We’ve got another year living in Hong Kong behind us, and when I say living…we really lived here this year. While 2020 started as an exciting new adventure as a family of four, it soon became vastly different than we (or anyone) could have ever imagined.
My parents arrived Christmas morning (2019), and it was a busy house with them staying in our guest room and helping us get settled in with a few remaining projects after our move. They stayed with Campbell as we rang in 2020 at a friends’ place, and a few days later we welcomed Felicity, (which you can read all about here). They were an amazing help, keeping Campbell occupied when he woke up so we could get a few extra minutes of sleep, helping with our new little baby, making many delicious breakfasts and also escaping for some time on their own exploring new areas of Hong Kong. They left Hong Kong in late January, wearing N95 masks on their flight back to Vancouver. This reflected the general level of alert felt in Hong Kong, but I’m sure would have seemed like a major overreaction to most people at the time.
Braden still travelled for work to Japan in early February, the first trip of the year after he deferred travel for the first month after Felicity was born. It was a busy and confusing month as anxiety around the virus situation increased and the word “pandemic” started to float around. Store shelves in Hong Kong were emptied of toilet paper and staples such as rice and it was wild to behold. We watched the movie Contagion, read the news obsessively and wondered when it would all pass.
Meanwhile, we had a new baby to get to know…and what a little darling she was! That being said, it wasn’t the new baby experience I had imagined. After my parents left, I had envisioned quiet days going for walks, meeting other mamas out with their babies, and starting to building a network in our new Tseung Kwan O neighbourhood. Between the last few midwife visits and sorting out passport and citizenship paperwork we did meet several nice people, but always stood at a distance saying, “we should get together when things get back to normal.” The Wuhan pneumonia, as it was called at the time, had everyone a bit spooked.
Always part of my maternity leave plan, I had organized a trip to Vancouver for three weeks in February / March. Braden was planning to travel extensively, so it made sense for me to spend the time in Vancouver introducing our new baby to friends and family. By the time Campbell, Felicity and I departed Hong Kong, the Covid situation was really starting to ramp up and we were happy to be escaping the virus. We landed in Vancouver on February 21st, declaring to airport officials that, no, we hadn’t been to Wuhan in the last 14 days.
The kids and I spent long days settling into a real winter, visiting with family and loving life in Canada. We recovered from jet lag just in time for Braden to arrive for a whirlwind long weekend visit. We enjoyed introducing Felicity to snow and explored some favourite spots in Vancouver together, then said goodbye with plans for Braden to fly back in a few weeks to join us for some more time in the pacific northwest. Soon after, the Covid situation in Canada started to be a much bigger conversation. Meanwhile, Hong Kong was experiencing their first wave and we changed our flights and extended our time in Vancouver. Not long after, rumors of mandatory quarantine upon arrival in Hong Kong began to swirl. Braden messaged me in a panic and I jumped on a call with Cathay, scrambling to reschedule flights again to fly back earlier to avoid quarantine. They found me a bulkhead seat on a Wednesday, arriving in Hong Kong Thursday evening. A few hours later Hong Kong announced mandatory quarantine for all arrivals on Thursday…not the result we’d hoped for!
We said goodbye to family in Vancouver in our masks and got onto the plane, knowing we had two weeks of quarantine at home ahead of us. We landed and I was amongst the first group of people fitted with tracking bracelets at the airport. Many declaration forms later we were in an uber, with no stops on the way home, to begin two weeks locked in our house. After getting home I had to use the government app to map our apartment, which tracked us and made sure we didn’t leave. I don’t recommend quarantine, although now that Hong Kong has mandatory 21 day quarantine in a hotel, what we went through sounds like a dream.
While I was on maternity leave, Hong Kong had settled into working from home. In a bizarre transition back to work mid April, I cracked open my laptop and spent my first week sifting through a thousand emails at the kitchen table. I took breaks to breastfeed Felicity and had lunch with my three and a half year old coworker, as much of Hong Kong had gotten used to doing. I thought working from home was going to be tough, but Campbell quickly got used to me shutting the bedroom door to take calls (“Is it a listening call or a talking call, Mommy?”) and we all fell into a new rhythm.
When we made the decision to move to Tseung Kwan O, we never could have anticipated how valuable our rooftop space would be. With the mask mandate in Hong Kong (mandatory mask wearing anywhere in public at any time) which is disgusting in humid sweaty 40°C weather, plus our desire to socially distance, we spent a LOT of time on the roof. The roof became a project on its own, as we acquired many items up there to make our time up there as enjoyable as possible. A shed! Plants! Furniture! A pool! A pressure washer! We spent many weekends up there relaxing in the pool and lounging. Just kidding! We spent many weekends trying to keep kids entertained and sweating our butts off. But still way better than being stuck inside with nowhere to go and nothing to do!
