Saturday, January 21, 2012

K9 Invasion

So guess what? We got a puppy.


Meet Lucy. She's a six month old toy poodle.
She's pretty much as big as she'll ever get.


Her hair will get longer, and she might get a little rounder, but she won't get any taller.

She's incredibly tiny: 

I grew up with big dogs (Dalmatians, Rottweilers, Australian Shepherds) and I've never even considered the possibility of a tiny dog. She's actually quite perfect, small and cuddly like a kitten and very playful, which pleases my active children. We looked at so many animals, cats and dogs, kittens and puppies, in pet shops and shelters. None were right until we found her, housed in a crate with another dog, in a room filled with dogs and cats who were all making so much noise. She didn't make a peep, she just stood on her hind legs to get a better look at us. I lifted her out of the crate, and she immediately snuggled right into my neck and let out a big sigh. Oh dear, I thought. I put her in Nathan's arms and she cuddled against him, giving tiny puppy kisses to his chin. On to Ben, same reaction. I snatched her from Ben to hand her to Michael. She was so content. Michael raised his eyebrows and said, "Yes?" I nodded, and we had ourselves a dog.

We'd been specifically researching breeds that are kindest to people with allergies. Dogs with curly hair are best, as they shed significantly less than their straight-haired cousins. These small poodles are very popular here in Macau. The only poodle I'd heard of before this month was the Standard Poodle, that big white dog always shaved with the pompoms at the ankles. I'm not a fussy girl, so I don't want a fussy dog, and Standard Poodles always struck me as fussy dogs. We'll do our best not to be overly fussy with Lucy.

I wanted to give the boys the honor of naming their first dog, but I sorta stole the privilege away. You'd think that because she's a curly redhead we named her Lucy because of a certain famous actress who shares those traits. But not so. We've been having the conversation of to-get-a-pet-or-not-get-a-pet for over a year. Since moving here, it's all the boys have wanted to talk about. After looking for a pet that would be a good fit in earnest, and spending time at the shelters, it made me think of searching for a diamond in rubble. Discouraging at best, and maybe impossible. When this little puppy had snuggled her way into our arms, I thought we'd certainly found a diamond. And being a huge fan of The Beatles, I immediately thought of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. I casually suggested it to the boys, and they were sold on the spot.

We've had a revolving door of visitors in the last couple of days, and she has been incredibly friendly to all of them, giving out plenty of cuddles and more than happy to fall asleep in any available lap. In addition, she's got at least half a dozen people hoping we'll go out of town soon so they can dog sit! And my boys? They have not complained once about running downstairs to walk her or cleaning up her accidents (thank God for the tile and wood floors throughout our flat!). I hope it stays that way at least as long as they've been begging for a pet! They've taken dozens of photos on their Nintendo DSi, making lots of fan art with her images.


Yep. We love Lucy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tips for International Living, #1

Top thing I've heard over the last six months: I could never do what you are doing, living in a foreign country like that!

You know what? I think you could if you had to. And I'm part of a community of expats living far from their home countries who would agree with me.

The first time we moved out of the United States, it wasn't really our choice. Michael started on that particular project knowing there wouldn't even be a business trip to Tokyo in the budget, let alone a relocation for his wife and baby-on-the-way. Imagine our surprise when he ended up going on half a dozen business trips followed by four weeks notice that we'd be moving to Japan. With a newborn. I don't think we ever sat down and had a discussion over whether we could or couldn't do it. We just did it. It didn't sink in until a year later how crazy that was. It was difficult, yes, but we had nothing but incredibly great experiences as first time parents in a place where no one spoke our language.

Our second international move was a bit more intentional. It was a really great opportunity for Michael. I wasn't thrilled going into it because this time around I was doing it with two kids, one of which had a pretty serious heart condition. Honestly? It was just about the most difficult time of my life. But I made the most of it and have several deep and lasting friendships I wouldn't trade that hardship away for. I was filled with anticipation about what was to be our third international move back in 2008 to Macau for a three to five year period. However, it derailed exactly 30 days before we got on a plane. The world financial crisis nearly took out the company that was paying us to relocate. And now we're in Macau for real, for a different company, for three to five years.

Along the way I've learned so much, collected so many resources, and gleaned wisdom from others who've done this way more than I. I'm not the expert, though I do know her. There are a few things which helped me survive, and even thrive, my way to this point. And thanks to this blog, I have a tiny platform to share some of that knowledge. Considering I spend part of every week responding to emails of people asking questions about moving to Asia, I figure there's at least two or three people interested in what I might have to say, right? So here's what I'm going to do. Very casually, every week or so, perhaps irregularly, and in no particular order of importance, I'll share little tidbits of what I've learned.

