What This Is

When I lived in Hong Kong I started blogging. I used Yahoo 360, which no longer exists. Fortunately I saved all my blog posts to my computer. So, I've finally recreating my blog. No pictures, just writing, but lots of it, from our three years living in Asia. Lots of interesting stories (at least to me!)...if you want to find out what we're doing now, check out my current blog. If you want to read about life in Hong Kong from 2006-2009 start reading below!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Just Can't Say Goodbye

I have said for some time that when I left Hong Kong I would start a new blog on another blogger website, so that’s what I’m about to do. Here I sit in Austin, starting to feel a little bit settled, at least for now. Hong Kong, Hong Kong…is it rainy and misty now? Probably; it’s getting to be that time of year. Are people scurrying around Central with wet feet and umbrellas? Is the humidity rising precipitously? I can’t really think about it much yet I realize; even though this is my least favorite time of year there (well okay actually May and June are the worst) just writing that sentence gave me a lump in my throat. So, not now. I’m sure there will be time to be sad later.

Right now I’m too busy re-acclimating to Austin. It’s a nice town, very arid compared to HK. There’s so much driving involved in living here; I’ve forgotten about that. I’ve gotten lost twice since we moved into our service apartment. We’re living up by the Arborteum; an area with which I’m unfamiliar, unless I’m going to Z Tejas! 

I don’t feel all that strange though, and for the most part I’m enjoying being back in the US. I love being in the same time zone as Sarah and my mother. Last night Sarah was watching Anthony Bourdain and texted me when they started to show an episode on Vietnam so we could turn it on too – how cool is that?!

The US has its own frustrations but I’ll get used to them again. Service people that don’t show up when they say they are going to is my current irritation but what can you do? So in Hong Kong they showed up on time for sure, but then couldn’t speak any English or wouldn’t speak to me because I wasn’t the “primary account holder” or whatever. Wow, I SURE don’t miss that!

So…I have piles of things to post but they are going on my new website once I get it set up. I’m leaving 360 because it is so limited – I want to be able to put pictures directly into my post and I am tired of the glitches in 360 that make a post from a year ago show up sometimes instead of the current one, or that prevent people from commenting when they want to.

My new blog will be at the following website: dreaming-of-asia-in-Texas.blogspot.com. There’s nothing there yet, but there will be soon! I have entries to post about our final travels in Asia, packing and leaving Hong Kong, and what its like to return to the US after living abroad for three years. I thought hard about what to call this blog, because I don’t know….will I still be dreaming of Asia a year or two from now? But I decided it didn’t really matter. It’s a catchy title ;) and Hong Kong and the rest of Asia have become part of me now, so yes, I’ll always carry them with me, in my heart.

February 8 2009 Hong Kong Half Marathon

I’ve been working toward this day for almost five months. Way back in September I started reading and thinking about running a half marathon. Could I really run thirteen miles? Could I do it without getting injured? How hard was it going to be really? I’d run in several 10K races, but I’m pretty slow. I usually have a respectable time for my age but nothing special. How long would it take me to run a half marathon?

Once I had decided I wanted to work toward this goal, I started telling people about it. I was kind of scared and I figured if I SAID I was going to do it, then I couldn’t back down! As soon as registration opened for the Hong Kong Half Marathon, I went ahead and registered. Now I was committed.

I needed a training plan and I decided to continue to use Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method, but get serious about it. I’ve used run/walk now for several years. It makes distance running much easier and allows me to go farther and faster than I would be able to go otherwise. I figured run/walk will keep me running much longer and older in life than just running.

One of the components of the Galloway method is something he calls the “Magic Mile”. Periodically during your training you run a mile as fast as you currently can without completely dying. Then you take that mile pace and multiply it by 1.2. This is your predicted mpm (miles per minute) pace for the half marathon. I used this and came up with a predicted time, but I was skeptical. I really didn’t think I was going to be able to run it that fast!

Day by day, week by week, month by month, I stuck to the Galloway program. My long run distances lengthened and a half marathon started to seem within my reach. Several weeks ago I ran my last long run – fourteen miles – and felt pretty good afterwards. I guess I was ready!

The Hong Kong Marathon is HUGE. It consists of several different races, run all over Kowloon, the New Territories and Hong Kong Island. There are three different categories of 10K, two categories of Half Marathon and the Marathon itself. They had 55,000 people signed up for the various races. 33,000 of these were signed up for the 10K races, but there were 13,000 signed up for the half marathons. I’d never run in a race with more than a couple of thousand people. This was really going to be a trip!

My half marathon started at 7:10 AM this morning, in Kowloon on the other side of the harbor. They wanted you to get there around two hours before the race started but that seemed crazy to me. I compromised at an hour and a half early, which turned out to be perfect. I got up at 4 AM, but I’ve been waking up early for several weeks now so that wasn’t that hard. I had my plan; what to eat, how much to drink. A critical issue for me was making sure I was hydrated but not drinking so much water that I would have to pee during the race! I had to experiment a lot in my training to figure out where that threshold was!

