Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Funny Signs

In Japan and Hong Kong we found hilarious signs that would have us laughing so hard that tears would stream down our cheeks. It comes from someone (without a firm grasp of English) trying to translate the original text from Japanese and Chinese into English.

I was all set to carefully document all the hilarious signs I found here in Macau for your entertainment pleasure. But guess what? There are almost no signs in English, bad or good! So no flood of ridiculous translations that will have you giggling to yourselves posted on a daily or weekly basis.

Michael, however, found me two signs that are chuckle-worthy I thought you might enjoy!




The bad have to use the stairs.





I've always wondered what goes on in the boys bathroom...

Monday, August 29, 2011

I count!


It's 2011, which means it's Macau Census time! Everywhere you go signs proclaim this fact. There are banners hanging from buildings, bumper stickers on buses, signs plastered on the seats in taxis, even three dimensional sculptures running down the median on the Cotai Strip (which is modelled after the Vegas Strip). We actually have a poster outside our elevator!


I got a fat envelope in our mailbox with the now very familiar Macau Census logo. I was super excited to be able to participate in it, because it seems like we weren't counted in the last two U.S. censuses thanks to being out of the country or in the middle of moving house. However when I opened the envelope, all the writing was in Chinese.


Macau has two official languages, Chinese and Portuguese. Fortunately, I took two years of Spanish in middle school, two years of Spanish in high school, and two years of Spanish in college, and while I really can't speak it, I find that I can read it and understand it pretty well. And Portuguese, while not exactly the same as Spanish, shares enough that I can generally make out about every fourth word in a sentence and guess the rest through context. But the census form didn't even give me a Portuguese option! So, I glumly put the census back in the envelope and stashed it on a shelf.

A week ago my doorbell rang in the evening just as I was starting to get the kids into bed. This surprised me because we have a doorman who won't let anyone up except us, or there is a key pad that you must type in a code to gain entry, or you can call the flat from a phone in the lobby and we can buzz you up. So to have our doorbell ring without first getting a call saying there was someone there to see us was out of the normal. Our stuff had just arrived and there were boxes and packing detritus strewn throughout the areas visible from the front door. It was a disaster. I said a quick prayer that it wasn't the owner and opened the door to find a bright-faced college-aged young man wearing a Macau Census polo shirt with a Macau Census satchel across his body and a Macau Census lanyard with his photo on it. I figured it was safe to let him in!




(not the actual young man who came to our door)

He asked me (in stunningly perfect English) why I hadn't yet returned the Macau Census form. I pulled the forlorn envelope down from the shelf and pulled out the census and explained that it was Chinese, and I was not. He quickly pulled out the English version from his satchel and asked me to fill it out on the spot while he waited.


I wanted to savor the moment a little, my first civic act while living here, but as soon as I'd fill out one line, his finger would dart to the next, which he would read aloud to me. I suppressed a giggle, because after all, it was the Chinese version I couldn't read myself, not the English one! But I was quite impressed with the guy's urgency and fervor for making sure that everyone got counted. I read in the Macau Daily Times that 7,000 people applied to be census field workers, and only 2,300 were selected. I have to say they picked a good one in the young man who came to our door! And if our decendants need to find out where we resided in 2011, they'll be able to find us here! Because for once, we count!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Birthday Gift for Michael

My amazing husband is turning 40 years old on September 2nd. I find this shocking because I've been "turning 25" every year for over a decade and give 25 as my age so often I've actually started to believe it! So to hear I'm married to an almost-40-year-old... well, that's almost scandalous!

For the last year we've pondered what to do for this milestone birthday. It's a tough one, because unlike yours truly, Michael does not like a big fuss made over him. Yet sometimes a huge celebration is just the thing, especially for such a momentous occasion. So I was starting to talk to a couple people about locations, etc. when quite unexpectedly, we up and moved a continent away from all the people that one would expect to attend such a bash. Yes, sure, I could throw something together here, but inviting 100 of your employees is not the same as inviting 100 of your nearest and dearest. So what to do?

Earlier this year we met a man named Scott Harrison. He's the founder of Charity: Water. Five years ago he made it his life mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. I'm familiar with a few water charities, but what made Charity: Water stand out to me was how they are able to use 100% of donations received to put directly toward building wells. All their administration costs are funded separately. Not only that, but they actually prove where the money is used by openly tracking and plotting the wells they dig on Google Maps with a GPS in the field which you can look at from the comfort of your own home. Pretty nifty.

