Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Settling In

We are getting more settled in slowly but surely. We arrived here in Hong Kong on Thursday. We are staying in a serviced apartment in Repulse Bay - in fact it's in The Repulse Bay - in de Ricou. It's a duplex listed as over 2,000 square feet, but by our standards I would say it feels more like 1,500. The living/dining room is a bit tighter than we're used to but the kitchen is huge, it has 2 full baths, a large master bedroom, smallish 2nd bedroom and tiny office. We had planned to use the office as Will's room, but so far he's in the pack n play in our room instead...maybe we'll get him into his own room soon.

After Leah's vomiting incident I decided I needed to do laundry right away. The apartment has a small combo washer/dryer...definitely a new thing for me. It takes 5 kg in the washer and then no more than half that for the dryer, so there is actually a setting for it to stop while you remove half the load before drying. The longest drying time is 120 minutes...and it seems to need more than that much of the time. But I digress - Thursday night I went to the grocery store in the building and was immediately overwhelmed. It is a good size grocery store (bigger than what I was used to in Brooklyn Heights but not suburban large). The laundry detergent section included several Chinese brands but not a lot in English. After several uncomfortable minutes of trying to figure out the options, I stopped an American family and asked for some guidance. The woman/wife/mom - who seemed about my age with a young daughter - said she uses Tide because the Chinese stuff is harsh and beats up her clothes too much. So I bought Tide, some Downy dryer sheets, and a rotisserie chicken to eat for dinner.

We had some chicken, put some laundry in, and went to bed.

Now, in retrospect, I wish I had known that there is a Pizza Hut nearby that delivers, a delivery service called Dial a Dinner that delivers quite a few local restaurants, and 3 take-out options in the complex. That would have made life simpler on our first night. But we survived.

Much of our time since then is a bit of a blur. Will still has his days/nights mixed up. Leah is still a bit jetlagged, so she is a little cranky and is waking up at least once a night and then for good around 6 a.m. (frustrating since she was sleeping approximately 8 to 8 back in NY). Shafi and I are exhausted.

But we have been getting things done. Friday we took the shuttle bus from The Repulse Bay into "town." We are on the South side of Hong Kong Island and the action is really in sort of north and west of us. We went first to get our Hong Kong IDs in Wan Chai and then to Causeway Bay and then more specifically to an area called Times Square. We had some Chinese for lunch (pretty good) and looked at cell phones. Then we took a taxi home. Even though it was over 20 minutes, it was HK$70 (just under US$10). So we understand now why everyone says taxis are cheap...although of course our frugal nature keeps us thinking that we should take the shuttle bus (less than US$2 per person and free for the kids) or the regular bus (we haven't even investigated this yet) more often than not. We also took the MTR, which is Hong Kong's subway system from Wan Chai to Causeway Bay. It wasn't too intimidating but unfortunately it does not run to the south side of the island.

I'm not quite sure how it has already been almost a week, as it still seems like we just arrived. We spent the weekend trying to get our bearings, get some rest, run some errands, etc. We have been to the grocery store a couple of times. We met up with my friend Lee and her family. We went down to the Repulse Bay Beach a couple of times. We're trying to get lots of sunlight during the day to help get adjusted to the time change.

This week has been all about finding an apartment. On Monday we went out with one of the agents that was recommended by Citi (and gives a discount - 30% of a month's rent instead of 50% of a month's rent). She took us to several places in our price range in our preferred district (Repulse Bay) but not meeting our other criteria of wanting a view, modern fixtures, facilities in the building (pool, playroom, shuttle bus, etc.). We were feeling very discouraged. But Tuesday we went out with Jill - a recommendation from a friend - she is an American who has been in Hong Kong for the better part of 17 years. She took us to a range of places so that we would be able to get our bearings, understand what's out there, etc. But she was right in her estimation of what we would go for.

