Sunday, January 25, 2009

Best and Worst Road Trips

Picture an adolescent teenage girl with a boy's haircut on a road trip with her dad in England. Sounds like some kind of coming-of-age low budget indie movie? Think again. It was actually my best road trip.

I left Hong Kong to attend a boarding school in England when I was 15. My school was under renovation and was starting 2 weeks later than usual. After my family vacation in Europe was over, my dad and I said goodbye to my mother and my sister at the Frankfurt airport, and dad and I left for London to spend 2 weeks together.

We rented a Ford Fiesta. We joked that it was indeed a fiesta as the car hummed loudly and we had to shout at each other as we drove. We drove around and visited my dad's friends at various universities. We visited University of Bristol where the head of the zoology department introduced us to my new guardian; Sheffield to spend some time with dad's retired professor; and Bangor to stay with another friend. We went sightseeing at different places. I remember admiring the mysterious Stonehenge at Salisbury, the Roman baths, Abbey, and the Georgian stone crescent at Bath, and the scenic drive approaching Bangor, in Northern Wales.

I practiced speaking English with my dad. He exposed me to life in an English household when we stayed with his friends. I appreciated the time and effort my dad took to get me accustomed to life in England. We seldom argued and were comfortable in each other's company. It was sad when our road trip was over and I started life in my new school.

My worst road trip was also with my dad. This time we were on a family vacation somewhere in North America - I don't remember where we were going. My dad drove and I sat next to him to navigate and keep him awake. My mother and sister sat at the back. We were on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere and my dad was concerned with moving on. My sister needed to use the bathroom. My dad berated her and refused. Being women, the three of us united and yelled at my dad, forcing him to pull over at the next diner. What I remembered from this road trip was my dad's exceptional bad temper and the amount of fighting with him. I found out later that my dad was going through andropause and this bad temper lasted a couple of years. It was just magnified during this road trip.

It is amazing that I could have the best and worst road trip with the same person. I recognize that personal dynamics change. I should savour the best moments to remember.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Evolution of Vacationing

When I was small, a vacation for me was a weekend trip to a holiday camp in the New Territories (I grew in Hong Kong), where I was engaged in a variety of children's group activities, from ping pong to trampoline.

I was 11 when I first went on my first family vacation abroad. We went to various countries in Eastern and Western Europe, East and Southeast Asia, North America, and North Africa. There was culture, great food, and great hotel accomodation. It became an annual summer event even after I left Hong Kong to study in the UK (I was 15) and later, Canada.

When I started to make my own money, I started to go on vacation with friends and my boyfriend. It was a different mentality going on vacation on my own dime. On the one hand I felt free, on the other hand I was constrained by the costs. But it was adventurous, and not bound by any rigid schedule. I went on vacations with people who were compatable travelling companions and had a great time. Lots of sightseeing, shopping, walking, eating.

Then there was vacations with a baby. Daniel was six months old. We travelled across the continent to visit family and lugged with us tons of baby gear. Catching up with family was great, but I hardly had time to relax. During the trip, we rented a condo with an view of the Pacific Ocean and took off on our own for a few days. It was a blissful few days.

We vacationed with Daniel again before he turned 2. He could walk and talk. Which meant he could whine and throw tandrums, and he certainly did. We still had to bring lots of gear. And we soon found out how difficult it was to stay in a house that was not baby proofed and did not have any toys.

I managed to sneak in short vacations without my child. It was a guilty pleasure. I could finally dine at upscale restaurants and order drinks! But I did miss the little guy every day and carried a picture of him with me.

I decided to be brave and took my 3 year old boy and my 4 month old baby on vacation. On my third trip to bathroom on the airplane to change the kids' diaper it suddenly dawned on me what a disaster the whole trip was! On this vacation both kids fell ill.

I have conceded that my relaxing and fun-filled vacation days are over. For the forseeable years to come.

The Importance of Kindergarten

It's January already. Have you registered you child for Kindergarten yet? I find it yet another source of stress to have research, decide, and register my 3 year old for JK so early in the year.

My son is currently attending a private pre-school 2 mornings a week. He loves it there, and there's a Montessori component as well. What shall we do? Shall we continue paying extra to send him there? Or shall we enroll him in the public school?

I checked the Grades 3 and 6 students' test scores for all the schools in our area. 65 being the average score for English and Math in Ontario in Grade 3, our home school scored in the low 50s. Not good.

One school with a French immersion track scored consistently in the 80s. But we are not located in its school boundary. I know one parent who borrowed someone else's address in order to get her son into that school. Tough luck getting in for us.

I chatted with parents in our neighbourhood. Most of them send their kids to the Catholic school. I checked with the Catholic school board. A valid baptismal certificate is a registration requirement. My mom is a non-practising Catholic (she was baptised so that she could attend a prestigous Catholic school in Hong Kong) and my dad is a Baptist. I attended Anglican schools from pre-school to Grade 13 in 3 different continents. But I was never baptised. My husband is a devout atheist. So, Catholic school is out.

I finally picked another school with a French immersion program that scored decently (low 70s). And we are within its zone. I called the school and was told to go and pick up a registration package in person. So I drove there only to be told that there is only enough room for its home school students. My son had to attend our home school for kindergarten but could transfer there for Grade 1 when the French immersion track commenced.

Disappointed, I left. On my way home, I drove past our home school. I went in to ask for a registration package. The front office staff was friendly and helpful. Inside the school it looked bright and cheerful. I left our home school with a registration package thinking: it seemd like a nice enough school. And heck, it's only for kindergarten.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


My transition from a crackberry workaholic to a nurturing mother to a newborn more than took two weeks.

At first, as I commenced my maternity leave, and waited at home, I could not resist checking my blackberry every 15 minutes, and was still answering emails from the office as well as clients.

Given it was September 2008, the US financial crisis was just starting to unfold. I was glued to MSNBC, absorbing the magnitude of the financial failure from Lehman Brothers to AIG, and worrying about how it would impact our business.

Even after the baby was born, I still seemed to have endless energy. The baby seemed easy to take care of. Even though I only got 5 hours of sleep at night, I was still entertaining guests and playing with my 3 year old boy. At one point I was ransacking the bookshelf looking for interesting technical books to read. I started to read a book on negotiating skills but wisely put it down after reading 3 chapters.

Perhaps I was tired of all the doom and gloom talk on the news, or just plain tired from the lack of sleep, I stopped watching the news programs and started to concentrate being a mother to a newborn. My business mindset transitioned to a domestic one. I reckoned that I have no control over the economic condition, and cannot continue to worry about the flow of capial (or the lack of) in the credit market. When I return to the workforce from my maternity leave a year from now, who knows what kind of economic condition we will be in?

One thing I continue to watch closely, is America's transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration.

Will the American society based on fear and manipulation transform to a society full of hope and ready to embrace change? How will the Obama administration overhaul the system based on lies and serving agendas different from the public's?

Restoring civil liberties, bringing the education system to first world standard, stopping corporate fraud, limiting executive compensation, recapitalizing the capital market, restoring order and confidence in the financial market, protecting the American homeland, combating terrorism, are daunting task for the next 4 (maybe 8) years.

There is no doubt that there will be more turmoil to come. And hopefully the new administration will handle each crisis apprpriately and plan for the future.

On this day of new president's inauguration, I wonder how long the transition from George W. Bush's America to Barrack Obama's America will take.