Tuesday, October 26, 2010

School glorious school

Leah had her first day of preschool yesterday! And she loved it!

I took her to school in a taxi and figured I would see after that whether we want to try the school bus or the public bus or what. We arrived a few minutes early so that I could meet her teachers - Miss Ruby and Miss Alifya. They were all ready for Leah. Her name was on a hook in the hallway for her to hang her backpack and on a laminated leaf cutout in the classroom for her to stick on the back of the door when she arrives in the morning.

She pretty much walked in like she owned the place. And the school director told me there was no need for me to stay because Leah seemed comfortable. I watched through the window of the classroom for a few minutes and saw that she was fine. And I came back and picked her up at the end…she was happy to see me but had nothing but positive things to say about school.

So this morning I took her on the school bus. Parents / caregivers are allowed to ride along. We got on the bus about 8:20. It picked up several more kids on the way and pulled up to school about 5 minutes to 9:00. I tried to hang back a bit to let Leah follow along and make sure she’d be able to handle it on her own. She was fine. The “bus mother” Miss Polly helps the kids get on and off the bus, puts their seatbelts on and their backpacks hanging on the seat in front of them. When the bus gets to school it pulls into the parking garage underneath. The kids all get out and walk to the elevator and go up together and Miss Polly helps them to their classrooms where the teachers take over getting them settled.

At the end of the day the bus mother comes around and puts the kids backpacks in the rooms – they hang in the hallway during school. Then she comes back around to collect them and they walk down the hallway holding a rope so that they stay together – with another assistant from the school at the rear to make sure they all hold the rope. The bus driver helps them all up onto the bus and Miss Polly helps them all into seats and seatbelts.

When the bus comes for pick up they call if you’re not there – rather than just driving off without you – although I’m sure they won’t wait too long. And when it comes for drop off, the kids can’t get off the bus unless there’s an appropriate person there to collect them.

Leah loves riding the bus. She sat with Lily, who she knows from the building. And she told me that tomorrow she doesn’t need me there – she will do it by herself. So I am free from about 8:20 a.m. until 12:15 p.m.! When we move to Stanley she will get picked up around 8:35 and dropped off around 12:05 – and there is another kid on the bus in our building, so it’s already a scheduled stop for the bus.

We’re all so happy that this is working out so well. Leah loves school and is thrilled that she gets to go every day. Hopefully she won’t be too disappointed when the weekend arrives!

Pictures to come soon…we’ve only got 1 home computer at the moment – and my time is up.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Home alone...

Well, not quite - the kids are asleep - so it just feels that way. Shafi has been working pretty long hours, so once I get the kids in bed, I more or less have the place to myself. Anna May leaves as soon as she's done cleaning up from dinner, so she's gone by the time I'm done with Leah. Then I can sit in peace and quiet and check email, pay bills, upload pictures, blog, etc. In some ways I am enjoying actually having the time to myself...and in some ways it's lonely night after night. And now for the next few days I'll have even more of it. Shafi is off on his first business trip since we got here. He's going to be in Delhi for 2 nights and Mumbai for 1. Sounds like he won't really have time to see the sights, as he'll be working a lot, but I'm sure he'll at least get some good curry.

The kids and I are keeping very busy though. Sunday the whole family went to the Pumpkin Festival at the Hong Kong International School (HKIS - which is the American curriculum school here on HK Island). We had a good time - saw some people we'd met before and met some new people. There were games and such for Leah and it was nice to see that there's a real community surrounding the school - which we could be part of in a couple years - potentially.

Yesterday morning Leah had a playdate with Caden and Vera, which I took Will to baby group. Caden and Vera both have younger siblings in the group - so it worked out well for everyone. Then Leah had swim class in the afternoon. She has made huge strides in just a week. She wasn't clinging to me for dear life like she had been last week. She was able to really let herself enjoy the class this time. She can now do the "monkey walk" - hands on the edge of the wall and feet against it and walk along it - very quickly - keeping up with the rest of the class. And when we did the passing back and forth from me to the teacher, she was willing to go under the water some of the time - and she figured out how to close her mouth and hold her breath so she didn't come up spluttering when she did. She was incredibly proud of herself afterwards and has been telling everyone that she "goed under the water." We've only got 1 more swimming class before we move, but I definitely need to see about putting her in another one soon. The timing on this one isn't so great once she is in school, so I'll need to see if there's another option with an indoor pool nearby. And maybe I'll be able to find one for Will too.

