Friday, July 29, 2011

Our First Typhoon

I know we had crazy storms in Hong Kong, but spending the last six years in perpetually sunny and beautiful Los Angeles have dimmed my memory. The last twenty-four hours in Macau have brought with them a storm that has totally blown me away!

Yesterday the boys and I had been invited to a swimming playdate at a fellow expat's apartment complex. My best advice when moving to a new country is to say yes to every invitation. Even if you're shy and uncomfortable meeting new people. Even if the person inviting you is not someone you would normally hang out with in your native country. Even if at first glance you have nothing in common with them. You've always got at least one thing in common: you're both living in the same foreign country. You may think you're doing fine on your own and don't really need to get out and make friends, but there quickly comes a time when you start to feel a little crazy with overwhelming desperation to speak in your own language to someone going through the same things you are. It's best to jump in with both feet and make friends right off the bat before you get to that desperate stage and no one wants to be around you!

The person doing the inviting in this case has two boys the same ages as Nathan and Benjamin. Of course I jumped at the chance to get together, if only for the boys' sake. Despite coming from different countries and backgrounds, the four boys instantly bonded and ran off  to a bedroom to speak the common language of little boys everywhere: video game. I spent the day chatting with my new friend, excited to find someone who has had a very similar path in life as my own: constant moving and a frequently absent husband who works in show biz. We got so caught up in talking that we forgot about the swimming part until the late afternoon.

After getting changed and doused in sunscreen, we made our way to the pool. It was nice and sunny and not exceptionally hot. The kids hopped in and splashed around while the two adults kept talking. Then I noticed the sunlight disappearing. Odd, considering it was only 5:30 p.m. I took off my sunglasses and looked up to find giant gray clouds covering the sky. The pool lifeguards started blowing their whistles, motioning for everyone to get out of the pool. By the time we'd dried off the kids and wrapped them in towels, the sky had gone dark as night. We stepped inside just as the clouds let go and rain started pounding down. There was fierce thunder and lightning. My new friend has a car, and generously offered to drive us home. One thing we've learned about Macau: at the first sign of rain, all the taxis disappear!

We got home and I checked the various local weather websites, such as the SMG and the Greater Pearl River Delta Weather Website. Turns out that little storm we were experiencing rated a Typhoon 1 signal, meaning there was a cyclone within 800 kilometers (~500 miles) that may later get even closer to Macau. Here's a graph of the storm at that time:

You can see it started out as a storm in the Philippines, and gathered strength as it worked it way over toward the predicted destination in Vietnam. I read up on the warnings that said they were expected to issue a Typhoon 3 signal at some point early Friday morning (meaning the winds will range from 25- 40 miles per hour, with gusts at ~70 miles per hour). Michael walked home from work during a lull in the rain, hot and sweaty in the late evening humidity and heat.

This morning at 6:00 a.m. I was awoken by what my ears could only identify as hail. Obviously it doesn't ever get cold enough here for hail, so I pulled apart the blackout shades to see rain flying at our bedroom window, horizontal to the ground! I could see no further than perhaps a foot, and the sunlight filtering through the rain reminded me of being in a snowstorm, everything was bright white. The fan vent in our bathroom window was sucking out air and then pushing it back in, making our bathroom door open and close, and I watched the fan rapidly spin first in one direction, then the other. Michael slept through it all, and knowing he'd worked late the night before and would work late again tonight, I didn't wake him up. After all, this may be our first typhoon, but it won't be our last!

At about noon after Michael had already left for work, the rain started pounding again. This time the south side of the house was getting that horizontal rain hitting so hard it sounded like hail. The boys and I sat and watched the world disappear again. There was absolutely nothing to see other than the spiky raindrops hitting the window, but we looked like three people watching a thrilling film, unable to take our eyes off the screen. The noise was so loud, almost like running a bunch of hair dryers aimed at your head. And the crazy thing is that there are five levels of Typhoon Signals, and we were only on the second level! Good thing we're coming into this a bit slowly! Check out yesterday's post to see the storm rating system used here in Macau.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Macau Weather: Tropical Cyclone Warning Signals

 
In my next post I'll tell you about experiencing our first typhoon here (woo-hoo!) but I wanted to take a moment to explain the weather rating system. Macau has a subtropical climate, meaning very limited precipitation in the winter and a summer season that lasts longer than the others which is prone to high humidity and cyclones. Spring and autumn are short. The wind in summer blows the opposite direction than the wind in winter, which classifies this as a Monsoon Region.

From 1861 until 1952, the Portuguese Navy was responsible for recording meteorological changes. In 1952 the Macao Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau or SMG was founded. In Portuguese that translates to Direcção dos Serviços Meteorológicos e Geofísicos, which is where the shortened “SMG” comes from).  They are responsible for studying the climate, weather analysis, and providing forecasts and warnings. From Hong Kong they borrowed a system of signals that can be understood in any language to let everyone know what actions need to be taken due to the weather. They display these signals at the Guia Lighthouse and Monte Fortress, on electronic signs around town, in the lobbies of buildings, at schools, and in other public places.

I found this map on the SMG website. They use it to plot tropical storms as they move across the region.

