Friday, October 29, 2010

I'm So Glad I Went!

Well this entry may end up as total gibberish. I’m back in the US, but stuck at JFK in New York. My flight to Boston has been delayed several times due to bad weather in the Midwest. But they’re assuring me that the flight is now on its way and should arrive here by 6:15pm. But yes, after a 16 hour flight from Hong Kong it’s a little difficult to sit here patiently. But what can you do? I guess part of my equanimity is knowing that if I hadn’t gone to Hong Kong I wouldn’t be sitting here, and I’m SO glad I went!

On Sunday I hugged Jane goodbye and moved into our hotel on Robinson Road in Mid-levels on Hong Kong Island. The Bishop Lei International Hotel turned out to be a great choice for us. The rooms are small but clean and well-outfitted with plenty of closet space. We had a suite and a corner room with great views of the harbor. And the price was very reasonable, especially considering the location.

Lee arrived from the US Sunday evening. After giving him a chance to clean up we headed to India Restaurant in TST. I was curious to see if it really was as good as we remembered it to be. Well no question, it definitely was. We haven’t found Indian food anywhere in Boston that can even remotely compare.

We ordered all our old favorites – chicken tikka, black dahl, barbequed potatoes (potatoes with cashews and raisins in a barbeque tomato sauce), shrimp curry and of course naan and roti. I ate way too much but oh it was good.

Monday morning it was time to go running on Bowen Road. I wasn’t used to trying to get there from Robinson Road and ended up going part of the way up the mountain before I finally ended up in the right place. There is just this piece of road where about 10 different roads meet and some of them start heading up the Peak and the rest meander around either to the east or west of the mountain. When we first moved here I called it the spaghetti roads and it still looks like a bunch of noodles. If you are on foot it’s even more confusing because the sidewalks go their own directions which don’t necessarily relate to what the roads are doing.

Once I finally got on Bowen though, it was great. It was like nothing had changed, even the weather. It wasn’t that hot, but it was hotter than what I had been running in in New England so it felt pretty sticky to me. Even on a Monday morning it was crowded with people, dogs and the occasional car too. It’s unlike any other place in the world I have ever run. Beneath my feet the buildings of Hong Kong rise to the sky and beyond them the harbor glistens in the morning sun. Above me the mountain, otherwise known as The Peak, towers covered in jungle plants and concrete. The concrete is there to keep the mountain from sliding down into the harbor which it has a tendency to do every once in a while.

Back at the hotel I got ready to meet Jane, Chris and Susan at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Thanks Susan! This was a favorite AWA local tours destination so it was fun to return there for lunch with old friends. After lunch we checked out the Yacht Club’s shop where I bought Lee a polo shirt and myself some gloves for pulling up sheets when sailing.

Then it was time for a foot massage. O how I’ve missed having my feet pummeled expertly in this city! I don’t know why this activity hasn’t taken off in the US, but it probably has something to do with the salary disparities.

Once my feet were properly attended to I bid goodbye to the ladies and decided to do a little shopping in Causeway Bay. The little boutiques along Fashion Walk have almost all changed hands in the year and a half since I’ve been gone, including many of my favorite stores. I still wandered in and out, more to see what sorts of things were selling in Asia this fall. I can tell I’ve been gone awhile because many of the clothes look frilly and silly to me. It’s funny how my tastes change depending on where in the world I live!

Our dinner choice tonight was Chinese. We went to Hunan Garden in Exchange Square and invited the group of 3M people that were traveling with Lee to join us. It’s more fun to go to a Chinese restaurant with lots of people so you can try different things. Our dinner was great, except for one small exception. We ordered an eggplant with chili peppers, only when the dish came I thought the peppers were green beans! The first one I ate wasn’t spicy at all, but the second one just about took my head off. I was fairly incapacitated for several minutes. I like spicy food but that was ridiculous. I have to pay more attention to what I’m eating!

I chose Tuesday, my last day in Hong Kong, to climb The Peak. We used to do this all the time when we lived here. It was always strange to me that my fitness for running didn’t seem to convert very well to fitness for hiking up mountains. I wondered just how difficult this hike would be. Well, I guess marathon training DOES convert to hiking mountains. I didn’t have much trouble with the Peak at all, and although I wasn’t going very fast I could keep up a steady pace, only pausing occasionally to take a picture or two.

Our last meal in Hong Kong was at Nga Trang, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. I concluded that the Vietnamese restaurant that we found in Lowell was indeed good, but Nga Trang was better. Their pomelo salad and their pho are just amazing.

