Just another in paradise

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So we recently spent a week in Hoi An and Danang, Vietnam. This has suddenly become the ‘it’ destination on the mums groups I’m on, and while I’m not exactly a follower of these trends (even if I could afford to keep up with them), this destination was on my radar because I’ve been wanting to do a relaxing beach holiday with the kids in a kids-friendly resort to see if those facilities are really worth it, and I’ve never been to Vietnam. Also, Vietnam is a super short flight away, and there’s only an hour time difference, which fits my parameters for holidays with the kids.

Initially, I had my sights on the Hyatt Danang, because that’s the one that gets named a lot, but given that it turned out to be super expensive, we decided to do 3 nights there are three nights in a cheaper hotel, which is when I hit upon the idea of going to Hoi An, which is the historic town, first.

Since I no longer have time for long rambly post, here are my hopefully truncated thoughts:

The good

The hotel we picked Hoi An River Town Hotel was probably one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at ever. I’m not sure about its star rating and it’s definitely not a huge sprawling five star facility, but it hit the spot on all count. It is small but beautifully decorated, it had two adequate pools that were never crowded, the rooms were clean and comfortable, the wifi was excellent, the buffet breakfast was lovely, and the staff were amazing. Nene fell sick on the first night, and couldn’t really eat much. I requested to be allowed to take up a few items from the breakfast buffet, and they readily obliged. At night, when Nene refused everything and demanded only the yogurt from the buffet, I went down and asked Reception if there was any, and they got it for me from the kitchen (Nene unfortunately puked it all up, but that’s another story). When he finally came down, the staff all fussed over him. It was truly warm and personalized service, and for that I would totally go back to this hotel, and recommend it anyone. The hotel is not in the thick of town, but a short walk to the night market and the back end of the old town, overlooking the river. So close to the action but not so close that it’s noisy, which suited us.

Because Nene was ill, we didn’t get to do as much as we might otherwise had. Not that I had planned a lot, but the one thing I wanted to do was walk around the Old Town, which is a UNESCO heritage sight. And it did not disappoint. It is quaint and beautiful. We went into one of the shops where they do silk embroidery so intricate that it looks like a painting and on the upper floor you can buy silk scarves or get stuff stitched. Apart from that, they showed us the process of silk making, including the worms, the cocoons and the loom. That was interesting for the kids. Though the cocoons are boiled with the butterfly/worm inside which is pretty ick. Seems like hard to find a cruelty free product if you think about it.

The highlight of the evening for us was taking a boat ride down the river. It was so peaceful and they give you candles in little paper holders to float down the river. Since my grandma had passed away we used this as a little ceremony in her honour, where the kids said what they remembered of her. The paper thingies and candles overturn and sink almost right away, and are probably pollution the river can do without, so would probably skip that part if we did a do-over, though the kids enjoyed it.


Another highlight was the beach at Danang. Glittering blue from afar but a bit more murky up close, with light sand, water just the perfect temperature and waves just rough enough to be fun, it is probably the most perfect beach I’ve visited so far. It is a private beach so not crowded (though I am not a fan of a private beach on principle). I wanted to stay near the beach so we could go every single day (and I knew that wouldn’t happen if there was a bit of a journey involved, because V just doesn’t truly see why people need to go to the beach every day, whereas I am a Goan who went to Goa every summer as a child, and basically hung out at the beach twice a day or more). My kids love the beach and so do I, it is the thing that calms me when I am angsty.


The one attraction that I was keen to visit in Danang was Marble Mountain and it did not disappoint. It is a short cab ride away from the hotel (adults could walk, but since there’s  a fair bit of walking up the mountain itself, the hotel suggested we cab it, and that was a good call). We went at 7 am and were pretty much the only one’s there except a couple of others. We took the elevator up to a point, and then walked. There are enclaves with Buddhist shrines all over, but the highlights are the caves with shrines in them. There’s actually a bit of scrambling and climbing in the caves that Nene especially loved (though you could take an easier stairway too). When we got into the biggest deepest cave, I gasped – it was so eerie-peaceful-beautiful. One of the unexpectedly best sights I’ve ever seen.

The pretty good

There are number of tours offering bike, boat and cooking tours to the countryside. Thankfully, I didn’t go with the popular recommendation in Hong Kong and book one in advance, because Nene fell sick and it turned out the hotel had a more reasonably priced recommendation. In the end, Nene and V were unwell, so only Mimi and I went. Although I was not super keen on a cooking tour (because you know my love for cooking), Mimi seemed keen on it, plus it was the only one that didn’t involve a bike (as I wasn’t sure there would be a kid’s bike for Mimi).