In other exciting news, Leah has been continuing to work on potty training. Yesterday she pooped on the potty - this was her 10th one - so she finally got up to 10 stars on the chart and earned herself a prize. We went to Ocean Park this morning, so I let her pick her prize there. She chose a mechanical stuffed animal seal that scoots and turns and barks and flaps - it's very cute.

We had a nice time at Ocean Park. We took the bus there - took only 10 minutes and cost less than US$1. We got there right around opening - 10 a.m. - and stayed until just after 1 p.m. - 3 hours is just about the right amount of time - and that included lunch. It would have been fine to leave at noon and come home for lunch too - might do that next time. Today we took the cable car over to the other side of the park. We rode a couple of rides and saw the acquarium. The aquarium was very cool - as were the nearby seals and sea lions. The highlight might have been the "raging river" - what I would call the log flume. We got a little splashed - not too bad - but Leah thought that was very cool. The ride was nice and she giggled - until we got to the big drop at the end. The picture they snapped when we were about to go over the edge showed some sort of amused terror on Leah's face. And when we came to a stop at the end I could not tell if she was laughing or crying. I asked her and she said, "both." As we were walking away I asked if she wanted to do it again and she said, "Maybe next time, I think." So cute.

Will has really taken to Anna May now. She can easily feed him and put him to bed and play with him - the whole package. I feel very confident leaving him with her for several hours like I did this morning. And when we got home he was sitting playing with a toy and smiling happily. He also took 2 2-hour naps today - so it seems that she's doing something right!

Will is continuing to prove to be a great eater. Last night he ate about 90% of a jar of stage 1 pears. And tonight he finished that one and ate at least 3/4 of another. And they seem to have done him good, as last night he had an enormous poop after a full week of not pooping. I'm hoping a couple more days of pears will be good for him! If so, I may mix in some rice cereal next.

He is also getting really good at holding on to toys - and playing with them - or at least chewing on them. It's definitely amazing to see how much he has changed in the 3 weeks we have been in Hong Kong.

Leah and Caden have become fast friends:
A special treat - Leah got her nails painted at the HKIS Pumpkin Festival:
An open-topped bounce house provided lots of fun - and good photos:
Mmm - tasty clown toy - and you can see Will multi-tasking - chewing on a toy while watching Leah play:
Will enjoyed his 2nd solid meal:
Watching the real Nemo at Ocean Park:

Aww - a hug from a friendly shark at Ocean Park:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Growing up...in Hong Kong...

Most of our news lately is less related to us being in Hong Kong and more just raising 2 kids - the location is not all that relevant.

On the Hong Kong front - Shafi went and signed the lease on Friday - so we are indeed moving to Stanley in a couple of weeks. Yay! He continues to find his job interesting and challenging. He's working long hours - leaving at 7 a.m. and coming home around 9 p.m. - but hopefully that will scale back a bit once he gets ramped up. Leah definitely misses seeing him during the week. And since the apartment was settled, I took Leah to Sunshine House in Tai Tam and paid for her first month+ (last week of October and all of November) of preschool. We also got her uniform and backpack while there. She stayed for about an hour - just went in and joined the class like she belonged - while I filled out paperwork and such. She is in the Moonbeam room with 14 other kids. And she's the only American - the other kids are all white but a mix of European and Australian (maybe a Canadian too). There are Americans in some of the other classes - so I guess it's just a coincidence. Leah was so excited about school that she wore her uniform home (we were just trying it on to make sure the size was right) and also has been wearing her backpack around the apartment quite a bit.

In general family life news...

Leah is making huge strides in potty training. She's been wearing pull ups for a couple of weeks, because that's what the preschools prefer. I also told her that when she's potty trained and wearing big girl panties she will get a Becky and Buzzy - the puppets from the Kids Club. I ordered them and they will be brought over from the US by a friend of my parents who will be visiting Hong Kong at the end of the month. I also offered Anna May a 1 week bonus if she helps get Leah potty trained by the end of the month. This morning Leah peed and pooped on the potty. And while we were at lunch she asked to go to the potty twice. Both times I put her on the seat and she peed right away - so she really did need to go - as opposed to some past experiences where she really just wanted to go check out the bathroom. Tonight at the beginning of dinner she told us she was going to go pee pee on the potty before bed. Then after finishing her grapes while Shafi and I were cleaning up she said, "Mommy, I need to go to the potty now." I took her right up and she sat down and peed right away - quite the volume in fact. That seemed to be to be a good sign - her diaper had been dry for about an hour and she requested the potty. Not sure whether school is the motivation - she will be starting a week from Monday - or if it's other factors. But whatever it is - I hope it continues!

