Party Planning in Hong Kong

My boy is turning two this weekend! I got a little teary last night just thinking about it – how fast it has gone, how easy he has been. From day one when he came out in two pushes to now when he consistently fits in with everyone else’s routines he has been such a gift to us. But more on that later!

Right now I am consumed with party planning. He is just having a small party with a few little friends because I really don’t think two year olds need much more than that. But still, I am obsessing over the little details. Kids birthday parties are like a drug for me. I used to make kids birthday cakes for J for years before kids were even on the agenda!

Ever since I saw this construction cake a few years ago I have wanted to make it for a little boy, and luckily Walt is obsessed with “diggers” so it is a perfect theme for his soiree! The creator of this cake, Phoodie, is one of my absolute favourite food bloggers (and party planners!) – I could vouch for at least 15 of her recipes!

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That said, he is also currently consumed by all things dinosaur (painfully so), so he will also be having some dino fun with his classmates at playgroup this Thursday. I actually have a million little other things to get done this week, so thankfully have been organised and gathering bits and pieces for weeks.

I thought I would share a few of the things I’ve found and where, as Hong Kong can be a bit of a complex maze when it comes to this stuff – lots out there, but hidden in random places and spread out all over the island of course!

Mirth

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Party bag fun!

I wrote about Mirth in Wong Chuk Hang a few weeks back and it is now one of my favourite stores! They have HEAPS of cute stuff for parties, particularly girls parties (isn’t that the way everywhere?) and melamine cups, plates and bowls in every colour if you’re in the market or it’s a fancy party. Mine isn’t, so I just got some cute party bag stuff and made sure to stick to our theme colour – a lovely “digger” yellow.

Taste/Great Food Hall etc.

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Watch out! Construction in progress…

I got these plates, cups and straws from our local Taste in Stanley, but have seen variations at Great Food Hall and Fusion. Great even had little construction cupcake kits which would be cute if I wasn’t making an enormous cake.

Wan Chai Markets/Lanes

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I took a walk through the laneways surrounding Wan Chai markets with Walt one day and we found heaps of trucks/diggers/construction site paraphernalia that was really reasonably priced. There are a few cheap toy stores hidden away behind some of the market stalls. Sadly most of what we bought has been opened and the toys are now scattered throughout the house! I managed to keep the ones with the roadwork signs/witches hats safe as I knew otherwise I’d never see the small pieces again.

Partytime

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Confetti balloon! Love it

People rave about Partytime in Central (Prince’s Building) but I personally think it could be done so much better. That said they are a bit of a one stop shop if you’re not too fussy about what you get (like yours truly) and they do deliver helium balloons (as long as your party starts after 11am!). I picked up some cute tattoos for party bags and lots of balloons in theme colours (I am excited about the black and gold confetti balloon) but opted against helium in the end because they couldn’t deliver by 10am – a bit disappointing. But, you know, he’s 2. He doesn’t even know it’s his birthday! I also got the below cupcake cases for his dinosaur cupcakes.

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Roar!

The dinosaurs I got for HK$30 at Stanley Market – I plan to reuse them as party favours. The idea with the dinosaur cupcakes is to make plain chocolate cupcakes topped with piped green buttercream and a dinosaur stuck on top! Easy but looks like you’ve tried.

For games I’m doing a pass the parcel filled with tiny Peppa Pig books. Walt has an unhealthy obsession with Peppa so she had to feature somewhere. I’m also doing a freeze game with more Peppa as the winner’s prize (though I’m sure being two years older than everyone else Heike will win this and not understand the concept of being a gracious host and, you know, donating the prize to a two year old guest!).

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Sob!

I can’t believe he is almost two! I also can’t see myself getting to Saturday without some form of minor panic attack. I already had a *minor* meltdown at J this morning because I couldn’t find the trucks I’d bought, accusing him of moving them. But they were actually right where I put them just, you know, a little further back in the cupboard. Breathe. Breathe.

Wish me luck! Can’t wait to share photos of the finished products.

