Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The crowd gathers...

On the commute home, I have a 40 minute wait between the school bus arriving at the ferry pier and the next ferry leaving. I consistently miss the previous ferry by four minutes. So I pick up some groceries, wander through Mango and Zara or, frequently just sit and wait. I look out at the view that's on the header of this blog and watch the ships go by while Kestrel plays on some railings.
One day, as we walked over, we saw one of the fishermen with a long pole bent over. A crowd gathered almost immediately as he fought his fish. When fish hit pavement, everyone applauded. Since it's Hong Kong, lots of people whipped out cameras and starting taking pictures of the fish.Kestrel borrowed my camera and wormed her way into the crowd to get close. These are her pictures.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Round Island Race - November 23rd

I still can't believe I paddled around Hong Kong Island last Sunday in an outrigger canoe! It was such an experience. I'd been training for the whole month hoping to make it. Ten of us from Lamma OCC formed the women's racing team for the day and I was lucky enough to make the cut and get to be in the boat. It was such a great time and I’m still high as a kite thinking about it.

The day before the race, we'd paddled the two canoes over to Middle Island where the race would start. It was our last training run and also our last chance to practice sea changes and rip up my legs some more. In this event, ten people paddle around Hong Kong Island, but the boat only holds six at a time. So, every 3, 7 or 8 kilometers there is a sea change.

How it works is that the support boat draws alongside the canoe and someone shouts out the number of the seats of the people who are changing. Then the boat powers ahead and slows down so that the paddlers can get in the water about 100 metres in front of the canoe. We line up in the water and put our hands up so that the steerswoman can see us. She steers so that the ama (the outrigger part) and the canoe straddle us. As they paddle at us at full power, we grab on with one hand and either lift, sling or heave ourselves into the canoe with varying levels of speed and grace. Meanwhile, as soon as we, the new paddlers, grab onto the canoe with one hand, the people in their seats dump out the other side. All people still in the canoe paddle like crazy trying to maintain momentum until everyone gets settled and can join in. It’s a little stressful because if you miss the grab or don’t get in smoothly it really slows the boat down. It’s also painful because the only way I can do it is to throw one leg in and lever it under the seat and get in that way. So for the past month, I’ve had huge abrasions and bruises on the back of my right knee. You can see what they look like and more on this YouTube video: http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZbLAZz3fiw. On the first change, I get in the boat at seat 4 (counting from the front.)

The actual race started at 9:00, but we left Lamma at a quarter to seven to ride over to the starting line. I was about as nervous as before a running race, but in a different way. When I was going to run a marathon, if I screwed up or wimped out, I’d be the only person I let down. When you have lots of teammates, it’s worries about letting them down that filled my mind. What if I got too tired? What if I mess up the sea change? What if my timing is off? What if they wish that they hadn’t let me in the boat? I wasn’t in the boat for the start, so I had hours to wait around nervous.
But finally my chance came. My first leg was pretty short, only 3 ½ km. The sea change went really fast, so it was great for getting the butterflies out. I got out just before we turned the corner to go through the harbour. That began a couple of really long legs for the paddlers because it’s much too dangerous to do sea changes in the middle of Victoria Harbour – one of the busiest harbours in the world. Some people might think that it’s pretty dangerous just to be in an outrigger canoe in that harbour.

As it turns out, they’re not far wrong. We were traveling along pretty close to the outrigger when we looked behind and one of the huge Macao hydrofoil ferries was bearing down full power at the girls. It is unbelievable how big it was and how fast it was coming. Gina’s steering had already been awesome dealing with all the chop and wakes coming her way, but when she saw that ferry coming, she was amazing. You can see in the pictures how much strength she was putting into getting that boat out of the way. The other girls never looked up. They had their eyes in the boat like they were supposed to and kept that power up. If they had stopped paddling, there’s no way Gina would’ve had the momentum to get them out of the way. Everyone in the junk was totally freaking out. But Gina and the other girls in the outrigger were masterful.
Two more ferries came pretty close to the canoe, but one slowed down a lot and the other stayed on the opposite side of the junk from the canoe. At Causeway Bay, I got back in the boat, but it wasn’t a sea change. Getting in the water there is too dangerous, not because of boats, but just because of the filth in the water, so the support junk and the outrigger pull into a little bywater and we just stepped from the junk to the outrigger.
I paddled in that leg for 11 km. (I'm in seat 4 with the black cap on.) We went along the north side of HK and past the Museum of Coastal Defense – I could even see the battlements on the hills. After we turned the corner to go south the wind picked up a little and the chop a lot. I got out for 3 ½ km and then I was back in for my last leg of the trip. It was from Ng Fan Chau Island until the last change at Cheung Hom Kok Point. – 10 ½ km. That side of the island is so beautiful. It was sunny and the spray and the chop were beautiful. It was really tiring of course, but when it came time for the last change, I so didn’t want to get out of the boat. It was the end of my race, and the others were going to bring it home. Claire, Anna and I dumped out of the boat and cheered and screamed them on as they hopped in and took off. Then the woman from the junk threw us a life ring and hauled us back to the boat.The boat was going so well as they finished. They looked so strong, like they’d only been paddling 5 or 10 km instead of 43. There was no slowing down as they powered in to the finish line. The Lamma women’s OCC crew did the 46 km race in 4.49.32!!All of the Lamma OCC team and supporters were so high after that race and for days afterwards. We keep posting more about the race on facebook and talking about it on the ferry. Everyone did so well and worked together so well. The food at the barbecue afterwards was well-deserved, and the beer too.

