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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Birth Day

I started this post a while ago for very different reasons to why I'm finally putting it out there now. I have been known to get on the natural birth bandwagon from time to time, and I get quite distressed when I encounter women who are absolutely terrified of giving birth naturally, to the point of choosing to have an elective caesarean instead. I was pretty terrified at one point (and I'm sure I will be again second time round), but if you go in with the right mindset and know everything you can know, it's really not that scary. Trust me, I had such a good experience I'm going to do it again! Before I go off on a tangent, let me explain that I'm telling you my story today because my amazing little man just turned 2. He went from being a helpless, floppy, completely dependent (but adorable) newborn, to a very independent, confident and talkative little boy in such a short time that I cannot believe two years have passed since the night we drove to the hospital in the pouring rain and came home with a baby. It was the most incredible night of my life, and I really feel blessed to have brought such a special little person into the world. I cannot wait to do it again (and maybe again after that :-) Here's how it all went down...

Three weeks before my son was born I got a fright in the middle of the night. Something shifted and I went into what they call "pre-labour." I was quietly dilating and contracting while going about my business, and was totally oblivious to the fact until my next doctor's appointment. I saw my obstetrician three times in those three weeks, and the first two times she examined me and swore that we would have a baby within the next 48 hours. My husband extended his leave to ensure he was by my side, ready to leap into action any time I so much as whimpered (crying out in pain one night from a leg cramp had him halfway to the car before I calmly informed him it was not "go time."), I packed my bag and together we anxiously awaited our fate. In the meantime we did everything the books tell you to do if you're trying to bring on labour, although not always at the same time; for the record, vindaloo is not conducive to romance. On the third and final visit Dr G threw her hands in the air and refused to make any promises, "he'll come when he's ready," she said. Now that I know my son better, I've accepted that as part of who he is, and I love him for it, but at the time I was so desperate to meet him that I grew increasingly frustrated. It wasn't until I gave up and realised he had to come out eventually, that he finally made an appearance.

While we waited that week, we watched a documentary on zoo animals (during a break from eating curry, doing yoga and drinking raspberry leaf tea and pineapple juice), where we learned the interesting little fact that wild animals often go into labour at night, in bad weather, when there are fewer predators around, and we joked that maybe that was what the little guy was waiting for. And so it was, on a wet, windy and cold December night, just after getting into bed, my waters broke. Since the hospital was an hour away we had been advised to leave home when my contractions were 10 minutes apart - they started at 5 minutes apart. By the time we got to the hospital at midnight I could barely walk. I was also one of those annoying women who wanted to give birth without pain relief. Trust me when I tell you that it had nothing to do with being a martyr, I just hated the idea of someone sticking a needle in my spine. So I endured three solid hours of almost back-to-back contractions, all the while dealing with a really unhelpful midwife who kept coming in and telling me that yet another "hypnobirther" in the ward had caved in and asked for an epidural. She'd follow this with "so you want drugs yet?" I had my brilliant husband and my amazing sister-in-law in the room with me and they kept me going.

I had done a lot of research before I went into labour because I wanted to be prepared for what I could expect to happen. I also had an awful lot of time on my hands while I waited. By far the most helpful thing I read was from a book called "Birth Skills" by Juju Sundin (find more info here). She talked about fear leading to tension, and tension leading to pain, or at least increasing it. She also reminds pregnant mums that the pain of childbirth is very different to the pain caused by disease or injury: it's a positive pain caused by your muscles working to help you deliver your baby. It's also a temporary pain. It all made perfect sense to me, and armed with the faith that my body knew what it was doing, I was able to relax and just go with it. You'll be pleased to know that throughout it all I stayed very calm, and only yelled at my husband once. I wasn't a complete hero I have to admit. At around 2.30am I had had just about as much as I could take. My labour had been mercifully short (if you don't count the first three weeks!) but really intense. I was ready to take whatever they could give me to make the pain go away but when the midwife had a little look-see downstairs she was surprised to find that I was ready to push. It was too late for the drugs. I made do with gas and air (a godsend, that made me feel a million bucks) and got ready to meet my son. The doctor arrived, wearing scrubs and gumboots, which I found a little alarming. She told me I'd have a baby by 5am, which seemed like an awfully long time away to me, but I didn't have to wait that long. JWC was born at 3.14 am weighing a very robust 4kgs. The relief was instant, and apart from the overwhelming love and adoration, I also felt kind of proud. I had done it, I had survived childbirth. The pain didn't kill me, I didn't give up, and my trust in my own ability proved worthwhile. Anytime after that when I was sleep deprived and miserable, days when I felt completely helpless because I had no idea what I was doing, I thought back on that night and it gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. It was such a boost - "I gave birth to an enormous (but adorable) baby without drugs, I can do anything."

Giving birth to a baby of that size, in that space of time, isn't without its drawbacks, and I have the scars to prove what I went through. But, without sounding blase or trite, I'd do it all again now that I know what I got in the end.

Those first 24 hours, in fact the first weeks and months have all been blurred in my mind, but the memory of holding my little guy for the first time will stay vividly in my memory forever. I felt like I already knew him, we'd waited so long to meet him, and he'd been with me all that time, but I knew there was still so much we had to learn about each other. We spent the first 12 months of his life focused on the basics that would keep him (and us) alive - food and sleep. Then we relaxed a little and got to know him for the person that he is, and it's been a blast. He's so much like me at times, then so much like his dad at others. Then there are the times when he's a completely unique individual and we look at each other and wonder where he came from. He loves cars, trucks, buses, planes and Thomas the Tank Engine. He adores his daddy, but only mummy's company will do last thing at night and first thing in the morning. He dances around the living room and sings us songs in Mandarin. He loves being outdoors and has been known to wear our shoes, and often looks like a very short version of my father. He eats like a sparrow, has the energy of 10 men, and likes to pretend he is a cat. And we think he is simply awesome. It's been fascinating and fantastic and very, very funny at times, and we can't wait to see what the next 12 months have in store. Happy Birthday my little J bird x

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus

I'm not a fan of public transport here in Hong Kong, especially in winter. There are times, like when visiting Discovery Bay that I don't have a choice, and that's just where I was headed on Friday morning. Friday's bus ride reminded me why I have avoided public transport as often as possible. Firstly I have to state, for the record, I would take public transport in HK over public transport in Sydney any day. Sydney's buses and trains can often resemble some of the worst I've seen in 3rd world countries, and run on some kind of system that holds no resemblance to a schedule. My main issue with transport in HK is generally my fellow commuters and their bodily fluids full of airborne diseases, and their tendency to pick their noses, cut their nails and, I kid you not, floss their teeth. I'm all for multi-tasking but there are limits people!

As I creep into my 3rd trimester of pregnancy I am becoming ever more aware of something that frustrates many expats here - local tunnel vision, and it's never more obvious than when you're pregnant or somehow incapacitated and reliant on others to notice you and open doors/give up their seats/generally be helpful when needed. This tunnel vision, I believe has evolved in the local population after decades of living in a very small area with millions of others, in a dog-eat-dog society, where competition for everything is fierce and crowds are commonplace. It's purely a survival, self-preservation tactic but can also lead to an inability to recognise the needs of others. It's not a deliberate thing, I think it's just a result of living amongst so many others, this inward focus. In my experience there are many people here who are really friendly and really helpful, but there's no middle ground, and many others are really unfriendly and really unhelpful. So on Friday morning when I clambered onto the bus, at the last minute as always, and found myself having to stand, I did what I always do - I tried to catch the eye of someone who might, by the remotest chance, offer me their seat. All of the men appeared deeply engrossed in the day's papers, while the women guiltily looked away, pretended to be asleep or turned to their mobile phones as if just receiving an urgent message. If they can't see the pregnant lady, they can't feel bad for not getting up.

Now, I'm not hugely pregnant yet, but I am very obviously pregnant, it's kinda hard to miss. I could understand in the early days when I was just a little round in the middle and I could have been mistaken for being a tad overweight. Anyone offering me a seat in those days was taking a risk, as the chances of offending me were high and losing face over a fatal error in judgement such as that would be far worse than the guilt over not offering a pregnant lady a seat. But on a crowded bus, on a cold winter's morning, when a woman's belly is so close to your cheek you can practically hear her unborn baby's heartbeat, you've really got no excuse. I'm not saying at this point in my pregnancy I really need to sit down, I feel pretty good, and at that time of the morning I wasn't yet completely knackered - it's the principle of the thing, and the lack of common decency.

It reminded me of a time I caught a bus with a colleague after work one day. I was still sporting a mini-did-she-just-have-a-big-lunch kind of bump but K was heavily pregnant at 36 weeks. The bus was full of schoolkids, parents and helpers, all sitting down, while the 2 of us stood and blocked the aisle with our bumps. I definitely did not need a seat (although it would have been nice) but I could not believe no one got up for K. The number of mothers who sat there and let their kids clamber over the seats while a pregnant lady stood, wobbling in the aisle, bump dangerously close to sharp little elbows and errant schoolbags, was appalling. So, it's not a recent phenomenon and this particular gripe has been a long time in the making. When I was pregnant with J I was pushed, literally shoved out of the way by a man trying to board the MTR as I was getting off. No excuses for that kind of behaviour, none whatsoever.

I took the same trip this morning for my weekly physio appointment and the same thing happened. There was another passenger on the bus who caught my eye. She was also standing and looking at me with that "I can't believe no one is giving you a seat" look. She turned out to be a new nurse at the clinic I go to and as she was giving me my flu shot we talked about the bus ride. She was equally appalled, and being new to Hong Kong was quite surprised. It made me realise that being forced to stand on the bus has become so common now that it no longer surprises me. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not...