And Will is eating solids! He hasn't pooped in almost a week again - so I decided to try adding some food and see if that helps. Yesterday I watered down some stage 1 applesauce - about 50/50 applesauce and water. He loved it. After the first few bites he seemed to really get it - started opening his mouth for the spoon and trying to "drink" the contents of the spoon. If I put much in his mouth he definitely dribbles most of it out - but with very small spoonfuls he seems to really eat it well. Tonight I didn't water down the applesauce - and he ate about 1/3 of the jar with very little mess. I also bought a jar of pear, so assuming we finish the apple tomorrow, we'll try pear on Monday. And if all of that goes well, I think we'll try rice cereal. We're slightly fearful that it will make his pooplessness a bit worse - but it's also possible that the added heft will actually make it better. Let's hope!

Leah had her 2nd ballet class on Wednesday. This time she asked me to stay in the room, but I sat by the door, and after a few minutes when I could see that she was doing fine without me, I told her I was going and I walked out. It was nice to get to sit and chat with the other moms - I even got a couple phone numbers for making playdates. And I peeked in a few times - and Leah was following right along! When she came out at the end she came running up with a huge grin and said, "I participated, Mommy!"

Leah has also started to get bold in the pool. She can "swim" all over the pool, including the deep end, by herself while wearing arm band floaties. But the same child who earlier in the week would not even loosen her grip on my arm in the pool suddenly decided on Thursday that she could swim. She got out of the pool, put her floaties with the bag, came back and walked right on down the steps into the pool...and not the baby pool. Luckily I was standing just a couple feet away in the pool. I thought she would walk down the steps and maybe be able to stand. But when she got to the next to last step, she sort of dove in. She then more or less crumpled down under the water. I pulled her right out and she was totally fine - but she was incredibly freaked out - cried for several minutes. So then I put her floaties back on and coaxed her back into the pool. And I showed her that I have to move my arms and legs to stay afloat and when I don't then I sink and that she needs some lessons to learn to really swim - so for now she promises to keep the floaties on!

Today we went exploring in Stanley a bit and had a nice lunch with a couple friends of mine from college - Jen and Jason. They moved to Hong Kong about 4 months ago. Jason grew up here until age 8 and had been wanting to come back, so they found jobs and made the move. They are still settling in but seem to be enjoying it. It was nice to see some familiar faces and the kids took to them right away.

Leah after ballet class:
Leah in her new preschool uniform:
Leah swimming:
Will's first meal:

"Mmm - applesauce - I want more!" - Will's 2nd meal:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Finally...we have an apartment...we think

The last one we thought was ours fell through...that's 3 we lost. Our offer was submitted and accepted yesterday and we signed the offer letter and sent the deposit today. We should receive the tenancy agreement tomorrow. Once that is signed and submitted along with a check for a 2 month security deposit, then it will truly be a done deal.

This is a large 3 bedroom in Stanley. It's in a 3 story low-rise called Ho's Villa - and it's a 1st floor walk-up. There are 6 units in each of 3 buildings and there is a pool in between them. It's a great location - just 1 block from the beach, a few blocks from the Stanley Market and Stanley Plaza, and close to the bus depot, restaurants, etc. Stanley seems to be the only part of the city that is really a walking area - it's even got nice sidewalks and is stroller friendly. We are really excited about the place and the location. It has great closet space, a nice kitchen, fairly large rooms, and big windows. Of course the location and the low floor means there's no view...but I'd rather be a block from the beach than farther from it and looking out at it.

I will be checking out the preschools in Stanley, but most likely we will stick with the one we liked before - Sunshine House in Tai Tam. It's very close by...just a 5 minute drive or so.

You can see pictures and floor plan of the apartment here: http://picasaweb.google.com/elissa.imran/StanleyApartment#

Leah started ballet class last Wednesday. Week one did not go so well. She was very shy and timid - just sat and did not participate - until the end when the teacher gave them each a piece of candy and they walked out of the room in a line on tiptoe. Leah promised that she'll participate tomorrow - and I told her she doesn't get the candy if she doesn't at least try. Meanwhile, we went to Stanley Market on Thursday and bought her a proper ballet outfit and ballet slippers so that she'll feel like part of the class - we'll see if that helps.

We also got Leah some cute new sandals and a ladybug costume for Halloween while we were at Stanley Market. I'm excited to live close by, as I think I could have lots of fun exploring there - but it was a bit tough running through with a 2 year old and trying to find the things we needed in a short time to get back and feed Will after. No doubt a few more visits and I'll feel like a pro.

