Thursday, February 27, 2014

One Goodbye Brings Another Hello

Bye, bye Mimi and Boppa!

Leaving our daughter and her family in Hong Kong is always one of the most difficult things we do in our itinerant lifestyle. Seeing Quinn and Conner waving goodbye always brings tears to my eyes, as I know it will be another six months before we see them again. In this case we were flying back to Seattle to see our son Brad’s family, so at least one goodbye brings another hello.

We took a cab out to Lantau Island to standby for our flight to San Francisco. One thing I love about airports isthe opportunity to talk with people you’d normally never get to meet. While we were waiting to see if we’d be called for the flight, I struck up a conversation with an older Chinese - American gentleman. One thing lead to another and I learned he worked as a high-level consultant for the US Government and US businesses in developing relations with China during the 1970s. It turns out he was President Nixon’s point man to open up China to US trade (hard to remember back to when China was a closed country). I was absolutely fascinated by the conversation (and hoping they would delay the flight so I could talk with him longer).  The obvious question to ask:  “Did you work with John Ehrlichman (from Seattle) and Robert Haldeman at the White House? He lowered his head and looked to the right, then looked to the left, and then whispered into my ear:  “Yes . . . and I knew they were both crooks!  Unfortunately we got called for the flight, as I would have liked to have talked with him for hours.  We were very fortunate to get two side-by-side seats in First Class. I managed to get caught up with 5 or 6 movies and TV shows I’d missed over the years.

We had a short layover in San Francisco before we lucked out again and caught the next flight to Seattle. The two-hour flight seemed short after our 12-hour flight from Hong Kong and soon we were gliding over the calm waters of Puget Sound where we learned to sail during our college years.

There is nothing better in life than long term friends, and these guys are the best.
In just a short while we were knocking on the door of our friends, Paul and Irene Ballew, with whom we’d be staying for the next week. There are not two people on earth with whom you’d rather stay with than the Ballews. They welcomed us with open arms and a stiff drink. We must have sat and talked for hours before Irene served one of her spectacularly great meals. What a fun time.

Had a hard time explaining where Mimi and Boppa live on their boat.
Brody working on a project at school.
The next several days were spent visiting with our son Bradley and his family. Got to go to our grandson Brody’s Montessori school (the same school his mom went to) and see all the cool projects he’s working on. We tried to show him a world map to see where our boat was, but I don’t think concept of distance really sunk in. Had a wonderful dinner with our hard working son, who as a salesman at a software company just closed out a great month and was higher than a kite. He seems to have some of his dad’s competitiveness in him.

Look, a gnome!
The gnomes also have little forest friends.
Why does this remind me of Expedia?
The Family Conner:  Brad, Brody, Bennett, and Ashley.
We also had a fun time exploring Evans Creek Preserve, which Brad helped develop when he was a Park Commissioner and volunteer on the trail crew. One of the very fun things Brad has promoted at various parks is “gnome hunts.” He’s been very active at hiding gnomes in ingenious spots along the trails, to be found with screams of delight by the local kids. Once you find a gnome, it’s your job to hide him again a little further down the trail.  Meryl started the the tradition of gnome hunts (except we didn’t have any gnomes back then) in the woods by our house when our kids were growing up.

Back at “Chez Ballew” we were treated to a wonderful Academy Awards dinner party, luxuriating on their huge cushy brown coach in front of their equally large high-def TV.  For someone living in the square footage of a closet for the last two years, just having the room to spread out was a luxury to us.

The rest of the week was followed with medical appointments, hair cuts, and Walter getting sick and spending two days in bed.  Life is just catching up with him.

After the requisite visits to Fisheries Supply, Trader Joe’s, Costco, etc. we had the unenviable job of packing up three large cardboard boxes with food, provisions, and sailboat parts for the journey back to Antigua.

