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.

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