Friday, April 10, 2015

Quick Update

Sorry I am such a bad blogger. We have been so busy that it's hard to motivate myself to chronicle anything in what little down time I have. Although my work here is not as varied or interesting as the kinds of cases I dealt with in Manila, we are a smaller operation so there is a lot to be done by just a few people. Last weekend was a long holiday here, so several of my colleagues took some additional holiday, plus one ended up going on paternity leave a few days early, which added up to a serious workload for those of us left behind. Regardless, I can't complain even on those days when I'm working like a mad woman. I mean, we're in freaking Hong Kong! I continue to find this place absolutely amazing, and I can't ever imagine not loving it here. I'm sure we'll hit a slump at some point, but for now we are just really enjoying our lives here.

The weather over the holiday weekend was phenomenal, so we spent several days at the beach. What's that? You didn't know Hong Kong had a beach? Actually it has far more than one. Several on Hong Kong Island itself, and a whole bunch more out past Kowloon on the peninsula. We've only explored HKI so far because we're still getting used to driving around here. Oh, did I forget to mention we got a car? Actually, we bought a car from the Consulate auction, so it's rather old but very low mileage, and it only ended up costing us around $500USD total. Can't complain about that! We still mostly walk or use public trans to get around, but there are places that are either more difficult to get to (e.g. not on an MTR line) or it's a painful experience getting there with a one year old who doesn't like sitting still for long. Having a car means we can join the American Club out in Tai Tam and not have to catch a taxi or the bus and endure trying to contain N for 20-45 minutes. Now we just strap him into his car seat and go. Plus we can park at the beach and then just leave when we please without fighting the 10,000 other people trying to flag a taxi. And we can even go to those far less crowded beaches off the beaten path, which is more up our alley anyway.

Anyway, to catch you up a bit. Husband is still waiting on his clearance to start work *sigh*. So, we got season tickets to Ocean Park (kids are on Spring Break for 2 weeks) so they have something to do. We had already gotten season tickets for the museums here (there's abut 7 that participate, including the hands-on Science Museum), which gives you an additional 10% off of your tickets to Ocean Park. So paid about $350USD total for 4 gold pass tickets, that's less than half the cost of Disney season passes and waaay closer to us. Plus, pandas! A pretty good deal, I think. C came and went for her Spring Break. She'll be back this summer and working at the Consulate (paid, too!) as an intern. I went to Korea of a week to transition into my new Reserves gig with 7th AF, which was a lot of fun. It's always nice to get back into uniform, and I love the work I do. I'll be headed back there for my three full time weeks in June, so this was just a chance to get all of my accounts set up and take care of the administrative stuff like getting immunizations, a new id card, etc. Definitely looking forward to going back!

Yesterday Husband and I went to Macau for the first time. I had a work event to attend, and then he and I hit the blackjack tables (would have been better off if we enjoyed Baccarat, which appears to be the game of choice here) and got some dinner before heading home. Macau is part of our Consular district, so I will be back again next week for a full day of consular outreach. Next weekend is also our 10th wedding anniversary, so Husband and I are going to celebrate in the City of Dreams with Two Chainz. Hard to imagine another venue that would be so fitting ;)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Food Shopping Hong Kong

As I learned in Manila, often the best resources are hidden gems that you discover over time as you get to know a place. Hong Kong, I think, is even more like this than Manila simply because things are tucked away all over the place. There are a lot of large grocery stores that cater to expats, but they are super, super pricey. I have continually been shocked by the cost of things we consider necessities: milk, bread, cheese, meat of any kind. Fruits and veg I can get at the wet markets for decent prices, and you can find most dried goods at discount chains like 759, Prizemart, or Best Mart 360. But the other stuff, well I'm always on the hunt for the best deal. There's a great FB group called Budgeting and Saving Money in Hong Kong, which is a great resource for finding deals. The nice thing about Hong Kong is that there are plenty of other expats who have been here far longer than I who have already done a lot of the work for me! I've listed them first followed by some of the other resources I've found so far that I particularly like.

Resource Sites
Mango Menus

Farm Milk Company

Texas Food Supplies
The Meat Square
Meat Market
Jett Foods
Woo Hing Hong
MM Fresh
Three Butchers
Lung Wah

Ap Lei Cahu Wet Market (Aberdeen)
Sai Kung Wet Market

The Dutch Shop - I've been obsessed with Gouda since my first visit to little sister in Amsterdam, so I was super excited to find this little shop whose name says it all. It's not exactly cheap (I'm embarrassed to admit how much money I've spent in this shop), but I'm willing to pay for the quality!
Great Food Hall - While I mostly think this market is overpriced, they do have an awesome selection of cheeses and very good cold cuts (if you're willing to pay $5 USD per 100 grams that is). I also particularly like their prepared food, like their thai pomelo salad, which I think are a slightly better deal then the rest of their products.