In the lower right corner, you can see the criteria they use to classify the storm, from a tropical depression all the way up to a typhoon based on the wind speed.

When it comes to classifying a typhoon, they also use proximity to Macau to determine which signal to hoist. I love that word, don't you? Hoist! It comes from raising something using a system of ropes and pulleys, like a sail on a boat or a piano that has to go through an upper story window. Fifty years ago the only way to let people know about these warnings was to literally hoist a signal up onto the lighthouse and fortress. Even though they now flash the symbol on the website or television, broadcast it on the radio, or put up a sign in the hotel lobbies, the term hoist is still used.



The first signal is the Typhoon 1, which looks like a large uppercase T. They hoist this signal when the center of a tropical cyclone is within 800 km/ 500 miles of Macau. When this happens, you should check for anything outdoors that may be carried off by the wind and injure someone. Keep boats and small watercraft in nearby shelters.


The second signal is the Typhoon 3, which looks like an uppercase T turned upside down. (We're currently under this warning as I type this.) They hoist this signal when the center of a tropical cyclone is on a path that cause winds in Macau to range between 41 - 62 kilometers per hour (25-38 mph) with gusts as high as 110 km/h (68 mph), and usually when the center of the tropical cyclone is within 300 km (186 mi) of Macau. When this happens, all ships and sailing crafts should be led into safety shelters or ports. Residents are advised to check safety of doors and windows, and make sure rain drains are clear. Check the radio and television for bulletins. 


The third signal jumps up to Typhoon 8. This signal is based on either a single triangle or two triangles that go in the same direction. The number of triangles and the direction they point indicate which direction the wind is blowing, as you can see in the photo below. They hoist this signal when the center of a tropical cyclone is nearing and winds in any of those directions range from 63 to 117 km/h (39 - 73 mph) with gusts as high as 180 km/h (112 mph). When this happens, school is suspended and businesses close shop. If the children are at school, they shelter in place there. Doors and windows should be secured, and bridges may be closed to all traffic. Television and radio stations interrupt programming and broadcast advice round-the-clock.  


The fourth signal is Typhoon 9, which is two triangles facing opposite directions, looking like an hourglass or black widow spider's belly. This is a warning that the center of the cyclone is approaching Macau, and the region may be severely affected. When this happens, they advise people and cars to take shelter, to reinforce doors and windows, and listen to the media for advice. A temporary calm in the storm indicates the center of the storm is over Macau. 


The fifth and final signal is Typhoon 10, which looks like the plus symbol in math (or the logo for the American Red Cross). This means the center of the cyclone is imminent in its approach, and sustained wind speeds are exceeding 118 km/h (73 mph) with gusts even higher than that. The advice on what actions to take is the same for Typhoon Signal 9. 

I found this image on the web showing the old metal symbols that they hoist up on the Guia Lighthouse. We'll be visiting there soon to see them in person! As soon as this weather clears up, I hope!
  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Madonna in Macau

Well, not Madonna exactly. But a collection of 50 exhibits showcasing Madonna memorabilia was recently on display at Macau's City of Dreams.

Now, I'm not going to lie and tell you I'm a huge Madonna fan. At best, I'm ambivalent about her music. Her career is interesting to me because of the constant reinvention that she goes through (or used to go through). I am, however, a huge fan of the theater. It's what I studied in school and how we make a living. I'm also very interested in Eva Peron, having read just about every biography on her, including one about what exactly happened to her body during the revolutions after her passing. She fascinates me. When Madonna was cast as Eva Peron in the 1996 film adaptation of the musical Evita, there was a loud hew and cry that a pop musician could never fill such an iconic theatrical role. But personally? I applauded the casting. It was an artful choice. Madonna and Eva have a lot in common.

It's not my favorite movie ever, but I loved the film when it came out. I saw it several times in the theater. What I couldn't get enough of were the incredible costumes designed by Penny Rose. They did so much to transform Madonna the sexy, raunchy pop star into Madonna the glamorous, ladylike film star.

When we first arrived in Macau, there was advertising all over town promoting the Simply Madonna exhibition. I didn't feel compelled to see it until someone put a brochure in my hand with a list of items on display. A large number of them were costumes from the film. Suddenly I felt compelled to go!

Michael and the boys indulged me (barely) as I lingered over each glass case with the amazing gowns, shoes, hats, and jewels on display. I passed over MTV Music Awards, cone bras, and signed contracts, moving throughout the City of Dreams complex to get to the next Evita display. I was happy to see two of my favorite costumes from the film in person.