Well I’m tired and my flight has still not arrived. And once it gets here I think there’s probably some question about whether it will be able to take off again. If I can get home tonight I will do it, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to get a hotel.

Right then there was an announcement that my flight had been cancelled. I went up to the desk to see what my options were. It turned out that I could wait for another American flight, but the first one was the next day at 11:30am. My other option was to take a taxi to LaGuardia and get on a Delta flight. I decided to try to get home that night if at all possible. I didn’t have any clean clothes left anyway!

The taxi drive from JFK to LaGuardia was a hoot. The driver was from Haiti, and talkative. He told me that he had bought a house in Harlem and that the neighborhood was integrated (“there be white people on my street now and they just regular, we talk and say hi and all”) and very nice. He made me want to visit Harlem the next time I’m in New York.

He dropped me off at the Delta terminal, but it turned out that the flight I wanted was at ANOTHER terminal called the Marine Air Terminal. Fortunately a shuttle was just leaving for this terminal and I squeezed into the last available space. The shuttle dropped us off at a little old-fashioned-looking airport building. I joked as we walked through this terminal that I felt like I had just gone back in time around 30 years. As it turned out there was ANOTHER flight that was leaving in around 20 minutes and there was room for me on this flight! Yay! This was the first good news I’d had since arriving in the US.

This flight turned out to be a large commuter airplane with lots of empty seats. I had a whole row to myself. What joy to be able to put up my aching swollen feet! It was fast too, once we finished taxiing around the entire airport. I was finally back in Boston by around 9pm.

It’s nice to be back, in my own house with my sweet little dog. The leaves have indeed mostly fallen off the trees so I’m glad I took all those pictures before I left. I don’t think it’s going to be too long before winter is here. 

It’s hard to explain how happy this trip made me. I love where we live now and I’m very content with my life, but I no longer feel like I had to put Hong Kong away somewhere, far inside my heart. Now I feel like I’ll go back there, again and again, and each time there it will be, the same beautiful, crazy, amazing city. It’s waiting there for me whenever I’m ready to return.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dim Sum and Mizzou

Photo by Bill Carter, from

Today I woke up in a nervous tizzy. Mizzou vs. Oklahoma, the number one team in the nation vs. number 11, at Columbia, homecoming, ESPN College Game day. So much hype. This is a little hard to explain if you aren’t a Missouri sports fan, but there are some serious psychological issues involved….for too, many years Missouri had a very, very bad football team. I’m talking something like 30 years. We would have occasional flashes of hope and progress, and then a kicked touchdown, a 5th down, a blown play, a drunken coach, well, you get the picture. Mizzou fans are loyal but pessimistic. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But for the past 7 years we’ve had a good coach, and increasingly good teams. We’ve improved, but not quite enough “to get to the next level” as the saying goes. But maybe, just maybe, this year is different.

It seems almost perfect that I would be back in Hong Kong for the “big game”. Watching US sports in Asia involves searching the internet for the appropriate video feed and watching and listening at odd hours of the day or night. Watching college football on a Sunday morning in Hong Kong is part of the Asian experience for many American expats.

I found the requisite video feed and started watching the game on my PC. It didn’t take too long for me to think; hmm this team seems different from other Missouri teams. I don’t know if they’ll win this game, but this is a good team. It made me happy.

I watched them play online until the middle of the third quarter, and then had to leave to go eat dim sum. It was just as well. I could feel the old pessimistic worried feeling setting in, and this team really didn’t deserve that. When I left the score was Mizzou 20, Oklahoma 14, so we were ahead, but a long-time Missouri fan knows better than to get excited until the clock runs out.

We walked to the MTR from Jane’s apartment. The weather was simply stunning. The skies were blue and the distant mountains were absolutely beautiful. It’s the Hong Kong of picture postcards and calendar art, so gorgeous that it doesn’t seem real. On top of that it’s Sunday and the helper’s day off, so the streets were packed with Filipino and Indonesian girls having fun visiting, shopping and having a good time. It was Hong Kong at its charming best, even though this also meant that the MTR was absolutely packed.

Dim sum was a hoot. For one thing, I was hungry and I knew that meant that EVERYTHING on the carts would look good to me. And Lee wasn’t there to say “Lynn! No!!” Jane, Chris and Adrian were far too nice to me. I told them to watch me but they thought it was funny and let me have my way. So we ended up with some strange things, but that’s okay. Some were wonderful as always, some were, well, interesting…no egg tarts either, so I have to remedy that before my visit is over.