Any party shop/party goods tips you’d like to share with me? My Aussie favourite, for reference, is Lark Store. So much cuteness, delivered to your door!

Z x

Lebanese Feasting

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been complaining to J that I really miss the great Turkish and Lebanese food that’s so easily accessible in Sydney – you know, the kind you can pick up in Surry Hills at 1am on a Saturday. As a teenager I often ate a seedy kebab on my weekend shopping trips with friends and have just been craving them recently, drawn to the food of my childhood. Mum asked yesterday what I wanted to eat when I travel home in a fortnight and I immediately answered “Stuart’s sausages!”, because Mum still buys her meat from the same place she has for the last 25 years!

Anyway because someone is clearly looking out for me, I got invited to a girls dinner last Friday that was being held at a Lebanese restaurant. *Hallelujah*. When I got a follow up message letting me know that it was a price-per-head “feast” type situation I pretty much started an hourly countdown.

Zahrabel is a relatively new Lebanese restaurant located in one of those giant-buildings-full-of-restaurants on Hennessy Rd in Wan Chai. We have dined there before at Pirata, which is fairly well known I think for its yummy Italian food and impressive Vermouth bar. God, I miss drinking! Aaaanyway it’s a fairly small restaurant , we were certainly the biggest (and loudest) table with 8 women, and it has a nice homely vibe.

The food is also very homely, in fact the aim of the restaurant is to provide the same experience as sitting around a Lebanese family table. The lady who booked the table is Lebanese-Australian and assured us that all the dishes tasted exactly like those her Mum makes back home. We had a range of dips and pitas, a fatouche salad (delicious!), tabouleh, pickled veg, falafel, lamb, fish and chicken skewers (another fav). The chicken skewers were served with that amazing garlic yoghurt sauce that I forget the name of – I also forgot how garlicky it actually is and COVERED my chicken in it, and could taste garlic for days. Oops!

Our group decided to order 10 dishes at $540HK a head, which includes dessert and was honestly too much food! And two of us were pregnant! For $490pp you can choose 8 dishes, which I think would be the right amount – each dish is portioned for the amount of people on the table, so it is plenty to fill you up.

Despite saying I couldn’t possibly eat dessert (which, wherever I’m concerned, is 100% always a lie), the Lebanese desserts were the highlight for me. We shared, and I had the best baclava I’ve ever tasted (not too sugary, just perfect) as well as something kind of date-y and chocolate-y and a citrus cheesecake that was SO good. They served the desserts with fresh peppermint tea and even though it was well past my bed time (almost midnight by this point) I felt like I could happily sit and chat all night.

Highly recommended!

Then, because obviously the gods of fate have really had enough of hearing my complaining, J and I ventured out last night for date night and ended up trying the new restaurant from The Black Sheep Group in Soho. The Black Sheep Group are behind some of the best (and trendiest) restaurants in Hong Kong including three of our favourites, Ho Lee Fook, Carbone and Motorino. If you’re heading to Hong Kong or living here, google them immediately!

Their latest opening is Maison Libanaise right in the heart of Soho on Shelley St. The cool thing about this restaurant is the bottom level is basically a fancy Lebanese takeaway (Kebabs! That’s what I’m talking about!), while the middle level is a mid-range restaurant and the rooftop is a bar. As with all restaurants from Black Sheep, it’s well thought out and well executed.

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At the moment they’re still in their “soft opening” phase, with the full menu to be rolled out next week. But even with a limited menu there is plenty to choose from. We were worried we’d have too much food with six sharing dishes between us, but the portions are fairly small and actually it was perfect.

We ordered the Labneh, pita, pan-friend Haloumi (OMG), fatouche salad (OMG), lamb (OMG) and chicken skewers (OMG). Seriously, all the food was THAT good. Even though we had to move tables at one point and check on our fatouche salad three times, we got a free cocktail out of it and had a great night. Where we DID go overboard was ordering two desserts (apple and date cake + pear custard), which were both good but so rich and filling…it was overkill. Of the best kind.