Clean, safe drinking water. It's not something that I ever used to think about. After all, we've always been able to drink it straight from the tap, or from the front of the fridge, chilled and filtered. No big deal, right? But then we moved to Macau. Where the guidebooks say it's okay to drink the water, but the locals (and the various medical professionals that our son Nathan has seen while sick) have repeatedly told us to drink bottled water. So although I have what looks like clean water here in my kitchen:


I have to cook with, make ice from, and drink water we pay for, delivered every other week in one of these:


And when you have a kid like mine, currently on his sixth day of having a fever with all sorts of painful gastrointestinal issues, it makes you much more aware of what we put in our bodies. Especially the water.

Which neatly ties both Michael's birthday and Scott Harrison's Charity: Water together. Michael has decided to donate his 40th birthday to help kids and families in developing countries have clean and safe water. He doesn't want a party. He doesn't want a cake. He doesn't want any presents at all. Instead, he wants everyone to take the money they would have spent on a card, a gift, a phone call, or a plane ride to Macau to celebrate his birthday with him, and donate it to Charity: Water. Since he's turning 40, he's suggesting a donation of $40. But you can donate any amount. Who are we to limit your generosity?

Please click on this link to see Michael's page, learn more about Charity: Water, and help Michael donate his 40th birthday to people who could use it way more than him!


Water Changes Everything. from charity: water on Vimeo.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hong Kong Disneyland

If you know us at all, you know we're major fans of a certain magical place where princesses roam and tuxedo sporting mice sing and dance on parade down Main Street twice a day. Both Michael and I were born and raised in Southern California, and we were fed a steady diet of Disneyland and Disney films and merchandise throughout our formative years.

As I've grown up and moved all over the globe, one of the most shocking things I've learned is that this Disney DNA is not something everyone, everywhere, shares with me. In fact, there are actual American citizens that have never set foot in a Disney theme park! Just over a year ago I had the supreme privilege of spending the day at Disneyland with one of these rarest of non-initiated creatures (someone my own age!). Introducing her to the magic of the Happiest Place on Earth easily rests in my top ten Disney experiences.

Of course, the Disney marketing juggernaut of the last decade ensures that all children in most nations are as familiar with Mickey Mouse as they are with the sun that rises each morning in the east. The merchandise of my childhood was a tiny drop of rain compared to the hurricane of modern Disney options that have infiltrated the marketplace (Disney toilet brush anyone?). Having only boys, we've escaped the pink Princess tsunami that other female-filled families have succumbed to, but we do have our share of Disney stuff filling the cupboards and shelves.

Disney theme parks have a special place in our hearts. My first date with Michael was at Disneyland in California. Part of our honeymoon was spent at Walt Disney World in Florida. Our first act as new residents of Japan in 2001 was to take our then-11 week old baby Nathan to snowy Tokyo Disneyland (He visited Disneyland in CA at 10 days old). My husband's blood, sweat, and tears went into bringing Tokyo DisneySea from a patch of reclaimed land into a fully functioning theme park filled with interesting and exciting entertainment venues. And six years ago, Michael built a theatre from the ground up that has spent the last several years enticing people to cheer the hero and sigh over the romance in a show at Hong Kong Disneyland. The only currently operating Disney theme park we haven't visited is in Paris, and maybe we can knock that off the list in the next couple of years.

So yes, a three day visit to Hong Kong for our family will probably always include a visit to our old animated friends in the Magic Kingdom, along with a visit to former co-workers willing to sign us into the park and get us an upgrade at the hotels. We'd booked a reservation at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, and I was very impressed. A lifetime ago I worked for Walt Disney Travel and the Resort Hotels in Anaheim, CA. I love a classy and elegant hotel, and this one didn't disappoint. The Victorian style architecture with the red roof reminded me of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, CA. Here's the balcony from our room, with a view of the South China Sea out the window:


No Disney hotel is complete without  a touch of the characters... Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel has a subtle Seven Dwarfs theme. Here's the basket of amenities. I did make off with two of the sewing kits for my friend Dr. Lori, who collects all things Doc!

