Monday, December 19, 2011

Loss and the Holiday Season

I lost all of my grandparents by the time I was 21. Only one, my Mom's father, survived just long enough to see my wedding, and none of them witnessed my becoming a parent. Most of my cousins are at least a decade older than I am, and they had our grandmother to help them on their wedding day, or to witness babies being born, knitting special things for them. Sometimes when I think about that, and what I missed out on, I grow very sad.

In case you're very late to the party, we move a lot. Like 13 times in 15 years a lot. This can be very difficult on relationships with friends and family members. But I work incredibly hard to retain those relationships. I send postcards constantly. I have a Christmas card list that once topped out at 450 people. And every time we move, for at least the last six moves, I've sent out photo change-of-address cards featuring our new digs and our smiling faces so that people can at least attempt to keep up with where we're at. I blog, email, Facebook, text, and iMessage on a regular basis to keep in touch with the people I love. Sometimes it feels like a full time job, this business of sustaining friendships from half a world away. But it's worth it.

Six years ago, in the time before Facebook, we lived in Hong Kong. I had many friends who were consistent in mailing us little notes and cards. I taped them on the wall in our bedroom, and in six months most of the wall was covered. But no one wrote me as much as this man:

This is Doyle. I ran a little theater group in Los Angeles, and Doyle had been part of it. I would always find roles for him, or write him in, because he was infectious with his enthusiasm and zest for life, and that rubbed off on the rest of the cast and crew. When I moved away, he was a most extraordinary pen pal. I cannot overstate the fact that I love mail. The effort one makes to put pen to paper, find an envelope and stamp, and get it to the post office is a burden in this instant world of email and texting. But almost nothing else in life gives me as much pleasure as receiving mail! Doyle wrote me nearly each week, filling a page with details about anything and everything in his shaky handwriting. Without fail, his letters would come on the days that I was feeling less than enthusiastic about my life in a foreign land. And they lifted my spirits every single time.

Beyond the stage, he filled a role in my life too. He was my surrogate grandfather. He never let an opportunity go by to tell me that he loved me. Moving back to Los Angeles from Hong Kong, the letters stopped because I could just see him any old time I liked. Which was quite a bit. But then early last year, Doyle passed away. At the time, I was completely devastated. I spoke at his funeral, and could not contain my sobs while standing next to his casket. He adored my boys and heaped praise on me as a mother to them. With his death, I began to mourn the loss of all those years I went without my other grandparents, who never got to see the kind of woman I turned out to be.

In the nearly two years since Doyle passed away, the pain grew less and less. Until we moved to Macau. Because when we arrived here, I had this feeling of great anticipation and excitement... I wanted to give Doyle our new address and tell him that he could start writing me again! And that I couldn't wait to renew our pen pal relationship! It was like a punch in the gut when I realized that Doyle had written me my last note three Christmases ago, and that there would be no more. I cried brand new tears.

This month, I cried all over again while pulling out Christmas decorations that we shipped from the States. In his later years, Doyle loved to work with his hands and make things out of wood. In 2006 he made me a tabletop Christmas sled. I forced him to sign the bottom of it, because I wanted to always remember it came from him. He was a humble man, and nearly refused. I'm so glad I insisted.

Now I have a little love letter from him that I can keep out on display, at least during the winter season. But I still greatly miss getting regular mail from him. And from everyone else for that matter! Here it is, December 19th, and we've received a grand total of two Christmas cards from friends back in the U.S. We send out hundreds of cards, and generally get about one hundred in return.

I'm wondering if this last move of ours was just one too many for everyone to keep up with. Or if the additional 54 cents in postage on top of the already-ridiculous 44 cent first class stamp is just a deal breaker when it comes to keeping us on their Christmas card list. Or if it's just the thing I hope most of all... that we haven't been forgotten, it's just the exceptionally slow mail that takes 2-3 weeks to get to us. I'm believing hard in that one, because for a person like me who loves mail, Christmas is the best time of year. A stack of cards every single day! What could be better? Hmmm... nothing! But you know what? Even if I only get those two cards, I will treasure them greatly. Because they are both from people who are like Doyle. They both write me frequently, keeping my mailbox from growing cobwebs, and they always tell me they love me.