I’m sure I will be back there soon for a takeaway kebab, because I’m basically a pregnant teenager. Happily my obstetrician is also in the heart of Soho, so a visit is always an excuse for a nice lunch.

How about you? Eaten anywhere new lately? Have a secret fondness for kebabs?

Z x

 

Well Educated

When we first told people we were moving to Hong Kong, anyone who had actual knowledge of or experience in the city asked us the same question – “What will you do about schools?” While my first response was, “um, you mean for my three year old and one year old?!”, as a teacher I do know enough about how insanely competitive schools can be to take the queries pretty seriously. The first thing I did was to apply to a range of Montessori pre schools, and we were lucky to find places pretty quickly.

That said, primary school is an entirely different scenario. Places are limited and highly sought after. What’s more is that for almost all schools in Hong Kong, children as young as 2 or 3 are expected to attend an interview in order to gain a place. Depending on the school, performance at this interview can be the deciding factor on whether a child gets a place or not. Let’s remember, some of these kids are TWO (imagining Walter in an interview situation right now…I need a drink). Okay, the interviews aren’t exactly what you might think, but they are detailed enough that there is an entire industry devoted to preparing kids for school interviews. I know, because I work in it! Well, as much as I can bear.

So, what exactly is a school interview? Again, it depends on the school, but generally it is a play-based situation where a group of anywhere from 4-14 children will interact with a room full of teachers, and each other, for about 45 minutes. They are given small tasks to work on or complete and notes are written about their performance. Essentially schools are looking for a few key things – a child’s social, emotional and behavioural development, speech skills, cognitive ability and gross and fine motor skills.

It is often joked that the local schools are looking for the quietest child in the room and the international schools the loudest, and in my experience there is some truth to that. At least, the skill sets that are valued are different. International schools seem to be more impressed by children with excellent social skills and advanced cognitive and reasoning ability while the local schools do value “good” behaviour and a certain set of fine motor skills (let’s be honest, a lot of local children are reading and writing by three).

I’m sure there are other factors that come into play too – we hypothesised that Heike would have an advantage at her IMS (International Montessori School) interview because she is familiar with the classrooms and would in that way require less resources to teach, plus we are a Montessori family (well, we know about and support the philosophies). Having said that their interview was by far the most casual I’ve experienced and we’re yet to hear back – I expect they, like I, think the whole interview system is actually bullshit.

Many people who criticise the system ask how much can you know about a child, really, from a 45 minute interview? But I don’t know that I agree with that argument. I imagine that when Heike bounds into an interview full of enthusiasm, but then refuses to shake hands and refuses to work on anything except one specific activity, which she will tackle in her own very specific way, and then talk the teacher’s ear off about that for the next 20 minutes, well you’ve actually got a pretty full picture. I’ve met a lot of kids as both a teacher and a Mum and while you can’t know EVERYTHING about them in a few short minutes you can certainly tell which ones you’d prefer to deal with in a classroom (neither of mine, thanks anyway).

The argument I would personally make is – how do you choose? Why would we tell our children, at two, three, four years of age that one set of skills, interests or attributes (many of which are likely pre-determined at birth) are superior to another? Isn’t it kind of awful that values that actually matter, like kindness and loyalty and not being a jerk, are overlooked for a set of skills or behaviours that can be achieved simply by rigorous training?

So, yeah, I think the whole system is kind of shitty. And it has been really depressing at times to tutor kids who are the same age as my own daughter, have been at school all day plus half the weekend, can already read and write and yet are spending an hour with me to practise their social skills in the hope of getting into an international school. These kids are SO tired. Their brains are overloaded with way too much information. And often their social and reasoning skills aren’t where they could or should be – because they have no time to play! After a long discussion with a fellow tutor I met recently I’ve cut down on these kinds of jobs, as much as I love the kids, and decided to only do remedial tutoring.

While we are still hoping to get into IMS we have applied for a few other schools (hedging our bets) in the local area and have had some funny interview experiences. We had an interview last Saturday that was actually really lovely, in a beautiful school and Heike had a great time, but I was sitting next to another Australian couple while we waited for the kids and we were having a good laugh about the whole process. We had to answer questions like “At what age did your child first speak 2-3 words?” and “How would you describe your child’s health?” and ended up just writing many of the same answers. But we joked about writing “She was speaking from the day she was born” and the Dad wrote “Fit as a fiddle” in the health section!

