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.

 

 

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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.

Conference notes

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It never fails to amaze me how weird academic conferences are.

At a conference I attended recently, the first session I went to, one of the presenters mumbled about logistical problems and then proceeded to read from her paper at super high speed. Yeah, people were mostly ‘reading’ not presenting. All the while she was pulling her hair in different directions.

Another panelist in an attempt to be helpful turned out the lights during the presentation so we could see the visuals. But the lights system turned out to be more complex than anticipated and for a while it was a disco in there while hair pulling woman kept on going. Instead of giving up, the guy seemed to be obsessed with getting the perfect lighting, only when he did, it was time to turn the lights back on. Turns out he was this really famous scholar too.

In another sessions, the moderator timed the sessions using a standard watch instead of a digital timer, got into a passive aggressive thing with one of the speakers, and sliced her finger across her throat to indicate that speakers had to stop, now! Then at one point in the discussion, she burst out, “Well, I’ve been clinically depressed” to complete silence.

It struck me how this would be considered totally bizarre in any other setting. But here everyone remains totally poker faces through these shenanigans. Don’t get me wrong, I kind of love it. But it does make me want to laugh out loud sometimes.

As I’ve observed earlier, people seem to come to these things in groups and stick to these groups so while there is an illusion of networking, people are just largely talking to their friends while the monitory of us who didn’t come with a posse stand around FOMOishly. When you do reach out to someone they politely spend about two minutes with you before moving on. Except in this part of the world no one passes out cards.

Nevertheless, there were some really good papers and the discussions were some of the best I’ve witnessed. My own panel attracted a small audience partly due to being scheduled early in the morning but I got a great response from those who were there, so that was lovely (and frankly a first and a welcome change from the blank looks I have sometimes been greeted with).

On the final night, there was a dance party with a full-on brass band contracted to play, and it was great! I dithered over whether to go or not, seeing as I didn’t have anyone to go with, but finally FOMO and wanting to listen to the band got the better of me and I went, and it was fun. There were people from the age of 80 down dancing up a storm. I had lengthy conversations with more people here than I had had the entire conference, and ended up getting sweaty as hell dancing, resulting in me having no clothes to wear to the conference the next day and having to attend in a flannel shirt and slightly torn jeans (which again is perfectly fine at these things. heh.). I also noticed a couple of women dragging guys onto the dance floor and then getting really flirty, while the guys looked uncomfortable. One of these was a woman who had been quite aggressive to a guy during a panel, but then I saw them going to dinner together so they had clearly made up, only then she tried to get more handsy with him and he didn’t look happy and then she left.

Overall, this was one of the best conferences I’ve been to, and I think conference should always open with a dance party.

 

 

 

 

Lexington tales

My primary purpose for the trip was a conference at Lexington, Kentucky, which is famous for its confederate history which I am less interested in, and its horse racing  which I am more interested in. Not so much the racing as the horses. However, this being the South and this being Trump’s America where an Indian man was recently shot dead in a bar, I was apprehensive about whether I should actually venture out and about in Lexington. When I floated the idea by my brother-in-law who is half Black, he immediately said: “Hell no!”

Nevertheless, when I landed in Lexington airport, I noticed people were perfectly friendly. While I was waiting for the hotel shuttle bus, and went in and out of the airport doors, a man from one of the airline counters came and asked me if he could help me. That was my first taste of Southern hospitality, which I had been hitherto unsure extended to non-white people.

During lunchtime on the first day of the conference, I did a short walk down the block, and it was uneventful. I did notice that the white collar people were almost uniformly white, and the working class people were mostly coloured. In the street though people actually made eye contact and greeted you, which to me coming from Hong Kong is a bit of a shock, and I fear I came across as the rude one as I figured out that people were indeed wishing me a good afternoon.

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Downtown Lexington

You know what else threw me? This old school elevator panel that didn’t have a ‘door close’ button. I almost pushed the red alarm button instead, such was my confusion. There was a ‘door open’ button though, but repeatedly I found myself lurching, true Hong Kong style, for the missing door close one. Not that I would have shut it intentionally in anyone’s face, mind you; I’m not that Hong Kong.

