Hump Day Hikers – Hong Kong

When I first moved to Hong Kong I was most surprised by the beautiful hiking trails and immediately wanted to explore them, but I didn’t want to hike alone and I wanted to make friends. Several attempts to coordinate busy schedules became frustrating, so I had an idea.  I sent an email to my friend Pascale telling her that I was thinking of starting a hiking group on Wednesday mornings called Hump Day Hikers. She replied, “Great idea. I’m in.” and that officially launched it. That day I sent an email to about a dozen friends telling them that I intended to hike every Wednesday at 8 am for one of the eight different roughly two-hour loops over Violet Hill and The Twins that can originate from the HKIS Lower Primary at South Bay Close and invited them to join me whenever they could.

To my delight I had a good response and with one email had launched what would become the deepest source of happiness for me in Hong Kong. Friends began to ask if they could bring other friends and if I would add their friends’ names to my list. Within a few months the list had grown to sixty women!   With this response, I formalized it a bit, sending a description with a stated purpose to “catch up, enhance friendships, get some exercise and to have a regular hike on the calendar, but with total flexibility. As always, this is open to anyone who would like to join us, whenever you can, without pressure.”

I sent a reminder email every Monday morning, and longer ones for excursion hikes, but otherwise left them alone. “Call or text me if you’re planning to hike but are running late so we can wait for you, ” I instructed, “otherwise, you don’t have to let me know if you’re coming or not. That’s up to you!”

A core group of about a dozen came every single week. Another dozen came twice a month, yet another dozen once a month, a few came once or twice a season and some never came, but insisted on being kept on the list just in case they ever motivated. One woman never hiked, but came to our end-of-the-year party. Eventually we added a Facebook page that we could use for exchanging the information we shared on the trails. The biggest hike was 30 women, the smallest was just me and a friend. They were equally satisfying and fun.

Beyond the opportunity to explore the place we all called home, the biggest benefit was the new friendships that emerged. Women act a little differently on hikes than sitting at lunch at a club. Dressed in casual workout gear, hair up in messy ponytails or covered with baseball caps, most wore no makeup and the ubiquitous telephones were tucked away in the pocket of the camelback water systems, out of reach for the lull in conversation that inevitably happens when hiking up a mountain. I love the pace of hike conversation. There is space for silence, and it’s never awkward. Women are less guarded and more open when out on the trails. We push our bodies. We sweat, smell, hurt and get tired. We share more secrets too. I was the first to learn of my friend’s pregnancy when her regular quick hiking pace was lagging and she offered her secret as a means of explanation.

Another unanticipated benefit of the hiking group was the opportunity to meet women with children of different ages and stages of life. Typically expats group with others with kids the same age, on the sidelines of sports or at birthday parties. But our group drew women with kids of all ages, so we could learn from each other. We followed along on boarding school and college admissions deliberations, counseled health and relationship issues for each other, compared notes on trips, commiserated, laughed and shed tears every once in awhile too.

Thankfully we only had one injury that required medical attention. One woman slipped and punctured her palm, but fortunately we had reached Violet Hill and were a quick taxi ride from Adventist Hospital. Her dear friend Pam accompanied her and we kept going.  She was fine.

The wildlife on the trails was amazing. Spiders the size of a man’s hand and snakes scared many away, but not all. We occasionally ran into even bigger creatures like wild dogs, a dead porcupine, wild boar and cattle. We learned the network of trails around the south side of Hong Kong Island; how to access the water catchments and secret cobblestone trails enabling us to walk from Repulse Bay to Stanley or Tai Tam to Stanley without ever walking on the dangerous sidewalk-less roads.

The excursion hikes were the most fun. I spent hours plotting the maps and figuring out the directions, and sometimes had to double back and question the route, but their patience and encouragement kept me going and we always made it to our destination. The excursions always included a culinary destination so that we could not only explore the trails, but also try a new restaurant in a different part of town. These were usually all-day adventures, from the time the school bus departed, to just before its return. I had it down to a science and only came back later than the school bus a few times. We would carpool or rely on generous friends with drivers to get us to the trailhead.  Some of our favorite excursions included:

Maclehose, Stage 2 – The signature excursion hike is the second stage of the Maclehose Trail coupled with crispy tofu and a beer at Michelin starred Loaf On in the heart of Sai Kung. Getting to the trailhead is the hardest part of this adventure, but well worth the effort. We usually carpooled to the parking structures in Sai Kung then got into green taxis instructing them to take us into the country park to Long Ke in Sai Kung Country park, across the reservoir to the pavilion. Getting out there the trail continues up and over a steep pass and meanders along three separate beautiful beaches before turning inland for the second half of the hike through the jungle. There’s a perfect pitstop on Dai Long Wan that sells beer and French fries, but we mostly ate trailmix and replenished our water. Emerging from the woods fifteen kilometers and about four hours later, we’d catch the bus back into Sai Kung for lunch. Our group did this hike at least four times.