Now I'm off to triple check my own list, to make sure I don't pass up the opportunity to share some Christmas love of my own!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Oh No!

We're back from our holiday in the Philippines. It was the most spectacular family vacation we've taken in at least six years, and the first week-long family vacation we've taken in eight years. Between my husband and I and our three cameras plus two iPhones, we took almost 1,500 photos. I promise to share, soon. But only the best of them, I promise! We brought back some souvenirs: I managed to break another toe (but it was on the top of a volcano so at least it's a sorta-cool story, better than my last broken toe where I just kicked a wall), Benjamin got bronchitis, and Michael and Nathan are still nursing colds that appeared the day we got back. Four days after we came home, my stomach decided to reject everything I tried to eat, and I spent 48 hours throwing up, followed by 48 hours where the room would spin every time I tried to sit up. However, even with all that, the joy of our spectacular vacation cannot be dimmed!

However, tonight my normal, everyday joy is dim. And my stomach is once again in knots. I managed to lose my iPhone while getting out of a taxi, which sped off before I was even fully out the door. My taxi riding ritual is to always check the seat as I get out, as the boys are guilty of leaving something behind about 10% of the time. But this guy was in a hurry, it was dark, traffic was crazy and he was frustrated, and I had my arms full of packages so I was slow to stand up. He practically ran me over to get away. Seconds later I discovered my phone must have fallen out of my pocket, as it was there when I sat down. Once again I am in eternal debt to Michael's fabulous assistant Jennifer who immediately started calling all the Cantonese-speaking taxi dispatchers to try and track my driver down. It was rush hour and I didn't get his taxi number, so no luck so far. 

I'm hoping and praying that who ever finds it will do the right thing and return it. That would be awesome, right? We'll see. All my contacts are saved in iCloud, but none of the photos I took today managed to make it to safety. And I took some today that were really important and their potential loss stings. Yes, I have the "Find my iPhone App." No, it did not find my iPhone. And yes, I already called to suspend the service.

We managed to make it Hong Kong this week to see a show (thanks Mom and Dad for the excellent Christmas gift of theatre tickets!) and visit Hong Kong Disneyland while all their Christmas decorations were up. To show how useful my iPhone has become, I didn't even take my DSLR camera with me this trip, and I only took three photos on my little digital Cannon. But I took about 50 pics on my phone. I'll leave you with my favorite, which I call my MTR Family Portrait:

Hoping and praying like crazy I get to put up a post tomorrow called "Oh Yes!" to report the happy reunion I hope to have with my phone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Take me away, Cebu

We're sitting in the teeny-tiny Macau International Airport, waiting for our 10:15 pm flight. The one great thing? Free Wi-Fi! The not so great thing? Two children up way past their bedtime. Good thing it's only a two hour flight! See you soon!

Monday, November 21, 2011


My youngest and I were walking in front of my favorite store in Macau last week. City Square stocks all manner of home goods, including a small selection of items from IKEA (my happy place). As we approached, I noticed the roll-up door was rolled down. There was a sign taped to it, stating they were closed that day to decorate for Christmas.

Benjamin and I stood hand-in-hand in front of the store window, watching an employee decorate an enormous tree in the window. He turned to wave at us, his smile brilliant, his pride in his work evident. I found myself both grinning and getting choked up as Ben pointed out one amazing detail after another.

It brought me back to my childhood, and the annual trips we would make up the coast of California at Christmastime to San Francisco to shop (but mainly windowshop) the big department stores like Gump's and Macy's, back when there was only one Macy's in the state, and not one in every mall. My family would look at window after window with awe. Of course City Square in Macau is no Macy's in San Francisco, but it was a sweet moment shared with my son in anticipation of the season to come.

