Thursday, November 18, 2010

As we wind down our time here in Hong Kong we share the sentiment of a friend who said, "I haven't left yet but I'm already homesick for Hong Kong." There are so many unique characteristics of this city that there will be a lot to miss. On the other hand, I knew it was time to head home when I asked Millie what I could bring for her for Christmas from Hong Kong. She said, "Dale and Marge." It is so nice to be wanted back home.
Katie has moved into her own house, leaving ours unoccupied, so we are a bit focused on the house, at least more so than we were while she was there. But there's lots going on here. I am teaching English every day at 9:30 and 10:30 in a one-on-one setting. My regular English class meets on Tuesday afternoons. I am very grateful for these opportunities. I am working on oral histories, womens' stories from Hong Kong for a book in the planning stage, "Women of Faith." Sister Goo, our previous temple matron, is one woman I hope they accept for the book. The woman's story I am working on right now is also fascinating! She is a single woman with the first EdD among LDS women in Hong Kong and very dedicated to helping anyone with learning problems.
Dale is "cranking out" the legal work but he was able to be distracted at lunch. He wanted to show Dr. Paul where to get a custom-made suit (at a reasonable price) and I met up with him right before they left about 11:45. We accompanied the Pauls to the tailor, and then abandoned them and went to lunch at Pizza Express. We had a fantastic lunch and so enjoyed the walk down from the midlevels. It's a beautiful day here.
Tomorrow for lunch we have reservations for 21 of us (senior missionaries and the Berretts with their son, daughter-in-law, and 2 little granddaughters ages 2 and 4) at R66--a revolving restaurant at the top of the Hopewell building in Wan Chai. We went once last year and it was a great place to see the town and have a nice buffet. Unfortunately, I am bringing home a very personal bit of Hong Kong (around my waist!).
Dale and Dr. Paul went to see the Museum of Coastal Defense last Saturday. It is a fort, first built in the 18th century by the Chinese, and then taken over by the British when they acquired their original lease on HK in 1841. The present-day version of the fort was constructed by the British in 1887. It was a point of attack by the Japanese when they invaded HK and captured it December of 1941, immediately after their attack on Pearl Harbor. It has been beautifully restored. You can see Dale's photos at

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mid-autumn Festival

September 22, 2010
Another mid-Autumn festival here in Hong Kong, and the rain has dampened spirits outside. Yesterday in the gym on the first floor of the Church Administration Building the Chinese staff and senior missionaries had a real party! Sally Ng organized the party, which included a history of the festival, wonderful refreshments of fruits and ice cream bars, and some "games." The Whitmans were asked to be in charge of the games so we taught the bunny hop, the chicken dance, and the hokey pokey. No one on the staff had heard of or seen these dances before. Now they know how Americans really celebrate! They were "quick studies" and joined in enthusiastically.

We actually had a "dress rehearsal" on Saturday evening when we had a couples' pot luck dinner and dance. We brought the keyboard over to the building and went to the Nield's apartment on the 11th floor. The view from their patio is fantastic!! The tall buildings and harbour offer a brilliant view. At 8 pm, the nightly light show began and we saw the lights flash on the tall buildings in Hong Kong and Tsim Sha Tsui, across the harbour in Kowloon. Even though it was miserably hot, we all danced until we were wet with perspiration. But what fun! We slow danced and jitter-bugged to our hearts' content. At one point, Dale said to me, "I seem to be improving in my dancing." I pulled his ear down to my mouth and whispered, "I'm leading." No more mystery about the improvement! We laughed about that a lot. It's nice that I can do something slightly better than he--dance and cook.

We are both enjoying teaching our English classes very much. I am so impressed with my "students." They understand a lot of words and meanings. Reading a hymn together is quite useful, but the English usage in those hymns is daunting because 1)it's poetry and 2)so much of it is quaint English terms that we Americans don't really understand. We just sing the words and get the drift from the context. One thing I've noticed that I really like is several of the men and women are calling and asking what words mean. For example, today Jennifer (Dave and Dale's secretary), who is very proficient in business English, asked me what it means to "take aim" at something as written in the newspaper. Her dictionary discusses a gun being aimed. Another term she wanted to understand was about housing costs here in Hong Kong. The newspaper used the term "priced out" in reference to young couples trying to enter the housing market. So we talked about price ranges and she quickly understood the couples don't qualify for housing above a certain range--actually, the cost of most housing in HK. The article said they have to settle for public housing apartments.

Hong Kong is so affluent and full of consumer goods. I like to look at the apartment windows when I ride the bus to the temple. So many people in Kowloon have "stuff" piled to the ceiling, even in their windows. Too much ability to buy and save things that there is not enough room to store. Our next-door neighbors have 4 children, 2-13years old, a domestic helper, mother and father, living in a 900 sq.ft. apartment with enough "stuff" to fill a 3000 sq.ft. house! Last week an upright piano, black and brand new, was delivered to that apartment. The mom came into our apartment and was in awe of all the space we have!! (The reason, of course, is that our apartment is not all filled up as theirs is.) How will the two of us cope with so much square footage at home??