After dim sum I went back to Jane’s to check the score and grab a taxi as I prepared to move into our hotel for the rest of our visit. I couldn’t believe it. 36-27, we won. WE WON! We beat the number one team in the nation, at home, on national TV, during homecoming. We are 7-0 for the first time since 1960.

It’s a great feeling and I have just been happy as can be all afternoon. It was fun taking a taxi to Mid-levels. Our hotel is on Robinson Road in the heart of my old stomping grounds. It’s nice, a suite with a beautiful view, close to the escalator, Bowen Road, the trail to the Peak. Lee has landed in Hong Kong, so all I have to do is wait for him to arrive at the hotel and then go eat Indian food at one of our favorite restaurants in the world. Not a bad life! I know he’ll be tired, but it will be okay.

I’m just very happy right now. I know it’s kind of silly, but I am. 

Return to Hong Kong

I thought returning to Hong Kong would be more emotional for me than it is. It’s a funny feeling being back. I keep saying it’s almost like I never left, but that’s not exactly right. It feels very comfortable, though.

I was a little worried – would I remember how to ride the MTR? Would the crowded streets scare me like they did when we first moved here? Would I be able to find my way around? The answers are yes, no and emphatically yes!

I’m staying in Jane’s lovely apartment in Kowloon until tomorrow and then I’ll move over to a hotel in Mid-Levels, close to where we used to live. Its fun staying over here. Kowloon is more intensely Chinese and I’m not nearly as familiar with it as I am with Central, but I’ve been over here plenty of times. Just another new area of Hong Kong to figure out! I found a place to jog; I found the Starbucks…

Hong Kong hasn’t changed much. The streets are still filled with young girls wearing Asian fashions, old men and women wearing Chinese pants and jackets. Strange smells emerge as we pass noodle shops. We pass a pig’s head in the wet market, wriggling fish, vegetables whose names I forget. The sky is blue, but the distant hills are lost in a smoky haze. The air is soft and humid, cool until you walk around for awhile and then it starts to feel warm and sticky. Traffic zips by; horns blare for no reason; buses careen around corners, barely missing the pedestrians waiting on the sidewalk.

I’m almost over my jet lag already, which is good, since I only have 5 days here before I go home. Yesterday we walked around Central. We took the escalator up to SoHo and had a late breakfast, before popping into some of my favorite stores. I didn’t buy much, although it was fun to look; just a purse, which makes me laugh. How fitting to return to Hong Kong and buy a purse!

In the evening we braved the Friday night crowds on the MTR to go over to Pacific Place and eat at Grappa’s. The food was yummy and it was so nice to relax and drink some wine without worrying about who needed to be able to drive home safely!

This morning I went on a short jog around Jane’s neighborhood. I’m still slowly recovering from the marathon. Jogging in Hong Kong, even in an unfamiliar area, brought back such memories! Old ladies did Tai Chi in the public parks; other ladies did their strange arm-swinging exercises. Helpers walked dogs and here and there fellow runners jogged by in various states of fitness. I can’t wait to run on Bowen Road on Monday!

Later in the morning Jane and I walked over to the Jade market. My last jade bracelet had broken quite some time ago and I wanted to replace it. I had to ask Jane what the current prices were like so that I knew how much I should haggle. She said they had gone up some, and they certainly had! Venders were starting at $500 Hong Kong and more for a single bracelet, when they used to start at $120 and you could usually get them for $80 or less! At first I was really dismayed, but I kept walking around, looking for some bangles that I really liked, and a vender than wasn’t pricing then at a ridiculous amount.

Finally one lady had several bangles I liked, and she knew how to make a westerner feel like they weren’t being cheated too much. She started at $500 for one bracelet, and I rolled my eyes, but then she pulled me aside. “Don’t tell anyone. For you, special price - $250”. I told her that was still too much, but what if I bought two? Would she give me a better price? I picked out two bangles that I liked and told her I would take them both for $200. “Ah, how can I do that?” she said. “Real Jade!” Oh come on, I said smiling. This is the Jade market! “Okay, okay she said, $380 for two, okay?” I countered at $300 and she said yes. I knew it was still more than I should pay, but I didn’t care that much. It was still a bargain by US prices. Two nice “jade” bracelets (who knows if they are really jade or not, but they are the solid ones that the light shines through, so they’re good quality, whatever they are) for around $45 US. That was good enough for me.

Then Jane got a phone call. Susan, an old friend of ours whose husband manages the Hong Kong Convention Center, wanted to know if we would like to come over to Wan Chai where the convention center is located and go to the Mega Showr. We said sure! So we hopped on the MTR, grabbed a bite to eat and walked through the show. All kinds of venders were displaying crazy products for the home. Kitchenware, decorator items, artificial flowers, you name it! There was a lot of junk and I didn’t end up getting anything but Jane bought some knives. Just another one of those crazy things you end up doing in Hong Kong!