We started off walking through the market and picking up supplies, though these are not really the supplies you use to cook. This part did not wow me because a) it was hot b) the wet markets in Hong Kong were similar (I wouldn’t have been averse to a walk through the market myself, but at a cooler time). We then boarded a boat for a longish ride down the river to location of our basket boat ride/cooking trip. This boat ride is nice, but a bit long and the guide didn’t provide any commentary (though she probably would have had we asked her. I had a five-year-old to amuse so didn’t). From there we boarded basket boats to be paddled into an artificially created maze, where we were to do crab fishing. It was an interesting experience although super hot (tip: do not pick the afternoon tours for this). Fishing involved dabbling a piece of meat affixed to a stick into the crevices of the pier, and pulling it up when a crab caught on. I did catch a crab, but ended up hurling it into our boat where it scuttled around to the alarm of Mimi, so we finally had to disembark.

Then began the cooking part of the tour. First, the guide demonstrated how to sift rice, grind it into rice milk, and steam rice cakes (and we all had a go which was nice). We ended up cooking four dishes – pho broth, spring rolls, egg pancakes and stir fried noodles. This is basically more cooking at one go than I have done in my entire life. The spring rolls and sauce were surprisingly delicious if I may say so myself. While Mimi was into the cooking initially, four dishes was a bit too much for her, and as expected, she ended up not liking any of the food (except the pho, which thankfully she slurped up at the end). The guide was extremely sweet and friendly to her though, and my big regret is that I did not leave a bigger tip.

On our final afternoon, we dined in the hotel restaurant, and I had this. It was not the most fabulous thing I’ve ever eaten, but it did hit the spot. Overall, I have to say that I was not crazy about the food in Vietnam, though we were hampered by the kids who did not take to the food (well, that’s putting it mildly – Nene had a full on attack of food poisoning from the little place we went to the first evening, though he was already fighting a cold).


We then proceeded to Danang for our Hyatt part of the experience. The hotel is a sprawling (but not huge) five-star property right on a private beach. We got a two bedroom apartment, which is helpful with kids as we could prepare meals.

I was surprised when we arrived that the lobby where check in/check out happens is an open air area with very scanty seating and not very comfortable (we later wondered whether this was to prevent guest idling there after check-out). The property is not new and there’s a bit of wear and tear but our apartment was spacious and perfectly lovely, with a beautiful view. When I looked out of our balcony what met my eyes (the hotel pool, villas and the sea beyond) was basically the exact thing you’d see in a promotional brochure.

The hotel has two pools – a kiddy pool that my kids avoided and a huge meandering main pool, with a water slide at one end and an artificial beach at the other. I avoided the artificial beach because I wanted to keep our sandy and pool suits separate. Anyway once our kids discovered the water park, there was no looking back. I had actually imagined more water slides when we booked the hotel, but I guess that was unrealistic and the kids had a good time in a pool. More than the pool though, the beach was lovely and the real highlight of the stay. I was given to understand that the hotel has a grocery where we could shop for supplies, but actually it is a rather fancy bakery, with some (expensive) supplies. Given that the apartments allow for cooking and the resort is sort of isolated, I would have expected something better, but alas that was it.

Another reason for picking this hotel was that it has a kids playroom and scheduled activities for kids, which I thought would give us adults a break. Later, I read reviews that this is not all that – my experience was somewhere in between. I had been expecting an indoor playroom that is at least as large as the (admittedly large) one in our estate in Hong Kong. It was much smaller. There are indeed activities and they are free, but they lasted only 20 minutes to half and hour or so and if we wanted the kids to stay longer we’d have to pay US$6, which was fine but it didn’t seem that there was enough to amuse them for half an hour there (and I figured they’d end up watching TV which they could do free at home). Nevertheless, Mimi did love the activities, and the ladies running it were very sweet, so I will give Camp Hyatt an overall thumbs up.

So basically to shop for supplies, we went to Han Market which is a proper wet market combined with cheap clothes and souvenirs. I ended up buying fans and a few coconut shell inlays bowls as gifts in addition to bananas, shrimp, onion etc. Danang town is not much (though apparently there are some good spa deals and we on Saturday nights the bridge lights up and spits fire), but we had a nice lunch at Retro Kitchen and Bar. The food was okay, but the drinks were really amazing – hello Earl Gray Passion Fruit Iced Tea.

On our last day, we had a bit of time (unfortunately in the afternoon) to kill between check out and our flight. We considered booking spa treatments for ourselves and leaving our kids in Camp Hyatt, but the spa treatments were so expensive we decided against it (and I did not have even a massage in Vietnam boo hoo!). Then, we decided to go to this amusement park called Asia Park, only as we got there the skies opened and so we hastily took a cab to a mall called Lotte Mart, which actually turned out to be a good call. There was lots of decent but cheap shopping, and frankly I could have spent more time there. It’s also where I discovered that Vietnam has lots of Kipling bags on sale, but we couldn’t figure out if they were fake or not, and after a lot of googling, it appears that they must have been fake. It’s weird though, they’re selling them at the airport too. I would recommend a stop at this place for cheap deals on stuff like T-shirts, and also some nice Vietnamese outfits, if that’s your thing.