We have plans for lots of concerts and ballets before we go home in December. I wish we could take such convenient access and affordability with us. We have enjoyed this so very much. A facet of my work I really enjoy is the church history for the Asia area. I am enjoying working on collecting and editing oral histories as well as working with Elder Pratt on getting country history advisers in the countries of the Asia Area. Deseret Book is collecting womens' stories for a series on women of faith. We have interviewed one sister and plan to interview two others. Carmen Yu of our staff interviewed the first one in her home last Friday, and said they were both moved to tears at several times when she recounted her conversion to the Gospel and her missionary work. Carmen is translating and transcribing the interview so I can edit it and send it to Deseret Book.

Dale will upload photos from mid-Autumn festival party. Maybe he can find some pictures of the lantern festival as part of mid-autumn festival. See our photos at

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hot and muggy in Hong Kong

August 17, 2010

It’s a beautiful day in Hong Kong today! The sun is shining but that is probably temporary. This is the rainy season and it is a hit-or-miss situation—Sunday Dale walked to work on dry land; I arrived with wet shoes and the bottom 8 inches of my skirt were wet. The temperature and humidity make a shower a briefly effective exercise. Summertime is when the expats go back to the USA for holiday. Even our Area Presidency were gone a month; there was always one of them here so it was 6 weeks before they were back together again. The branch of the Church where most of the expats attend has been quite empty. It’s a good time to be away from Hong Kong!

Dale has been a lone member of our branch presidency while President Hillam and his family were in the US. These Philippine sisters continue to amaze us and we appreciate getting acquainted with them. Marge has been teaching a Teacher Development class during Sunday School and has enjoyed that very much!! Working with these women in the branch is our spiritual “high.” We are office missionaries and do lots of computer work. Dale is the unofficial office computer consultant and I think that gives him a welcome break quite often! But it’s challenging to write about our experiences without it seeming to be a travelogue!

We continue to feel very concerned about Sister Carol Kewish, who returned home to Provo in July after receiving a diagnosis of cancer. The news we receive is not good; she is still weak and having complications and has not been able to start chemo. Taking chemotherapy is dependent on the functional status of an individual. I hope she will be able to tolerate chemo when her condition improves.

A couple of Houston friends have been railing on Facebook about Medicare’s delay in accepting an “off label” use of a new drug. The drug is approved by FDA for use with a specific type of cancer. It bugs me that people make pronouncements that a decision to delay approval by Medicare is evidence of “Dr. Death” rationing care. Using an off-label drug must be considered carefully and Medicare’s decision to evaluate the drug more before okaying it for use is not unwise. Besides, these same people abhor the government paying for any medical care. Do they have any idea what a “new” drug costs compared to those that have been used a long time??? Many of them are very expensive and there is little or no evidence that they will provide an improved benefit.

A new approach to helping the Chinese staff improve their English usage is being developed. We are thrilled by a new proposal that each staff member have a personal “tutor.” Several senior sisters volunteered to partner with a staff person when he or she needs help with English. Learning a second language and becoming proficient in all of its uses is very challenging. The categories of learning include conversation and listening, telephone manners, conducting meetings, presentation skills, proposal writing, and correspondence. Wow! Have we native English-speakers accomplished all of those skills? One of the recurring problems the Chinese face on email and on the phone is dealing with problems—conflict or criticism. So there are many things to learn. We appreciate the fact that Chinese use a completely different lettering system—they use beautiful, artistic characters rather than the Latin or cyrillic alphabet. So we are awed and humbled by their ability to manage both languages!

We are looking forward to October 9th when Jennie arrives from Idaho Falls. We hope the weather will be better by then so we can do some touring of the area. Last Thursday evening we went to The Peak to Bubba Gump’s for dinner with Dave and Terry Berrett. (Dave is the other lawyer here, and Dale's "boss.") After dinner, we walked around the face of The Peak mountain and enjoyed a wonderful view of the city and the harbor. After dark the temperature moderated to a comfortable level so our stroll was very pleasant. We wanted to take the bus down the hill to home but the lines for the bus were so long we grabbed a taxi and sped down the winding road! We were woozy when we arrived.

We paid a nice visit to the Hong Kong Historical Museum. If you would like to see our photos, they are at

Monday, June 21, 2010

Keeping in touch

June has been a hectic month so far and has suddenly turned tragic. One of our senior couples, the public affairs couple with whom we have worked especially closely in the Philippine branch, announced yesterday they are leaving this week because she has been diagnosed with cancer. It is difficult to describe the sadness we all feel; we want to protect them from our worst fears and frustration but it is almost impossible to make any observation about the situation without expressing gloom and anxiety. We all feel quite helpless and with them, will wait to learn the treatment plan after they return to Utah this weekend.