The next evening my husband was off work, and I told him of our experience the night before. It was his idea to leave the kids with the sitter and stroll our way to City Square. We looked through all the decorations, from tacky to gorgeous, and picked out a few, and then chose our tree, ordering the same size as the one in the window. It was such fun and everyone in the store was in such a wonderful mood... Exactly how Christmas shopping should be!

Once again I found myself getting choked up, especially when Michael said yes to every single thing I held up, and yes to the big, expensive tree that Ben and I had gazed at with such wonder. We paid and arranged delivery of the tree for the next morning. We walked home, our arms full of merry decor, our hearts filled with joy, our conversation filled with ideas for how we can make Christmas special in this place so far from our loved ones.

The next morning, City Square called to say they couldn't deliver until the afternoon. We had plans for the evening, so we told them the delivery had to take place before 6:00 pm. Michael's phone was on silent, and we missed the mid-day call which was to inform us that they didn't have the 8-foot tree in stock and wouldn't get it until the next day. By the time we got the message and called back to say that was fine, we found they had already dismantled the actual tree from the window and would be at house within the hour.

I was horrified! So much work had gone into that window display! I felt sick knowing we were the cause of it getting ripped apart. My guilt was overwhelming, and I repeated over and over my wish that we'd heard their call.

Michael tried to console me, saying I could just pretend I was a woman who would walk in a store, point to something and say "I want that" and watch as people scrambled to grant my every wish. This only made me feel worse, as I am not now nor have I ever been that type of woman! So instead he suggested I delight in the fact that the tree and I were meant for each other, as it was the genesis of my walk down memory lane and a sweet moment that might live on in my son's memory, certainly my own. I liked that idea so much better.

The tree arrived and we thanked the City Square employees for their incredible service with a generous tip. Then, because it would have been silly not to, we assembled the tree. Michael strung lights, and the four of us stood in awe of this little piece of tradition and familiarity in our corner of this strange and quirky place.

Yes, it's the earliest we've ever put up a tree. And no, we won't actually hang ornaments until December. But in the meantime, its presence is quite comforting.

The very next day we got our first Christmas card in the mail, which my beloved friend Kerrie K had put in the mail two weeks before. I was choked up anew!

Tomorrow we're off to the Philippines for a week, to spend American Thanksgiving with old friends of ours from our time in Hong Kong six years ago. We have so much to be thankful for, especially the fact we are back in this part of the world to be able to spend the holiday with people we love. And of course that we have the opportunity to create new traditions this year which our children may wax nostalgic about when they share them with their own families, years down the road.

Or they can just watch me, a little old lady, sitting in a rocker, getting choked up over a lifetime of amazing memories.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Today the temperature dropped and we put aside our shorts and tees for jeans and jackets. There's a constant drizzle and lots of wind. It's the kind of weather that a few of my dear friends back in the States adore (Alex, Michael Y, Rory) and it makes me think about them and miss them. A day like today when we are wearing layers makes the blazing heat and humidity of summer seem like a hazy dream. On Monday I was complaining that all the pools in Macau were already closed for the season. It was 85F with 95% humidity and we were all seeking relief from the unexpected warmth. Today, I was complaining that the bus had the air conditioning blasting. We're all a bit congested. No surprise there. Welcome to Fall, finally.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


When we first moved to Macau, I was amazed to find just about everything looks run down, rusty and moldy, with peeling paint. It gives everything a look of abandonment, especially if you happen to be strolling down the street late at night or early in the morning and have the street to yourself.

The sea wall in front of our house has letters that read OCEAN CITY TOURIST CENTRE LIMITED in English, Chinese, and Portuguese. All the letters are rusted clean through. My initial impression was that I'd walked into a Ray Bradbury tale... a story of a seaside town where some unmentioned event has cast a shadow over what used to be a thriving community that formerly made all its cash in the tourist trade. I gave myself eerie-cool goosebumps at the delicious, slightly sci-fi, possibilities. Endless hours were spent daydreaming about where all the tourists went... because there is nothing here today.

