Monday, August 31, 2009

Today's highs and lows

We borrowed the meal-time tradition of sharing the day’s high and low points from our friends the Spencer family. Today, they were as follows:

Craig’s high: hearing the kids’ happy reports about their first day at a new school
Craig’s low: Tirzah’s tantrum this afternoon

Renee’s high: see the dessert mentioned in previous post (Hey... so I’m easily pleased...)
Renee’s low: wasting time and money this morning as we waited for someone to show us a property for rent and they never arrived

Jemilla’s high: going to school and having a swim this afternoon
Jemilla’s low: scraping her knee in the playground

Keegan’s high: going to school, and getting to wear “normal” clothes to school
Keegan’s low: spilling some yoghurt at tea time

Tirzah’s assumed high: anytime she could cuddle her dolly
Tirzah’s assumed low: getting in trouble for flushing a toilet paper roll down the toilet in the hotel (see below)

Food, glorious food

As we are currently living in a hotel room with only a small bar fridge and electric kettle by way of appliances, our meals have been mostly limited to fast food. Tonight Craig was more adventurous in what he brought home for us to try. The restaurant was called Hachiban-Ramen and the meal consisted mostly of chicken broth, noodles, onion, seaweed, bamboo and meat. (However, I’m sure the Masterchef contestants could list more ingredients.) The kids were reluctant at first but ended up enjoying it thoroughly. This is what it looked like...

And after the kids went to sleep Craig went out hunting for dessert and brought home some of this...


Pandas, vegemite and brownies

I've mentioned Gail, Craig's new Principal, in several previous posts. She has been so kind to our family, meeting us at the airport, ringing us regularly at the hotel to find out how we are settling in, and advising us with our house-hunting.

She also provided us with a wonderful welcome package upon arrival to Hong Hong. It contained a jar of Vegemite, some delicious home-made brownies, and three stuffed panda toys for the kids. I took these photos tonight at bedtime.

Money matters

Hi all, Craig here....

As most restaurants here (those that charge less than $A200 for a meal) don’t accept credit cards, we will soon need to shift some money across from back home so today I tried to open a local bank account. Surprisingly, all I needed was a passport and drivers licence (Australian one OK) and everything went pretty well. That is, until I tried to use my new ATM card.

Before getting to that, I was served after waiting about 40 minutes in what I’ll call "the economy queue". If you pay a ~$1000 pa bank club membership you get served by the ‘Prestige’ teller (First/Business Class teller – just like the check-in queues at the airport). My economy queue was very long and I could count on one hand the number of First Class ticket holders.

Anyway, when the teller took my paperwork away to get the boss to sign off on it she returned and said I had to re-sign the signature card. She said I had to “do more writing than just a line”. Those who have seen my signature might understand this; Renee has often referred to it as my "scribble".

After giving them a pre-1995 (extended) signature I was impressed that they did give me a new ATM card on the spot and also a sealed PIN envelope. I was expecting to have to wait for them to posting them out separately in 5-7 days, as happens in Australia.

After saying thank you very much I then joined the queue for the ATM machines to withdraw the $HK500 which I needed to deposit to open the account, and also to change my PIN to one I’d remember.

I opened the letter and the first 3 paragraphs were all in Chinese except for 2 sets of 4 digit numbers side by side. Then in the bottom half there were three paragraphs in English which stated, “Please find above your PIN number”. Eight numerals was a long PIN I thought, but after inserting the card (and finding a "convert to English" button) I followed the prompts and entered the eight-digit PIN.

After two failed attempts and before letting the ATM eat my card, I cancelled and started heading for the 40-minute bank queue again when PTL I noticed the lady who had served me heading off to lunch walking through the bank. After indignantly advising her, "My card does not work when I use the PIN" and pointing to the eight numbers listed, she politely smiled (whilst no doubt inwardly bursting with laughter) and pointed to a 6 digit number up the very top on the right hand side.

Apparently the number I was entering was the bank’s phone number.

Welcome to an ESL (English Second Language) country!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Belated thanks

We could not have made it here to Hong Kong without the help from many kind individuals back in Australia. I want to acknowledge you publicly and say thank you for showing us love through your specific acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts and quality time.

Thank you especially to...

Michelle Dean at nine and a half months pregnant but still baked us two meals including the famous Dean lasagna. I should have been the one baking for you!

The Adams family from Kingsway who adopted our beloved cat Bronte. You have really eased my mind.

Leonie Lupton who cooked a meal and bought some of our stuff.

Ross and Jill James who allowed us to stay in their house during our final days in Perth. The children especially loved the Lego collection.

Natalie from Toddler Time who gave us some of her yummy biscuits and slices as a treat. The children are convinced you work at a restaurant.