“Taco Truck Hike to Quarry Bay – The Taco Truck hike was the most popular of all. Hiking from Repulse Bay over Mt. Butler past the relics of World War II infrastructure to Quarry Bay we arrived like clockwork at 11:20, 10 minutes before the now defunct Taco Truck opened. After the Taco Truck closed we hiked to Frites and ate moules frites one time, but it wasn’t quite the same. Still, that route provides myriad options for dining and is a quick taxi ride back to the start.

“Lardo’s  & T.C. Deli Hike” – We hiked over Sha Tin Pass, stages four and half of three of the Wilson Trail in reverse to Tseung Kwan O for a meal at Lardo’s steak restaurant on a minibus roundabout in a housing development.  After a steak, a quick shopping trip at the T.C. Deli to load up on restaurant quality meats at shockingly reasonable prices for HK makes you really feel like a local.

“Dragon’s Back Backwards” – Another favorite excursion was the Dragon’s Back, but done “backwards” starting at the bus stop half way down Shek-O Road and hiking the trail back to the prison, but then turning right and hiking along the catchment, past the first sign to Big Wave Bay to the second one which has a trail of stairs that cascades down the hillside to the sand. When it’s open, the pink café at the far side of the beach has great brunch, but when that was closed we’d continue on the road to Sai Kung to eat at Chinese Thai Seafood place on the roundabout.

“Tai O” – Our furthest afield was Tai O. The fog was relentless and we got a little turned around and, truth be told, we didn’t see very much of the trail. Taking a photo at the top of the rise we couldn’t see two feet in front of us and had a start when we nearly sat on a grazing bull. Eventually we made it to town, checked out the Heritage Hotel and the boats to see the pink dolphins, then caught the city bus back to the outlet malls where our cars were waiting.

“Mui Wo Family Hike” – One school holiday we took a family hike on Lantau from Discovery Bay to Mui Wo inviting husbands and children to join the fun. We took the ferry from Central to Discovery Bay then followed the trail, past the stages of the cross leading to the Trappist Monastery to Mui Wo. My friend’s daughter carried a pile of newspapers while wailing the entire route, but everyone made it and enjoyed the crescent beach of Mui Wo and ended with a great Turkish meal at Bahce before perfectly timing the ferry back home.

“Big Buddha” – The Big Buddha is a popular tourist attraction in HK, but a pain to get to.  Finding the trailhead was challenging, but satisfying.  We parked at the Citygate Outlets at Tung Cheung on Lantau by the airport and skirted the housing estates until the urban center gave way to trails and eventually the staircase at the trailhead.  The staircase follows the path of the cable car high above. None of us felt well that day as we started out fast and it was hotter than we had anticipated, and one even turned back and went home early, but we completed the trail and grabbed an Ebineezers sandwich at the top before my friend’s driver picked us up (alternatively we would have taken the cable car down to the cars!).

“Paddle Boarding Hike” – Once we arranged to hike Violet Hill to Stanley Main Beach and then take everyone paddle boarding. It was a pretty windy day and many had never tried paddle boarding before, so we had lots of fun and got a great photo, but never did that again.

“Green Power” – Hong Kong hosts many adventure races, but the one I love is called Green Power. It’s a 50K race that begins at the Peak and finishes at Big Wave Bay (there is also an option to do 25K starting at Parkview). Not being very competitive, I wasn’t interested in racing, but some of the hiking friends convinced me to train for it, and so I did. My friend Lee and I trained and completed the race together one year. We packed for a hike, including PB&J and trail mix expecting the race to take us about 9 hours, but when we got started the whole group was running and so we started running and just kept running. We did the race in under 7 hours and were really proud of ourselves. The next year I completed the race with my friend Yanzi. It took us a little longer, but we stuck together and finished with big smiles on our faces. It’s an amazing experience to complete a distance longer than a marathon that scales several peaks, but being fully contained on HK island, I reasoned that home was always a quick taxi ride away if I ever wanted to quit.