The first is the bias cut cream silk dress with lace cutouts worn during the dream sequence where Eva and Che waltz. I don't usually care for dream sequences in musicals, but I love how they are passionately fighting while they passionately waltz. The dress has so many seams that allow it to hug her body without being vulgar and give it grace and fluidity while she's dancing. Here's the dress at City of Dreams:

And just so you can see the dress in motion, I found the clip from the film, which you can see here:



The second costume that actually made me gasp when I saw it in the film is the one worn during the  inauguration scene. It's dazzling and visually marks a turn for her character when she goes from clawing her way up to finally arriving at the top (before she set her sights even higher). She turns up the glamour with this gown, her character looking like a princess instead of the showy second-rate movie actress that she was when she met Juan Peron. Here's the dress hanging on a mannequin:


I oohed and ahhed over the intricate bead work, but felt a bit disappointed that it wasn't quite as breathtaking hanging in this static position as it was in the film when she made her entrance up the stairs. Here's a clip from the movie, just watch the first 25 seconds to see the gown in its glory:



I enjoyed the exhibit, but I'm afraid that the hardcore Madonna fans out there probably found it lacking. I'm sure they were thinking, "Too much 1940's couture, not enough cone bras!"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Visiting Hong Kong

After our first week in Macau, we used Michael's first available day off to visit Hong Kong. We lived there six years ago when the boys were 1 and 3, and after an intensive week of learning to navigate Macau, it was so nice to return to our familiar haunts.

Though our home in Macau is fully furnished furniture-wise, it lacks all the little things like trash bins, towels, sheets, pots and pans, knives and forks, plates and glasses. In our luggage we brought one set of sheets for our beds, and one plate, cup, and place setting for each person, a can opener, wooden spoon, slotted spoon, and four towels to get us started. We shipped over more sheets and towels, but they won't arrive for a month. And we shipped over the boys' bunk beds, but not their mattresses. We intended to buy mattresses here (less expensive than shipping the old ones), but all the mattresses in Macau come in one level of firmness: rock hard. So the options for making the mattresses sleepable are to purchase a mattress topper, or head to the IKEA in Hong Kong to buy mattresses which cost the same amount as a mattress topper. The IKEA in Hong Kong delivers to Macau, which is terribly convenient! So off we went to buy twin sized mattresses and fit our kitchen with all the things one needs to make a house a home.

We had a great whirlwind day that I'll share with you in photos. Enjoy!


The taxi from our house across the harbor to the Macau Peninsula had these flowers hanging in lieu of an artificially scented air freshener. I took as many sniffs as I could during the short ride! Smelled so wonderful.

 The Ferry Terminal, flying the flag of Macau and of the People's Republic of China.

 On the ferry to Hong Kong. It's a one hour ride, and due to the stormy weather it was quite bumpy. Nobody got seasick, but Nathan happily modelled the complimentary Vomit Bag.


There are two ferry companies that leave from the Macau Peninsula going to Hong Kong every 30 minutes from 7:00 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. We took First Ferry. It rained most of the way to Hong Kong, obscuring our view of all the tiny islands dotting the route. When the rain cleared a bit, we could see a fishing trawler with its net out and the competing ferry company's boat, racing alongside our ferry.

As we pulled into Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, we had a great view of our former home on Hong Kong Island. You can see the block of buildings up on the hill above the electric blue billboard which make up Parkview. Yes, we had a pretty awesome view there, too. 


Here's the ferry that brought us from Macau to Hong Kong's China Ferry Terminal. We're standing in line to go through immigration, which you are forbidden to photograph. We had official Hong Kong residency when we lived there, and could breeze past the long immigration lines whenever we travelled outside the country. Now we get to wait in the long lines filled with tourists from mainland China.

Our first stop in Hong Kong? Chicago Bar & Grill inspired Dan Ryan's. The menu warns that they serve "American-sized portions."

And they do! We used to eat there on Sunday afternoons. They give every kid a balloon attached to a Dan Ryan's key chain. When we were packing up to move here to Macau, I came upon a box filled with their key chains, which I think got donated to a thrift store. The boys have officially started up their collection once again.

After lunch, we took the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island. The Star Ferry dates back to the 1890's and just goes back and forth on the five minute trip all day. The cost to ride across the harbor is about 27 cents US for adults and 16 cents for kids. When the kids were little and being cranky bugs, I used to come down and take them for a ride on the Ferry. Cheap entertainment!

Then we hopped in a taxi for the Windsor House shopping mall, home to a cinema, electronics shops, and of course, Toys R Us.

 We let them spend their allowance on toys and goodies as a way to bribe them into good behavior when we went across the street to our next destination, an intense shopping spree at my own personal toy store, IKEA.

After we dropped a load of cash and arranged for everything to be delivered to our home, we sought shelter from the heavy rain and terrible heat by catching a movie. It was in English with Chinese subtitles. During funny dialogue, the four of us laughed about 5 seconds before everyone else.

I don't know about the rest of the United States, but the Los Angeles area is in the midst of a frozen yogurt frenzy, with shops on every corner. Generally they serve two flavors, an original tart flavor and one other, generally a fruit or green tea. We were regular customers at several of the shops in our old neighborhood. One thing that has thrilled us about our new home is the brand new fro-yo shop just around the corner! We saw several in Hong Kong, and stopped in at this shop to get our fill of icy green tea goodness!  

After our long and productive day, we took the MTR to get back to the China Ferry Terminal. They are in the midst of a big safety campaign, with signs featuring this happy face everywhere. We stopped to take a photo of Benjamin with his face through the sign and a load of other people stopped to take his photo on their cell phones as well. Notice he's looking at them, not me!

The train was standing room only, but we've seen it way worse. Nathan had a tough time getting the hang of riding the train, with it's quick turns and accelerations. You have to bend your knees slightly and hang on to a pole or handle. Nathan kept falling into all the people around him. We kept having to issue apologies! Ben was an instant pro. He'll make a great surfer.

