committed. While others are the result of a chance encounter and too much of a good thing. Some people are born to reproduce and have more kids than they can cope with. While others try desperately for years to create a family without any luck. So many people have the will but lack the way, and need input from others to make their dream a reality. Some babies are made in a petrie dish, after their parents have been put through gruelling and very unromantic fertility treatment. With all of that in mind, I'm definitely hoping, for ourselves and our friends whose families aren't yet complete, that it really is as simple as a romantic night in.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Birthday Parties and other Frivolities

A warning for those who are pressed for time: This is going to be one of those posts that isn't about much at all and ends with me waxing lyrical about how gorgeous my son is.

Tomorrow we're hosting a pre-birthday birthday party for J. We'll be in Sydney for his actual birthday and we wanted to celebrate with our friends here in some way. I read somewhere, in a party planning guide, that you should invite one guest for every year of the child's age. Well, one person just didn't seem like a proper party, and my son's best friends are triplets so that piece of advice was promptly ignored. I did however, want to keep things fairly quiet and low key so I only invited a handful of our closest friends and neighbours. My husband was disappointed by my list and went on to invite just about everyone we've ever met in Hong Kong. This lead to a fairly significant argument over invitation etiquette; my husband being of the belief that it's best to invite everyone to avoid offending someone. He was sure many of our single friends would have better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than come to a kids birthday party, and would politely decline. I'm not a fan of the token invite, preferring not to take that chance and risk ending up with 40 people at my son's first birthday, but the invites had already been sent. So we didn't get off to a great start but in the end we are expecting about 20 people, parents and kids, which I think is perfect.

I worked for a few days this week and my husband and I were both struck down (at different times) by a nasty stomach bug so the week was a little stressful. It was also the week the December roster came out so we were busy dealing with several sets of parents and trying to coordinate our upcoming trip to Sydney. As it turned out we simply ended up disappointing everyone (a separate blog post on this topic is coming), so the week was unpleasant as well as stressful. In amongst all that I did do a lot of planning for my boy's big day but very little preparation. I spent today running around buying groceries and trying to find party supplies (impossible on Lantau and in Elements), the whole time worrying that J was going to be tired and cranky and that the whole thing had gotten to be too big a deal. I pressed on and finally tracked down balloons and party bags at the toy shop in Mui Wo (thanks Bizzie Lizzie). Despite being ever so helpful, the lady that runs the shop mentioned prizes for games and I smacked my head in disbelief: yet another thing to worry about that I hadn't even thought of! I wanted to write tonight about the unnecessary pressure I've put on myself this week to be supermum and to put on a great party for my little one. I remembered all the parties I've been to and the little things that other parents have done to make them special; I wanted my party to be in that same league somehow. I spent the drive home worrying about pass-the-parcel and age-appropriate music and walked in the door swearing that J's first birthday party would be the last.

Then I started thinking about why it is we were so keen to celebrate this milestone. It's because it's his first birthday, his first ever. My little boy was born (almost) a year ago and he's a fantastic human being who deserves to be celebrated, whether he knows it or not. When I was getting J ready for bed tonight he started playing with the ipod that we keep in his room for his sleepytime music, and despite the fact that there wasn't anything coming out of it he started bouncing up and down, his idea of dancing. I turned it on and his little face lit up and he did his best Stevie Wonder impersonation, swaying from side to side. At that moment he was so cute and sweet that I thought my heart would burst! This whole week he's kept me smiling, no matter how stressful things have been. And that's why I'm throwing him a party tomorrow.

While I'm at it, I think we deserve to celebrate for ourselves too. We survived a year of colic, reflux, sleep deprivation, baby flu (worse than man flu), pureed vegies on the carpet, porridge in our hair, and everyone who is biologically related to us feeling as though they have a right to be a part of our son's life (when it's actually more like a privilege that has to be earned).  The best part is that we survived all that and we couldn't be happier.