I'm a firm believer in karma and I keep hoping that if I always open doors for people with strollers or the elderly and infirm, or give up my seat on the bus, someday it'll pay off and I'll get the same treatment. But for the time being I'm going to stick with the Airport Express or the comfort of my own car, where I'm always guaranteed a seat (unless I have to go to DB again, in which case I'll just have to suck it up!).

Stay tuned next week for my rant on public toilets, titled "Seats are for bums not feet."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A House or A Home?

Time is flying by at the moment. I cannot believe it's December already, and I haven't blogged for 2 weeks. I'm in the middle of writing another article for Playtimes magazine and it has been all consuming. So of course just days from my deadline we decided to take a little break and spent the weekend in Manila, and now I'm blogging, writing something that does nothing to get me closer to finishing the piece I'll actually be paid for. Anyhoo...

We're in a bit of turmoil at present. We bought a house just before J was born and moved in when he was 8 weeks old. It was smaller than the one we were in, didn't have a proper kitchen and, unlike our rental, was only partially furnished and had no outdoor space. I managed to convince my husband that we had to at least paint inside before we moved in and we've managed to re-do the bathroom, but we're still living with mostly second-hand furniture, a truly awful kitchen and a living area that gets smaller every day. I know, cry me a river, at least we own our home, something which isn't always easy or affordable in a place like Hong Kong. It just doesn't feel like home sometimes, and making it more homely will cost money we simply don't have. This is a big issue for me right now (and the cause of the aforementioned turmoil) as I've been bitten by the nesting bug pretty darn hard.

Friends and family who've been to visit recently have all politely enquired, when glancing around at all 800 square feet of our house, where we will put the baby when he/she arrives. We've laughed it off and said "we'll figure it out," secretly knowing that unless we empty a drawer in the wardrobe in our room for little BITO to sleep in, he/she won't fit anywhere. So, we recently made the tough (crazy) decision to try and sell our house before the baby is born. Moving house with a newborn sent me into a state of depression, and caused such unnecessary angst that I swore I would never do it again, so if it doesn't sell before the end of January we'll stay put. Even if we do sell we won't be able to afford to buy again so we'll be renters. But what we could afford to rent is palatial in comparison to what we currently own - a very appealing prospect indeed. We'd also have enough cash to finally be able to buy our own furniture and ditch the Ikea hand-me-downs, hooray!

The week we made this decision, despite all its pros, my blood pressure skyrocketed and I was lying awake at night feeling like I was about to lose something very special. There was such a sense of achievement when we bought this house, our first home, and despite its MANY imperfections, it is ours, and a huge asset. It has a lot of potential, and we had big dreams for the things we were going to do to it, to turn it from a house into a home, and we'd both be really sad if we had to give that up and start living in someone else's house. I keep veering wildly from one side to the other, wanting desperately to sell and move, then secretly hoping we have to stay. One day last week I stood in J's room (my favourite room in the house) and looked around, thinking maybe we could stay, feeling guilty that I was even considering taking my little man away from the only home he'd ever known right before we drop a sibling on him. Then I realised that it's what you do to a place that makes it a home, as long as we took our little bits and pieces with us, all the stuff that is familiar to J, the 4 of us could make a home anywhere. So I was back on the side of selling.

We had a couple come through, prospective buyers, within days of deciding to sell, and it all felt a bit too sudden. I didn't stay and left the inspection to my husband. The dog and child were also banished from the house to give the illusion of space - we didn't want them cluttering up the place! After a wicked woman came through a house we were renting several years ago and told me it was "cosy" with a nasty sneer, or the real estate agents who laughed and said our colour scheme was "so 90's," I've always been a bit defensive during inspections, even more so now that this is my own home and not a rental. So you can imagine my distress when I came home and found that my husband had put away and rearranged some of my objet d'art and trinkets (aka clutter) for the sake of making the place look bigger. I was on the verge of tears as I put it all back, and wanted to pull the pin on the whole business once again.

After spending the weekend in Manila, in a bazillion square foot apartment, with 3 massive bedrooms and a living area that is larger than our house and the one next door combined, I definitely feel like we need to live somewhere bigger. J is a light sleeper and hears me get up to pee in the middle of the night, so you can imagine how much a crying baby is going to affect his sleep. And what about poor BITO trying to catch a nap during the day while his/her big brother is creating a ruckus downstairs? Our marriage only survived the first few months of J's life because we had a spare room: a sanctuary for the sleep-deprived parent to hide away in while the other parent (although equally sleep-deprived) tended to the baby in the other room. What will we do when there's nowhere to escape to? We've had a few more couples come through this week, and while the comments have been mercifully positive ("we love it," "what a view," great bathroom!"), the big but has been the same each time..."it's too small." Which really is stating the bleeding obvious - it's why we're selling!!

Now, after two weeks on this real estate rollercoaster, my husband confessed that he doesn't think we'll be able to sell before my deadline/due date, and we're back to square one. I desperately want to feel settled, to feel like there will be a space for our new little one in a few months time. I want to paint some walls, rearrange some furniture and, when the time comes, buy some gorgeous gender appropriate linen, maybe even some bunting. I want an armchair in a quiet corner of the house that I can breastfeed in without having to watch Playschool or be leapt upon by a couch surfing toddler. I want my baby to be able to sleep peacefully upstairs while I watch Playschool and couch surf with his/her big brother. If we don't sell BITO will be sleeping in a gender-neutral moses basket, wedged into a corner of our bedroom until he/she graduates from high-school. Or maybe we could ditch the beds altogether and lay some tatami mats down on the floor, when in Rome, hey? I wish I was the kind of person who could rise above all that, not be too caught up in material things like houses and nice furniture. I should be happy that my family is happy and healthy, and I am, but these damn hormones (and too much time at home) have me itching to create a more comfortable space for my growing family, whether under this roof or someone else's, and it's deeply unsettling. There's nothing like not knowing where you're going to be living, and not being entirely happy where you are, at a time when the concept of home has never been more important.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jamie Oliver and the Busy Mum

I have been a Jamie Oliver fan for a while now. He's not as snooty as some of the other celebrity chefs out there, and I feel like not only would he be supportive of my tendency to adapt his recipes, he'd probably encourage it. It's not that I have the cheek to try and improve on a recipe by one of the world's most famous chefs, but those of you who have read my gripes about the availability of fresh produce here would know that adaptation is often a necessity.

While I was working I found it really tough to come home every night and think of something to cook for dinner. I tried desperately to be inventive and make meals that we could all eat, but most nights we turned to the old standards - spaghetti bolognese, curry from a jar, or some form of scrambled eggs. My husband, frustrated by my sensitive pregnant digestive system, refused to be responsible for important culinary decisions, after I shrieked for the dozenth time "Euurgh, I can't eat that!" And that was the status quo until one night when we happened to catch an episode of Jamie's "30 Minute Meals." I was captivated by the promise of a decent home-cooked meal on the table in half an hour, and motivated by Jamie's faith in me that I could do it too. The other books of Jamie's that I own have never let me down yet; his recipes seem do-able, and he taught me the basics of awesome pizza and simple, but oh-so-good risotto. So I bought the book and after a few trial and error attempts at one or two of the recipes, I decided to jump in feet first and planned our whole week's worth of dinners using meals from the book. I have to admit that I have yet to cook any of the meals in the promised 30 minutes, but I do not have a food processor, or a proper kitchen for that matter, and there is usually a small person hovering around my knees wanting saucepan lids to bang on while I'm cooking, so things will inevitably take a bit longer. It also helps if you have all of the main ingredients ready at the time of cooking, so you're not rushing over to the neighbour's to borrow mustard for the Mustard Chicken recipe.

My fellow Hong Konger's will know that the most ambitious part of this project of mine isn't the cooking part, it's the grocery gathering. Last night I sat down and made a list of everything I needed for the 5 or so meals I plan to cook this week, and the cupboard is pretty bare, so it was a long list! I only had time to visit one supermarket today and I knew deep down that it wouldn't be enough, but I valiantly hoped that I could at least get everything for one of the meals, for tonight's dinner. I was disappointed when I flicked through the book and found a gentle warning from Jamie that it was probably best not to mess around too much with the recipes when you first started making them. He said that they had all been tried and tested by his team and worked exactly the way they were printed in the book. Well, I'm sorry Jamie, but there was no way I was going to get my hands on Creme Fraiche today, and chicory? Forget it! I was disheartened, knowing it would be impossible to find some of the ingredients here, but I was determined to give it a shot and make it work with what I had.

I walked out of ThreeSixty with maybe two-thirds of the items on my list, and even though I knew there would be at least 2 more shops to visit this week to get everything, I was pretty pleased with that phase of the delicious dinner production process. D is away and I hate cooking for one so tonight I made Cauliflower Macaroni (sorry, couldn't find the recipe online to share it), hoping J would eat it with me. I didn't make the salad (no chicory), or the dessert (block o' chocolate will suffice), and I had to substitute bacon for pancetta, and cream for creme fraiche, but it was delicious! My 2 year-old chose chicken nuggets instead but the whole time we were eating I kept telling him he was seriously missing out, and I went back for more (and there is still a lot left over). I didn't time myself while I was cooking (I didn't need the pressure) but I have to say dinner was ready pretty quickly. Even though the whole point was to cook something tasty, quickly, cooking feels like less of a chore when the end result is that good. I figure if I can cook a decent meal on a two burner bench-top oven, in a tiny Chinese style kitchen, with equal parts enthusiasm and improvisation, in around 30 minutes, then anyone can. The most time-consuming part is the shopping, and the washing up as my husband will attest, but it's definitely worth a shot if you're super busy and looking for something a lot more interesting than spag bol for dinner during the week. And if Jamie can forgive me for messing with his recipes, and I can tolerate 3 trips to 3 different supermarkets to buy most of the required ingredients, we may just have a food revolution in our house (and more time for lazing on the sofa after dinner!).