So, encouraged by my walk around the block and the fact that downtown Lexington is really very pretty, I forayed out in the evening the next day. I even had a whole bowl of salad only for dinner, a historic first, because I was sick of eating cheesy, fried and sweet things.

I also decided to book a horse farm tour. I was a bit apprehensive about this because I wasn’t sure how many non-white tourists these tours get, but I decided I just had to see some horses. It turned to be more than fine. The tour guide was super nice, and the other ladies on tour were friendly too (except for one grandma who totally blanked me, but I’m putting that down to being hard of hearing. ahem).
We first drove around the downtown and looked at some buildings of historical interest. While I had already strolled past these, hearing their history made them come alive. For example, on at least two occasions, a rich man or woman decided to buy houses side by side for their daughters so they wouldn’t be separated. Or to buy houses with acreages in between so they would be. But what stuck with me was the buying houses for daughters part.


We went by Keeneland racecourse, though just to view the tracks and drive by the barns. it was more interesting than I thought. The guide explained to us about the horse racing business, how horses are bred, how much a prize-winning thoroughbred stallion can earn on adate. Must say the whole thing doesn’t sound like fun for the horse, and I’m not 100% sure I support racing as a sport, but the horses have huge paddocks and generally seem fine.

When stopped by our first horse farm I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. These fillies came running up to us, possibly in anticipation of carrots, and allowed us to pat and take photos of with them. I totally fell in love.

 

We even got to see a mum and her baby. Baby horses have loooong legs, and sometimes have trouble getting up. This one was about six weeks old!

Met a horse named Hong Kong Lane. He was not impressed by my Hong Kong vibe though.

The grave of multiple prizewinner Seattle Slew. While only the head, hooves and heart of horses are usually buried (and I’m wondering who has the job of carving up the dead horse), this guy was buried in his entirety. Behind him is not a house, but a barn for other houses.

Then we proceeded to Old Friends Farm, where retired and rescued horses live. This is Kentucky Derby prizewinner Silver Charm, who I fed carrots to.

The star of Old Friends Farm is Little Silver Charm, who writes his own blog and who I am not friends with on Facebook. Lots of carrots for this one too. He was the first to be rescued by the couple who run the farm. He was bought for $40 en route to the slaughterhouse. Now he has his own paddock, a shed with posters of his derby favourites and footballs to play with. He also goes into the house to watch TV sometimes.

I am so glad I did this tour. Blue Grass Tours were fantastic. When I sent V pictures of me with the horses, “You look so happy. Maybe we can get you one if we move to India.” So there’s that.

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What I’ve been up to

Now that the kids are older, we’ve been doing something new with them every weekend. Over Chinese New Year, One weekend we did a hike in our extended neighbourhood. It was beautiful. Another weekend I took the kids to the India by the Bay family day, which was a series of India-themed activities. Another weekend, we decided to go fly a kite. This is not as simple as it looks because kite flying is not permitted everywhere in Hong Kong. In fact, to avoid disappointment, I identified a country park with a ‘designated kite flying area’. Unfortunately, when we got there, there was little wind. However, the park itself was beautiful, and we hung about, the kids climbing trees, then chasing people with dogs and asking if they could pet them. And finally, the wind picked up and we did fly the kite – V is a veteran in this regard, and I must say I think he enjoyed the activity the most.

***

Recently, I’ve been thinking about what comes after the PhD, seeing as I’m in the final semester. The unfortunate thing in Hong Kong is that a permanent teaching position at the university level seems unlikely the first year, and I’m probably going to have to scramble with part-time positions, and probably earn less than I did when I was a student. Which is patently ridiculous. But it is what it is, so I’ve been scrambling to put together a CV and references and teaching portfolio and what not, when all I want to do is focus on writing my PhD. And of course, writing a CV makes me feel inadequate because I feel like other people have more attractive things on their CV. Hmph.

