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Hong Kong, Humor, living abroad, Parenting

Five Things I learned in Hong Kong


Taking an inventory of life to get ready for a major move brought about the question how living in Hong Kong has affected my outlook on life. This is what I can share:

One: Pragmatism

Over the 12 years I’ve spent in Hong Kong, I learned to be pragmatic. For example, when I arrived in Hong Kong, the fear of what pollution would do to my small children was at times almost paralyzing. Understandably, but not helpful. I learned to do the best I can to limit exposure and avoid the wasteful behavior typical for a HK life. Beyond that, I made peace with the issue. One day in Beijing turns Hong Kong into a climatic spa.

Two: Humor

When I arrived from London, where all I needed to do is step into the street to find something that made me smile or at least think this is comedic, I found it hard to walk through Hong Kong’s polished inner city and see anything that would tease my comedic sensibility. Whilst on the surface that has not changed, I have discovered that HongKongers have a great sense of humor in conversations and have a high tolerance for creativity and the absurd. It is not part of their public personas, but the moment you step into a meaningful exchange, there is an unexpected readiness for fun. Especially refreshing is that people in Hong Kong do not tend to take things too personally.

Three: Personal Space

Westerners love to complain about the lack of personal space in Hong Kong. I am one of them when it comes to privacy. How I would love to close the door behind me sometimes! However, as an individual, where can you have more personal space to examine ideas, learn a new skill or dig deep into a subject you are curious about? In Hong Kong’s urban efficiency, personal space is a vertical matter. You can dig deep or be highly inspired, have a meaningful conversation and a pedicure at the same time whilst someone else irons your shirts. Many people in HK (not me, sadly) display an impressive talent to mix glamor with intellect. It’s up to us where we adjust our personal sliders on any continuum – nowhere else have I seen such freedom. What more personal space can anyone ask for?

Four: Friendships

Meeting people in Hong Kong can be a bit like speed-dating at times: we have so many opportunities to connect. I held the common belief that making real friends is getting more difficult with age, but I have to correct myself. It is not true. Whilst, not every connection I feel with people turns into friendship, it is possible to make lifelong friends late in life. It helps that we know better who we are, have more tolerance for weaknesses and vulnerability and are kinder to ourselves and others. Whatever it is, being in Hong Kong helps to practice friendship.

Five: Parenting and Family Values

I was shocked to find an old journal in which I expressed how hopeless I felt a few years ago, as a parent of my primary school kids. It was hard to admit and accept. Everyone else seemed to have great answers to how to support their kids through transitioning from preschool into the primary school. What helped me most on my parenting journey was admitting how challenging I found it and, more importantly, staying curious. That is why curiosity has become one of my core values – if we stay curious and interested in who our children really are and how to parent kids who struggle, it’s almost impossible not to find parental guidance that works. Rilke said: Live the questions, not the answers. Contrary to common perception, Hong Kong’s parenting community can be extremely nurturing and diverse. But we have to open up and look for help when we need it.

Hong Kong, Humor, living, living abroad, Reader's favorites

How to leave Hong Hong

If you thought here is the answer to the debates that you’ve had since you first noticed that you are infected with the Hong-Hong-Bug, this article will let you down. In other words, I’m still clueless.

However, since you’ve come this far, you may as well read the rest of it. Maybe you have a friend who is looking to start a business. In that case, I volunteer as the test client.

My realization is simple. Almost 90% of the attention in an expatriation process (I’m making this up, but since the relocation-scene has been on my radar for the past decades, I feel entitled to make up numbers) is focused on arriving, finding accommodation, schools, associates, interest groups, friends, your favorite brand of mustard and how to use a de-humidifier. Once you#re settled in you begin passing on tips. It’s pretty much all there.

When the day came and it was our turn to leave, however, I felt like I was stuck in a lift alone, waiting for it to crash to the basement. Paralysed at first, then sentimental and in fight-or-flight-mode. My various to-do-lists are competing for length whilst I am wondering how to say good-bye. But it’s time to be practical, and here is the thing: there’s no business or service that helps you to get the hell out of here. Why not? In Hong Kong, you can get pretty much everything done, built, delivered, catered. But when it’s time to leave and you need to wind down a family life, you are pretty much by yourself.

