Monthly Archives: March 2016

New Digs

So, we moved from our tiny 900 square foot apartment to a house that is a total of 1400 square feet of living space plus a roof top.  We did this in December and I’m just now getting around to writing about it.  Sorry.

I know these pictures are so interesting (not), but here’s our living room.

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and kitchen

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It’s definitely not as modern as our old place, but I can live with the outdated kitchen and ceiling fixtures for more space.

Our new place is literally 300 feet from our old apartment, but it might as well be a world away.  Our old apartment was located in a gated complex with loads of expats like ourselves.  It was like an island unto itself and it was a good place to transition from living in the U.S. to living in Hong Kong.

Now that we are more seasoned expats, we decided to venture outside of the walls of our enclave to the little village next door where the rents are much lower and the living space larger.  Our landlord is a local Chinese lady, Mrs. Man, or in Canto, Tai Tai Man, and she and her husband live in the flat beneath us.  She speaks English OK, but not great.  Still, her English is much better than my Canto.  I don’t think her husband speaks English at all, at least he pretends not to.

Most of our neighbors are also local with very little English-speakers.  There’s this sweet old lady who says hello to me nearly everyday, but can’t speak a lick of English.  I try in my broken Canto, but as you can imagine, I don’t get very far.  She loves Aaron.

Another one of our neighbors has a parrot name Jai Jai.  Before we moved to this village, I’d see his owner riding around on his bicycle with a perch rigged onto the handle bars of his bike.  The perch lights up at night and it also plays music.  I’ll see them riding around town at night with music blaring, lights flashing and Jai Jai bobbing his head to the beat as he’s being wheeled around.  I know all of this sounds really strange, but it’s completely true.  No one else around here acts like there’s anything unusual about it, though.   To prove none of this is made up, here’s a picture of Jai Jai on his bike.

CP Jai Jai

He’s not sitting on his usual perch, but on this wind visor thingy that his owner constructed out of an empty water bottle.  Jai Jai sits inside this visor as he’s being biked around.  It apparently protects him from the chilly air while he is riding.  You can just make out the mini speaker rigged to the bike and there are all sorts of zip ties and bungee cords holding everything in place.  In this picture he is patiently waiting for his owner who is yam cha (having afternoon tea) at a dim sum restaurant.

When we moved in, we were happy to find out that Jai Jai lives just next door.  We hear him on the roof top singing very loudly “Happy birthday to you…” and then he’ll say in Canto that he wants to be fed.  He switches back and forth between English and Cantonese.  It’s quite impressive.  I dare say his Canto is better than mine.  Sometimes, however, he can go on and on until late at night.  Webley says that on some nights his chatter keeps her awake.

There’s also a lady not far from us whose favorite pastime is karaoke.  She sits all alone in front of an enormous TV and belts out Canto pop songs.  The windows are open and anyone who lives nearby (like us) can hear her, but she doesn’t seem to care at all about that.  I know I’m going to look back on all this one day and get a good chuckle.

So here are a few more shots of our new digs.

Webley’s room

2015-11-30 01.14.47Aaron’s room

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Benjy’s and my bedroom

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Homeschool area

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Webley’s rooftop craft room

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And the best part of all is this view.

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I think it’s worth the price of admission.



The Woods Academy is two-thirds finished  with its third academic year (not that I’m counting down the weeks or anything).  I can’t believe that I have almost completed 3 years of homeschooling and I have neither duct taped my kids to their chairs nor resorted to any controlled substances to maintain my sanity.  I’m kidding…sort of.  <Sigh> Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart, not for anyone, anywhere, but particularly in Hong Kong, where academics is worshipped like a god.  There’s a tremendous amount of pressure placed on going to the right schools, then having the right tutors, then participating in the right activities.  It’s a grind and the kids are dumped into it when they are just barely toddlers.

We began homeschooling in the U.S. before we moved to Hong Kong, not in anticipation of the move (we started before we knew we were moving), but for a lot of reasons which are a little too complex to describe in this post.  When we learned we were moving to Hong Kong, we decided to keep an open mind about putting the kids back into conventional school.  The schools in Hong Kong have an excellent reputation internationally.  Plus, we thought, the kids could benefit from the cultural experience of going to school in a foreign country.  Ultimately, we decided against dropping them into a local school and continued with homeschooling.

Homeschooling is quite uncommon in Hong Kong and when you tell people (even “western” expats) that our children are homeschooled, I immediately get a look like I have  grown 3 heads.  I remember one time I was talking to an Irish fellow who was a teacher at an international school.  He asked me where my kids went to school.  When I told him I homeschooled them, his eyes widened and he said to me in his thick Irish accent, “I admire you Americans.  You aren’t afraid to just take charge and do what you want to do.  In Ireland, people would be afraid to do such a thing, thinking it was against the rules or something.”  I looked at him oddly and said, “oh, I’m not trying to be a rebel or anything.  I just think it’s best for my children.”

I usually don’t get that kind of reaction, though.  Mostly it goes something like this:

“What do you mean you homeschool your kids?”  “Do you mean YOU teach them?”  “Do you have teaching experience?” “What do you teach them?”  Where do you get your curriculum?”  And then there’s the uber popular “But what about their social development???!!!!”  Oh so much concern for the social development of my children.  Those who ask such questions obviously do not socially interact with my children much.  Their social abilities are just fine, especially my daughter who is at ease (and almost prefers)  holding conversations with adults and to a lesser extent, my son, who charms just about everyone he meets in an instant.

 As counter-culture as homeschooling is in Hong Kong, I have slowly developed such a wonderful network of both local and expat families who are bravely, but discretely, bucking the system.  I’m especially intrigued by the local families who grew up in the Hong Kong education system (and who, I might add, were extremely successful in that system), but are now turning away from it.  It’s curious to me and also inspiring.  They recognize the failures of a “one size fits all” paradigm (notwithstanding their personal successes within it) and the needless oppression it can place on children.

We are part of a Christian homeschool group that is through our church, Island ECC.  I am so grateful for the gift of friendship of these lovely ladies!

CP junk

Each of us slogs it out daily teaching our children not only academics, but more importantly Christian discipleship.  It can be ugly and messy and I haven’t met a homeschool mom yet who pretends her days are filled with crafts, baking cookies and doing fun science experiments.  Although now I will show you the edible cell that we did on one of our Science Fridays.

CP cell

And our field trip to plant rice

CP rice

And OK, I guess we do a little crafting…sometimes

Clay group Clay panda

What’s great about our homeschool group is that we are all painfully aware of how difficult all of this is.  In my opinion, there is nothing more revealing of the condition of my own heart than homeschooling.  It can truly be an instrument of His sanctification.  So, we encourage one another, provide advice and support and most importantly, we pray for one another.  I love how we pray for one another and for our children, our husbands and families.

For the record, I am not one of those homeschool moms who loves, loves homeschooling my kids.  I enjoy the time I get to spend with them (usually) and I am proud of the work they produce (most of the time).  But I am quite sure I am one of the most boring homeschool moms  out there.  I stick closely to the scripted curricula because I’m too fearful of missing something and too creatively challenged and pooped to come up with anything original.

Despite all the tears (and there have been buckets of tears shed by both me and Benjy), gray hairs (which are multiplying by the day if they haven’t already been torn out) and feelings of inadequacy and failure, we press forward because we believe that He has called us to it.  Most of the homeschool moms I know feel this way.  We die to self each day because it’s what we are called to do.  “For [the Lord’s] power is made perfect in weakness….For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I am reminded of this quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

     “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”