I recently realized I don't notice the layer of rust or peeling paint that covers everything in town anymore. It was only when I was debating taking a photo of something disgusting at the grocery store to send to a friend in the U.S. that it dawned on me how all the strange and foreign things here have become commonplace. So in the last week I've made a point of trying to look at everything with fresh eyes once again. And the poor signs around town have really stood out. Between the harsh sun, the high humidity, pounding typhoon rain, and the salty winds coming in from the sea, no surface here stands a chance.

Before long, everything looks aged and discolored. Like it's been here fifty years instead of a few months, like the repaired patch of tile in our complex that was white in September, and is now the color of the rest - dingy, streaked grey.

The only thing that seems to benefit from the climate is my skin. Coming from dry, almost desert-like perpetually sunny Southern California to the humidity in South Asia means I can forgo my daily routine of intense moisturizers and just slather on sunscreen, though it tends to melt off in the heat. All those fine lines that were creeping up on me have fled, thanks to the moisture in the air my skin soaks up.

But the Tin Man wouldn't fare as well. He'd be stiff in an hour, and rusted over in a week. Good thing this isn't Oz!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Burning Questions

I am trying out a new app on my phone that will let me blog on the go. Hopefully it will help me post more often for those of you who are hungry for more. In the last two weeks I've received seven emails asking for more posts or wondering why I don't post more often. I only know four of the seven people who wrote me personally, so thank you to the the other people I've collected along the way! I lack what I sometimes crave most, solitary time in front of my computer screen to write. Right now I'm writing on the bus, so maybe this will help me give you more of what you're asking for!

And since this post refers to questions in the plural, I can tell you that there is at least one other question I get all the time: Heather, please tell us where your two charming boys are attending school! (Or some variation of that). I have been working on a post that answers that very question for some time now, and promise to get it posted very soon!

In the meantime, I will leave you with a shot of my view from yesterday. I'm still in awe every time I happen to look out the window. Maybe my lack of posts has to do with the fact that my desk faces this view. Too distracting!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Michael's days off always fall mid-week, and we're still getting used to have a Monday be a "Friday" and not getting perturbed over a real Friday being the middle of the week for him.  I'm a very flexible person and I like to believe I'm raising flexible children, but I have to say that sending Michael off to work on Saturday and Sunday gets increasingly difficult each week for my boys.

Today was Michael's day off, so we took the boys for Linner (late lunch/early dinner) at a place called Gourmet Geezer. I can't even type that with a straight face. To me, a geezer is a little old man who keeps his teeth in a jar by the bedside. So I generally say something like, Hey guys, let's go eat at the old folk's home when I'm talking about it. But the owner is no geezer as I know it. He's a hip, young Brit who likes to race motorcycles and lines the shelves in the restaurant with trophies and photos of his wins. The food is cheap, decent, and western-style, and they serve breakfast all day. So when our tummies feel like a little less adventure than provided by the Chinese and Portuguese choices surrounding us, GG it is!

The boys rode their bikes to the restaurant, and chained them to a post out front while we ate. In Macau, mopeds rule and you rarely see someone on the street riding a bicycle. Very different from Japan, where our little seaside town boasted more bikes than cars on the road.

After we ate, Michael and the boys went off for a longer bike ride while I caught a bus home to get some work done. I had company while I waited at the bus stop:

While enjoying his cigarette and beer, a Tsingtao delivery truck pulled up and the driver loaded case after case of beer onto a hand truck, then wheeled it into the store behind us. My friend's eyes never left the bed of the unsupervised truck. Whatever his thoughts, he never left his comfortable slice of sidewalk.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In the Barra

Whenever I see or hear the word barra, I think barrio, which is the Spanish word for a specific neighborhood. People in Los Angeles hear the word barrio and might think "gang turf" but generally it just means a collection of streets with similar people who have a similar culture and background.

