Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving

After almost a month a anticipation and excitement, Thanksgiving weekend finally arrived. I had sent out an open invitation to all staff at my school as well as a few non CDNIS people that I know in HK. Potentially, I knew there could be a huge turn out, but I was happily satisfied with my prediction that I could easily accommodate up to 50 people with the rooftop area and the balcony doors wide open. I also proposed the party as an all-day event, running between 3pm and 9pm with the hopes that people and families would straggle in, socialize and visit, and then head out at scattered times, thus creating different mixtures of people at different points of the day. It was specifically a pot luck and not a sit-down dinner.

On Friday I bought a 22-lb turkey in Causeway Bay from a local frozen meats store that my friend Tanja took me to. I waddled home with it, first by taxi, then ferry, then walking. I affectionately named him Trypto, and when we got home I laid him in the bathtub to thaw.

Saturday morning Melissa came over and she baked a scrumptious-looking pumpkin pie followed by an even handsomer apple pie. I watched carefully to pick up some baking skills.

Sunday arrived. At 7am, I cleaned and seasoned Trypto, setting him in the oven for a 6 hour sleep. Then I cleaned the house. It was a gloomy and surprisingly windy day, but the promise of blue sky seemed to be taunting me every so often when I was up on the roof. Things could brighten up, I assured myself. Melissa arrived early to help me make a scavenger hunt of cute Gobble Gobble signs leading from the ferry to my flat.

At exactly 3 o'clock a flurry of people came to Lamma (as happens here with an influx of people on each arriving ferry). A few families with little kids, a couple friends from outside school, and then more teachers, more teachers and even more teachers. As the crowd grew larger, so did the heaviness of the clouds. Within an hour the rain was inevitable. Everyone was forced inside, off the roof and off the balcony. The crowd continued to grow steadily. More kids, more adults, more food and more wine. People were having an awesome time, nonetheless, squished into a small space where the air was sticky and very loud. Everyone indulged in all the  fabulous food, wine and beer and shared the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

I had encouraged people to bring food items, of whatever variety, to share with the crowd. I expected that people would nibble here and there and that the food would be not so much served as a meal, as simply laid out as it came. This, of course, didn't work out very well! Not only was everyone in the same place at the same time, but it turned out that eating together made the most sense, given the time and abundance of munchkins. All of this with limited serving surfaces/tables, not enough disposable plasticware and the absence of real sit-down areas available. Ahhhhhh! At this point Melissa swooped in tot save the day playing an amazing role of hostess because a) she's really good at it  and b) she enjoys it. I was incapable of orchestrating the food delivery.

It was, for everyone, a fabulous party. I was left, unfortunately, with a small weight of disappointment. I wanted people to experience the splendor of the roof top. I wanted everyone to be able to relax comfortably. I wanted more space and less stress. Oh well... there will be other times for different parties and many good lessons were learned. The biggest one being that my place isn't set up to be exactly child-friendly, or maybe it's a bit too child-friendly.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My 1st Backyard Hike - Mt. Stenhouse

On one of my first sunny Sundays living on Lamma Island 南丫島, I decided to go out exploring. Heading out around noon, it was a delicately clear day to the eye, a calm and realizing day to the ear, but a rather fuzzy and oppressive one to the other 3 senses.

Without any plan or agenda, I set out towards the beach and within 20 short minutes was not where I wanted to be. I curiously poked around some neighborhoods beside and behind the beach in search of the 'family trail', climbing up and down numerous stairs and encroaching a little too much on some more private patios and back alleys between village homes. How could I be lost? I considered heading up to the Lamma Winds windmill and taking the snake trail down towards Sok Kwu Wan 索罟灣, but having already done that in the past, it seemed less exciting. And while asking one of the many people I passed on the trail would have been easy enough, I was happy to scout out the area on my own. Discover what was around and find something I didn't even know I was looking for. Eventually I realized that the path was along the coast, exiting on the far side of the beach near the BBQ pits, not up behind it. I made my way along the broad, paved path filled with tourists in sundresses and high heels touting umbrellas, oversized sun hats and super shades. The path eventually lead into some shaded ares and before I knew it I was approaching Sok Kwu Wan, the small fishing village in the middle of the island.

I checked out the small and secluded Lo Shing Beach, taking a break to read for a while and then I grabbed some quick food in Sok Kwu Wan.

Heading almost due south, I reentered the forest for a little while as I climbed towards the small rest spot, 陰山, just up form the crossroad. Here I enjoyed the view and the sunshine as I remembered that the last time I was at that very spot, it was a cool and windy December evening as dusk was settling over the island. After I while I decided to return home. I'd been out for nearly 3 hours and it has been a beautiful stroll in my new backyard. Upon reaching the map at the crossroads and realizing I had few options for my return trek home, my eyes began to wander. I studied the paths which spoked out from the peak of Mt. Stenhouse, the highest peak on Lamma. It was just a few crests and valleys beyond where I was standing. I contemplated whether or not I could make it up there and back before dark? I wondered if there was a different path, coming down from the peak, that would lead towards Yung Shue Wan  榕樹灣 so that I wouldn't have to retrace my steps? I took a mental picture of the map (why don't I have an iPhone yet?) and decided to go for it!

