Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas vacation....t-1hour

School ends in ONE HOUR and Christmas break begins! I have been listening to Christmas music all day and to be honest it has been hard to get much of anything done. Maybe I am feeling a little spent because in record time I got Christmas cards out (I needed to send them with a girl on our hall who leave for the US tomorrow).

Mom and dad get here in two days, then all the fun begins. YAY

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas sneak peak

This Christmas my parents in law gave Brad and I money for Christmas. I think Brad is going to spend his money on something boring like a visa to India (we are going the end of January). But not me! There were a few things on my list so I went with Ruthie to go clothes shopping. My stylish sister helped me pick out some cute "skinny" jeans and a new top. I tried them on at home when we were on Skype with Tom and Lorna so they could see what they "bought" me. I made sure that they saw me wrap up the present again and put it under the tree. I think I have shown great restraint this year, as I know what all my gifts are and I have kept them under the tree. :-) Kalina requested a picture so here it is. Sorry for the squinty eyes, I can't help it with my Condie eyes and I can't unwrap the present again to take another picture. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hiking the "Dragon's Back"

Last weekend (on the Saturday following Thanksgiving), we went with some friends from school to Hong Kong Island to do the "Dragon's Back" hike. Apparently, it's one of the most famous hikes in Hong Kong (and has been named one of the "world's best urban hikes").
This particular hike gets its name from the landscape that it covers. It runs along a ridge for much of its course, and at times when you look behind you, the sandy-brown trail over the sharp green hilltops actually looks a bit like a giant dragon's back (although, as it's a mythical creature, I suppose it's anyone's guess what a dragon's back actually looks like):
Hiking across a ridge makes for a very breezy walk, and as it was a warm day, we enjoyed the cool wind that swept across much of the path. The height of this hike also makes for some stunning scenery (below is the town of "Shek O," on the Southeast corner of Hong Kong Island):
The hike took about 2 hours or so (I think it's about 7 km or so), and it gave us a chance to chat with some of our co-workers. Most of them we already knew (in fact, Rus & Mel - also pictured in our last Shenzhen post - will be traveling to India with us next month). But, one teacher (Mary) is new to ICS, and we got a chance to get to know her during our hike.
(from the left: Emily, Maria, Mary, & Mel)

We enjoyed both the company and the scenery. It is constantly surprising to us how varied the Hong Kong landscape is. Our hike took us through sub-tropical forest, wind-swept hilltops, and ultimately ended at a beautiful beach. All of these landscapes exist within 15 miles of Hong Kong's downtown area (which we all know is one of the most densely populated places on the planet).
We finished our hike at the appropriately named town of "Big Wave Bay," where we spent the next couple of hours lounging at a beach-side cafe. We watched the surfers until the sun went down, played cards for awhile, then had a great meal. Surprisingly enough, that evening was the first time in our 4+ months in Hong Kong that we've felt like we needed to wear jackets (and of course, we had forgotten to bring them).
This week's question (post a comment so Emily knows that you're still out there!):
We travel a fair bit, and even when we visit cities, we seek out green space. Can you recommend to us (and the rest of our readers) a good "urban hike?" (or really any hike within a half-hour's drive of an urban area?)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Our Christmas Tree!

We had 4 days off work for Thanksgiving (I love being a teacher!), so on Friday we took off for China to do some Christmas shopping. We were in search of a fake tree, our rationale being that those sorts of things all seem to be made in China (and therefore must be cheap there too, right?). Well, thanks to some handwritten Chinese directions (courtesy of our kind Chinese co-workers at school), we were able to find a "wholesale" mall in Shenzhen, China. The mall was all decked out for Christmas, with fake reindeer on the sidewalk, blinking lights in the doorways, and forests of fake Christmas trees set up in the parking lot. Emily commented that the process of tree selection felt a lot like a visit to a tree lot in the US (except these trees smelled a bit like Benzene). After much serious conversation (and comments like "this one looks a bit thin," and "that one's too short," and "the fumes from this one are making me dizzy), we finally decided on a 7 foot beauty. We bought it a little too early in the day and I (Brad) wound up carrying it around Shenzhen for another 2 hours. However, we were also able to find Christmas ornaments and several strings of lights (that we are praying won't burn our house down).