After spending an afternoon in Macau's Barra, I still thought of a barrio, since it's definitely a cohesive neighborhood, filled with people who make their living from the sea. However, the word Barra actually has a different meaning in Portuguese: sandbank or port entrance. And a port entrance is exactly what it is.

The Barra is the waterfront area that runs along the east side of the Macau Peninsula. All the buildings on the east side of the Barra back right up to the water, with giant roll-up doors used to access the boats which pull up laden with sea creatures and imported goods.

Standing in Macau, looking across the river to China

The four of us wandered up and down the tiny streets, peering into shopfronts and giving cheerful waves to the locals who were boldly staring at us, curiosity lining their faces. We stayed until the light drizzle became an actual downpour and we found our sandals insufficient at keeping our feet above the water level in the road. Sandals were the enemy that day... they kept us out of the Ponte 16 Resort and finally drove us back home to flee the muck in the streets. Oh well. There is more to explore in the Barra, including a temple and a fortress. So we'll be back. With better footwear and my bigger camera!

China, just across the water.

Can you imagine living in such a narrow building? It's the width of a regular four-door sedan car.

Here you can pick your dinner outside, and then go inside where they'll prepare it for you.

Mail call

What every room needs: lots of weapons lining the walls and a dragon hanging overhead.

Wriggly crabs, unhappy with being bound up.

Even less happy live frogs, and colorful sacks of other sea creatures. The man who carried this sack off a boat kept prodding them gently with a stick to prove to us they were alive. Or to shock us. The boys asked if they were meant for pets or food. Tastes like chicken, right?

More wriggly live crabs, bound even more firmly than the ones in the basket.

Old. Rusty. Peeling. Chipped. Everything still used the way it was the day it was shiny and new.

Row after row of buildings this close.

Dried things from the sea.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Praia

Today I had lunch at a friend's house on the Macau Peninsula. She lives in a fairly new building called The Praia (Beach in Portuguese). She's up in the penthouse which takes up the top two floors, 55 and 56. At 607 feet above ground, it claims the title of current tallest residential building in Macau. My friend's view faces east, on a clear day you can see Hong Kong, 30 miles in the distance. Today wasn't a clear day, so you can barely see the water of the Pearl River Delta (where there is no "beach" to speak of) in the distance.

To give you some perspective on how very small Macau actually is, the building where I took this photo is on the western shore of Macau. The photo shows you the eastern shore. The distance between the two? Less than two miles.

It's nice to be head and shoulders above the rest of Macau. But I could do without having my ears pop from simply riding up and down the elevator. Ouch!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michael Jackson in Macau

True story: On June 25, 2009 I was in Los Angeles, on my way to take the boys to a hip-hop dance class across town. I was flipping radio stations at a red light when a DJ interrupted a song to say there was an unconfirmed rumour that Michael Jackson had passed away. My heart stopped and my stomach lurched. But not because I was a major Michael Jackson fan. The reaction came from the bottom of my wallet rather than the bottom of my heart. At that very moment my husband's scenic shop was loading in set pieces at the Staples Center in Los Angeles where Michael Jackson would be in rehearsals for his concert series which would take place in London. All we'd been talking about for months was the shop's creation of the elaborate and amazing pieces that would play a backdrop to his performance. And if he was indeed dead, then what would that mean for the scene shop? What would that mean for all the people working on this project? Would everyone get paid? All other projects had been pushed aside for this one huge client, and work was not yet complete. As soon as we got to the dance studio, I called my husband to tell him what I'd heard. He called over to his employees at the Staples Center to see if anyone knew anything. The people from Michael Jackson's crew who were there knew nothing of the rumour which was spreading on all the radio stations, the Twitterverse, and beyond. Can you imagine?