Cathy Richards from Kingsway who organised a lovely farewell for Jemilla with her friends including a special good-bye present. Cathy also generously gave us all her youngest daughter’s outgrown clothes which meant we didn’t need to buy Tirzah any size 2 clothes in preparation for Hong Kong.

Jules Gurney for the delicious meal and paddlepops.

Craig’s parents for being willing to have our mail redirected to their house, saving us hundreds of dollars.

Ike Abdulla for his handyman skills.

Kathy Niles from Toddler Time for dropping off yet another wonderful dinner which I didn’t have to prepare!

Liesl Theeart for minding Tirzah and Emma Abdulla for minding Keegan while I was busy during our last fortnight in Perth.

All the kind people (at Craig’s 40th birthday, Colin Lituri, Toddler Time mums, SCEA, staff from Midland Christian school, etc.), who donated money towards our purchase of the Donald James Water’s print “In You Go” which we will display prominently and proudly in our new home to remind us of Hillary’s in Perth.

Jey Jeyabalan for cooking a meal for us, coordinating the other meals, as well as organising a fantastic night out at a Chinese restaurant with friends from church.

Narelle Bevan who minded Tirzah for we while I was packing, hosted a lovely farewell supper, and prepared two huge meals for our family. Craig remembers your chicken portion sizes fondly. LOL

My mother “Manou” who helped to pack our 28 boxes and suitcases, the latter which she calculated to the exact gram so we didn’t have to pay any excess on our baggage allowance. Mum also helped with many jobs to get our house in Landsdale ready for leasing.

And lastly to the Matchett family for their countless hours of looking after our kids for us, feeding us, helping pack up the house, carting off our rubbish for council collection, shifting furniture, selling our cars, and the list goes on and on...

We are grateful and thankful to you all!

Our first Sunday

For our first Sunday in Hong Kong we were invited to visit Union Church with Gail (Craig's Principal), and it was a great day to visit because they had a huge barbeque lunch after the 11:00 service in which we happily partook. The photo (borrowed from the internet) above shows the layout of the main room. You can read more about Union Church here.

I really enjoyed the message about "following Jesus" from John chapter 1:29-51, but my mind kept wandering to our Perth church, Woodvale Baptist ... wondering if Alec made it to the 10:30 service in spite of the radiation he received this week, wondering how Jenelle would cope interpreting the whole sermon, and wishing I could be there. We sang a familiar song, and I had to put my hands behind my back to stop myself from reverting to Auslan.

"Oh God, You are my God.

And I will ever praise You.

Oh God, You are my God.

And I will ever praise You.

I will seek You in the morning,

And I will learn to walk in Your ways,

And step by step You'll lead me,

And I will follow You all of my days."

When it was time for Sunday School, our kids left us without a worry, trotting off to their own individual classes. I felt so proud that despite being in a foreign country and different church, they were confident enough to try a new thing.

Craig had a good laugh at the section in the printed church bulletin listing prayer requests. Obviously written by a Pommie it read, "Pray for the people of Australia as they mourn the loss of the Ashes."

Someone at Union Church asked us if we would continue coming to the church during our time in Hong Kong. I replied that as much as we had enjoyed worshipping there this morning, we would probably try to find somewhere a bit closer to home (wherever that may be!). You see, to get to the church we took a shuttle bus into the city, walked to the pier, caught a ferry across to Hong Kong Island, and then had a taxi-ride out to the church. I can't imagine doing it every week!

Tirzah was exhausted by it all as you can see from the photo.

Here is the "boat" we took across the harbour.

Just kidding...this is our actual ferry.

Jemilla and Keegan seated on the ferry with balloons from church.

Hong Kong Island's skyline from Kowloon looked very hazy today.

Walking back to our bus stop.

Disinfected carpets even?

The sign closest to the door proclaims the carpet free from germs. Thanks goodness, because we were extremely concerned about catching swine flu through our shoes!

From Keegan for his classmates in PPD at Kingsway

Hello girls and boys, and God bless you!

I am in Hong Kong now. My Daddy took this photo of me in front of a Hong Kong flag because I remembered when we learned about flags from different countries.

Did you have a nice time at the farm for excursion on Thursday?

I think Grace would like it here because I have seen lots of Hello Kitty shops.

I miss Emma V, Guy, and Carl very much.

Please can you email me soon?

From, Keegan

Wish you were here...

Everywhere we go we see things that remind us of friends and family in Australia.

This photo is especially for my sister Lauren who ADORES Playmobil. You can read about her Playmobil Passion on her blog here. And for Emma Abdulla who is slightly less obsessed with the same product. Ladies, it's wall-to-wall in stores here!

And this one is for all the Beanie Kid fans we know... namely Elora Croaker and the Peet girls. Here the Beanie Kids (normal-sized ones, not this gigantic one) cost just under $50 HK, which works out to around $8.50 each. Tempted to order any...? Let me know...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Welcome to the world, Benjamin (x2)

Last Friday our good freinds Kevin and Michelle had a little boy named Benjamin Joel Dean. We were so pleased to be able to get at least one cuddle in before we left Australia.