I dream of a maternity-nurse-like person who keeps me company, helps my kids with their homework, takes photos and measures all the furniture I want to give away or sell, sorts through our clothing, engages with PCCW to clarify the last 15 bills, closes our accounts, gets curtains made for our new place in Berlin, manages the dog’s transportation, asks the car insurance to confirm that I’ve not had a crash, takes the kids to the dentist, me to the psychiatrist, organises my calendar for leaving events, applies to schools in Berlin, prepares our new setup and the tax issues that come with relocating, helps me make decisions, brings me a coffee whilst I am writing this article… you see where is this going.

Where is the Kick-Ass-Exit-Service with a representative who will come with ready-made lists, sitting down with me asking: what do want to do about the curtains? Shall we donate this bed or do you want to sell it? How about these books – donate? Those two kids – sell, crate, and ship separately? Your Swarovski Glass Poodle collection needs insurance? Consider it done. More coffee? Oh, the broken drum-kit? Don’t worry, we’ll have it repaired. I’ll pick up your family’s health records tomorrow, sure… you go see your friends!

As I mentioned at the beginning, if you feel inclined to start this business, I guarantee you will succeed and I am happy to be your first client. Yes, you can start today.

Hong Kong, Humor, living, living abroad, Parenting

A Moving Experience

by Caroline Roy

movingAfter publishing f**k, I was convinced that having written things down would have sealed my perspective on the conscious use of language. Little did I know. Last Monday I moved house again, and I discovered that in the right circumstances I could easily revert to what’s called ‘bad choices’ in PC-land.

I thought this would be the easiest move ever. Our block is slated for renovation, so we accepted the landlord’s offer to relocate from our small apartment to a slightly bigger place in the next block… how hard could that be? Both apartments below the third floor. A promising crew. We would even get the keys a few days in advance to bring ‘just our clothes and kitchen stuff’. The movers would take care of the furniture. As I had emptied our household of clutter a mere nine months earlier after a challenging relocation from the Peak to Wan Chai, this move next door should have been a piece of cake.

Speaking of nine months: I may not be the first one to compare moving house to giving birth. But it is such a perfect analogy – think: labor, followed by the lengthy process of pushing and negotiating small spaces, followed by mess and depression – that I decided: next time I move, I want an epidural.

With my conveniently absent husband and my virtuous helper plus her friend we began carrying suits, shoes, kitchen and bathroom items in 33 degree C weather on Saturday across Bamboo Grove’s legendary podium whilst other families flip-flopped past us to go for a swim. Despite sweat running down my forehead and the metal of overloaded hangers cutting into my hands I was still aware of the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God glances that our neighbors cast our way.

Between remembering entrance codes of doors that would open and shut randomly, the three of us struggled and labored to maneuver our burdens from one block to the next. Meanwhile, our family dog, who desperately needs to feel part of everything we do, but who of course cannot carry a goddamned thing, was beside himself with joy during the entire process. Not to be unfair: He would have helped with enthusiasm if he could have.

Not so my two entitled children (all our friends are travelling or busy for the autumn festival, mom! It’s a HOLIDAY!) I pack, carry, keep doors open with my food and wait forever for lifts, wind up taking stairs after all and lose ______________ (please insert whatever item comes to mind; chances that it happened are 97.2 %) on the stairs. The kids finally have a mercy-attack and bring their own clothing, books and instruments, art supplies and shoes… and their new rooms immediately look like any normal kid’s room looks after an explosion. All they really did was relocate the mess. How, I wondered, would furniture fit in here?

Two movers helped moving white goods for us two days before the official move. Can they also move some other stuff ahead of schedule? I asked the company. No, I was told, they have an appointment after you. Maximum ten boxes. Agreed, after lengthy fruitless negotiations. I dutifully prepared eleven boxes, lined them up feeling super-guilty that it was one more than the agreed amount.

The movers arrived clueless of this hard-fought concession. They didn’t know what was agreed. I explained that they are only here to move white goods and ten boxes. After this limited job is done, they tell me that they actually do have all day and will start packing in the apartment, whilst I was already in the new place, putting clothing away. Ok, an unexpected change of plan. I needed to stop and think but didn’t, as my decision making capacity for the day was already weak. So I simply nodded.