We just said goodbye to the Smiths (missionaries from Utah), who stayed to orient the Sackleys, their replacements in welfare. They are from Alberta, Canada. The Asia Area welfare missionaries work with missionaries in the countries we serve, distributing wheelchairs, drilling wells, and sponsoring health care programs. Literally, millions of US dollars are spent helping people in these countries get some of the meager basics of life. Our Church works with other NGOs in most of the countries. The Church just sponsored a national neonatal resuscitation program in Mongolia.

The Dodsons (also welfare missionaries) went to Salt Lake 3 weeks ago for shoulder surgery for him; the Smiths extended briefly to orient the Sackleys while the Dodsons were on leave. We just learned that the Dodsons are transfering to Beijing to work on the welfare projects there. Many projects have been approved but progress toward implementing the projects is extremely slow. We need the Dodson in Beijing to move the work forward, but we will miss them here.

So given all the grief, we were really excited to look out our apartment window Saturday morning and see these men scamper up the front of the 25 story building across from us! They were assembling the bamboo scaffolding--those long bushy tails they appear to have are the lengths of black plastic they use to strap the bamboo together. The entire apparatus is only attached to the building from the roof; long rope lines are dropped to the sidewalk and the bamboo is hoisted, positioned, and fastened in place. None of the men wore any kind of safety harness that attached them to any framework. They seemed to mostly wear tennis shoes and usually anchored themselves by hooking one leg to the outside of the scaffold. By 5 pm the entire front of the building was covered in the lashed bamboo and only 1 or 2 men were visible on the street level cleaning up the scraps. Bamboo scaffolding is the only type of material used here for scaffolds--regardless of the age of the building or the height. Often a green or grey mesh covers the entire framework, but so far the one we watched has been left uncovered. You can see the photos of the scaffold going up at

In the summer in Hong Kong most of the expatriats go to the states on leave--minimally for 1 month, many for 6-8 weeks. It is a massive exodus. Our legal department has benefitted from two delightful interns, one from BYU Law School and the other from The University of Utah law school. Robert and Nathan are both fluent in Chinese--Nathan in Cantonese and Robert in Mandarin -- and that has helped with some of the documents. Of course in our Area, there are 18 countries where we have legal entities and the languages are myriad even within each country! That is why we need a universal language!! And we are hoping it will be English!!! Hong Kong recently increased the teaching of English in all the schools here. And the people in mainland China are studying English very diligently.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

And the rain came down...

It's May in Hong Kong and the temperature is climbing to a warm, comfortable range but the humidity has already hit the boggy level. And intermittent rain has begun. We're grateful for the rain; it clears the pollution and we haven't had any typhoon warnings posted--yet. So most days we arrive at the office building a bit damp--either from rain or humidity.

In April we were delighted to have a visit from Amy and Steve's daughter Grace. She was enroute to her summer programs in Paris and Cambridge. She was a delightful guest. We sort of set records on how fast someone can cover the territory--on Friday we went to the Big Buddha in the morning, Sha Tin to the Cultural museum in the afternoon and the temple in the evening. Grace tried not to suffer from jet lag but on the ride home from the temple on the bus, if she hadn't been strapped into her seat belt, she would have been on the floor! Grandma wasn't far behind her in the fatigue category! Saturday we went to Ocean Park and then to a wonderful Tchaikovski piano concerto at the Cultural Center in Kowloon. Sunday was a great day of rest, then Monday we went to the devotional at the office and up the peak, over to Kam Tong Hall, now a museum to Dr. Sun Yat Sen and the former Church office building. Then we had lunch at the IFC shopping center, went home, rested and relaxed and she was on the plane to Paris that evening. She is a trooper. The Filipino women in our Branch loved her! She played the piano for Relief Society for me and was so helpful. You can see the photos of Grace at Ocean Park at the following link:

Saturday, May 8th, we hosted a Mother's Day Open house for the senior couples. It turned into a dance! Dale visited and then began playing his keyboard, and lo and behold, here was an audience that knew and loved those show tunes from the 50s and 60s! Quite a number of the couples danced. We ended the evening with Dale making a computer house call. He has been the service man for everyone's computers and quite enjoyed doing that work. He also keeps everyone supplied with copies of TV shows and movies. Jennie sent us her copies of Season 3-6 of Ballykissangel, and Dale is distributing those now. Foyle's War and the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency have been very popular. We have been trying to buy the BYU DVD on C.S. Lewis' 100th birthday, but it is out of stock right now. For Mother's Day, Dale bought me a DVD of Shadowlands, my favorite, favorite movie. We enjoyed watching it together again.

