Month: September 2014

Some days I think we are totally hanging in there with parenting, and some days I feel like we have NO earthly idea what we’re doing. Are we raising a future pope or a future Simon Cowell? If he turns out to be the next Simon Cowell, I’m afraid I’ll have to become a fan of Simon Cowell. Because I love this kid so much.

dw painter
(The sound of breaking wind — his own.)

“I hear a firetruck.”

paint 4
(Running around with a plastic hanger as weapon.)

“Hooker! Hooker! Hooker! I’m going to hooker you!”

paint 2
(Running around with a toy that I thought was a ball launcher, but is more honestly a hot purple gun.)

“I’m going to shot you! Shot! Shot!”

paint 3
(Observing the on-duty lifeguard’s deep slumber.)

“Is the lifesaver taking a nap? He’s not watching me.”

paint 1
(Out of the clear blue.)

“Not all kids are bootiful, Mom. Some are not bootiful.”

When we dreamed up places we might want to live (besides the world’s most perfect city, Seattle), one of our priorities was safety. I wanted to be able to walk outside with our kiddo and not wonder if I was about to get mugged in broad daylight, like this guy. A lot of places we LOVE were ruled out, because my fear of dying is bigger than my sense of adventure, I guess. Mexico and Guatemala were checked off the list after too many true, not-just-blogged-about expat kidnapping anecdotes bubbled up. I understand that a lot of people in the world don’t have the luxury of steering clear of violence by way of rerouted job applications, but I’m grateful that we do.

Then a month before we left, a troubled young man with a gun came to the place I worked and loved and killed another young man. He shot two others and traumatized our community. After the shooting, I received a very kind note from our welcoming crew in Hong Kong, and it said, “Don’t worry–that’s something you will never, ever have to worry about here.”

So we packed up and waved goodbye to all the very-real risks of violence at home, and part of me kind of thought we’d get some immunity to All Hard Things. Because now we live in a city that actually doesn’t have violent crime. (Which is basically true and it blows my mind.)

But last week, my beloved former boss died suddenly in Seattle, and I realized (duh, so many duhs) how much moving to a new country, a country that fills all the modern requirements on my post-it list, won’t protect me or the people I love from the rough stuff. Even if I think I’m protected from violence here in Hong Kong, the rough is random and it never stops being rough.

Jennifer was steady and a real smartypants. She knew when to put up a fight and when to roll with the punches. She managed the communications crisis of a school shooting, our school shooting, with humanity and loads of care. She also helped me see myself as a writer, and she made me feel like a million bucks because she laughed so loudly at my jokes, even when I was monopolizing the staff meeting. (“Another way of doing business AND government.”)

I’m going to miss her, even in my Hong Kong cocoon. Here’s to loving each other well, since we’re not so immune after all.

Someone smart told me that I’d probably spend the first year abroad analyzing every last inch of what is different. And then eventually, I’ll get adjusted and find things like these oddities completely normal and whatever no big deal. And then it will take me an entire year back in the States (or any other place) to realize these were incredibly weird in the first place.

Here’s to finding weird stuff normal!

baby hands
Because every mother needs a statue of what her baby might look like were he to be buried alive. By a company named Pearhead. Seen at Toys ‘R’ Us (pronounced Toys Russ).

Ladies who lunch, take a load off. That Dior bag looks heavy. Seen at one of the zillions of malls.

Exactly the phrase I would have suggested to promote children’s toys in a children’s toy store. You read my mind. Seen at Toys Russ.

green lies
Keep telling yourself that, Causeway Bay.

happy socks

Now this, I can get used to. Favorite socks of all time, available with the swipe of an Octopus! I am my mother’s daughter.

Sometimes people ask us if we visited Hong Kong before actually choosing to, you know, LIVE here, and the answer to that would be no. In fact, we hadn’t traveled in Asia at all, despite my desire to do yoga in Bali after reading Eat, Play, Love, like everyone else. I did, however, spend a lot of quality time in the last year googling the following: expat in Hong Kong, how to pronounce expat, American in Hong Kong, medical emergency hotline in Hong Kong, direct flights to America from Hong Kong, Putin and Hong Kong, babies in Hong Kong, and finally, make friends in Hong Kong.

All the Buzzfeeds pointed toward a posh, glimmering city that basically looks like the inside of Nordstrom, except the shiny effect would also be on buses and on sidewalks and on people. I was imagining “Whole Foods: The City.” Turns out, there’s pollution, massive crowds that make Black Friday look tame, and a wee bit of a wealth gap. It’s basically got all the good and all the hard like any other place on earth, which I guess…duh.

But let me tell you about the good ideas. These new-to-me concepts are making everyday life a little easier, and these are the things that make people say, “Hong Kong is so cutting edge and techy and OMG it’s the coolest city ever.”

