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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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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