Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Cold Part II: The Flowers

This is part two, so if you haven't read how pitifully cold it is for us humans, please check that out. You need to hear the pathos in my voice and see how frigid it really is before you see these pictures.

There are 500,000 plus people stranded in a train station just 3 hours north of here. The stock market is falling because of the terrible cold. Coal stocks are fluctuating based on wild rumors - can they make huge profits? will the government step in and regulate prices to cub inflation? will shortages continue? will mines be forced to stay open during the Lunar New Year? People are without water and power all over the mainland and more that 1 million police and soldiers have been mobilized to maintain order in airports and train stations and clear snow and ice from highways. It's all happening so close to Hong Kong. Even here people are remembering the bitter winter of 1996 when old people died in their beds because of the cold. But look at these flowers and plants. All of these are taken outside while I was walking home Monday night.

So don't listen to any more moaning from me.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Cold Part I: In Parkas

Here I am sitting in my flat in a fleece, wool sweater and red beret looking out at whipping winds and grey skies. This story of the cold starts in August- August 2003. We'd just got off the airplane at the old Ankara airport and I was standing on a torn-up sidewalk in 37 degree heat with a toddler, a 7 year old, 11 big bags, four carry-ons, no cell phone, no phone numbers and no one picking us up. Eventually, we were found and put in a mini-bus to be taken to our new home. The hot wind whipped my hair as I held the two-year old who bounced on the seat excited for her first car ride out of a car seat. And what did Linda talk about the whole way home? The winters. She said how long the winters were, how think and frequent the snow, how the gloom hung over the city, how the cold got deep in her bones. It was unbelievable in the heat and dryness of the day. It was so dry that it made you want to get back in the airplane to plump up.

Well, part-way through the first winter in Ankara, we got snow boots mailed in; snow pants, long johns and toques followed soon after. But I read the weather for Hong Kong. It said that the coldest it gets here is 10 degrees. And I know 10. 10 degrees is a t-shirt, and fleece; it's a turtleneck and shell; it's a baseball cap and hoodie. So we each brought a sweatshirt when we moved. I brought my beret because I've had it since 1996, and I sold or gave away all 16 pairs of our gloves.

And then August came. We got to Hong Kong. It was 34 degrees and raining. As soon as I stepped outdoors I felt the weight and thickness of the heat, but right away I started to hear about The Cold. 'It just lasts a couple of months,' they said, 'but it's a damp cold that gets right in your bones.' 'None of the houses are heated so you'll be shivering in your own bedroom.' 'You'll see.' I kept checking the climate charts - sure enough average lows in January-14 degrees, average highs-18. I was mocked for bringing the cool coat I had bought from Shannon when she moved to Singapore. I was teased for not having gotten rid of my favourite grey sweater I bought before the baby was born.

The question was, how could do you think it's going to be? But last week it started to blow. Today, in spite of people over for brunch and two coffee cakes, one quiche and cranberry orange scones keeping the oven on for hours, people kept their coats on. Here I am, shivering in my own living room. Even three days ago, I was still giggling at the parkas, hats and scarves I was seeing all over town. Today, not so much.

I wanted to have funny pictures of people looking like it's the Arctic, but it's hard to get pictures of the coats of the people walking when you're shivering. I liked these people all bundled up by the fountain outside Dior inside the Landmark building. Check out the thongs on the woman sitting a little farther over. The picture of the girl in the purple tam is right at our ferry terminal. I followed her and her friend for a long time because they were just the cutest with their boots, sweaters and handbags big enough to float home in.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Toys for boys and girls