So, as you can see from the picture, our home looks very festive now! Thanks to Ruthie for helping us decorate the tree!

My question (feel free to leave a comment): How much do you think we paid for our fake Chinese Christmas tree?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Sneak peak of hike on Dragon's back

Rudy and Asia
We have had a really fun Thanksgiving here in Hong Kong. We have been house-sitting/dog sitting for friends that went to Korea. It has been fun to have Rudy at their house and enjoy their beautiful view of the harbour.
Thursday we went to a great Thanksgiving day potluck with teachers from our school. For the fifth year running I have NOT had to make a turkey :-) Friday we went to Shenzhen to get pampered and buy Christmas decorations. After massages, pedicure, manicure, hair cut, a fake christmas tree and decorations we came back home relaxed and ready to play with Rudy. Saturday we dropped Rudy off at the Wongs' house to play with their family while we went on a hike with friends. The hike was beautiful (Brad will make a whole post for that hike) and we enjoyed sitting on the beach eating dinner. Also the highlight of the evening was the Wong family said "yes" to watching Rudy for the rest of the year (his current family has some major health issues and need to fly back to the US for surgery, so you all can be praying for the Pifers).

After reading my friend's blog I was inspired to write a list of what Brad and I are thankful for this year.

  • Great friends in Cairo
  • Last year's Thanksgiving in Jordan with the whole family
  • Playing with our great nephews this summer
  • Getting to hang out with Kalina and play with Isaiah (and that he is finally theirs FOREVER)
  • Staying with Julie and Tyler in Oregon
  • Family beach vacation at the Shallahamers' house
  • The Gibbons and Solazzo Families for watching Rudy in OR
  • The Pifer family for taking care of Rudy for the last 2 months here in HK
  • The Wong family for taking care of Rudy for the rest of the school year
  • Ruthanne moving to Hong Kong
  • Our jobs at ICS
  • Beautiful jungle hikes along the ocean
  • New friends
  • Thanksgiving potlucks in a new place
  • Organized public transportation
  • Skype converstations with family and friends across the world
  • Julie, Tyler, Mom and Dad Condie coming for Christmas!!
We have so much to be thankful for in life!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sorry for the absence

Sorry that we haven't posted anything in a while Two weekends ago Ruthie was in the hospital due to severe vomiting (she is better now). Then last Monday I fell off my bike and really skinned up my hand/chin/shoulder and hurt my jaw. I was trying to brake and ring my bell so as to not run over an old lady....I didn't run over the lady but I flipped over my handle bars. I haven't "got back on the horse" so to speak yet but maybe this Thanksgiving break.

I promise that we will post a few things during our upcoming break. We are dog sitting for friends so we will get to have Rudy stay with us off campus, which will be fun. We are planning a day hike, a day trip to China (Shenzhen) and decorate our apartment for Christmas. Should be fun!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kitchen goddess

On Tuesday night our part-time roommate comes for two nights. Although her bed is in the middle of our living room floor and when we get up to go to work she has to transfer to our bed, she doesn't seem to mind. She spends her day off doing our dishes, baking us cookies, going to the grocery store and cooking. Obviously we love having her around and like it that she chooses to spend her days off hanging out with us.

Ruthie has been developing her culinary skills and is becoming a kitchen goddess! So far she has made 4 delicious meals with only the help of mom's recipes and a few tips from me. It is fun to come up from my classroom for lunch and find her cooking away. Her kitchen is a little sparse and home to a few creatures (ants and geckos) so she enjoys using our kitchen to cook for the week. When she goes off to college next year she is going to be making all her friends delicious home cooked meals. She already has a hard time keeping the boys away, now with her new found skills she will have to beat them off with a stick!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rubber chicken

This is Rudy's favorite toy. He had one in Cairo (it was a white elephant gift) and Brad was able to get one here in HK. It makes him into a crazy dog (Michelle Johnson can attest to this fact). What a funny little pup!