I realised that my son is too young to remember that he even had a first birthday. And I also realised that all of the children coming tomorrow are under the age of three and most of them will just be happy to be outside playing with their friends. So, there'll be cake but it'll come out of a packet. There'll be food, but it'll be healthy, tasty stuff for the grown-ups. There won't be games, but we've hired an expensive beach-side patch of grass for the kids to play on. There will be party bags, but there isn't much in them. And if my son is tired and cranky we'll bring him home and put him to bed, and years from now we'll tell him that his first birthday was awesome. I'm already planning next year's...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I ♥ HK

Ok, as promised here are my top ten things I like a lot about this city:

1. Diversity: Hong Kong is truly the most multicultural city I have ever lived in. I definitely think assumptions are made about certain nationalities, or groups of people, based on stereotypes, but I've never witnessed or experienced outright racism (which can be rampant in Australia sadly). Our group of friends here includes people from Canada, South Africa, India, Europe, Indonesia, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand, just to name a few. One of my favourite things about teaching here was seeing kids from so many different backgrounds working and playing together, and I love that my son will grow up being exposed to such different cultures and ideas.

2. Contrasts: Despite being a very modern, metropolitan city, there is another side to this place that not many people expect to see. We live on South Lantau island, 25 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong proper. I guess it's what's considered a rural idyll by local standards. We live across the street from the beach and on the other side of us are two large peaks covered in hiking trails and untameable wilderness. Every day a herd of cattle makes their way down the road to feed, and there is a water buffalo habitat 5 minutes from here. It's so refreshing after a manic day in the city to come home and have to stop the car to let an impressively massive buffalo pass. The Lantau Bovine Association have the tough job of making sure these gorgeous creatures are treated well and that they receive veterinary care when necessary. You can find them on Facebook if you want to know more. Another contrast I love is the difference between the summer and winter here. Winter is cold and everything dies off, then suddenly, around April, with a little bit of rain it all bursts into life again. When the jungle's in full bloom it makes me wonder how anyone ever thought that building a city in amongst all that wilderness was a good idea.

3. Shopping: Like a lot of things here, I have a love-hate relationship with shopping. You really have to be organised and in the right frame of mind. I find impulse buying a lot easier because I tend to be disappointed if I go out with a plan. Shopping does seem to be a national pasttime and you can buy just about anything from just about anywhere. I've been introduced to so many new brands, of clothes, accessories, household products, food, that are now my staples and I will genuinely miss them when I leave HK. Whether you're shopping on the street, in a mall, at the markets, the crowds can be overwhelming and I sometimes feel like I'm sitting in a car at an intersection trying to merge onto a busy highway; you just have to close your eyes, move forward and let the traffic take you with it. When you do manage to snag some bargains and make it home unscathed, it's all worth it!

4. Proximity to the rest of the world: Having lived in Australia for 28 years it's great to live somewhere that's so close to everywhere else. I travelled to Europe when I was 20 and it took me two days just to get to London. My return journey from Dublin took 3 days, involved a car ride, ferry, train, bus and 4 flights, and I still had to spend 6 hours asleep in a transit lounge in Osaka. Here I can get on a plane after breakfast and arrive anywhere in Europe/Africa/America/Asia in the same day! We once went skiing in California, for a weekend! Admittedly that was a little extravagant but definitely do-able. The travel is one of the main reasons why we're here, and we can't wait to show J the world that lies just beyond our doorstep.

5. Opportunity: We came here because the company my husband works for offered a package that was too good to refuse. In Sydney we were living simply but still beyond our means. We couldn't sustain the kind of lifestyle we had and move ahead financially. Hong Kong offered us the chance to pay off our debts, buy our own home and still have a life. We're not exactly wealthy but we're comfortable. I've met a lot of people here who have been offered opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have had if they'd stayed in their home countries. Many have started businesses and are succeeding at things they only dreamt about doing before. There's a feeling here that you can do anything you want to, and I'm finally starting to feel that all the sacrifices, everything we gave up to come here, have been worth it.

6. Blue sky days: I hate the pollution here. I've said it before but I'll say it again, it's the one thing that will make me leave one day. If it's possible to get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) from too much smog, that's how I feel about it. Over the summer we were treated to a long stretch of good weather and clear skies and we saw how spectacular the city could look. It is a gorgeous part of the world, when you can see it.