The bad

Nene fell sick. That meant we lost a few days, plus I was pretty much on edge the whole time.

V and I fought a lot. Small stuff that turned into big stuff, and I realised that we both just set each other off. We made up, but I still cannot get over that we sullied paradise with our bitching and ranting.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodnight Irene

My grandmother passed away last week. She was 103 year old, and in the last few years of her life, the very things she feared most came to pass as her body and mind failed her. While I am sad at her passing, I am glad that the terrible last phase of her life is finally over. I would rather remember her when she was younger, the youngest looking nonagenarian many people said.
Gran was my second roommate and I can’t say we got along famously. A teenage girl and an old lady are not the best combination, though Gran did tolerate (or enjoyed) our Tom Cruise posters. Once when she was away I got the walls of the room painted blue and orange and she was not thrilled. When I went away to uni she got them painted them cream again. When I got married and moved out, her parting shot was ‘good you’re going… and can I have your drawers?” But I knew she loved me because she sent me off with one of her previous serrated knives from Dubai.
Distance and age made me appreciate Gran’s finer qualities. Her sense of style and the pleasure she took in her appearance. When the teachers in our school frowned upon us pulling our pinafores higher over our sashes to make them shorter and rolling our socks down, Gran said: ” Why? But it looks smarter that way.” She had no problems with short skirts but recommended stocking for church more for aesthetic than moral reasons. As she neared her 90s, she became insistent on getting her nails painted, preferably red. She reveled in compliments about how young she looked.
Gran was far more liberal than many people younger than her and was always up for an argument with me on all manner of scandalous things. She may not have been thrilled that I acquired a boyfriend but since I did, he might as well come tune to the TV so she could catch the cricket. When V’s parents visited for the first time, she diffused a tense moment by asking whether she could bring her boyfriend to my wedding, and earned their admiration thereafter.
She insisted on being active and had knee replacement surgery in her 90s becoming the poster child for her orthopedic surgeon.  She continued to travel and blithely told me that extra baggage was not a problem when you’re her age and in a wheelchair. She also continued to balance her passbook with an eagle eye.
I regret not talking to Gran more, learning more about her history. I only have glimpses – new dresses or hats every other Sunday, the rice pudding at her boarding school in Panchgani, where she was considered dumb for not being able to speak English, her hard days as a young wife. We were surprised to suddenly learn she played the piano.
I inherited from Gran my appreciation for beautiful things, possibly my nose and a tendency to hoard stuff. I hope I’ll have her grit and flair, but I have my doubts. There will only be one like her.
Goodnight Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.

The void writes back

So, after hearing nothing from a job (for which I am both underqualified and overqualified aka story of my life) which had said I’d be contacted by mid-June had I been shortlisted, I decided I would write in to ask if the position had been filled. This was possible because the job listed an actual human email address not one of the general HR ones. 

The person was kind enough to reply and let me know (alas but expected) that the positions had been filled (without me, if that’s not obvious). She added somewhat tersely that her original email had said that they would let shortlisted candidates know by early June. 

The reply I wanted to send: 

I know, but I needed to hear the cold hard truth that June 13 is no longer early June do that my mind could stop hoping. 

You see, job hunting is very much like dating, filled with hope and rejection. 

The reply I sent: 

Noted with thanks. 

I write letters

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Cover letters. Applying to jobs. Every other day.

Are cover letters necessary? Couldn’t one just forward a CV? Well, in my case, I feel the need to explain why I’m still competent even though I’ve been stuyding for a PhD.

Yes, even though the PhD. It seems as if a doctoral degree is like krypton to commercial employers. I’m beginning to think I should leave it off. It seems weird that 10 years of media/corporate editing experience at some pretty good firms counts for nothing in the face of the stupidity of pursuing a research project for a little less than 3 years. Now I know what those mothers who took breaks to look after the kids feel like. Except, ironically, I never took a break to look after the kids. I never even took a break from commercial work, I kept freelancing throughout. But I guess the fact that I got accepted into a programme for abstract thinkers that very few people get accepted to makes me untouchable now?