Monday, November 1, 2010

happiness is.....

..having your puppy snuggle on your lap.

It has been great to FINALLY have Rudy in Hong Kong! After all the paperwork, endless phone calls to the airlines (thanks Brad), getting permits, all of our family in the US helping with Rudy (thank you Gibbons, Hales and Solazzos), taking him to vets, taking him to the airport (thanks Julie), giving him lots of love (thanks Max and Lola).....he is finally here. We are so thankful that a family at our school opened their home to Rudy so we can see him frequently. We got to hang out with the little pup on Sunday and it finally did feel like all the pieces of our life are here in Hong Kong. We get to see Rudy again on Wednesday, now to find bikes so we can get there a little faster than public transportation!
I think Rudy missed us, he kept following us around so he could sit on our laps.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shenzhen (again)!

We've already written one post on Shenzhen (hence the title), but this was our first trip together, so we thought we'd write another one. Shenzhen (for those of you who don't remember) is the booming city of 9 million people just across the border from Hong Kong (in China). It was Emily's first visit to the People's Republic of China, so we took a picture:

Shenzhen has lots to offer the day-trip tourist. It was only a fishing town until 1979, when Deng Xiaoping declared it a "Special Economic Zone" of the PRC. That means that the majority of the buildings are less than 30 years old. In Shenzhen, unbridled capitalism combines with architectural whimsy to create one of the world's most garish skylines:

(My favorite is the building in the background that looks like a hypodermic needle)

During our day in Shenzhen, we saw lots of interesting things. There was a karate-themed restaurant chain called "Kung Fu," with Bruce Lee as its logo. Who says death has to stand in the way of lucrative endorsements?
One of the fun surprises of Shenzhen was Wal-Mart. We didn't go inside (we were late for our massages), but we did snap a picture:
Did you notice that other symbol of globalization in the background? Makes you wonder - Which influences the world more strongly: American government policy or American corporations?

Before you all accuse me of a diatribe against the evils of multi-national corporations, I'd like to share one of the best parts of our day - a trip to Papa John's Pizza!

Oddly enough, Emily and I have never eaten at a Papa John's in the US. We did, however, order it almost weekly when we lived in Cairo. It's funny that even in Hong Kong, there are some things we can't get. Good thing China's only a short train ride away!

After splitting a giant pizza, we spent the afternoon shopping and getting massages. I (Brad) bought a sweet pair of ski pants (feel free to comment on their usefulness in tropical Hong Kong in the comments section). Emily, who doesn't ski and is too ticklish for massages, got a pedicure.

We crossed back into Hong Kong around 6:30 - we had been invited for barbeque and board games at Noah and Maria's place (their blog is in the list on the right). We didn't get home until after midnight. What a great way to spend a Saturday!

Suggested comments for this week:
  1. Where will Brad wear his new ski pants in tropical Hong Kong?
  2. Have you ever traveled across the planet and found a piece of your home culture waiting for you?
  3. What sort of food do you think they should serve in a "Kung-Fu" themed restaurant?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin patch

The weather is finally getting cooler and not so humid. We can sit in our apartment with the windows open instead of with the AC blasting. We are no longer sweating each time we walk outside and Emily's attitude about Hong Kong is getting better. Fall must be here!

I (Emily) was missing the whole fall experience of going to the pumpkin patch; traipsing through the mud, brisk cool air, searching for the perfect pumpkin to carve back home. My friend Kalina (her and her family are featured on Loves Amazing Journey blog on the right) inspired me to take the picture below. I have labeled it "my Hong Kong pumpkin patch"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


About two weeks ago, our friend Julie (who also lives on the 7th floor - see their blog on the right side of this page, entitled: "Our New Territories") offered us some "Kefir" starter. I had to google the word, as I had never heard of it before. My search yielded results that were initially quite disgusting. I think I got squeamish when I saw the words "ferment," "effervescent," and "bacteria" used to describe this beverage.