Important world cruising provisions:  Wheat Thins.
We have to give a very, very special shout-out to Paul and Irene for rolling out the red carpet for our week-long visit. Most people don’t get to stay at their friends’ houses very often, and for us it’s like summer camp with long talks around the campfire and great camaraderie.  Paul and Irene, you’re the best.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Remembering the Old Hong Kong Days

As a Pan Am flight attendant in the 1970s, Meryl had the envious job of flying to Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong several times a month.  I was a fledgling young photographer then and made several trips with her to buy cameras and accessories for my business. In Hong Kong our days were spent wandering down Nathan Road, taking the Peak Tram for the incredible views of the city, and exploring the myriad of side streets and alleyways lined with vendors selling everything imaginable.

Hong Kong was certainly a different city then, congested, fragrant, and exotic. To reminisce, we took a day to explore some of our old haunts, traveling the old way from Hong Kong island to Kowloon via the famous Star Ferry.

Riding the Star Ferry was always one of the fun things we did in Hong Kong in the old days. With the cross harbor car tunnels everyone just drives or takes the subway.
A very large group of Tupperware reps from Malaysia were visiting Ocean Promenade which features plaques of famous Asian actors. Here a women is comparing her hand print with that of Jackie Chan's.
Meryl doing her best to emulate the poses of the tourist groups on Ocean Promenade.
The venerable Peninsula Hotel where we used to have high tea. Too expensive now.
Our all time favorite Hong Kong lunch:  dim sum with char sui bows.
Meryl walking along the Ladies Market on Fa Yuen Street.
The famous flower market along, what else, Flower Market Road.
Exploring the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden where Chinese men come to "walk" their birds.
Almost every imaginable bird is for sale in the Yeun Po market.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Exploring Hong Kong with the Nash-Webbers

Again, rather than write a lot about our visit to Hong Kong, it's best to share it in pictures.

Notice the little blonde head second from the right? That's Quinn in soccer class with six boys. Ya need a girl to show them how to play the game with finesse.

Like her parents, Quinn only knows one speed:  full tilt boogie. She fell asleep in the car, stayed asleep as I carried her into the house, and remained asleep for an hour on the couch.

At 16 months Conner is learning the finesse move of balancing a soccer ball (somewhat flat) on his head.
You just know what's going to happen to this tower of bricks in about 2 secs (they are foam).
Putting a paintbrush in a toddler's hand is a somewhat dangerous act for those around him.

Quinn gets to visit the dinosaur exhibit at the Hong Kong Museum of Science.
Family fun time at Sheung Nong playground.
Christa leads a rousing game of "Simon Says" on the lawn of the Clearwater Bay Country Club.

I have to say I could learn to enjoy this after eating on the boat everyday.
Quinn loves to drive grandma to China in the Tuk-Tuk at the Thai restaurant.

Quinn and Conner welcome daddy back from a business trip.

While coming back from the Science Museum with Quinn in my arms, this lady insisted I take her seat on the subway. Thank you.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just Plain Vanilla to Hong Kong

We flew from Sapporo to Osaka and then on to Hong Kong, this time on Vanilla Airline. Actually it was a nice flight, but again with the super tight seat pitch.  We got to Christa's house at about 3:00 am, tired puppies.

We enjoyed the next week just hanging out at the house with Christa and the kids, taking the kids to soccer lessons, the Science Museum, and a special day for Meryl and I tracing our old stomping grounds in Kowloon when Meryl used to fly to Hong Kong in the 70s and 80s.

Rather than a long narrative, we'll let the pictures tell the story. I do have to start, however, with this photo from the baggage claim area in Osaka.

Got to love Japan. Even the "gangstas" wear Hello Kitty jeans.

Maybe this is where the movie "Lost in Translation" got its start.

In Hong Kong, 3-year-olds go to school for 1/2 day everyday. Quinn walks to a bus stop where a mini school bus picks her up, with a bus mother supervising the kids on the bus.

