Monday, April 14, 2014

Moving on

After two weeks of car/insurance issues, I am almost at the end of this car crash experience. Thanks to my father's expert internet searching/bargaining ability (the man has a gift), and his and Rich's willingness to drive 6 hours over two back to back evenings to test drive/pick up my car...I officially have some 'new' wheels. We got a '11 Toyota Prius, which looks a bit like a giant, sparkly egg on wheels! But that egg should get great mileage...and with gas at $4.35/gallon here, I'm thrilled. I've had the car for five days now, but I still haven't had the time to transfer all my stuff into it and drive it yet (you'll see why).

The week of the wreck (3/31 was the day I got hit, hard to forget) was a whirlwind-

Day #1- Crunch. RIP car.
Day #2- OUCH. Whiplash and minor bruising. Bed rest.
Days #3-5- Recovery over. Condo closes. Paint, paint, paint.*
Day #6 - Back to back birthday celebrations (while Rich renovates).
Day #7 - (Not so) long humble pie.

*The new business opportunity I mentioned previously- a condo renovation/rental.

Who says painting isn't glamorous?
I thought it would be funny to tell Ryan that we 'knew' he painted his name on the wall and that he was in BIG trouble....that is, until he looked petrified and really thought we were mad at him. Oops. Parenting fail.
Their reward for being cooped up in one bedroom all day like three little Flowers in the Attic...swimming at a new pool. An Arctic, sub-zero pool.  But they still found a way to make it they are creating their own whirlpool.

Birthday #1- Levi & Ava's festive, Easter-themed birthday party- egg coloring, cookie decorating, a giant egg-shaped pinata and an Easter egg hunt! It totally got us into the Easter spirit!
Check out that smile (that's him on the right in black/blue)
Later that day...we celebrated birthday #2 (for my sister in law Mika) with another swim
Rather than get her a boring old gift card from Macy's...we got her this fabulous bra instead. 42DD. Apparently everyone thought it was a joke. (I was offended.)
See? Totally nailed the size!
Tee hee...we may have embellished her age on the cake a wee bit. Honest mistake.
Since I'm no longer on the phone daily about the car, I've spent much of the last week painting, puttying & landscaping, catching up on work for my client in CA and have started running again. Due to my 4-week cough and the wreck, I didn't run at all for three weeks. The first week back I ran once, the second week I ran twice, and this past week I ran FOUR times. I think this is a personal record. I think it's nuts to run so much.

The increased frequency is due in large part to my having two bonus running partners this week, my amazing friend Ana Paula (she two sets of twins, so if she can find time to run, I have no excuses), and my high school BFF's awesome cross-country running daughter is in town! Sonali just clocked a 5:45 min mile before flying obviously we're very compatible running partners (provided I drug her before we run). NOBODY dulls my sparkle.

I spent most of this weekend performing a backyard make over- weeding, trimming, removing/replanting plants, hoeing (heh heh), raking, hauling green waste out like a pack mule, pressure washing and painting. Usually yard work falls under Rich's domain- I dislike it and he doesn't mind it. But this time, he was busy inside with my dad painting and cutting new baseboards, installing new light fixtures, a ceiling fan, a kitchen sink, a new bathroom vanity, mounting mirrors and staining closet doors. (So you know...not doing much compared to me. Remember...I pulled weeds. That's intense. Skilled labor, definitely.)

(Please note the ginger plants with the heinous root system that required my wielding a pick ax)
After (I felt like Aunty Momilani harvesting da 'aina, giving new mana and life to the kalo! Imua!)
It's too bad that in about 6 months, with the mauka rains, that the yard will look about the same as it did in the 'Before' picture. :-)

The boys also had a busy weekend, doing this on Saturday before swimming at the pool-

Grandma filled in for me and took them to an Easter event, where they got to bounce around, ride horses and egg hunt (although my little slowpoke was a little late out of the gate and only found one egg.) :-( Poor fella.
And this on Sunday with Grandpa and I (who helped teach the kids)-
Ryan's first golf lesson! He did okay for this first time...the older cousins did even better. Golf is tough stuff!
Things have been crazy (we're both at the condo about 6-7 days a week), so we're both on the verge of a nervous breakdown and can't wait until this Friday when we're done...because we have a mound of laundry, dishes, paperwork and yard work to catch up on. Not to mention we also have to host an egg hunt and egg decoration party for the boys, and Rich has another Improv show this weekend...yikes.

Peace out,

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Weeks After

We arrived back in Kona on a Friday later afternoon. I spent much of the remainder of the day sorting through mail, paying bills, taming the garden and doing four loads of laundry. But the next morning it was right back to business. First up? Ryan's last t-ball game of the season, the moment he'd been waiting for for weeks (he was dying to get his first trophy).