Last Friday I took Leah to meet Carter and Caden at Ocean Park. It's an amusement park that is actually on the south side of Hong Kong Island - just a 5-10 minute drive from us. It's free under age 3 and I bought a season pass for myself for a little under US$100. I figured that since it's so close, it can be a frequent afternoon destination. We had lots of fun exploring. There are animals and rides and performers. We were there for about 4 hours - which was pretty tiring for both of us - I could see even going for shorter visits than that.

Sunday we all went exploring in town. We started with a shuttle ride to Wan Chai, where we went to an American style diner called The Flying Pan. It's a bit hard to find the restaurants here sometimes as they are often on the 2nd or 3rd floor - we walked right past this one and had to ask for directions to find it. The food was pretty good and it was nice to get some comfort food. Then we walked from there to Causeway Bay and Times Square. It wasn't a short walk, but it was fun to walk along by all the bars, shops, etc. and explore the area a bit. We had planned to walk up to explore Happy Valley as well, but the weather didn't cooperate and we never made it. We went back in to Wan Chai for dinner and ate at a pretty good Chinese restaurant - we all enjoyed and it was actually pretty cheap - which was a nice change as we have been finding most of the groceries and restaurants to be quite expensive here.

Today we finally had some nice weather after over a week of overcast and scattered showers, so I took Leah to the pool. She was very timid at first, but by the end she was all over the baby pool and even jumping in by herself. Even with arm floaties on, she's afraid to let go in the deep end, but I'm sure she'll gt there eventually.

Mmm - Leah ate noodles, pork belly, chicken soup, pork dumplings and a pork bun:
Will's first restaurant highchair - at The Flying Pan:
Will is really discovering his limbs - these rattles are really fun now:
A little green screen fun with Caden & Carter at Ocean Park:
Leah's first midway game - she got the ball on one of the red holes and won a flying cow:
Leah with the Ocean Park red panda:
Mmm - Will doesn't get out as much - but he's having fun at home:
Leah trying on her Halloween costume:
And her ballerina outfit:
Leah carrying her purchases and wearing her new sandals while shopping in Stanley:
Leah shyly watching the other ballerinas:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Slowly but surely...

Well, we did not get the apartment we were excited about. But we decided we did really like the building - Pacific View in Tai Tam. Our real estate agent pulled a list of other available apartments and already negotiated on our behalf on another apartment with the same layout. This one does not have the contemporary touches that we had liked about the other one. But it is a good size 4 bedroom (technically over 2000 square feet - but they count the square footage a bit differently here - so I'd say it feels more like 1600 by our standards) and it is in good condition. It's owned by a major landlord here called Sun Hung Kai - supposedly the best landlord in Hong Kong. We're getting it for the same price as the other. It will be newly painted and floors freshly polished with new appliances. It's not quite a done deal yet - but more or less it is going to be our new apartment.

So with that in mind, I set out to find a preschool for Leah. There are 3 preschools in Redhill Plaza - which is in Tai Tam. I was able to make back to back appointments to see all 3 this morning. I brought Leah along but left Will home with Anna May. Leah and I both picked the same one. Yes - she really did have an opinion without my prompting her. The first one we saw was called Sunshine House. It really was bright and airy and everyone was incredibly nice. We recently met some people in our building whose 2 girls go there, and we had already heard good things about it. They were very welcoming - even offering Leah to sit and join the circle where the teacher was reading a book in the class she would be in. She happily joined them and even stayed while I went off to see the rest of the school and talk further with the director. They brought her back out to me at snack time because they weren't sure if she should have the snack. The director offered for her to stay for snack, but we said no as we had another appointment. I just did not have the same feeling at the other 2 schools, so I feel pretty confident that this is the right spot for Leah. We are going to see one more tomorrow, but it is a bit more expensive and a bit further from where we'll be living - so unless it's miles ahead, I think the decision has been made. And with that in mind - I am scheduled to go in on Friday to fill out paperwork, provide a check, get her uniform (yes - uniforms in schools are very common here), and have everything ready for her to start school on Monday. She's incredibly excited.

In the meantime, she will be taking a swimming class here at The Repulse Bay for the next 3 Mondays and a ballet class here starting tomorrow for 4 Wednesdays. And she loves going with friends to the American Club - so hopefully we'll get more invitations there....and hopefully we'll join soon.