PS: Thrilled to get a plug this week on http://digitalparents.com.au/ as 'Blogger of the Week,' Yay!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Blue Christmas


Anyone reading last year's posts from around this time would know I'm a Christmas-a-holic (yes, it's a word!). I love all of it, and now that we have our own little growing family, it's become all the more special. My husband was a bit of a Scrooge when we met, never really keen to make a fuss, but it didn't take long for me to wear him down infect him with the Christmas spirit. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to the rituals of the season - pudding Sunday a month before, a fresh tree going up no earlier than the 1st of December, nothing but Christmas carols in the week leading to the day etc, etc. I've adapted a few old traditions and adopted a few new ones since I left home, but the one thing I found really hard to embrace was Christmas in Hong Kong.

Our first year here, we hadn't been here that long when Christmas came around, so spending it here made sense. We had good friends staying with us, and copious quantities of alcohol, but it just wasn't the same. We headed back home in 2008 for an Aussie Christmas, but in 2009 we had a 3 week old baby and another HK festive season was our only option. Last year we spent most of December in Australia but with D having to work Boxing Day we decided to fly back to Hong Kong on the 22nd for Christmas here once again. With an Aussie Christmas so tantalisingly close last year, it was very hard to get on that plane, but being in our own home just the 3 of us, around the tree, doing our own thing, it strangely felt right. In previous years I complained about being "stuck" in Hong Kong, and tried to make the best of what I felt was a bad situation by celebrating the fact that it was cold, baking every hot Christmas treat I could find a recipe for. The mulled wine and mince pies worked their magic and this year, now that I have my Aussie Christmas locked in (at the beach! With my family!) I've realised what I'm going to miss.

Every year that we've had Christmas in Hong Kong we've ordered a tree from our local supermarket. The year J was born it arrived the last weekend in November so it was half dead by the time Christmas arrived, but that has now become a treasured part of our family Christmas - guessing how early the tree will arrive and taking bets on whether or not it will go the distance! I mentioned to D last week that I saw the order forms for the tree when I was shopping, and he said "we'll have to get one." I was shocked but proud that my once anti-Christmas man of the house had made such a drastic turnaround that he was willing, insisting, that we have a tree, all dolled up, despite the fact that no one will be here in December but our helper and the dog.

The reason for his need for a tree, and for my melancholy, is that we're not entirely sure the house will be empty at Christmas... D and I, in our 8 years together, have never spent a Christmas apart. There have been years when he's worked Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, but never Christmas Day. This year he's been told he has 0% chance of getting the day off, but we find out for sure tomorrow night when the December roster comes out. Knowing that we'd likely be apart, I made plans this year, booking a holiday house on the south coast of NSW so that, if D should end up somewhere other than home, J and I would at least be able to celebrate with family, in a place that makes me very happy. We're crossing our fingers and toes that D will be able to join us, but it's highly unlikely, and the thought of a Christmas without him makes me very sad. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that we will be spending Christmas in Australia, and I can't wait for J to spend that time with "Nan and Pop", who he just adores, but something will be missing. Wandering around the shops yesterday looking at all the decorations that are out already, I was almost in tears as I imagined my husband sitting up at home by himself in front of the tree, eating cereal for Christmas lunch before heading off to Taipei or Colombo or somewhere else that isn't very Christmassy at all.

It could be worse, I know. There are families who are separated for long periods, and for more serious reasons. Dads miss birthdays and holidays all over the world, all the time. Given the nature of his job we're really lucky that D hasn't missed more, but this is the first time my little boy's dad will miss Christmas with his family, and that's breaking my heart. It took me a long time living in Hong Kong and fighting it to realise the true meaning of "home is where the heart is." I think this year I've learned that the spirit of Christmas lives there too...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Baby Brain

Unlike Man Flu, baby brain is a genuine, debilitating infection, affectation, inflection, affliction. Some say it's the result of your brain gently marinating in a potent cocktail of baby-making hormones, or the slight rise in your body's temperature. While others believe that the thought of giving birth and adding a new human to your world is such a distraction that your brain can't possibly process anything else. Whatever it is, I don't know any mums-to-be who have escaped this particular pregnancy side-effect.

While you may be a gorgeous, glowing, baby-making goddess on the outside (or not), upstairs there is not a whole lot going on. In other words, the lights are on but no one's home. I noticed a big change when I was pregnant with J, I felt like my brain was turning into swiss cheese, and once he was born things didn't really get better. I must have lost a million brain cells over the last year and dropped a few IQ points just through the sheer effort of trying to keep my tiny human alive, running on very little sleep and desperate for some kind of instruction manual. Not to mention the effort required in putting myself back together physically and dealing with the hormonal "ups and downs" that come after having said baby. Then I fell pregnant again and realised I must've regained some of that previous brain power over the last two years, because once again I've noticed a significantly diminished mental capacity. I am the embodiment of the saying "I'd forget my head if it wasn't screwed on."

On the weekend I updated my Facebook status, joking that I should not be left in charge of small children or allowed to operate heavy machinery. But I was only half-joking. Just that morning I had been to the supermarket and wandered around aimlessly until I remembered what it was I actually needed. I had written a list but forgot to take it with me! I ran through a mental list of all the ingredients in the dish I was cooking (a basic beef stroganoff) but still drew a blank on what I was missing. In the end I remembered, mushrooms, aha!  But later that day I walked out the door and left my keys behind. It wasn't until I got to the car that I realised. I forget what I'm saying mid-sentence and some days my son has a better vocabulary than I do. I often go upstairs to get something, get distracted by something else, and come back downstairs without what it was I went up there for in the first place. Just today I was filling in forms for J's playgroup enrolment and I had no idea what day it was, let alone what the date was. Don't get me started on how overwhelmed I was by the direct debit authorisation form...

The upside to all of it is that I am completely oblivious to everything else going on around me. I can sit back in my baby-induced haze and play with my little boy all day. Now that I've finished work (goodness knows what I taught those poor children) I don't need much thinking power. Which is just as well because I'm going to be relieved from grocery shopping duty pretty soon, and if I leave the oven on one more time, cooking might be out of the question too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Growing Up

When I found out I was pregnant I made a mental list of all the things I would need to do before baby numero due arrived. Apart from spending as much quality time with J as possible, making him less dependent on me was high on my list. I was determined not to have 2 kids in nappies and I really wanted him to be better at feeding himself (or at least more willing to). Then I had an attack of mummy guilt - not only would I be shaking up his tiny world and inflicting a sibling upon him, I was also planning on hurrying him up on the whole growing up thing. I asked myself, was it really fair to expect him to give up his bottles and dummies simply because they were an inconvenience to me?! I decided I wasn't going to do anything drastic while I was working and chose to leave toilet training and dinnertime battles off the agenda for a few months. Partly because I wanted to be able to give those issues my full attention but also because I wanted to delay the inevitable just as much as I imagined my son did.

Then a remarkable thing happened. In just a few short months J has gone from putting two words together to making sentences and "talking" about concepts like friends and colours, and would you believe it, he also chats away in Cantonese... His memory is outstanding and he has started to make choices and clearly express what he wants, and really clearly express what he doesn't want. Just last week he showed the first signs of an imagination as he hopped in a toy car and waved goodbye, telling me with great delight that he was going to Mui Wo. He has a great sense of humour and he tells us when he's "shy" or "scared". The very fact that he understands what what those words mean astounds me. He even takes himself off to his little time-out corner when he knows he's been naughty, I mean, how do I discipline a kid that does that? This morning he told me he needed to do a wee and motioned for me to help him to sit on the toilet (nothing came of it but I was still pretty darn impressed by his initiative!). In other words, without very much input from me at all, my little boy is growing up. And very quickly too.

I admit there was that initial thought that perhaps I might have some work to do to encourage my little man to be more independent, but not a great deal of what has happened lately was the result of a conscious choice on my part. We wanted to capitalise on his self-awareness so when he started telling us he needed a nappy change, we bought a potty and we talked about what it was for, but we haven't exactly been proactively teaching him how to use it. I tried pretty hard to enforce some manners on the kid but everything beyond "please" and "thank you" he learned on his own. Maybe I'm not giving us enough credit. I'm sure we've done something right at some point to lead our child to this newfound independence and verbal ability, but to be completely honest, I'm not really sure what.

Despite my son's obvious prodigiousness, there will need to be some active changes made over the coming months, purely for my own convenience. Once the baby arrives I won't have time to cut each piece of J's toast into 2x2cm squares and he may need to learn how to eat a whole banana (as opposed to having it peeled and sliced for him), but I figured since he's practically toilet-trained himself I'll let him keep the bottles and dummies for now. He may very well decide next month that he doesn't need them anymore (a long-shot at best) as he seems determined to grow up with or without my encouragement. It's a bittersweet mixture of overwhelming pride and sadness, watching my baby turn into a boy, but I'm beyond thrilled that I'm about to do it all again. Does that mean I'm growing up too?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Name Game

My regular readers would know that I'm kind of obsessed with names. The first post I wrote about the topic (this one) is the most read post on this blog, so I'm guessing it's a topic of interest to all of you out there too. I've mentioned before that I had J's name chosen long before I had a ring on my finger, I just never thought about what I might name my second child...

