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 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

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


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:

Thursday, August 4, 2011


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.