Here it goes, with Tip #1. Let's start at the very beginning, before you've moved at all. When it comes down to deciding whether or not you (or your spouse) should accept that international relocation, or if you should sign up for the semester abroad at school, let me borrow from Nike:


Make all the lists of pros and cons you want, but I've found the major reasons why you shouldn't do it can end up being valuable assets and major opportunities for growth down the road if you do it anyway. One example? Our time in Hong Kong, that second relocation I mentioned? My top reason for not going was because we'd recently had a second child, one that was born with congenital heart disease (more about that here). Even though Ben was completely stable, I was petrified to move more than an hour away from the pediatric cardiologist who'd treated Ben since birth. Moving to the other side of the planet? Unthinkable! However, it was the cardiologist himself who convinced me to go (the fact that he had a friend's card in his wallet who happened to be a pediatric cardiologist practicing in Hong Kong sure helped). As result, a big change happened. I stopped seeing Benjamin the boy with a heart condition, and started seeing just Benjamin the boy.

This transformation was noted toward the end of our time in Hong Kong when we flew to Beijing to climb the Great Wall of China. On a hot September day, 3,500 feet above sea level, three adults and Nathan were trudging along, our lungs straining, our muscles groaning at the uneven steps that seemed to go on forever. But not Benjamin.


Ben was so far ahead of us, we had to yell at the top of our lungs to get him to stop and just wait. He waved his arm and yelled back impatiently in his two-year-old voice 'um ON, Mama, 'um ON!

Benjamin? A heart patient? Oh yeah, I forgot.

I would not have easily given up hovering over him and aggressively fighting off threats (real or imagined) had we remained in the safe, protective bubble of the San Francisco Bay area and Stanford University Hospital. And I would not be raising the fiercely independent, incredibly curious, and breathlessly fearless boy that Benjamin is turning out to be, had we not ignored the scariest thing on the cons list, boarded that plane, and moved to Hong Kong. Of course, if you or a family member have a serious health condition, I'm not telling you to throw caution to the wind and do it anyway. After all, we had the blessing of Ben's health care team and we were moving to a place with excellent medical facilities and doctors. I'm just saying that "It will be hard" shouldn't be your most compelling reason to turn down the opportunity to live and work abroad!

I want YOU... to just do it!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Make like the locals

I'm not sure how they do the hiring process for bus drivers in Macau. I'm guessing the process involves discarding the applicants with no accidents or tickets and hire the bottom of the pile. Or else they just recruit the meanest and toughest they can find, people who relish slamming on the brakes at the last possible second when they know they have a packed, standing room only, holy-cow-there-are-six-people-pressed-up-against-me bus. Maybe the drivers are used to getting around town on motor scooters, capable of making fast and accurate lane changes, and simply forget they are driving a huge city bus instead. The traffic in Macau doesn't help, but after experiencing the absolutely insane traffic in Manila, Philippines, I find I can't compare the craziness. Riding the bus in Macau is an exercise in surfing. My balance has never been better!

Today I was riding the bus with my youngest son. We actually got a coveted seat, and I tilted my head back against the headrest for just a second and suddenly Ben was saying, "Mom, don't we need to get off here?" Despite the starting and stopping and swerving and the loud engine, I somehow dozed off. Good thing I had him with me, and that he was paying attention. I see locals who look like they are snoozing all the time. I always wonder if they've been riding the same bus route for so long they just naturally wake up at the right stop. I'm not to that point yet - I need Ben the Bus Alarm!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

360 Hours

I was just reading about a new hotel a few hours away from us, built in Hunan Province, China. Construction began in December of 2011, and it was completed just 360 hours (15 days) later. It isn't much to look at, but it does have many innovative energy saving features, and a price tag of just $17 million USD. I'm impressed, China!

Per CNN:
Named T30, the 17,000-square-meter hotel is due to open on January 18, and is expected to be a five-star establishment. The hotel will feature 316 standard rooms, 32 suites, eight ambassador suites and two presidential suites. Other facilities include a restaurant, bar, gym and swimming pool on the top floor, underground parking space for 73 vehicles and even a helicopter pad. The entire hotel costs a total of US$17 million to build.



(Video above, email subscribers please click through to the site to see the amazing time lapse video!)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Caliente, Por Favor

Grocery shopping here is Crazy. With a capital C. This week I went to seven different stores to collect all the ingredients for just a single meal. By the time I got home, I was tired, hungry, grouchy, and didn't want to cook. I'm shooting photos of the stores here for a post down the road, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of the way things are around here.

The grocery shopping rule in Macau: if you see it, buy it. It won't be there next time, and it may not be there again for two months. Or ever. You will regularly find completely empty shelves for a week at a time, until they finally decide to rearrange things so it's not so empty. Six months in, I'm still not used to that.

My favorite store in Macau is a grungy, dark, slightly smelly market with aisles so narrow a mini shopping cart can barely fit. Certainly not two people. It's a treasure for this girl because it stocks products from two of my favorite stores back in the U.S., Costco and Trader Joe's. In a land of exceptionally strange products that trigger my gag reflex, seeing the cheerful Hawaiian flowers on the Trader Joe's packaging triggers my lips to want to kiss the cans of organic black beans or bottles of Kansas City BBQ sauce. And when I see Costco's oversized Kirkland brand spices and olive oil, my heart flutters and my knees grow weak. This store is the end of the line for the Macau University bus 37, which also has a stop right in front of my flat. Quite convenient! But it doesn't stock bread, dairy, or more than the tiniest amount of very pathetic and wilted vegetables. So it's not a one stop shop by any means.

