Friday, April 28, 2006

Home and stuff

Well, I've been home for several days now, and slowly starting to recover from the trip and travelling.

The plane landed in Sydney at 6am on Saturday morning, and I took my time going through duty-free and customs so that Dan could organise the boys and come inside to pick me up. Oh, it was so lovely to see them all again! I had tears in my eyes! Dante came and gave me a huge hug and said in a wobbly voice "I missed you, Mama!". Atticus had the most astonished look on his face when he saw me, as if to say "What are you doing here?". Then the biggest grin appeared and he reached out for me and gave me a delightful hug and snuggle. Sigh. I missed them so much. Dan was very happy to see me, too, although he was too exhausted to show as much enthusiasm as the boys.

We came home and I had a nap, then waking up and realising that we had one hour to get ready for Jaime and Shannon's wedding! Argh! I frantically showered and prepared myself while Dan dressed the boys. The wedding was beautiful and the reception was really nice, informal and relaxed. It was a wonderful wedding. The only downside was that in the rush to get out the door, I forgot my camera! I couldn't believe it! I'd carried it EVERYWHERE with me for the previous eleven days and forgot it on such an important occasion.

Anyway, we had to leave the reception fairly early - around 8pm - and I completely crashed out while we were driving home (i.e. I fell asleep - no car accidents were had). Struggled to put the kids to bed, changed into my PJs and went to bed.

Since then we've had some more relaxing days. My parents and brothers came home the next morning and the kids were so happy to see them, too! I was meant to return to work on Wednesday but was still feeling really under-the-weather so I stayed at home and napped (and did loads and loads of washing). Back at work yesterday, though... and it hasn't been too bad. I think it's been easier because it is still school holidays so there's not such a mad rush in the morning to get out of the house and to school on time. Dante goes back to school on Tuesday so that will be a challenge for me... still used to sleeping in from my trip (plus the difference in time zones has made things difficult).

Well, will write again soon... I've got pages and pages of notes from the trip which I need to write up and post! I've also uploaded some more pictures of the trip to my Flickr account if you care to peruse them!

Friday, April 21, 2006

At Hong Kong airport

I'm currently at Hong Kong airport, with an hour to kill before I can board my plane home. Yay! I'm so looking forward to see my boys and Dan, even though I'm dreading the flight (especially after the flight from Sydney to here - blargh).

The Hong Kong part of the trip has been a whirlwind. I've only spent 36 hours here. Did as much shopping as I could, but wasn't able to buy much. I wish I could have done more shopping in China - a little cheaper than here in HK. Last night we spent several hours looking around the various markets in Mon Kok (on the Kowloon side of HK) - Ladies Market, Goldfish Market, Electronics Market (which was more like a series of shops). Today we went for a ferry ride across the harbour to HK Island and had a look around, and then that was basically it for me. A mad rush back to the hotel, a quick shower and then onto the airport shuttle bus. My father was a bit sad to see me go - I think he was more worried about me travelling by myself than anything else. Even though I'm 30! I guess in his eyes I'm still a little girl. And anyway, I'll see him in a day and a half when I pick them up from the airport in Sydney!!

Well, I'd better go. There's a grumpy looking man waiting to use this free internet terminal... See ya when I'm back at home!! (And I'll post some more pictures then, too).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Last day in China

We are currently in Haikou, the capital of Hainan, and leaving tomorrow morning to go back to Hong Kong. It's been a great trip, although thoroughly exhausting. I can't remember if I've said that already... interestingly, I can't access my own blog here in China - seems to be censored, I guess. I can still post entries, though. (Obviously).

Yesterday we went and saw a couple of properties here in Haikou that belonged to the family. One is a fabric shop, with apartments above it. A little derelict and dirty, but not unlike a lot of the places we've seen. The government had taken over control of the property for a number of years and the family was able to claim it back in 2001, so the Uncle who showed it to us (a different Uncle to the one that has been taking us around) was very proud to show it to us. The other building is a massive big old hotel... I'm not sure if it still operates as one. It was apparently the first Western-style hotel in Hainan. A beautiful old building - the little ornate details were amazing. But, like the first building, very dirty and derelict. People were still actually living in it, though! I couldn't believe it. We couldn't go up to the third story because it was dangerous... and my dad said that the building is condemned (or should be)... and the best thing to do would be to knock it down and put up a new multi-story thing. I was devastated to hear that, but can understand it, too. It would cost many many more Yuan to renovate the thing than to put up a new building. The location was excellent, too. Very close to the city central and the river. The ownership is a bit contentious. After visiting the building we went to a government office where my dad chatted to a bureaucrat for an hour (while we waited in the car). He came out happy, so hopefully something good will come out of it and the family can reclaim ownership.