40 minutes later, back in the old flat, I find that they had boxed the entire contents of my ‘drop zone’: critical items I will need immediately, including moving documents, key sets, cheque books, dog leash, wearable shoes, bills, chargers. It’s now hidden in a pile of boxes helpfully labeled in Cantonese, mixed with the contents of our dining room, cutlery and ipods in a way that may be obvious to a Chinese mover, but not so obvious to the movee (note: this word exists as of today. As in coach & coachee, tea & coffeeee, mover – movee. Duh.)

Meanwhile the dog needed a walk (but we had no leash for him or shoes for us), the kids kept asking where the remotes and electronics had gone (but we neeeeed it!) and I suddenly resented the movers for not having boxed up the dog and kids instead. After ripping open a number of boxes, we managed to recover the drop zone documents, mixed up with unsigned school forms and music from my son’s acapella group. We moved tons of boxes over to the new place and I organized storage space so we could begin to unpack.

Moving day itself is freakishly long. I discovered that I’d forgotten to transfer our gas account. Cold showers are fine – really. I may stick with it. I was dismantling, packing, unplugging, re-plugging, trying locations for this and that, interrupted at intervals of three minutes by a mover (“Miss, where you want the glass poodle collection?”) and kids again (“Mom! Where’s the iphone charger? I need it now!!”) and the dog (barking because he’s managed to get trapped between two heavy security doors), and Furby (“jupppieee, I am hungree”) and waterfilter-fixer (“Madam, do you have screw like that?”) and building manger (“Missis Roy, we have the handymen here for the plumbing, can you sign here please?”) and guinea pig (“ueeeep, ueeep”) and Furby again (who, despite a commitment by a boy in Kowloon to pick him up before our move, was not collected. They probably read Living with Furby) and reconsidered. Offspring is relentlessly useless (as in: can we repaint my room, mom?) and organic vegetable deliverer (I at apartment, mam, but nobody – yes, I forgot to give note of address, sorry, come next door) and handyman (“Miss, how about the curtain? Hang?”) – I don’t know, who are you, which apartment are we in… whatever. Hang, I guess… and other child (“Can I have my friends over for dinner tonight?”) and other child (“Mom, there’s a baby lizard in the living room, can we protect him so Fluffy doesn’t eat him?”) Yeah sure, I heard myself responding to all this… and who are you? I thought I only had two or three kids, but there seem to be at least seven needy individuals under age twelve in the new apartment who demand food, drink and entertainment.

At some point, I had reached a stage where I didn’t know which day it was. When the workers disappeared for lunch I organized my husband’s socks and underwear whilst he was exploring the autumnal affluent neighborhoods of Chicago on the last leg of his four-month sabbatical. He really married well…. Suddenly I heard my daughter next door: “NO!! NO, FLUFFY!!! MOM!! COME HERE!!! ” I saw that our dog had seized the opportunity created by all this chaos and disarray to visit the guinea pig. It looked like he was going to eat her alive, but I don’t know, maybe it was just affection. With our dog it’s hard to tell the difference.

NOW TV arrived to fix, well, NOW TV, but there was no wifi or gas yet. The handyman installed the kitchen shelves 2 inches too high, which in the grand scheme of things of course is trivial, but not today. Today it sucks and I became convinced it would bring down our quality of life by 98%.

Finally we were ready to unpack plates and glasses and wow, all of it was there in one piece. My helper’s friend was fantastic and sorted through our boxes like a pro. I could exhale for the first time that day and get back to my clothes. Keep, keep, donate, maybe, too small, too small, too small…. I returned to the dining room just in time to find my helper’s friend pulling out a flattened cardboard box from behind a pile of heavy boxes. She tears and bends, and I suddenly realized that what looked to her like a folded box was actually holding a valuable oil painting. “STOOOP, stop, stop”, I screamed, “What are you doing? “It’s empty, Mam, the box. Throw out.” “NO, it holds a painting.” “Haha, sorry Mam, will not throw then, ok!” she says cheerfully. Hadn’t I asked the movers to pack those oil paintings in crates? I wondered how much of our modest art collection was already in the dumpster.