Today I was waiting for the bus and decided to pop in. They had a bunch of boxes with new products that hadn't made it out on the shelves yet. I looked in all the boxes, as is my habit, and found one that contained three giant Costco-sized bottles of Ortega Medium Thick & Chunky Salsa. I immediately grabbed one and put it in my cart. I may or may not have begun to sing the Hallelujah Chorus while shouting praise Jesus. Loudly.


The sole English-speaking employee saw it in my cart, and said I might not be able to buy it yet because they just got it in and don't have a price for it. I countered with a request that he then hold it for me until it was priced, because I wanted it, no matter the cost.

Small back story... I love Mexican food, the spicier the better, more than anything. Even more than In-N-Out and Krispy Kreme! There is one Mexican restaurant in Macau, called Mexicana. I eat there weekly. Sometimes more than once a week. There is another restaurant in Macau called Tacos, which would lead you to believe it serves Mexican food. But it's really Portuguese.

Fortunately in the last two years I've taught myself to cook all my favorite Mexican dishes. Unfortunately, Macau grocery stores don't always stock the necessary ingredients. Sour cream is only available at one store, and generally only about ten days out of the month. Canned sauces are non-existent. Avocados can be found, but they are about $1.25 US apiece and there is no guarantee they won't go from bright green unripe to black over-ripe mush in 24 hours.  And salsa? When I first arrived in Macau, one of the stores had such a bounty of salsa that I actually declared I would never leave Macau. A month later, it was all gone and hasn't been replaced. I can generally find a cup-sized jar of salsa with a "hot" label, which is about as spicy as ketchup. It's not my favorite, but it's better than nothing in my homemade tortilla soup. But I'm always on the lookout for a better brand of spicy salsa. Which is why I was serenading the lucky shoppers with the Hallelujah Chorus.

The store employee consulted with the manager who was pouring over a list to try and get a price for me. Considering the tiny cup-size jar of salsa is about $6 US, I figured the large jar was going to be extremely high, but worth it. I continued to shop, managing also to find refried beans, almost unheard of in this town. Finally they found the price: $18 USD. I asked if I could buy all three! Which I did. They had one more, but I left it behind. After all, three bottles equalled 26 pounds of salsa, a lot of weight to carry when you don't have a car! My friend paid me for one of the bottles, leaving me with two, and a million ideas on how to use them.

Later I had another errand to run and managed to find one perfectly ripe avocado at yet another grocery store. Score! If you guessed that dinner tonight was tortilla soup, then you win. The boys and I kept refilling our bowls. Es muy delicioso! I had to cut everyone off or else there wouldn't be any left for Michael when he gets home from work.  I'm pretty sure my dreams tonight will be in Spanish. Dulces sueƱos my friends!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

(Wannabe) Flash Mob

I took the kids down to the Galaxy Resort on the Cotai Strip because they'd announced they were giving out free movie tickets to the Dreamworks Animation film, Puss in Boots (which is released here on January 21), along with 3D glasses, and another surprise gift.

In America, if you see a 3D film, they give you the glasses along with the ticket, and you toss them in the recycle bin on your way out the door. But here in Macau and over in Hong Kong, you actually have to pay for them, and you're expected to keep them and reuse them. So you hang onto them. They don't last too long. As soon as they are scratched or smudged, they're never really the same. So if someone is giving them out for free, I'll get in the line with my hand out. We met up with friends who work for the Galaxy and their kids, who were there for the same thing. I tried to take a group photo, but only the boys would get in the photo in front of the Chinese New Year decorations.


The advertised 6:15 p.m. start time came and went. We noticed some incredibly hip youth hanging out in the same area where our line snaked around the walls of the enormous lobby. They took photo after photo of each other in different combinations, doing different poses. Watching them I realized I was never in my life that cool, nor will I ever hope to be.


Security guards and Galaxy employees kept reminding all of us to stay in line, but this growing group of roaming trendsetters were allowed to wander around. Made me wonder if they were going to do something. Which of course, they did. I thought I was just taking a photo, didn't realize I'd toggled the video button on my phone. (Video below if you're getting this via email.)



I think they were attempting a flash mob. Several members of the group were trying to hang out and look casual until right after this clip starts. However it didn't fool anyone! They were obviously not part of the bedraggled and rain-soaked tourists from mainland China waiting in line for free 3D glasses. Now if they'd actually blended in and queued up with the rest of us... Nah. Way too stylish. Our favorite part was the end of this clip, with the guy bouncing up and down on one hand.

But the best part of the evening was when this little guy came out, before the dancers took the floor.