After a day of perfectly navigating a place we haven't been in six years, we got overconfident and overshot our train station, ending up on the wrong line to get us near the China Ferry Terminal. Once we got above ground, we found ourselves in a maze of a closed shopping mall with no way out that we could find. The final daily ferry from Hong Kong to Macau departs at 11:30 p.m., but you have to be at the terminal at least 30 minute early to get a ticket and pass through immigration again and make it down to the dock before the ferry departs. At 10:30 p.m. we realized we might not make it since we were about a 20 minute walk to the terminal! We finally retraced our steps back to the MTR station to ask at the info desk where the nearest taxi stand was (we had been so close!). We raced to a taxi which got us to the ferry terminal just in time to snag tickets on the final ferry. As you can see, we were the only ones there!
The boys fell asleep on the boat ride home, practically sleepwalking through Macau immigration.

It was a pretty great day, especially the last couple of hours. One of my favorite things about travelling happens only when you get lost. It's a thrill to try and find yourself again, discovering things you never would have seen had you stuck to your original plans. At one point during our frantic search for an exit to the mall, we noticed the boys were downright panicked, fearful we wouldn't make it. We took a moment to teach them to play "what's the worst that can happen." What is the absolute worst thing that would have happened if we couldn't find our way to the terminal and missed the last ferry? Well, we would have had to check into a hotel, sleep in our clothes, not brush our teeth, and take the first ferry back in the morning. They went from panicking to kinda hoping we'd miss the boat!

Our next trip to Hong Kong is planed for next month, when old friends of ours who currently live in Manila will be in town for a birthday celebration. We'll meet up with them, spend a night or two, and visit our friend Mickey at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Oh! One more thing. About my toe... I had the electricians over to deal with the crazy wiring in this house, and when I went to show them a plug on the wall, I kicked a laundry basket out of the way. Only my foot never made it to the basket, instead it connected with the door frame. Hard. There was a nasty sound, I briefly saw fireworks, and my eyes watered like mad. Sadly, there is nothing to be done for a broken toe except to keep it taped up. Kinda puts a damper on the wandering part of wandering Macau, yes? It could've been worse, though. Glad it wasn't my ankle!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Back Yard

While I'm in the house, foot propped up on ice and a pile of pillows, nursing this:


I sent the kids down to the "back yard" to play.


Can't spot them from eight floors up? Here they are:


Our complex consists of six high rise buildings. Though that seems like a lot, each floor only has two apartments on it, so it's not all that crowded. We have this playground that beckons the boys daily, a huge swimming pool, tennis courts, and a gym, all on a level that is mostly restricted from cars (basically loading and unloading only, no through traffic). When the boys' bikes arrive with the rest of our stuff, they'll be zooming around down there with the rest of the kids we see every day.

We are in a very multicultural complex. In addition to local Chinese, we also have residents from Russia, Portugal, Canada, Germany, France, and Australia that I've met so far. Everyone I've spoken with seems to think we're the only Americans currently living here.

Beyond the fact that it's so awesome, Michael picked this place because it's a little removed from the center of town, and away from the two major expat apartment complexes. Taipa (the island we live on) is a small place, so it's inevitable that you'll run into someone you know every time you go to the grocery store (we have! Every time!). But Michael really didn't want to be running into his employees in the hallway on his day off, you know?

The irony is that on our second night here, Michael was in the boys' room putting clothes away when he got a call from the company General Manager. He said, "Nice shirt you're wearing there." Michael spun around and found his boss, the GM, on the same floor of the nearest building, waving at him. For the nearly three months Michael was here ahead of us, he was sharing a temporary flat across town with the GM, who was also waiting for his wife and children to arrive. They were both looking for permanent homes with different real estate agents. The GM told Mike he'd found a place at "Tjoi Long Meng Chu." Mike told the GM he'd found a place at "Sea View Park." Guess what? Same place, different language! The boys' room and our dining room face their living room. Michael will not be calling in sick and then throwing a party!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hospital Trip

We Chases have a little tradition that must be upheld every time we move to a new place. Within two weeks of stepping over the welcome mat, someone in the family has to get sick or injured to the point that a visit to the ER becomes necessary. It certainly isn't my favorite tradition by any means, but after repeating it for the last 12 moves, we can't seem to escape its pull!

Early Thursday morning, 10 year old Nathan started throwing up. This alone was a bit surprising, as he has an amazing immune system, and very rarely gets sick. The last time he was sick was 14 months ago. He had strep throat, was prescribed amoxicillin for only the second time in his life, and developed a very serious allergic reaction to the penicillin-based antibiotic. No fun.

Stomach bugs in foreign countries can be very serious. Michael caught a little something while we were living in Hong Kong six years ago, tried to ignore it, and ended up hospitalized due to severe dehydration. In Macau, we've been told that the tap water is "essentially" safe to drink, but we should ease ourselves into using it, sticking to delivery of bottled water that comes each week as much as we can. Restaurants serve you bottled water which the waiter brings to your table unopened (which you must pay for) or hot tea which has been boiled (complimentary). We've been pretty careful with our digestive systems, making sure we're all consuming probiotics on a daily basis in one form or another, and thanks to the heat and humidity I'm forcing everyone to drink at least 2 liters of water each day.

