The Best Part



In an effort to engage my children in conversation from an early age, I’d often go around the dinner table at night and ask my people what the best part of their day and the worst part of the day were. The “highs” and the “lows,” you might say. Generally, I’d get a lot of shoulder shrugs and eye rolls from my baby dolls, but this never deterred me. I’d press, “What was the best thing that happened to you today, buddy?” and maybe I’d get a, “Playing kickball at recess,” or, “Lunch,” and that was when they were still in grammar school.

Forget high school.

Usually though, the real conversations would come at night, in the dark, maybe after the millionth reading of Tikki Tikki Tembo when my child — softened by a tummy full of chicken nuggets and a long, hot shower — would start to open up and share some of the events of his day. Usually the worsts.

I miss those moments.

Nowadays I’ll get a call when someone has something sad to report and a text to share good news. But it’s just not the same.

I played the “Best Part/Worst Part” game a lot when I visited Hong Kong with my two younger kids last month. But honestly, there were really no “Worst Parts” on that trip. The challenge was sifting through all the cool stuff we did to pick the best “Best Part.”


We took the tram up to the top of Victoria’s Peak.


We ate delicious dim sum.


We pretended we were Buddhists.


We swam in the pools of a waterfall.


We had cocktails overlooking the lights of the city.

I think the “Best Part” of the trip for me was that of all the really cool things we did — jumping off a junk boat, riding waves on the South China Sea, swimming in the pools of a waterfall, spinning on a rollercoaster at an amusement park — my 12yo son’s “Best Part” of the trip was our visit to see the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.


Tian Tan Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, Hong Kong.

It’s actually called Tian Tan Buddha and was built a little over 20 years old. The 200-foot-tall bronze statue sits high atop 268 steps and is part of the Po Lin Monastery. Around 20 percent of Hong Kong people are Buddhists so even though it’s a tourist destination, we got to see the reverence the site inspires among those who practice that religion.

Luckily the day was overcast making the 200+ step-ascent a little less terrible.

Luckily the day was overcast making the 200+ step-ascent a little less terrible.

Approaching the Big Buddha.

Approaching the Big Buddha.

The kids carefully watched monks walking around the grounds and Buddhists lighting incense using long, wooden sticks, placing offerings of fruit at temple altars or kneeling with heads bowed in prayer. As we walked up the long staircase to see the buddha up close, my son had a lot of questions about Buddhism.

Burning the long sticks of incense.

Burning the long sticks of incense.

Offerings in one of the temples.

Offerings in one of the temples.

Feeling it at Big Buddha.

Feeling it at Big Buddha.

“Mom, didn’t you used to be a Buddhist?” he asked.

“Did you say Buddhist or nudist?” I joked, as I’ve been neither and since I really don’t like taking off my clothes, would only consider the former.

I had offered to get each of the kids a souvenir from the trip and while my 17yo daughter chose a midnight blue silk robe festooned with colorful flowers and birds, my son chose a mini Buddha to bring home. Given there was a fair amount of weaponry — wooden swords and daggers — to have selected as his Hong Kong keepsake, I was pleased that my baby chose something so peaceful. It speaks to who the kid is.

Sampling souvenir options.

Sampling souvenir options.

While we were on Lantau Island that day, we had two other adventures. First, we hopped back on the bus — the same buses that took us to the Buddha from the ferry we took from Honk Kong Island — to check out Tai O fishing village. We careened along the windy road across the mountains to the edge of the island to the bustling tourist destination.

It’s pretty much a narrow alleyway you walk through to be assaulted with the sights, sounds and smells — wow, the smells — of a Chinese fishing village. I felt like we were on a movie set. The path was jammed with predominantly Asian tourists and lined on either side with shops and stalls displaying am impressive array of shit you can do with sea life. It hung dried from lines. It swam in colorful plastic buckets. It got formed into a ball and fried. It was beyond fascinating although some people in our party could not get out of there fast enough.

We hopped in taxis to get back to the monastery because we wanted to take a gondola that would head us back to our friends’ flat in Stanley.

As we approached the ticket counter for the gondolas, we saw that the line divided into regular ticket holders and those who upgraded to the “crystal cabin.” The grown ups looked at each other and I was like, “Crystal. Totally.”