That's a person inside an elaborate foam costume, kind of like what you'd see at Disneyland. Only way more stiff and awkward. He shuffled his way across the room with the help of several handlers. His giant head kept tilting backward, and he'd start to tip over. The handlers would always grab him and set him upright again. I told the boys I'd give them each a dollar if the poor fella ended up flat on his back. My oldest asked why I would reward them for someone else's misfortune. Um, because it's funny? No? Not good enough? Okay kids, you're officially nicer people than your mother! He stayed right in that spot the whole time, flapping his arms to the music while the dancers circled around him. He never fell over though, thanks to those comedy-killing handlers!

We got our glasses, and the surprise gift ended up being huge boot-shaped Christmas stockings. Which was completely appropriate for the pre-Christmas U.S. release date of the film, but kind of silly now. Guess we're getting a jump on next year!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

In-N-Out Burger in Hong Kong

Being born and raised in Southern California means I grew up eating at In-N-Out Burger. I don't care much for fast food, but I always make an exception for them. Their burgers are fresh and tasty and best of all, cheap. Their employees are so young and beautiful and cheerful that you can't help but feel good about eating there. It's one of the things people who move out of California miss the most, and the most requested first stop for friends and family flying into California when I used to pick them up at LAX. Fortunately, there is one right outside the airport. 

A few years ago, In-N-Out Burger started creeping eastward... they opened one in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was only slightly indignant about that. Because in my mind, In-N-Out = California. You can't have California in Nevada! But then they opened one in Utah and then Texas. And I got really indignant! The icon on the In-N-Out packaging is a palm tree! There shouldn't be an In-N-Out where it snows and palm trees don't grow! California gets quite the beating in the media, shouldn't it have one thing that is special, which forces people into liking it? Can I get an amen, Cali peeps? However... having family in Utah and a godson in Texas, it was hard to begrudge them the pleasure of hand cut French fries, a Double-double, and a strawberry milkshake made with real ice cream. Fine, In-N-Out! Take your yummy goodness to the masses across America! Go ahead and be selfless, sharing your delicious root beer and fresh squeezed lemonade with people who don't live in a state bordered by the Pacific Ocean!

My parents used to live up on the Central Coast of California, and their nearest In-N-Out was a couple hours away. So whenever I'd go to one of the three that were within 10 miles of my house, I'd always text a photo of the menu to my Dad. Just to say, "Look what I'm eating and you're not!" Kinda cruel, but he loves me a lot and let me get away with it. Of course, living in Asia, the cruel joke is on me now.

Or is it? Looky here:


Yep. That's the real deal. Tomorrow, Sunday January 15th from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., the fresh-faced, eternally cheerful people from In-N-Out Burger are temporarily setting up shop inside another restaurant in Hong Kong, bringing the goodness of their burgers to a whole new continent. Am I complaining about how far east they've spread? Feeling indignant about palm trees and their natural habitats? No siree, I am not. I am trying to figure out how to wiggle in the cost of round trip ferry fare for four into our grocery budget. And I'm also hoping that the lines are exceptionally long, that they run out of food, and the demand is so great that the good people at In-N-Out have no choice but to break ground on a more permanent location.

Now if we could just get a Krispy Kreme Doughnut franchise out here...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dragon Money

We're coming up on the Chinese New Year, which starts this year on January 23. People set off fireworks along the waterfront continuously for a week. I'm not really looking forward to this, as we live right on the water and have only had the peace disturbed a few times with people setting off fireworks down on the sea wall. The thought of this going on for days, around the clock? Fun for about an hour. Then less so I suppose.

2012 is the Year of the Dragon. My oldest son Nathan is a Dragon, so he's pretty excited. He just barely turned 11, so being confronted with the fact that this is the year he turns 12 is a bit shocking to me. Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday here, and it's interesting to see the decorations going up all over town. The most interesting thing to me is the new 10 MOP (Macau Pataca) bill they've come out with just in time to celebrate.


I guess people were lined up at banks today to try and get their hands on one to give out for the New Year. 10 MOP is worth about $1.25 US. I'll make you a deal, friends and family back in the US: if you mail me a letter (current postage to Macau is 98 cents, but it goes up to $1.01 later this month), I'll mail you back a shiny new 10 MOP bill. If I can actually get any that is. Which I hope I can. If I can only get one, it goes to Dragon Boy Nathan, and I'll send you something else dragon related from China. Pretty sweet deal, huh?