PCCW saved my life by installing NOW TV just in time for the kids to get back from swimming. Shower, movie, bed – some semblance of normalcy. All good. No dinner though. No gas. No food. Call for pizza? No cash in wallet after tipping everyone. No wifi for ordering online and paying with visa. No energy to go down and get cash. We did something, and I cannot even remember what. Too tired. I spared a thought for people who are in really difficult situations, refugees and migrants, and I began to regain my perspective. I looked around the domestic chaos and thought: luxury. The exhaustion was real. But tomorrow, I will get recycled. I will just write it all down.


Humor, living, Parenting


by Caroline Roy

Two sixth graders in the back of my car.images

Sixth Grader One:

“That teenage boy on my bus uses the f-word all the time. F**king this, f**king that, like: shut the f**k up, I want to f**king read!”

Sixth Grader Two:

“How stupid. Why would he want to read?”

A recent conversation with friends in Berkeley confirmed that parenting High Schoolers in California is not without parental challenges either. “How do you handle swearing?” I asked the mother of three, a passionate linguist. I’m always curious how families approach this affair.

“We don’t allow it, generally…” She answered. Then she adds “…unless there really is no better word.” A lawyer by training, she will no doubt force her kids to defend their verbal choices well before they’re allowed to settle for the f-word.

Of course, I thought, she found the perfect approach to the f-word dilemma:  find the best word, anytime, and when it happens to be the f-word, you better be able to make a good case for it. She trusts that her kids exercise judgment in their use of language. So far things look good in her family.

I always felt that as a parent of preteen school kids it’s my job to model the use of appropriate language and disapprove of the four-letter word, even in moments I agree with its sentiment. Not easy for a liberal European. A middle schooler’s mental news-ticker is designed to challenge that when… +++laptop covered in sticky mess +++ clarinet forgotten in bus +++ spilled drink over fresh pair of shorts in compromising place+++ didn’t make basketball team+++… Those are the moments when extreme frustration seems to win the upper hand.

Nonetheless we encourage our kids to use language without profanities. The more we educate ourselves, the more complexity we discover and the more choices we create in words and in deeds. One logical conclusion would be that at any given time we should find a more specific word than f**k.

However, when I observe teenagers – that spotty, sleep-deprived and out-of-sync-with-everything-except-their-iphone-species – I conclude in teenage-land, the f-word is not really a word. It is a form of exhale, a reflex that’s triggered at a certain level of complexity that we humans have to deal with. Some teenagers seem to be unable to control that reflex: the f-word involuntarily lashes out like a frog’s tongue lashes out when an insect flies past. As grown ups, we’ve either trained ourselves to suppress such involuntary responses and go shopping or, more exotically, we learned not to resent complexity, embracing it even, by choosing a different mind-and soulset altogether. (Is there such thing as a soulset? If not, I hereby create it.) But at a young age, when those options are not yet available, collapsing one’s momentary worldview into four letters in the face of shock, horror or frustration seems like the obvious coping mechanism. It does justice to a mind that has had too much, that wants to be left alone or just wants to f**king read.

One reason, though, why we should remind our kids that it’s not a f**king awesome idea to publicly speak in the teenager-on-bus-manner  is that it is either deliberately in-articulate (see: mafia, American movies, American husbands) or that it reveals deprivation and laziness. It says: I’m either underprivileged or I don’t bother making an effort. Do you want people to perceive you that way? The kid’s answer may be yes. That’s not great. But at least it’s a deliberate choice of style and we tried making them aware of the effect that language may have on other people.

What we cannot do is pretend that intelligent people don’t use the f-word. We don’t even need to look as far as Hollywood. One of my more articulate friends was so fed up with the way Hongkongers use the word ‘busy’ as an excuse to mess with priorities that she seriously considered having t-shirts printed that say ‘f**k busy’. A point well made in just eight letters. All her kids – and mine – were present when she brainstormed her initiative over a family breakfast. And all of us are still fine.

My Berkeley friend made her point well too: develop your vocabulary. Experiment with words, all of them. But use them better. Use words as well as you can, and you get away with murder. But don’t say f**k just because you are lazy. Unless, of course, you just want to f**king read!

Just for fun, watch our teen’s linguistic diet here.