And why do I want to go commercial again? Well, because academia will qualify you but not employ you. That is, all the jobs want teaching experience even though you just got your qualifications. It seem impossible to get even a part-time teaching job (which by the way pays less than my PhD stipend) without teaching experience. That old chicken and egg thing. The way around this is to know someone. Basically, many positions aren’t advertised, and when they are, it’s a formality and they already have someone in mind. Yet, the ad makes the poor sods out there who don’t know enough people think they actually might have a chance and so you apply (‘to the void’ as my colleague put it because noone ever replies). The only two gigs I’ve secured are through people I know, which should make me happy but makes me sad instead. These gigs pay so little there is no point celebrating them,.

Forget part-time teaching, I have not heard back from teaching assistant jobs. Maybe because it might make the actual teachers who are not PhDs insecure, I suppose.

Okay, to be fair, I still don’t have a PhD (I haven’t submitted and done the exam yet). Though honestly a PhD as a part-time teacher is overqualified. But okay. Fine. Maybe all this will miraculously change when I have that piece of paper.

But what won’t change is how little they pay. After spending 3 years, at best (at worst 5-7) on this thing, you have to spend a couple more doing part-time work or if you’re lucky a postdoc before you can actually get a job that basically pays less than my previous job correcting people’s English.

This makes me feel so angry that I want to chuck the whole dream posthaste (and I would if someone would offer me something else to do. See part on commercial sector cold shoulder). The poor pay, exploitative working conditions for part-time staff and general lack of transparency makes me want to smack the next academic who starts sanctimoniously critiquing the commercial sector.

Because you know, in the commercial sector, if you apply to advertised positions, you actually stand a chance of being considered based on your resume. Well, it seems like a better chance than in academia which really does seem to run on influence at the lower levels anyway. And that sector pays better. And you get nice tea in the pantry. For free.

This morning when I was reading a story to Mimi I was thinking that I could apply for a teaching assistant job. At a kindergarten. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

By the way, those are the jobs that seem plentiful. The teaching English. At all levels. That I am not actually qualified for, because I don’t have TESOL qualifications, but I know that doesn’t matter in the lesser institutions, if you’re the right colour. Which I’m not. Too much cafe in my au lait.

I really should have gotten a TESOL qualification if I wanted to diversify my career path (which I didn’t. I thought of the PhD as a passion project and that I would get back to editorial work after. Except the blemish of the PhD it appears is overwhelming).

When I started this job hunt, I was wracked with indecision about what I wanted to do. Ha! Now I’ll take whoever will have me.

 

 

Loss

Yesterday I woke up to the news that an aunt had passed away. She had been in an accident and did not survive. There had been a few messages before that saying she was in critical condition but I did not see them as I was asleep. I woke up to the finality of death.

I wasn’t particularly close to this aunt. She was my mother’s cousin so not in the first circle of aunts. But the whole day I found myself tearing up. When my mum’s brother died I did not feel this much sadness, but that may be because he was ill for a long time. This was sudden. Maybe that accounts for my (over)reaction. I have experienced the sudden death of closer family members/friends and the seeming randomness of death does not amaze me anymore.

But the idea of not seeing someone who was so alive does. Although when I went to India I never planned specifically to see this aunt, I always ended up meeting her at some family gathering. The idea that she will no longer be present seems wrong somehow. This is the strange thing about death, that even after the event, you expect things to go back to normal and the person to pop up as usual. Acceptance of the finality of it takes time because at the moment it is unreal.

I believe that what really triggered my emotions was the idea that I could lose my own mother in a similar way. I know my parents will die eventually. But not tomorrow, not anytime in the near future. I refuse this possibility. And this death made it real.

I try to imagine the grief of my cousins who, like me, live away from home and would find themselves helpless when the news came. I cannot quite comprehend what it would be like to receive that phone call.

This aunt was extremely helpful to my mother who struggles to look after my now 103 year old grandmother. She would visit my grandmother and my grandmother’s face would light up. She was always at the other end of the phone line when my mom needed medical advice. This is a practical loss as well as an emotional one.

My clearest memory of this aunt: I had developed a serious ear infection on a trip to India, there was blood and pus coming out of my ear, and yet I needed to travel. Reluctantly, our family doctor gave me a pile of medication to help avert the possibility of my eardrum bursting on the flight back. My mum called this aunt, who is a pathologist and familiar with all things medical. She explained to me very calmly and clearly in exactly what order I should take the medicines so that all the fluid in my ear dried up. It was the most sensible and clear delivery of medical advice I have received ever. I still remember her voice on the phone before I take a flight and stock up on exactly those medicines.

 

 

Bookish

I have finally conceded that the house is overflowing with books, and after giving away many of the children’s, it’s time for the ultimate sacrifice of giving up my own. I could ship some to the in-laws’ – god knows, they have space – but something in me balks.

Instead, I cull through my collection and see what I can sacrifice. Books I know I will not reread. This is the barbarity of Hong Kong and it’s shocking 10,000$ a square foot.

