Sunday, November 25, 2012

Much to Be Thankful For

This is our first Thanksgiving in Hong Kong. Last year we travelled back to Grand Rapids just before the holiday. But since we are staying here for both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, we decided to host a traditional dinner for our friends. We celebrated on Saturday, the 24th since everyone had to work on Thursday.

It started out as a group of five and we grew and grew and grew. By Saturday we were a group of 17. 

Our guests began to arrive and we had a fun group to celebrate with. Janet, of course, co-hosted. She is a fellow Grand Rapidian as are the Heredia family, Jason & Susan and their daughters Perry, Teddy and Ava. Our friend Rommel joined us and we were lucky that his brother Ronald was visiting from Manilla and able to come as well. Vesper celebrated her first Thanksgiving with us and enjoyed the whole event very much. Jeff & Amanda Ge and their daughters Isabelle and Angelina are from China, but Jeff also attended Michigan State. And two new hires to the marketing team also joined us. Jenkin Au grew up in Vancouver and so was quite familiar with Thanksgiving even though the Canadians celebrate in October.(I don't think he minded the later date.) And Penny Ping is from Beijing but graduated in May from Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Calvin is a huge rival of Aquinas I might add. So our group was very eclectic in all ways and we had a lively time with much laughter.

Since ovens are small and turkeys are large we decided to order a pre-cooked turkey from Oliver's. Everyone brought something to add to the festivities and our feast quickly took shape. We did have one glitch for the day. About two hours before our guests were scheduled to arrive, all of the outlets in the apartment blew out. We knew it was a circuit problem, but flipping the one that had tripped did nothing and it also did not explain why the rest of the apartment went out as well. 

So we called our wonderful landlord who got us fixed up with an electrician who arrived 30 minutes later. It was an easy fix, but he wanted to be sure about the connector for the built in oven. So here we are watching him pull the oven out (with the yams and the dressing inside) to check on something that is still working. I kept trying to distract him, but to no avail. So he declares everything is A-OK and we go back to our preparations.

Luckily Janet lives two floors up and we had already planned to heat the turkey in her oven.Between the two kitchens we were all set to cook. (I might also add that we borrowed chairs and stools, dishes, flatware and even a game for the kids. We kept the elevator in use for a lot of trips.) And then when I went to light my oven to reheat the items in there, it wouldn't light. Luckily the yams and the dressing were still quite warm so we just sighed, laughed and moved on.

It was finally time for the feast and Ken introduced the Guest of honor.

We gathered around the table to give thanks for all of the blessings we have been given. This has been a year filled with many ups and downs. In looking back we know that our blessings outweigh our trials and that makes us truly grateful. And though it is always difficult being far from home and family during the holidays, we are most thankful for our friends here in Hong Kong who have helped to make this our home as well.

It was a real treat to once again have a kids table. It has been a long time. And what a gorgeous group of girls we had.

After dinner it was Finding Nemo for the girls and clean-up and chatting for the grown-ups. 

I would not have believed it possible to fit five people working in my tiny kitchen, but we managed to get a nice rhythm going and everything was cleaned up and put away in no time. 

And then it was time for dessert. Janet made two apple pies and brought ice cream for the a la mode lovers and I made a pumpkin cheesecake complete with whipped cream for the top. Everyone descended so quickly I could barely get some photos.

Following dessert it was more relaxing and conversation.

I think the day was a memorable one for all of us. And now the Christmas season can officially begin.

Another Visit

The third visit we have had in the past few weeks was my cousin Terry from Philadelphia. She was actually the first to book her travel but chose early November as the time she wanted to come. 

One of the reasons Terry chose this time was to celebrate her birthday in Hong Kong. We had a lovely dinner at our neighborhood Italian restaurant Portovino followed by a birthday cake from Maxim's. All things being equal, you can't go wrong with chocolate.

Shayne even joined the festivities via Skype.

We did many of the sights that have been posted about already including Nan Lian Gardens in Diamond Hill.

We also Checked out the wet markets from our perch on the escalator.

We took a ferry to Lamma Island for a lovely seaside lunch and a few hours browsing the little local shops.

We joined my neighbor Tamara and baby Sasha for a visit to the History Museum and the Terra Cotta Warrior Exhibit followed by a great dim sum lunch.

We wandered and ate and drank and ate and saw sights and ate all week long. One of the truly unique sights of Hong Kong are the Cemeteries. St. Michael's is the oldest cemetery in Hong Kong and is populated by many of the early Hong Kong settlers both Chinese and Western. All of the cemeteries are built into hill sides and the graves are very tightly spaced. It makes for some amazing views. We were lucky enough to get stopped in traffic long enough for a quick snapshot ot two.

It was a great visit that went by too quickly and a fun time for us both.

Harbor Cruise

On a cloudy Sunday afternoon we decided to take a tour of the harbor. We chose the Star Ferry Harbor Tour for our afternoon's cruise. The tour is on one of the original cross harbor ferries which has been fitted out for relaxing and viewing.

Obviously we started out with the relaxing part. It is said that the city view of HongKong Island from the water is one of the best views in the world. Of this I have no doubt.

The building with the "flying" roof is the Convention Center in Wan Chai. Each morning there is a flag raising ceremony in the plaza by the water and a flag lowering in the evening. Next to the convention center is the pier where the Wan Chai Ferry docks. (And some of you thought it was only a brand of frozen Chinese food.)

Whether I am crossing the Harbor or ferrying to one of the outlying islands, I am always amazed and impressed by the fishermen who go out in very small boats and sit amidst the freighters and cruise ships and ferries that make the harbor as busy as most freeways. The brave not only the traffic but also high seas day in and day out. It is a most impressive sight.

As we made our way around, it was interesting to get a different view of many familiar buildings. Among my favorites are the Peninsula Hotel where I enjoyed high tea and the Cultural Center where we go to the ballet and orchestra concerts.

Just behind Ocean Terminal where the smaller cruise ships port is another smaller pier that houses a health club complete with rooftop tennis courts. Ken was lucky enough to get a chance to play there. A former employee lived in one of the buildings that had membership included. 

Making the turn toward home takes you past the Macau Ferry Pier. The ferries to Macau are the sleekest of all and the fastest. One type is actually a hydrofoil ferry that just floats above the water once it gets to speed. It is a very smooth ride. They are also painted in bright colors to catch the eye and entice you to go gambling.

With a final glimpse of some of our favorite buildings, our lazy afternoon cruise drew to a close. It was a perfect way to pass the time and enjoy the company.

In this final shot, if you look at the building in the distant center, it has several stories at the top that are darker that the rest of the building. This is where we live. We are in the darker section near the top of the building on the 35th floor. We often watch the ferries from our window.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sik Sik Temple

Another new area for exploring is the Sik Sik Temple. This is the largest temple in Hong Kong and has areas for Buddhist, Confucianism and Taoism followers. As you exit the MTR station, there is a beautiful gate and a row of small shops selling incense and other items for those coming to worship.

The Temple grounds are set into a hillside and there are shrines and plazas filled with statuary and small shrines.

The first of the main areas was filled with many people at prayer and the smell of incense.

Each area was unique and we enjoyed seeing the differences from spot to spot.

At the back of the property there was a beautiful garden area with ponds, streams, waterfalls, a hillside pagoda and even a small cave area. It was very peaceful and quiet place to wander or sit for a while.

Before leaving we came across a pair of gentlemen posing for a photo and I just couldn't resist.

It was a lovely afternoon.