7. Xiao Long Bao: Chinese pulled noodles in a clear soup with pork won tons (from Crystal Jade, IFC) is on my list of top ten favourite dishes. It's even better when you get seated at a round table with a dozen other single diners all eating an array of mouth watering dishes, expertly wielding their chopsticks and cups of jasmine tea. I have bemoaned the lack of good quality fresh produce here but the abundance of amazing regional specialities is a definite plus.

8. Cleanliness: I've seen people pick their noses, floss their teeth and cut their nails in public here and the throat clearing is just stomach churning! But, it's one of the cleanest cities I've ever been to. Since SARS there has been a massive public education campaign to encourage people to "use cough manners" and keep the streets clean. Public areas are regularly sanitised and disinfected and it's rare to see litter on the streets. There's a silent army of workers out there every day cleaning, gardening, maintaining public areas and doing a damn fine job of keeping the city shiny and hygienic. At the height of swine flu last year we went back to Melbourne. On arriving at the airport I was horrified by the state of the place. The floors were dirty, the bins were overflowing and there was not a cleaner in sight. It really opened my eyes to how clean HK really is.

9. Safety: I feel very safe here. I went out last night and caught a late train home, and at no point did I feel a need to stay in well-lit areas or look over my shoulder. Crime rates are very low and minor crimes like bag-snatching and muggings are rare. People here are just far too honest to consider breaking the law or hurting someone. I really like feeling so secure, it should be that way everywhere. The public transport is also safe and clean. The trains make Sydney's transport system look like something out of the dark ages.

10. The people: The local culture is so very different to our own. The education system has a very different focus and creates a unique mindset which can be infuriating to Westerners. There's a lot that's difficult to understand and there are days when it's impossible to achieve anything because what you're asking is just too hard to explain. En masse, the local people are simply very different to us. I could go on, in detail, but I'm trying to be diplomatic and positive. Despite the obstacles, when you get to speak to someone one-on-one and really get to know them, you find a race of people who are funny, hard working, intelligent, quirky and kind. They have a deep respect for their culture and family, which is at the core of everything they do. They are a full of contrasts, preferring to "save face" rather than risk a confrontation, while at the same time not really caring what anyone else thinks. There's a good reason why China is such a powerhouse and it has so much to do with their work ethics and values. It's a truly fascinating culture, filled with equally fascinating subcultures. I could live here another 20 years and still not fully understand what it is that makes the local people tick, but I would really enjoy trying to figure it out.

So there you have it. I'd love to hear from you if you have something to add to this list. Have a great week everyone!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hong Kong - A Survival Guide

Firstly, I have to mention the changes I've made to the appearance of the blog. I spend so much time looking at the page that I was starting to get a little bored. I discovered some fantastic backgrounds and was inspired to make a few changes, it's a bit like getting a new haircut. I hope you like what I've done and I'd love to hear what you think.

Secondly, I've realised that I've been on my soapbox a bit lately, and I'm probably starting to sound like I don't like Hong Kong all that much. It's true, I struggle from time to time, and I'm intensely homesick as Christmas looms but there are a lot of things I love about this place we now call home. I've decided to write a 2 part series on life in HK. Today's post will be a guide to the top 10 things you need as a parent living in this city. Stay tuned for a post later in the week where I'll give my top 10 things I love about HK. For today, the things you need to survive parenthood in Hong Kong:

1. A decent stroller. Most people I know, including us, own two. One for jogging or going for walks close to home, the other for trips out and about. We recently bought a Maclaren Quest: without a doubt THE best purchase we have made for J. It's light, zippy, easy to fold and comfortable. It reclines nicely for sleeping and has a basket for shopping underneath. It's also so small and light that most cab drivers will let you put it in the backseat beside you instead of in the boot (trunk). There are a vast number of similar light-weight strollers available in places like Bumps to Babes, Mothercare, Eugene Club and Toys R' Us, but they are more expensive here than anywhere else. Check out