On the home front, Conner keeps everyone on their toes. He has radar eyes for anything that looks like an iPhone. One of these days he's going to buy a Ferrari on eBay without anyone knowing.

The Chinese like their food fresh and its common to find restaurants with huge fish tanks outside. That's dinner you're looking at.
With a large ex-pat population, local grocery stores have a surprising good selection of foods.

After a long day shopping one of our absolutely favorite things to do is to get a foot massage. The best!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Family Skiing at Niseko

Our daughter and son-in-law in Hong Kong have skied at Niseko over the last several years and we were thrilled to be invited, although a little concerned about such a drastic change of climate for us.  Antigua lays at 17 degrees North latitude and Niseko at 42 degrees North. Brrrrr!

The ski complex, now a combination of three separate ski areas, Annupuri, Grand Hirafu, and Hanazono, is situated in the lower portion of Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. Numbing cold wind sweeps down from Siberia to the north and picks up moisture as it crosses the Sea of Japan, where it then dumps mind-boggling amounts of dry powder snow on the volcanic peaks. We had heard tales of chest-deep powder from our daughter and wanted to check it out for ourselves.

Meryl and Quinn spending some quiet time together.

Conner, in one of his rare quiet modes. Otherwise is balls-out, full tilt boogie.

More important than the skiing, however, was the opportunity to visit with our two grandchildren, Quinn, age 3 ½ and Conner, 16 months.  We could hear the pitter-pater of little feet as we awoke from a very sound sleep and saw Quinn peaking through the door. She’s always very shy when she first sees us during our six-month hiatuses, but soon she was jumping on the bed and talking a blue-streak, more the Quinn we know. Melba, Christa’s helper, already had Conner up and was feeding him breakfast, which he didn’t seem to want to disturb (he has a very healthy appetite) to say “good morning” to Mimi and Poppa (what the grand kids call us).

Soon Nash and Christa were up, with Christa mapping out the logistics of a complicated day ahead. We would take the bus over to the north most ski area, Hanazono, get Quinn in an all-day ski school, then get a tour of the mountain. Nash and his buddies Christian and new bride Pau (from Hong Kong) and Chad (a college buddy now an attorney with the Air Force in Okinawa) would hike up the mountain and go off-piste skiing, meeting us later in the day.

For us, used to getting up in the morning and putting on shorts and flip-flops, getting into the layers for thermal underwear, sweaters, ski pants, and parkas was quite the ordeal. We felt like penguins about to venture forth in Antarctica.

Quinn perfecting the "french fries" ski position.

Quinn was so bundled up we could barely recognize her. Nevertheless we watched as our breath condensed in the cold Arctic air and were glad to get on the warm bus.  As Quinn was signed in for ski school, Meryl and I got fitted for rental skis and met Christa outside the modernistic lodge. We watched Quinn’s lesson for awhile, where the ski instructors made analogies to the “pizza” wedge shape of your skis for going slow and the french fry configuration for going fast. Funny to hear instructors yelling out “pizza, pizza” as little 3-year-olds went whizzing by.

Going up the modern high-speed chairs, we marveled at the size of the ski area. From the top, on a clear day, I’m sure you could see Russia. Turn around southeast you see the towering presence of the dormant volcano, Mt. Yotei, a ski destination for more adventurous skiers. I always judge a mountain by how consistent the slope of the runs are, and Hanazono had some nice face skiing but also the boring flatter sections. The real appeal of Niseko is skiing in the trees, but today there just wasn’t enough fresh snow, just that boring beautiful blue ski and sunshine (unusually for Niseko).

Christa and Meryl with Mt. Yotei in the background.

Christa took us all over the mountain. She’s certainly her mother’s daughter with a very fast and strong ski style. I’m always amazed how quickly skiing comes back to us. Meryl and I originally met when we were both ski instructors in Seattle and we’ve skied our whole lives. With age, however, I think we’re starting to lose the magic of skiing and preferring to ski on only “perfect days.” We’ve spent enough time in the freezing rain of the Cascades on marginal days paying $60 a ticket to really enjoy skiing like when we were young.