I post on an FB page for circulating books. I don’t have much hope because these pages are peopled by expats who think Central is all of Hong Kong. But miraculously someone replies. She lives a few stations away from me.

We have a little exchange over messenger. It is charming. She offers me some books in exchange. Although accepting would defeat the purpose, I can’t resist. To accept would be defeating the purpose. That little conversation made me smile. It made me think how this is how one could make friends – though of course I don’t want new friends, no sir. We, two perfect strangers, bonded over books.

We did the exchange the next morning. It was quick, no further chat. A little disappointing, but nevermind. As I said, I don’t have space for new friends. But for a fleeting moment, that feeling. There are people out there who get it.

***

I gave away three books and landed up with four. They were just what I needed over a long weekend filled with silence.

  1. Landline by Rainbow Rowell: I have wanted to read Eleanor and Park for the longest time. But I guess this was the book I needed to read right now, even if it was somewhat romanticized. A marriage filled with resentment. This line:

    When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

  2. The Expatriates by Janice Lee: Another one I’ve wanted to read for ages, but with the PhD I have never had the time. I probably still don’t. But right now I needed to lose myself in something. The Expatriates is about the kind of expat I am not, the rich ones. But it is set in Hong Kong and so recognizable. I have a thing about collecting books from places I’m tied to. This one I will keep.
  3. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: I had heard about the Poisonwood Diaries, but somehow never felt compelled to read it. This one drew me in because of Frida and Diego. The lady who gave it to me said she gave up before it got to the Frida part. I’ve got to the Frida part, and it’s pretty good.

Too close to the bone – 2

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After I finished watching the Girls finale (this is the first time in ages I’ve actually watched a series almost live), I had to fill the void with something. So I turned to Big Little Lies that has been getting a fair bit of critical acclaim. Even the hyper critical feminist site I read approved.

Early in the first episode, however, I started getting uncomfortable. The show focuses on over-involved moms at a California school, and don’t I know this kind well? However, the portrayal of the intrigue, malice and general bitchery seemed to me a bit over-the-top. I am happy to say that while I have had glimpses into this kind of personality, fortunately at the schools my kids attend, the full-on PTA mom type is the rarity. This may be because the schools are more (upper) middle-class (so the majority of the moms work and don’t have that much time for school involvement), a lot of local parents (who probably have their own politics that I’m oblivious to), or maybe I’m just lucky. From what I’ve heard about other schools, there is a culture of mothers (and I almost never hear of dads being that involved which also irks me) pitching in a lot and the associated drama. This really seems like a Western thing. I have noticed that at Nene’s school, the PTA activities are driven by Western mothers. I did briefly get into some drama at the beginning of the year with one super annoying woman, and I have basically retreated from the whole thing.

Nevertheless, the Big Little Lies kind of competitive parenting is not something I have witnessed. I was a bit annoyed at this cliche of the women-can’t-get-along stereotype. However, as the show progressed, it became apparent that each of the central characters was shown to be more than the facade she presented at the school drop-off. Reese Witherspoon’s character Madeline was almost scary in her upbeatness (which is basically so Reese but edged with a sinister air) but at home they showed her vulnerability and also her intelligence. So that was nice. When Reese, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley go for coffee together, it took me back to the three-mums group I was part of in Nene’s kindy and I immediately tagged myself as Shailene, the outsider who was not well dressed enough.

What got to me though was the vulnerability of the children who get caught up in the politics of their parents. In the very first episode, one kid is singled out on his first day at school and it really broke my heart. I guess this is one of my not-so-secret fears as a mom and the way it plays out was so unfair. The teacher actually publicly talks about a bullying incident at school and then asks the bullied girl to point out the person who hurt her. I was actually gazing open mouthed at the screen, appalled at how stupid this was. I hope that if I were in this situation, I would just speak up before it went further and insist that the ‘investigation’ not be conducted this way.

This incident splits the mommy crowd more rigidly into camps. And when the singled out boy is not invited (understandably) for a party of the girl he allegedly bullied, Madeline decides to draw a line in the sand and refuses to send her very popular girl either. When I watched that scene, something in me snapped and I realized I couldn’t watch anymore. The whole thing was too intense, and I ended up reading up on Wikipedia what happens in the end.

[BIG SPOILER ALERT]

I’m relieved to note that all’s well that ends well. The series does not end with one massive catfight but with the women actually acting in solidarity. This rescues it for me, and although I didn’t watch till anywhere close to the end, makes me feel better.

It’s a beautifully shot series, tackling some serious issues and with great performances so it’s worth a watch. I just don’t know – even though I know the ending – if I can go through with it.

 

 

Too close to the bone – Part 1

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This post discusses the Girls finale It contains spoilers so read on at your own peril.