(See how much I love mail? I'm not above paying people to send it to me!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Six Months

Normally with international moves, this is right about the time we're sleep deprived and sore, pulling our hair out as we struggle to get everything packed up for the impending move back to the States. It feels weird to not feel that weight on our shoulders as we cross the six month mark of living in Macau. I think we tend to thrive on change with a passion equal to the way some people dread and fight against it. So without any major change on the horizon, we're learning a new way of living. The kind where you sink your roots in pretty deep. This is as new to us as moving to a foreign country might be to some of you. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, we're celebrating this milestone with the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups graciously sent to us in care packages by both my Mom and Dad, and my Sister and Brother-in-law Heidi and Clay (they love us. They really, really love us). The packages were meant to be for Christmas, but I think their arrival today is perfect. We'll celebrate six months in Macau with something that is completely unavailable here. Mmmmm....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sleepy Nap Time

I have horrible insomnia. It's something that has been with me since early childhood. My parents would put me to bed long before bedtime with the hope I could take that extra time to talk myself to sleep. The only times in my life I recall getting really excellent sleep (without medicinal help) are the six months following the births of my children. They were good sleepers as babies, yes, but I think I was just so exhausted that I could actually fall asleep in an instant. No tossing and turning for hours, just my head on the pillow and the express train to dreamland.

My blessed husband can fall asleep any time, any place, in less than a minute. I'm sure it has something to do with years of touring where he had to catch sleep on tour buses and planes and 20 minute breaks on benches in the back of the theater. This trait of his makes me jealous, plain and simple. For me to fall asleep, everything has to be perfect. Which is why I'm awed by the daily habit of construction workers throughout Macau. They take a daily afternoon siesta. On their construction equipment.


Or just any horizontal surface. No matter how busy the city is around them.


This guy was snoring. Loudly. Color me jealous.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Persuasion

Direct quote from my son Nathan, "I never dreamed that growing up without a dog by my side would actually be part of my childhood memories. We can change that, Mom. Let's just stay in Macau and stop all this crazy moving."


We came thisclose to taking in a cat whose owners had to depart Macau and couldn't take it to their next destination. Michael, who is terribly allergic to cats, was actually quite enthusiastic about it. Another person stepped up first. Which is fine. If we really want to adopt a cat, there will be another one in about two seconds. We've had cats before (Michael's allergy and all). They are self-sufficient and low maintenance, both helpful traits when you're not home all the time. Dogs on the other hand... they need training, and walking, and more attention. Especially when you live in a high rise building. This doesn't dissuade the hundreds of dog owners we see out walking their canine pals every single day here in Macau. I grew up with dogs, so I understand what Nathan is saying.

There are several animal shelters here, all in need of volunteers to walk dogs and such. I think we'll start there. Let them spend some time taking care of dogs that don't have to come home with us at night. See if this is more than a passing phase (obsession).

This life of ours has a lot of great benefits. Being pet-friendly is not on the list. I'll say again what I said to Nathan, "We'll see."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Timber!

We had a lot of people streaming through our humble abode in November and December. We hosted a total of ten overnight guests, a Christmas party for 30, several dinner guests, and a group of regulars who come over every Wednesday to watch a show with us. Every one of them commented on our huge Christmas tree (a rarity in Asia as most flats are tiny and lack storage, so a tiny tree is more appropriate) and the decorations throughout the house. I'm one of those people who would leave them up all year if I could.

In Manila, I discovered people in the Philippines leave up Christmas decorations for all the "burr" months. I thought that meant the "cold" months, but it never gets cold there! It's actually the months ending in ber, September through December. I may claim that for my own next year! But for this past season, I'd decided everything should come down Tuesday December 27th, since Michael had the day off. After talking about this plan, one of our regular guests insisted that the most appropriate day to remove all the festive decor is January 8th. Not sure why (her birthday is January 9th, so maybe that has something to do with it? Goodbye Christmas, Hello Birthday? She's from Australia, maybe it's a tradition there?). Whatever the reason, we did as instructed and left it up until today, in her honor. Happy Day-Before-Your-Birthday, Anni!

I thought I'd share some photos with you. I still haven't photographed the entire flat to post a house tour, but this will give you a little peek at our digs, all decked out in their holiday finest! (One side note... our flat came furnished. The furniture itself is far away from my normal style, which is decidedly more contemporary. After seeing the decorating horrors in some of the other flats Michael looked at, I'm not complaining one little bit.) Here we go:

Oh Christmas Tree! Since the lowest tree branches actually rest on the floor, we decided to put all the gifts under the glass in the coffee table. It was quite festive. You'll have to imagine it, since this was taken long after the gifts had all been opened!


This flat has an overabundance of these display areas. We shipped over one box of ornaments and decorations, but not nearly enough to make an impression on all the open space. So on a trip to IKEA in Hong Kong a couple months ago, I saw the red felt tree in the photo and had to bring it home. It's actually pretty big, but the giant shelf dwarfed it. So I picked up all sorts of other trees, large and small from every place I visited around town. Now it's more of a forest. We picked up the hand carved wooden Nativity set in Manila. I've never actually owned one before. We're leaving this shelf decorated a little while longer. Know why? This week we've received a flood of Christmas cards from the States to add to what you see in this photo. And since nothing makes me happier, I want them around a bit more.


We live in a high rise building, so no chimney with mantel to hang our stockings on. As I mentioned before, they're really more decorative than anything, so I put them front and center, along with a Christmas counted cross stitch that my mother-in-law made for us that actually hangs in our home all year long.