When I was pregnant with J I was convinced, initially, that I was having a girl. I had also decided that my baby girl was going to be named Zoe. Then we had friends name their daughter Zoe, a couple of months into my pregnancy, and I still loved the name, but I lost interest. I've really liked a lot of girls names since then but I still haven't found "the one." I was chatting to a friend about this recently. We agreed that there is that moment when you chose a name where you kind of go, "hmmm, Mary, that's a really pretty name." You try it out with your surname and a few potential middle names, you like the sound of it, you might even write it down to see how it looks. And suddenly you find yourself picturing what your little Mary looks like. You might even secretly refer to your baby as Mary in your mind. When my husband and I found ourselves both doing that with J we knew there was no other name for our baby boy.

This time round we once again have a boy's name picked out. We're still open to suggestions but there's one name that we both adore, and after J was born we said if we ever had another boy we'd give him this particular name. Once again, friends have recently had a baby boy and they gave him this name, but this time round we don't care. The likelihood of these boys growing up together is remote (now that I've said that they'll probably be best friends!) and the parents in question aren't the kind to be put out that someone else loves the name and wants to use it. I just wish I could find a girl's name that I love with such conviction.

I thought I had found it today. I was teaching a little girl recently, quite possibly one of the sweetest kids I've ever had the pleasure of working with, and she got me thinking about this name. It's not the kind of name I would ever have imagined for my daughter in a million years, but just this morning I heard the name on TV (and the girl attached to it was also very sweet). I started thinking about the little girl from school and tried the name on for size. I liked it, and it met most of my criteria - short, simple, pretty, good for an adult or a baby, almost nickname-proof. Then I took J out and we happened to run into the very same girl I had been thinking about! I thought it was a sign from the universe. My husband's response when I asked him what he thought of this name was a very straightforward but definitive "no." So we're back to the drawing board.

When my parents were here recently my dad kept referring to the baby as April, because that's when he thought I was due. Even when I corrected him he kept it up and that got me thinking that April's a pretty cute name for a girl. April's my favourite month of the year, we got married in April, I was thinking maybe it could work, but D was horrified I was even considering naming our child after a month. D and I sometimes agree on names we like, but we mostly disagree and neither of us has come up with a girl's name we both love. I like Kate, he prefers Katherine. He loves Isabella, but I think it's too long to go with our surname. We both like Grace, but we don't love it. Not to mention all the beautiful names, already given to children by our friends, that we've had to cross off the list. I just know if we have a girl, she's going to be known as Baby Girl C for at least the first week of her life! I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps our inability to settle on one perfect girl's name is simply a sign that we're destined to have only boys...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Tip Tuesday - Visitors

Yes, Top Tip Tuesday is back, but temporarily. I'm at home sick with the flu and am taking advantage of the time off to get some writing done.

We've had a few people come to visit us since we moved here four long years ago, most of them just passing through on their way somewhere else, but others who really want to see as much of Hong Kong as they can. Once they've been here a few times they want to do less of the touristy stuff and more of the hanging out with their loved ones (i.e. us) but between friends and family, we've managed to see a lot of the city's main attractions several times over. I recently had the pleasure of having my parents visit, and the prospect of having them here was both exciting and terrifying. Not only was it the first time they had been to Hong Kong, it was the first time they had left Australia. They arrived wide-eyed and exhausted with their brand new luggage and with the ink barely dry on their brand new passports. They're from the country and Mum used to get stressed coming to visit me in Sydney, so I knew planning a week's worth of activities was going to be tough. I desperately wanted them to enjoy their time here, and to show them as much as I could without overwhelming them completely. I didn't want to scare them off overseas travel for good, so the pressure was on. They were also bringing my 10 year old nephew, so I had to factor in kid-friendly outings as well.

I took care of the kid's needs by putting the 3 of them up at Hong Kong Disney's Hollywood Hotel. It was reasonably priced compared to other hotels in the area, and they were close to us without being on top of us (we live in 800 sq feet - there isn't room for the 3 of us, let alone 3 more!). Meals were expensive at the hotel's restaurants but we took care of breakfast by stocking up at Wellcome and they ate with us for other meals. Being so close to Disneyland also made a day at the park possible, and more bearable, as they could come and go as they pleased.

For the rest of the week I made sure we had one rest day for every busy day and that seemed to work quite well. As I said, we've had a few people visit since we moved here and we've always stuck with the same, well-worn tourist routes. This time we did a few things a bit differently and despite my mother nicknaming me "the General" for my planning, everyone had a good time. So here are my tips for entertaining friends and family when they come to visit:


  • One of the things I love the most about Hong Kong is just how different each little pocket of the city is from the next. There is so much to see and do that it would take several trips of a few weeks each to see just half of it. We didn't get to Sai Kung or venture deep into the heart of Mong Kok, we didn't get up the peak, and the closest my parents came to eating a Chinese dish was my helper's sweet and sour pork, but I really tried to show them that this place is truly a city of contrasts.
  • A trip to Lantau is a must. We live here so it was a given that we would spend a lot of time on the island, but it is always great to see the surprised looks on people's faces when you drive over that hill or step off the ferry and they're greeted by rolling green hills, long stretches of beach, and buffalo roaming freely - it's the last thing people expect when they come to HK. I couldn't have done anything worse than drag my parents into the madness of Mong Kok after their 9 hour flight, so we spent the whole of their first day here, on Lantau. We visited the Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and Ngong Ping Village, and it was a great introduction to just one of the many contrasts of this city. Later in the week we also headed down to Pui O beach to watch the buffalo and take in some of the spectacular scenery around here. 
  • A ferry ride is also a fun, cheap activity and even if you just get the Star Ferry across the harbour, it's a great way to see the city from a different angle. 
  • We spent almost an entire day traipsing around Stanley Markets - something I have not done in a very long time. It's not for the fainthearted and the sheer effort involved in getting there and back makes it less popular in my book. We attempted it on a Friday afternoon, before a public holiday and it took us a nauseating two hours to get home. But we all enjoyed it and Mum shopped up a storm. It's the kind of place where not much bargaining goes on, and you might find the prices a little steeper than they are in places like the lanes, but it's a gorgeous part of HK and I love it for the cheap baby clothes!
  • On their final night here we took Mum and Dad for dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. The buffet there is amazing (albeit pricey) and with great views over the harbour, the location couldn't be better. We arrived early so that we'd be finished dinner by 8pm, in time to watch the Symphony of Lights (ok, I stayed at the table and helped myself to the dessert buffet while everyone else watched the light show). It's tacky but brilliant, and you can't help but love a city that sets a gaudy light show to even gaudier music every single night. 
  • We also bunkered down for a few nights in a holiday house while a typhoon raged around us, and that was pretty exciting. But my mother will probably tell you it was nothing compared to taking the MTR on a Friday night during peak hour. Of all the things that we did that week, these were the least favourite with our guests...
Typhoon Nesat put a damper on a number of our plans for the week, but overall I think it was a success. Here are just a few of the things/places we can recommend from previous jaunts with vistors:
  • The Peak is still the most popular place to go to get a great view of the city. Getting a taxi all the way up there and then the tram down is the best way, but there are a million different ways, if you feel like chugging up the hill on a mini-bus or queuing at the peak tram station for hours at the bottom of the hill. Walking back down can also be fun (no, really!) and gives you an idea of just how small this place really is. I wanted to take my folks to the new Sky 100 in the ICC, Kowloon, then I learned it wasn't free. It's a fine option if you don't want to battle the crowds at the peak and will certainly give you a different perspective. My mum had some time at the Ritz Carlton Spa (in the same building - apparently the highest spa in the world) and said the views were spectacular. I felt nauseous just going up there in the lift with her so I took her word for it. But, if you can stomach it and don't mind paying the entry fee, Sky 100 is a good way to show your guests the lay of the land, so to speak.
  • Hong Kong Park, on Cotton Tree Drive, Central, is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. I've always seen it as a welcome bit of respite in the middle of all that madness, and anyone we've taken there has loved it too, as much for the unexpectedness of it as for its beauty. The Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware is another little surprise tucked away in a corner of the park, and anyone who loves a quiet cup of tea, or quaint, china-filled museums will be delighted if you take them here. 
  • Food is pretty high on the list of priorities for any traveller worth his salt, and we have two places that are guaranteed to please every time. I'm not brave enough to eat from the dai pai dongs that line the streets so if you're looking for a truly authentic Cantonese experience, you'll have to look elsewhere! The best meal I've ever had in Hong Kong can be found at Crystal Jade in IFC. You have to try their Xiao Long Bao: Pork wontons in steaming broth with fresh pulled noodles. At $30HKD a bowl it certainly won't break the bank. It is food I will queue for, and food I am willing to sit at a table with 8 strangers to eat, it's that good! When my father-in-law was here recently we decided to splurge and took him to one of the few Michelin Starred Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong - Ming Court, in the Langham Hotel, Mong Kok. It was unlike anything I've ever eaten, the staff were wonderful, and the food was unforgettable - in a good way. It was expensive, but not so expensive that the prices weren't on the menu (you know the places I'm talking about - where if you need to ask how much it is, you probably can't afford it...). 
I can think of a lot more places to see and things to do but these here are the ones I can recommend from personal experience. I'd love to hear from you if you have any recommendations you'd like to share. (For the record, my parents will be back - they're already planning their next trip!).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pink or Blue?

We're finally at that crucial stage in our pregnancy where we can find out whether we're having a boy or a girl. But, we've spent the last 19 weeks debating about whether or not we actually want to. When we were expecting J we agreed that we didn't want to know: we both wanted that moment in the delivery room when someone would joyously shout "it's a....!" Unfortunately at my 20 week scan we had an obstetrician who had not met us before and despite being told that we didn't want to know, he hovered the scanner thing over something resembling a little acorn, and later referred to our baby as "he." My husband refused to believe that we had just found out our baby's gender completely unintentionally, but from that moment on I knew we'd be buying blue.