Last night we had dinner with a bunch of relatives, on my father's mother's side. It was so cool to see my grandmother's youngest sister and brother. Her sister was a spitting image of her - quite uncanny. And a couple of Aunties looked so much like my own Auntie! A couple of the younger cousins could speak English so we had a much more enjoyable evening chatting to her. She said she was very "confused" that we were unable to speak Chinese! Makes me feel bad for never learning. Perhaps now I'll have more of an incentive to learn. Although, I've been trying to learn some Hainanese while I'm here. It's quite difficult, especially getting the tones right. The funny thing is that I keep accidentally speaking in Hokkien instead!! :) (another dialect spoken in Malaysia, I think).

Anyway, tonight my brothers and I are keen to do some serious shopping - we all exchanged some money at the beginning of the trip and haven't had a chance to spend much of it - our father keeps paying for everything! (Shouldn't complain, should I?!) It will be a challenge going out without an interpreter. My dad will be staying at the hotel since the hundreds of relatives from last night will be coming to say a final farewell. I don't know if we'll be around to see them or not.

Well, I'll post some more pictures and write a bit more about my experience when I get home and have more time. It's been a really great trip, although frustrating at times. I really hope that I can bring my kids here one day and show them the place... and I will definitely learn some more Chinese before then!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Our ancestor's house

On the first day in Hainan we visited the ancestral home in a village near the city of Qiong Hai (close to Baishi Ling - a mountain nearby). It was quite an experience! We were all already very tired after a long journey by plane and van, and it was overwhelming to come there.

As we drove up the dirt road we noticed that there was a car following us. Then we came upon a red banner strung up across the road, and recognised my father's name on it! Apparently it said something like "Welcome back". We got to the house and there were red banners around the door, and people waiting out the front. The car that followed was a journalist (also distant relative - like most people we met... several family tree branches apart)!

Papa was so very excited by it all. He immediately jumped out of the van and started telling us about the place, after greeting those people that he knew. We'd brought along a little voice recorder and tried to get him to talk into it, but he kept wildly waving his arms around so I'm not sure how good a recording it will be. My brothers and I quickly went around taking pictures of as many things as we could, whilst trying to chase down my father and asking him to "Slow down!".

The house was incredible. It was more of a complex than a house. It had an outside wall (which had holes in it, apparently for shooting out of), and multiple courtyards and buildings. The first part was for receiving visitors and such, then there was the second building which had a small altar to pay homage to the ancestors, and then the third inner building which is where the family lived. Papa showed us the room where he lived, and the original building where the first guy, Cheow Keng, lived.

The place was in pretty good nick - the cousin who was/is taking us around obviously went to some trouble to clean it up for our visit. The brickwork was nifty (I took a couple of photos for desktop backgrounds!) and the wooden carving details were incredible. There were a few pieces of original furniture there - a couple of beds, tables, wardrobes. They would look beautiful if they were to be restored. There were also some painted tiles here and there (near to the ceiling) which were still mostly visible. Every doorway had a little bit of wood about a foot high at the bottom, which one has to step over. I think this is meant to stop demons from coming inside (because they obviously can't step over things!).

And every step we took, every photo, every word was accompanied by the local villagers crowded around. They were all following us and watching the show. My dad was quite the celebrity! I guess village life is pretty boring, and we were the week's entertainment!

At one point the most massive butterfly flew by and almost into my head (I ducked). It was absolutely HUGE. I wasn't sure if it was a small bird or bat! Afterwards we were told that noone had ever seen one like that before, and it was actually my grandmother coming down to check on us. They say that I look a lot like her when she was young and that's why it came so close to my head.