So, the Girls series finale. Last month I was at a conference at which there were a couple of papers on Girls and during the discussion someone pointed out that because there has already been a baby on the show, they were not convinced that the series would feature another one. Maybe that comment stuck, or it was just my perception of Hannah’s character but I kept waiting for her to have an abortion or miscarry even as she kept getting bigger and bigger, right up to the penultimate episode. The idea of Hannah having a baby seemed kind of unreal, especially since she didn’t seem to have made any arrangements in particular or had a stable source of income. In fact, this is true of the series as a whole; even as the girls seem incapable of holding down a job, they always seem to make rent… in New York! To be fair, their struggles to make rent are portrayed, but considering this is New York, you’d think it would be an endless anxiety for people who don’t have a stable income, not a random problem. Anyhow, with a baby on the way, the question of financial stability seemed even more pressing – there were people like Elijah and later bizarrely Adam – who offered to help, but with time not really with money. So maybe Hannah’s parents would pitch in, though that wasn’t mentioned either. Or maybe I’m the only one who things about these things.

Anyway, the show resolved the financial question by having Hannah move away for a job in the penultimate episode, but again that’s happened before with the writing workshop thing, and although it seemed like that was the series finale (it wasn’t), I continued to wonder how Hannah and motherhood would play out. Well, the finale episode delved into that.

And I found myself somewhat disappointed. Not because of the fact that the episode was anticlimactic, which it was intentionally in keeping with the show’s ethos, but because of the depiction of the trials of early motherhood. Which were pretty on point actually. But almost in a cliched and tired way. Breastmilk vs formula, baby won’t latch, gosh I’m so tired, noone understands. These are so familiar and so old, do they bear repeating? Or maybe I am on the moms Facebook page too much where we hear this ad infinitum from actual mothers. I get that portraying this ordinary reality might be groundbreaking television, but is it? Really? I feel like it’s been done before (or maybe just in my own life)? Am I not appreciating the innovation of depicting raw new mother frustration on TV just because I’ve been-there-done-that (by the way, I have lots of sympathy for actual new mothers) and that it all might seem gritty and novel for millennials without kids?

Oh, and a lot of people are upset with Hannah’s yet-again display of self-centeredness in fighting with her mom when she came to help. First of all, the idea of just Hannah and Marie going it alone while very sweet was also very stupid. When I realised that that’s what was happening, I was like um. I suppose this is an American thing but it is so stupid. Did Hannah even try to solicit help from other people? Where is Elijah who was so supportive throughout the season (though admittedly he did say he’s not going to leave New York and his career took off). You’d think Hannah’s parents, knowing their daughter would have the sense to be there. Well. Kudos to Marnie although she seemed to morph – not surprisingly – into the kind of partner who is all about the gyan without actually having to put her raw boobs on the line. I was impressed with how calmly she dealt with Hannah’s meltdown though.

Okay, so back to Hannah’s mom. Yes, Loreen was awesome. But about Hannah being a bitch to her, while in character, it was probably the one time it was/is okay. When my mom came to help me out after I delivered Nene, she at one point mentioned to me that her oldest sister-in-law had counselled her to not be offended by anything I said to her, that new mothers could be like that. And I was. And Hannah was. Hannah shouting at the very people who were helping her, because in the end they couldn’t really help her feeling of helplessness and utter total exhaustion, was very realistic and in fact normal. Okay, so maybe this episode is about something after all.

I think was killed it for me was the very end. I wish they could have fed the baby formula and moved on. But no, the culmination had to be about Hannah getting the baby to latch. And okay, this is about a narcissistic person who as her mom said gives up when the going gets tough deciding to come back and follow through. But it just felt like such a betrayal of all those women struggling to breastfeed, who cannot breastfeed (like Hannah’s mom incidentally) who had to watch the triumph of the series being getting the baby to latch and thereby proving redemptive for the central character. And I get that this is only redemptive in the context of Hannah, but given that the whole breastfeeding dogma has become sooo oppressive (I saw one post on an FB Moms group about how a baby was actually dehydrated by the insistence on breastfeeding, and of course, event though this post is a drop in an ocean overflowing with the endorsement of breastfeeding, you had to have a lactation consultant butt into the say “I am sick of this…breastfeeding is hard, if you can’t do it, get over it”. Like if you are sick of all of three women sharing their distress, move on, don’t while pretending to help tell people they didn’t try enough), you’d think that they would have gone a different direction. I don’t know.

***

So after the season finale of Girls, I started Big Little Lies which is also critically acclaimed. Hell, one of the feminist blogs I read which is against everything (this is not to say all feminist blogs are against everything, just this one tends to be quite critical) endorsed it.

But this post has gone on too long, so I will discuss that in a separate post.