We took the Star Ferry back to TST from Wan Chai. The harbor was beautiful, but it’s very hazy today. Typhoon Megi bypassed the island yesterday and seems to have pushed the pollution down from China. Ah well, that’s part of Hong Kong too, although this particular part is something I don’t miss at all.

Tomorrow I’m having dim sum with friends before moving into the hotel. Lee arrives tomorrow evening. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Blaze of Color

By the time we moved to New Hampshire last year the leaves were almost all finished with falling off the trees and were lieing in great brown drifts all over the streets and our yard. This year we've been able to watch them change from green to tinges of color, to a blaze of yellow, red and orange.

Two weeks ago was Columbus Day, so most people had a 3 day weekend and it appeared that half of Boston decided to drive to New Hampshire to see the leaves (the other half went to Vermont). But the leaves have only continued to get more and more spectacular in the last 10 days.

On Thursday a nor'easter was predicted for the following day. I knew this meant rain and wind, and lots of it. I figured I'd better go take some pictures before the wind blew all the leaves into Canada.

So first Harper and I surveyed the yard. Harper chased chipmunks; I took pictures of the yellow leaves in the wetlands in front of the house.

Then we hopped in the car. First we drove down to the bridge where we usually go on our doggie walks. I love the view from this bridge.

Then we drove to the nearby subdivision...and from there continued around the lake. I took pictures of an restored barn, a little red school house, and of course the amazing leaves.

I know Harper didn't have any idea what we were doing. Everytime I stopped the car she figured that HERE we were going to get out and have some fun. Instead, she had to stay in the car while I ran out and snapped away. Poor Harper!

Just in time, too. Yesterday it poured, and last night and today a cold wind blew leaves and branches everywhere. The sun is back out, and a chilly breeze is whipping the trees around. Its still beautiful here but I have a feeling that by the time I get back from Hong Kong winter will be on its way.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Twin Cities Marathon

Sherry Ott, photographer extrodinare, took pictures of me at the finish, which I have used in this blog post, with her permission. For more about Sherry's adventures as a world traveler, and to see more of her beautiful photography, visit Thanks Sherry!

Sunday October 3rd. My alarm was set for 5:30 but here I was, wide awake an hour before that. How cold was it outside? I’d gone from worrying about it being too warm to worrying about just how cold it was going to feel at the start of this race.
As those of you that have been reading my blog for awhile know, I’ve been running Half Marathons for almost 3 years now. When I first started training for a half marathon, while we were still living in Hong Kong, 13.1 miles seemed an incredibly long distance to run. But now here I was, getting ready to run twice that long. Was I crazy?
I had done all my training, tried to monitor my health and my nutrition. I had done everything that I could, and my coach assured me that I was ready. But a marathon is a different animal from any other long distance race. It’s at the limit of endurance for most athletes. So, I knew I was as ready as I could be, but I also knew that I was entering the unknown. I had read enough to know that strange things happen to people during a marathon. What would happen to me?
I took the Light Rail to the Metrodome, even though it was only one stop away. I wasn’t going to expend any more energy than was absolutely necessary! Before any other race I would do an elaborate warm-up routine, but before running 26.2 miles? Nothing doing; the first couple of miles of the race would be plenty of warm-up for me!
It WAS cold; probably 38 degrees. Thank goodness we could stay inside the Metrodome until the start of the race. I had an extra shirt to wear at the beginning; I also had a garbage bag. The garbage bag made a great warm-up suit; I was glad my coach suggested it. The garbage bag came off at the beginning of the race.
I started way, way back at the end of the pack of runners. I was hoping to run the marathon in around 5.5  hours. I was also hoping to finish and not be pulled off the course because my time was over 6 hours, which was the limit for this marathon.
This is a beautiful race. It winds its way through a series of lakes and along the Mississippi River, between Minneapolis and St. Paul. At mile 19 it crosses a bridge over the river and enters St. Paul. The last six miles of the race go along Summit Avenue, passing stately historic homes, grand churches and the St. Paul Cathedral, ending at the Minnesota State Capital. Most of the race is flat or even downhill, but the last few miles are on a steady incline. It’s not steep but it just goes on and on and on. Sarah and I drove this part of the race on Saturday. From a car it didn’t look too bad, but I’d heard other runners talk about it. It wasn’t going to be easy; I was sure about that.