Training for RIR

I haven’t been doing much other than paddling for the month of November. I’ve put off blogging, drinking, e-mailing, going out, running, reading or writing for four weeks of hard training. I just started doing outrigger canoeing in October and have spent many long hours training, hoping to make the team for the Round Island Race that happened yesterday, the 23rd of November.We’ve paddled around Lamma Island (24 km) three times, done sprint sessions, technique sessions, huli drills (flipping and righting the canoe), sea change practices, and so much more.
I’d never paddled before, so there was so much to think about and so much that they told me to focus on.

I can’t count the number of times I heard:
1. Rotate your body.
2. Reach two inches further.
3. Transfer your weight from your ass to your paddle.
4. Power in the water.
5. Snappy return.
6. Pause at the front.
7. Clean exits.
8. Paddles in and out together.
9. Bend from the waist.
10. Use your legs.
11. Timing!!
Each Saturday and Sunday morning I spent 2+ hours out paddling, starting usually at 8 a.m. The way to the beach is beautiful on a weekend morning. People are getting their fresh meat from the butchers. Shopkeepers are arranging their vegetables. Old ladies and men are squatting on the edges of the sidewalk with fresh greens or cut flowers to sell. The tourists are starting to choose the steamed boxes of dim sum. I ride the bike through the waking-up village, then continue on past banana plants and vegetable plots out to the beach by the power station.

Plus, there were the Tuesday and Thursday night sessions of paddling at night across the warm water. We were chasing moon paths across the water, dancing ferry lights and avoiding the black silhouettes of fishing boats coming too close.
Not many people get to be out around the corner of the island in the chop and wind where the big tankers sail off to parts unknown. I feel so lucky to get to go out there. When Gina or Mel takes us close to the rocks and we whoosh down the waves through the foam, I try not to wiggle from excitement. My paddling team thinks I never stop smiling.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud to be an American


The little kids of eight, nine and ten ran through the hallways of our school here in Hong Kong screaming and yelling when they heard that John McCain conceded. These Hong Kong kids (many with Canadian passports) are overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.

They said Obama won, but I couldn't believe it. I ran into my room to check the internet and when I saw, I rushed out into the hall looking for someone to hug. A fourth grade girl from another class ran up to me and said, "Obama won, give me a hug!" I swept her up and spun her around. My son was with a group of seventh and eighth graders in the cafeteria, so I could only tell him. He nodded and smiled, but the girl next to him screamed leapt to her feet.

I can't believe it and I can't stop crying with the joy of hope for my country.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Junk parties

Hong Kong has its own partying solution to too small apartments and crowded bars - the junk party! Imagine a party where you know exactly how much you will spend. Throw in unlimited food and drinks. Figure in only hearing the music you want to hear and only partying with the people you want around. Then count on the most spectacular views of Hong Kong harbor and a light show as well. Well, that's a junk boat party!Last Saturday night I had a junk party for my birthday. Now, it was not my birthday. I actually turned 40 two months ago, but I spent that day mainly alone. Most of the people I know weren't back in Hong Kong and even the kids arrived jet-lagged at eight at night. But I have the sweetest friends! Despite the belated timing and all kind of hassle booking the junk, Catherine arranged for me to have an awesome 40th birthday party!

Twenty-four people came. The theme was 1968, of course. We had Vietnam war protesters and Viet Cong soldiers show up and lots of very short skirts. Even Andy Warhol was there - pretty amazing considering he was newly shot on the day of my birth. I agonized over my clothes, knowing that they were slightly more 1970 than 1968. Nevertheless it worked out all right, mainly because most of the party-goers weren't really up on fashion in the 60's or 70's since they weren't born.

