Monthly Archives: December 2013


It rained for several days so we’ve been cooped up in our hotel.  The sun finally came out so I was able to take much better shots of the view from our hotel room.    

view from room 3 view of room 2

We are staying in an area called Sha Tin.  The body of water you see is Sha Tin Hoi, a cove at the mouth of the Shing Mun River which opens to Tolo Harbor.  The buildings you see across the cove are mostly all apartment buildings, housing for a portion of the 7 million people who live here. 

During the rainy days, we were able to make good use of the time indoors by getting a few days of homeschooling under our belts.  Yes, I’m still doing that…living out of a suitcase….in a foreign country…no homeschool co-op, no libraries and with about half of my supplies.  The rest of my stuff is literally on a “slow boat to China.”  I am insane, I know.

The upside is that it seems that Benjy is starting to gain a greater appreciation for this homeschool thing.  With not much else to do and with nothing on TV in English except CNN, he’s become the math checker because I get sick of teaching it AND checking it. And he gets to help Aaron with his reading, which can sometimes feel like Chinese water torture. (I’m just killing it with all the China references!!) ;0)

It’s been 2 weeks since we arrived in Hong Kong and one thing has become glaringly obvious to me.  Team Woods is quite the public spectacle.  The scene usually plays out like this.  The kids and I board the MTR with Benjy following a few steps behind us.  Benjy is typically the only white guy on the whole train and is the tallest by probably 6 inches.  So, he immediately draws stares.  Focus remains on him until people take notice that Benjy acts just a little too familiar or too cozy with the kids, or the kids say something to him.  And then, it’s like, oh…. they (they, being the kids) are with HIM, the white guy.  Then, they look intently at the kids and you can see a sort of confused expression of “the kids look like they could be Chinese, but they are talking to this white guy.”  Suddenly…they notice me.  The pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place.  “Oh, I must be the mom.  But, hey, she’s Chinese.  Or she looks Chinese.  Is she Chinese?”

For the record, both my parents are Filipino, but I think my dad’s grandmother was Chinese or part Chinese or something like that.  I’ve been told frequently throughout my life that I look Chinese.  This observation has come from other people who are Chinese themselves, not just from folks (bless their hearts) who use the term “Chinese” as a synonym for “Asian.” The looks rotate slowly from Benjy…to the kids…then to me a few times.  Chatter, chatter.  More looks from Benjy, to the kids, then to me.  I might say something to Benjy.  And then comes the “ah-ha moment” when the last piece of the puzzle falls into place.  “Oh, OK, I get it.  They’re American!”

First Impressions

I posed the following questions for each of us to consider: (1) What has surprised you the most about Hong Kong? (2) What have you liked the most about Hong Kong so far? (3) What do you dislike the most about Hong Kong so far? and (4) What are you looking forward to?

Here are the responses:

Benjy was most surprised at how confusing and frustrating the process of apartment hunting has been (more on that later).  The thing he dislikes about Hong Kong is how important status seems to be here.  Everyone is very interested in knowing what area of the city you live in; where your kids go to school; and what your job is.  It’s not that those things were non-existent back in Jax, but I guess it just didn’t seem as blatant as it is here.  What he enjoys the most so far is that, despite it being a hustle and bustle city, life feels slower.  We had lunch with some new friends a couple of days ago and we lingered for quite a while at our table.  No one was in a big rush to get anywhere and the restaurant staff wasn’t eager to turn over our table.  We just enjoyed each other’s company.  I found myself thinking a couple of times, “we need to let someone else have this table,” but no one else seemed to be concerned over our continued presence, so I just went with it.

Webley said that Hong Kong is like New York City, but she was surprised how much green space there is.  She enjoys that Hong Kong has plenty to see and do.  She dislikes all of the shoving and pushing on the MTR.  She is looking forward to seeing Sarah Grace (a family member in China) and visiting Hong Kong Disney.

Aaron said he was surprised at the amount of people who live here.  There are more people than he expected.  So far he has enjoyed the boat ride on the Star Ferry.  He dislikes the amount of walking.  He is looking forward to taking the trolley up to “the peak.”

As for me, the most surprising thing happened to me the first morning we were in Hong Kong.  I turned on my ipad and as per my usual morning ritual, I went to the Proverbs 31 website to read the daily devotional.  I tried several times, but could not get to the site.  I knew I was typing the web address correctly, but I could tell it was somehow being changed when I pressed enter.  Later, I mentioned it to Benjy and he said that he had heard that certain topics are censored (like Christianity) and that access to that website was probably blocked here.  What?  Things that make you go, hmmmm.  Since then, I’ve managed to get around the blockage by going through Facebook.  Heh, heh heh. 