We were starving after our long day of travel from Macau followed by the junk trip, so we went to one of the hotel's two restaurants, The Enchanted Garden, for dinner. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was very appealing in our famished state. What we didn't know is that the price of dinner included a visit from Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto! Bonus!

 We all passed out shortly after dinner, and woke up in the morning with growling stomachs. Not wanting to pay a premium for a Character breakfast, we decided to try the other hotel restaurant, a traditional Chinese restaurant called the Crystal Lotus. It was such a beautiful place to start the morning! Of course, there was almost nothing in the buffet that we are used to eating for breakfast! Lots of steamed vegetables, fried noodles, and a few steamed buns filled with onion. So we loaded up on pastries and cheese from the cheese platter and called it good.

And then we boarded the hotel shuttle for Hong Kong Disneyland. As soon as we walked up and saw the entrance, I started doing that weird half-cry, half-laugh thing that signals I'm overwhelmed with emotion. The last time we were there, we were tearfully hugging friends goodbye, and our boys were two and four, just babies really. And now, we're back, joyfully hugging friends hello and reflecting in wonder at the circumstances that led us back to this part of the world once again.

No visit to any Disney theme park is complete for us without a Castle shot!
You can see how hot it was by our red faces and squinting children!


Every time I'm in Hong Kong Disneyland and see the hills of Lantau Island peeking up behind the Castle I get a little jolt. In just about every other way, this area is identical to California, so I get lulled into believing it's the same place.

The Pixar film Cars 2 just came out in Hong Kong this month, but the boys saw it months ago when Auntie Holly took them off my hands for a couple hours so I could pack in peace. There was a big scavenger hunt going on in the park, where you had to find these big postcards and do a secret mission at each location. Once you completed the mission, you got a special photo with the Car of your choice.


We went on every attraction and saw the parade plus Michael's old show, The Golden Mickeys.
Here we are in front of his theatre six years ago:


And here we are, this month: 
The boys, my cousin Josh, and I all appear in a blink-and-you'll-miss us portion of the opening video sequence of the show, which was filmed on an unrelentingly hot day prior to the grand opening back in 2005.
No autographs, please.

The day was so much fun, and one that we really needed as a family.
We stayed for the closing fireworks: 

And then did the tiniest bit of shopping for a certain girl we know who shares Michael's upcoming birthday. We caught the hotel shuttle back to our room, where housekeeping had turned down the sheets and made sure the boys' Mario and Luigi were all comfy and ready for bed:

Good to know that the Disney magic is still intact on this side of the planet!  
Sweet dreams, my friends!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Painful lessons

We have indeed lived in places where summer means 90 - 100F temperatures with 95% humidity (Tokyo, Hong Kong), but the place we consider home, perpetually sunny and warm Southern California, is dry as the desert. Sure, living in So Cal a mile from the Pacific Ocean meant we had days that you could call hot, but the ocean breeze was a smooth balm, making that heat bearable. We have never, as residents of So Cal, had air conditioning. There are always about three to five days in any given year that have made me long for a box dispensing icy air to sit in front of, but those days pass. We generally get through them by splashing in the ocean or seeking the darkness of a movie theater with an extra large beverage to help us cope.

I've forgotten how oppressive the heat can be when you add in such high humidity. Even in a shady, breezy spot, you're still breathing thick, wet air. There's no escape. All physical activity becomes more difficult and uncomfortable. Our first couple of weeks here were nearly unbearable to us Californians. We were still adjusting to the humidity while Macau was in the midst of high heat warnings. We managed to make it through by staying hydrated and balancing our time outdoors with plenty of time indoors with the air conditioner running full blast, with lots of hours in the pool.

Now that we've been here awhile, our bodies have adjusted a bit to the heat, and we aren't leaking rivulets of sweat from every pore the moment we open the lobby door. Plus, the temperature has gone down some, the highs are between 85 and 89F and the humidity has gone down to 70 - 85%. Still high for a girl from a beach community in Los Angeles, but certainly more tolerable than it was a month ago.

When we lived in Tokyo and Hong Kong, we never saw any bills. The company that sent us to those places picked up the tab as part of our relocation settlement. So we turned on the air con when we were hot, and turned it off when we got cold. Here the situation is different. We get a monthly stipend toward living expenses as part of the relocation package, but we are ultimately responsible to pay the rent and all the utilities. The question of how the constant use of the A/C might affect our electricity bill has been in the back of my head, but certainly not something I've been obsessing about. Which, perhaps, was a mistake.