Humor, living, Reader's favorites

20 things I know for sure

What I know for sure

Back on the Blog!

I’m back in Hong Kong after two months of family travel. The four of us went to California, Alaska, Corsica and Berlin together, learned a lot and returned as a better team. I missed my blog, which has become my personal digital real estate, my laboratory, the space I come to when I try to make sense of things.

Here are 20 things I know are true after a summer of non-stop family travel:

  1. Privacy is a great privilege.
  2. Cheese, sandwiches and bananas look identical after 3 days in my son’s backpack.
  3. The logical opposite of Donald Trump is the Dalai Lama.
  4. Alaska disappoints nature lovers. Frontier land meets corporate America. If you like the northern nature experience, Iceland is the better place to go: educated people, stylish nightlife, and a great connection with nature.
  5. My kids are not snobs, yet. They disapproved of us when we struggled with a modest Airbnb apartment. “Mum, for many people in the world, this place would be luxury.” Good kids.
  6. Regarding travel and accommodation, however, this works for me: high end, low end or no end (i.e.: home, friends, family). Avoid everything in the middle. High end of course is great, because smart people are dedicating their resources to your well-being. Low end is good too: you know what you get and everything that exceeds your low expectations counts as value or adventure. It’s the middle end that’s dangerous ground for inner peace: it has to appear attractive whilst meeting the optimal profit margins. Inevitably, the shower collapses, breakfast is made with the cheapest ingredients and the gym holds the collective grime of dubious individuals. The middle is always too expensive for what it offers, so I’d rather stay home.
  7. You can meet great people everywhere.Capture-alaska
  8. The glaciers ARE melting. They stare back at us, shrunken.  Once turquoise and pristine, now a sad, sunken and dirty ice-monster, an instant diagnosis of the state of our planet. The glaciers, our casualty, reveal that we do not change fast enough.
  9. By the time a tourist in Alaska has had breakfast, he or she will already have thrown away their body weight in trash, or at least one styro-foam cup and plate, a plastic cup and various plastic utensils that come wrapped in plastic for the consumption of food, also served in plastic. I used to think Hong Kong was bad. Alaska is REALLY bad.
  10. Corsica is French, Italian and European. It is free of the global mainstream; no American or Chinese tourists. It felt like the holidays in the 1970ies.
  11. Berlin is THE place to experiment with real estate, start-ups and life style. It’s being discovered by the rest of the world as one of the few places that is affordable, livable and that gives its citizens a great deal of personal freedom.
  12. Food, shoes and accommodation need to work when I travel. For the rest: walk, talk and experience. Curiosity gets you to interesting places and saves the tour guide.
  13. It’s impossible to visit Alcatraz without obsessing how to escape, even though it’s understood to be impossible. Just like we do not really believe we’ll die one day, our mind does not accept that Alcatraz is final. I got as far as synchronizing the 50 seagulls I secretly tamed over a decade to pick me up and fly me over to Sausalito. I wonder why nobody did that before.
  14. Buy, intend to buy or pretend to intend to buy a place in a city: it’s a great way to get to know neighborhoods. I learned a lot about Chicago, London and Berlin that way. Why stop there? Ulaanbaatar, here we come.
  15. I want to become a good writer.
  16. The winner of family travel is my husband. He puts on a different pair of shorts, consumes a high-calorie-meal and is ready for the road. It takes him that little to connect with a place, whilst I feel that unless my and the kids’ entire wardrobe is organized on hangers by color and my cosmetics are prearranged in the sequence of use, labels facing front, I cannot breathe.
  17. I am neither an outdoor nor an indoor person. Looking at a mountain is the same pleasure as finding a good bookshop. There really is no preference.
  18. Going into any church takes stress away. So does walking on a beach. Again, beaches and churches have a similarly de-stressing effect. No indoor or outdoor preference.
  19. Friendships, family and relationships make us who we are to a large extent. Even when we are far away they work on us. No difference whether they nurture or trouble us. When we give our relationships the attention they deserve, they become powerful teachers.
  20. Taking time alone to unplug every day is a restorative potion for me. My kids are the same. It took me long to understand that they need this like I do. It should be a human right to be undisturbed for at least 20 minutes a day.

Anything you know for sure after this summer?


