2021: Year in Review

Has another year passed? No, seriously….has it? What did we do in 2021? Last year I wrote a recap of our Year in 2020 (which you can read here if you missed it) and finished by saying 2021 would get better. I’m not sure it did.

We kicked off 2021 by celebrating our dear Felicity’s FIRST Birthday! What a gorgeous little being deserving of an enormous party…or homemade cake with her closest family. Basically like any other day but with cake. Campbell and I made her a banana cake in honour of her favourite food, but she was quick to realize that icing is even tastier than banana cake!

As you read last year, and can take a tour here, we moved to Tseung Kwan in November 2019 with no plans to move again any time soon. But when an AMAZING place crossed our radar we had to go see it. And before we knew it, we had signed a new lease! We made the move to Clearwater Bay over Easter, which is truly a new way of living in Hong Kong. I liken it to the “suburbs”, if those can even exist in Hong Kong. We have a small yard. We have a little garden. We have a CAR. None of these things I had ever imagined us having in Hong Kong, but we LOVE IT here.

After the move, we spent a considerable amount of time and energy getting ourselves sorted and settled. I took a week and a half off work over Easter and was determined to quickly get organised and truly set up (the right furniture, pictures hung etc) so we could feel like we were “home” as soon as possible and then settle in for the summer.

During spring time, as social distancing restrictions seemingly stretched on to oblivion, we made ourselves familiar with the local beach. We got excited to explore low tide and bring home “treasure” (shells, beach glass or broken tile), or build dams “I’m going to do some damming, Mommy!” We absolutely fell in love with our new neighbourhood.

We found ourselves queuing up at the community centre in the spring to get our first vaccine dose (options available in Hong Kong are BioNTech (aka Pfizer) and SinoVac). A few months later we were sufficiently “double jabbed” and ready for next steps in Hong Kong for restrictions to relax? Borders to open?…hmmm…

What do you do in Hong Kong when there’s literally nothing else to do with a 1 year old and 4 year old? Obviously….you go to Legoland! To say we were at loose ends was an understatement; we were basically willing to do anything for a day out of the house with some entertainment. And we were pleasantly surprised! As is the case with many things in Hong Kong, arriving right at opening is key. We maximized our time and actually had a really good time (especially Campbell). Felicity was too young for most of the attractions but still had fun in the Duplo area – and mercifully napped in her stroller for a chunk of time too! You know that when Legoland makes the annual highlights things are desperate.

Campbell had a fabulous back half of the year attending afternoon kindergarten. A drop in local cases meant he was able to return to in-person lessons at the school, where he had wonderful engaging teachers and lovely friends in a play-based school learning in English and Mandarin. After moving to Sheung Sze Wan we got into a nice routine driving him to school after lunch then picking up in the afternoon. His school year ended in June at which point we picked back up with Camp Campbell again through the summer. If you missed our updated last year, we started Camp Campbell so the Grandparents in Canada could spend some dedicated time each week with Campbell, which is a WIN for everyone involved.

Just as school ended, Braden and I stole away for a birthday staycation at the Island Shangri-La to celebrate Braden’s birthday and to get a much-needed night away. With so many travel restrictions in place, staycations are all the rage in Hong Kong, though we have partaken sparingly as we truly feel like we live in a little staycation paradise. That being said, an opportunity to sleep in and a couples massage were both indulgences unavailable at home and thoroughly enjoyed.

And just when we felt like we were settled in to our new place, and were finally feeling like we might have a weekend without post-move chores, why not invite some more chaos into our life? Hong Kong is notorious for storms, in a way I have never experienced before. There is a ranking system for rain and wind, and the city basically shuts down for a typhoon. In our previous locations in Wan Chai or Tseung Kwan O these storms sometimes felt like anticlimactic non-events. However, we learned very quickly that at our new coastal location these storms could pack a punch. One windy evening at 10pm – not even during a storm that registered on the official storm scale – I heard a massive CRACK in the yard. It was windy and stormy, so I assumed that our umbrella had broken. Not a good thing, as it’s expensive and very sturdy – if our umbrella broke it was bad news. I opened the back door and walked into a mess of branches and broken glass. SERIOUSLY?!?! Our umbrella was spared, but one of the two towering Norfolk Pines in our yard had crashed down onto our neighbour’s house. What a mess! I mean an absolute calamity. The complications of Hong Kong systems and topographical complexities of our property meant it was weeks before the tree was finally cleared. Many evenings spent scooping up shards of glass and clearing debris, and our yard was back to normal. But hey….another story, I guess. And we even made the local news!

I guess we enjoyed Braden’s staycation enough (and needed an escape from the tree situation badly!) so we did another staycation to celebrate my birthday at The Grand Hyatt, which we especially enjoyed because of the pool. A little escape from reality, though far too short, was very much needed and welcomed.