After I was warmed up I headed toward the starting line. I was pretty far back in the crowd, but that was fine with me. I was surrounded by Asians. I saw a few western men, but hardly ANY western women. I saw some older-looking men, but almost NO older-looking woman! I felt very unique…I heard no English, which normally I’m totally used to in Hong Kong, but in a race I like to talk to strangers as I’m jogging along and that just wasn’t possible.

As the race started I shuffled forward until I could start running. There were places, especially at the beginning where it was difficult to run because there were so many people. I felt really, really good and my watch said I was running a very good pace. I knew my pace was probably too fast but I’ve always had trouble controlling my pace at the beginning of a race. I’m not trying to set any world records so I didn’t worry about it too much. The harder thing to do is take the walk breaks at the beginning. I always feel like I don’t really need them and I hate it when all these people start passing me when I’m walking, but I KNEW that walk breaks at the beginning of a race translate into better times at the end so I stuck with my run/walk ratio. I knew that if I felt okay I would eliminate the walks at the very end of the race.

We headed out on the road toward the airport. We followed the same path as the marathon but turned around earlier. The complaints about the Hong Kong Marathon are that the route is boring because it goes along highways for much of the time and that portions of it are hilly, making it a tough course. But I was having fun watching the other runners so I didn’t mind the lack of an audience. And I knew the worst hills were on the portion of the marathon course that the half marathon didn’t follow, so I wasn’t too worried about that either. I knew I had trained for hills just by living in Hong Kong!

These were Asians running in an Asian race, so Asian behaviors abounded. I had been warned that this was the case so I took it in stride, and actually found it pretty amusing. Yes of course people stood too far forward to start. Of course Hong Kongers can’t stand to be in a line without trying to get ahead. The nice thing about this for me was that I got to pass some people right away. That usually doesn’t happen when I race in 10Ks in the US. The other thing was people took pictures as they raced, of themselves, of their friends. It was pretty cute to see someone running along holding their camera in front of them, smiling and taking their own picture. But the thing that REALLY cracked me up was people running along talking on their cell phones! That was hilarious. People also ran with their ipods, which you’re not supposed to do in a race. It can be a little dangerous since you can’t hear what’s going on around you as well.

The half marathoners reached their turning point and headed back toward Hong Kong Island. We could see the elite half marathon runners going the other way before my group got to the turning point. How far back was I? My watch still said my time was really good, but would it last? I finally reached the turning point too. It was fun to turn around and start seeing Hong Kong Island grow closer and closer.

As we ran toward Hong Kong Island we were able to see the elite marathoners heading out toward the airport. All the half marathoners yelled and applauded as they went by. They looked very different from my plodding group of runners. They were going FAST and they didn’t look tired. They looked serious. They looked Nigerian! I got very excited when they flew past us. It’s a good thing that they started an hour after the half marathoners since some of them run a full marathon in the time it would take me to run a half. It was possible that they would pass me! Ha.

The most unique part of the Hong Kong Marathon approached – the Western Tunnel. We got to run under Victoria Harbor, which I thought was pretty darn cool! As we approached the tunnel I could hear the runners up ahead hooting and yelling and making a bunch of noise. That cracked me up.

As soon as I entered the tunnel, my watch lost the satellite signal. Darn! I hadn’t thought about that. It took us a good twenty minutes to get through the tunnel so I knew my watch would not record an accurate time after that. Oh well!

Leaving the tunnel was the first big hill the half marathoners encountered, and it was a long one. I was okay though and it was fun to reach the top and have the race officials announce (in Cantonese, but I knew what they were saying) Welcome to Hong Kong Island! Everyone cheered as they left the tunnel. It suddenly felt like the end of the race was within our reach!

It felt different running on Hong Kong Island. Gradually there were more spectators. People stood along the road with encouraging signs and gave us high fives as we passed. And something else started to happen. I was still following my run/walk plan but really didn’t have a good idea any longer how fast I was running. But I started to pass people, lots of people. Many people were walking and I couldn’t tell if they were following a plan or not. I just kept going and putting people behind me. There were hoards of people in front of me still of course, but for the first time in the race I glanced behind me. There were hoards of people behind me too. COOL! When we got to the 2K remaining sign I ditched the walks and started running as fast as I was still capable of running. This was it!

Things really changed as we approached Causeway Bay and Victoria Park and the finish line. Suddenly there were crowds of people on the sidewalks yelling excitedly. I kind of got a chill. This is what it would be like the whole time if you ran in something like the New York Marathon. It really was very thrilling.