I haven't read, blogged, written or e-mailed this past week because I've been too busy with a new toy. I've been playing with my Rubik's cube. Last Saturday I bought one at Toys 'R Us because of my third New Year's Resolution, which is the only one that's likely attainable: "Learn to solve the Rubik's Cube."
When I was 11 I couldn't do it. I remember who could - Jon, Wesley, Darren Okada, lots of other boys - and only boys. I could do the top layer, but that was all. They spent hours working on it, but I know they got hints, too. Somebody bought a booklet from somewhere that explained how to solve it. I'm not sure where they got the booklet, but I have the feeling that it was the same mysterious place where they they got Mad magazines and fake dog poop. In my mind it was all connected somehow with the Dr. Demento show as well.
So on Sunday, I went to 2008 equivalent of the comic book/joke shop at the mall: YouTube. My boy (who's the age Jon and Wesley were) and I spent hours watching the YouTube video, pausing, trying and taking notes. And by Sunday night, not long after he went to sleep, with help of notes, I solved it! I couldn't do it consistently, and had to look at the notes over and over again, but now after hours and hours of practice, it only takes me ten minutes or so. I've spent nights with my wrists twitching and dreaming of algorithms - R U Ri U R U U Ri is my favourite. Just thinking of it makes me want to do it again. The solving is so satisfying.
I have to say that I'd always felt superior when I'd seen adults playing Nintendo DS or their Sony PSPs on the subway. It's not unusual at all to see grown people take them out of their pockets, though usually not from their briefcases. The briefcase set has different toys: Blackberries and Iphones that they use ostensibly for work or for checking Facebook. I guess I can't look down on all the grown-ups with their toys now. And I'm not sure why I thought I ever could because I never leave home without my toys in my pocket or purse: my Nano, phone, camera, sometimes laptop and now my Rubik's Cube.
Try it! We're all much smarter than we were in 1980.
Here's the link to the YouTube video:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Blue Skies Over My Head...

It is the clearest day I've ever seen in Hong Kong. I know I've said so before, but it seems even clearer today, partly because it was so foggy yesterday and partly because the skyline has become familiar enough that when it becomes clear I see things I didn't realize were there. It's the same principle as being a fire lookout: the view around becomes so well known that the smallest smoke attracts the eye.
As I walked to the ferry this morning I read the headlines in the hands of a woman walking home. It said, "100 injured when Macau ferries collide in fog." The fog had disrupted ferry crossings for six hours yesterday, but after the passages resumed two ferries smashed hard enough to send passengers flying and crack the windshield of one of the ferries. Also a jet foil hit a fishing boat, two fishing boats went down after running into each other and in the same area a Fire Services speedboat smashed into another fishing boat. It reminds me how I'd always been afraid on ferries before they became such a commonplace part of my life. As we cross over each day, we nip in behind loaded container ships bound for other ports; we speed beside hydrofoils, cut in front of sampans and junks, skirt aircraft carriers and cross paths regularly with cruise ships.
I never saw the fog thick yesterday, but I did see the glory shining through the clouds. Today I took pictures all over town because of the clearness of the light. This picture of the plants is in a tiny park, the size of a N. American apartment, that's tucked between raised walkways. The light was especially brilliant because from one side shone the sun and from the other shone an even brighter light - the reflection from the Bank of China building. It was hotter than a greenhouse there and the weight of the air was like June. It looked even better than real life, as if my life were a movie.
I didn't worry about crossing home today. If the ferry crashed on a day like today, it was just fate. Allah Korusun after all. (Notice how high the building in the background is now compared with my banner photo!) Today looked like one of my favourite songs. This song makes me happy, though a little uneasy when I used to hear my three-year-old sing it. Tom Waits on Closing Time:
"Blue skies over my head.
Give me another reason to get out of bed.
Blue skies shine in my face
Give me another woman to take her place.
Ain't got no money,
Cupboards are bare,
No cigarettes and the kids got nothing to wear.
She walked out without a word
Now the only song's singing's that mocking bird..."

Look up!

It was almost a year ago that I was at the London job fair and the guy who hired me for this job said that he's often thought of writing a guide book to Hong Kong entitled, Don't Look Up. He said that he is still jarred by the incongruity between what he sees at street level and what is hanging above. I completely disagree. So many times I've looked up and caught views and vistas that would be impossible except for the reflections on the buildings. It's like so many big cities where the buildings can keep the sunlight from touching you, but in Hong Kong there isn't the brick - instead it's all glass. My son saw and framed the best reflection picture I've made so far, but it's missing in the morass that is various back-ups, hard drives, dropped laptops and school servers. Today, though, I looked up and saw this.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Orchids Ejaculate!