2. In a similar vein, a good carrier is also a must. Public transport is not all that convenient when you're using a stroller so it's worth investing in a carrier of some kind. We have an Ergo, which J and my husband love, and it can be used until he weighs around 15kgs. I find it a bit hard on my back and prefer a Baby Bjorn style carrier but they're apparently not great for growing spines. Whatever you prefer, a carrier is an essential piece of equipment.
3. Information: You need to know what to do, where to go, how to find whatever it is you need and who can help you, especially when you're new to HK. There are a few expat websites/forums out there and I have found them invaluable. AsiaXpat is great for buying and selling second-hand goods while GeoBaby is a great source of info on all things pregnancy and baby related. Check out: or My favourite website for HK specific parenting tips is (as I've mentioned before) Little Steps:

4. A coffee machine is also a must if you like your caffeine and you're fussy about how it's delivered. There are some great places to get a decent coffee here but they are few and far between. Pacific Coffee shops are everywhere, and while I'd rate them higher than Starbucks, they're not for the true coffee connoisseur. I like Simply Life in IFC (although it does depend on who's working on the day), LGB (various locations), and Habitu (also a few of them around) for coffee out and about. Otherwise we rely on our Nespresso. I've just done some research on whether or not they use Fairtrade coffee and was pretty appalled by what I discovered. If you're interested in being an informed consumer let me know and I'll pass some info on. If you'd rather just drink a great cup of coffee at home every day you won't regret welcoming a coffee machine, Nespresso or otherwise, into your home: This is one appliance that won't end up in the back of the pantry gathering dust.

5. A Domestic Helper. I have mentioned some of the challenges associated with becoming an employer of a domestic helper in previous posts, but ours is really a member of our family for better or worse. She has made life here much easier given the lack of family around us. Being able to hire someone to look after the housework so I can get on with the job of looking after my son is one of the biggest perks of living in HK. 

6. A good quality, well-stocked nappy bag. We have one from gr8x that opens out to a change mat. ( I find it a bit bulky and there isn't much room for carrying the things I need, like a purse, phone etc so I end up carrying two bags. But, it is great on flights and when you're out trying to use those cold, hard change tables in shopping centres. I also have a small bag that has everything in it for short trips. Things that I always carry with me in HK (apart from the usual nappies, wipes, food etc) are a jacket or muslin cloth to cover your little one indoors (HK air-conditioning can be very chilly even in the middle of summer), clips or cords that attach to dummies/soothers and toys so you don't have to keep picking them up off the floor, and antiseptic, no-rinse hand sanitiser. 

7. A great GP or access to a baby clinic. There are vast differences in the quality of healthcare in clinics across HK. Public clinics are generally free and can be fine, but the doctors, in my opinion, tend to overreact and overprescribe. We see a private GP here and most things are 100% covered by our health insurance (except vaccinations unfortunately). She has known J since birth and it is so reassuring knowing that she knows his complete medical history every time we see her. I had a terrifying experience at my one and only trip to a public clinic with J and won't risk it again. Baby clinics are also a great way to keep an eye on your little one's progress, talk to professionals, and meet other mums. A number of medical centres run them on a weekly basis and there's also a clinic, among many other things, at Annerley ( 

8. Playgroups/playdates: To be honest I'm not sure what it's like for those living on HK island or Kowloon-side but here on Lantau there's really no such thing as taking the kids to the park. There's the beach (if you don't mind dead fish and buffalo poo) and a couple of small play areas, but the only way to allow your little ones to really let off steam is to take them to organised playgroups. I've already mentioned the playgroups we take J to but there are a few other specialised play centres in HK that are worth a mention. Two that have been recommended are Playtown in Pok Fu Lam (, and Roly Pollies in Causeway Bay ( There are also many others around that offer play time in English and Mandarin if you're keen to encourage bilingualism from a young age. I would love to hear from anyone who knows of other places, especially those closer to South Lantau.