I read that to mean “VIP.” I did that once for a ride on the London Eye. In that case, I think some booze might have been included and the upgrade expedited our trip to the front of the line.

In China, the upgrade brought instead a higher level of terror to our journey over the mountains and briefly over the South China Sea as the floor bottom of the gondola was glass. You could see straight down.

The secret to getting through about 25 terrifying minutes is to let go, which is what I did. Instead of imagining the cable snapping and our car plummeting through the treetops far below; or focusing on the fact that this would all be going down in China and isn’t that where lots of crazy things happen; I sat back and took in the breathtaking scenery we were gliding through.

Obviously, we survived.

It’s been about a month since we’ve returned from this life-changing trip and we’re already talking about where we’d like to go next.

My son came home from his first day back at school after Hong Kong and as he dipped his cookie into a glass of milk asked, “Hey Mom, can we go to England for spring break next year?”

And whether we can swing that or not a year from now, I love that that’s how he’s thinking.


That’s the best part for me.

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My Hong Kong Trip, Part 2


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When we last left this blogger, she had staggered off a 16-hour flight, spit out an expletive and proceeded to tour Hong Kong with her expat neighbors along with her two youngest children.

The China trip had always seemed so far away because we booked it so far in advance. I am usually pretty last-minute and willy-nilly about everything in my life so making plane reservations for the vacation six months ahead of time was a completely foreign concept (and really, setting the tone for the entire adventure). But we pulled the trigger in October, bought the tickets, and then started counting the days.

It turns out, I am not a great counter because all of a sudden — somewhere around mid-March — I realized we were scheduled to leave about two weeks hence and had done nothing to plan our itinerary. Zippo. I reached out to my girlfriend, who moved to Hong Kong last summer with her family, to ask her if she had any ideas and she messaged back, “Actually, what do you think about this?”

We were just a little busy.

We were just a little busy.

It was like a dream come true. We literally just had to get our asses over to the other side of the world, and our friends had made plans for the rest. It was like being on a tour or something.

The best part about the trip – well, one of the best parts about the trip – was that we had locals as our very own tour guides. And we were their first visitors, so things were still relatively new for them. It wasn’t like, “Oh, there’s that giant Buddha again (*yawn*).” They were as excited as we were.

Because we were with locals who don’t own a car, we not only got to experience the thrill of riding in a Hong Kong taxi, but we got ourselves some Octopus cards (Hong Kong’s equivalent of NYC’s MetroCard) and rode all sorts of public transportation, like the rollercoaster double-decker buses, the crazy little green minibuses and the MTR (or subway) all over the island. We also took a couple of gondola rides, but that’s another story.

We jammed a lot in during our week there, including breathtaking hikes, yummy dim sum, foot rubs, a twisty-turny rollercoaster ride above the South China Sea, a junk boat tour and a visit to the aforementioned Giant Buddha. And we ate at some outstanding restaurants but did manage to have a brush with some of China’s creepier food choices. Never — I repeat — never order a chicken Caesar salad for your lunch at a Chinese beach snack bar. Shiver.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights:

Hiking the Dragon’s Back

Since our friends moved to Hong Kong, they’ve posted lots of pictures on social media of amazing hikes they’ve taken around the island with their three young sons. I had indicated that we’d love to do some as well during our trip. So when I went to my local Athleta store to buy some fresh new tops for sightseeing and hiking (a goodwill gesture towards the Chinese people so that they would not subjected to seeing me in an item pulled from my old pile of stinky, pit-stained workout tops), I told the very enthusiastic sales woman that I didn’t anticipate any serious exertion. “They’ve got young kids,” I told her, “so we’re really just going to be going for walks and not quote-unquote ‘hiking.'”

So, it turns out that those expat friends of mine are fucking hiking with their kids. Like, strenuous stuff. Our first hike was the famous Dragon’s Back – named for the way the mountains the trail traverses resemble one of those fire-breathing creatures — which is part of the Hong Kong Trail. We climbed eight or nine miles of hills and steps, and it was kinda hot and we were kinda tired from the time change and maybe a tad dehydrated but then we looked around at the drop-dead gorgeous scenery and shut the hell up.

