And now for something completely different ...

Conversations and events lately have converged around the role of technology in our lives, particularly (but not exclusively) the internet. Matt, actually, participated in a panel discussion at his school on this very topic, and you'll get to read his thoughts tomorrow. But first, the practical application of all this ruminating: an approach has emerged for us concerning how we will both monitor ourselves and guide our kids.
And here it is: rather than be too concerned about the role technology is or isn't or should or shouldn't play in our lives, we're choosing to focus on everything else that is good and alive and life-giving--food, family, friendships, the outdoors, solitude, books, music, making things. And to the extent that technology helps or improves our efforts in these areas--fine. Because it's not that technology is bad--it's just that everything else is so good.
This may sound simple--too simple to be writing about--and certainly as our kids grow there will need to be specific guidelines and limits on technology use. But for a guiding principle I find it freeing. As someone who is neither a technie nor a Luddite, it's easy for me to bemoan the increasing role that technology plays in our lives and the unimaginable role it will play for our kids, while at the same time using technology to make that complaint, and using the internet countless times a day to listen to music, check the weather, check headlines, find an address or talk to our family halfway around the world. And as much as I'd like to completely shield our kids and prevent all access, it would be not only hypocritical (and likely impossible) but also unwise. They are, like it or not, members of their generation. They were born in the 21st Century, and we can't just pretend that's not true.
So instead of getting too hung up on this fact of technology's omnipresence, we intend to set some reasonable boundaries that will change as they grow, and then forget about it. By not obsessing over technology--its good or bad side--we can pour our energies into making sure that our kids know the sanctity of solitude, the beauty of a clear night under the stars, the joy of a shared meal, the comfort of long friendships, the mystery of candlelight, the escape of a good book, the satisfaction of making something by hand, the camaraderie of being part of a team, the peace of God. And if they know these things--if they can go for a hike and leave the phone at home, if they can read a book and keep the computer turned off, if they can make something instead of buying it, then I won't worry when they text a friend mere minutes after saying goodbye, or spend hours on facebook or videogames. Because again, most of the problem with technology isn't the technology itself--it's what it replaces and prevents. It's the absence of time for personal reflection, the absence of uninterrupted time together.
And how do we intend to make sure our kids know these things? Live them ourselves. Sherry Turkle quotes surveys on a recent episode of Being where it's the kids who want parents to turn off iphones and blackberries at the table, not the other way around. When Finn tries to shut my laptop, that's a good sign that it's time to turn my attention elsewhere.


a good morning

Here is the goodness that can ensue when the boy is at preschool, the girl is asleep, the sun is shining, and the mama has a little energy. Bread is rising, pear sauce for said growing girl is cooking, chocolate (!) granola is made for nibbling, and tea is steeped for sipping. I am grateful for my life.

Seriously, it's wonderful what a difference two little things have made in our lives. One, Finn has started preschool, which means all kinds of things. Two mornings a week Willa and I can just breathe, relax, and focus on her needs, and then I am so relaxed and rested when I pick Finn up that the rest of the day is a joy for all of us. Plus, the little bit of independence, in a safe, nurturing environment, seems to be just what Finn needed for his growing self, and he's not fighting me nearly so much.  

Two, we've finally figured out that Willa has a sensitivity to dairy items, and likely to soy as well. Since I stopped eating dairy, in all its forms, she has almost entirely stopped spitting up, and more importantly, there's no more of that shrieky, pained crying that we heard so much of, especially at bedtime and naptime. And so even though she still has some bad sleep habits--like an inability to return to sleep on her own--she is much easier to soothe, and we are much more patient and confident in our parenting of her. It's amazing how cyclical these things are--with even a modicum of success, we feel good about what we are doing, which only leads to more success, which leads ultimately to happier children and happier parents. 

And the chocolate granola? That, my friends, is what happens when a dairy-loving mama is suddenly denied all dairy goodness and thus my habitual indulgences. Granola is something we make an awful lot of around here (a GREAT toddler/preschooler project, since he's free to nibble all he likes during the making) and this morning the salty-sweet, nutty oats were just begging to be coated in dark chocolate. Who was I to get in the way of that?  


HK Alphabet :: Q, R

Q :: Quarry Bay

Quarry Bay is where we have lived the last 9 months of our Hong Kong sojourn, but we've been coming here--particularly to the park--since the beginning. And in these last 9 months, we've come to love it for more than its park (though the parks are great too, particularly the long boardwalk along the harbor, the wide walking paths, the many trees, abundant playing fields and even an outdoor elevator!) What else do we love? We love the profusion of flower shops outside our apartment, even if they are due to the proximity of the funeral home. We love the light-and-music-enhanced bicycles ridden by the young teenage boys of this neighborhood, particularly, it seems, those of South Asian descent. We love (love!) Mr. Taco Truck (and find it ironic that we might get more authentic Mexican food here in HK than we will in Hudson, OH.) We love the car mechanics who work outside our building, but spend most of their time playing cards. We love the kind electrician who works from an office in our building and is always willing to come fix something for us, and manages to communicate even without words. We love "Mr. Magic Hands" van-driver-cum-healer, who moves and delivers items all over the neighborhood, and has a special knack for healing while he's at it. We love the wider-and-emptier-than-usual sidewalks, and the "town green" (gray?) area outside the grocery store. We love the mix of old and new buildings, short and tall.
It's not an area, obviously, that we're choosing to live in long-term. But it, like Hong Kong, has become home. And I have learned from living here in Quarry Bay and more specifically, our current apartment, that many of the things I think are necessary for happiness just aren't. I know I can turn any semi-decent space into a home, and I know I can come to love and appreciate almost any neighborhood. And that is a gift for which I am truly thankful.