This thing with Nathan really worried me. Normally a person might throw up a few times and get whatever it is out of his system and start to get better. With Nat, I watched as the clock kept ticking, and he kept vomiting. After a few hours, he became one with the bathroom floor, crying in pain, sweaty and pale. I made my first phone call on my brand new mobile, interrupting Michael from a meeting to ask if he could please give me the information on the company health insurance, as it looked like I was going to need it. He in turn called his assistant to ask if she would pass the info on to me, and then went back into his meeting. She called me to tell me where to go and what to tell the taxi driver. Then she said, never mind, just get a taxi and call her back and she'd tell the driver herself. Then she said, never mind, she's on her way and will be downstairs in 15 minutes to accompany us to the hospital.

I had imagined a date in the very near future where the boys and I would be dressed all neat and tidy, presenting ourselves at the theater, meeting Michael's staff, making a sparkling impression that would be remembered for all the right reasons. Instead, we made our way downstairs just as Michael's assistant pulled up, and Nathan promptly threw up. There was no neat and tidy, she got Nathan bent in half, moaning and puking in the back seat of the taxi, brother Benjamin tearful, and me, hair wild, no makeup, in a ratty tee with worry creasing my face. Nice first impression, huh?

Michael's assistant, Jennifer, is native to Macau and speaks Cantonese (local dialect) and Mandarin (mainland China), and passable British English with a heavy accent. She got us to Kiang Wu Hospital, which is one of only three in the region. She walked me through the process of registering. No one at the registration desk spoke English, though the form I filled out did have an English version, which Jenifer filled out for me in Chinese. Then we were sent to triage, where they took Nathan's temperature and blood pressure. And finally we waited for our number to be called and flashed on the screen, which is all very similar to what you would experience in the U.S. I didn't take any photos, but I did find a quick video clip of the waiting room on YouTube, which you can see by clicking here. As you can hear, the numbers are called in Chinese.
Photo by Kuankuen
When we were finally called in, Jennifer came with us. Which was a good thing because the doctor's English was so limited it was comical. Here is a conversation we had that left me blushing furiously:

Doctor: When last time made sheeting?
Me: I... I'm not sure what you're asking.
Doctor: Sheeting, last time, when?
Me: Uhhhh... I think... well... What do you mean by that?
Jennifer: When was the last time he made a sheeting?
Me: I, um, I don't think he's... I'm not sure... what?
Jennifer: Did he shit today?
Me: WHAT?!?! Did you just ask me if he... Okay, you did... (blushing 20 shades of red that a medical doctor and my husband's saintly assistant just used the S-word in front of my kids!)

He did a very thorough exam, pressing and poking Nathan all over, asking questions which Jennifer translated. Finally he gave his diagnosis: we've just arrived to Macau and our bodies are not used to it. He said to watched for fever or severe headache (and to head back immediately if either of those two things popped up), stay inside with the air conditioner running for a couple days, and take three medications he prescribed, which I had to go to the hospital dispensary to collect. The pharmacist spoke no English, but the directions on how to take the medicine and the brand names were in English. I had to pay the hospital bill in cash before we left, which scared me just a little, knowing I only had the equivalent of about $300 USD in my wallet. My fear was needless, as Nathan's Emergency Room visit and three medicines cost the equivalent of $19 US dollars, which I can submit to be 100% reimbursed through our insurance. Crazy!
151 MOP = $18.82 USD, before insurance is applied!

We left the hospital and walked a few blocks to a taxi stand. Nathan had to stop and throw up a couple more times in the overwhelming heat. Jennifer accompanied us all the way back home before she made her way back to the office to let a very shocked Michael know what she'd done. That girl? Worth her weight in gold, many times over! She and her husband of two years don't yet have children of their own, but based on the way she coolly and calmly handled the situation, I'd say she's gonna make a great mama.

I put Nathan in bed and then googled all the medications before giving any to him. One was ibuprofen (like Advil or Motrin), one was a strong probiotic that is frequently prescribed in China and India, and then there was a liquid which stops nausea and vomiting. In carefully reading several websites, I noted that though widely used throughout Asia, it has never been approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in America. While pondering whether I should give it to him or not, he got up to throw up yet again, crying in agony. I gave him the medicine. He hasn't thrown up since.

You could say that the silver lining of our little tradition of hospital visits allow us to become well versed in the local medical system very quickly, so that we're all set for any future incidents. I have learned you can find English speaking doctors in the clinics where you make an appointment, but the emergency rooms are sorely lacking. And everyone I've spoke with says that for anything serious, go to Hong Kong. Which is fine, I love the hospitals in Hong Kong, they are great. But they are either an hour's boat ride away or a 15 minute, $300 US helicopter ride away. I'm hoping and praying that we're healthy and well our entire time here, never needing to take either of those options for anything other than a fun day trip to our former home.

We were given a "Welcome to Macau" book with useful information by HR, but everyone has told us we'll get by through trial and error, figuring it out as we go. I remind myself eighty-four thousand times a day: I love adventure. Adventure is good. This is the biggest adventure of my life to date.