And then there's Flik. He's been with us since 1997, when Michael toured with Disney to promote Disney/Pixar's A Bug's Life. The lucky bug has gone on to tour the rest of the world, courtesy of the Chase Family and our incessant moving. He was one of the cast-off set decorations, with one leg longer than the other and missing an arm. In 2001 Michael was the technical director for American Musical Theatre of San Jose. His head scenic painter, Renee, saw a photo on his desk of Nathan with Flik (they were both the same height then), and being the awesome artist that she is, sculpted a second arm for him and added a leaf stand so he could stop leaning. Now we subject the poor fella to all sorts of injustices depending on the season (here's his photo last year). Strangely enough, Flik is also a very effective predictor of who will go on to be good friends of ours. If you walk in the door and proclaim, "Eeew! Why do you have a three foot ant in your living room? That is so weird/gross/icky," there's a good chance our friendship just won't work out. You probably just won't get us. But if you come in and squeal with joy and ask to get your photo taken with Flik, then you're like family. Immediately. Even if I just met you.


During the holidays, every craft store in the States (and even a lot of grocery stores) will sell you a mesh bag filled with cinnamon-scented pine cones. I always have a basket of them by the front door so guests are greeted with a spicy/sweet smell. But can you find them in Macau? No, you cannot. You can't even find cinnamon-scented essential oil to make your own. You can't even find pine cones (emphasis on you). Because I bought up every single pine cone, from the single store I found selling them. Considering you can normally scoop them up in California parks for free, it was hard for me to pay for them. But I put them all over the house and it felt like home to me.  

And finally, the dining room. See the Alice in Wonderland collection? This is probably 10% of everything I own. But if we're going to be here for many years, I want to be surrounded by the things I love. When I saw the photos of this flat with its giant display case, I knew just what to put in it. I found all these brightly-colored felt ornaments that seemed very Alice to me, and hung them all over the dining room. I included this photo because I wanted to point out the three wise men on the top left shelf. My parents recently moved away from California, and last Christmas my Mom was getting rid of a lot of things she didn't want to move. These guys were in the give away pile. I flipped out. After all, they were a backdrop to every childhood Christmas I can remember. They are such odd little men, made in the late 1960's/early 1970's and big on quirk. No way I was letting them go to some stranger or the trash collector. So I wrapped them up to take home. My Dad saw this, and he flipped out. He had no idea Mom wanted to get rid of them. I promised him I'd take extra good care of them. So instead of moving them across the United States with my parents, they moved across the world with me. And like Flik and my mother-in-law's cross-stitch, they stay out all year long.

Whew! That's it for Christmas, folks! There will be more where that came from in about ten months. I've got big plans already...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Homeland Hong Kong

I stumbled across the most amazing time-lapse short film of Hong Kong, and felt compelled to share. It's only five minutes long, and the haunting song is Welcome Home by Radical Face.

I'm a city girl to the core, and when it comes to cities, Hong Kong is almost my favorite. Los Angeles wins by a tiny margin, only because I root for the home team, you know? Although Hong Kong used to be home as well. So maybe they tie? I feel inspired to create something like this for Macau. Perhaps it will be my big project for 2012.



(If you get this in an email, you'll have to click through to the site to view the video, sorry!)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bowling in Macau

When I was a little kid, my Dad would use the word bowling in place of the word boring. Mainly because he's a total jock who loves watching all sports, all the time, but found watching bowling on TV to be about as appealing as watching paint dry. Or something like that. As such, going to the bowling alley is not a childhood memory for me. I'm sure I went once or twice, maybe for a birthday party or something, but I don't remember. I do remember making a ridiculous attempt while (I think, pretty sure, sounds right) ditching high school at the bowling alley on the Army base near my house. And again in Tokyo, Japan in 2001, when some local friends decided to take us bowling because they thought that we, as Americans, were probably missing that particular activity while living away from home. Baby Nathan was passed along to whoever wasn't holding a bowling ball.


Flash forward ten years and we find ourselves in Macau. A very tiny place. Which happens to have two bowling alleys. The boys went to a bowling birthday party a couple months back at the one on the Macau Peninsula, Future Bright Amusement. In addition to bowling, they have an ice skating rink, an arcade, and McDonalds in the same building, along with being adjacent to the largest city park in Macau, Camoes Garden. Michael took the boys ice skating there last summer, back when I had broken toe number one and couldn't fit my swollen foot into a skate. They had fun, especially when they ended the skating with Chicken McNuggets and an hour in the arcade. They've wanted to go back ever since. After the bowling birthday party in the same location, the boys have really wanted to go back. But there isn't a convenient bus that picks up near us and drops us off really close, so it ends up being quite an ordeal to get there. One that maybe isn't worth the payoff of an hour of bowling. I've been avoiding it.

In December, the boys were invited to another bowling birthday party, this time at the Bowling Center, located along the Cotai Strip next to the Macau East Asian Games Dome.