The thing I like the most so far about Hong Kong is the public transportation system.  It’s so easy to get around, even for a “directionally challenged” person like myself.  I love not having a car or being stuck in traffic (or in Jax, being stuck behind a train).  I dislike all the crowds, but I know that that will be something I will have to get used to living in a mega city like this.  I also intensely dislike not knowing the language.  It’s very disconcerting looking like I do (i.e., Asian) and then not being able to communicate at all with someone in a language everyone around me assumes I speak.  I find it a little embarrassing.  I’m looking forward to finding a church home, making new friends, moving into our apartment, settling in and, yes, taking language lessons.

Here are a few more pictures.

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All the Auburn fans in the family woke up at 4:30 a.m. Hong Kong time to watch the SEC Championship game.  I suppose it was worth the early kick-off as the Tigers were victorious over Mizzou.  I’m no AU fan, but in my opinion Mizzou needs to get kicked around a few more years before they are worthy of holding the SEC title.  I would also like to thank Michigan State for defeating the over-rated Buckeyes and its traitor of a coach, Urban Meyer.  We’ll all be united as a family in rooting for AU over FSU in the national championship game.

Here are a couple of pictures I snapped in Sai Kung, the area where we will be living. 

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Fearless Webley introduced herself to a few of the local women who were busy doing origami.  The language barrier didn’t seem to bother her.  And here’s a picture of some older ladies doing a fan dance.

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And so our journey begins….

And so our adventure begins….Our house is packed up.

Kitchen Packing

It’s amazing how much stuff one accumulates over the years.  When I saw all the boxes, I was tempted to tell the movers to just take all that junk away and throw it out. 

furniture pack

The thought of having to go through all those boxes once we return makes me want to cry. 

And we’re off to the airport.

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As an aside, I’ve been reading this book. 

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I started reading it last summer when I was on a mission trip to Guatemala.  I got half way through it and then life got in the way.  I picked it up about two weeks ago and it has been so apropos for my experiences lately.  Packing up, moving all our stuff into storage and moving into my mom’s tiny, one-bedroom condo hasn’t exactly been the most pleasurable experience. There have been plenty of opportunities to focus on the negative.  But, this book has really held me accountable to stop complaining and choose gratefulness in all circumstances.  Benjy says I’ve turned back into “1992 Tala.”  I’m afraid to ask what exactly he means by that, but I imagine it has something to do with all those late night feedings, billable hours, demanding clients, over-bearing bosses, the kids’ crazy activity schedules, homeschooling, volunteer commitments, terrible Jacksonville drivers, unending road construction and life’s other irritations that has contributed to a spirit of grumpiness accumulating in my soul over the past 21 years or so.  This book has given me a serious attitude adjustment (I assume back to the more positive attitude that I apparently had sometime in 1992) and I highly recommend it if you’ve gotten to a place where you feel like life is just something to be endured.

Anyway, back to our adventure which is what I suspect you’re more interested in reading about. 

Many have asked me if I’m nervous about moving to such a foreign place. When Benjy and I first starting talking about moving overseas, I had a panic attack just talking to him about the possibility of moving to Hong Kong.  What if we got lost?  How would we ever find our way back home if we couldn’t even read the street signs with all the Chinese characters?  I know now that, being a former British colony, most all of Hong Kong’s street signs are in both Chinese and English.  But at the time, I didn’t.  As I was reading my Bible one morning, the Lord gave me this verse: “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9.  And this has been my life verse over the last few months as I’ve been peppered with it from random places every few weeks at just the right moments when my anxiety began bubbling to the surface.  Strangely, I’m not at all troubled about our move anymore.  All the questions of where will we live? How will we adjust? What will we do?  Those questions are all still before us, but I’m not worried because He’s given me His peace.   

We left Jacksonville on a Monday, December 1, 2013.  The first leg of our trip ended in Chicago, where we had an overnight layover.  We took a train into the city to have “our last American meal” at Gibson’s Steakhouse.  It was a great meal, but we were all astounded by the size of the banana cream cake we had for dessert. 

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The picture doesn’t do it justice, but that’s just one slice of cake.  We all had huge portions with enough left over to feed at least 3 people. 

The next day we were off on the second leg of our journey.

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The kids enjoyed the business class accommodations (thanks Fedex!).

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 We finally arrived in Hong Kong on a Wednesday night, December 2, 2013.  Benjy had arranged ahead of time for us to stay at the Hyatt Regency in Sha Tin.  After much negotiation and wrangling, we were able to get a very nice 2 bedroom suite.  This is the view from our room. 

hotel view hotel view mtr

You can see the MTR station (the subway) at the bottom left of this picture, which makes it very convenient for us to get around the city.

Being heavily jet-lagged, we all woke up the next morning at 4:00 a.m. and had to wait until 6:30 a.m. before we could finally get breakfast.  We spent our first day in Hong Kong doing some sightseeing in Stanley. 

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Then we took the Star Ferry and headed back to our hotel.  By about 6:30 p.m., all of us fell into bed exhausted.