1. Taxis have automatic doors. Passengers typically enter on the left side of the cab, and just as you lean out to grab the door handle, POOF! It opens for you! Technically, the driver opens it for you, and it only takes a couple of doors-to-the-toddler’s-head to get the hang of it. Small price to pay.

2.  Buses come allllll the time. Need a bus? Why don’t you just walk out the door and wave your arm a little? Because they come at least every ten minutes, and usually more often. Bonus: They drive at the speed of light, so it only takes ten more minutes to get wherever you’re going.

3. The Octopus card, the reloadable, swiping wonder. Octopus was invented for quick payment on mass transit (again with the transit amazingness), but you can use it at pretty much any place you’d want to ever buy a pack of gum. That includes 7-11, gas stations, and the pharmacy. Ikea also accepts Octopus in its cafe, not that I’d have any experience with that.

4. Security guards are everywhere. From our apartment complex to the subway stations to the top of the escalator at the outdoor mall, there’s always someone whose job is pretty much to stand around and keep things in line via purposeful stares. I thought it might feel kind of militaristic, but it’s more the “how can I help” vibe. Unless there’s a toddler standing up in a grocery cart. Then it’s full-blown policing.

5. You can pay your bills about 8 different ways. The standard online and autopay options are available, but two other handy methods are at the ATM and also at the post office. The post office is my personal favorite, since it’s the main government service I feel is both the coolest and most under-appreciated in the States, so it makes me feel like a proud American, even when I’m using a service of the Chinese government. It’s a lot of complicated emotions while paying bills.

Honorable mention for this list is the speed at which construction takes place. Except, when people tell me stories about windows shattering in their apartments because of “impurities in the glass”… it’s hard for me to think the building codes are cutting the mustard.


Because I miss Maryann, and because I lay awake at night thinking, “I need to write all this down because my mind is being b-l-o-w-n every day,” but then I fall asleep because it’s wearing me out, man! Because of all that, it’s back to lists.

Project: Spending my life savings at IKEA. It’s one of the few places I can pick up several items on my list at a time, which makes me feel wildly productive. Related: Americans, especially locavore Seattleites, lament the loss of mom-and-pop shops that specialize in curtains and only curtains. You know when I do not feel warm and fuzzy about small business? When I’m moving into a new place. I admit that I have tasted the Kool-Aid of one-stop shopping at Target, and I can’t imagine anything more blissful right now. Partly because I’m not able to tell whether the small shops here in Hong Kong are mom-and-pop-ish or if they are basically just a bunch of Walmarts broken into tiny locations.

Movie: About Time! We are halfway through it and need to steal a night to finish up, but I am so nervous about what’s going to happen. I want them to be together and have zero problems and only perfection in this movie–how can you not root for this guy?

Food: I ate my weight in lumpia last night. I may be the last to the lumpia party, but I am certainly willing to make up for lost time here.

Drink: Boiled water. I don’t know why we are boiling it, except it’s the thing to do. Apparently the water in Hong Kong is perfectly safe, but once you see people ordering bottled in a restaurant, it’s hard to undo the anxiety.

Celebrity Crush: See that guy.

: Going down my elevator, walking outside, and counting how long it takes to find a taxi. Because it is SO FAST, and it’s a little bit of magic. And once I’m in the taxi, I am obsessed with this app called Taxi Cards, which pulls up any address in Chinese! I will never get lost again!

: Delancey, since the homesickness is still definitely a reality, albeit less of a heartbreaker at the moment. I should be reading Unbroken for my new (!) book club, but I can’t pull myself away from the pizza talk.

: When I look out our living room window, I see this gigantic green mountain, and pretty much nothing else. In a sardine-city like Hong Kong, I count myself quite lucky to have a view of anything but air conditioners. Also, it’s incredibly safe here. For one thing, guns are completely illegal, and I can’t tell you how much safer it’s made me feel. Funny how no guns yields no gun violence. (I can’t help myself!)

: Is it wrong if I just give in to the craze that is Crocs in Asia? Please tell me that it’s coming back around at home, too. Why did they ever stop being wonderful in my mind? It’s like marshmallows for your feet. How can that be wrong?

TV show
: Meh. YouTube? Except, the Food Network’s YouTube channel isn’t viewable here. When I called to ask about American cable options, the man thought I would really enjoy the channel called “Hollywood Hits” since, ahem. Nicolas Cage was on the brochure, so we are saving our money for now. Everything else is in Chinese.

: A little Whitney Houston, a little Caspar Babypants. Okay, a lot of the Frozen soundtrack.

: A little J.Crew never hurt anybody.

: Daily dips in our pool. (What is this life???)

: As my friend Julie reminded me this morning, these moving-to-another-country stories are going to be shaping me for the rest of my life. I wonder how I’ll remember all this when I’m 75? I know, at the very least, I will always be pro-swimming pool.