 Hitting the Beach at Big Wave Bay

The Dragon’s Back trail ends with about 1,000 steps down (literally) to Big Wave Bay, which is where we crashed (literally again)  for the rest of the afternoon. Who knew China had beaches, much less boogie boarding? Oh, and shark nets. That’s a thing.

Walking Around SoHo

We spent Easter morning in the SoHo section of Central — the big city on Hong Kong Island — and walked around a little after brunch.

Sailing Around the Island on a Junk Boat 

Later that day we walked down to Stanley Pier, right down the road from our friends’ flat, and boarded our very own junk boat. When my girlfriend told me before we left that they had made reservations on a junk boat, I envisioned we’d be on one of those old-fashioned Chinese-y sailboats with the red sails. You know, one of these deals:

Seen from our junk boat.

What I thought was a junk boat, as seen from our junk boat.

But, no. We boarded a lovely two-level sea vessel replete with beanbag chairs for lounging and a crew to make us dinner and sail us around the island. We stopped for a while off Big Wave Bay — outside the shark nets, I might add — to do a little swimming. Beer totally helped get me past the threat of sharks or the very large, red jellyfish we kept an eye on. As my girlfriend would say — and I began to follow suit — about a thousand times while we were there whenever we encountered something not-very-American, “Welcome to Hong Kong.”

Victoria Harbor Light Show

After dinner and a competitive game of Uno, we headed to the north side of the island to see the famous Symphony of Lights show. Asian countries — admirably, in my opinion — have a thing for lights. Like, the more, the better. This holds true in Hong Kong where all the crazy tall skyscrapers lining the harbor light up as the sun goes down and then at 8:00 each night, laser lights stream from the top and sweep across the harbor for the light show.

This is totally not my video. Thank you, YouTube.

Honestly, we had a hard time — sitting there on our junk boat in the middle of the choppy harbor — gauging just when the show started or stopped. We were a little underwhelmed. But we happened to catch the show a few nights later from a restaurant high above the city, and it seemed a lot better. But who cares? It was a spectacular setting.

Oh, and there was a full moon.

But Wait, There’s More …

I think we’re going to need a Part 3. There’s so much more to show and tell you about. We still haven’t even gotten to the Big Buddha, the insane gondola ride over mountains and the South China Sea or all the smelly fishing village we visited. Not to mention all the toilets I took pictures of. No, we’re going to need to do this again.

Stay tuned.

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Postcard From Paris

Spring time in Paris, courtesy of my 16-year-old.

Springtime in Paris, courtesy of my 16-year-old daughter.

I didn’t leave the United States until I was 23 and out of college. Up until then, the extent of my air travel consisted of a handful of trips to Florida and a visit to St. Louis to stay with my aunt and her family the summer my parents separated when I turned 12.

As the oldest of six kids, before two more would join us after my mom got remarried, vacations didn’t really happen much for me as a kid. We did drive from New Jersey to Orlando one year – my parents, five siblings, a grandfather and me, and I was tasked with sitting in the way back of our station wagon with an 18-month-old struggling with diarrhea (sister, you know who you are). And for about five summers I joined my mom’s parents on their annual journey to western Maine, with the occasional pit stop on Cape Cod to stay with a great uncle.

But when I finally travelled to Europe with a girlfriend for two weeks in the spring of 1990 — a super-low-budget affair funded using my VISA card and cash advances — I got bit by the travel bug. We rode the train from Paris to Rome to Florence to Nice and back to Paris and frankly didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We did, however, stuff in as much as we could – including the Louvre, St. Peter’s, a day-trip to Cannes and a makeout session with some Italian guys – before heading home.

Unbeknownst to me then, I’d be married six months later and a mom less than two years after that. International travel was pushed to the back burner while I learned to navigate the foreign soil of breastfeeding, night terrors and potty training for another dozen years.

So when I had the opportunity to join my then-husband for his annual trip to London around 2006, I jumped at the chance even though farming out four kids and their assorted schedules – basketball games and birthday parties – for a long weekend was akin to brokering a Mid-East peace deal.

But it was worth it. We had tons of fun – we were always good at having fun together – and got to hang out with an assortment of people he worked with in shipping from all over the world, and I returned with him two more times before we split up.