I was reading through last year's diary, to finish the old and start the new, and saw that in Prague last year I was worried that I had given up growing things. It was part of a complicated mind shift in which I realized that it may not be necessary for me to ever be able to be completely self-sustaining and live off the land. It was quite a shock for me, and for a year I didn't grow any vegetables, herbs or flowers. But in Prague, I realized that I could grow orchids. Orchids are frivolous, unnecessary, gaudy, excessive, thoroughly decorative and never included in bomb shelters..I bought my first orchid way out in the New Territories somewhere. I'm not sure where I was because I went on a shopping expedition with a bunch of teachers from other international schools. We went to two porcelain factories, a bronze factory, an outlet for a Pier One kind of place and ended up at a flea market. I bought the orchid at the flea market - cheap because one of the flower stalks was bent and imperfect. The woman wrapped it carefully and it made it safely home. This first picture I took lying on the floor after a run. The blossoms have just begun to open. I wish I knew what kind of orchid it is. I've read two books on orchids: The Orchid Thief, of course, which got made into a movie, and Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen. I found that book in Chapters in Calgary and bought it even though I couldn't really afford it. One year I gave it to Grandma for Christmas, but after she died I found it still unread in her house and took it back.  The first couple of times I read Orchid Fever I had no concept of Turkey and didn't even notice the chapter about the salep orchid. But now that I've had the most delicious salep from a cart with a huge brass dispenser on the top that was being pushed up the bead store hill in Ulus, it's my favourite chapter.
My orchid's blossoms started very
 green, but as they matured they turned more yellow until becoming almost orange. There was dew-like nectar along the stem of each blossom and the base stretched more and more open, waiting. If you look carefully, you'll see a small bump protruding from the hood above the base. I think the orchid needed some bugs because when I bumped the hood, a tiny thing that looks for all the world like a penis popped out, curled and bulging. This last picture shows what it looks like after the flower has been satiated. I have lots more pictures, but I think this is already excessive. 
I hope I can get it to bloom again. I predict that my house will soon be full of orchids sitting in their dormancy for 11 months out of the year. Last week I went to the flower market up in Mongkok and bought four more orchids. But they are quite common. Three are just paphiopedilum hybrids and the other I forget the name. Don't worry; I won't go on about them like this. Well, at least I won't until maybe in a year if I get them to bloom again.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Sad to be all alone in the world?" - Thoroughly Modern Millie

This is my last post of 2007, though it is January 1, 2008. I'll try and post-date it, but I suspect software will get in my way. There is a transition time on New Year's Day where it's not the new year yet and it's fair to continue with the thoughts and bad habits of the old. At least that's what my hangover is telling me. 
I took this picture late on the dying edge of a party at Matthew and Heather's. Matthew was shortening our lives by spraying toxic artificial snow on this little tree that he found in a bin on the edge of the big Happy Valley cemeteries. It was there in the trash with the stand, the water holder and all. 

I'm including it in this post because it reminds me of a conversation I had at that party with Heather and a guy who's lived away from San Francisco for 20 years. We were talking of home towns and what it means to be from somewhere. If you've lived abroad, you know the conversation: It starts with the question where are you from? Then it wanders through whether that's an easy or difficult question, touches on what other expats say, ventures toward what your own expat kids say as their answer and compares that to the answers of everyone in the conversation.  Then it inevitably moves toward how if someone hasn't lived abroad, this conversation doesn't have any meaning. I don't mean to say that I'm by any means tired of this topic - it's constantly fascinating to hear how people are dealing with the feelings that come with this rootless life. And it's a bonding conversation that works to remind how much we have in common.  

But this time we started talking about the long epistles sent home. Heather said that in her first year in Korea, she took pictures all the time and sent home e-mails every time she went anywhere. Gradually the letters became less frequent, though, as she realized that nobody was reading them. Until now, on her third country, she only writes about her travels because her grandma posts them up in the old folks home, proud of her granddaughter's adventures. The other guy agreed. He told how he had taken his family on this incredible trekking adventure in Nepal - really one of the best trips of his life. In the summer back home, a family member asked him what he'd been up to. He started to tell about the trip only to be interrupted in a few minutes by, "We got a new dryer last week." They both said that no one wants to read these letters and descriptions because no one can understand a life that is different from their own, and no one wants to. 

That's such a sad thought that it belongs in 2007, not 2008. I hope they are wrong. I hope I'm not just talking to myself.