The HDH included celebrations too. Twice a year I hosted a HDH party where we would hike over The Twins, through Stanley to my house where brunch was waiting. Sweaty and tired, we sat and ate together, celebrating our accomplishments and deepening friendships. I poured my heart into making those meals to express my gratitude to those women for joining me on the hikes each week.

When I left Hong Kong nearly two years ago no one stepped forward directly to assume the mantle of the HDH, but I have heard that a woman has since taken over and continues to coordinate a regular Wednesday hike, sending encouraging messages and keeping the tradition going. I am so pleased to hear this as I continue to get messages from hikers about HDH being a meaningful part of their Hong Kong life.

A few weeks ago I received an email from a fellow “repatriate” who, like me, spent several years in Hong Kong. She was writing to say that she missed our hiking group and she thanked me for starting it. Two years have passed since I left Hong Kong and still it is what she and I remember fondly. What started out of laziness evolved into the most fulfilling and fun part of my six year tenure living in Hong Kong, and I encourage anyone moving there to be sure to get out on the trails as much as possible.

Why don’t we follow the evidence-based parenting advice we receive?

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A week late due to the CNY Holidays, but here it is…

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/families/article/1912370/how-cut-through-chatter-and-cultivate-your-childs-most-important

Have you ever heard a parenting expert say push your kids to the breaking point, sign them up for multiple extracurricular activities, make them take all honors classes, allow technology in their bedrooms so they can keep in touch with their friends all night long, sleep is overrated, eating on the run is fine and free time is a waste? Neither have I.

And yet this is precisely what our generation of parents is doing, and it’s not serving anyone well. Why don’t we follow the evidence-based advice we receive?

Unlike most fields of study where expert opinions vary, parenting experts are remarkably similar on just about every topic except sleep training for babies.   In getting kids to sleep through the night some advise letting infants cry it out while others recommend co-sleeping, for example. While there is some variation in advice for infant care, when it comes to older children and especially adolescents, the advice becomes strikingly consistent.

Over the years I have attended dozens of lectures, taken copious notes and read many books to try to pick up some tips to be a more effective parent to my three children. Most parenting advice falls into broad topics like how to help cultivate resilience, perseverance, self-motivation, purpose and mindset. While each expert frames the advice a little bit differently, they all end up with similar recommendations and even more compelling, similar statistics.

To raise healthy, balanced, kind, optimistic and accomplished children with good prospects to become successful and happy adults, parenting experts consistently offer really simple, intuitive advice. First, make sure they get enough sleep, have regular medical check ups, eat good healthy food, and regularly share family dinner. Second, praise real effort and acts of kindness, not the child. Third, limit technology and never allow it to live in their bedrooms, but have healthy, open communication about it. Finally, protect their unstructured free time fiercely.

Unstructured, technology-free free time, positive reinforcement, healthy eating and sleep? So far I have been unable to identify a dissenting voice in this advice.   Yet we persist in running all over town after school to take children to lessons, fighting to get them on “the right” sports teams, hiring a tutor when they’re faltering in a class instead of going to seek out the teacher and so on.   We reason that the kids are happier when they’re busy, that they take pride in accomplishment and that they will thank us later when they get into a good college and set their lives on a successful path.   This may be true for some children, but not for all. And, on a practical level, one afternoon with a group of kids in a Hong Kong apartment with “unstructured time” is enough to prove this advice harder to follow than it seems.

Nonetheless, we do it because we want the best for our children and we are scared of the competition and the unknowable future. We do it because everyone else does too. We do it because some of our parents did the same and it’s all we know. We believe we are being helpful, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

A wise friend advised me to tell my children, “Your health, your education and your safety are up to your father and me. The rest is up to you.” The more I tried to find fault with this advice, the more I realized how brilliant it is. If I stick to this advice, I can more efficiently tease out the truly important issues from the merely irritating ones. So far, so good, although I admit that if my child asks about a tattoo, I may have to reconsider.

Even after all these years and so much advice, the one that continues to ring loudest in my head comes from British parenting expert Penelope Leach. She advises speaking to children as you would have them speak to you when you’re old. As you yell at your children to get their shoes on, chastising them for their lack of attention to your command or lack of ability to tie them despite your having shown them how, picture the opposite.

“Mom! Put your shoes on! I can’t believe you don’t have them on yet. This is ridiculous, I told you ten times to get your shoes on! Hurry UP!”