Because today I got the bill.


3,660.00 MOP, which is roughly $460 US Dollars.


For comparison, my electricity bill in my non-air conditioned home in California was about $40 US Dollars in the months leading up to this relocation.

Those ridiculously high numbers spurred me to action. I immediately went from room to room, turning off all the A/C units, save one in the main sitting area of the house where we tend to congregate. I've heard that electricity is "more expensive here" and perhaps there is a little truth to that. But the bigger truth is we cannot sustain a monthly electric bill that is close to what we used to pay for a whole year! So we'll now be vigilant and obsessive about turning off the A/C when we don't need it, the same way we learned to be vigilant and obsessive about flipping off light switches when we leave a room.

You live. You learn. Painfully.

I hope wherever you are it's nice and cool tonight, without the use of air conditioning!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Again, with feeling!


I've always said that my son Nathan is the one who never, ever gets sick. Yet he was the first of us to experience a hospital in Macau due to illness. And today, he was the first of us to head back to see a doctor a second time. Poor guy has been burning up for three days with pain in his belly, and then spent most of last night laying on the bathroom floor when he wasn't hurling into the toilet. Instead of rushing him off to the hospital like last time, I called to make an appointment with Hope Medical Center. Thankfully, they had an immediate opening. I'd just met one of the doctors who work there a few days ago, and we were both surprised when she was the one who walked through the door to examine Nathan. Macau is such a small place!

This time I didn't call Michael's assistant to help us out. We've already been to Hope Medical Center once when Michael got a physical for his Scuba certification, so I knew where it was. However, in the six weeks we've been here, I haven't once called a taxi on my own. If we're with Michael, he calls a taxi and we go as a family. If Michael isn't with us, then the boys and I walk or take a bus. Walking is free and good exercise, and the bus is almost free and builds character. But there was no way I was going to take a barfing kid on the bus. Last week we took a bus on a wavy, winding road down to the beach in Coloane and a little kid threw up. His mom was dying of embarrassment. I gave her a packet of tissue and a plastic sack that I (wisely) always carry in the bottom of my bag for just this kind of incident. Though we didn't share a common language, I could read her gratitude for this small gesture loud and clear. People tend to be kind when something like that happens. But I really don't ever want to be that mom! So, a quick call to the taxi company and our shiny black chariot took us directly to the door of the clinic. This time he was prescribed medication that I don't have to Google because I've actually heard of it. Right now he's fast asleep, resting comfortably. Hopefully he's building up some good antibodies to all the little gastrointestinal bugs that are common in Macau! And hopefully the rest of us are spared!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Come sail away

In the Western world, the word junk generally has negative connotations. We have a junk drawer, our old cars are sent to the junk yard, and that pile of unwanted stuff in the basement or attic is definitely junk. The first time I heard that you could go on a junk ride in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, I laughed aloud, thinking it was some sort of trash barge journey. Of course, I'd seen the beautiful teak boat with orange sails when we went down to the harbour, but I never put the two together.

Six years ago I'd stopped into the Hong Kong Tourism Board who uses the image of the boat above as their logo. I asked how we could book a ride. I was told that rides aboard the Junk Duk Ling (which was built in Macau 50+ years ago) were complimentary, but they had to be booked in advance and could only be booked by a visitor, not a resident, verified by looking in your passport. Unfortunately, we were residents and couldn't book in. So when my cousin Josh arrived from America for a month's stay, we had him go in and book the tickets on his visitor's visa and student i.d. card with the help of my friend Robbi, who was also in the country on a visitor's visa. Michael had to work that day, but the boys, Robbi, Josh, and I had a great time cruising around the harbour on a rainy afternoon. Today anyone can charter the Duk Ling for the day by clicking here.

Junks get their name from the Malay word for ship or large vessel, djong, which the Portuguese pronounced junco and the Dutch pronounce jonk. So really it has nothing to do with what we'd consider garbage! They date back all the way to the Han Dynasty (220 BC), and were made especially hardy to withstand the typhoons that strike this area each year. They were the first ships to be made with more than one mast and water tight hull sections that ensured if the ship took on water, the sailors would have time to bail it out of the individual sections rather than just flooding the entire hull. In the past 1000 years, traditional junk design hasn't changed at all. However, more modern boats made in China without sails are still called junks. And though we actually saw the old Duk Ling during our own junk ride, we were on a very modern junk.