This time round I've really wanted to know ahead of time. I don't have a strong feeling either way, and I can't even look at the timing and work out from dates what this baby might possibly be as none of this was timed! It has been a completely different pregnancy from the first, and my husband gamely suggested that I must surely be having a girl, what with all the extra mood swings I've been subjecting him to... I will genuinely be surprised (and thrilled) whatever the outcome. It's a given here that you'll find out and a lot of people assume you want to know. With monthly scans in the private system, it's hard for people to understand why you wouldn't want to know when it's so easy to find out. I was determined that second time around I'd have control over when and how I found out, and we agreed that we should find out sooner rather than later, so we'd be prepared. But I was never comfortable with the idea of telling anyone else. I love trying to guess and waiting for that big announcement when my friends have babies, and I feel like some of the excitement is lost if you know months in advance that so-and-so is having a baby boy and they're naming him "X". At the same time I've battled with how I could possibly keep it a secret if I did know, as I've mentioned before, I'm not great with secrets. Lately D has been wavering too, veering towards not wanting to know. The decision has been mostly out of our hands as we've met with reluctant doctors and sonographers who refuse to tell us until they can tell us with absolute certainty. It didn't help that our little BITO (bun in the oven) had his/her legs crossed defiantly at my last scan...

I'm booked in for my 20 week scan on Tuesday and I had resolved that this would be the day I would find out for sure whether or not I could go out and buy lots of little pink things, or pull out all the little blue things I've been storing. I've heard people say that they feel more able to bond with the baby when they know what it is and can give it a name ahead of time. Others say that since it's going to be a surprise whenever you find out, why wait? I was convinced that finding out was the right thing for us until D came to the conclusion a few days ago that he definitely does not want to know. I felt like this left me with a really big decision to make. Do I find out myself and try my best not to give the game away for the next 4 months? Or do I simply sit back and wait until the big day? I was moaning about my dilemma to a good friend yesterday and she very wisely suggested that since I am so appalling with secrets, and have no valid reason other than my own impatience to find out, then perhaps I should wait. As frustrated as I was to be getting absolutely no sympathy here, I had to admit that she was right. Now I just have to hope we don't find out by accident so I get my big delivery room moment after all...

So, what did you do? Find out ahead of time, or keep it a surprise? Is it better to know and be prepared? Or is it ok if your baby girl wears blue for a few weeks? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tea and Cake and The Art of Being Alone


I spent a lot of time on my own when I was young and single. Totally unaware of how lucky I was to have that kind of freedom, I spent many nights on the sofa with my cat, pining for a hand to hold. I lived alone for quite a few years and there were weekends when I could go a whole day without having a single conversation (with someone who actually talked back, as opposed to the cat...). I was far too young to be so alone, but rather than actually do anything about it I frittered away my early twenties, in a granny flat, cat on my lap, Bridget Jones style, lamenting over where I went wrong with Mr Oh-so-wrong. I was self-sufficient and independent and the whole lot of it was character building and I'm grateful for it, but deep down, until I met my husband, I was seriously quite lonely.

Since moving to HK I've had to get used to my own company again. Being married to a pilot you don't really have much of a choice! My husband can be away for long stretches of time and before J was born I had a lot more time on my hands that I had to try and fill. It sucked when we first moved here, especially in those very early days before we had TV or internet connected, but after a few nights of sleeping smack bang in the middle of the bed, I learned to adapt and capitalise on that time on my own. I still sit on the sofa, dog in my lap, but now I take the opportunity to watch trashy TV shows that my husband wouldn't approve of, or eat more than my share of chocolate ice cream when he's away. I've also been known to take advantage of his absence and rearrange the furniture on a solo night at home (sad, but true). It took me a while, but after all those years of buying meals for one, I learned to really like being alone. Then I buggered it up by having a baby and ensuring I would not be alone again (not often anyway) for a very long time.

Out of necessity, J and I were constant companions for most of the first year of his life, which was lovely at times, but quite a struggle at others. I longed for a bit of space and on the toughest days I took to spending a really long time in the shower, just to have a moment to myself. Of course, the whole parenting thing has been a lot easier for a while now, and our little man is at an age where he is genuinely great company. We can hang out, play, and have something resembling a conversation, and I miss him when I have to leave him behind for any length of time. I've chosen to forego time to myself, and my skills in the art of being alone have been all but forgotten due to lack of practice. On Sunday afternoon I found myself in Elements mall, sitting down with a cup of tea and cake all by myself, and for a moment I returned to that awkwardness I used to avoid so desperately. I used to hate eating alone, or even being anywhere in public alone, engaging in something that should be shared, like eating in a restaurant, movie watching or shopping for homewares. I sat there for a while, unsure of what to do with myself, wishing I had a book, or at least a magazine to hide behind so I'd look less alone, like I did once upon a time. But times have changed and as soon as I took that first bite of cake and realised no one was trying to climb into my lap, there was no Thomas the Tank Engine DVD blaring in the background, and best of all, no one to share the cake with, I was ecstatic! It was a short-lived, but blissful return to the days when I could be by myself and be ok with it.

Don't get me wrong, I never regret a minute spent with my son (and for the record, I do miss my husband when he's away!), but these days the only time I get to myself is very brief, and is usually spent doing something practical and boringly necessary, like having a shower or going to the doctor. On Sunday I had a moment, and I embraced it with open arms, relishing the opportunity to just sit and be still and eat cake, all by myself for a change.

Then about halfway through my afternoon tea I felt the pitter patter of baby feet from the inside, reminding me that I'm never truly alone anymore, and I won't be for quite some time. And that was even sweeter.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Commitments

As I feared this poor blog has taken a bit of a hit in recent weeks. I'm going to blame working full-time, being pregnant (i.e. bloody exhausted) and wanting to spend as much time as possible with my little guy in my time off. I have to say it has been totally worth it and I've not regretted a minute of the last 6 weeks. I have however, learned that I really shouldn't commit to writing a regular, weekly Top Tip post when I there is no possible way that I could see that through. For the record, I've also abandoned my friends, husband, the dog, the garden, my hopes for a quiet life and daytime naps.

Anyway, that is all about to come to an end and I will be a lady of "leisure" (aka bored housewife) once again. I finish work on Friday. Contrary to what you might be thinking, I didn't pack it in because it got too hard, and I didn't totally screw up and get fired (unless you count getting pregnant, which is actually my husband's fault), I have simply been replaced. The school started recruiting as soon as they learned I was pregnant and happened to find a top-notch candidate immediately. Awfully convenient for them, but just plain disappointing for me. I was considered a top-notch candidate myself not so long ago... So despite completely dreading the idea of going back to work full-time, and feeling quite sick and whinging non-stop for the first couple of weeks, I went on a very long and complicated mental journey where I overcame all of those obstacles, pushed aside my doubts, battled my demons etc and came out feeling quite positive about it all. And I actually really liked it, much to my surprise. I hated having to set an alarm and I hated the screaming, clinging, soul destroying protests of my son as I tried to leave each morning, but I loved the work. I loved being needed for something more than apple juice and transport to playgroup. I loved having adult conversations all day and having something other than poo and tantrums to discuss at the end of the day. I loved having to care about what I looked like when I walked out the door, and having a reason to blow dry my hair (not that I had time for that mind you). One of the best things about working was going to the ATM at the end of the month and still having cash in the bank! Getting to know a whole new group of lovely people and awesome kids was just the icing on the cake.

I was late almost every morning and I left early every afternoon but I was driven to keep going every day by the commitments I had made; to the school, to my husband and to a career that was going nowhere very fast. I'm kind of bummed that, in the end, the school wasn't as committed to me as I was to it, but I got so much out of the experience that I'll get over it. Just like I got over the fact that I had to leave my son behind every day, that I wasn't there when he split his head open on a playdate (I was there as the Dr stitched him back up though), and that I haven't had any time for anyone or anything else lately.

I'm really not sure how I'll feel when the new school year rolls around in August 2012 and I have a 2 year old and a 6 month old baby but I am so glad that I listened to all of you who told me I could go back to work and everything would be ok. I know what I need to be doing when I do decide to go back again (or when the kitchen drives me mad) and it was worth it all just for that. For now I'm committed to getting fat, spending quality time with those I love and throwing out that damn alarm clock! And maybe, just maybe I'll have time to start writing again...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Empire State of Mind

Ten years ago today I was 22, living by myself in a tiny flat in Canberra, and working 6 days a week. On the day the world changed forever I turned the radio on shortly after waking up and heard the news that the World Trade Centre had been hit by a plane. At that stage it was thought to be an accident. I arrived at work to find my colleagues gathered around the TV in the office, and by then it was obvious that this wasn't an accident at all. We only had the TV out because a few days earlier we had proudly watched Australian Lleyton Hewitt win the US Open: it seems like such a trivial little detail to remember but nothing about that day made sense, why should my memory of it be any different? We stood there all morning, transfixed. We went about our business in stunned silence and cried openly as we watched the twin towers fall. It felt so surreal, like we were watching a horror film. At the end of that day I called my family and close friends and told them that I loved them, and to this day, I still do it more often than I used to. We were so far away from the tragedy infolding that it was already the 12th of September where we were, but at the same time we were connected to it by a sense of profound sadness and loss, that we shared with billions around the world. We knew that for those of us who were alive on that day, nothing would ever be the same. The world as we knew it, would never be the same.