His last at-bat of his rookie season
The part I think he loves and does best...sprinting to base!

Excitement mounting...about to get his first trophy!

The moment he'd been waiting for...
Go Dragons! Thanks to Head Coach Mary and her awesome assistants- Rich 1, Rich 2 & Harold!
A few days later on Tuesday, I chaperoned his school field trip to the airport fire station and Onizuka space museum. I've been volunteering in his class once a week, so I've gotten to know his classmates pretty well.

We've also been catching up on plenty of quality time with our nephews. I think Ryan misses them more than anything else while we're gone.

Keni testing out the new speakers 
On Thursday, Rich had a birthday 6 days after we got back home, so the family banded together to throw him a last minute birthday party with some friends.
It took a crew of two able bodied men to light up all those candles. 

The firefighters who arrived were relieved to know all the smoke was contained. PS- The delicious cake was from Island Naturals (thank you, Rose!).
That Friday we had school, a swim lesson, the signing of escrow, the last of five nighttime Improv rehearsals for Rich that week, a time consuming job application packet for me and a movie night under the stars for the three boys. I was pretty beat, but the next night...

...Rich and his Improv group The Alohaha's had an AMAZING show- the theater was packed with fun, rowdy people and the group killed it with a solid performance from beginning to end. It was their best show ever. Super proud of the whole troop! They're all coming over tonight for a delayed after-party.

Sadly, the hustle bustle came to a screeching halt 2 days later when I got into my first car accident on Monday morning. The facts in summary format (since it's a long story):
  • My car is totaled...
  • ...but I'm fine. Some lower back pain and whiplash, but told the paramedics I was all g.
  • I was slammed from behind by a large truck. The driver wasn't paying attention and didn't notice I was stopped (the car in front of me was waiting to turn). He apologized. But he slammed me so hard that it propelled me forward about a car length into the car in front of me and trashed both bumpers, and jacked up my trunk. 
  • I think I was in shock for about 5-10 minutes.  
  • When I hit the girl in front of me, she hopped out of her car and got all East LA on me for a few minutes (before she realized it wasn't my fault). I was screamed at and I think she wanted to thrown down. It wasn't pleasant.  
  • I have a rental car now, and once I get a settlement check in a few days, I'll have 48 hours to get another one (ugh...not my wish at all).  
I am quite unhappy that something that wasn't my fault is taking up so much of my time. I think I was on the phone 6 hours that day. I now have to scrape up the cash to buy another car  since insurance only covers part of it, and a new/used car was not in the budget. (I had my accident on Monday, and we funded our new investment on cash flow is low.) Bad timing.  So isn't fair. But it's also not fair that I have a house, car, healthcare and food to eat and millions don't. So I'm going to try and keep the negative vibes in check.

This was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if something like this happens only once every 40 years for me, I'll be happy.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Hong Kong Day 11 (HK Haircut & Home Bound!)

Proof that our son is growing- For the first time in his life, Ryan didn't qualify for free travel on public transportation. While this was a bummer for us, he was ecstatic to finally, after years of waiting...get his own subway card. Luckily for him, kids were half price, so I didn't have to dock his allowance or sell his favorite toys. (Just kidding. I did take all his allowance.)

On our last night in the city we wanted to have some good ol' fashioned Chinese noodles, so we set out to find some and do some last minute shopping. Because it was already the end of the day and Ryan was tired, I ended up carrying him. We call him the 'opihi' (a type of limpet/sea snail that clings to rocks with a death grip) whenever he does this. At the start of the trip I really suffered since I hadn't carried him in 4-5 months (and I was sick). But by the end of the trip? I was ready to enter the Mr. Universe contest. That kid may have zero body fat and can rock 24-month old shorts (true story), but he's still 41.5 lbs. of skin and bones, which is still heavy as heck to lug around.

Later that night, we found our noodle shop! Super cheap- $17 HK per bowl and delicious! It was a lot like a Japanese tachiguisoba stand. Order, pay, slurp quickly, leave. In and out, baby. Move along now.

We spent our last night celebrating the end of our trip with a toast of (get this)....MANGO FLAVORED drumstick cones. Apparently, Nestle is holding out on us, America. They offer this option in Hong Kong, and yet not here in Hawaii, where mango reigns supreme. That reminds me- I was also able to get dragon fruit there for a fourth of the price here. Here I pay $6 per fruit...there? $1.50 from the supermarket, baby (in fairness, they are mostly grown in Southeast Asia so they should be cheaper...the ones I buy here are grown fresh in Kona and taste wonderful). I would have bought more there, but the one I got was most of the out of season fruit (kiwi, strawberry, grapes, apples, bananas) we bought for breakfast each day.