Of course, now that I’ve written this Heike won’t get into any schools and we’ll have to move back to Australia where she can go to a….wait for it….dramatic music….PUBLIC SCHOOL just like her Mum. And look how good I turned out! A third time pregnant, mostly unemployed sometimes blogger. She’ll be fine. 

Z x

 

 

Life Skills

I have written before about how I struggle a little bit in the “life skills” department. You know, paying bills, replying to emails, settling fines and filling in forms. The crux of it is that I just hate doing it and I’m not very good at making myself do things I don’t want to. I’m really good at enjoying life – great at it, in fact. I’m relaxed and love to cook and I make time for leisure. But the day to day admin that results in us actually having money and a roof over our head? Not so much.

J and I had a laugh recently when we read an article about an Australian man who had been very successful in business and when asked one of his secrets to success, he mentioned that his wife ran absolutely everything on the home front. So not only with the kids and school and everything but paying all the bills and controlling the finances. “She ran a tight ship,” he said, mentioning how he had an allotted amount of pocket money each week. We were reading the article together and I saw J flick me the amused side eye at one point and knew exactly where he was up to. “Yeah, yeah, I run a really loose ship!” (I’d like to see me try to give J a weekly spending limit!)

If all that stuff were left up to me the electricity would be going out constantly. I just can’t get it together with that stuff, although I am trying. I’m getting better at using the calendar on my phone (by better, I mean a level that normal people would still probably scoff at) and I do seem to find myself in less and less self-induced stressful situations than before. But lately, I’m blaming the move, I have had a whole HOST of them to deal with and am feeling pretty shit about myself!

Firstly there was the parking fine I received on the day of the move, which I lost, and can’t get a reminder because all our mail was still going to our old address. Okay, fine, I can go to the old apartment and check the mail. Annoying but fixable. Then there was the OTHER fine I got for driving in the right hand lane (!?). Seems I have missed the due date on that one and now have to wait two months for a court order! Which I have just done a whole heap of research on and seems like it is actually just a small additional fine but SERIOUSLY! Why couldn’t I just have paid it!!??

I also missed the cut off date for filling in a whole heap of forms for schools Heike is applying to (she starts Kindy in August!) which led to me having to tell some white lies to make sure she could still attend interviews (please remind me to write a WHOLE other post on interviews!). GAH!

The thing that is REALLY getting me down is Heike’s ballet. She was desperate to start last year so we signed up and she seemed to be enjoying it. But she missed a few weeks due to sickness, then one week we got stuck in such bad traffic that we missed it, and then suddenly she hated it and refused to participate week after week. Then we had to miss more classes with Thailand and moving, and now here we are with the concert next week and they are saying she can’t do it because she has missed too many classes. And what’s more, she doesn’t WANT to do it, she “hates” it, and I genuinely don’t think she is a ballet girl (I can tell you she is never doing classes again unless they are self funded!).

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It may have all been worth it for the photo ops

The worst thing is, I paid for the concert, and two tickets, when all was fine and happy and going well. It was $1000HK (just under $200 AUD) including the costumes and everything, and it just bloody sucks! I feel like I am throwing money down the drain all the time just because of my own disorganisation, and maybe inability to be a bit strict. I mean, should I force her to do the concert? I think that sucks, when she hasn’t been doing the classes, it just opens her up to feeling embarrassed and scared. Should I punish myself for being so frigging dumb?! Probably, yes. Suggestions for appropriate punishments welcome.

I feel like I am always trying to do the right thing. And I am always run off my feet and exhausted. So why am I never getting it right?! And how much worse am I going to be with another small person in my care?!

Any organisation tips for me from organised people? J has told me he always actions anything as soon as it arises if he knows it will take 5 minutes or less (e.g. paying a fine. Yes.) Otherwise he puts it on his to-do list. I need one of those, right?