And finally 9 and 10: Patience and a sense of humour. Most people here are polite and some can be really quite helpful. But there are others who will push past you, bumping the stroller to get through an open door before it closes. Some days I feel like people are being deliberately unhelpful and others I feel completely invisible. Accepting these things as part of life in a city that has 7 million people crammed into a relatively small area will help you avoid getting too stressed about it. I also find it helps to leave yourself plenty of time to do anything, especially when you're out with a little one. I'm a huge fan of going out on days when I don't actually need to do anything, when we can just wander around and watch the hustle and bustle, and truly appreciate this fairly unique and fascinating place. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Married to the Job

Friends might remember me having a rant a few months ago when my employment status was altered on an application form. I had listed my occupation as "stay at home mum" and the person taking my form crossed it out and wrote "housewife." I had a similar experience recently when applying for a library card. I had the option of ticking a number of boxes in the employment section of the form and the only category that applied to me was again, "housewife." I could've lied on either of these forms and declared myself to be a professor of physics or a self-employed entrepreneur because it's really nobody's business what I do with my time. But I do like to be honest on official documents, especially as we are living very close to the PRC, and you never know who's paying attention.

I strenuously object to being labelled a "housewife" and I apologise if any of you out there wear that term with pride. I mean no offence, I just feel that it's a very outdated term. It instantly evokes images of 1950's wives greeting their husbands with slippers and the day's papers, keeping the kids busy while hoovering and cooking three-course gourmet meals every night. The term itself implies that we're tied to the house in some way, that rather than being a conscious decision, staying at home is our "ball and chain." I'd like to believe that our mothers and grandmothers burnt their bras in the 70's so that staying at home could be a choice for women today. I think it bothers me so much here in Hong Kong because a number of their laws and rules in relation to marriage and family are quite archaic, so it stands to reason that their definition of a housewife is as outdated as mine. There is no recognition of any relationship outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. There is no such thing as de facto status, let alone acknowledgement of a gay marriage. If an expat man is working in Hong Kong, his partner is not eligible for a "dependent" visa unless they get married or she finds an employer to sponsor her. I also object to being labelled a "dependent" but that's another story. We have also had friends here who have had to prove they were married before undergoing fertility treatment. It seems you're not entitled to start a family unless you're officially husband and wife. I might feel differently about being called a housewife in a country with more liberal views, but the limitations placed on what constitutes a family here has me on the warpath.

My husband told me recently that he thinks the only women who don't like the term are housewives themselves. He also suggested that I come up with another, more corporate sounding term, like "Manager of Domestic Affairs." He wasn't taking me seriously at the time, but I do quite like the sound of that. I can't imagine how well that would go down with the bank manager or the immigration office in HK, but it does sound infinitely more important than "housewife," and is probably a much more accurate reflection on what it is we stay-at-home mums actually do. We're not just mums; we're nurses, pharmacists, cleaners, managers, taxi drivers, chefs, teachers, entertainers, diplomats, and jugglers. We work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without holidays or annual bonuses. I don't know many CEO's that work under those conditions.

Since becoming a parent I definitely feel as if I'm managing the household and I have become a lot more organised. I have a calendar on the fridge which outlines every member of the household's movements for the whole month; playgroup, work, doctor's appointments, social engagements, everything is on there. Partly because I have a tendency to forget things if I don't write them down, but also because we're so very busy these days. I may not do the housework myself every day but I do make sure that someone does it, and that it's done to my high standards. And I do it myself on weekends. I also do the grocery shopping, plan meals for the three of us and make sure that we all have clothes to wear, as well as buying all of J's nappies and our cleaning products online. I know where my husband will be and when he is working, even when he doesn't. I have J's routine down to a fine art and I organise 99% of our get-togethers with friends. If I left that job to my husband we wouldn't have any friends!

I'm aware that I may sound like I'm running a small dictatorship, but I'm sure the parents among you completely understand. I do take my role as "Manager of Domestic Affairs" very seriously but only because I enjoy it so much. If I wasn't so organised and engaged I'm afraid I might be bored at home all day. As it is, I love what I do. J is teething at the moment and hasn't been sleeping well at all. He woke up crying several times last night, and even though there were times when my husband got up to him, the only thing that calmed him down was a cuddle with his Mummy. Despite the sleep deprivation, there was nothing else I would rather do, and I don't think there's a label big enough for that kind of commitment.