"Kefir" is a drink that is made by adding a "start" (similar to a sourdough "start") to milk and allowing that milk to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Here's what the "start" (or "grains") of kefir look like:

Although they look like cheese curds, they have a more grainy consistency. According to wikipedia (which we all know is an authoritative source on everything), they're made up of a combination of bacteria and yeasts.

Here's some finished kefir that we drank this morning (If you click on the picture, it will open much larger in a separate page and you can see the separation that occurs during the fermentation process):

After the kefir sits for 24 hours, you can strain off the grains and add them to a fresh batch of milk which will, in turn, become kefir as well.

The finished product tastes a bit sour, not unlike yogurt, although with a slightly carbonated quality. We like to make it into smoothies. So far, we've added peaches, mangoes, and banana. Here's a glass of peach kefir:

I (Brad) am easily wooed by gimmicky things. Emily is the level-headed one in our family. Kefir appeals to both of us. Emily enjoys kefir because she loves the consistency of yogurt, custard, pudding, and smoothies. Kefir appeals to me because I can't resist a trendy new food. For the time being, one beverage satisfies both of our fickle palates.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Trip to the Dentist

On Thursday, Brad went to the dentist. Actually, it was an oral surgeon. In order to explain why, we'll have to give you a bit of background on Brad's mouth.

Back in college, Brad had a root canal. That cost $1100 (there's a reason why we're telling you the cost - it will make sense at the end of this post). Back in January of this year, while we were living in Cairo, Brad's tooth (the one with the root canal) became abscessed. He had it removed and replaced with an implant (which cost $1200). We felt like we'd gotten a great deal, as implants cost at least double that price in the US. Over the last couple of months, Brad's implant started feeling sore and began to wobble in its socket. This isn't supposed to happen, as implants are actually screwed into the jaw. So, when we went to the dentist a couple of weeks ago for our routine checkups, we discovered that Brad's implant had been rejected by his body. It needed to be taken out.

So, we made an appointment with the oral surgeon (Thursday of last week), and had Brad's implant removed... for the low low price of $800. The procedure went fairly smoothly, although we got a bit of a cultural lesson when Brad inadvertently insulted the surgeon. Just before the surgery took place, he asked the surgeon (who was about 30 years old) "How many times have you done this?" The surgeon replied, "You should never speak to a specialist that way!" Apparently Brad had bruised the doctor's ego. He apologized and the doctor very graciously offered his forgiveness.

Brad took the day off work on Friday to recuperate, and is feeling well enough today to stop taking painkillers (thanks to all of our wonderful friends for their kind prayers).

So, have you been adding up the prices as we went? By our reckoning, we have essentially spent $3100 (US) for a hole in Brad's mouth.

Our questions for you this week (and we'd love to hear from you in the comments section):
  1. Which do you think was more costly: Brad's tooth or Emily's engagement ring?
  2. An alternative question: since it was so expensive, should we save the implant (pictured above) and make it into a piece of jewelry for Emily to wear?
  3. Since Brad is now missing a tooth, which Halloween costume would suit him best: Pirate or Hillbilly?

Birds, Brides and Babies

(bus to Ikea to get a few things)

This post is long overdue! Ruthanne has been here for a week already and we are just getting around to blogging about it. It has been so fun to have her come over for dinner, spend the night and explore Hong Kong together. On Sunday of last week after she spent a few days with us, we took her to the Mid-Levels and explored her new neighborhood. Funny story: we almost dropped her off at the housing for the Chinese embassy employees but found Mother's Choice when the guards told us to leave :-) The whole time we were wondering why babies needed a basket ball court and a swimming pool.