Today we went back with her to see more places in a building called Pacific View. It is in Tai Tam - which is a few minutes drive to the east from Repulse Bay. It is across the street from the American Club (which we probably want to join). It's a huge building - actually 5 towers - with nice facilities, lots of expats, and moderate sized apartments for reasonable prices. We really loved one particular apartment and put in an offer...we should know tomorrow whether it will work out. Just in case, we also put in an offer on another apartment that we would also be happy with. Our favorite is a 4 bedroom / 2 bath with nice modern fixtures. The other is a 3 bedroom / 2 bath that isn't quite as nice but is significantly cheaper. I think we'll be happy enough with either - so hopefully one will work out.

On another exciting note, it will probably take us a little time to hire a helper. But our real estate agent has an "extra." Her helper's niece lives with them, sometimes works for them and sometimes works for others. It's kind of complicated and may or may not be totally legit, but she offered us the option of hiring Anna May. We said yes...pending meeting her of course. We are so glad it has worked out so well. Anna May is 25, cute, perky, sweet. She's from the Philippines. Her father died 4 years ago and she came to work in Hong Kong to send money back to help raise her 6 younger siblings. She is fabulous with kids both from her experience with her siblings (the youngest of whom is 15 years younger than she) and from her experience working in Hong Kong. Leah took to her immediately - sees her as a friend more than a babysitter.

We have hired her until we find a permanent helper. She lives with our real estate agent but works for us from Monday through Saturday. We have arranged that she will arrive around 9 a.m. and stay through the preparation of dinner, but she prefers to eat on her own rather than with us, so she has been leaving around 7, give or take. She's been really great with Leah - playing, reading books, taking her to the beach, the pool, the building's playroom - and also giving her baths, helping with potty training, feeding her, etc. She also does household chores like laundry. The serviced apartment includes maid service, so there's not much else to do around the apartment. Tonight she made dinner for the first time - I bought the ingredients for a simple lemon garlic sole and rice and broccoli to go with it. She did a great job preparing it. And she stuck around long enough to do dishes and put out fruit for dessert (as per Leah's request). She seemed a bit less confident about her cooking abilities, so we were pleasantly surprised at how well dinner turned out. We have asked her to make us something of her choosing tomorrow night. We have some plans in the afternoon, so while we are out she will do the grocery shopping and make dinner - plus she's going to iron Shafi's shirts that are a bit wrinkled after having been packed for our flight.

So - for approximately US$160 per week we have full time help here 6 days per week. I do see the allure in this lifestyle. I spoke to my friend Lee today and asked what the moms do all day. It seems that most of the kids have school and activities and such to keep them busy. She said the general schedule for a lot of women is gym in the morning, or running errands, and then lunch out (yes - ladies who lunch - my dream come true), and then spending time with the kids in the afternoon. We see that the pools around here seem to be empty until after about 3:00.

Tomorrow I will get my first taste of meeting the other moms, as I am joining Lee for lunch with the baby group her youngest son Quinn is in - which will be the appropriate group for Will, as well - April through June 2010. And then later in the afternoon, we are going to join Lee and her family at the American Club to see the facilities, play in the playroom, swim in the pool, etc.

I'm sure I have left out lots of great details that I will try to fill in when I have more time. In short, we are still jetlagged and tired - primarily because it is so hard to adjust Will's clock - but we are starting to feel a bit more settled. Hopefully we will have an apartment officially picked out by the end of tomorrow and then will feel more free to do more exploring and acquainting. Shafi starts work on Monday, so we have a few more days to get more settled first - but it is fast approaching. I am so thankful to have Anna May to help me out. This is definitely not a stroller friendly city, and without her I think I would feel pretty trapped in the apartment with 2 kids.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hong Kong!!!

On July 23, Shafi told me he was about to get a job offer in Hong Kong. Of course I responded with shock...and a bit of disbelief. Sure enough he got the offer the following week, had final negotiations and accepted it on August 2. Since then it has been quite a whirlwind. We had about 7 weeks to prepare. During that time we closed on a refinance of our mortgage and opened a home equity line of credit (to have just in case of emergency). We had water damage in our living room and decided to have our floors completely replaced with new hardwood after our move. We found renters and rented out our apartment starting October 15 for 18 months - a nice young couple who were recently married.