The Duk Ling (with the orange sail)




Our modern junk!




Leaving the sweaty city behind



We cruised around for several hours, passing lots of tiny islands that made Macau look huge! Look at the tiny bump just above and to the right of Nathan's head!




All the kids climbed to the top of the junk while the adults enjoyed eating, drinking and chatting in the shade on deck.




Our destination was this beautiful cove, which was already filled with junks at anchor.







We'd barely dropped anchor before all the kids were leaping into the water. The brave ones were jumping and diving off the top. Nathan did, but Benjamin didn't. Later he said he regretted not doing it.




South China Sea waterlogged family portrait.



Michael found our location on his iPhone thanks to the wonders of Google Maps, and dropped a pin on the map, which was in Chinese. Later we were able to identify the island as Bluff Island or Sha Tong Hau Shan. Michael's amazing assistant Jennifer was able to give us this link about it. These uninhabited islands were formed during the Early Cretaceous period when there were volcanic eruptions pushing out of the sea. There was a sandy beach in the cove that we thought about swimming to, but with so many kids in the group we decided not to try. We were close to the rocks, but the few people who tried to get close to them found them to be very sharp, so we avoided them as well.

Everyone swam for about an hour, which flew by way too fast. Then it was time to make the long but relaxing trip back to the pier. All the stress of the last four months completely blew away in the sea breeze with such great company and scenery. 




Of course there was birthday cheesecake! Happy birthday Glen!




And all too soon we were back in Victoria Harbour.
It was a great day with friends old and new.
We are so happy to be back in Asia!
We said goodbye to our friends and boarded the MTR train to head to Lantau Island, destination Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel! After spending most of the day on a boat, starting with the ferry from Macau and then the five hour junk trip, all four of us felt like we were being rocked to sleep that night. We all had sweet dreams indeed!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Leaving the Country

Six years ago we lived in Hong Kong. We made several wonderful friends that we are still in touch with today. Most have moved on from Hong Kong, but at least one family is still residing there. Although when we knew them, they were just a couple, and now they have three children, the youngest being only a few weeks old (Congrats, Goodchilds!). One family, the Bradens, were so incredible to us. We went to their house on a weekly basis, and I absorbed so much wisdom from them when I was struggling with our oldest son. I was especially sad that they've moved off to Manila while we're back here just an hour's boat ride away from Hong Kong. However, the husband was celebrating his 40th birthday last weekend and arranged a junk trip back in Hong Kong for all their old friends. Michael normally doesn't get the weekends off, but he worked his schedule around so that we could take a three day trip to Hong Kong to spend a day celebrating with the Bradens and friends, a day visiting Disneyland, and a day shopping.

This was the first family vacation we've taken that didn't involve staying with my parents in over a year. You might think that being here in Macau is a vacation, but this is real life. Groceries must be purchased, bills must be paid, laundry must be done. To me, vacation is when someone else cleans the toilets, brings you fresh towels, and room service is an option.

The junk trip was Saturday starting at 11:00 a.m. You have to arrive at the Macau Ferry Terminal 30 minutes early, then it takes an hour to get from Macau to Hong Kong, and up to 30 minutes on each end to get through immigration. We figured we needed to get on the 8:30 a.m. ferry, which would get us through immigration in Hong Kong by 10:00 a.m., leaving us about 45 minutes to take the MTR train over to the pier on Hong Kong Island. So backing up, we figured we needed to leave our house by 7:00 a.m. Some times it takes awhile to get a taxi, but not that day! We managed to book our tickets for the 8:30 a.m. ferry by 7:20 a.m. We decided to go ahead and go through immigration right away instead of wandering through the terminal. As soon as we got through the other side, we were met by a representative of First Ferry saying they were holding the 7:30 a.m. ferry for us, but we had to run. Of course, we didn't actually need to get on the 7:30 a.m. ferry, but when you've got a lady with a walkie-talkie holding up the ferry just for us, we went ahead and ran. We each had a back pack on and Michael and I had a rolling carry-on suitcase each. It's quite a hike from the terminal to the dock, and every time we would start to slow down to catch our breath, another First Ferry employee would be there, walkie-talkie in hand, gesturing wildly for us to pick up the pace. We got down to the gang plank to find they'd already started closing the door, just leaving space for us to squeeze through to get on. We hadn't yet stowed our luggage or sat down before the ferry was already pulling out of the dock. We were told to take any seat, and there were plenty to choose from. I counted about 15 sleepy passengers spread out with their eyes closed. We weren't sleepy though! Our hearts were pounding and we were out of breath from the jog!