While I do love adventure, I am so grateful for Jennifer!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Connected

For ten days after our arrival in Macau, my only connection to the outside world was my computer and the internet. Which some would argue is all you really need... who makes actual phone calls anymore? We needed to wait until Michael had a day off to purchase a phone for me, since he gets a generous company discount and the stores are only open while he's at work. In the meantime, I've been polling the local expat community on their phone recommendations. And survey says 100% iPhone.

While I'm no Luddite, I'm certainly no early adopter. I leave that to my techie husband for whom having the latest and greatest technology is sometimes a job requirement. My needs for a phone prior to moving here: it had to make and receive calls, send text messages (SMS), and receive and send email. If it can browse the web and check Facebook too, so much the better. But not necessary. Most of my friends have iPhones and have done their best to convince me that I should get one too, but I've never felt a burning desire to possess one (or have it possess me?).

Here in Macau, there are so many things that I never knew I needed. After a week, I could see the language barrier was going to be a way bigger deal than I previously thought. Particularly when it comes to getting around. It's a small place... there's no way I could get so lost I couldn't be found again, but the aggravation involved when traveling with kids means that if there's an easier way I should at least investigate it. And the fact that we're a quick boat ride to Hong Kong and literally steps away from the border of China means that we'll be doing some roaming outside Macau. The expats I've spoken with were happy to pull out their iPhones and show me all the great apps specific to this region that help with navigation, transportation, and communication, all for free, but only available for the iPhone. And the fact that I can use it in Hong Kong and China for nothing more than I would already pay to use it in Macau... compelling indeed. So we went to the phone shop.


And I came home the new owner of a white iPhone 4 with all the bells and whistles. And after having it for three days, it's very clear to me what the fuss was about. Especially when with the push of one button, my phone can find me and show me where the nearest bus stop is and where the bus that stops there goes. It actually feels a little bit like cheating.

10 years ago, to find my way around Japan, I had to learn to read and speak Japanese so I could read the signs and ask questions. Today I just pull up the map that shows my address in Chinese and show it to the taxi driver and he'll deliver me without having to say a word. I hate taking the easy way out. I'm stubborn like that. But I think I can get used to this. Heck, three days in and I already am! But I'm still going to take language classes. Which I'll call to arrange on my fancy new iPhone. Sweet!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Floored

Our amazingly beautiful and luxurious new home is also quite spacious. I was hoping for a bigger place than we've previously had when we lived in other Asian countries, thinking if we could get a place that was about 1300 or 1400 sq feet we'd be golden. At 3,800 square feet, I'm floored over living in a place almost three times bigger than what I dared to hope for! The kids play hide-n-seek and have a hard time finding each other. You can't call someone from one end to the other and expect them to hear you. It's way more space than we need, but during the horrible heat and monsoon season, it sure is nice to have an indoor place of our own where we can spread out and not worry too much about the walls closing in on you, giving you cabin fever.

And all 3,800 sq feet are covered in hardwood or tile flooring. Not a stitch of carpet. I love it, it's amazing. I'll give you the full tour of the apartment as soon as our shipment of things from the US arrives and it finally looks like "home" to us, but today I'll show you the floors.

Here's a corner of the balcony, which is 16 feet long by 6 feet wide. I love the intricate tile pattern. The kids like to sit out here and race their R/C cars round and round the pattern like a track. It makes me a wee bit nervous that the only thing separating them from falling eight stories to the street is a sheet of glass, but I'm trying to get over it, especially since the glass comes up to my tallest son's armpits. One of Michael's co-workers came over and told me not to put any furniture out there, lest they climb on it and fall over. Note taken.


Here's the guest bathroom, the one you (yes you!) will be using when you come stay with us! The floor is a very dark grey tile, with textured white walls and a patterned trim. This bathroom is very contemporary, and I can't wait to show you the rest! I'm trying to teach the boys not to use it, as we have three other bathrooms they can use. It would be so nice to have one for guests totally clear of little boys and their messes!

Attached to the guest bathroom is the guest bedroom, the room where you (yes you!) will rest your weary head after a long day of sightseeing around Macau! It has this lovely dark wood, which makes a nice contrast to the white cupboards that line the room.

The entry, the living room, the dining room, all the hallways, and the maid's quarters are covered in these large creamy tiles. The tiles are butted right up against each other, so there isn't miles and miles of grout to clean. This little patch of tile is decorated with Ben and his LEGO bricks, the only toy we brought in our luggage (though we did bring a lot of their books). All the rest of the boys' play things arrive with our home goods shipment next month! Good thing they happily play with LEGO for hours on end!



Here is the master bathroom. I love the shell motif, which reminds me of home in Los Angeles, which was a mile or so from our old playground: the Pacific Ocean. Though we live right on the water here, it's not a beach. And though there are two beaches in Macau, we've been told to avoid the water. So if I want the beach, I simply go into my master bathroom!  At about 8 by 14 feet, it is the largest bathroom we've ever had, and by far the finest.

Here is the bathroom in the hallway closest to the boys' room and office. It's very similar to the master bath, but it has a different mosaic trim that runs all over the walls.


This wood covers the floor in the master bedroom and dressing area, the boys' room, and the office. This color wood also makes up the miles of custom molding that surround each door.