With that in mind, perhaps you’ll consider giving them the same courtesy you would like from them down the road a bit. Life around the house may become generally more respectful and calm. After all, don’t we all feel a little better when we’re treated with courtesy, kindness and respect?

Twelve Meals in Hong Kong

Driving the entire perimeter of Hong Kong Island takes less than an hour with no traffic.  I sometimes think of HK Island as a clock with Central at noon, Stanley at 5, Pokfulam at 8 and so on.  Going out in Hong Kong can be lots of fun, but deciding where to go can be a challenge. Many of the restaurants in HK are mediocre and expensive, and not really that much fun.

Over the years I collected a running list of places where I really like the food, or at least the vibe of the place.  Working my way clockwise around the island, here are twelve tried and tested eating adventure itineraries (A separate list will include the hole-in-the-wall, local, bargain interesting food places beyond HK Island, and another for hike/meal combos).  Enjoy eating your way around the island:

1.  Wanchai East – Start at Stone Nullah Tavern for a drink in the fun London-style neighborhood pub, then walk across Queens Road East and down a block toward the wet market to Serge et le Phoque for an unbelievable “can’t make this at home” tasting menu.  Plywood tables, french blue banquettes and a long horizontal mirror strategically placed to capture the red signs from the Wanchai wet market outside create the perfect paired down chic interior, coupled with the cute French waiters and earnest sommelier; it’s a great night out.  Best with one other couple or a few girlfriends.

2.  Causeway Bay – I must admit I didn’t spend a lot of time eating in Causeway Bay.  I understand that it’s a food mecca, with fantastic places tucked high above the hustle and bustle, but I never really tapped into the scene. I had a great meal at Town, but I never really discovered much else because the pull of our absolute favorite family meal, Din Tai Fung was just too strong.  Despite it now being a global chain from Taiwan, everyone loves the xiao long bao and beautiful greens.  The more the merrier, but get there when it opens or plan to wait awhile for a table.

3.  Taikoo Shing/Quarry Bay – Years ago my friend Cindy introduced me to the greatest pottery studio and private kitchen called Gitone in a housing estate in Quarry Bay.  This is a total gem of a place with a delicious tasting menu for dinner or simple, healthy noodle soup and vegetable lunch in an oasis of calm and beauty as soon as you walk through the doors.  Take your book group for a pottery/dinner, host a private party, or just grab a few couples and have a quiet delicious meal in the capable hands of the husband/wife artist owners who will make sure everything is perfect (I even hosted a 12-year-old pottery birthday party there and the kids seemed to love it!).  Top off your night with a drink at Sugar, a rooftop bar on the top of East with stunning views of Hong Kong.

4.  Stanley – The best food in this seaside town is tucked in a windowless room in the middle of Stanley Market.  Lucy’s has been serving delicious, innovative food to the south side for decades.  Don’t go to dish, as you will know everyone when you walk in.  Relative newcomer Stan’s Cafe has a beautiful view, the best baguette, cheese and sausage available southside, and a strong, if expensive, French menu.  With the kiddos, skip the sketchy Softee truck and instead hit The Cave (below Paisano’s Pizza) for Pinkberry-worthy frozen yogurt.

5.  Repulse Bay –  Despite the recent opening of The Pulse, RB is still a culinary straggler.  Spices is an old-time favorite, good for a birthday lunch with a pan-Asian menu, and tea at The Verandah, run by The Peninsula Hotel, gives you the same experience without the trek to TST, but neither is spectacular.  I didn’t find a restaurant I really liked at the Pulse, despite several attempts.  Limewood has a great look and location and is really good at private parties, but I’m not a huge fan of the regular restaurant.  Not sure why their food is much better when the party is private, but after 2 parties and six attempts at lunch/dinner, that was my experience.

6. Aberdeen/Wong Chuk Hang –  My current favorite food in HK is located on the 22nd floor of the Yally Industrial Building.  The sketchy lift from the cargo loading dock opens out to an industrial chic, order at the counter, soup/salad & thinnest crust pizza ever made by earnest 20-somethings at 3/3rds.  With free wifi, generous light, couches and mis-matched tables, this is a place to go with friends, or on your own with a book to hang out for awhile.  I love this place!

7. Kennedy Town –  This is old school, but if you want to feel a million miles away from the HK scene, Bistronomique is a classic French place with a great look and a tucked away location on a small gentrified street.  It’s industrial and refined.  Reviews online are mixed, but we had a noteworthy meal and a wonderful night there, so I have only good things to say about it.  A great date night spot.