And yesterday we were thrilled to hear of the safe arrival of Benjamin Macarthur Prior to Craig's sister Judith and her husband Doug in Dubbo, NSW. We'll have to wait to see a photo of this new little guy but are praying for good health and quick recovery for Judith.

Congratulations to both of you!

Some things are the same world over

Today we ventured out to the shops again and were thrilled to discover an IKEA a few blocks from our hotel. We anticipate living in a small apartment for our duration here in Hong Kong, so we wanted to get a few ideas for saving space.

Our only purchases were three ice cream cones, only 30 cents (AUD) each. Craig was trying in vain to protect Tirzah's dress from drips by using his hankie as a bib.

However, I did look hard for this particular bedspread called a Bibbi Snurr for which the green version has been discontinued. I have a matching blue one and red one so am searching high and low for the green one to complete the set for our three kids. Let me know if you see one anywhere!


This garden display reminded Jemilla of her Perth friends Joelle and Katie who are both eight years old.

More swine flu paranoia

These self-help disinfectant stations are everywhere! They contain an antibacterial soap which requires no rinsing.
First you need to wash your hands...

Then it's time to eat!

School Registration

On Friday we took a taxi to the kids' new school, NIS, which you can read more about here . As the school year starts this Monday, we had numerous forms to fill out and sign, and we were glad for this opportunity to show the children their new classrooms.

This is the Kindergarten building. Keegan will be in a class called K-3, which is the year before Grade One.

This is in Keegan's new classroom. He has already met a boy named Nathan and his teacher Ms Irene.

One of the play areas for Keegan's class.

This is the primary campus, about five minutes from Keegan's class.

These are some of the primary classrooms.

This is Jemilla's Year Two classroom. She is one of only two girls in the class. She will have a substitute teacher (male) for the first few months as her teacher is away on maternity leave. We will have to get an Australian flag to put up on the wall with the other ones.

I almost forgot to mention that Tirzah will be attending a playgroup in the kindergarten campus with me twice a week. We are so thankful that the children each have a place in this school. Many people have told us how hard it is to enrol in international schools in Hong Kong. NIS looks like a friendly little school, and we pray that the children will be happy here and make new friends quickly.

First impressions of Hong Kong

Craig likes the feeling of being on holiday, cheap pre-paid mobile phone calls, the octopus cards for easy purchases and transport (like Perth smart-riders), and cheap take-away places nearby.
Craig dislikes the communication problems. (Locals don't speak as much English as we thought.)

Renee likes the variety of shops and products, some of which are American and unavailable in Australia. They also stay open until 10:30 at night.
Renee dislikes the cost of staple foods such as bread ($4 per loaf) and milk ($3.00 per litre).

Jemilla likes the pool at our hotel and the shops with all the nice things.
Jemilla dislikes all the signs being in Chinese and the smell of the food.

Keegan likes being able to watch baseball and Ben10 on TV here (pay TV). He also likes being able to wear his summer clothes again, as it is still winter in Australia.
Keegan dislikes how loudly the people speak in a different language.

Tirzah is still too little to say what she likes or doesn't like about Hong Kong, but we have noticed that she is attracting a lot of attention wherever we go. I wonder if it's the way I dress her or her red hair or chubby body. Most people point to her and comment or wave at her or approach us to stroke her cheek. She doesn't seem to mind much; instead she shows off a bit with a silly dance or blows a kiss back to them.

Not too shabby

We landed in Hong Kong around 7:30 PM after an uneventful flight and noticed the humidity and heat straight away...very similar to the climate in Ivory Coast where I grew up. As soon as we stepped into the airport we were pulled aside by "medical personnel" and told we would be tested for swine flu symptoms. Everyone else from our flight was ushered on, but we had our temperatures taken via ear thermometer. I guess they took one look at our pale, flushed skin and sweaty faces and assumed we were carrying the contagious disease. Poor Tirzah was hot and tired and hungry so when we eventually got into the immigration line to show our passports, she was very grizzly. An airport official saw (heard?) our plight and kindly ushered our family to the front of the line where we sailed through and then collected our luggage. As my mother has said in the past, "Could have been an angel in disguise..."

We were met by Gail, the Principal of the school for which Craig will be working, and a board member, Pam. They gave us a warm welcome and arranged for a van to take us to our hotel.

This is the Royal Park Hotel, our home for the next two weeks. You can read more about it here. Not too shabby, indeed! We feel like we are on holidays. It is a very nice way to ease into this new city. Here are some more photos of our hotel which I found online.

Our room is very similar to this one, except all five of us fit in the one room.

These are the fancy lifts in the lobby which require a key card to operate. People here in Hong Kong are so paranoid about swine flu that even the lift buttons are sanitised every hour. Many people wear face masks.