 

 

Easter weekend

 

So although Hong Kong is largely irreligious (and now so am I) we had four days of holidays for Easter. Nene had been on leave for two weeks leading up to it, and Mimi will be the following week (of course, they did not overlap their spring break, except for the public holidays). I had spent the weeks leading up to Easter in something of a frenzy, and I felt guilty that I had not really taken time off for Nene or even organized anything for him in his break, though he insisted that he enjoyed it (because holidays are holidays right?). So during the public holidays, I was determined to do something every day, especially since this seems to be our last bout of bearable weather before everything descends into mould and mugginess.

We kicked off the holiday with an Easter party at Mimi’s school, where there was Easter Bonnet parade. This is a tradition I’d not heard of earlier but we’ve been doing it for three years now. Thank God for Pinterest, from which I could quickly get some ideas. I thought the Batman hat was cool and was trying to edge Mimi towards it but she waned something more cutesy. Since Nene was on holiday, he got a hat too and came to the event, but unfortunately, couldn’t join the parade. There were prizes for the best hat, and though I think I did fairly well – my craft skills have been getting better – the competition in Mimi’s class was stiff. Mimi was not happy to have not won.


On the first day of the break proper, we headed to Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens. On our trip to Japan, I had packed in as many animal related activities as I could, and at one point, I wondered why if I was prepared to schlepp way across town in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t do this at home (where okay, I also don’t speak the language, but know how to get around). It was quite a trek there on public transport, but now that the kids are older, they handled it well. The farm itself is super beautiful, though I dare say adults might appreciate it more than kids. Because it is more sanctuary than zoo, there’s no guarantee that the animals will come out at all, and there are no regular feeding times except on Sundays (and of course I chose a Friday to go). The farm is huge, and there is a shuttle bus to the upper area which I would encourage you to take if you’re with kids, or skip altogether. That area has a spectacular view but it’s somewhat lost on the kids. The highlight for the kids overall were probably these pigs.

The next day was supposed to be rainy, so I took the kids down to the Science Museum. Although we’ve been before, we haven’t been since the new children’s gallery was renovated. There is a new construction area, but unfortunately only Mimi could enter, just meeting the below-120 cm mark. Ah the perils of tall children. The children ran about madly pressing buttons, while I chased them determined to impart some education. Probably the thing they most enjoyed this time was this road safety ride where you get to drive a virtual car/train. Here’s a pic of Mimi and me in the hall of mirrors.

Another place we haven’t been to for ages is Hong Kong Zoo. This is a very small zoo, with mostly monkeys as has come under some criticism for the depressed condition of the orangutang, but it’s there and it’s what we have. This time instead of taking a cab to the zoo from the MTR we decided to walk through Hong Kong Park, which is actually quite beautiful.

Hong Kong Park also has a beautiful aviary.

Finally, we reached the zoo proper – which weirdly is not connected to Hong Kong Park as I remembered it. The kids weren’t as interested in the monkeys as I would have thought, but this tortoise got (and gave) a lot of attention. Also, the organgutang situation is deeply sad – this time, the male and the female were actually having sex while a crowd of people stood there and gaped, seemingly unaware that they were watching monkey porn.

Finally, on the last day, having wavered madly about this, I decided to do an Easter egg hunt. Part of my motivation was that it would be a way to invite over some of the kids’ friends and compensate (the friends not the kids) for not having had birthday parties for them this year. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decide until quite late, and when I did, Nene’s two friends were out of town, and Mimi said she didn’t want to ask anyone, then changed her mind. So I put word on Mimi’s class group but only one kid and her sibling could come. While this was not a kid Mimi particularly liked, I felt some obligation because Mimi had been hosted by her twice and we had hosted only once (actually at the time I thought we hadn’t hosted at all). Anyway I thought it would be fun to have more kids though the day before Mimi had a fit when she realized they’d have to collaborate not compete. In her mind, this was only tolerable if she and Nene were in one team and wouldn’t have to share with the others. However to her chagrin I insisted on organizing the thing so that all of them would search based on clues and share the spoils with all the kids (there would be four of each in each find).
I got the idea from Pinterest that in order to stretch the activity one could have clues rather than make it a free for all. So I planned a few tasks that the kids would have to achieve and then I’d hand out candy. Yeah I caved and got a lot of candy. I toyed with doing little toys but they were either too expensive or just pointless pieces of plastic and I decided contributing more plastic to our overflowing landfills I’d let our own kids take a sugar hit.
So the day dawned bright and very sunny. As sort of expected the friend was late which as expected sort of pissed me off. Then they arrived and we got the hunt under way. It went better than expected though my kids were quicker to complete the tasks than the other kids who didn’t know the park so well. The free for all hunt in the maze seemed to enthuse everyone more so I guess it’s a better call for younger kids. Then we proceeded to our clubhouse where things started to get unfortunate. Partly fueled by sugar my kids wanted to run and jump around, and the other two were a bit left out. I had to give Mimi a stern talking to and she agreed to play with the other girl but then that girl kept kicking her in the butt. Then Nene said he wanted to go home as he was hungry so I said ok. Big mistake. Mimi insisted she wanted to go too and I insisted she had to stay with her guest and she had a screaming meltdown. Not our finest moment by far and the other mum may have witnessed some of it. She said it was fine if we go up – her kid wanted to stay –  but I felt bad to. So I sent Mimi up and sat there with her which I guess eventually made her feel obliged to leave. A less than happy end to a nice weekend.
Writing this with the distance of time I can see that Mimi’s behavior was in large part fueled by hunger, sugar, and being forced to hang out with someone she really didn’t like. I have finally accepted after this that there is no use trying to find Mimi friends or even worry excessively about it. She is – just as I was – picky about people and prefers the company of her family, especially her sibling. So be it.