Ruthanne or "Anne" in front of the wrong housing estate. Chinese people can't say the "r" or the "th" so we changed her name. Brad really wanted her to pick a more interesting Chinese girl's name like: Winky, Purple, Rainbow, Flame (honestly these are all names of students at our school or Mc Donald's employees we've met.)

(Ruthie's living room/dinning room)

Ruthanne lives in a very cool part of Hong Kong and the view from her cute (and much larger apartment than ours) is amazing: Hong Kong Park! After unpacking some of her stuff we ventured off to the aviary in Hong Kong Park.

The whole park was amazing. As we ventured down to the lower part of the park we realized that Sunday is the day to get married and to get your wedding pictures taken at Hong Kong Park (maybe the date 10-10-10 was also an influential factor). We spotted 9 brides and their bridal parties. We had a fun time looking at the pretty (and pretty weird) choices of wedding dresses, tuxes and brides maid dresses. Two brides' accessories really made us giggle: the feather head-dress (show below) and the fur shawl (mind you it was about 80 degrees with 85%humidity that day)

We ended the day with an evening church service close to Ruthanne's house and dinner at a great Taco place. All in all a fun day but Ruthie was a little sad when we left. Good thing we do live close enough that she can come by twice a week. She is learning how to navigate public transportation quicker than I did! Pray for her as she adjusts to her new life at Mother's Choice. She is LOVING holding all the beautiful babies and is becoming an expert at giving them baths.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Phuket, Thailand, pt. 2: "Tuk-Tuks & Sunsets"

In the last post, I told you all about time we spent in the water in Thailand. In this second post on Thailand, I'll tell you all about our adventures on land.
In the three days leading up to our trip to Phuket, I (Brad) was away at High School camp. I had a great time with the kids, but after 2 nights at camp, I was pretty tired. We had planned this trip to be a relaxing "getaway," and so we selected a hotel suited to that purpose.

We chose the "Sugar Palm Grand Hillside" in Kata Beach, Phuket. The hotel was very trendy, with lots of glass and concrete, but for me the most exciting feature was the pool. Our room's balcony (pictured below) was adjacent to one of the hotel's 11 pools, and there was a pool-access ladder right there on our patio. Each morning when we got up, we were able to roll out of bed and straight into the pool.
Although Tuk-tuks (see picture below) can be a bit hair-raising, they are also a blast. Given the option between taxi and tuk-tuk, I will pick a tuk-tuk every time, even if it's more expensive. The reason is a bit difficult to articulate as there are a lot of factors that make a tuk-tuk ride enjoyable. The sputtering staccato of the motorcycle engine, the warm wind that whips through the 3 open sides of the cab, and the sense of total freedom you can only experience in a sheet-metal box without seatbelts as you careen around corners and shoot through gaps in traffic. There should be a box on life insurance policies that asks, "how often do you ride in tuk-tuks?" It would probably be listed in the same category as tobacco use.

Our hotel was located in Kata Beach, which is a quiet town by Phuket standards. There are bars, hotels, and massage parlors like anywhere else, but the town definitely lacks that hedonistic element that most people think of when they hear the word "Phuket." For that sort of thing, you have to go to the town of Patong, which is about 15 kilometers north of Kata Beach. We visited Patong one afternoon to buy a wetsuit for Brad (see photos in "Pt. 1" of our Thailand story), and were glad we had chosen to stay elsewhere.
On our last night in Phuket, we went down to the beach to watch the sun set. As mentioned earlier, Emily was convinced that the sunsets we saw in Phuket were the most colorful she'd ever seen. We had watched 2 days' worth of sunsets from the dive boat, both of which were breath-taking. I think the prettiest, though, was the one we saw from the beach in Kata.

After the sun went down, we continued to walk on the beach, and were approached by a man selling Thai "Sky Lanterns" for $3(US). A sky lantern is fairly simple. It's usually made of oiled rice paper with a candle inside. Once lit, the candle fills the lantern with hot air, causing it to rise. Feeling impulsive, we paid for a lantern, lit the candle, and watched it soar. It went surprisingly high, and eventually disappeared from view.