Help!

Z x

Breathing Room

So it has only been 1.5 weeks since we moved into our new place, but I can honestly say I feel like a physical weight has been lifted off my shoulders. There is something so nice about having SPACE, not only in your own home but in your surroundings. I look out my window and see the Pacific – that is pretty special. Hi Mum and Dad! Quite the change from looking out over dirty old Wan Chai (I still love you Wan Chai!). After nine months living in Hong Kong, I feel like I can finally breathe.

Suddenly I feel like I can DO more. Simple tasks that seemed beyond me before, like heading to the shops for a few things or taking the kids outside for a walk, are now just a part of my daily routine. And while I’m sure that also has something to do with where I’m at in my pregnancy (i.e. no longer curled up on the couch with a packet of rice crackers) I do wonder if maybe I was a little depressed with our living situation before?

I think for sure, to some extent, I was. I have never lived up that high before, not only in a tall building but perched at the top of a hill, with no one but two under fives for company. To go ANYWHERE we had to tackle stairs. If Walter decided he wouldn’t walk or he wanted to have a tantrum, this would be on a busy main street in the middle of the city. My fight or flight senses were almost constantly activated. So often I could feel the stress creeping up the back of my shoulders (I really need a shoulder massage!).

Then on top of all of that, we had the surprise baby. Yes, surprise! And we weren’t sure how we felt about it, and no one was sure whether to congratulate us (I will always be grateful to my sister and Dad who were over the moon, this made me feel better at the time) and it was overwhelming. My Mum I knew was worried about me, that I was taking on too much. I lay in bed at night and cried and thought “How will I cope?!” and we weren’t sure. Then we went to Germany, and everyone was thrilled, and I was sick, and then I was thrilled and suddenly constantly anxious about anything happening to the baby. Anxious and anxious and anxious and sick for another month until we reached the second trimester and we stopped holding our breath and we went for a magical trip to Thailand and we moved.

And now, here we are, and I can breathe.

Of course another crucial element of feeling calm and comfortable in your home is creating a beautiful space, and we are working on that all the time. I’ve used a lot of blue in the apartment which we brought across from the old place, and this works perfectly with the ocean view out the window. Blue is also a very calming colour (I think I’ve decided it’s my favourite colour!).

At the moment my favourite space is the dining area and while I have done a lot of interiors posts recently I thought I would share it with you all.

What’s New

The new thing I bought for the dining area was our beautiful Muuto dining table. If you haven’t come across Muuto before, they are a Scandinavian Interior Design brand based in Denmark. We first came across Muuto when we were choosing chairs for our dining table in Sydney (I think my friend Sarah, who I bounce all my design ideas off, put me onto them) and we ended up also choosing Muuto pendant lights when we renovated our kitchen.

Funnily enough I didn’t even know the table was Muuto when I found it – I saw a picture online and thought “That’s the table!” (I had done SO much research) and then located it at a store called Establo in Wong Chuk Hang. If you like Scandi design, DEFINITELY pay Establo a visit, even just for inspiration.

What’s Old

Obviously our Muuto chairs and also our beautiful brown Bentwood chairs (I love these chairs, J hates them! His style is much more modern whereas I like a bit of old thrown in). Two things that are working really well in this space is our beautiful black farmhouse mirror and our trusty old Country Road vase. I bought this mirror from Bowerbird in Hong Kong without J’s approval and I have to admit it didn’t really work in our old apartment (again, he hated it). But it is PERFECT in this space and what’s better, it actually reflects the ocean view. It also looks so pretty at night with lit candles on the table – I can’t wait to have a dinner party just so I can light lots of candles and bask in the mirror’s glory!

What I’d Like…

I am always on the look out for new homewares and while I’m on a spending freeze right now two things I’d LOVE are a new blue dining set from Loveramics (I have strongly hinted at this for Mother’s Day) and a big purchase, any kind of blue persian rug. I actually think I have convinced J of the need for another rug, so once it turns into HIS idea it just might happen 😉

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Love this cobalt colour from Loveramics