This is the kitchen, which is the only room in our home that doesn't get direct sunlight. The floor is covered in these large matte grey tiles (though not as large as the tiles in the living and dining room as you can see through the doorway). If I had to pick a favorite floor in the house, this would probably be it. It feels as soft on your feet as tile can. It also covers the floor of the laundry room which is located off the kitchen.


And finally, here is the maid's bathroom, which is a tiled room complete with toilet, sink, and shower all in one. It's pretty standard utilitarian stuff, much like what you'd see in a public school bathroom, with lots and lots of grout (ugh).

And while we do have maid's quarters, we are decidedly lacking an actual maid. Other things we are lacking? A big American-sized broom, a big American-sized roller-style mop, and my favorite floor accessory: a big American-sized Haan Floor Steamer, which would be useless here due to the difference in voltage (pausing to toss out a HUGE thank you to my awesome friend Lori who used the beloved Haan to clean all the downstairs floors in our old home before we moved out).

You wanna know what tools I have to clean the 3,800 square feet of floors in this new home of ours?


A string mop and bucket, and a tiny, short bristled broom and dustpan, which come up to about my hip. Which means hours of bending over to sweep and sweep and sweep. And though it's my Mom's preferred style of mop, I've never used a string mop! I've always thought it was just a prop used by Carol Burnett as the cleaning lady, not an actual tool used to clean floors! Never thought cleaning tools would be the things from home I'd long for!


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Excuses

Sorry for the delay in posting anything new! Lots of posts in the pipeline, but we had a bit of drama yesterday which we're recovering from today. But the main problem? When it comes to sitting down and writing, my computer screen faces a window. And this is what I see, perfectly framed, when I look out the window:


Such beauty! If I'm to get any work done, I'll have to draw the blinds! This morning I was pondering whether I'd ever get over the view, whether it would ever just blend into the mundane background of daily life, something taken for granted. After 12 days of looking out the window, seeing that, and feeling my heart skip the tiniest of beats, my conclusion is: probably not.

Pinch me, I cannot believe this is my life!

The House of Dancing Water

Michael arranged for our family to see his show two days after our arrival. I confess to feeling a small bit of dread in my stomach over finally seeing the show. Sure there's an amazing preview on YouTube and glowing reviews all over the web... but what if I saw it and hated it? I think it's important that we're doing more than just earning a paycheck by uprooting our family and moving halfway across the world. I want whatever we do to be something we can be proud of!

The Dancing Water Theater is located in City of Dreams, a new complex that includes three hotels, a multitude of restaurants ranging from fancy to McD's, a huge casino, and several entertainment options.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Three Years + New Blog

Hello my dear faithful readers. It's July 17th, which for me always means two things: it's Disneyland's birthday (Happy Birthday Happiest Place on Earth!), and it's the anniversary of this here little blog, Boy Wonder. For three years I've used this space to chronicle the everyday events of my two boys, Nathan and Benjamin, and to write about my experiences as their mother and parenting in general.

I started this blog on a whim one night when my husband was travelling for work in Canada and missing his family as much as we were missing him. I'd just spent the afternoon with some girlfriends who are avid scrapbookers. I felt completely left out of their conversation because despite considering myself an artist (my mediums are the stage, the written word, and textiles), I've never been able to work up any enthusiasm for making scrapbooks. I value creativity above almost everything else, yet those few times when I sat down to try, surrounded by supplies and creative friends, I'd stare at my blank page and stack of photos, then the clock, then the blank page and feel a failure. But the idea behind scrapbooking? A place to tell stories and document milestones? I can totally get behind that. As someone whose childhood documents and belongings were completely destroyed my freshman year of high school (in a story so bizarre and nearly unbelievable it deserves it's own post), I recognized that taking the time to pause and record these every day moments could be very valuable for the boys and their father who was missing so many of them because of his crazy schedule. I figured a blank screen would be less intimidating than a blank page, and voilà! Boy Wonder was born.
The boys in July 2008 when Boy Wonder began - so little!

One thing I've tried to do is keep it about the boys and things that pertain to them or my experience as it relates to them. For the most part, I try not to go off on tangents about things that have nothing to do with them (I spill most of the rest of my life on Facebook). I've been pretty honest and transparent, and wrote about the highs as well as the lows, the joys and the frustrations. And though I was writing for an audience of my husband, the boys' relatives, and the future grown-up versions of Nathan and Ben (gulp), I managed to collect a whole bunch of other readers along the way. I'm not one to check or even think about stats, but when I recently saw the "stats" button on Blogger and clicked it, I was amazed to see the reach of this blog! Same thing when I signed on to see the people who have subscribed via email. It doesn't automatically notify me when someone subscribes, I had to go digging to see that Boy Wonder is filling the in-boxes of a whole bunch of people out there. I'm amazed and astounded and a little bit humbled, especially by some recent emails from people I've never met that were filled with such kind encouragement and sweet words. Wow. I'm blown away. So with that, I have two things to tell you.