I crossed the finish line and felt good. Of course my legs were stiff but that’s what happens to old people when they act a little crazy. I collected my stuff and called Lee. He had said he would meet me at the end of the race. “Where are you?” he demanded when I called. He had been standing in front of Fashion Walk, trying to get a picture of me racing by but he missed me. Since I was pretty unique looking in that crowd we don’t know how he missed me unless I passed by earlier than either of us expected, which is what we think happened.

All in all I think I ran a very successful race. My time was a couple of minutes better than my Galloway method predicted time. I was really impressed that his predictor worked so well. I feel VERY satisfied!

I’m pretty sure I will do this again, but probably not until this fall. I know my body needs to recover first. I’ve got some aches and pains that need to heal before I start training again. As far as running a marathon goes…well I’m not ready to say that I’m definitely going to do that, but it’s a possibility.

Afterward Lee and I went out for a Dim Sum lunch at Maxims. Now I love Dim Sum, but it can be very filling. When it’s just Lee and I we often over-order and can’t finish everything. I didn’t feel THAT hungry when we sat down, but I just ate, and ate, and ate! It just seemed like I couldn’t get full. I think I used up a lot of calories this morning. That’s one of the great things about running. Runners get to eat, almost as much as they want!

Sunday February 1 2009 Lion Dance in a Shopping Mall

This week my friends Susan and Jane and I went up into the New Territories to check out a place that makes amazing shopping bags out of rice sacks, plastic storage materials and fabric scraps. I have one of her shopping bags and it gets comments and compliments all the time. Sarah saw it when she was in Hong Kong and decided that she had to have one also. We’re thinking of making her shop an AWA tour, and since I won’t be here to do it Susan and Jane, who are also enamored with her bags, came along to check it out with me.

Her name is Annalisa and her business is called Bez&Oho. You can look at her bags and jewelry on the web:  http://homepage.mac.com/annalisa44/PhotoAlbum10.html. She also makes enamel jewelry and teaches enameling classes. AWA is going to take full advantage of her skills!

She employs women whose lives have been affected by drug addiction. They are either recovering drug addicts themselves, or the mothers, wives or children of drug addicts. She shares the space where she works with an organization in Hong Kong called the Saint Stephens Society. There’s not a lot of information about it on the web, but it’s a charity that’s recognized by the Hong Kong government. The woman that runs it is somewhat unusual: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Pullinger.

Now what does all of this have to do with Lion Dances? Did you think I maybe got the title of this entry wrong? J Well after visiting the beautiful bags it was time for lunch. Since we were up by Kowloon Tong we decided to go to Festival Walk, one of my favorite malls in this city.  As we walked into the mall, there was some very loud clanging and drumming going on and we soon found out why – there was a Lion Dance happening in the mall! Now this wasn’t just a demonstration for tourists. For one thing, there aren’t any tourists up in Kowloon Tong; its not on the tourist trail. For another, Hong Kongers take this sort of thing seriously. The lion was going from shop to shop. At the top of the doorway of each shop was something green that apparently was lion food. The lion would dance around (it’s a two man contraption, kind of like a horse costume but the lion’s head is very elaborate) and then the lion would rise up on his “hind” legs and “eat” whatever it was that was up there for him. Then he would go to the next shop and the whole thing would be repeated. A small army of drummers accompanied the lion on his rounds, making an unholy racket in the echoing corridors of the mall.

And there wasn’t just one lion, there were two, or maybe three. It’s a large mall and there were a lot of shops to get through!

I wanted to understand better what was going on so I decided to Google “lion dances Hong Kong”. The lion dance is supposed to bring good luck and good fortune to each business the lion visits during Chinese New Year. The following is from Wikipedia:

“During the Chinese New Year, lion dancers from martial art school will visit the store front of businesses to "choi chang" (採青 lit. picking the greens). The business would tie a red envelope filled with money to a head of lettuce and hang it high above the front door. The lion will approach the lettuce like a curious cat, consume the lettuce and spit out the leaves but not the money. The lion dance is supposed to bring good luck and fortune to the business and the dancers receive the money as reward. The tradition becomes a mutual transaction.”

Well I’m all for good luck and good fortune and goodness knows we could all use a little of that right now but I’m telling you that lion dance was LOUD! As the lion grew closer at times we could hardly carry on a conversation! And this is a really nice, fancy mall. The whole experience was a little surreal. The Chinese seemed to take it all in stride. They continued their shopping, eating and ice skating (there’s an ice skating rink in this mall) but when the lion grew close they would drag their children over to get a better view. The kids either liked the lion (think 8 year old boys) or thought it was loud and a bit terrifying (anyone below the age of about 4).

I guess it’s safe to say this is something I won’t be running into when I go to Barton Creek Mall once we’re back in the US!