Some people think of the Japanese as being very quiet and retrospect . . . not at a ski area where they have a raucous good time.

We took an early lunch to check on Quinn and partake of the excellent food at the ski lodge. We ran into Nash and his friends and heard of their adventures. I chose a huge bowl of curry rice and tonkatsu, while Meryl had her favorite ramen noodle bowl. The quantities of food where amazing, maybe to satisfy the appetites of the hoards of Australians who’ve found they don’t have to travel all the way to Whistler to get great skiing. Yes, Niseko has been discovered.

After skiing we collected Quinn from the ski school and made our way back to the Gondola Chalets where we had drinks and snacks, and then walked down to a uniquely Japanese institution, the onsen. With a very nondescript entrance, you pay, grab a few beers from the beer dispensing machines, and then go into either the men’s/women’s side where you disrobe and sit on little white plastic stools and clean yourself using a handheld shower. There is a volcanic-feed hot water pool carved out of rock on the inside, full of boisterous Australians, respectful Japanese, and a smattering of Americans all drinking beer and relaxing. Later we went to the outside onsen, a little larger and surrounded with snow-covered rock walls. It was close quarters but very relaxing after a long day of skiing.

Christa and Nash love to dine out, and even more they love exotic restaurants and food. I wish I remember the name of the restaurant, but we entered a private room and sat Japanese style around a very large, but low table. The table had sand-covered inserts in front of each person with a little mini BBQ set up between two bricks with a metal grate. On the left of each person was a large tray of raw meats, fish, scallops, and vegetables. It was up to you to BBQ your food to your own taste. Wonderful meal but we were wiped out by the long day. Tough to hang with a bunch of 30-year-olds.

The Nash-Webber clan gearing up for some serious snow play.
Quinn and Conner in a race to the death.

Christa chasing Conner through the snow caves. He's a fast little guy.
Hoping the kids are all pooped out from playing in the snow, but knowing that they aren't.

On Friday the 14th we had a lay day and took the kids to the Kid’s Snow Play park where they had a great time playing in the snow caves and sledding down the “bobsled runs.” We also went to a nearby hotel where they had a great indoor pool and hot tubs and swam some laps and just relaxed, then down to an Australian pub for a good old American-style hamburgers. It was both Valentines Day and Nash’s birthday so we baby sat and they had a rare date night without the kids.

Nash and Christa doing some off-piste skiing.

Nash, Christa, and Chad in the back country.

Christa hitting some nice deep powder coming off Mt. Yotei.

On our last day of skiing Nash, Christa and Chad got up early for an attempt on Mr. Yotei. They had tried for several years to climb up but the conditions were never right. We were surprised to see them at the Hanazono lodge later in day when we came in for a warm up and hot cocoa. Apparently the conditions continued to deteriorate as they approached the summit, with Christa worried about being thrown about by the strong winds. With a wise decision they decided to call it a day and ski down the mountain on their fat skis.

The good part is Nash and I got to pull Quinn out of ski school and take her up the chair for some real skiing. Now I don’t know about you, but a 3-year-old who can ski a chair run is a pretty big deal to me. Not to Quinn. She took it all in stride and skiing down in perfect pizza and french fries style. Those two runs with Quinn were the highlight of the trip for me.

I had to laugh as Quinn skied her way through a class of 16-year-old male Japanese students, all with the same parka, pants, googles, and skis; and skiing with military precision. I can’t image what they thought of this little tyke decked out in bright pink and purple charging her way down the hill.

On Sunday the 16th we packed up and took a family van with the whole clan down the airport at Sapporo.  This time we were early for our Vanilla (another discount airline) flight to Osaka and then on to Hong Kong. Christa and family took a later flight on Cathay direct to Hong Kong, a good choice given the limited patience of two tired kids after a long ski vacation.