We're getting more and more used to having a helper. I still need to find a permanent helper, but for now we have Anna May - and I think we can continue with her for as long as we need - but she is "live out" and we'd like to find someone to coincide with our move to "live in." I have now left Will with her a couple times and he's getting used to her. She's done great with getting him to nap and giving him a bottle. And she continues to be great with Leah. She is definitely not a fabulous cook, but she is more or less capable in the kitchen. And as long as it's edible, I'm more than happy to have her take care of all the cooking. This morning I asked her to have eggs and toast ready at 8:30 and she did. When Leah and I got home midday, she prepared our sandwiches for lunch. And I asked her to have dinner ready at 6:30 - and she did. Not to mention that she is taking care of laundry and dishes and will do the grocery shopping if I ask.

I am continuing to meet people. I did go to Will's baby group yesterday morning, although it was a small turnout with only 3 of us. And I called the American Women's Association (which I joined a couple months ago) to get the membership materials mailed to me now that I am here in Hong Kong. They are also going to officially put me in the baby group for Will and get me set up with the appropriate playgroup for Leah. I have also joined a Foon Ying (new members group) there which will meet for the next 3 Wednesday mornings.

So slowly but surely we are finding a routine...and I am starting to feel a little more settled and a little less overwhelmed.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Starting to see the sights...

I'll begin where I last left off - Thursday I went to lunch with a few moms from the baby group I've joined with Will. We had a nice lunch at the salad bar at the Marriott in Pacific Place. Pacific Place is a very posh mall in Admiralty, near Central. I took the shuttle from the apartment by myself with Will - with his stroller even - and managed to get there with time to spare to check out the mall. Lunch was nice - good food and nice to meet a few people.

Thursday afternoon we joined Lee and her boys at the American Club. The place is pretty nice. They have great facilities for kids' classes, a nice gym, a nice outdoor pool, and a huge indoor play area. Leah had a blast playing at the Eagle's Nest (the play area) with Caden. There is lots of obstacle course type equipment, a ball pit, an art area, a play kitchen...we didn't even get to explore the whole thing in the hour or so we were there. We'll definitely be going back...and probably joining.

Friday was a holiday in Hong Kong - National Day. Apparently there were fireworks at night - but we didn't make it out for that - it was past our bedtime. Although on a very positive note, Will seems to have finally adjusted to the time change. Both kids are still suffering from a sleep deficit, but we're getting closer to normal. Friday we decided to take the Star Ferry to Kowloon. We took the shuttle from the building to Central, which let us off pretty close to the ferry terminal. The ferry was a quick but fun ride with great views of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. We explored Kowloon - walking along the streets filled with shops ranging from high end to junk. We went to the park there, including a nice playground that Leah loved. And we ate at a Pakistani restaurant that Shafi had read about. Unfortunately the restaurant was not so good - but it was still a nice outing overall. And after getting back home and taking a nap, we spent an hour or so playing at the pool.

Saturday we decided to do another tourist day - we took The Peak Tram up the peak, went to the Peak Terrace, walked around, had lunch, and took the tram back down. It was a nice outing with great views and good food. And once again we spent some time at the pool after napping.

Today we decided it was time for a beach adventure. We'd been told that Big Wave Beach in Shek O is the best beach on the island. It is fairly far - all the way on the Eastern side of the island and a bit north. But taxis are so reasonable here that the approximately 30 minute drive was only about US$15 each way. We bought some beach towels and straw beach mats, rented an umbrella, got Leah some swimmies (inflatable arm bands) and sand toys, and picked a nice spot in the smooth sand. Unfortunately the water was very rough today - according to others it was the roughest they had seen it - the red flags were up and they were recommending no swimming. We did wade in to about our knees, though. Leah was a bit timid in the water but still had a good time splashing a little and then playing in the sand. We ran into a family who we had been introduced to at the American Club. They were very nice and encouraged Leah to play with their 3.5 year old daughter Nina. We also had a nice lunch at the beach - burgers and hot dogs and fruit smoothies. It was a bit hot for Will - we stripped him to his diaper and wrapped him in a very light muslin blanket to keep the sun off. He did manage to nap a bit, but overall we'd probably be better off hitting the beach without him next time.

Will sleeping on the beach:
Leah and Shafi on the beach:
Leah with Elissa and Will (under the nursing cover) at the Peak Terrace:
View from the peak:
Shafi playing with the kids Saturday morning at home:
View from the Star Ferry:
View of the Star Ferry:
Leah playing with her new friend Caden at the American Club's Eagle's Nest (indoor play area):