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday here in Hong Kong. Its nice outside, and not too hot or too cold. Lee is still in the US, getting the house worked on and visiting our moms in Missouri. I miss him and he won’t be back until Friday night. I ran an easy five miles this morning and then went to pick up my runner’s packet for the Hong Kong Half Marathon next weekend. I’m definitely ready for this race. If my time is anywhere near as good as it was while running today I will be very, very happy. But we’ll see!

January 24 2009 Singapore

Singapore 1/16-1/20

Singapore is like a familiar old friend. On my third visit to this country, so Asian and yet so different from Hong Kong, I'm not very interested in sightseeing. Lee and I just want to relax and enjoy the warmth and sunshine.

This is the cooler season in Singapore. Cooler means slightly lower humidity, lovely breezes, highs in the low 80s, Hawaii weather. I got here Friday evening and as soon as Lee got off work we head to East Coast Seafood to have chili crab.

Chilli crab  does not disappoint. It is as delicious as always. My pile of wipes grows as I dig in with my fingers, cracking shells with pliers and occasionally my teeth. I was right; Hong Kong’s version is a meager imitation.

The next day I go running. Just 40 minutes, but myomy my acclimation to the heat is gone. I return to the hotel red-faced and sweaty, taking a good 45 minutes to cool down.

We decide to visit a boat show on Sentosa Island, Singapore's Disney-like resort area. The boats are impressive - swift, flat racing hulls resting in Singapore on the 3rd leg of an around the world race. But Sentosa is so hokey and artificial. That's the hard part about Singapore. There's this sense that everything is carefully orchestrated. Clean, safe, sunny. The contrast with the chaos of Hong Kong is almost comical.

I find myself thinking about what it would be like to live here. Most westerners really like it. It’s very easy. But I think at least at first I would have a hard time not comparing it to Hong Kong, with Singapore coming out the loser.

Last night we went over to Frank and Cyndi's for drinks, and then out 4 dinner. Before we got there however, I had a fight with a taxi driver. We get in a cab at our hotel, tell the driver the address and off we go. Only he has no idea where it is or how to get there. He calls some friends, but they don’t know where it is either. I try to call Cyndi but she doesn't answer and we don't have their home number or Frank's mobile with us. Apparently they don't have a dispatcher they can call for directions and this driver doesn't have a GPS or a map. We tell him to take us back to the hotel.

We get back to the hotel and I tell Lee "we're not paying this guy for driving us around the block". Hating a bad scene, Lee scoots out of the cab and says he'll go up to our hotel room to get Frank's number.  We get out of the cab and go back into the lobby. The doorman comes after me anxiously. "He has a charge on his meter" he says to me. I go back outside. "We're not paying you for driving us around the block" I inform him.  He protests angrily, speaking the crazy English they speak here known as Singlish. I lose my infamous temper. "Listen. It’s YOUR job to know this city and to be able to figure out how to take your passengers where they want to go," I yell. “YOU'RE the driver, not me! I’m not paying you!" He drove off in a cloud of muttered imprecations, leaving me red-faced and triumphant.

When Lee came back down to the lobby he had Frank's number and I had gotten directions from Cyndi and was starting to calm down.  It took me a couple of minutes though!

A strange and a little disturbing thing happened while we were at dinner. We were seated outside, at an Italian restaurant in an area filled with restaurants. In come soldiers in full regalia, walking down the street, their AK-47s (or whatever they were) at the ready. They kind of made a circle right by our restaurant, scanning the crowds and looking fierce. Frank and Cyndi said things like this happen all the time and they never know why. Cyndi said it made her feel very secure; it made me nervous, but most people didn’t seem to even notice the soldiers. Cyndi talked a bit about the safeness of Singapore and how she feels the shift whenever they go back to the states; how suddenly after they land they are telling their children to stay right there with them and not go to the bathroom by themselves, etc. I have the same sense when I return to the US from Hong Kong. I feel much safer in Hong Kong, both in my apartment and on the street, any time of day or night. It’s something I’ll miss. But in Hong Kong you almost never see soldiers, except occasionally in the airport. You do see policemen, usually on foot, but sometimes on motorcycles or in vehicles. Foot police are much more effective in our crowded city. It’s kind of ridiculous when you see ambulances in Hong Kong, since they are usually stuck in traffic just like everyone else, only they have their sirens blaring.

The last day I ran one more time, five miles in the heat. It’s really amazing how much it slowed me down. All summer and fall I ran in the hot humid weather in Hong Kong and pooh-poohed Jeff Galloway’s warnings about running in the heat. But now I realize I was simply acclimated and that yes it does slow you down and can be dangerous. We went to the Maxwell hawker stand for lunch and I decided to go stand in one of the long lines and try one of the “very famous” stands. I had something called "Bee Hoon fish soup" that was just incredible. That’s the thing about Singapore, the food is SO GOOD! We even had good Mexican food that night, when we went out to dinner with another one of our Singapore friends. That’s got to be a first in Asia!