A junk party goes from 7 until 11:30, then we were sent on our way with lots of drinks "to go." (A plus of Hong Kong is that you can walk down the street drinking.) Quite of few of my friends danced until 3, but I had to catch the 12:30 ferry home to Lamma or stay out. I decided that I better not abandon the children, and went home on time. It was a great way to turn 40!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thanksgiving on Lamma

I like my pumpkin pies, so when I knew there'd be a potluck, I signed up to bring two. But making a pumpkin pie with no oven involves a certain level of commitment and a serious amount of travel.

I made the pie crusts on Thursday night after paddling practice and mixed the spices with the sugar. In the morning I packed up the crusts, mixing bowl, eggs, cans of pumpkin and evaporated milk, a whisk and a ladle. My commute makes it a little more complicated than putting all the things in the trunk of a car. I had to carry everything down the hill to the ferry, from the ferry to the bus and from the bus to my classroom. Then at recess I did the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion, mixed up the first pie and put it in the microwave/convection oven in the staffroom. I was so amazed that I hadn't forgotten anything other than a can opener and the kitchen staff helped me with that.

Unfortunately once I put the pie in, I went back to teaching and forgot all about it. An hour and a half later I ran back up sure that the school's fire alarm was about to go off. But some angel had taken the pie out at just the perfect time! So at lunch I mixed up the other and stuck it in. I went back an hour or so later and someone else had taken that one out. It was slightly under-done, but still ok.So after school I taped together boxes to make a double-decker pie safe, covered them with plastic wrap, (thank goodness there are science experiment supplies in the project room) and carried them back down to the bus, to the ferry pier, home on the ferry and back up the hill home. There they waited safely in the frig until Sunday's dinner.

Heather and Matthew hosted the dinner and the other Heather cooked the turkey. Matthew wasn't the least bit tense about it.It was a tremendous success. Almost 50 people came. It was very much the antithesis of the lonely blue I felt last year at Thanksgiving. (If you want to read something depressing, look back at my posts around this time last year.) It was a wonderful community effort that created a marvelous feast. There were lots of babies and little kids running around which made it even more fun.

I love Thanksgiving and can't wait until late November because I think we'll have an American one, too. I'm only worried about hauling the turkey around to bake it. A crispy, juicy, dripping turkey is a bit unwieldy for a backpack.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Journey is not the Destination

Whoever said the journey is the destination has never been on my trips. I got up and took the 6:20 ferry from Lamma, kids and luggage in tow on Saturday, October 4th. Then there was the MTR to the airport and waiting in the airport. We flew Kenyan Airlines on a flight to Bangkok (continuing on to Nairobi) in a 767 so old that the lights wouldn't come on in the bathroom. I also have my doubts about the seals in the plane because Granite's ears almost exploded on the way down. Then in Bangkok we took a taxi kitty-corner across town to a bus station, waited for an hour and hopped on a bus for a six hour ride. Here's a picture from the bus stop where we had supper. But even after getting off that bus, we weren't there yet.

Next morning, we got in the back of a pick-up for a two hour ride to the ferry pier. There, we waited for two hours and then took a catamaran to Koh Tao. From there it was only another short truck ride to the beach we stayed on. Here's a picture of the beach. You tell me which is better.I suppose I could write about scuba diving in 29 C water with schools of fish circling me. I suppose I could mention the snorkeling, the beach bars, the mango shakes, the green curry or the banana pancakes. I even heard the song "Banana Pancakes" by Jack Johnson while I was sitting tired from diving all afternoon logging my dive and having a beer!

Actually I have to include this link to the YouTube video of the pancake guy who was just up from the dive resort we hung out at. He was originally from Bangladesh by way of Myanmar to Thailand. He spoke 7 languages. He said that after the first four, it comes easy. He's more entertaining than in the video, but here you go: http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=wGR2zJTbu7U

But if I went on much about the colour of the water or the palm trees swaying; if I talked too long about how the kids and I kept breaking into South Pacific songs; if I reveled in lying in a manicured jungle garden in a raised pagoda having a Thai massage, well... all of you who just had your own tropical holiday would be bored. And the rest of you in temperate climes would just be annoyed.