For the first 20 miles of the race I felt great. I was able to do my run/walk method and keep on the pace I was supposed to use. I felt confident and happy. My training had worked! Unfortunately I did have to stop and pee; twice. There just doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid it; my body can’t go more than 2 or 3 hours without needing to find a bathroom! I wasn’t about to wait in line though, so I waited until the coast was clear. Both times I don’t think I lost more than 30 seconds. I think I have peeing down to a science!
Right at the beginning of the race a man asked me what I was doing. I explained about Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method and told him I planned to run 35 seconds and walk 25 seconds for most of the race. He told me that this was his 23rd Twin Cities Marathon, but his training hadn’t gone very well and he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to finish. He asked me if he could follow me and I said sure. I did warn him that I didn’t like to do a lot of talking while I ran and not to take it personally. Most of the time he stayed a little bit behind me, coming up occasionally to chat. He even seemed to take potty breaks when I did! The sad part was at the very end he passed me, saying “this is the fun part!” I think that was a little cruel.
A little before mile 23 I saw Sarah and Erik, and Erik’s mom, Suzanne! I was so happy to see them! Sarah told me later that at that point I looked good. I felt tired but still felt confident. Something happened a little after mile 23, however. My legs just didn’t want to go anymore. I was supposed to be able to speed up a little, but it just wasn’t happening. Instead I found myself barely able to move, or at least that’s how it seemed. I guess that was the infamous wall that marathon runners talk about. Jeff Galloway’s theory for avoiding the wall is to push the long run out to a full 26 miles, run very slowly. If a runner is going to hit the wall, it usually happens around mile 20, so I think his method helped me avoid it until later in the race.
It was a strange feeling. I didn’t really feel that tired, I just couldn’t make my legs move. There was pain, sure, but mostly they felt like they weighed about 400 pounds each. Part of me wanted to just give up and go really slowly, but fortunately I guess walking hurt more than running, so I continued to shuffle along and actually reduced the length of my walking segments. I also talked to myself sternly: “don’t you DARE give up. Be a grownup! You don’t have much farther to go! Lift those legs! Keep going! A little faster! Come on!” I was pretty mean to my inner whiney child!
At around mile 25 I started getting cramps in my feet. I did my toe squinching exercises and slowly they went away, but not without some vivid cussing on my part. As I was muttering and complaining to myself a young man next to me said “yeah, they’ll have to carry me off the course dead at this point before I’d quit”. I agreed and kept trudging on.
Finally, finally FINALLY I could see the capital and the last half mile, all downhill. The crowds along the finish chute screamed enthusiastically, but all I could see was FINISH in bright blue letters on a yellow field. I found out later that Sherry and Cyndi were both there screaming for me, but I didn’t hear them at all. Sherry took some great pictures of me though, so I know I was there!

Here I come, with the St. Paul Cathedral Behind Me!

At This Point All I Can See Is the Finish Line

Sherry and Cyndi are Screaming But I Never Heard Them!

The Gates of The Capital Approach and I Just Keep on Trucking!

Ow, ow, ow, ow….really, when I stopped I could hardly walk. My mind was in good shape though; was didn’t feel at all disoriented. I gobbled down a little bowl of fruit and grabbed a water. I got my medal and felt extremely happy and proud. I wrapped my heat blanket around me; at first it was too hot, but later on it felt really good; I started to get cold again.
I got my sweat bag and lay down on the grass, not worrying too much about how I was going to manage to get up again. I was able to rip off my sneakers and put on my warm-up sweats and my flip flops. I poured the water into my bottle of Endurox, which is supposed to help your muscles recover. I started to think I was going to live.
I had lots of messages on my phone. I had to call Lee and make sure he knew I was okay. He was worried about me…aw! I talked to Sarah and we made plans to meet in the family meeting area under the “N”. This was a really well organized race. I liked that they had an organized place to meet; that’s a lot better than wandering around the harbor area in Boston trying to find Lee!
I acrossed the finish line in 5:39:44, about 9 minutes off my projected time. I know I lost those 9 minutes at the very end. I’m already trying to figure out a strategy that would allow me to maintain my pace better those last few miles. It might be that I need to go a bit slower during most of the race, or maybe slightly faster, so that I have less time to make up there at the end. It will be something to contemplate over the coming year. I think I’m going to start trying to get into the New York City Marathon. It’s a lottery, and it’s huge, around 100,000 runners and over 2 million spectators. I’ll have to get a timer that vibrates, because I’ll never be able to hear my watch beep in that kind of crowd!

Sarah and I Celebrate a Successful Finish !


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