R :: Riceware

RIceware, or rice grain porcelain, as it is sometimes called, is not unique to Hong Kong. But it is certainly common here, used in many small diners and restaurants, and easily available for the home. (Cheap too!) And, more importantly to this post, it's what we've eaten on the last three years. We chose not to bring our own dishes to Hong Kong, shipping as little as possible, and knowing we would buy things here.
RIceware, I was surprised to find out, does not actually have pieces of rice in it. Who knew? It's merely the name for the decorative technique of poking holes in the porcelain, then allowing the holes to fill with glaze, making a translucent, rice grain-shaped effect. The origin stories differ, with both China and Turkey claiming credit. But regardless, I have loved these dishes--loved the diminutive sizes, the colors, and mostly the way the light shines through the "rice grains." It is frequently cloudy here--but oh, when the sun shines, it's so nice to be reminded of it everywhere I look, even in my dishes. 


HK Alphabet :: P

P :: Pineapple buns

In the dark early morning, Matt arrives just as the buns are pulled from the oven, and he gets a fresh one for the bus up the hill to school. There is nothing particularly remarkable about pineapple buns--squishy white bread with a sweet, crunchy topping--nor do they taste like pineapple. (We kept buying them from different bakeries when we first moved here, determined to find one that actually tasted like the name. Then we realized the name is all about the visual--but of course! They look exactly like pineapples, don't you think?) They are often served in little cafes with an insanely thick slice of butter inside--I was sure the many pictures we saw on menus actually showed cheese until we bought one. Sure enough, it's a butter sandwich they serve.

So why do I write about this bun I've never attempted to recreate at home? (Though if I was to try, I would go in the direction of the Mexican "pan dulce" rolls.) Pineapple buns are one of those things--like milk tea, like "pork chop crispy bun", like egg tarts--that are so iconically Hong Kong we just might end up sighing over them, wanting them more when we're a million miles away than when they fuel every morning. Which is exactly why they are fueling so many mornings right now, and why I've drunk more milk tea (or more colorfully, "pantyhose tea") in recent months than in our first two years.

It's not a glorious food experience, to be sure. But it is right now, and that's good enough for me. 

P :: HK Post

There is much to love about the HK Post. Surprisingly low prices, for one. You can mail any size envelope all over Hong Kong for $1.40 (about $.18 US). And a letter back to the US is only $3.00 (or $.38 US). But more than that, I love it that packages are still wrapped in paper and tied up with string. I love it that they still use stamps that have to be licked (though a Hong Konger would never lick a stamp), and that the postal clerk scribbles the various stamp amounts on a piece of scrap paper, then totals it on a calculator for me. I love it that he then flips though an old notebook with cardboard dividers to find all the various denominations of stamp needed, and that sometimes an envelope will end up half-covered with stamps. I love it for its surprising simplicity in a city that is surging ever forward, fast-paced and high tech. I love it in the same way that I love seeing a delivery man carrying fuel tanks on a bike, or a construction worker carting debris in woven wicker baskets, or a park maintenance person sweeping with a branch broom. And maybe I am romanticizing these bits of nolstalgia--but the anachronisms delight me, jolt me into awareness, and remind me that always, always, there is more than one way to get a job done. 


The jasmine lingers on...

As I unzip the suitcases, the scent of jasmine spills out, and I'm afraid for a moment that the essential oil we bought has leaked. But then I see that the container is still sealed, so it must just be the smell of Thailand in our clothes. Oh, but that we could keep that smell forever ...

We had a wonderful week in Chiang Mai, made even better by the fact that we were joined by my brother and his fiancee, and that Matt accepted a job (in Ohio!) the day before we left. It's been a long, tiring job search, and not only were we ready for a holiday, we were also aware that this was our last Asian vacation--our last trip before returning to the (relative) poverty of American teachers. (Oh wait, I forgot. Teachers are greedy and lazy, aren't they? What am I complaining about?)

I fell in love with several new dishes--stir-fried beef and basil, and larb gai, a minced chicken salad that is limey and spicy and so so good. And incidentally, we just got our weekly farm delivery and it's full of BASIL. So guess what we'll be making this weekend? Ah, just one more thing to miss about Hong Kong--fresh basil in the spring!

Visiting Doi Suthep temple, seeing the elephants (and getting sprayed by them!), plenty of shopping, plenty of time in the pool, several tuk-tuk rides and songtheow rides, and lots of other yummy food rounded out the week. Oh, and daily (sometimes twice daily) mango juices at our first hotel, and fresh lime sodas at the second. As Finn would say, it was "pretty good."

I'll be putting more pictures on flickr shortly. Stay tuned!