Humor, Parenting

ADHD Explained

She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee
Her dress has got a tear
She waltzes on her way to Mass
And whistles on the stair
And underneath her wimple
She has curlers in her hair
I even heard her singing in the abbey

She’s always late for chapel
But her penitence is real
She’s always late for everything
Except for every meal
I hate to have to say it
But I very firmly feel
Maria’s not an asset to the abbey

I’d like to say a word in her behalf
Maria… makes… me…laugh

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertigibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

When I’m with her I’m confused
Out of focus and bemused
And I never know exactly where I am
Unpredictable as weather
She’s as flighty as a feather
She’s a darling! She’s a demon! She’s a lamb!

She’d out pester any pest
Drive a hornet from its nest
She could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl
She is gentle! She is wild!
She’s a riddle! She’s a child!
She’s a headache! She’s an angel!
She’s a girl!

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertigibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, 1959

Read Why I am writing this blog



Is it O.K. to eat chocolate Nazis?

Screen-shot-2015-02-09-at-14.26.11Every now and then, a story falls into my lap like a ripe plum drops from a tree in October. Yesterday, the INTERNATIONAL NEW YORK TIMES ran a piece about a London candy boutique on Bond Street that sells deity figurines such as Jesus, Buddha, Moses, and also my favorite Indian god, Ganesh, the elephant-headed remover of obstacles, made of chocolate.

The journalist, Andy Newman, asks a wonderful question in his article: As religious questions go it is a relatively small one. But inevitably, it must be asked: Is it O.K. to eat a chocolate statuette of your favorite holy figure?

He reports that the Universal Society of Hinduism has demanded that the Bond Street store withdraw the Ganesh-shaped edible figure, as it may be upsetting to Hindus. This point is a debate in itself. However, as someone who has read quite a bit of the Hindi source texts as part of my yoga studies (admittedly in English translations), I can almost guarantee that it does not say anywhere that you cannot consume chocolate Ganeshes in your free time. It is therefore relatively safe to assume that most Hindus, whilst maybe not immediately rushing to the store to buy the things in bulk, would tend to accept the phenomenon as one of the material world that can safely be ignored in favor of a peaceful mind.

I also love this story because it has warmed you up for my own question about what’s acceptable in the scene of edible figures these days. Sometime I loose my sense of what is and is not good taste. For the longest time I’ve been wondering: Where do we stand on chocolate Nazis? Anybody? Or any other dictator-suggestions? It might be rather therapeutic to be able to bite evil’s head off.

Excuse me, do you have Hitler in milk chocolate?” (It sounds better in German: “Gibt’s Hitler auch in Vollmilch?”) “No, sorry, just dark, in very, very dark…(“Nee, nur in dunkel, in sehr, sehr dunkel…”).

You can see how this all comes together nicely. Should dictators be hollow inside? At your next dinner party, pass some dark, hollow chocolate Nazis round for desert. Fight evil, one bite at a time.*

* Here is an additional idea for the Hong Kong ‘King&Country’-Store in Pacific Place (see illustration below): Widen your customer base by producing your tin soldiers also in chocolate! The Shop was founded by two expatriate Scots and brands as: authentic hand-made history. I guess it can easily be turned into authentic hand-made chocolate history…


Hong Kong, Humor, living, Reader's favorites

Three Reasons you Should Dine Alone

I am fully convinced that my Hong Kong restaurant concept, finally, will make this part of the world a better place. We all need mind-space, time to think and an air of dignity when we spend time with ourselves.

Like fellow lovers of urban life I find that being surrounded by people is stimulating and fun. Yet occasionally, my mind needs a break from engaging with others. Occasionally, I would like to think about something in-depth before I talk about it (for example ideas like this one).

Personal space is not a priority in Hong Kong – or similar financial capitals where space is premium. Try be alone sometime, for example for lunch or dinner – and the city conspires against you.

Here’s what we need: a restaurant that happily, if not exclusively, serves customers who want to dine alone – comfortable tables for one, please, and no self-conscious guilt when a chatty group of four waits in the entrance whilst you are half way through your entrée and suddenly know: five people want you out. Your waiter reassures the other four that the a table will be ready in a minute and you know can only be yours.