Unfortunately, the day before the second bowling party, Nathan hit his head really hard at the company Christmas party, ending up with a concussion and strict orders to avoid physical activity (and reading, tv watching, video game playing) for 24-48 hours. So he had to sit it out (I let him stay home with the sitter, the thought of watching all the other kids play while he sat was not appealing in the least).

Getting there was a breeze. We picked up a bus just down the road from our house that dropped us off at the front door of the Bowling Center  (Line 50). I was impressed with how new and clean everything was. The only downside to this venue is there is nothing else there. No snack bar, no restaurant, no arcade. Which I thought was odd. And must be the reason why the place is just so darn clean and new looking! Ben had a blast, and I vowed we'd go back as a family on one of Michael's days off. Which brings us to this week.


I think this is my favorite picture of my guys. Ever. They can totally rock the bowling shoes, yes?

We played two games. The lane was programmed to bring up the bumpers when the boys were bowling, and sink when Michael or I were up. I think I needed the bumpers more than the kids! Every turn I had at least one gutter ball. I managed one renegade strike, and the three of them cheered like I did something amazing. In my very small experience with sports, I thought strike was a bad thing!

I mainly went around taking artsy photos of the gumball-colored balls and the rad footwear. And looking for the lightest ball possible that would still accommodate my fat thumbs (thanks Dad for passing that particular trait along to me!).

Can I just say one thing? Watching bowling may be boring, but when you're actually playing it with a highly competitive husband and two very enthusiastic boys, it's actually pretty darn fun.


When it was time to go, I made sure to snap a quick pic of our shoes to make it easier next time. The staff didn't speak English and getting the right size killed about ten minutes. I put them in order of age: Michael, me, Nathan, Benjamin. Do you notice what I noticed?


My boy Nathan? Who celebrated his 11th birthday just six weeks ago? The one who is just a pacifier-sucking, barefoot baby in that photo up at the top of this post?

His feet are bigger than mine.

So apologies to my own Mom, who suffered me dancing around and singing when I was eleven, proclaiming to anyone who would listen that my feet were bigger than hers. Ouch.

If you're in Macau and looking for something to do, go check out the Bowling Center. It's open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. One game is 20 MOP ($2.50 USD) before 7:00 p.m., and 30 MOP ($3.75 USD) after 7:00 p.m. Shoe rental is another 3 MOP (40 cents). Can't beat the prices. But bring your own drinks and snacks. Wearing those fabulously hip shoes works up quite the appetite, and they've got nothing to offer you except a water fountain and a soda pop machine.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Brrrr.

I was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, and if anywhere in this world is home to me, that is it. One of the reasons why the rent there is so high has to do with the glorious winter weather. My friends back in So Cal are littering up Facebook with screenshots of today's high, 85F. I used to be one of them, flaunting it by texting my friends in the snow-covered mid-west pics of my open windows in January, or my Christmas Day sunburn from spending the day at the beach. But not today. Today I'm sitting outside in 40-ish degree weather while the boys have tennis, shivering in the monsoon winds coming in from across the water, wearing layer upon layer of clothing that still isn't enough to keep out the chill.

Winter in Macau is short, or so I've been told. But not short enough for this Angeleno with really thin blood and inappropriate cold weather attire. I promise I will not complain about the smoldering heat and humidity come summer. I will rejoice. Hold me to it, people! In the meantime, somebody just hold me. I need the body heat!

Every Morning

The hardest part of the day? When Michael leaves for work. He always seems to sprout a couple of boy-shaped tumors that have to be peeled off. Michael returns home from work long after his little shadows have gone to bed, or else they'd be attached again at night.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Holiday Traditions

I think it takes moving far away from everything you're used to before you see which traditions actually stick. With us, there isn't much. We don't even have a Christmas tree every year, especially if we know we're going to be away that week. We just go with the flow and focus more on making memories as we go rather than trying to repeat something that is familiar for the sake of familiarity.

A few years ago, I was lamenting loudly over not having any Christmas traditions that carry on from year to year. This really bothered me because I felt like there really needed to be something my children would hold onto and pass on to their children. We don't even do stockings... I purchased some half-price from Pottery Barn a couple years back, and we hang them, but you'll never actually find anything in them Christmas morning!

I was in the middle of my outburst over not having a constant to come back to during the holidays when Nathan, my oldest, piped up and said that we did indeed have a Christmas tradition - we put on a show. This is very true. Since my earliest childhood, I've always been part of some sort of winter holiday production, either through church, school, the community, or professionally. This continued after marriage, and after kids. Together we've been doing something every year that gives back to the community. We create traditions for other people. You know, the people who say they always go see The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or a children's Christmas pageant at the theater in their hometown? Well, we're the people who give up countless hours while everyone else is shopping and wrapping to hold rehearsals and get props and create costumes so there is a show for them to see. That is Christmas to me, and evidently to my children!