As a courtesy to you who don't get a week off in October, let me just tell you about our trip home. We left paradise at 3:30 on Saturday. First there was a 2 hour ferry ride followed by an 8 hour bus ride interrupted by one and a half hours in a truck stop for dinner. We arrived in Bangkok at 4:15 a.m., went to the airport to sleep and kill time. We flew out of there at 1:50 p.m. (on another flight to Nairobi by way of Hong Kong) and arrived in Hong Kong around five. Then we took the MTR across town, missed a ferry, waited at the ferry pier and got home at 8 p.m. Sunday after traveling for 29 hours. And they say Thailand is only a two hour flight away. I think I'm doing something wrong!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Lamma Commute

I'm still taking a ferry to a bus every day even though I moved. We get up even earlier and stumble down the hill to the ferry pier. It's lined with the bicycles of all the people who converge each morning and evening for the commute. One of these pictures is of the weather before the typhoon. The other is after the typhoon cleared the air - I like typhoons not just for days off school.

The main difference in the commute this year is that it's an ugly ferry. Instead of comfortable airline-type seats we ride on vinyl in a dark box that smells like goats. The commute should be just as beautiful except the ferry line never cleans its windows. So there are many fewer opportunities to take pictures out of the windows. I get a shot every now and again, though.
The typhoon came on Tuesday last week. During the night it passed by, rattling the metal awning on my roof and making me nervous enough that I was glad a child joined me in bed. But nothing was damaged at our place and we got a day off school, but barely. The Hong Kong Observatory predicted it would lower the T8 flag between 6 and 7 a.m. That's the signal that closes schools and businesses. The timing of it was such that the Education Board cancelled school for the day rather than letting kids start the morning trip to school in a T8. But if the typhoon had passed one hour quicker we would have had to go to school. I had to take a kid into the doctor's, so this last picture is the remnants of the storm we got to travel through on our way to Hong Kong Island. It's hard for a camera to see the darkness of menace contrasted with the luminosity of the water stirred by storm but lit by sunlight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Living on Lamma

Two Saturdays ago I moved into a new flat on Lamma Island. Lamma is known for its weed, its artists, its seafood and its expat hippies. I haven't encountered much of any of that so far, though I do know one cool artist who lives here.

Here are some pictures of my new place and my rooftop.

I am not yet happy with my commute. The connections are bad and the ferry is ugly and kind of stinky. If I get organized, though, I may get to take a very slow, non-air conditioned ferry straight from Aberdeen to Lamma. Last Thursday I did that for the first time. I got off at a tiny village before the main village and walked the 20 minutes home. It was very peaceful - green and overgrown. Unfortunately I have some sort of foot/ankle injury and can't enjoy the plentiful hikes and runs that are all around me yet. Inshallah soon.

But the rooftop...
The rooftop deserves its own post.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Joshua Tree

Despite this blog being about Hong Kong, I'm still not ready to face my commute and the bustle of the city. So I'm taking a moment to reminisce about one of my favourite parts of my summer - camping in Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree has always been one of my favourite places on earth. It's much more than an album, though I do like that, too. From the time I was little, I went camping and rock climbing there, so I was appalled to realize that my kids hadn't experienced the same thing.

Granite, Kestrel and I went out in July for a few days. It's usually way too hot in the high desert that time of year, but it's still fun. I expected to spend the days lolling in the shade panting and then venturing out in the late evenings and early mornings just like the coyotes.

But we had the strangest weather and even got rained on. It made for a perfect, comfortable, relaxing trip. The kids got the idea perfectly: Granite lay about reading on the tops of rocks and Kestrel found little holes to hide and play in.

It was the first time I'd taken the kids camping by myself, and it turned out to be a triumph. We didn't have a very deluxe camp set-up, but I didn't expect any sort of weather. We saw lizards and ground squirrels, hawks, coyotes and lizards. We even saw big horn sheep, which I'd never seen before in all my years of visiting the park.

I took dozens of pictures of the world reflected in Granite's cool sunglasses, but only a few of the world in the side mirror while I was driving. It's always important to be safe.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


The first two weeks of the summer, I traveled in Northern Vietnam. I've just recently started reading about what happened 40 years ago this summer in the war, but it is almost inconceivable that the terrors could have happened in the delightful country I visited. I wrote lots (way too much) about my trip and posted pictures on my trip blog. The link is in the side bar. I really recommend Vietnam for the great food and nice people, for the exotic and the picturesque.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The last days of school

New teachers who made it through and now are oldies.
Celebrating after the after party in a ice vodka bar.The morning of the last commute to school.I have loved this commute. Every day is so beautiful in its own way.The sun was so bright on the way home. I wished I could ride home in this.