On our last day in Hong Kong our flight didn't leave until nearly 4pm, so in the mid-morning I walked Ryan about a quarter mile down the road from our apartment for a haircut. he was long overdue, so we thought it'd be cool to get one in China and see what the experience was like. 

The Before sticking up in random directions.
He practically had a faux hawk.
Again, the process was like buying a bowl of noodles from a ramen stand in a ticket for the service you want from a machine, get a ticket/receipt issued and present to the stylist. We had the option of paying with cash, credit card or subway (Octopus) card.

Next, sit in the spot allotted to you in the order you enter the shop. They make it pretty difficult to screw up the process since each seated is numbered for you. Still, I think it'd be fun to stumble in there one day when the seats are filled and try to squeeze in somewhere. If you tried this in Japan you just might get away with it (if you're white), but in China? Heh heh...well, at least they have affordable health care.

Individual TVs, individually sanitized combs, scissors, neck bands, capes...not bad!
Unfortunately, we had a very grouchy stylist. He clearly felt he received the short end of the stick in having to open up early and deal with the goofy Americans. I responded to his overall sulkiness with annoying American optimism and huge grins, but he retaliated by ignoring my repeated request to cut Ryan's hair shorter on top...and instead, did this weird chopping technique that made his hair look jagged and spiky on top. So thanks to Ms. Grouchy Pants, I had to come home and fix it myself. 
The only real surprise, but which was nice? They have little vacuum suspended above the chairs to immediately suck up any hair stuck on your neck/head. Pretty cool.
All that, for $50 HK (or $7 US)! It's the equivalent of a Supercuts.

The After Shot. Not much shorter in the front than we started thanks to Mr. Grouchy.
After the haircut we hopped in a cab to the airport, and had Ryan push all our luggage around so we would be well rested for our three flights home...which were 3.5 hours, 9 hours and 40 minutes, respectively. However, we had lengthy layovers that added over half that time to our journey. It took over 26 hours to get home from the moment we stepped into the cab.

Rich took Ryan to a playground in the airport (it was one of the junkier ones), while I hit up a bookstore, snapped titles of books on my phone that looked intriguing, but that I wasn't quite willing to pay $25 for. A few minutes later at the gate, I accessed a free wifi computer and was able to request all 5-6 of them from our local library. 

And would you believe, the day after we returned home...these two books were already waiting for me? I've already finished the first...and it's about ten times more horrifying than an expose about Wal Mart. If I had to summarize it in a short paragraph- much of the massive amount of exports (& economic growth) from China has been on the backs of young, working girls who (il)legally migrate from the countryside to work in untenable working conditions at shockingly low wages. The girls often work 6-6.5 days a week for 14 hours a day, sleep in tiny dorms, eat watered down meals, and can have their wages docked/withheld for every infraction imaginable? It makes you never, ever want to buy anything stamped "Made in China" again. Or visit the Southern China (north of Hong Kong) where most of the factories are located. Needless to say, it's tainted my visit. Though we know the answer- why isn't the government doing more to protect its own citizens? Devastating read. The book definitely tainted our visit and reminded me the importance of not judging a country by visiting a tiny speck of it.

I'm in the middle of this one...which is very well written, but turning out to be equally depressing, albeit from a slightly different perspective (written from the perspective of an American male businessman who speaks Mandarin living in China).

I also got to read one 'fun' book. I had no idea SNL's 'Pat' was such a talented essayist. This book was an enjoyable, quick read that was hard to put down. It revolved largely around her family (she adopted a daughter from China and has an incredible story of how she met her husband). If you have a chance...I highly recommend it.

This concludes the end of the Beijing-Hong Kong Diaries. Hope you enjoyed it. Xie xie.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hong Kong Day 10 (Sheung Wang & 10,000 Buddhas Monastery)

Every morning we had a 10-15 minute walk to and from the subway, which was always somewhat of an assault on our senses- but relatively clean and litter free.  They appear to have strict laws regarding public sanitation (littering, smoking, spitting) judging by the number of signs I saw for public sanitation/fines. Fines imposed for breaking the law were $5,000 HK dollars for smoking in prohibited areas or $1500 HK dollars for spitting. Other things we saw each day on our daily commute were:
Buildings under construction, all of which appeared to be using bamboo as scaffolding...even as high as 3-4 stories up. More interestingly, my mother noticed that all were cut at an angle so that they appeared to be balancing on the tip. I am guessing our American unions probably won't let that fly.
We spied a candy store and just had to hit it up. We tended to reward Ryan's long walks and tolerance of (boring for him) historic site after site by letting him pick out sweets (Parent of the Year!) or cheap, tacky souvenirs (Environmentalists of the Year).
You couldn't walk 20 feet in any direction in all of Kowloon or Sheung Wan without running into either a Chinese medicine shop or a shop selling roots & dried fish. I wanted to go in and see them about my eczema and other issues since their remedies would be a lot more natural, but I ran out of time. Maybe next time?