The first is simply thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming along on this little side project that has done a lot toward keeping me sane on this bumpy road of parenting and marriage and family. Unlike so many little girls out there, I never spent my childhood days pretending to be a little mommy, and I didn't spend my teen years longing to get married and have a baby. And though it wasn't a long held dream of mine, every day I am filled with gratitude (though some days it's through clenched teeth) that my path in life has included being a mother. So thank you for reading along, especially when there are other blogs out there that make parenting look easy-breezy!

The second thing I want to tell you is I've started a brand new blog. With our life transitioning to Macau for the next several years, I really felt like I needed a space that wasn't completely about the boys, something that could stand alone, telling the story of this period in our life. And I didn't just want to take a hard left turn with this blog, making it something completely different than what I'd originally intended. Which isn't to say that I'm going to completely abandon Boy Wonder. There are many stories that I'll still want to record here, particularly the boys' own reflections about living here (their review so far? Two thumbs WAY up). So with that, here is your personal invitation to join me over at my new blog, Wandering Macau. Go ahead and add it to your reader, bookmark it, subscribe via email, or just check back often. Because I'll be filling it with everything Macau-related. And though Macau is only about 11 square miles, it has centuries of history contained in every square foot. And I'm going to explore it all. So come join me, without ever leaving home! And if you do happen to leave home and come our direction, please look us up. We'll explore together!
Hey friends! We're off Wandering Macau! Come join us!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Daytime view

With a stunning vista greeting us from every window in our flat, there is simply no way to capture it all in a photo. So I recorded a quick video of the view, which you can see here:




There's nothing I love more than curling up with a good book in a window seat, and our flat is full of cushioned perches, perfect for attempting to read. I say attempting because how can you focus on a fictional view when this is your real one?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The long and winding first day

We were lucky enough to schedule our arrival into Macau to coincide with Michael's normal days off, Tuesday and Wednesday. This means that we had two full days to wander around together with Michael playing tour guide and me trying to download the location of everything directly into my brain on the first try. I was blessed with an innate sense of direction and a strong memory for places (which doesn't extend to names unfortunately). But the part of Macau we live in, Taipa, is a crazy jumble of a central area laid out in a grid pattern, surrounded by lots of wavy streets. And with nothing in English... it's going to be a challenge.

After a great night's sleep, we all woke up ready to greet the day. With an empty fridge, cupboards, and bellies, our goal was to find a place to eat breakfast, visit some groceries to get basic sandwich stuff for lunch, and then make our way to immigration to get the visa in our passports that allows us to stay here legally for two years instead of one month.


Taxis here are quite cheap. It's a small place, so you can get just about anywhere for under $5 USD. However, I wanted to employ my sure-fire remedy for jet lag, which is to get outside and walk in direct sunlight. So off we marched into the downtown area! Michael took us to a place called The Savory Crab, which despite the name, is actually a delicious breakfast joint. The boys and I have missed Michael's pancakes while we've been apart, so these were a nice treat.


After that, Michael marched me up and down all the streets, pointing out a tiny home goods store, a market, a noodle shop, and a park. It was total information overload! We did hit one grocery, where I filled a cart with toilet paper, paper towels, bread, milk, OJ, jam, peanut butter, pasta, pasta sauce, a pot with a lid, and salsa (hey, I'm a girl who can't live without Mexican food!). We arranged for free home delivery of the non-perishables and took the cold stuff to go, hailed a cab, and went back home.


Michael and Phone, reunited
While I made us all sandwiches before our appointment with immigration, Michael realized that he'd somehow lost his company-issued phone. We were supposed to meet someone from HR at the stage door of the theater, who would hook us up with a driver to get us to the right spot in immigration. We left our flat in a hurry to get there early so Michael could tell his assistant to cancel his phone and get a new one, quickly. In the most random turn of events, we were met at the stage door by the HR rep who had printed out an email from his assistant saying that someone named Sandy had called to say they had Michael's phone and we could pick it up at our convenience. We had the company driver make a detour to Sandy's address, which was no where near any place we had been that morning. Since Sandy spoke no English, we didn't get the story of how she came to be in possession of Michael's phone, but we were so grateful to have it back none the less!

The night before we left the U.S., we made a run to Costco to get some extra passport photos for our visas. On our way to immigration, we showed them to the HR rep, who sighed and said they were the wrong size. So we made yet another detour to a photo shop to get the visa pics for the boys and I. Nothing like being totally unprepared to have your photo taken! I think there is a rule somewhere that says you are not allowed to look good in a passport photo or else customs won't let you through. Yeah, yeah! I'm going with that!
We finally made it to immigration, where we had to take a number and then find the corresponding waiting area. We were facing a bank of televisions, all looping the same somewhat graphic video about human trafficking, over and over. It was a cautionary tale to remind everyone to remain in firm control of your passport, lest you end up being sold into slavery. And it scared the kids half to death!

We finally got called up and all Michael's documents were checked to make sure his work visa was valid, and then the boys and I got our accompanying family member stamps. Which means we're now legal residents of Macau and can stay here for up to two years before the visa has to be extended. Hooray for us!

The driver deposited us back at home once again, and I cooked up spaghetti in the brand new pot, and we ate our first meal in our new home. With no time to even think about slowing down and napping during the day, we kicked jet lag's booty and went to bed at a fully reasonable hour. ZzzzZzzzZzzz