8.  Sai Ying Pun – Ping Pong Gintoneria is clever and great style, but you have to get there early, as last call is at 10 even on a Friday night.  When I’m feeling really wholesome, I’ll go for an organic, vegetarian meal at Grassroots Pantry, but trekking to SYP for healthy food on a weekend night is a stretch.  A good mid-week bet, or girlfriend lunch, especially if you have something to do at HKU, or combine it with Ping Pong and have a little devil/angel night.

9.Sheung Wan – Dozens of restaurants have come and gone in the time it’s taken Yardbird to settle in as a HK fixture.  No reservations and a line every night, swing by Yardbird and put your name on the list.  They’ll give you a buzzer and call you in an hour or so when you can finally get a table at this delicious yakatori style chicken place that never disappoints.  Head to Aberdeen Street Social at the PMQ for a cocktail first.  Ronin (Japanese) and Cocotte (French) are two other perfect date night spots off Gough Street in the same neighborhood.  We recently hosted a party at Cocotte and the sweet and earnest manager made our party just what we had hoped.  He has just opened a nightclub across the staircase from Cocotte, so you can make a night of it.

10.   Central Classic-  While they go without saying, how can a HK restaurant list not include Sevva (the Dosa!), Mott 32 (the Iberico Char Siu!) and the China Club (the Peking Duck!)?  It seems cliche even to mention them, but they truly are excellent.  Service, food, decor are impeccable at all three.  For discerning out of town guests, these places are a must.

11.  Central New – Start at On Dining on the 29th floor of 18 On Lan Street.  Giancarlo Mancino will make sure your drink is the best you’ve ever tasted from his signature Negroni with his own Mancino vermouth to the margarita made with bergamot and Himalayan pink salt shaved over top.  I hear the cheese plate is great too.   Or, if you want upscale delicious, NUR by chef Topham Nurudin is the best.  Another fun night out in Central includes Chom Chom, Chi Cha and Chachawan.  I just like saying that!   Chom Chom in Soho has the best Vietnamese street food (no reservations, but hang out on the precipitous landing outside until you get a table).  Chachawan has great cocktails and the flank steak salad is delicious and Chi Cha just fits with the other two.

12.  Wanchai –  Burgers are the name of the game in the Star Street neighborhood.  22 Ships, Beef and Liberty, The Butcher Club, The Pawn all compete for your attention for the best burger.  While I love a burger the much as anyone, for a truly special Chinese meal, try Michelin starred Guo Fu Lou tucked away in the basement of the Empire Hotel.  It could be because I had a culinary genius and dear friend order for our group, but this was one of the finest dining experiences I had my whole time in HK.   

Bon Appetit!!

Expat Exodus

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Tuesday’s SCMP article is not yet on-line, but here’s a photo and a longer version of the text below:

Tuition for many international schools was due at the end of March, so by early April, word began to spread quickly among the expatriate community about who will be leaving Hong Kong this summer.

The emotional perils of June for expats is well documented. This is the month when groups of friends gather repeatedly to say farewell. Those who remain feel abandoned and claim that it is much worse to be left than to leave. After eight years as an expat, I am all too familiar with this feeling. I bid adieu to upwards of twenty families every June. These were people who touched our lives, to whom we felt close connections and with whom we shared meaningful experiences. Farewells can take an emotional and sometimes even a physical toll.

But what if it’s your turn to leave this year? Leaving gracefully is an art, but there’s a whole lot of work that goes into making it happen. As soon as the decision to move is made the list of tasks grows a mile long, and emotions start to flare. While it’s essential to get things done, it’s also critical to take the time to express gratitude and to celebrate the time spent in Hong Kong and especially the friendships you’ve made along the way. Taking this time is even more important to help your children transition gracefully.

One of the benefits of having said goodbye to so many wonderful friends over the years is that now I know people around the globe who have the benefit of hindsight having successfully orchestrated an international move for their families. I recently polled several of them to gain insight and advice. If you are leaving, these tips may help smooth your way. If your bidding farewell to friends this year, here are some suggestions that will be truly meaningful.

Photographs of all sorts are by far everyone’s favorite gift and memento to help with the transition. Take lots of photos! One friend recommended using a Polaroid instant camera to take photos at a going away party and paste them immediately into a book with messages from the friends at the party.