Specialty Grocery
Kiran's Provision Store - Indian supermarket chain
Oliver's - Reminds me a lot of Santi's in Manila. Very high end with good quality products, but expect to pay out the nose.
Le Magasin - French
Indian Provision Store - Indian store in TST

General Grocery
Dai Sang Supermarket
Leo's Fine Foods - Bulk buy store, meaning the prices are lower but you'll have to find the space to store it all.
Spice Store

Island East Farmers Market
Chun Yeung Market (Quarry Bay)
Bowrington - Wan Chai/Causeway Bay

Fruit & Veg - just a side note that I mostly think it's silly to get organic fruit and veg delivery in Hong Kong because it costs an arm and a leg while the local produce is generally quite good and can be gotten for a good price at the wet markets. However, I do think it's worth it for some products. I generally shop at the Wan Chai market because it is close to us, but I buy produce all over the place.

General Store
Sogo - Japanese chain, one in Causeway Bay and one in TST

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Home Leave Part 1.1 - Pu Family in Albuquerque

It's kind of fun going back through all my vacation photos and trying to pick out just the right ones, but it's also incredibly time consuming. And I am not a girl with a lot of time on her hands right now. C is back from boarding school this week for her Spring Break, so we are spending more time than usual away from home showing her around the city. Also, Husband and J leave next week to go on her class trip to Xi'an, so I'm trying to squeeze in some quality J time, too, before they jet off.* What I'm trying to say is, ya get what ya get! 

Husband and De-I showing off their custom made suits from our tailor in the Philippines.

AinA and daughter, L, having a giggle.

MR and son, A, debating whether or not to brave the cold outside and join in the foam sword battle.

Hiking with Husband in the foothills of the gorgeous Sandia Mountains, which are just steps away from my parents' backyard.

Sandia selfie!

Cousins enjoying a day at the Albuquerque aquarium.

 Albuquerque Science Center (aka Explora) - hands down the best activity with kids in Albuquerque.

Everybody loves playing in the box!

N grinning because he probably just knocked down the baby gate for the 15 millionth time. 

C enjoying some baby snuggle time.

*As a side note can I just say how freaking crazy it is to that my 3rd grader's class trip is to Xi'an, China. My class field trips were to places like, I don't know, the zoo or the park. While I want to say that my kids are so incredibly fortunate (and they are), I also feel it necessary to point out that trips like this are not covered by the tuition, which is paid by the government. These extra activities are paid out of pocket and we don't have an opt out choice. So before you feel even a twinge of jealousy just remember how many extra thousands of dollars I have to pay out of pocket for my kids to have these kinds of experiences!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Hong Kong Interlude

Gong hei fat choi, ya'll! Happy, happy Chinese New Year! I interrupt this looong look back through time to share a little bit of what's currently going on in our world. Just to catch you up, yes we are actually in Hong Kong, and yes, we totally freaking love it here! HK is a dream post. That doesn't mean everything is totally perfect, of course. Every place has its good points and its bad points. But I can say with confidence that the good points here heavily outweigh the bad points. Hong Kong is a vibrant, exciting city with a ton of things to do. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of our new home, and we are already in love with the ease of movement, the feel and vibe of the city, and how quickly and seamlessly we have integrated into life here.

 Lion Dance just up the street from our apartment (apparently it's very common here for buildings to sponsor these dances during Chinese New Year for good fortune).

We live just a few blocks away from Hong Kong Park and the Hong Kong Zoo. Hong Kong is full of places for kids, you just have to suss them out sometimes. The second photo is from a kid zone called Happy Jump Land tucked away in a mall called the Dragon Center in Sham Shui Po, Kowloon.

Kowloon side - great for cheap eats and markets to be shared with 1 million of your closest friends :)

More Chinese New Year pictures from around town.