Sadly, the rumor was true. Shortly after his death a film containing rehearsal footage of the show as well as the animated renderings of the fabulous set pieces was released. My husband and I went to see it. It is very difficult to separate Michael Jackson the wacky public persona in the news from Michael Jackson the incredibly sharp artist who had amazing talent and brilliant ideas. In the last few decades, the wacky part overshadowed the artist. The film, This Is It, really showcases the artist. I left the theater sad for his children and sad for the world which lost him, lost as he was himself.

In the last few months here in Macau, I kept seeing ads in taxis for an exhibit called the MJ Gallery at Ponte 16. I decided we should go check it out. We'd gone to see the Madonna exhibit, so I figured we were due for another dose of American pop culture.

The exhibit was in a part of Macau I'd only gone through on the bus or in a taxi.  Admission was free. Ponte 16 (Portuguese for Pier 16) is a resort along the water's edge of the Barra, the western part of Macau separated from mainland China by just a river.

You can't really call China a stone's throw away, but it is quite close. I'll post more photos of the Barra section of Macau in my next post, but my initial reaction was that they placed a glamorous resort in the least glamorous part of town. Here's a view of the front of Ponte 16, which includes a Sofitel Hotel, casino, and upscale restaurants:
And here's the view if you turn your back to that giant ball made of crystals that does an amazing LED light show and look directly across the street:

Something doesn't fit. And considering you'll find blocks and blocks of buildings like those across the street, I'm going to say it's the Ponte 16.

You know what else didn't fit? Us. We were wearing shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flop sandals. I knew from looking it up online that the MJ Gallery was on the second floor, so we headed for the main entrance. We were stopped short by a smartly dressed female employee who asked us where we were going, pointing her long finger at a sign explaining the dress code, which included a big image of flip-flops with a circle and line through them. As she was talking to us, a male security guard took a step or two in our direction. We said we were here for the Michael Jackson exhibit. She pointed behind us and said we would have to go in another entrance. So we turned around and headed for what we'd missed before, an escalator with MJ Gallery emblazoned on the side. One problem however:
Our entry was blocked by scaffolding which covered a huge open pit at the base of the escalator. A man on the scaffolding was welding something over his head. So we took a sharp right to see if we could get inside elsewhere. As we approached the side entrance in our exceptionally casual attire, another employee came toward us, waving her arms frantically. She pointed at a previously unseen plain little closet of a lobby which had an elevator in it. She didn't want us stepping one foot in the main lobby! We took the lift to the second floor, which opened directly into the MJ Gallery. We were greeted by a dozen costumed employees who seemed excited there were actual guests for them to shadow through the gallery. We were the only ones there.

Entrance with glass cases filled with memorabilia:
Suit of armor that used to live at Neverland Ranch in California. I did my four years of high school on the Central Coast near Neverland Ranch, and remember driving past the entrance wondering what went on in there.

 Thriller costume:

 Glittery socks and white glove from the Billie Jean performance at the Motown 25 concert celebrating Motown's 25th anniversary. That was the first time Michael Jackson performed the Moonwalk (click here to view). After seeing those socks, I can totally understand why he always wore his pants so short. If I had such socks with such sparkle, I'd wear flood-length pants too. If you could get me out of my sandals, that is.

Boots from Captain EO, the short film at Disneyland, California. These made me a little homesick for my hometown Happiest Place on Earth. Good thing we're close to Hong Kong Disneyland! But they don't have Captain EO here!

 The Tunnel of Time, which you walk through and are treated to clips of his music, photos, and music videos playing in the walls. We made the kids watch the entire Black or White video (click here to view) which features a young Macaulay Culkin (who they recognized) and the "amazing" morphing technology at the end. They were not impressed with the morphing, but I remember it was all anyone could talk about when it came out!

You can take an escalator down to the dead-end of the MJ Cafe, which was mainly pastries, coffee drinks, and alcohol. But it was the boys' favorite part of the exhibit. Know why? The electronic darts above Benjamin's head!  