Many of the schools make framed photos or picture scrapbooks for each of the departing kids. Most tell me that their kids regularly look at these long after they have settled in their new home. My teenager still has a collage hanging in his room that was made for him by his friend when we left London six years ago.

Celebrations are important for children too. Pool, beach and club parties are popular, as well as more elaborate foot massages, simulated driving, and tram parties. A must in planning a party is to be inclusive. Design a party that is simple and fun, and focused on the children playing together and not the activity. This is not the time to hire an entertainer or organize a craft.

Loosen the rules before you go. Let bedtime lapse a little, indulge the sleepover requests and always say yes to the play date offer. Be easy on them and yourself. Make sure there’s ample unstructured time to spend time with special friends, especially as the departure date nears.

As a family there are things you can do to prepare too. Make your family “bucket list” of things you want to do in Hong Kong and document your adventures along the way. Consider printing family calling cards with your new contact information that kids can hand out to friends. List the great things about Hong Kong and the new place.

Gratitude is a central element of leaving well. Don’t forget to say thank you to the people who have been a big part of your life. Try to think ahead, because when it gets busy toward the end, expressing gratitude is the first thing to go.

The key factor in the success of the move, however, is not the parties or memory books, but your attitude as the parent. You must focus on the positive, especially if one spouse is less excited, and get on board with the plan.

Most people think it’s harder for kids than adults to transition, but judging from the responses, it’s the parents who seem to have the most difficult time. One mom who left last year said, “Stay upbeat even though you are stressed and crying on the inside. Kids take their cue from you.” Another friend advised, “Hike, drink the rose, hug the friends, let the movers pack, don’t think about your possessions.”

While few good resources seem to exist to help children transition “home” or to a new country, here are a few to consider. For the youngest children, A Kiss Goodbye, by Audrey Penn follows Chester Raccoon’s process of saying goodbye. Alexander, Who is Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst uses humor and hyperbole to express the range of feelings that are typical with a family move. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi is about a girl who tries on many names in her new school before settling on the one she likes the best; her own. Moving Day, by Ralph Fletcher, is a delightful collection of insights about moving for all ages.

One silver lining story, for teenagers especially, comes from my friend who said the best thing she did was encourage her kids to get on social media. “That’s the best (and only) way to keep in touch. Now they have a constant flow of news and photos from Hong Kong as a result.” If nothing else, technology might be your fillip to bring an ambivalent teen on board with the move. And, if all else fails, you can try the age-old advice given by my dear friend who slyly told me, “We just promised them a puppy.”

Let Them Be Bored

Here’s my February SCMP article promoting our upcoming visit by Dr. Madeline Levine to Hong Kong (a link to the SCMP, or the text below):  http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/family-education/article/1721677/imagination-just-important-children-books

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“Use your imagination,” my mother exasperatedly replied to my whiny claims of boredom one day when I was little. “I don’t have any!” I dramatically exclaimed. But the truth is, my childhood was replete with unstructured time and full of imaginative play. I fear, however, that for this generation of students who are intensely scheduled, pressured and expected to excel in all areas of life except free time, that answer might just be true.

We all want what’s best for our children, but determining what that is and how to get there is not easy. In our best effort to shepherd them through this competitive, harsh world, we fight their every battle, smooth every bump, give them every advantage and then we wonder why they can’t do anything for themselves. Collectively, as helicopter parents of the fragile teacup generation, we view the nurturing years as a complex battle strategy of defense and attack, and we’re arming ourselves to the teeth.  It’s exhausting and ultimately not helpful for our kids.

A practicing psychologist and bestselling author, Dr. Madeline Levine has identified alarming rates of depression among teenagers who are adored by their parents and successful by any measure, but who are feeling empty and lost, with no sense of self, or purpose in life. Dr. Levine has dedicated her recent years of practice to identifying this alarming trend of performance-based, pressure-cooker culture among teens and offering alternative parenting strategies to help mitigate it.

Dr. Levine describes the problem in this way: “The kids I have seen have been given all kinds of material advantages, yet feel that they have nothing genuine to anchor their lives to. They lack spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm, and, most disturbingly, the capacity for pleasure. As their problems become more evident, their parents become confused and worried sick.”

In her bestselling book, The Price of Privilege, Dr. Levine explains how parental pressure and material advantage are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids. Her second book, Teach Your Children Well tackles the contemporary narrow definition of success and provides practical suggestions for raising truly successful children in all aspects of life.