Bay Area bonding

So the advantage of attending a conference in US is that I got to see my sister, niece and brother-in-law (even if it turns out that the US is huge and my sister and the conference are across the country from each other with a three-hour time difference and a 7 hour flight) and I don’t have to get a visa (because I already have one). The disadvantage is the time difference, and this time I came equipped with a drug called Melatonin, which apparently helps the body regulate.

Maybe due to the fact that my flight landed in the afternoon, and although I slept on the flight it was fitful, or because of the superpowers of Melatonin, I was able to sleep through pretty much after the first night.

Highlights of the trip:

Watching a Golden State Warriors game live. The last time we visited was in 2012 and the team was one hundredth this level of huge. Now there is almost noone in the stadium not wearing a team t-shirt and people queue up during the match for the merch because the stall gets so busy in the interval. The last time I attended, I found the whole hoopla electric, and it was the same this time. Unfortunately, seated in front of us were some kids and one of the boys was obnoxious. Well, the kind of male that needs to stand up and cheer even while the action is one, obscuring the view of the others behind him, and basically refusing to listen to his friends who till him to sit down.

 

Eating Mexican food. With a half Mexican brother-in-law, I can count on his choices. In this case, we had to drive 45 minutes to the place. But it was yum. I ate a lot of Mexican food at home too, since the sis has learnt to cook it.

Hanging out with this one. Well, she hanged, and I hung out. At one point, we showed up at her gymnastics class and when she spotted me her face just lit up with the big grin. Her obvious joy at seeing me made me tear up. It made all those miles in the sky worthwhile.

 

 

To the bemusement of my bro-in-law, I had no interest in ‘doing’ things. I had done the tourist route in San Fransisco on our last trip, and this time I had a very specific agenda – hang with the family, watch one basketball game, eat Mexican food, and shop. I achieved all four so I was a happy camper. The result is that I saw more of the little town of Livermore they live in, and it was so pretty. The suburbs where my sister lives is so Wisteria Lane, where you can hear a pin drop, there are manicured lawns and flowers growing over the hedges like above. I must be growing old, because I can admire its charms.

 

The downtown is pretty sweet, even if it is just a few blocks. I ventured there for haircut, which unfortunately turned out to be one of the worst I’ve had ever. I like getting haircuts in different places, because hell, I figure it’s hair, it will grow. My sister booked me in with her regular, and I figured that I could have a consultation of sorts because I feel like that’s something I don’t get in Hong Kong due to the language barrier. Her hairdresser turns out to be a character and a chatter, but unfortunately not a great haircutter. I ended up going back and forth about getting my hair coloured, and finally decided not to when I looked more closely at my poorly shorn locks. I’m now going to have to go get it cleaned up in Hong Kong.

I did make one three-hour journey (each way!) to Palo Alto to see friend from college. I’m glad I did. We had a lot of laughs.

Finally, I shopped. The US really is a shopper paradise. In whatever category, you get beautiful things at whatever price point. I am a fan of Target. But I also went to the local outlet Mall and got a lovely Kate Spade wallet, and lots of tops from Old Navy, which hide my paunch. In addition to so many nice things for the kids. I also went a little mad with the shoes, but in the end, decided I was way over budget and returned them all. When I got home and looked into my shoe cabinet, I realised that was not a bad call.

The most amazing part of this trip, however, was hanging with my sister. The friend I met at Palo Alto commented that I was one of the few people she knows who has an uncomplicated relationship with her sister. Barring a bad patch right before she left for the US, my sister and I have always been close. This I attribute to her generous and protective nature. I realise on this trip that my sister is now my primary source of unconditional love, and I am so grateful for it. Being able to hang out with her in person twice in one year is a bonus we don’t always get, and I’m so glad it worked out.