After that, suddenly there was a huge BANG! Followed by more noise, and smoke. They had this huge roll of red firecrackers and lit it inside the middle courtyard. Wow - the noise was deafening. We tried to get a photo of it going off, but small rocks were being flung about and it was probably bad for our ears to be quite so close. I got a good picture of the immediate aftermath. Red paper was strewn about the ground and smoke filled the air.

After some photos out the front with the journalist, we walked a little way around the corner to the river (apparently a famous Bamboo Rafting river) and had a quick look. The houses were all still being lived in by the villagers, but none of them as big as our complex. I tried to take a picture of some of the cute little kids that were there but they ran and hid behind their mothers. Oh well!

Anyway, it was a worthwhile experience coming to see the place. We wished we could spend more time there but it was a little like a circus and we were being rushed around. One day I hope that I can come back and bring my kids (when they're a little older, of course) to show them their heritage and Chinese roots. Got to learn to speak the language first, though!!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

It's only been 3 days

We've spent three whole days in China now, but it feels as though we've been here for a week! We are having a very interesting time, seeing a lot and spending a lot of time in the minibus, but the downside to it all is that we are completely exhausted.

We are currently in Sanya, a city on the southern coast of Hainan. Upon arriving in the country we initially spent two nights in Qiong Hai, on the east coast, near to our ancestor's village and house. We visited the village (I'll write more about it when I have more time) and house - absolutely incredible. My father was so excited and rushed around everywhere, followed by crowds of local villagers.

We will be spending one more night here in Sanya, then go back to Qiong Hai, and then will be spending two nights in Haikou, the capital of Hainan, before heading off to Hong Kong and then home. It doesn't sound like very much time, but it feels like ages!

Oh, and I seem to be developing a little pot belly from all the food that we've been eating! Ack! The seafood is so fresh and delicious, and the veges are, too. There's not much meat here and when we do get it, it's pork. Yesterday we ate goose for lunch - it's quite similar to duck. The chicken is okay - probably not as good as the Singaporean or Aussie Hainese Chicken Rice! It's usually a bit tough, here. My brother says that it's because they make sure it's really cooked in case of avian flu.

Anyway, today we're off to do more sightseeing. We're not really told what's happening until we get in the van - communication is difficult. Next time I come here I'll make sure that I learn Mandarin first!!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Free internet and booze!

Aha... hahahaha... ha... This is me after having a free drink and free food (but not hot food, unfortunately) and using the free internet (with free printing) in the Qantas Club lounge! My wonderful brother Mark managed to get us all into here while we wait to board the plane (in twenty minutes' time). We feel a little out of place, but who cares? We are making the most of the facilities :) Well, I am, at least. Thank goodness I'm so much better than I was last night.

Today was quite a trial, trying to get packed and do all the housework before I left. Poor Atticus had to come home early from childcare, and then Dan came down with the dreaded ills that are going around (which my mother succumbed to this morning, incidentally). Dante was feeling a bit out of sorts by my leaving (and after an hour of soccer training, where he sat around and/or ran away from the ball as much as possible), but he drew me the cutest picture and cut a heart shape around it. We tried calling around to see if anyone could give Dan a hand with the kids, but everyone was busy... on a Wednesday night!! Oh well, he managed in the end - I got an SMS that all was well (Atti was howling when I left) so I'm a lot happier now.

Oh yikes! There's the boarding call! Got to go.

Leaving on a jet plane

Well, see you later, folks! I'm off to China for 10 days! (Actually, I leave at 5 to 10 tonight but I've got so much to do today that I'm pretty sure I won't have time to blog.)

Last night was interesting... I started feeling off in the afternoon just before I had to go and pick up Dante from school. Driving home was a struggle, trying not to feel sick. Got home - Atticus was happy to see me, but must have sensed that I wasn't well as he wasn't too clingy, and actually quite happy. Dante was incredibly well behaved and helpful, too. Maybe because I was too sick to get mad at him. Anyway, after depositing my lunch in the toilet (yuk!) I felt a little better and went to bed almost as soon as Dan came home.

Ack! I'm about to go overseas to a place where we're not sure of the hygiene, especially in the rural areas. And I get sick! Hopefully it's just a 24 hour thing - Dan said I've probably picked up what Atticus had on the weekend, combined with the stress of getting ready to leave. I hope he's right. This is the last thing I need right now! (Plus, it's almost 3am and I'm wide awake because I went to bed so early... but at least I don't feel too ill at the moment).