Poor little second child…Felicity hasn’t been mentioned in quite awhile. Sweet little Cicity, as we’ve called her since Campbell’s first attempt at pronouncing her name, is just the most darling little thing and we adore having her around. She has fit into our life so easily and is a happy soul and such a tiny little babe. She’s a noisy little being, probably trying to compete with Campbell’s constant chatter. We adore our Buggy Bug, as she’s come to be known. Look at her!
When you’ve got nowhere to go and not much to do, birthday celebrations suddenly become the highlight of the year! For Braden’s celebration in June we took advantage of dining options and went out to a restaurant for a pizza party with Campbell. Yum!
Earlier in the year I had won a staycation at a beautiful Hong Kong hotel, including one night’s stay, afternoon tea, breakfast, and a spa treatment for two. I decided to save it for my birthday in July which was a really nice excuse to get out of the house to celebrate. We took Felicity with us for the night and Campbell joined us the next morning. Restaurants were all closed at 6pm, so Braden picked up food and we dined in the room. The spa was closed, but we still had a great time! Felicity rated her sleep in the shower five stars.
Campbell’s fourth birthday came and went without much fanfare, but we still tried to make it a special day for him. He had plenty of messages and FaceTimes from friends and family, and we spent the afternoon out for a special kids’ ‘tea’. He got the pedal bike he’d been dreaming about and quickly learned to ride without training wheels, much to our surprise!
We had grand plans to enrol Campbell in school for September but with the uncertainty around Covid we let the registration date pass and didn’t get him started anywhere. It seemed silly to start him on Zoom, since we really wanted him in school for the social interactions. And then I had an idea…if everyone was learning over Zoom anyways, why not get our collection of retired teacher grandparents on board? And just like that, Camp Campbell began! Beginning in September and still continuing now, two or three mornings a week Campbell has Facetimed with my parents or Braden’s parents to learn. Sessions last anywhere between 30min to an hour depending how Campbell is feeling. They’ve covered everything from printing, numbers, reading, singing, arts and crafts, science experiments, stories, lego, counting, and much more. It’s been great for everyone; a true Covid highlight.
And then in late October Covid cased dropped and remained consistently low – single digits – for long enough for us to feel hopeful enough to register Campbell in school. We found a sweet little school a 15min walk from home with a Canadian curriculum (half English, half Mandarin) and signed him up. He was thrilled! Aside from a few tears as we said goodbye on the first day, he settled in seamlessly. All of that was short-lived though, as two weeks later a wave of upper respiratory tract infections made everyone nervous and kindergartens closed. Before they could reopen another Covid wave hit and schools closed again. Many people speculated they would be closed until after Christmas and unfortunately they were right.
Hong Kong went into a fairly strict lockdown by closing many public facilities, closing restaurants at 6pm and limiting groups to a maximum of two. We stayed close to home even more than before, barely saw friends and tried to stay as safe as possible. I worked almost exclusively from home (we converted our guest room into a home office months earlier when it became obvious nobody was visiting anytime soon), Braden went into his empty office and sat at his desk alone all day, and Campbell took his Zoom classes from 1-2pm every day, while completing many school “activities” and projects along the way.
Following another pandemic trend, Braden and I settled into cooking at home, upgraded some new furniture and finally bought an original piece of art for ourselves. We are huge fans of one-pot meals in our le creuset, but never did get on the sourdough bandwagon. We stay home A LOT (stay tuned for a tour of our Tseung Kwan O apartment, coming soon) but also got out for a few hikes.
Like the rest of the world there was nothing else to do by November but start decorating for Christmas. And then we realized that all the expats in Hong Kong who would typically be travelling back “home” for the holidays, leaving their Hong Kong houses empty and undecorated, were in it for the Hong Kong Christmas longhaul just like us. And then we realized that everyone was snapping up Christmas trees (already an expensive import), depleting stock and driving up prices like crazy. Luckily Braden snagged one just in time. We got heavily involved in anything to do with Christmas, including a visit from Snowy, our elf, every night. It was a lot of fun!
Braden and I seized an opportunity to celebrate New Years in truly Covid style – socially distanced at a restaurant and ringing in the new year at 5pm before the restaurant had to close at 6pm. It was a fun and memorable way to close out a bizarre year.
2021 can only get better, right?!?!