My favorite part of the gallery? This photo. I mean come on, those costumes are to die for! I told Michael and the boys that we were going to re-create this look for our Christmas card photos this year. That raised a serious amount of screeching and begging for mercy from my children. Michael just laughed.  He thinks it's an empty threat I'm afraid! Now to find a fifth person to stand in with us. Who's it going to be? Because I'm not wearing pink!

My thoughts on the MJ Gallery? Might be worth it if you are a major Michael Jackson fan. Or need a place to duck in out of the rain if you aren't dressed nice enough to gain entry to the rest of the Ponte 16 resort! After we'd seen all there was to see, we left via the same elevator we entered, and then spent an hour strolling around Barra. More on that next time!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Double Rainbow

No, I didn't fall on my knees and ask about its meaning, but I did have to grab my camera and take a quick pic. It rains a lot here, but this is the first (and second) rainbow I've seen since arriving. Glad I was able to tear my gaze away from my iPhone and all the wonders of the new iOS 5 for a moment to catch it! Stunning!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Three Months

It's a melancholy sort of day. Low clouds block out any memory of blue sky. Every now and then a cloud gets a bit too full and spills the goods, dousing whatever happens to be below. Sunlight is diffused, leaving everything in shadow, washed in gray. I'm perched in my window seat with a book on Macau history, watching partially loaded container ships and tiny fishing sampans cross the harbour.

Today marks three months since I boarded a plane and left America. I only know this because I happened to check the calender. The first nine weeks in Macau, I could tell you exactly how long we'd been here. Week ten was an invisible boundary line clouding my precise memory. People would ask how long I'd been here, and I could only give a vague answer... around two months... maybe?

With each previous international relocation, we had a definite end date. We had plane reservations already booked and ready to take us away from our temporary home. This time? Totally different. There is no end date to count down to. Our flights were booked one way fare.

I had a honeymoon period upon arrival in Macau. A time where I was both thrilled to be reunited with my husband who'd been here three months without us and thrilled to be a in a new place, meeting new people, and filling my brain with a dozen new things each hour. I think that period may have passed at week ten as well.

Even though the honeymoon is over, I don't love Macau any less. If anything, I find compelling reasons to stay here each and every day. The white-hot thrill has passed, but contentment flourishes. My best explanation? This obscure place transformed from being a foreign and exotic land into something far more more commonplace: home.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

American Food

Today I picked up the kids from acrobatics class at Michael's theater (they're training up a new generation of performers for the show!) and grabbed lunch with them at an Asian cafeteria-style food court nearby. As we sat there eating delicious teppanyaki beef noodles, barbecue eel udon, and chicken fried rice, a cloud of melancholy descended upon the table. My children started sighing. "I sure miss America," said my oldest. My youngest quickly added a "me too."

I take these statements very seriously and try to never make light of their longings for our most recent home. I never say, "You'll get over it" or "We'll be home soon."  After all, we're going to be here a long time. I want them to make this place home, for however long it lasts. And if they have to grieve the loss of their last home before claiming this one, then I will give them space to do so, without judgement.

I casually asked what it was about America they missed. "The food," they both sighed. Thinking they meant In-n-Out Burger or Krispy Kreme, I sighed too, ready to commiserate along with them. But my oldest continued, "I miss Mongolian barbecue. And the sushi we got in the supermarket." My youngest added his favorites as well: sweet and sour chicken and sticky white rice.

I tried really hard not to laugh. I did my job as their mom by exposing them repeatedly to cuisine from all over the world, which is readily available in the Los Angeles area. But I guess I forgot to label it as we went along... that Mongolian barbecue is actually from Taiwan (different than actual Mongolian food), sushi is Japanese, and sweet and sour chicken is Chinese, though a Western idea of Chinese rather than one which originated here in Asia. I pointed out the teppanyaki beef and fried noodles, though Japanese, is made the same way as Mongolian barbecue, just on a smaller scale. And I reminded them that we just had sushi on Sunday, freshly made in front of us, not from the refrigerated case at the grocery in America. And how last week we ducked into a tiny hole-in-the-wall noodle shop which served us sweet and sour chicken with sticky white rice. This stopped them short for a moment.