In addition to the work of Doctor Levine, many child development specialists, college admissions officers and companies are reexamining their true determinants of success. Perusing Stanford University’s Challenge Success website nets a treasure trove of research-based resources for parents and educators who believe that schools these days are too focused on grades and test scores. Instead, they should focus on creativity, adaptability, critical thinking, collaboration and communication leading to greater resilience, success and ultimately more meaningful lives.

Dr. Ron Ritchhart from Harvard University’s Project Zero was in Hong Kong last week speaking about how to develop what he calls “cultures of thinking” in the classroom and at home. He encourages the creation of environments where “individual and collective thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day-to-day experience.”

Diane Frankenstein, a child literacy expert guides parents and teachers in the art of Conversational Reading as an excellent way to stay engaged in the lives of older children. Talking about books helps kids convey feelings, develop empathy and continue to converse in a way that is not so personal, but gets to personal topics. Far from a passive, solitary activity, reading can be active, social and collaborative, particularly when a carefully constructed discussion ensues. She advises, “Read a story. Ask a question. Start a conversation.”

More than an additional extracurricular activity, tutor or AP class, children need time to be bored and the space to think deeply about ideas, discovering who they are as much as what they can do. After all, there really is no proven formula for future success and happiness, so why make adolescence so unpleasant? Why not enjoy our kids and listen to them, try to make the best decisions we can for them while we have the luxury of being the decision-makers, but more importantly, try to plant the seeds for them to make good decisions for themselves in the future?

Dr. Madeline Levine will be in Hong Kong on March 11 to speak at the HK Convention Centre at 7 p.m. as a guest of Bring Me A Book. Tickets can be purchased through HK Ticketing.

 

Meet The Author

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye speaking at HKIS, January 2015 IMG_0011

In today’s SCMP, and slightly longer version below:  http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/family-education/article/1692319/how-authors-can-make-books-come-alive-hong-kong-readers

Standing in the packed HKIS library, visiting poet Naomi Shihab Nye closes her eyes, takes a breath and begins. “You can’t order a poem like you order a taco…” she says, reciting the opening line of one of her most recognized poems, Valentine for Ernest Mann, and the room is silent. It’s hard to know what these teenagers think as they sit, cross-legged, heads lowered, listening. But their thoughtful questions and deep, introspective reflections expressed after the talk show clearly that they have been deeply impressed by her words. With this talk, Nye offered these students a new way to approach poetry, both as consumers and as creators themselves.

“I learned to look at life as a long poem, filled with mundane, irritating, amazing and elated moments, ” reflected grade eight student, Sarthak Bajpai. Sophia Chuen, also in grade eight said, “Visiting authors allow us to learn that authors are real people too and that writing is thinking.”

Nye suggested that students keep a notebook with them always and that they pay attention to the ordinary moments in life and record three small ideas each day. The students learned that anyone can be a poet, that poetry is fun and that writing a book can take many, many iterations before the final version is published.

For most authors, producing a book is like birthing a child. Once that book exists, their lives are forevermore inextricably entwined. Most authors spend a fair amount of their non-writing time helping to grow the audience for their books. While the author receives some benefit in increasing book sales for this effort, the true benefit is really to the audience who gain further insights and a deeper understanding from hearing the author provide context and color about her process and result.

Meeting an author is a great way to make books come alive for readers. Many Hong Kong schools and organizations understand this and invest precious resources hosting authors to work with students, parents and teachers.

Last year HKIS hosted award-winning author/artist Grace Lin for a week as an artist in residence. As a Taiwanese-American who grew up in rural New York, Grace Lin’s books explore the immigrant experience, interlacing Chinese and American culture, and helping to articulate the competing feelings of pride and dislocation. In her evening talk for parents and children, Lin told the story of her childhood and gave insight into the decisions she made and how she felt about herself as an Asian American. While these underlying themes are present in her books, to hear her tell the story directly was much more powerful. As a result of this talk and seeing Grace Lin in the school, her book The Year of the Dog is my son’s favorite chapter book.

Ralph Fletcher, a renowned young adult fiction writer who’s books are particularly popular with young boys, spent a week at HKIS working with upper primary aged children. While there, Fletcher conducted certain workshops for elementary school aged boys, no girls allowed.   This was a brilliant strategy to encourage boys to embrace their talents as writers with the same enthusiasm as do more girls at that age.

Chinese International School (CIS) and HKIS will co-host award winning children’s book author Deborah Wiles at an event on March 4, 2015. In preparation for her visit, the entire upper primary school division is reading her book Each Little Bird That Sings. This is a great way to build enthusiasm for reading as a social activity and to nurture the community with a shared literary experience.