The view from our apartment. Life really can't get much better than this. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Home Leave Part 1 - Christmas in New Mexico

Sorry, folks, still no Hong Kong for you! I feel bad that I haven't recorded anything we did for home leave (and we did a lot!). After our trip to NY and our return to DC to wrap up my consultations, check out, pack out, etc. We jetted off to Albuquerque, which is our official home leave destination. C joined us in DC from school and we all flew together on the first leg of our trip. We spent a wonderful 10-days with my family. First it was just the immediate family (that being my parents, sisters, and their families), and then my parents hosted the first ever extended Pu family reunion. Our family is Jewish, so it wasn't really a big deal for everyone to get on a plane and fly into NM on Christmas Day. We had a lovely 2-3 days with my cousins, aunts, and uncles, some of whom I hadn't seen in over a decade. It was great to connect with my extended family all of whom are lovely people with interesting stories to tell. It reminded me of my childhood when we would spend every Thanksgiving at my grandparents' home in Connecticut. My grandmother loved entertaining and loved having her extended family around. She always had huge dinners for 30+ people, and we would stay for 3-4 days hanging out with my cousins while our parents booked a hotel room and got away from their kids! My parents extended the same courtesy and took all of our children that were out of diapers, which was such a cool opportunity both for us parents to get away for a few nights and also for our kids to hand out with their cousins. J and her cousin Y are the same age (off by a few months, so they're actually a grade apart), and A and his cousin A are about 1.5yr apart, so they really had a good time together. Going through my photos, I realize I have way to many to share all the amazing memories, so I'm going to have to split them into different posts. Here's the first batch from our days leading up to Christmas.

 Look how happy they are before all the minions descend to take over their house.

Trimming the tree.

Making our own stockings. 

Cousin Love!!

Christmas morning with the whooooole family. :)

Christmas Baby 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Going Waaay Back

So I know I haven't been posting much about our new home, but I feel like I need to get out all of the stuff that we've been doing over the last couple of months (you know, all the stuff that kept me too busy to post!) before I launch into our new life here in Hong Kong. Otherwise I'll never get around to it! Anyway, we're going to go waaaaay back to early December just after I finished my Chinese test. We took an extended weekend trip to Buffalo to say our goodbyes to Husband's family and meet up with some Cali friends who flew out to see the Bills take on the Packers in one of the last regular games of the season. This game was a big deal for me because Aaron Rogers was my fantasy quarterback, and he has been killing it all season, helping me make it to the last round of our ffb playoffs. If you know us at all, then you know we take our ffb league very seriously (and there is some serious money at stake. 1st place takes home $800!). Since I have never, ever (ever!) seen Buffalo win a game in person, and since Greenbay had had such a great season, we just assumed this game would be a massacre, so we were overjoyed when our Buffalo D stood up and held the Packers to no TD and several interceptions. We crushed them! It was an awesome, awesome game!! Of course, it meant that I also lost my chance at any ffb payout, but I think it was worth it. We had some amazing seats - 5th row right on the sideline. Our Cali friends had a blast, too, in spite of the 15 degree weather. My mil took the kids for the night (we bought her Bob Seger tickets to say thanks!) We stayed on the Canadian side of the border overlooking Niagara Falls, which is really an amazing view and a lot more fun than the American side, which is kind of run down and depressing, actually. I hadn't seen these particular friends since we were living in California (Husband's old boss and his wife, so he's seen them a lot during his travels back and forth for business), so it was great to catch up and just have some adult time. 

I'm also really glad we had the chance to spend some time with Husband's family. They are not the nomadic types like my family is, so we have little chance of seeing them while we're overseas. We've gone back and forth in our feelings on this. On one hand, I feel very frustrated because I feel it's unfair to expect us to travel to them all the time. On the other hand sometimes we just have accept that people are who they are, and it's unfair for us to expect them to change after all these years. If they're not comfortable traveling then so be it. It means we won't get to see them as often since we can't afford to travel a family of 6/8 all the way back to the US while we're posted abroad, but we all make our own choices. We choose to live a life that takes us around the world, and they choose not to take part in it. Doesn't mean we don't still love each other, but it does mean that the relationship won't be as close as one or the other might want. I guess that's just life. Anyway, I'm so glad we were able to see them one last time before we started our newest adventure.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Terribly Neglectful

of my blog as of late. But, surely I can be forgiven considering we just moved back to the other side of the world after galavanting through the US on home leave, right? Right??!!