"Oh... So I guess there is a lot of American food here," the oldest said, cheer returning to his voice.

Um, sure. Okay. Call it whatever you want my son, as long as you eat it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Portas do Cerco

The historic Border Gate that we visited on Saturday was built in 1870 by the colonial Portuguese to bar access to the people from Mainland China. I found a photo from the 1930's showing what it looked like then.

Here is another photo I found, not sure if it was taken before or after.

Though it was constructed in 1870, it has four dates boldly marked on the gate that are not 1870. I've been digging to find out what the dates meant in relation to the gate itself, and came up dry. So I started researching Macau history and found some great information.

The earliest date is August 22, 1849.

On April 21, 1846, João Maria Ferreira do Amaral was appointed the 79th Governor of Macau. He was born in Portugal and served in the Portugeuse Royal Fleet. He had an amazing milliatary career, and lost his right arm in a battle with Brazil defending Portuguese rights. As governor, he made some big waves by demanding that all Chinese residents in Macau pay rent and taxes. The Chinese authorities tried to negotiate with him, but instead of hearing them out, he kicked the authorities out and stopped paying customs to the Chinese. His acts, as you can imagine, agravated the Chinese residents, and on August 22, 1849, seven Chinese men assasinated him and cut off his head.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

National Day

On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood before a huge crowd gathered in Tienanmen Square in Beijing and declared it the National Day of the newly established People's Republic of China. It is a public holiday throughout China, Macau, and Hong Kong. Every city throughout the entire nation celebrates with fireworks, and many have parades as well. Chairman Mao is either revered or vilified depending on who you are speaking to, how old you are, and where you are from- which of course determines what your history books said about him.

On Friday I was walking around town after the rain died down. I noticed people putting up the red flag of China on street corners, poles, and in public squares. I come from the U.S.A. where patriotic citizens put up the American flag for just about any reason, or simply as a matter of pride. In Japan, I was there six months before I ever saw a Japanese flag flying. In Hong Kong, the flag could be found in a few places, but it wasn't overwhelming. In Macau, I see the green flag all over the place. But green is my very favorite color so maybe I see it so much because I look for it. To see the green flag being replaced with the red flag of China, if only for the weekend, was a bit disconcerting. It is a good reminder to me that though Macau is a Special Administrative Region, with autonomy in all matters except military and foreign diplomacy, its heart beats with the blood of China.

Green flag of Macau, red flag of China. They both have five gold stars.
Flags were flying on just about every taxi.
The flags of Macau and China at the border crossing to China.
My plans for Saturday were cancelled so a friend and I gathered our kids and decided to mark National Day with a bus ride up to the historic Border Gate, the entrance into mainland China.

As American citizens, we can't enter China without visas, so we didn't cross the border, but we did stop to take photos of the streams of people entering and leaving Macau, many of which were stopping to take photos of us.

On the bus ride home, we encountered a few peaceful-looking demonstrations. Based on the huge number of police officers lining the streets, I wasn't certain it was going to stay peaceful. I was happy we were on a bus and not on foot. According to the Macau Daily Times, the government approved requests from five different organizations who wanted to stage protests in the street. By pure chance, we actually saw three of the five. 

We were going so slow on the bus, the same speed as the people walking down the road. It felt a bit like we were in a parade. I resisted the urge to wave to the crowds on the sidewalk. I was actually quite happy (relieved?) to see protesters, because it's a reminder that though Macau is part of China, the people here have the freedom to stage a protest which stops traffic and draws crowds and news crews from all over.

As a final note to the day, there were fireworks lighting up the sky. We have an amazing view from our guest suite.

Don't you want to come stay with us? I thought so! Book tickets soon, we're heading into the most beautiful time of the year, with lower humidity and cool breezes. Normally I'm a summer girl, but I have to say that I'm quickly becoming a fan of fall after the brutal baking we got this year!

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