In the perfect world, we would have introduced our kids to international travel as they got older but, alas, the marriage went the way of the pound and with two college tuitions coupled with an addiction to Amazon Prime, I couldn’t exactly swing taking four kids to Europe on my own.

Which is why I encourage them — constantly – to to jump on any opportunity that comes their way to get out of the United States and see the world themselves.

My oldest daughter went with her high school to Italy over spring break of her junior year. She traveled to Rome and Florence and came home with an appreciation for wine and Nutella and artsy photos she took of the Coliseum.

I’ve been trying to push her to spend a semester abroad now that she’s in college, but she just drags her feet and her older brother says he doesn’t want to miss anything going on at school – a rocking tailgate or fraternity party – and that Europe could wait.

What they are both failing to understand is that if they don’t go somewhere now, they’ll never again have the opportunity to be immersed in another culture for an extended period of time and able to travel from there, on their parents’ dime.

They’ll be stuck jacking up their credit card balances to cram as much as they can in 14 days and staying in sketchy pensiones, unable to afford anything but like the cattle car on the overnight Eurorail from Paris to Rome. Believe me, I know.

My 16-year-old daughter took off for Paris Saturday afternoon for a 10-day trip with her high school. I literally scraped together the money – which I really didn’t have any business spending – for her to join many of her good friends tour the City of Light and discover that there’s a whole world outside the good ol’ US of A.

We really spent a lot of time getting her ready for the trip — making sure she had appropriate rain gear, walking shoes and a fashionable Old Navy ensemble – unlike when her sister flew to Europe three years ago. Back then, I don’t think I was involved in the clothes she packed and couldn’t tell you if she even had an umbrella, and I think that it’s a sign of how much things have changed around here since then.

Three years ago I still had four kids living at home and had started working full-time and I don’t think I could even see straight, much less worry about how many pairs of jeans my daughter had packed for 10 days in Italy.

I didn’t even know what time to pick her back up from the high school the day they returned . I actually had to call another family whose son was on the trip, people I didn’t really know well, to find out and you should have heard the tone in the dad’s voice when I had to lay my clueless cards on the table. He was surprised, at best. He had obviously never spent any time trying to operate as a disorganized, working, single mother.

But to my older daughter’s credit, she didn’t really need me. Later, I learned that some of the kids had called their families while in Italy, but my girl left her iPhone at home and never really felt the need to check in. I probably don’t blame her.

Flash forward three years, one job and two fewer kids later, and I had a lot of time to focus on my younger daughter’s trip. And, unlike her sister, she brought her phone along and I’ve already gotten filled in on the adventure so far through iMessages and Snapchat. There’s Wi-Fi in her hotel, so I’ve gotten a picture of the view from the rooftop and one of her pretending to lick the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

I asked her to sum up the experience so far in three words and she wrote back: “Foreign. Fabulous. Frightening.”

“What’s so scary?” I asked.

“It’s just so different here,” she texted. “And I can already tell they hate Americans.”

I reminded her to keep smiling and to try to use the little French she knew – lots of pleases and thank yous – as much as possible and she’d be okay.

“I’m trying, it’s just hard,” she wrote. “But I’m loving it.”

As the kids started to board the bus yesterday that would take them to the airport, I grabbed my daughter and pulled her aside for one last hug. I looked into her big blue eyes and tried to impart important final pieces of wisdom: Don’t talk to strangers. Sleep on the plane. Take notes on everything interesting you see and hear. Be careful because the alcohol there is a lot stronger than it is here. We laughed and she gave me one more big squeeze and I could feel my throat tighten and the tears start to sting my eyes.

“Stop,” she said and gave me a kiss and got on the bus with a wave.

As the bus pulled out of the high school parking lot, past the group of moms and dads gathered to wave the kids off, I had to wipe the tears leaking past my sunglasses.

Because as thrilled that I was that she was on the cusp of this great and possibly life-changing adventure, I hated to see her go.

It scared the shit out of me.

But, like figuring out how to navigate the Paris Metro or an overnight layover in the Milan train station – or, hey, even a divorce – these challenges have made for a richer, fuller life.

Just add Nutella.