Today, as I remember the events of that awful, godless day, I'm still deeply sad. Sad for the individual losses: for those who died and the fear they must have felt, for those who lost loved ones, the children who will never know their fathers. I'm sad for what we lost as a global community, all those lives, that innocence, that sense of freedom that was replaced with shock and grief and fear. But while I'm sad, and at times a little afraid, I'm remembering with overwhelming respect and admiration those who survived. The world's most celebrated, most resilient, most amazing city and the way it picked itself up and rebuilt. Those who refused to let the bad guys win, and those who turned a horrible tragedy into inspiration to live a better life. The people who honour their lost loved ones by continuing to live one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. And each and every person who remembers exactly where they were that day. They give me hope that my son will never know a day like 9/11.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Secrets and Lies

I'm afraid, dear readers, that I have been keeping a pretty big secret for a while now, and it's been tough. I'm not good with secrets. I can keep other people's without hesitation, but my own, especially when there really aren't any consequences for blabbing, are a lot less likely to stay in the vault. It's even harder when your secret is good news. Once you've confided in one friend, it's easy to confide in a few more, and then suddenly you're announcing it to the other mums at playgroup. There were people we had to tell - a few key family members, and then of course there was the inevitable, "well, if they know, we really should tell..." I had to tell my boss, even before I told my parents, and then I felt bad that all my colleagues knew and so I shared it with a few more friends.

Like winning the lotto and not having the money in the bank yet, this unexpected piece of news didn't feel real until I told people. While I felt guilty telling virtual strangers, it was easier to tell people who weren't emotionally invested in it. If it had turned out that we'd had our numbers wrong, it would've been a lot easier to accept sympathy from the neighbours than having to deal with those closest to us, who also would've felt like they had lost something. The thing I struggled with the most was not being able to blog about it. I'm so honest here that it felt wrong, almost like I was lying by omission, to keep it off these pages. I promised my husband there would be no cyber announcement of any kind until we had told all of our family members. This of course led to a heated debate about who we each consider to be "family."

I did, despite having a very big mouth, feel quite protective about my little secret. I wanted to choose who I told and when I told them, and I hoped my close friends would hear it from me before it made its way around the grapevine. I had a few people ask me outright if I had recently had some good news. I have to admit I denied it a few times, and those closest to me here denied it on my behalf (thank you dear friends!). I did feel bad denying it and even lying about it, rolling my eyes melodramatically while exclaiming, "oh no! Definitely not!" It did get progressively harder to deny, and was made harder by the fact that I have been walking around looking like this for several weeks now...


So you see, despite my fairly recent protestations about not being ready for another baby, mother nature clearly had other plans and I am 13 weeks pregnant. We knew we'd have another one eventually, but we've got a lot going on this year, so it wasn't on the agenda at all. Once the initial shock wore off and the nausea set in, it all felt very real, and I had a serious case of deja vu - it really didn't feel like that long ago that we were in this position. The last time I fell pregnant without trying to, it didn't end well, so I really felt like this one wouldn't stick either, which is crazy I know. Until last week I felt like death, sicker than I've ever felt before. This time round it's like extreme pregnancy - I'm sicker, more tired, ferociously cranky one minute and desperately weepy the next (so, now you might understand why going back to work was so tough!). But despite all that I'm absolutely thrilled. Each week that has passed, every time I've seen my little button on an ultrasound or heard his or her heartbeat, I've done a little dance and I could not be happier. As you can imagine, 13 weeks of keeping this to myself has meant that I have a lot of things to say on the subject, but for now I just wanted to get it off my chest, finally! We're 6 months away from becoming a family of four, life is sweet, the secret's out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Top Tip Tuesday - The Mini-Break

This week I have holidays on my mind, and I have decided to do a special feature on getaways. Hong Kong isn't exactly the kind of place where you can jump in the car on a Friday afternoon and head to the coast for the weekend. People do, but their idea of the coast is South Lantau and since we live there, it's not exactly our idea of a break. While there's something quite appealing about needing a passport to go just about anywhere else, I've always found it slightly frustrating that short road trips are out of the question. This week I thought I'd do a quick list of places for parents to escape to, without the kids. We've only done this once (see April Antics and Modern Dilemmas) and it was well worth the angst it caused in the lead-up. I really enjoyed having a meal with my husband while wearing nice shoes, waking up when we felt like it, and having adult conversations. Of course I was desperate to get home again but another parent mini-break is on the cards before we become a family of four. If you can't bear to be away from your little ones for a night or two, all of the places I've listed would also be nice if you took them along, but a little less romantic...

Macau - Not overly romantic unless you're into casinos and smoking Chinese men around every corner, but Macau is far enough away that you do feel like you've gotten away, but close enough that you could be back home in under 2 hours if you needed to be. We stayed at the Venetian when we visited, but I'm very keen to check out the new Galaxy (especially the Spa) at some point. Ferries run every half hour throughout the day and if you're feeling really indulgent and romantic, there's also a helicopter service. Make sure you make the effort to visit the old town and experience some of the local culture.

Hanoi - Hanoi (Vietnam) is one of my favourite places in the world. We've been there a few times now and we've seen different sides to it each time, it's a truly fascinating place. Hanoi is only an hour and a half flight from HK and there are several flights a day. I should mention that you will probably need a visa to enter the country, so there's no room for spontaneity, but really, how often can you be spontaneous these days? There are many, many accommodation options with hugely varying prices and standards but for a couples retreat you can't go past the Sofitel Metropole, the best hotel I have ever had the good fortune to stay in. It's tucked away in a quiet part of the Hoan Kiem district, but it's walking distance from all the action of the markets, street stalls and the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake. But you may not want to leave the hotel...

Singapore - Singapore is similar to Hong Kong in a lot of ways, but so different in others. The Singaporeans do luxury very, very well, and with the city being only 2 hours flight from HK it's a tempting option. Wherever you stay, must-do activities include: a trip to the awesome Singapore Zoo, shopping on Orchard Road, dinner at Clarke Quay and a Singapore Sling at the gorgeous Raffles Hotel. Or book a night at the Marina Bay Sands and stay right where you are until it's time to go home.

Phuket/Bali - While I love the idea of lazing on a beach without a sandy little hand dragging me down to the water (actually, I lie, I love the sandy little hand!), a trip to Phuket (3.5 hours) or Bali (4 hours) might be too far for some, especially if you're leaving little ones behind. We had a weekend in Phuket a few years ago (Friday to Sunday) and it was lovely. The only downside was leaving on Sunday afternoon while our friends were still in the pool, getting home at 11pm and having to work the next day... However, there are loads of hotels catering for couples (check out http://www.tripadvisor.com/) and the flight schedules do allow for a decent break if you choose to just go for a weekend. If an afternoon nap, a lazy swim, dinner and cocktails on the beach, a sleep in and a leisurely brunch before your late afternoon flight sound worth the 4 hour flight, then these are definitely great places to try.

Hong Kong - Believe it or not, it is possible to have a mini-break right here in our hometown. I know a couple who routinely book a night at a nice hotel in the city just to catch up and get a good night's sleep. If it's a special occasion and you can afford to splash out try the Peninsula, Intercontinental, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental or the Island Shangri-La. Whether you're pressed for time or you just hate the idea of being in a different city to your kids, a romantic 'staycation' might be the answer. For great hotel deals check out Booking.com.

As I said, this mini-break concept is new to me, so I'd love to hear from you if you have any other ideas or recommendations. Here's hoping some of you are inspired and find some useful information here!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

6 Minutes

J very reliably wakes up every morning between 5 and 6am. He rarely "sleeps in" until 6.30, so we generally have no need for an alarm clock. This week I've set one every day, just in case. On Wednesday morning, when J happened to wake up at 6.36am, I learned several, very valuable lessons, about the alarm on my phone, and the difference 6 minutes can make...

  • The alarm on the iPhone will only go off if the phone is switched on. On Wednesday, mine was switched off.
  • Murphy's Law dictates that the day my alarm isn't going to go off is the day my son decides to "sleep in." 
  • 6 minutes can be the difference between yummy, nutritious, stomach filling porridge and boring, low-everything weetbix for breakfast.
  • 6 minutes means unwashed hair and a ponytail, no earrings and lunch from the cafeteria.
  • Getting up 6 minutes later meant that I was calling for a cab later and not getting through because everyone else in the neighbourhood was calling for a cab at approximately 7.20am on Wednesday morning.
  • Not getting a cab meant that my husband had to drive me to the bus stop. J's "sleep in" meant that he hadn't had time for breakfast so I sat in the back seat and fed him his cereal on the way.
  • 6 minutes of extra sleep and no cab made me 10 minutes late to the bus stop. I missed my bus and just made it on to the next bus. The difference between the 7.55am bus and the 8.05 bus is about 50 more passengers and standing up for the entire journey.
  • Leaving the bus stop 10 minutes later meant arriving at work 5 minutes late instead of 5 minutes early.
  • I spent the entire day flat out trying to catch up. I made up some time throughout the day but I still missed my bus home by about 2 minutes. The next one was 20 minutes later.
  • Getting home 20 minutes later meant launching into the late afternoon bounce on the bed that is now standard practice before we launch into dinner-bath-bed, instead of my afternoon cup of tea and chocolate biscuit. 
This week I've spent roughly 100 minutes waiting for buses. I've eaten 5 tubs of yoghurt, 4 bananas, 5 cereal bars, and 10 carrot and apple muffins. I've spent $65 at the cafeteria, and $94 on Belgian chocolate milkshakes at Haagen Dazs in Tung Chung. I wore 5 different outfits but only 2 pairs of shoes. I've climbed countless stairs and only used the lift 7 times. I've sent my helper about a dozen texts to check on my son, and twice that many to my husband. I managed to be on time for work only 2 days out of 5 and I learned the difference 6 minutes can make to your whole day. 