The ferry ride was very smooth with bright sunny skies so we got to see all the little islands between here and there. Because there were only 15 other passengers, getting through immigration took no time at all. Since we left so early, we hit McD's for breakfast in the China Ferry Terminal before making our way to the MTR station. It was a little crazy hiking through the stations, pulling luggage behind us, getting passed on either side by the morning commuters. This time around, we taught the kids how to read all the train station signs and how to figure out which line you were on, how to switch lines, and how to know which direction you need to go. By the end of the three-day weekend they were complete pros. We'd tell them where we needed to go, and then let them guide us to the proper platform. Soooo much easier than six years ago when I was dragging a preschooler and a toddler and a stroller, trying to figure everything out on my own while one kid tried to run one way as the other refused to budge! (Seriously, I shuddered more than once that weekend thinking about how incredibly difficult Hong Kong was to navigate sans help with two little ones in tow!)

We had a general idea of where we were going, but still managed to end up exiting on the wrong side of the huge Central MTR station. Thankfully a helpful MTR customer service rep gave us clear directions to get the pier and issued us one time use MTR tickets so we could get back into the station and exit on the correct side after another long hike. We managed to get to the pier at 10:40 a.m., just 20 minutes before the junk trip started. Good thing we got that 7:30 a.m. ferry, huh?

Coming tomorrow: What is a Junk anyway? Plus photos!

Friday, August 12, 2011

This Stuff

Before I can deal with this (hooray for our stuff finally arriving!):


I think I need a little bit more of this:


Because tomorrow we'll be in Hong Kong with old friends, riding on this:


And then on Sunday, we're going to replicate this:


After we walk through this:

So for dinner tonight I'm going to call up and order this:


But don't be jealous, because my head is pounding, which forced me to take this:


But you know what's awesome? This:

This is the first (and only) piece of mail from the United States that we've received so far, with the addresses blanked out of course. I sang a joyful song when I opened the normally empty mailbox to find this precious little gift from back home. This is from my dear friend Robbi, who I worked with a lifetime ago when we both made magic at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. She actually lived in Hong Kong at the same time we did, working on the same project. I'll tell Mickey you said Hi, Robbi!

Mail takes a ridiculously long time to get here. A long time as in over a month in some cases. Every single day I get at least one email, Facebook message, or tweet from a dear friend or relative asking if I got the letter / package / bag of tangerine Jelly Bellies that they sent to me weeks ago, and every single day I have to sadly reply, "No. Not yet." But soon I hope!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Month

I really want to post every day. I certainly have enough things to post about! We're going out and exploring each day, meeting tons of new people, and pushing ourselves right out of our comfort zones with the choices we make. We've been here exactly one month, and I still feel very much in the "honeymoon phase" of moving, when everything is new and exciting and even the frustrating things are all part of the adventure. I jot down notes in a little notebook I carry everywhere to remind me of things I want to write about, but I'm trying very hard to only write when the kids are in bed. Michael's schedule when we first got here was great for this, because he'd come home quite late, and I'd have several hours to write. But his schedule has shifted a bit, and now he comes home about 30-40 minutes after the boys go to bed. And of course the writing is forgotten so I can go spend time with my beloved. Once school starts (18 days of summer vacation left!) we'll be revamping our schedule which should leave me more time to write. In addition to this blog, I've got two other projects in the works that are gently requesting my time. We'll see how it goes.