Well, we are back up and running, all settled into our new home in Hong Kong. We arrive a few weeks ago to find almost all of our things were already here and waiting for us. So we landed, I checked into work, and two days later all of our UAB and most of our HHE arrived. It was a little overwhelming to start adjusting to living in a totally new place and then suddenly also have to figure out how to unpack your 5 bedroom mega-home in the Philippines into your small (but spacious by HK standards) 4-bedroom apartment with no storage. But manage we did, and threw out a ton of stuff along the way. I could almost feel the disapproval from the movers as we marked one thing after another for disposal! The end result, however, is that we have a nice, cozy apartment with enough of our stuff to make it feel like home and enough space that we can still move around.*

After taking the first couple of weeks to get settled into our apartment, we're also getting to know our new city and our new neighborhood. Our neighborhood is right on Hong Kong Island and is more upscale than other areas. This means, of course, that all our neighborhood amenities (groceries, etc.) are also on the pricier end. It's unfortunate because there is literally a grocery store in the high rise across the road, which is soooo convenient. But pay $5 USD for a quart of milk really hurts. I mean, it really, physically hurts. *sigh* So, as we've started venturing out, I've realized I can get much of what I need in other parts of the city for far less if I'm willing to inconvenience myself more. Things like milk, eggs, etc. I'll probably still buy at the pricier store since I'm not willing to buy that sort of thing if it's made in China.** Meat, also, can be a problem. There are some online delivery markets run by expats that have imported meats, but their prices reflect their origins. I'm looking into wholesale sharing through a mom's group I've joined, which may be our best option for getting good quality meat that I can actually afford to eat.

Husband has employment in hand, but unfortunately, is still waiting on his clearance to be processed. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at post and wanting to work with an office that desperately needs you to work, and yet there's nothing you can do but sit around and wait because the clearance process is so ridiculously long. What's even more ridiculous is that Husband had his clearance from working at our previous post, but it apparently cannot transfer over and he must start the whole process over again. EFM (eligible family member) employment is one of our main concerns, and seems to be a rising concern for most modern FS families, but the Department seems to be very slow in its response. Admittedly there are far more programs available today then there were even just a few years ago when we joined, but adding a handful of positions does not really address the growing problem of a large pool of highly educated and career-minded EFMs, more and more of whom are men. We're crossing our fingers that the clearance process won't prove too lengthy and he'l at least be able to start before the summer.

The kids have settled into school nicely, as well. This transition was the hardest by far for all of our offspring. Not only did we have to say goodbye to C and leave her behind in the US, but J & A are also at and age where they are feeling the effects more strongly. They had really assimilated into their school in Virginia and were very nervous about having to make friends all over again, particularly A who has a harder time making new friends then his sister. They both worried over this particular bit on and off for the full extent of our home leave. So it was to my great relief when they both came home after the first day of school beaming from ear to ear with nothing but positive things to say about their school. We had visited the day before to get them registered, meet their teachers, and get their uniforms, and I had gotten a good feeling but it was nice to hear the positive reviews from the kids. I feel kind of blessed that the big, flagship school here turned us down flat (they took one look at A's IEP and let us know that it wasn't worth our time to apply). The school the kids are attending is very small, each grade has about 25-30 kids. There are only 10-15 kids per class and each class has 2 teachers giving them a ratio of approximately 1:7. They are also very Montessori-ish with a hands-on approach to everything. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive. The 3rd graders (and up) are required to have a school lap top and also go on a class trip.*** This year their trip is to Xi'an in mainland China. A parent also has to go to chaperone, so you're paying for 2. Let me just say that those fees are not cheap. So while we might be reaping the benefits of going to a smaller school, we're also certainly paying for them!

We've already found and hired a nanny. We weren't sure when Husband would be able to start work and did not want to repeat the exercise of scrambling to find someone (anyone!) like we did in the Philippines. So we took our time and interviewed over a period of two weeks before hiring. Our new nanny is also Filipina, she's even from Cavite, but she's been in HK for 18 years. Her last employer was American, too, which makes me feel like we'll be a good fit for each other. And so far, so good. N seems happy, so I'm happy, too.

As for myself, I'm also adjusting to work. It helps that I'm doing the same thing I did at my last post, so the learning curve isn't so high. The pace of work is slower, but we've a much more varied and interesting pool of applicants. After I've been here for a while and my case backload has grown, and I've taken on more of a portfolio, then I imagine that work will become more fast paced. But I can't discount how nice it is to have a position where I'm in and out on time, and I can walk from home to work in less than ten minutes.

*so that the baby can move around without destroying everything, that is. N, who has always been extremely mobile has turned into full fledged Destructo Baby(!!) since learning to walk.
**Just google it if you're not sure why I would be reticent.
***The rule of thumb is, if it's something that wouldn't be provided by a US public school then it's something that you pay for out of pocket.