Today I got 2 extra hours of sleep, breakfast in bed and a whole 11 hours with my son, and I learned just how much I love the weekend.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Top Tip...Oh, Never Mind

Yes, I realise I'm Top Tipping on a Wednesday again, but I think the fact that I'm managing to post anything at all this week is an achievement beyond expectations. And now for the bad news, I don't actually have any real tips, it's more of a general ramble that you may or may not get something out of... If you read my last post you'll remember that I have started a new full-time job this week. It's been tough, tougher than I imagined and I am so exhausted that I'm struggling to put together coherent sentences at the moment. I woke up on Monday morning so nervous that I thought I might throw up, and since then there have been several moments where I was tempted to simply walk away and never look back. I hate leaving my little boy and I hate being so tired when I get home that I don't have the energy to play with him. My son has a birthday party to go to tomorrow and I didn't have time to buy a present for the birthday girl. He has a party at playgroup on Friday and I'm supposed to provide party food, but all I can manage is a plate of orange slices because I don't have time to go shopping, let alone the energy to bake for 15 fussy 2 year olds. An awful lot of things have had to give this week.

So far I like my job, but I'm not loving it yet. I might in time and I really hope I do, but until then the cost-benefit ratio is swaying in the wrong direction. I read an article recently about working mums and how they juggle everything. I really admire mums who work full-time, cook dinner, bake for school parties, buy beautiful presents for their friend's kids or their kid's friends, and still manage to find time for themselves and moonlight as the Toothfairy, but I know these women are few and far between, and if you look beneath the surface you will see that there is always something missing - I don't believe you can do it all, no matter how much you may want to. The article I read interviewed a few mums who had tried to balance work and kids but ultimately they hadn't enjoyed working nearly as much as they enjoyed watching their kids grow up. Hong Kong, as far as I know, is quite unique. It's really all or nothing when it comes to work. You either work 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, and you live for your job, or you're in HK and your husband's on such a great expat package that you don't need to work. I don't know many people who would call themselves wealthy, but at the same time I don't know any women that would say they don't have a choice and have to work because they need the money. I'm lucky that I've had a choice until now, but I've had to compromise and now I'm working for a new kitchen - there's always a catch whichever side of the fence you're on.

In the article I read, the mums who did work and loved it were dedicated career women who could afford to hire helpers and tutors and a whole army of people to raise their kids for them. Part-time work is rarely an option here, unless you work for yourself, but cheap labour is everywhere. Personally, I understand how important a career is to some people, even though I've never been one of them. And I know my son is going to start school in a few years, and he'll need me less and less, and one day I know I'll need to find something to fill in my days, just for me, other than being a mummy. But I struggle to understand why people have kids if they don't plan on playing a major role in their lives. When your child speaks fluent Tagalog and is more attached to the helper than to you, there's something wrong with the picture. I know I'm making a fairly broad generalisation here - I know a lot of mums who work long hours and are really involved and committed to their kids (and they bake). They're not the ones I'm talking about here.

So, my whole point tonight, my tip for the week, is for mums who might be thinking about going back to work, or those like me who are working but aren't convinced that it's for them. If you're going to do it, find something you love. You need something that you enjoy so much that it outweighs the 'mummy guilt.' In my whole 3 days as a working mummy I've also realised that organisation on the level of a small military operation is required. One of my anonymous commenters on my last post echoed many of the concerns I've had about leaving my little guy with someone other than me every day. I'm still not keen on the idea, partly because I am a control freak, but mostly because I miss him like crazy, and genuinely want to be with him myself. I've realised that the only way this new arrangement will work is if I'm comfortable with what's happening at home. My husband has been around a lot this week, and will continue to be. I am home for breakfast and dinner, and I have my son's days planned to the minute so there is never a moment where someone else has to decide what he'll be doing. I choose his clothes in the morning (including a back-up outfit) and I send and receive several text messages a day with updates on how it's all going. It might sound like I'm a little nutty but maintaining that level of control is what is keeping me sane this week. So, my final tip for this week is to find someone you trust, if you have to leave your kids with someone else while you go to work. And don't worry about seeming over-the-top or crazy - do whatever you have to do to make it work, if you really want it to work. If you don't, that's ok too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mondayitis

Back in the dark ages when I was at school, the start of the new school year always coincided with my birthday at the end of January. Whether it fell on the last day of the holidays, or the first day of term, it always sucked. I counted my birthday as part of the holidays - Christmas, New Year, Summer, Birthday, so for me it always marked the end of something. Even though February, like August here, is the hottest month in Australia, going back to school meant summer was over, and it always made me sad. When I grew up and started working I relived that feeling every Sunday night. I'm going back to work tomorrow, although it seems strange to say "going back" because it's been so long since I really worked. Technically I'm starting again, a brand new job in a brand new school. It's the end of summer AND a Sunday night, and I have a serious case of the blues.

I haven't worked full-time since 2008 - a long time. I've been busy, you know, seeing the world, falling pregnant, having a baby and doting on him all day, every day. I was freaking out just a little at the prospect of going back to work, I really wasn't sure if I wanted to, let alone whether or not it was the right thing to do. I've been lucky that I haven't had to, really lucky I know, but a few unforeseen expenses later and now there's not much choice. I've been beside myself over the summer as I counted down the remaining days; juggling the feeling that I'm abandoning my little guy with the need to make sure we have money in the bank, always with the thought that this is a great job, that will be really good for my career, floating around in the back of my mind. I hate the thought of someone else spending the day with J, and I am especially worried about the impact my absence is going to have on him. I'm sure he's going to cope, he shouldn't miss me too much, but what worries me more is how he's going to change when our helper is in charge. Last week I stepped back a bit just to see how she would handle certain situations and my enthusiasm for going to work dwindled even further. It doesn't bode well. Working full-time and the inevitable exhaustion and mummy-guilt is also going to be detrimental for my poor, already neglected blog.

Apart from all that, and the gnawing-at-my-insides separation anxiety, this is a new job, in a school I've never worked in before. It's been a long time since I had to start again. When I was at school I only ever changed schools once, and that was because the school I went to for 11 years finished at year 10. So I went to school with basically the same group of kids for 11 years. I can't begin to tell you how terrified I was on the first day of year 11, and well, you can imagine how I coped with those early days at uni ("O Week", was more like "hell week"). This sheltered little life I led didn't exactly prepare me well for dealing with change. It may have been 15 years since I left school, a few years at uni and several jobs since graduation, but that fear of change, of the unknown, of the end of summer, is sitting like a rock in the pit of my stomach tonight. I was in a panic on Friday afternoon waiting for an email from the school telling me what time I would be starting tomorrow morning. I hated not knowing exactly when I had to be there, who I had to see and what exactly I would be doing.

Being the new kid is never easy. I may be standing at the front of the classroom these days but tomorrow I'll have more in common with the kids in their shiny new uniforms, nervously hoping I don't get lost, than with any of my colleagues. When you're new somewhere you want to make a good impression, but until you find your feet, until you've made a few friends and proven yourself, you're always going to be a little bit behind. I've already worked out what I'm going to wear, I've got my sensible shoes out, I've packed my bag with my snacks and supplies, and I've checked the bus timetable so I'll be on time (control freak maybe?). But I still don't know the kids I'll be working with, when I'll get to eat my meticulously packed lunch, and who I should sit next to in the staff-room. I've been in some pretty hostile staff-rooms in my time, and sometimes it's easier just to eat your lunch in your classroom, pretending you're really quite busy. It's just occurred to me I'll probably have to do playground "duty", a thought which, in this heat, scares me more than a hostile staff-room... The kids will always push their luck with new staff to see how much they can get away with. It's been such a long time since I've been bad-arse Mrs C that I'm not sure I remember how to show them that they can't get away with very much at all. I'm exhausted just thinking about it and I haven't even started yet!

So I'm going in at 8.15am tomorrow morning to face a lot of unknowns. It's more terrifying than exciting but I think it will be good for me, and if it's good for me, it'll be good for J (fingers crossed). One thing I do know for sure, is that I only have to get through 6 weeks of work (6 Sunday nights, 6 Mondays) before I get a week off, and the holidays are already on the calendar. And that reminds me why I became a teacher in the first place. Have a good week everyone.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top Tip, er, Wednesday - Randoms

So I'm a little late this week...I didn't do a Top Tip at all last week in silent protest that no one emailed their own tips in (and I had no idea what to write about). After grilling a few friends I've come up with a short list of their recommendations for life with kids in HK:


  1. My friend K suggests the island of Cheung Chau as a great, local place to get away from it all. When the city is getting you down or you simply need a change of scene, jump on a ferry and take some time out on this quaint, but surprisingly well established little island. The food is great, and cheap, the views from the hills are spectacular and the beaches (while they have nothing on Lantau's beaches) are quite nice too. There are no cars on Cheung Chau so it's also a great place for walking around and sneaking a peek at the homes and lives of the locals.
  2. When your little ones start walking you suddenly find yourself preoccupied by tiny shoes. Where to buy them? What sort to buy? How much to spend? What I have learned is this - they outgrow them faster than you can blink so don't spend a fortune. However, you don't want them wearing ill-fitting shoes or anything that's going to hinder their growth or walking development, so choose cheaply but wisely. Stride Rite in Harbour City and Causeway Bay have a great selection of shoes and will measure your child's feet, as will the staff at Bumps to Babes. Once you get the size right and know what's appropriate for your child's age and ability, head to the little shops on Jubilee Street, Central, where according to G, you'll find the top brands of kid's shoes at very good prices. There are also a number of little shops in the lanes (Li Yuen St East and West, among others) that sell cheap kid's clothes and shoes.
  3. On the subject of clothes, my friend H recommends Togs Unlimited, in Central and Discovery Bay. They sell end-of-season clothes and seconds for much less than you would pay somewhere like Mothercare or B to B.
  4. A local Lantau secret that I mentioned briefly in my last Tuesday post, is the soft playroom at the Regal hotel at the airport. Unlike the soft playroom in the municipal building in Tung Chung, not many people know about the one at the hotel, and it's generally not the kind of place where your little kids will be knocked down by older kids running riot unsupervised. It's well-equipped, safe and much-loved by J and his buddies, and there's a cafe upstairs for mummies to have a coffee if they're smart enough to take their helpers with them too. 
I'm afraid that's all I have today. But, just in case you're feeling a bit ripped off at the lack of really useful information presented here today, here's something I just learned about. Playtimes magazine, HK's parenting bible, now has a website where you can read back issues. This is great for those of us who live in the sticks and can't always get our hands on a copy, and especially great for those of you who may have missed the article written by yours truly in the March issue. Look out for more by me in September and October (now you know why I don't always have time to blog...). Check them out here: http://ppp.com.hk/www/playtimes.html#

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Milestones

I just realised that A Mummy in a Strange Land turned one yesterday! Yes, it's been a whole year since my very first post. I'm getting more sleep these days and I hope that's reflected in the writing! Whether it is or not, I just wanted to say a big thank you for reading, commenting, supporting and inspiring me.