What is more important than TURNING FIVE???? For the first time in a couple years we were finally able to officially celebrate Campbell’s birthday in September. With a party! With friends! It was a big deal in our house. Campbell chose a dinosaur theme! Amazing! With zero Covid cases in Hong Kong for several months we felt comfortable inviting friends over to our place for snack and cake, then arranged a mini bus to transport us all to Sai Kung for bowling at Tikitiki Bowling. What a blast! We had so much fun and Campbell had an absolutely triumphant celebration.

Having spent over a year and half in Hong Kong, separated from family, I was feeling desperate to see our loved ones. It was a relatively last-minute decision for me to take the kids to Vancouver for a couple months while continuing to work Hong Kong hours remotely.

While it was wonderful to see family, it came at a huge cost. Insane weeks of jetlag, very little sleep due to work and said jetlag, not to mention the constantly shifting travel landscape / quarantine restrictions to return to Hong Kong, left us in a constant state of heightened stress.

Braden arrived midway through the trip and, in fact during the second half of our time in Vancouver we became increasingly cautious about seeing anyone. Catching Covid would have destroyed our carefully choreographed and extremely expensive Hong Kong reentry plan; I can’t explain the anxiety and stress.

Braden and I did manage to steal away for a couple kid-free nights in Tofino in October, which was incredible. Completely by chance we experienced the much-sought-after storm experience and loved every minute. Even though it was a journey to get to, the peaceful ferry ride and quiet hours in the car were incredibly welcome.

If I’m being honest, the reason it has taken so long to post this blog is because it took me this long to summon the courage to relive our two weeks in quarantine. In a complicated series of events involving last-minute travel, flight cancellations and extremely complicated quarantine restrictions in Hong Kong, in the end Braden, Campbell, Felicity and I all departed Vancouver together on the same flight. We arrived together, were cleared to leave the airport, then Braden left for his 14 day hotel quarantine while the two children and I went to our separate hotel for our own 14 days in isolation.

Campbell (5 years old), Felicity (not quite 2 years old) and I spent 336 hours together in 28 sq m. If it sounds like torture – it honestly was. Human beings, especially children, are not designed to be cooped up like that! Not to mention I also worked half days because I couldn’t bare the thought of using half of my annual vacation in quarantine. The days were busy and mundane at the same time. Once we got over jetlag (another nightmare) we lead a very ritualistic existence revolving around meal deliveries, specific times we were allowed to open the door and place garbage in the hallway, and the various Covid tests. Of course we made the most of it and tried to have fun….but my goodness.

We had promised Campbell that once we were back to Hong Kong and out of quarantine we would take him to Disneyland. Due to Covid restrictions, the park had limited capacity, and I was pleasantly surprised by the short wait time for rides. We had also coordinated this visit with Campbell’s height and he was able to ride all of the rides except one. We weren’t sure how he would feel about roller coasters (how do you prepare a 5 year old for Space Mountain?) He was wide-eyed through the entire ride. When we stopped he turned to Braden beside him and said, “that was INCREDIBLE. Let’s do it again!” It was such a fun day!

In what felt like an absolute time warp, by the time we got out of quarantine it was just a couple weeks until Christmas. September, October, and most of November somehow didn’t register on our normal brain timeline, and suddenly it was time to dive into our Christmas preparation. Braden sought out a Christmas and I must say….this year was a real winner! Perfect height, symmetrical, not too wide. We loved having it in our house and enjoyed it for a full month. Like last year we had an EPIC Zoom chat with Santa, which Campbell is still talking about. Santa visited our house and Braden and I were busy all day cooking a full Christmas dinner – our fist time making a turkey – and hosted two friends out our place. It was a lovely day and perfect holiday season.

I sit here, mid-March 2022, as Hong Kong is an absolute shambles. Covid has finally broken our [obviously not] impenetrable border, and the virus is raging. It is absolutely NEXT LEVEL out of control and, driven by the fear of borderline inhumane government quarantine and isolation, 1000’s of cases per day are unreported and affected families are hunkering down at home and riding it out alone. (Trust me, I know, I know, I KNOW.) If this sounds like your 2020, you’re right. But don’t forget we have all spent the last year under heavy restrictions, wearing masks and largely working from home, even though we had zero cases for months at a time. We are exhausted. Anxious. Stressed. Sick. Jealous, as the rest of the world is beginning to settle back into life as normal, we’re just diving into the intensity now. Grocery shelves are empty and toilet paper is being hoarded. AGAIN.

Family photo taken when we visited Canada by Jenni Marie Photography.

Not the best way to end an update on 2021, but here we are.

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