A lot of the trips that we've gone on in the last several years have been all about sightseeing: cramming in as many historical/cultural sights as possible. For this vacation, we decided not to visit any temples, museums, or historical sights. Instead, we swam, dove, ate, and slept in. We've decided that it is impossible to relax if your vacation runs at the same crazy pace as the rest of your life.

Here's your question if you'd like to comment: What sorts of tips can you share on how to return from vacation feeling well-rested?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Phuket, Thailand - pt. 1: "Adventures at Sea"

As many of you already know, we had a long weekend ("Mid-Autumn Festival") from September 22-26 and we decided to travel to Thailand. We've already been to northern Thailand and Bangkok, so this time we decided to explore a tiny corner of Southern Thailand. We chose Phuket. We flew directly there after work on Sept. 22, returning to Hong Kong on the evening of Sept. 26. We had a blast and did loads of stuff, but in this first post (there will be a total of two), I'll just discuss our seaborne adventures.
We spent two days of our time in Phuket aboard a dive boat. Although I (Brad) am the only one of us that dives, Emily came along as well to do some snorkeling and relax onboard the boat.
Our first day on the boat was spent in the Phi Phi islands, where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. (The name is pronounced "pee pee" - feel free to post your jokes in the comment section). I (Brad) did 3 dives: Koh Doc Mai, Koh Bida Nok, and Koh Bida Nai ("Koh" means "island" in Thai - hence the similar names). While I wasn't initially impressed with the visibility in Thailand (as compared to the Red Sea in Egypt), we were very impressed with the variety of sea life.

At Koh Bida Nok (above), I (Brad) had a great "drift dive." I saw all kinds of barracuda, coronet fish, and even sting rays. It was much different than diving in Egypt, with strong currents carrying me all around the island. But it wasn't the currents or the colorful fish on the reef that made the dive memorable. The most memorable part of Koh Bida Nok was the jellyfish. While getting out of the water, a detached tentacle from a jellyfish drifted across my face. It was an electrifying experience. I'd never been stung by a jellyfish before, and I found myself bombarded by advice from the veteran divers in my group: "You got stung by a jellyfish? It often helps to urinate on the affected area." I calmly explained to the good samaritans around me that I had been stung on the face. "Oh," they replied. "Well, I suppose you'll have to find yourself some vinegar then." I sought out a crew member who quickly ducked into the galley and returned with a gallon jug of vinegar. We were off to our next dive site.
...Where Emily decided to go and find her own jellyfish. Not being covered in neoprene, she was less fortunate than me, and was stung on her leg, arm, and lip. Fortunately, we knew where to find the vinegar.

Our second day took us to the island of Racha Yai (pictured below), which is about an hour and a half south of Phuket by boat. We saw loads of sea life, including 2 sea turtles and a sea snake (both of which would be a rare treat in Egypt). It was a more relaxed day of diving, with only 2 dives on the itinerary. Much of the day was spent relaxing and chatting with divers who had come from around the world (there were divers from Iran, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany to name just a few).

When lunchtime rolled around, the crew prepared a delicious buffet of Thai curries, rice, and salad. It seemed like the fish somehow knew that it was lunchtime, because as we finished our morning dive and climbed aboard the boat, I noticed a school of damselfish and triggerfish gathering around our boat. Once lunch was served, I realized why. When finished with lunch, passengers began absentmindedly dropping their scraps into the water. The fish loved it, and although I don't have an underwater camera, I was able to snap a picture of some of Thailand's sea life:
Jellyfish and all, it was still a relaxing couple of days. Emily is convinced that out of all of our travels, this holiday saw the most beautiful sunsets of all. I'll try to include some of those in our next post. I would, however, like to add that after 2 days on a boat, Emily did not get sick.

She did, however, sunburn her bum so badly that she couldn't sit down at the airport on the way home:
Feel free to comment with either "Phi Phi" jokes or statements of sympathy towards Emily's sunburnt bum.