The climb up became increasingly harder as I disappeared into a realm of HK hiking trails that no one frequents in the excessively hot summer months. Overgrowth was an understatement. There were times on the ups where the thick vegetation came in quite handy as would have ladder rungs or ropes, but on the slippery downs the bush basically masked the rocky trails catching my ankles and lacerating my shins. Only once did I stop to assess whether or not it would make more sense to turn back. Nah, what fun would that be? I was at the top by about 4:15, enjoying a great sense of accomplishment and feeling the payoff of perseverance.

From the peak of Stenhouse, I scoped out the view of paths leading downwards, affectionately satisfied with my ability to apply what I was now looking down upon to the mental map I'd created earlier.
I couldn't help but also smile at the recognition of a deep rooted aversion to going back the way I'd come up. Who has rubbed off on me, this slightly stubborn strictly-straight-ahead style, sideswiping my stay on the safer side sensibilities? Hmmm... I was astonished by my own drive to explore the unknown and my motivation for discovery, even while facing 2 short hours of remaining daylight and the absence of map, food, headlamp and knife.

Onwards and downwards. This time the downs were especially hard as the trails became almost non-existent under the brush. Amazingly, every time I began to get discouraged or anxious at the thought that I had made a bad decision, I would find a clear stretch of trail, with a breathtaking view and I'd be encouraged forward by my own relentless efforts and cycling enthusiasm. Eventually, I could tell exactly where I was, reflecting on the map in my head, and I felt confident that I could get myself to Lo Shing beach by simply crossing a small but swampy gully. Looking down on it, it seemed doable. At this point, however, I crested a slight hill and while starting down the other side, I had the eerie feeling that someone was watching me. I looked up towards the next rocky crest to see a pack of wild dogs. Uh oh... Immediately upon making eye contact, they started to bark ferociously, telling me that they were not keen on me passing through their territory. Hmmm, time to re-route. I headed slightly backwards and down another side of the hill. Within 20 minutes I was in an overgrown forest, a good sign of reproaching sea level and civilization.

I was thrilled to be back on track, to have made it down smiling. My legs stung with scratches and nicks and my clothes were drenched with sweat, but I was feeling great. I found my way through some abandoned village houses in the woods to reconnect with the 'family trail'. I still had the 1hour walk back to Yung Shue Wan. There was a neat cloud effect happening as the sun began to sink behind the Power Station on my way. Perfect timing. I headed back into town for a big dinner and a cold shower, snuggled myself under the covers and was asleep by 8:30!

I later read on wikipedia: Mount Stenhouse is the tallest mountain in Lamma (353 metres above sea-level), situated between Sok Kwu Wan and Sham Wan. Unusually shaped rocks can be found all over this mountain, but a gruelling hike is necessary to access these.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happily Settling into Life on Lamma

Year # 3 begins in Hong Kong.

I arrived home from my magical summer holiday with a little less than 24 hours before work began. Luckily, in my line of work, I can bank on the first full week being one without students when the school year revs up. This is normally a week of meetings, intensive planning/cleaning/decorating and getting everything in order for the first day that the kids arrive. It is a social week and it's fun to see colleagues and exchange summer adventure stories. It also resembles a cold bucket of water in the face, as full-on and fast-paced as any given week in Hong Kong, and living in a hotel room made it even more difficult for me to keep up. Another drain on my emotional stability was trying to adjust to a much more solitary routine after the tandem one that I had indulged in over the summer.... Ah, a sweet and delicious solitude, which I love and missed, laced with a tinge of bitter lonliness. Trying to focus on my multitude of work-related enthusiasms, while being heavily distracted with a keen excitement about hunting for a new home, was a bit like having dinner with Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder simultaneously. Exhausting, and yet intensely engrossing as well.

I had decided on big change when I left my cute little Lilian Court abode in Central last June, imagining myself with more wide-open space in a village house on Lamma or Lantau Island for the fall. A week after returning to Hong Kong I found a wonderful nest on Lamma Island and made the decision that, yes, the village of Yung Shue Wan would provide a happy home-base community for me. The downfall was that I needed to wait almost 3 more weeks to move in. Patience, flexibility, creative thinking and practical problem-solving all came in very handy in this time. I lived in a small, dark, and sometimes dank, room just down Main street from the ferry pier in Yung Shue Wan.

It was a challenging start, and I had some desperately discouraging days, but as I was hoping (and have since confirmed), it was well worth the wait.