This year things were a little different. I didn't do anything to put on a show, though I did support my husband who puts on a show every night. But along with a brave new friend here in Macau (or more accurately, brave partner in crime), I did host a party for two dozen children that involved a night of working with our hands, being creative, and making merry memories.

We made a photo wreath from puzzle pieces, a painted hand-print snowman scene, a wreath to hang on the door made from fabric scraps, a candy cane Rudolph, and decorated sugar cookies and upside-down ice cream cones to look like Christmas trees. We also served dinner, watched a Charlie Brown Christmas, and told stories. It was chaotic but fun. My friends back in the States were a bit shocked, as they know I don't especially love working with children (beyond my own of course). However, I do love to put on big events and encourage people to exercise creativity. Everyone loved it (especially the parents who dropped of their kids and ran off for alone time!) and everything was put back together, clean and neat and tidy by the time my husband got home from work. Quite the undertaking! And though it wasn't putting on a show, it was still building memories for other people, which is in the spirit of our lone Christmas tradition.

The other thing that seems to have stuck is making Loaded Baked Potato Soup for New Year's Eve. A few years back I found the most amazing recipe which uses lots of butter and cream. It's so full of fat and calories that I decided we need to only make it once a year. And what better day than New Year's Eve? It stuck, and for the last three years I've now made the same recipe in the Duchess, my beautiful green Dutch oven (and yes, I know there are lighter recipes out there, but they simply aren't the same. This is just a once-a-year thing, so I don't feel bad about the decadence).

This year we had last minute overnight guests who wanted to take advantage of our guest room and the excellent view of the midnight fireworks that it offers, so they got to partake of the annual soup as well. Macau only offers some of the ingredients some of the time (sour cream, LARGE Russet potatoes), and other ingredients not at all (half and half, sharp cheddar cheese). So I improvised. And there wasn't a drop left! I'll share the recipe, but don't hate me if your pants don't fit after you have seconds!

Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Servings: 8 Generous Servings

Ingredients:
1 quart Half & Half (or one cup heavy cream & three cups whole milk)
1 quart Chicken Broth
10 Pieces of Bacon
4 Large UNBAKED Russet Potatoes – peeled, diced, and set in water to prevent browning
4 Large BAKED Russet Potatoes – peeled and lightly smashed.
1 cup finely shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Sour Cream for garnish

Preparation
Lightly fry the bacon and dice into bite sized pieces.

Place the bacon, butter, salt, pepper, and garlic in a soup pot on low heat, stirring as butter melts and garlic lightly browns.

Add ½ quart of Half & Half and 1 quart of chicken broth. Increase heat to medium. Once simmering, drain the water from the UNBAKED peeled and diced potatoes and add to soup pot.

Simmer on medium heat for about 25 minutes until reduced by half.

Add the chives (if you like them), BAKED peeled and smashed potatoes, and remaining ½ quart of Half & Half.

Simmer for an additional 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Remove soup from heat and slowly add the shredded cheddar while stirring constantly.

Serve in bowls topped with sour cream and (if you like) more shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, chives, etc.

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What about you? Do you have any holiday traditions you can't live without?

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Macau, China...

...Coca-Cola wishes you a Merry Christmas
instead of Happy Holidays.

...a life-sized Nativity set is given a prominent place in the center of town, on public property in a city park, while a banner
proclaiming the arrival of the Chinese zodiac Year of the Dragon hangs in the background.

 ...Santa Claus declines milk and cookies in favor of wine.

...and clowns are a prominent part of Christmas decor, all over town. Sometimes Santa is actually sporting a clown suit.
 Which freaks. Me. Out. (Coulrophobia anyone?)

...the stores on the day after Christmas aren't filled
with people returning gifts, they're filled with people
buying Chinese New Year decorations!

... And the Chase Family had such an unexpectedly wonderful Christmas that I actually felt little twinges of guilt that we should be so happy while we're so far away from the people who love us.


I keep waiting for homesickness to hit and hit hard. And it seems Christmas would have been the perfect time for it, right? With songs about being home for Christmas and blue Christmases blaring from the speakers in every store, priming us for sadness. But no. We had nothing but joy, even though Michael had to work (show biz doesn't stop for the holidays, it's the busiest time of the year!) and we spent the last few hours of Christmas sitting backstage at his show, watching on the monitors and hanging out with the cast and crew.


We may not have a lot a traditional traditions, but for us, it isn't Christmas unless there's a curtain call!  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

No matter how far I've roamed, I have always been in Pacific Standard Time in California when the clock struck twelve on December 31st. I'm so used to being among the last in the world to enter a new year. But not this New Year, baby! I'm firmly among the first on this planet to be able to say I come from the year 2012, and from what I've seen so far, it's spectacular!

Happy New Year, friends far and wide! And Happy Birthday to my little brother! I'll wait till midnight in his time zone to make the annual call to wish him many happy returns.

For now I leave you with a pic of the great fireworks view from our guest room, which is occupied tonight by some local friends. So technically we've already had our first guests in 2012. Here's to many more!