Anyway, I'm sure that was way too much information for you. I'll stop whinging now, and hope you all have a nice, safe Easter (and don't eat too much chocolate - apparently Australia is the highest consumer of chocolate over Easter, per capita... something like 20 eggs per person. Gee whiz!). I don't know if I'll be able to post blog entries from overseas - not sure if I'll even be able to access since the Chinese censor everything (don't they?). So we'll see how things go! Bye!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Green Eggs and Red Shirts

Dante is going to the Easter Show today with his school. How great is that? Not only do we save a tonne of money by not having to pay for two adult tickets, we don't even have to go! We don't have to deal with the "Can we buy that?" and the "I want this" and the "Can we go on the ride?" and the "I'm hungry, I want " and the "I'm thirsty. Can I have some buzzy drink?". Yay!

It was so cool seeing the kids all lined up at the train station this morning (that's where we had to drop them off, rather than at school). I wish I'd brought my camera, but unfortunately I forgot. So you'll just have to imagine about 100 kids in red hats and shirts sitting along the fence with teachers and parents milling about. It was fantastically well organised and those teachers are pretty brave!

In other news, Dante had his first sleepover (not at a relative's place) on Saturday night. His friend Lauren had her 5th birthday party! They've known each other since they were about 1 or 2, when they moved near us (before we moved to our current house). We spoke to her mother this morning when we dropped the kids off - she said it was a really nice party and the kids had a great time, although they were all a bit exhausted afterwards.

It amazes me how much the kids are growing up. Yesterday afternoon, after having a bit of a nap, Dante sat down and read the entire book of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. He needed help with a few words, but managed to sound out the rest. I am completely astonished that he's come so far in just 10 weeks of school. And oh so proud!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A better result

The second match of the football season was this morning. Thankfully at our home ground around the corner! The kids did much better this time around. Apparently the final score was 5-nil! Hooray!

Unfortunately I didn't get to watch the second half of the match. Atticus was really tired and a little unwell, and proved the point by vomiting all over me. Eeyuk. Grose. He's been really tired all day and is currently having his second nap for the day... poor kid. He's not been able to keep much food down either. I hope he gets better before I leave on Wednesday night!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

One week... then China!

Well, as usual, the time has flown by, and it is now one week until I go to China. It's very exciting, although I am a bit worried and anxious as well. Atticus has not been so easy to put to sleep the last few nights and I hope he'll be good for his dad! I'm not too worried about Dante - he is growing up so much, especially since starting school. This evening Dan came home late from work and Dante was so good looking after himself in the bath while I put Atticus to bed (which took longer than it should). Prior to the dinner-bath-bed routine, he happily sat down at his desk (formerly his "craft table") and did his homework. What a good kid. He makes me so happy, except for when he is infuriating me, which is too often these days. I'll miss them all so much when I'm overseas.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Starting to read

The first term of school is almost over and I'm completely amazed at the speed at which Dante has picked up reading. I remember being in Year One and being one of the few kids that could read well. Now, it's first term of Kindergarten and the kids are starting to read simple sentences and books.

This afternoon I picked up a couple of books that I'd ordered through childcare. One was a simple board book about Rob the Robot on the Red Planet. I'd bought it for Atticus (it was only $3) and a more interesting book (at three times the price) for Dante. Well, Dante immediately grabbed the little book and started reading it out loud. He had trouble with a chunk of the words (but who wouldn't if they were just learning English - so inconsistent!), but managed to read most of them by sounding them out. I'm so proud of him! I never expected him to have come this far so early in the game.

When he was finished with the book he happily passed it on to Atticus for the duration of the trip home. Atticus just chewed up one corner.

Oh well, luckily there are a few more years for Atti to learn about reading and writing! (and proper care of books)

Monday, April 03, 2006

My father, the Movie Star

I took the day off sick today (trying to stave off some horrible flu thing that has been niggling at me all weekend), and ended up going to Bing Lee with my folks to print out some photos (on special for 19c each). We spent an hour and a half in the store, sitting at the machines viewing and cropping those darn pictures. When I say "we", I mean my mother and I. My dad spent almost the entire time chatting up the girls behind the counter and talking about his role in the film Fat Pizza as well as other film and tv work that he's done - some of which is pretty neat: Big Hollywood films such as The Matrix (2 and 3), Star Wars 2, Mission Impossible 2 (cutting room floor), Moulin Rouge (a few seconds head shot on the screen!), as well as advertisements (such great money!), small short films, TV soapies, and one music video.