Because Hong Kong doesn't stamp passports anymore (and instead inserts a tiny, loose card the size of a passport photo into your passport), one of our family member's lost theirs. And because it's required to exit the country, we spent the morning at the Immigration office getting another one (it must happen a million times a year, as the room was packed with people in the same predicament). Honestly, it's a crazy system that's ineffective and costly, not to mention time consuming for those that lose them, and those that must process reissuing new ones. But last I checked, HK wasn't too interested in my opinion. ;-)

Ryan got to spend the waiting time at a second park I found nearby on Google Maps, and spent over an hour doing about 15 different physically challenging obstacles courses I came up with once I was too tired to play. He had a ball running around and getting sweaty, HK has similar weather to Hawaii, mostly warm year round due to its proximity to the equator. In fact, when I asked him what he liked best about China on two different occasions, he said, "The parks." Which is lovely to hear...since we flew his little behind 7,000+ miles each way to see cultural and historic sites, and he liked...the park. 

After the immigration stop, we cruised a bazaar there and got more souvenirs for friends and the boys, as well as found this little sushi shop. Ryan and my dad had some for a snack.

After that, we hopped on the subway for a trip out to the New Territories to visit the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (aka Man Fat Sze). The monastery is a bit off the beaten track. It felt a bit more rural out there, but the entrance to the monastery was sandwiched between a 4-5 story furniture store and an office building. The monastery features over 12,000 Buddha statues surrounding and within the temple, and honestly- was a unexpected surprise for us. We LOVED this temple, and would rank it in the top 10 we've ever been to in Asia. Most interestingly- it's free. Most 'big name' temples in Japan (Fushimi Inari, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Todaiji) all charge roughly $5-7 per person to get in. This one had similar strong appeal, yet true to 'real church' form, did not charge a cent.

Worth noting is that there is quite a steep climb up to the monastery...which includes 400+ very steep steps. I'd recommend bringing water and a defibrillator if you're not in decent shape. I was huffing, puffing and dripping sweat. I think with 2-3 rest breaks it took us about 25 minutes to get there. However, because it's not as easy to get to from the city centers (though still cheap/ just requires 3-4 transfers on the subway from most hotels), it's relatively quiet and empty. It's a pleasant walk among lots of greenery and lined with hundreds of golden Buddhas, each one different from the other.

Oops. In his defense, he could only read the words "is, not, at and this."

Inside the temple, lined very symmetrically from floor to ceiling on all four walls were rows of golden Buddha statues. It's also the first Buddhist temple I've ever been to where you are not permitted to burn incense inside.

We were allowed to climb even more stairs and go to the top of the pagoda!

Climbing up the pagoda
We've developed a ritual of having Ryan pray at each temple/church/synagogue/shrine/mosque he goes to. We did the same thing when he spun the prayer wheels at Lama temple.  
Every so often Ry surprises us with a dramatic pose to ah, shake things up, I guess?
One of the best surprises of the day- the presence of monkeys all over the mountain near the temple grounds! Apparently they are unwelcome visitors to the monks (who loudly shooed them away). But to us? They were cute and hilarious.

See what I mean? Swinging from the temple good luck charms...feisty and naughty.
Sitting on the Buddha's head...definitely gonna get busted by a monk.

Photos were not permitted in the temple (this was taken outside the doors, which was okay without a flash), but you can see the thousands of statues lining the wall. It wasn't nearly as tacky as you might imagine...I'm not sure why, but I'm sure it was partly the quiet and calm of the grounds.

Dinner that night was a bit of a cheat night...Rich found us some amazing carbonara with bacon and mushrooms (I felt like I was at Angelo Pietro's on Oahu) from the store across the street from our apartment that cost $2 vs the $12-14 at Pietro's. Gotta love food prices in Asia compared to here. As much as things cost a lot there, food costs and transportation are still blissfully affordable compared to our little island in the Pacific.Honestly, it's one of the perks of travel for us- going nuts in grocery stores. (We are crazy, wild fun people like that). :-)