The Hong Kong Young Readers Festival is another great way to meet globally renowned authors. This year the festival will take place from 9-20 March, 2015 and has a full schedule of talks, workshops and events where children and adults can meet and interact with authors to learn about their process as well as the content of their books.

Meeting an author can be like meeting a hero. Unlike other professions, everyone is a writer. Some choose to pursue it as a profession, but even those who don’t are still writers. Meeting writers who have persevered through the difficulty, tedium and challenge of writing a book and having it published is inspirational for children and adults alike and can bring the written word to life in a whole new way.

Be Patient With Your Reader

The South China Morning Post published this article today in the Between the Lines column.  Here’s a link to the article directly, or you can read it below:

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/family-education/article/1631195/be-patient-if-your-child-slow-start-reading

When parents lament that their children are not yet reading and consider hiring tutors and pricy evaluations to find out what’s wrong with their six year olds, I tell them to be patient and to keep reading to their kids. In most cases, when a child’s ability catches up with his or her interest in the narrative, the life long reader is launched. Reframing the situation not as a problem, but as a sign that their child might just have high standards for what makes a good story helps to alleviate some of the underlying anxiety.

A mother of three children, two adolescent avid readers and one developing reader, the benefit of hindsight allows me small experiential insight, butressed by a growing body of research in the area of brain development and functional readiness to read.

Doctor Martha Denckla, director of the Developmental Cognitive Neurology Clinic at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and neuroscience researcher at Johns Hopkins University is a leading expert in brain development and reading readiness. Regarding the trend in schools of teaching reading earlier and earlier she says, “They are doing enormous harm by blithely disregarding neurological readiness to learn these skills.”

Books have been an integral part of our parenting since my son was born 14 years ago. When he was tiny and we lived in California, we made daily trips to the local library and lugged home stacks of picture books, delighted in bookstores and attended a weekly local story time. Our evening routine after brushing his teeth involved reading two picture books that he would carefully select to read together.

In addition to the picture books, I read chapter books far beyond his own reading ability to him as he fell asleep. Even when he didn’t understand everything on a practical level, he intuitively absorbed the melody of the well-crafted tale as his own thought process and language was forming. A good novel is as beautiful to hear as it is to read.

With our family focus on literature I was sure he would be an early reader, but he was not. At the end of kindergarten, he wasn’t yet reading. His teachers weren’t worried and neither was I. After first grade, he still wasn’t reading. Again they weren’t worried. I noted it, but I didn’t worry. When second grade came around and he still wasn’t reading I began to express concern, but his progressive school said, “Don’t worry, he will read.

Just before Christmas of that second grade year I read the first Harry Potter book to him. He was hooked. Over that holiday we relocated to London and he spent the entire first few weeks reading hundreds of pages a day, for hours at a time. He was launched as a reader, and he has never looked back.

We moved from London to Hong Kong when my daughter was five. By the middle of second grade she could plod her way through Magic Tree House books, but not with any enthusiasm. On a trip to New Zealand that spring, I took along Roald Dahl’s The Witches and that was the magic one for her. She proceeded to read three more Roald Dahl books that holiday and hasn’t been far from a book ever since.

To fall asleep in the evening she liked to listen to books on CD. After I read to her, I would put on a CD and the books would play, sometimes all night when I forgot to turn them off. Little Lord Fauntleroy, Paddington and Ballet Shoes are indelibly embedded in her subconscious.   Acting is her favorite activity now, and she can copy accents with surprising aptitude. I attribute both her love of great stories and her mimicry ability to those beautiful narratives that lulled her to sleep.

My son and daughter are now in 9th and 6th grades respectively, and place reading for pleasure at the top of their list of leisure activities. They never saw a flash card, had a tutor or strung together words they knew how to spell to write a story. Theirs is an intrinsically motivated love for books that I expect will stay with them the rest of their lives.

My third child is in second grade now and true to our family pattern is still not reliably reading. Technically he can do it, but he does not yet enjoy it. I continue to expose him to narratives as I did the other two, wondering which will be the one that launches him into the ranks of readers.

Reading is the gateway through which we discover the world, and loving to read makes that process all the more enjoyable. Anxiety, impatience and busyness are the obstacles that unintentionally inhibit the journey to raising life long readers. Patience is more than a virtue when it comes to nurturing readers, it’s good parenting.