Anyway, I was looking up Fat Pizza in IMDB and discovered that my father has an entry! There's not much there at all, but I'm thinking about submitting a photo and other details of what he's done. *grin*

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lightsabres rock!

Our dear friend Petto is moving overseas and had a farewell barbie at his folks' place yesterday afternoon. Barrels of beer and mountains of meat were promised, so we had to go!

While we were packing the numerous bits and pieces that the kids need into the car, I decided to let Dante pack the six remaining lightsabres from his birthday party. I have to say, it was the most inspired thing I have done all week. As soon as we got there, he was out of the car and grabbing his two favourites (blue and green) and allowing Atticus the use of the red one (because he has to be the baddie). Our friends are, how do I say, quite enthusiastic about Star Wars and other such things. They immediately got into the swing (literally!) of the game and much fun was had by all. Dante was in his element.

I have to say, those lightsabres were the most brilliant idea, especially considering how cheap and easy they were. They are sturdy (stand up to 20-something year olds' fights), tasty (apparently... Atticus thinks so), and can stand upright on their own (which Atti also takes great delight in). And so simple! Everyone loves them! I can't stop blabbering about how good they are! Because they rock! And they keep the kids occupied for ages!

The other thing I wanted to say about the party was that the only other child present, apart from my two, was an older girl (maybe 11?) called Rebecca whom Dante instantly fell in love with. He was by her side the entire evening (whether she wanted him or not) and didn't stop talking about her the entire trip home.
"When can we go to Rebecca's house?"
"I'm Rebecca's friend, so now she's got a boyfriend."
"Can we visit Rebecca? She's my friend."
He liked her so much that he happily let her use whichever lightsabre she chose, but not to the extent of letting her keep any, I should add.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

First Soccer Game

The first official soccer (football) match was on this morning. We were all excited and nervous about it - Dante was actually feeling a little sick. I'm hoping it was just nerves. He certainly had enough energy to jump around and talk and sing!

The kids were given their uniform for the first time before the match. Black and white, with the sponsors logo blaring across the front. Dante got number "2". I think he was pretty proud. Then there was some waiting around for 20 minutes as the game before us took longer than scheduled. The team had a kick around and some warm up with their coach. One of the kids, who at training showed exemplary behaviour, skills and enthusiasm, burst into tears and wouldn't go on the field (something to do with his shirt - he didn't like the collar, perhaps?), which was a great reminder that these kids are still only very young! To tell the truth, I was greatly relieved. I thought Dante was going to be the only one that would have problems. I'm glad he's not so out of the ordinary.

The match finally started, and it was pretty exciting and funny to watch. They had the "pack" mentality as expected. Pretty early on, one of the boys from the other team got possession of the ball and made a fantastic dash to the goal. Pretty good, I thought, until I heard the fathers of that team shouting out, "The OTHER way! Run the other way!!". We parents all had a great laugh about it! Anyway, I should have realised that this kid was the one to watch out for. He really knew what he was doing and was on top of his game. Every time he got the ball, he just went for it. And scored most of the time. Our cute little goalie managed to save a couple of balls, but unfortunately let more in. We lost 6-nil.

Dante managed to kick the ball once, and he was pretty proud of himself after the match. Too bad that the ball wasn't the one in play, and belonged to the adjacent field (someone had kicked it out). He ran around with the pack most of the time, usually a metre or two behind. I think he was happy to be a part of the group, but didn't want to get too involved. I noticed that he managed to duck away if the ball came too close to him! Much to his coach's dismay. He did get a bit bored towards the end, actually lying down on the field at one point (until we yelled at him to get up - I explained that if the ball came his way, he might get trampled).

Afterwards the coach told us that the first match can be very daunting for the kids, and they'll gain more confidence after a few matches. I hope so! I think I really need someone to explain the game to him properly, and have a kick around with people he knows. I'm hoping that we'll soon meet the team which his schoolmates are in so that he will realise that they are involved in the sport, too. I just hope he doesn't start siding with their team!