When I first started writing I didn't really have a plan or a vision for where I wanted this thing to go - I just knew I wanted an outlet. Hong Kong was driving me crazy and despite having lived here for 3 years, I didn't feel like I was home yet. I still have days like that, and this week especially I have been feeling intensely homesick, but being able to write about it has helped immensely. You guys, out there, writing or calling to tell me you feel the same way has helped even more. I thought I had it all figured out until I had a baby, and there have been lots of times when I have thought that I had him all figured out but was proven to be quite wrong. But I wouldn't change a thing. Not a minute of it.

A lot has changed in the last year - it's been amazing, wonderful, heartbreaking and exhausting all at once, and life is only going to get more interesting, more wonderful, and more exhausting in the next 12 months. I can't wait, and I hope you'll all stick around to read about it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The First Cut is the Deepest

When my nephew was a baby, about 18 months old, he had this strip of hair that was always in his eyes. It drove both of us crazy. So I cut it one night when I was left on my own with him, just that tiny piece at the front. His mother was furious, she'd never cut his hair before, ever. I couldn't see what the big deal was back then, it was 10 years ago, and I thought I had done the kid a favour. The mother in question went on to shave the little guy's head a few months later, which baffled me even more.

But, a few months ago as I stood in front of J, a pair of scissors in my hands and tears in my eyes, I finally got it - that first haircut is a big step. J hardly had any hair for the first 11 months of his life and when it did grow it grew fast and in patches. When it came time to trim the few errant strands that he did have, I was heartbroken and insisted on doing it myself. I kept those few precious locks in a little envelope in his baby album, for no one's sake but my own. Of course, it was a complete hatchet job and we had to take him to a real hairdresser a few days later, but it was important to me that I could say that I had given him his first haircut. We went along to a small salon where they had a ride-on car and TV screens to distract the little ones and we took photos. It was all over in a matter of minutes and he looked like a new kid. Not only that, he looked like a little boy. To me that first haircut was like a rite of passage - it marked the start of toddlerhood. My little boy was no longer a baby. It was also the end of my haircutting days...

J now has quite a bit of hair. It's growing thick and fast and evenly, all over his little head, finally. He's had a couple of haircuts since that first one, and he's hated every minute of it. He thrashes about and cries and clings onto one or both of us. The last one was such a disaster it looks like I did it myself.

Here the local Chinese believe that if you shave a baby's head, he or she will be blessed with thick lustrous locks their whole life. There are a lot of babies getting around with buzz cuts, even little girls, and I find it a little disturbing. The little baldies look like mini prison escapees, or like they've had a nasty head lice infestation. Apart from the whole lifetime of enviable hair thing, there are advantages to taking to the little one's head with the clippers. With his perpetually snotty nose and bad, homestyle 'fro, J's a set of scabbed knees away from looking like no one loves him. At least he's robust and healthy looking, so it's obvious that he's well fed, if not well groomed.

I'm on this topic tonight because we've been delaying another haircut. Part of me wants to let it grow out until it's a mass of unruly blonde locks, but I do like a short back and sides. I'm sure no matter how I cut his hair, at some point J will want to shave his head, or dye it blue or something equally outrageous just to scare his mother, but for now, while I can't stop him from growing up so quickly, I can keep his hair out of his eyes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top Tip Tuesday-South Lantau

It would be impossible to include everything there is to know about our little island in just one post, so for today I'm going to stick with fun things to do over here, village by village, with a family-friendly focus.

Mui Wo - If you get the ferry over from Central this is where you'll arrive. Mui Wo is a great place to rent bikes and ride around to Silvermine Bay. The beach is quite nice and not too crowded, and there's a fairly large playground for kids nearby. There are plenty of options for eating out, but our picks are Bahce Turkish restaurant, China Bear pub, and Cafe Paradiso, for coffee and sandwiches. Mui Wo is the starting point for a number of great hikes on the island and there are signs everywhere leading you in the right direction. There is also a bus terminal for transport to most of the other villages on Lantau. There's a Wellcome and a Park n' Shop (although not a whole lot of parking...) so you can stock up on essentials if you plan on spending a bit of time out here. Ark Eden is a great local initiative based in Mui Wo. Their focus is on sustainability and environmental education. They hold workshops and tree-planting days and are absolutely worth a visit whether you have kids or not. Check out their website for more info on what they do.
Pui O - It's easy to be deceived by the look of Pui O. As you pass through it on the bus it looks like a dump. On the outside it has very little going for it but once you delve a little deeper you'll find a real gem. The beach is lovely and you can easily set yourself up at Ooh La La and spend a whole day there. You can even rent a tent and camp overnight, and they often do family movie nights on the beach. Treasure Island has a great range of activities as well. There are, again, many hikes that start here and the Chi Ma Wan trail is challenging but worthwhile. The buffalo roam freely around the place and there are countless bird species that call this part of the world "home."

Cheung Sha - Further along the coast you'll find the two beaches that are known collectively as Cheung Sha upper and lower. The lower beach is more well known and has a strip of restaurants running along the eastern end of the beach. The Stoep is without a doubt the most well-known of these, it has a great atmosphere but it does get crowded and for what it's worth, it's a little overrated. High Tide is another option as is News Bistro. They all offer good food and a great location. There are lifeguards on duty every day during the summer months and dogs are also allowed on the beach. The only downside to such a popular spot is the junks that frequently park offshore and empty their waste directly overboard. We've had some pretty unpleasant stuff wash up onshore, ruining a perfectly lovely afternoon. Just around the bay is one of HK's longest beaches. It's a little less sheltered and doesn't have anywhere near the facilities of it's neighbour, but upper Cheung Sha beach is right on our doorstep. Palm Beach sports centre has been built up over the last couple of years and they have a great set-up. You can hire just about anything for a day of beach fun, from windsurfers to kayaks to BBQ's and tents, they have the lot. You can hang out on the grass with a glass of wine or buy a few drinks from the kiosk and take them down to the beach. They also do big events, both private and public and it's a great place to ring in the new year or celebrate mid-autumn festival with the locals. Nudity, dogs and ball games are prohibited on this stretch of beach but you do see frequent displays of all three and more.
Ngong Ping, Po Lin Monastery and the Giant Buddha - No visit to Hong Kong is complete without a trip to see the Tian Tan buddha, the world's largest outdoor bronze statue. The Ngong Ping cable car will get you there from Tung Chung, as will a number of buses. While the village itself mainly caters for tourists, the Buddha himself cuts an impressive figure against the backdrop of Lantau Peak. For something a little different try the vegetarian lunch at Po Lin Monastery, it's good value and seriously good food. It beats Ebeneezers and Subway hands down! There are always crowds at the Buddha but avoid going on a weekend or on special holidays as it's just not worth it (unless you're Buddhist).

Tai O - Tai O is a sleepy fishing village right on the tip of Lantau. It's a long way from Mui Wo and Tung Chung but you can hike there from almost anywhere on the island. The hike from the Ngong Ping turnoff is a great hike. It's about 10km but the scenery is spectacular and the hidden monasteries and the abandoned estate you'll pass on the way are amazing. For more information about hiking on Lantau get a copy of "The Serious Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong." Anyway, Tai O gets quite busy but as you walk the streets and hear the rhythmic shuffling of mahjong tiles, with the smell of drying fish in your nostrils,you can't help but feel like you're somewhere quite special.
Tung Chung - To be honest, if you don't like outlet shopping, there's really not a lot on offer in Tung Chung. Technically it's not on South Lantau, it's north, but it does a few good points I want to mention. There's a cinema, the MTR station and the start of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, a huge new pool complex, and a great municipal building with a library and soft playroom but not much else. My picks are the Kiddie Wonderland playroom at the Regal Airport Hotel, Olea restaurant at the Novotel and the fountain outside Citygate. It's a fun place for kids to play and there's a Starbucks and Haagen Dazs for hot afternoons, or just for people watching.

So there you have it. My guide to our little part of the world. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface so please write in and tell me if you live here or have visited and think I've missed something.

For next week, I'd love to hear from you - what are your top tips for life in Hong Kong? Things to do, places to go, how to survive? Leave a comment or drop me an email (littlebirdbags@gmail.com) and I'll feature your tips in a special post next Tuesday.