Things Have Changed ...

Things have changed. This might be obvious, given that our family has packed up and moved from a four-bedroom house in rural New England to the 18th floor of a high-rise in uber-urban Hong Kong. (And yes, we have been pleased to discover that there is non-urban Hong Kong as well). But it's the seemingly little ways in which our lives and our choices have changed that most often leave me shaking my head in wonder and smiling in both disbelief and joy at how adaptable people are.   

  Malls, for starters. As much as both my husband and I liked malls when we were 13 years old, I don't think either one of us has spent any significant time in a mall for the past 10 years, and certainly not by choice. We lived the last 5 years in an area with no malls and we never missed them. But now—I'm in a mall every day. Partially because malls are an air-conditioned, stroller-friendly place to walk, which is important in a town as hot, humid and crowded as Hong Kong.  But also because malls are just different in HK. Not that the buildings or the shops are so different, but they function differently.  Simply getting around in downtown HK (certainly in Central and Admiralty) almost always involves walking through a mall at some point. More than just a shopping center, malls here are like indoor plazas or town squares. Offices, hotels, residences and retail areas all flow together, and buildings are connected with walkways, making it hard to know what exactly is public space and what is private. For instance, our route to church involves taking the subway to a certain stop, walking across a walkway and through a mall, onto an escalator that starts indoors and ends in the Hong Kong Park.  We then walk across the park to our church. I can assume the HK government pays for the upkeep of the park, but what about the walkway, the mall's corridors and the escalator? 

Speaking of escalators, we now are firm escalator-riders.  Whereas once we would scorn the moving stairs, preferring to use our own muscles and carry our own weight, we now don't hesitate to step on the escalator.  We don't even walk—we just stand there, and let ourselves be gently carried  along.  Likely because one of us is carrying the boy and the other is carrying all his paraphanalia, along with any shopping we've done, and likely because we walk anyplace we go, so that a moment's break is welcome rather than scorned.  

One of the reasons we walk so much, or take the subway, is that the other options are more than a little scary.  The city busses are fine, but the minibusses and taxis offer rides that are more thrilling than we're really up for with a baby in tow.  But nevertheless, I must admit the other thing that has changed is that we have, more than once, gotten in the back of a taxi with our precious child, no car seat, not even a seatbelt.  It's hard to even write this, knowing how unsafe such an action was, and knowing how much grief could have come from this.  But strangely enough, at the time, when we didn't have much other choice, we just did it and didn't even think about it too much.  What's particularly ironic is that just the week before we came to HK we took a 7-hour drive from one set of parents to the other, and the little one cried the whole time. He was in a new carseat, in a new car (just the beginning of a long list of new things to experience!) and he hated it. We longed to take him out and just hold him, knowing that sitting in our arms would comfort him and still his cries.  But did we do it? No! Because we are good parents who read every handout we got at the hospital about how important car seats are and how important it is to use one correctly every single time you are in a car, and how important it is that they are installed correctly.  We even went to the police station in town to have them check out our installation, making sure everything was ok.  And I will do all that again with the next child and the next car.  But now, we are in Hong Kong, and while I don't think people here take children's safety lightly, there certainly isn't the same level of caution. And so, faced with an open door into the back seat of a taxi or a very long walk home, I'll take the taxi. And I'll pray the whole way.     

Like malls, McDonald's is an institution that we have happily and easily avoided for years now.  I can't remember the last time we ate in a McDonald's. That is, until a few weeks ago.  I am slightly embarrassed to report that here in Hong Kong we have eaten McDonald's food 3 times in the last 3 weeks.  Why this change? Well, moving, even just across town, certainly gives one a need for fast food.  And moving across the globe gives one a desire for familiar food. But the times we chose McDonald's I think what we really needed was easy food. There are several little joints on our street where we could get quick, cheap and tasty meals. The problem is that getting them involves some rather complicated communication with non-English speakers, attempts to understand what is available, how to order, where to pay, whether to tip or not, and after all that, we might not have ordered what we thought we ordered and we might not like what we end up with. Most of the time, this risk is worth it—it is, after all, what we signed up for in moving to a new country.  And with time, the interactions have become easier and we have found some reliable options that we know will be good. But, sometimes, after a long and crowded subway ride or a long shopping expedition where we may or may not have found what we needed, an easy encounter with predictable results is exactly what we want. And yes, we'll take fries with that.


DeAne said...

Ah, the anguish of being responsible for a child! Everything suddenly seems much more dangerous. And yet, I recalled recently that my little brother survived many hours of car rides in that funny little seat that hung over the back of the regular seat: no seat belt for him. And, if you want to see scary, watch a whole Egyptian family on a motorcycle in Cairo traffic and notice that the mom is riding sidesaddle with the infant balanced on her lap! Yikes, I could hardly look.

John Mc said...

Hey Matt and Monte,

What an amazing set of pictures and experiences you have already accumulated! Hong Kong looks like quite an amazing place, and I am sure it is exceeding your expectations for exoticness. Finn looks like he is adapting quite well, and I am sure he will come to love squid. My brother did and he was only in Hong Kong for a month! :)

Anyway, thanks for the picture and the posts--keep 'em coming.

Miss you both,
John (and Sarah)

Erik said...

Hi Matt & Monte!

Great blog--nice pictures and I appreciate your perspective. I've been to HK airport a few times but don't know the country at all. From the way you describe it, there are some parallels to my experience growing up in the Philippines. Malls were ubiquitous safe-havens from traffic fumes and humidity.

Cat and I made it to Georgia, where I'm five weeks into a phd program in math ed and loving every minute. The cultural changes aren't nearly so extreme as those you describe, but there are some. Last sunday, Smooking Loon ( a favorite wine) was on sale at ridiculously low prices in a local supermarket but when we went to check out with our shopping cart full of bottled treasure we were firmly reminded that it is illegal to buy or sell alcohol on the Lord's day! Despite appearances to the contrary, this shopping was not sacramental nor even righteous.

Peace and blessings to 'y'all'