***

Since Nene graduated from kindergarten, the playdates have eased off and I have to say I’m relieved. Well, towards the end it was helpers and kids going for playdates which suits me, but I did feel guilty about not inviting the moms over. Well, last week, Nene started asking for a playdate with his new friend, and here we go again. Of course, he had to pick a kid who lives in a big house, has a car etc. The kind of kid whose parents think using the MTR is an adventure and not a regular mode of transport, and then arranging it so we can take a car instead. The mums are always nice about it, but I feel poor in comparison. I become conscious of the size of my house, the fact that we have a cupboard in our living room that contains a mix of clothes, toys and even some food. That I do not possess matching sets of tea cups. I struggle to think of what food to serve etc. I cannot seem to present things in the proper twee way. Like buying pre-packaged cups of fruit instead of just chopping up fruit at home and putting it in an extant plastic container. I always feel like I should have done something more gracefully, while being in the end unwilling to drum up the requisite enthusiasm to actually do things gracefully. Right now I’m blaming it on my house not having enough space to be a graceful host. Bah.

***

I have finally come to agree with what V has been saying for a long time. We have way too much stuff (for our house… and thereby income… size). I finally reached my own bottomline, and began a massive clean-up. I realised the collection of books we’ve accumulated for the kids over the years had to be pruned drastically (my own collection I am selfishly hanging on to, but to be fair, I have shipped off some books to my mum, and might send others to my in laws). I sorted through, advertised on our neighbourhood and to my surprise, they were taken eagerly and quickly. Next, I sorted through and ruthlessly culled their collection of arts and crafts from school over the past two to three years. I realised that what looks too precious to dump is much easier to let go off three years down the line when you’ve accumulated a garbage bag of similar stuff. So now we’ve down to a few largish folders each. Finally, I took a critical eye to my own collection of books and found at least 10 I could let go off. Next stop, the toy boxes.

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I am coming to terms with

my paunch.

It first became apparent that it was what it was – a paunch, and not period-related bloating- around November, and I did have a minor panic attack because I had two weddings to attend in December and a dress to fit into. And it also became apparent that mild dieting (i.e. cutting out chocolate after dinner and exercise which is all I’m capable of) was not going undo the excesses of our birthday month plus the adoption of the two-samosas-at-teatime and kebab roll at lunch tradition.

Yes, the above had become a thing since a kebab franchise opened an outlet at the uni, and it was like manna from heaven, because the food on campus sucks . The only tolerable food to be found is way across campus, and so the arrival of a desi food option right at my doorstep was too much to resist and for a good month or so, it was biryani or roll for lunch and quite often if I’m honest, samosas for tea. Until I realized that it was showing quite obviously on my belly. Once period-related bloating was ruled out as an explanation, I briefly considered that I might have ovarian cancer, but seeing as I had been eating a lot of fatty food, I think I figured I needed to just face that it was my own gluttony to blame.

For the  weddings, I briefly considered wearing spanx, and even bought a pair of slimming underwear (unfortunately, I bought a cheapie one from a roadside stall manned by Chinese grannies, don’t ask. And it turned out it was small for me. That’s what you get for being delusional and not buying the large size when in China). However, my brief trial of said underwear in which my girdle actually looked like a sausage or a pair thereof convinced me that having my middle squeezed in the service of fashion was not for me. While I wanted to look nice at the wedding, I also wanted to eat at the wedding, because, well, the buffet.

So instead of investing in more expensive spanx that I would probably not wear, I bought a new dress that while not exactly hiding all the bulges made them look tolerable. My other dress option was A-line and fluid, therefore buffet friendly. I am pleased to report that I got lots of compliments and for photos I had Mimi stand in front of me covering my middle, just to be extra sure.

I was counting on falling sick after India and losing the paunch but unfortunately fortunately that did not happen (the falling sick that is). I’ve been exercising since, and I’ve cut the kebab stuff out of my lunch plan (sob!) but the paunch remains.

I’m now on the verge of making my peace with it. Instead of being constantly conscious of it and trying to suck it in at odd moments, or nitpick through my wardrobe for tops that might hide it, I am just going to let.it.go. And if the odd person in the MTR gives me their seat thinking I am pregnant, I will graciously accept in lieu of those many times when I was indeed pregnant and noone gave me their seat.

ETA: Okay, I started feeling twinges in my back and realised I cannot let the paunch get out of control because I cannot deal with the physiological effects of it. I am actually exercising, so hopefully it will stay at little poochie level.