In this new restaurant chain (yes, open two or three at once), like-minded individuals who appreciate a quiet, stylish ambiance and care about how and what they eat, the only disturbance customers may experience is the thought they spare the many people who didn’t make it on time to enjoy the solitude of lunch or dinner. You can decide whether you write, think or by doodle on the paper tablecloth which the restaurant provides so their creative customers can take home the fruits of their mind. You may regret, but will not need to justify spending the entire time on Facebook whilst eating fries, ignoring the permanent call for self-improvement that surrounds us. Not here, not now. This is your space, your time, your thoughts.

I can hear an immediate call for a feasibility study, and that is absolutely fine. Go ahead. It’s certainly a different business model to a conventional restaurant, but I doubt it will be less profitable. The ratio of income via alcohol, multiple orders etc. will possibly shift towards take away food and some merchandize (coffee, baked goods, magazines, aprons, expensive pens… whatever).

P.S. I just researched  that I am in good company in wanting to dine alone: London restaurateurs have already picked up on this trend, so hurry up, Hongkonger restaurateurs, go for it. I want to book my table!


Humor, living, Parenting

No. 1 reason for chaotic mornings with kids

If I had an answer to the question how to get school kids out of the house in the morning, post-healthy-breakfast, morally boosted plus bursting with curiosity, I would not be writing this.

I would be running a flashy consulting business for Hong Kong parents between my Hawaiian sabbaticals. But in 10 years of getting two creative, structure-resistant and ___________(still looking for a word that means “non-resilient” and does not sound critical… anybody?) kids out of the house, I can at least comment with authority.

During the 40 minutes before my kids leave for their school bus, our entire household, including helper, dad and dog, is busy searching for hairbrushes, matching socks and last weeks’ homework sheets. Healthy smoothies replaced with Fruitie Pebbles by one indulgent adult, last term’s immunization forms filled in by another. My hair sucks, today is PE, I hate these shoes, all my classmates have at least one day off each week to go to Disney –… The flaws of mankind are condensed to our own domestic morning show. Whilst fixing my daughter’s backpack, I picture other familes’ civilized conversations over fresh fruit and poached organic eggs. Dad, can I help building a school in Cambodia during Easter Break? Mum, shall we do the Dragon’s back hike on Sunday or climb to the big Buddha after my violin exam? Oh, the lives of others. Why can you not get prepared in the evenings, so your mornings run smoothly is a legitimate question to ask. You too could have those conversations over breakfast if you created space in the family schedule… Sure. Except, my kids and I have all been ‘born  one cycle too late’, or, in med-speak, we suffer from BOCTL. BOCTL is a medical condition that puts sufferers about 12 hours out of sync with the rest of the world. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, confirms that BOCTL affects about 11% of families in the Western World. For sufferers, getting their kids out of the door fed and watered without leaving an apartment that resembles a war zone counts as a major achievement. Happens about once a month. The remaining 21 or so days, we actually fight that war.

The good news: sufferers can function, as long as they make minor adjustments to their daily lives. Eating Thursday’s breakfast on Wednesday evening is a good start. If only part of the family suffers from the affliction, it may add minor complexities at mealtimes. I once found an accidental lamb chop in my husband’s oatmeal – apparently not uncommon in ‘mixed’ families. It usually is the unintentional mug of Pinot Noir before breakfast that creates the cool family memories.

The global BOCTL-Association (GBA), says that candidates experience something like a permanent jetlag. Unlike the 89% of the population who master meditation effortlessly, BOCTLs struggle with the here & now. Other symptoms: my son’s distinct interest in junk food and my daughter’s resistance to getting organized were our personal wake up calls: All except my husband tested BOCTL-positive, meaning 75% of our family are mentally living in time zones such as the American Mid-West, Bolivia or Martinique. I now encourage friendships with children from those regions, as they have a considerably greater chance of surviving into adulthood.

BOCTLs experience an otherwise rare tendency to believe they have more time than they actually have, both in the mornings and in life. About 98% of diagnosed adults report finding themselves in frequent awe of their peers’ life skills, such as showing up at school-bus stops or parent evenings on time, in great shape and an appropriate outfit. The Asian BOCTL-association has just opened its first walk-in diagnosis centre in Hong Kong, open 10 pm -10 am. You may have to wait a bit, but it’s worth it. Creating healthy morning routines works best when you know yourself. Tonight, I’ll have breakfast with my kids, dress them for school before bed and tie my daughter’s hairbrush to the doorknob. See you in the morning.