Blogger is acting quite strange, and deleting whole long passages that I've laboriously crafted. This happens every time I create a post and put more than one photo in it. I keep saying to myself that I'll make a copy of each post before publishing and then go back and put in whatever Blogger decides to edit out, and then I forget. Yesterday's post included a long paragraph about my brother in law Clay, married to Michael's youngest sister. He works for an aerospace company and he and his family were invited to see the final launch of  America's Space Shuttle program. Before going to the Macao Science Center, I'd just looked at their great photos (which you can see if you click here) which made seeing all the PRC flags on the space craft all the more jarring. It's easy sometimes to forget we're in China, particularly when we've spent the day in a world class museum! At any rate, Blogger cut out the whole paragraph, only leaving the link at the end of a sentence fragment. Lame!

Please be patient. I have so much to tell you, just not nearly enough time to tell it! But this is not really a problem at all. Being bored with absolutely nothing to do would be the real problem!

One final piece of good news: The items we shipped from home will be delivered tomorrow afternoon after spending the last month on a slow boat to China. I can't wait to be surrounded by all those little things that make a house a home. The boys just can't wait until they get their Wii! A month with no video games? Torture for them, bliss for me!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Macao Science Center

Directly across the water from our home is a unique building, looking a bit like some sort of vehicle you might find in a Star Wars film.
Do you see it? Right in the middle of the screen? Like an upside down cone tilted to the side with the point cut off? It took me awhile to figure out what it is, but when I heard it was the Macao Science Center (spelled with an O), I could not wait another day to go!

We took a taxi, and got our first English-speaking taxi driver. He proudly told us he was 65 years old, was born in Macau, spent 30 years as a truck driver and then decided to become a taxi driver since he could work as much (or as little) as he wanted. He was so proud to point out many sights along the way. We were all so reluctant to get out of the taxi, wishing the ride was just a little bit longer so we could learn more!

We bought our tickets for the Exhibition Center as well as tickets to see a 3-D film on the space race in the Planetarium. We had four hours to explore before we had to report to see the movie, and we spent an entire hour in the first exhibition hall!

If you came here from my other blog, you know that my older son is quite the artist. He is very intelligent but can't stand school unless it involves art, music, or recess. Considering the state of California continues to cut funding for the arts, there wasn't much art or music to speak of. We continually seek out art classes and opportunities for him to strengthen his skills. I'm always trying to tell him how art is one of those things that is fed by other things in life, like science and math. He doesn't always believe me, but the first exhibit hall only strengthened my argument!

"The Scientific Conceptions of Leonardo da Vinci, 500 Years and Beyond" special exhibition, which runs through October 2, 2011. Absolutely incredible.

The exhibition consisted of replicas of his scientific drawings along side working models of his designs, many of which you could touch and move and see how they worked. Though they did not have any of his original work on display, they did a great job showing what his notebooks looked like. Right now Nathan pulls every finished page from his notebook, crumples it up, and throws it away, saying he could do better. I loved being able to show Nathan the many drawings of da Vinci in his notebooks which got more and more detailed, especially some of the anatomy drawings.

Each display told a little about the drawing and any other historical documents that may have mentioned it, or how it may have been used. In many cases, they showed the modern usage for his 500 year old idea. This exhibit was for a highly portable arched bridge. They had the display with a reproduction of the original sketch:

 A full size replica of the item in the drawing:
 And then an interactive part with a smaller replica (on the left) and the pieces available for you to put it together yourself. The full sized arched bridge is made out of logs and used no rope or straps to keep it together, yet could hold the weight of many men who needed to cross a river quickly in a time of war to surprise the enemy.

The docents spoke excellent English, and were incredibly helpful at adding to the experience, dropping little tidbits of information about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, keeping the kids thoroughly engaged. They had a hall of filled with reproductions of some of his most famous paintings. This is the digitally restored copy of the Mona Lisa, which they had alongside a reproduction of the original, pointing out the differences and how time aged the painting.

I hated to do it, but I finally pushed us all out of the exhibit so we could see the rest of the place!

The building itself is incredible. From the inside it's very reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Since we'd just taken the boys to see a movie that has a lengthy (funny but highly improbable) scene at the Guggenheim, the boys took a small interest in the building design. The Macao Science Center was designed by famed Chinese architect I. M. Pei, who was born in Canton, China, raised in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and then moved to the United States to attend university where he studied architecture at M.I.T. Some of his well known designs include the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, the National Gallery East Building in Washington D.C., and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong (which you can see prominently framed at the 2:00 minute mark when Batman crashes through the window in this clip from The Dark Knight). The interior winds up in a circular fashion, with exhibition halls every hundred feet or so, getting smaller as you go up.