And of course we hired movers, we found a serviced apartment for the beginning of our stay in Hong Kong, we organized, we donated lots to Salvation Army, we spent extra time with friends and family as much as possible.

And now we are in Hong Kong. Our movers came and packed our stuff on the 20th, loaded it into a 20 foot container on the 21st, and we flew out on the 22nd, arriving in Hong Kong on the 23rd.

I've decided not to rename the blog as this is still mainly about my family and the adventures of Will and Leah - but no doubt it will be very Hong Kong focused for awhile.

We packed our things into 4 large suitcases, 2 medium suitcases and my large backpack (from my trip to Europe in 2000). Those and the pack n play were our 8 checked bags - along with 2 strollers and 2 carseats. We carried on 2 small rolling bags, a big tote of snacks and toys, a diaper bag, a laptop bag, and a gym bag with other miscellaneous items for the trip.

We actually chartered a van from Super Shuttle to get to the Fairfield Inn at JFK, where we stayed for our last night in New York. Everything went mostly smoothly with the pack/load of the container - they had to muscle it closed at the end but everything made it in - we'll see what condition it arrives in. If all goes well, it's on a ship that left NY on the 24th and arrives in Hong Kong on the 25th of October. We don't have confirmation of the load onto the ship yet, but the container was delivered to the port - so we've got our fingers crossed that it all went smoothly.

We flew business class on Cathay Pacific - Leah had her own seat and Will was in a bassinet in front of my seat. The 16 hour flight was not too bad. Leah was a bit restless but loved watching lots of TV. Will slept quite a lot and wasn't too much of a handful when he was awake. Shafi and I each got about an hour of sleep and each got through 1 movie. Leah stayed awake until 9 p.m. NY time and then slept about 3 hours. She woke up just in time for descent and was incredibly cranky, but we managed to keep her awake.

Immigration and customs was uneventful and our things seem to arrive unscathed. Our cars were waiting for us - a sedan to ride in and a mini-van to carry our belongings. We arrived at The Repulse Bay, where we are staying for about 6 weeks, pretty quickly and they were ready for us, as well. Our only complication was that something upset Leah's stomach and she vomited in the car. Luckily for everyone she hadn't eaten much the 2nd half of the flight and so it was pretty much just water - no smell - and it was all in her carseat and did not cause any issues for the car/driver - although he was obviously much less friendly after that incident than he had been at the beginning of the drive. Fortunately she was fine after that - not sure what caused it but at least she's not sick.

That's a long enough post for now...I will write more about our first few days here when I get another free minute. I've posted some pictures on Picasa -

Quick update on the kids

I have been seriously neglecting the blog - an explanation on that will be in the next post.

But for a quick update. Will is now 4 months old. He weighed in at 16.5 pounds and measured 27 inches - that's 74% for weight and 96% for height - definitely a tall kid! He's all healthy and doing great. He started to roll a bit here and there. I believe his first official front to back roll was September 9. He has done it a few times since, but overall he just doesn't seem to be that interested in rolling. He does, however, like to sit. If you put him in a tripod position he can stay up for a bit - and if he's on a soft surface (like the bed or couch) he seems to actually like falling over and being propped back up. He has started to play a lot more - holding on to toys, grabbing and kicking things in the activity gym, etc. He "talks" quite a lot - babbling on in vowels.

Leah had a height and weight check at Will's 4 month appointment. She's still 38.5 inches tall but has put on 3 pounds and is now about 31 - that's a good thing as she was looking awfully skinny for a bit. She's continuing to talk up a storm, climb on everything, and become a real "big girl."

Will and Leah both had haircuts - her 2nd and his 1st on 9/8. They both behaved very well and looked quite cute after.

We enjoyed the rest of summer in Brooklyn - playing with friends, at playgrounds, etc.

Will and I took a trip to DC in August to see GG's new apartment and so she could meet him. We stayed there for a long weekend and had a really nice time.