My sister Carla would love the shopping centre a block away from the hotel. It is so clean and spacious. See photo below.

We enjoyed a HUGE buffet breakfast on Friday morning at the hotel restaurant. Jemilla's favourite food was the waffles, Keegan liked the French toast and watermelon, and Tirzah ate several bowls of fruit salad.

Nearly there...

Jemilla, Keegan and Tirzah made full use of their backpacks of activities during our stay in Singapore and flight to Hong Kong. Special thanks to the Bevans and Priors for the colouring books and toys given especially to entertain our kids during the flight. You kept us sane!

Good-bye, Perth. Hello, Singapore!

Our flight from Perth to Singapore on Jetstar was scheduled to leave at 12:15 AM on Thursday, August 27th. We expected to catch a taxi to the international terminal, but our good friends the Matchetts insisted on taking us right to our gate and farewelling us properly. I'm sure their kids were extra tired at school the next day because they wouldn't have gotten to bed before 10:30 PM! This was just one of the many ways the Matchetts helped us prepare for our departure. We have been so overwhelmed with their kindness and generosity, as well as many of our other Perth friends, but I'll blog more about that later...

Our plane sat on the runway at Perth for nearly an hour due to "a computer malfunction in the radio tower". This was not exactly the sort of announcement we wanted to hear at the start of our flight. Exhaustion overcame the excitement of being on a plane for Jemilla and Keegan, and they fell asleep soon after take-off. But not so for Tirzah! She didn't like being restricted by a seat belt and couldn't understand why she had to stay on my lap. Praise the Lord we had two empty seat next to us, so I was eventually able to lay her across the seats and she slept for two hours or so before waking with a very wet nappy and pyjamas. Needless to say, she let the whole plane know she was unhappy about the situation and it was quite a while before she dropped off to sleep again. We were all very relieved to arrive in Singapore airport where we could change our clothes and stretch our legs.

Keegan was thrilled to see Ben10 on a giant TV screen in the Kids' Corner of Terminal 3. He said he wished his friends Owen and Nathan were there to watch it with him.

Changi Airport in Singapore is a fascinating place to explore. We loved the many exhibits and sculptures.

This was (understandably) Jemilla's favourite shop in the whole airport. She and Keegan each had $20 AUD to spend from their Nana and Grandpa. After much deliberating, Jemilla chose a new necklace with an ice cream cone and some miniature doll house accessories. Keegan chose some more Lego.

We spent a fun day wandering between the three terminals in Singapore, buying food, looking at shops, playing on the indoor playground, riding the sky train, etc. before we once again boarded Jetstar for Hong Kong.

Prayer request

Tirzah, Jemilla and Keegan enthroned on some of our boxes currently en route to Hong Kong. Please join with us in prayer that all 28 boxes arrive safely and intact within the next month.

Nesting in skyscrapers

It must be said that a great deal of time can be wasted when one is trying to think of a name for a new blog. I considered and discarded numerous corny ideas before finally deciding on the final title. It partly came to me as we were flying between Perth and Singapore on the red-eye special and I was trying to get Tirzah to sleep. An old song kept repeating through my head, the lyrics referring to God's will ... "to rest in it, nest in it, fully be blessed in it..." I really like the notion of discovering the will of God for my life and making my nest in it.

We had a friend at university in Bathurst, NSW, who had a great reply for anyone who asked him where he hoped to be in ten years time or what his future plans were. "The only place I want to be," he would answer, "is right in the centre of God's will." And no one could suggest a better place to be!

In the last month or so as we've been packing up our house in Perth, selling furniture, and getting ready to move overseas we've been thinking a lot about "the will of God". It appears that for the immediate future, God's will is for our family to be in Hong Kong, serving him there. While Craig has been quite excited about the move and his new job, I have had many regrets about the timing of this move, sadness about leaving friends in Perth, and general concerns about living in Hong Kong. How will we find the right house/apartment? Will my years of learning Auslan be wasted? How can we afford it? Will I be able to find work? Will the children be happy at their new school?

Keegan's pre-primary teacher from Kingsway Christian College kindly gave me a farewell present with a bookmark included, and I really liked the quote printed on it. It reads, "The will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot keep you, where the arms of God cannot support you, where the riches of God cannot supply your needs, where the love of God cannot enfold you, and where the peace of God cannot calm your fears." If I am truly nesting in God's will, then all my worries can dissolve as I put my trust in him.

The "nesting" part of the blog title, therefore, refers to our desire as a family to follow God's will for our lives. And after seeing for myself Hong Kong's famous skyline, the "skyscrapers" part of the name was a natural choice regarding our home for the next few years. I hope you will enjoy reading about our adventures through this blog and are encouraged yourself to seek God's will for your life, make your nest right in the centre, and get comfortable.