Sharing the bottom floor with Leonardo da Vinci was a huge exhibit on the China Space Program.

I have to admit that seeing the People's Republic of China flag in the astronaut's hand and on the side of the rockets was jarring for a second. After spending an hour in "Italy" with Leonardo da Vincihere.

They had reproductions of the last several rockets launched by the China Space Program, including the Shenzhou 7 Spaceship on the far left, which launched September 25, 2008. It was the third human spaceflight mission of the China Space Program, and the first to include a spacewalk by two of the three crewmen. They plan to launch the Shenzhou 8 Spaceship in 2011.


This is an actual spacesuit worn by an astronaut in the China Space Program. It was remarkable that it was so tiny. My oldest son was 5'1" last time I measured him, and this suit was about the right size to fit him from feet to shoulders.

Shenzhou translates as "Divine Vessel." The name was derived from the idea that they are sending this ship to God in the heavens. You can see the mission patch includes a heavenly being among the stars.
 It was only the second gallery we visited, but I was already smitten with the Macao Science Center! Almost all the exhibits in the space gallery were hands on activities with a point. The kids were having so much fun they didn't realize they were learning! All the activities throughout the entire museum gave you the option of listening in English, Portuguese, Cantonese, or Mandarin, which meant that it was fully accessible for most visitors to this region.

This activity seemed really interesting at first:
You had to pick the angle which the Space Shuttle, complete with American flag, would re-enter Earth's atmosphere. If you chose correctly, the Shuttle would land at Kennedy Space Center to a cheering crowd. If you chose too shallow of an angle, the Shuttle would hit the bright white "atmosphere" and bounce right off. If you chose too deep of an angle, the Shuttle would burn up and crash into a bazillion pieces. I was shocked the first time I saw it happen from across the room, so I went closer. When it happened a second time I started crying and hurried away sniffling. Good thing it was dark in there! I remember the Challenger disaster which I listened to live in my elementary school classroom, and Michael, two-year-old Nathan and I watched the Columbia disaster live on television while I was pregnant with Benjamin. I blame the pregnancy hormones for the several hours of crying that ensued after that horrible explosion in 2003.

A more light hearted exhibit was the Chinese space food. So different from what the American Astronauts enjoy for their meals in outer space!
 Moving on from the Space exhibit, we went to another special exhibit proposing a monorail system to connect all of Macau. You don't have to convince me how great that would be! The boys are sitting on a map of Macau, right above Taipa where we live.

A favorite of the boys, the Robot Exhibition Hall was filled with interactive displays of robots doing every day tasks. This robot would race you to see who could put a puzzle together faster. Another one played checkers against two human opponents, while yet another could solve a Rubik's Cube in less than 20 seconds no matter how much you mixed it up!

Michael and Nathan played robotic soccer against two other museum guests. There was a flood of high school-aged guests who continually came up to me, waved, and said an enthusiastic Hello! I would say hello back, but that was the extent of our conversation in a mutual language!

 Here's a shot from the top floor looking down to the floor in the center of the building. Beautiful!

We made it to our 3-D movie in the Planetarium with plenty of time. There are 135 seats in the theater, and though the films are projected in Cantonese, you can listen in via headphones in English, Portuguese, and Mandarin. The films are projected by high resolution 3-D projectors. It was pretty incredible! We saw a 45 minute film on the history of the space race. It was computer animated, and though the graphics were sometimes a little cheesy, it was a pretty great film. The boys were beside themselves with grief when they learned about Laika, a dog sent into space aboard Sputnik 2, who died on the mission because there was no re-entry protocol created to bring her back to Earth. Sad children.

 Here's a closer view of the exterior of the Macao Science Center when we were all done for the day.

If you scroll all the way back up to the first photo in this post, you'll see our view of the Science Center from our house. Here's the view of our house from the Science Center! We live in the building on the floor that Nathan's finger is "underlining." We sat out there on the sea wall there for a bit, enjoying the nice breeze cooling off the high heat, watching the ships go back and forth.

We'll definitely be making a return visit. It was a pretty good day. But then again, every day that we get to spend exploring as a family is a pretty good one!