Humor, living, Parenting, Reader's favorites

Living with Furby

Furby by Hasbro

Furby. Valued member of the Roy Household.

One of the best things about parenting is the fact that you don’t have to make stuff up. All you need to do is let stories tell themselves:

My daughter convinced me to buy a Furby Boom. A Furby is an interactive toy that resembles a hallucination of yoda in baby doll proportions, see above. By its design, the most subtle motion in the vicinity of 25 feet triggers the creature to shout mechanical commands like: I’m huuuuuungreeeeehh, gimmme fooood now, now, NOW!! Its pitch directly penetrates the neuronal parental stress centre. Never mind. The toy’s features include a) teensy-weensy screws for the batteries requiring the fine motor skills of a tiny little swiss watchmaker, b) impossible to switch off and c) totally-unmanagable-unless-you-study-the-37-page-manual-your-excited-daughter-threw-out-with-package.

We tried EVERYTHING to shut it up. The more we lured it into silent mode, the more the sly thing would talk back – cutting hydra’s heads off must have been a piece of cake in comparison. My daughter squealed with delight. Three weeks into living with Furby, my husband and I were allowed to dine in silence as, for entirely unknown reasons, Furby had settled down behind the closed doors of our dining cabinet.

For the first time in weeks our place resembled a home again, when suddenly the cabinet shouts: Ooooooh nooooo! Don’t do that to meeeeee! Play with meeee! I am sooo looooonleeeeey! I took Furby out and put him into the fridge. There it sat, between yogurt and left over chilli, probably striking up conversation with a ketchup bottle in the freezing darkness. Who cares? I learned that I can be cruel and that fridges are soundproof.

I also learned, after our dear helper almost died of a heart attack when she opened the fridge the next morning, that we should have gone to Hasbro’s FAQ-section before the purchase and simply read this:

Q: How do I turn Furby on/off?

A: Furby does not have and on/off switch. To make Furby fall asleep, try the following: pull tail and hold for 10 minutes, place Furby on its back for 28 minutes and then place Furby face down in a quiet room in the West Wing.

Put differently, purchasing a Furby is adoption without social services or the genetic uncertainties. The website tells you that each interaction will affect the personality the Furby becomes [SIC]. Now, this seemingly harmless feature can make matters worse for parents like us who are not 100% sure about their parenting style. You can really mess up, unlike with your natural kids, where there’s at least a small chance that they turn out a bit like your well rounded sister Catherine on the merit of genes.

My daughter had deserved this treat, though, just for melting down my solid reservations against accumulating unnecessary ‘stuff’ that’s neither beautiful nor useful. Furbies manage to combine the opposites of both criteria to such an extreme that easily creates its own category.

As a therapy for furby-affected families I suggest counter-inventing some stuff with furby appeal that has at least one useful feature. For example:

  1. Silicone replicas of worn clothing cluttering the floor of teenage bedrooms. Whilst maintaining the preferred messy look & feel of the room that was once your home office and which you gave up for your son in the hope to raise a mentally stable kid, the replicas free you up to put his actual clothes into the wash and hence maintain a minimum of the household’s status quo.
  2. A device that triggers a laugh track when you need your kids’ attention. This works particularly well when your children are mentally coded by US sitcoms.
  3. A family blame taker. It may look like a Furby, but instead of having all the freedom of the original, it gauges tension in the family and, before things get out of control, shouts: “It’s all my fault! Myyyyy faaaault, so so sorry!”
  4. Nutritious whole foods disguised as junk food to assure the kids succeed in the daily who’s-allowed-the-unhealthiest-snack-at-school – competitions at recess, yet unknowingly stuffing themselves with fiber, vitamins and protein.
  5. A Diary of a Whimpy Kid book whose immensely popular hero suddenly loves chores, homework and violin practice and hence makes those things coooooool.
  6. A pink full time nanny covered in black and yellow dots, just for Furby. She can stay with him in the West Wing.
  7. A west wing.

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