Saturday, May 15, we explored the Kowloon Walled City Park. The pictures are linked with this post (including a picture of the flowers from the Open House May 8th. Paste this link into your browser:

We were completely charmed by this park and enjoyed the richness of the foliage and the beauty of the buildings. It is certainly a "jewel" today, but it was formerly a terrible place! It was specifically excluded when the Chinese government leased Kowloon to the British in 1860. These Chinese had built a walled fort there (on about 6 acres), and claimed that they needed to maintain it in order to protect the mainland against a possible attack by sea. (The fort was originally on the harbor waterfront, before Kai Tak aiport was built.) The Chinese government maintained the fort there until 1898, when the New Territories were leased to the British and the entire Hong Kong Territory was placed under the 99-year lease. Once again, the 6-acre walled fort was excluded from the lease, but the next year the British came in and cleared out the Chinese soldiers and officials there.

However, the British government took little subsequent interest in the fort. During the 1900-1940 period most of the buildings within the fort were gradually demolished, and the principal building (called the "yamen") was turned into an almshouse. But there was little activity there, and it was mostly a tourist curiosity. When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in December, 1941, they began demolishing the walls of the fort to obtain stone to extend Kai Tak airport, which was just a short distance from the fort. (The original airport had been built in 1925 on land reclaimed from the harbor, but the Japanese enlarged it, adding two new runways by using mainly forced POW labor.) The Japanese left behind only a little of the walls of the fort.

After the defeat of the Japanese and the return of control of Hong Kong to the British in 1945, people began moving into the old fort area and putting up shanties. Many of the new residents were refugees from the Communist government of the PRC. Over the next 40 years the population of the 6-acre site grew to about 35,000. It was incredibly densely populated, and essentially lawless. Every form of vice was rampant: prostitution, opium, heroin, etc. Businesses liked to locate there because there were no taxes to pay to any government. Buildings as high as 16 stories were constructed with inadequate foundations and no compliance with any building codes. There were unlicensed physicians and dentists. Water and electricity were "bootleged" through illegal connections outside the "walled city."

The Hong Kong government made several attempts to evict the illegal settlers, but were rebuffed by force. The only law within the "walled city" was provided by the Triads, a group of criminal organizations that ran many of the vice operations. Finally in the early 1970s, the Hong Kong government ran a series of raids and arrests that crippled the Triads' power. In 1987 the government announced that the site would be cleared and the illegal buildings removed. The government of the PRC announced it approved of this policy and the removal took place. In the location of the former walled city, a beautiful park was created in the Jiangnan garden style of the early Qing Dynasty. The park was completed in 1995, and the attached photos are pictures we took in the park.

One of the insights I gained on our journey there is the location of the old International airport at Kai Tak. I thought, incorrectly, the airport was on Hong Kong island but when I contemplated that I realized there isn't a level stretch of land long enough for an airport runway. There was scarely enough on Kowlooon! I didn't realize there were so many high rise apartments in Kowloon at that time and thought those big planes were flying through the apartment maze here on HK island. The new airport on Lantau Island was completed in 1998, and the last commercial flight operations at Kai Tak took place on July 6. Kai Tak was widely considered to be one of the most challenging (i.e., dangerous) commercial airports in the world, and landing aircraft experienced many accidents there. My present to Dale for Christmas is a photo of a Boeing 747 landing at Kai Tak, flying below the top level of surrounding apartments!

We have a new district president and he is our boss in the legal office! Dave Berrett, the Area legal counsel, was sustained as the new District President of the International District in Hong Kong at conference today. We are thrilled; he is a wonderful man and makes our stay here so pleasant and worthwhile. He is going to be working sooo hard now and he wasn't slacking before he got this assignment! He and his wife Terry are going to the Philippines on Tuesday for the open house of the new Cebu Temple. We considered going but decided to stay here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring in Hong Kong

Part of the senior missionaries' routine here in Hong Kong is to participate in "couples activities" once a month oh Saturday. February 27 about 20 of us (those who weren't traveling outside of HK) took a city bus to the Pier and floated off to an island in the thickest fog imaginable. The ferry slowed to a drift and recordings explained that we had slowed to avoid a collision! We sure hoped their instrument rating was valid!! The trip was going to last about 30 minutes but was much longer; when we finally saw the dock we were close enough to tie up and we all felt a great measure of relief! After disembarking we encountered the first of many pleasant surprises: the island is quite like paradise! Beautiful flowers and modern apartment complexes lined the shore and we strolled the curving walkways to our destination: Noah's Ark.

Noah's Ark is a new attraction in HK; we imagined it would be a barnyard site manned by strongly religious zealots. Surprise! It is a life-size ark according to dimensions in the Bible and it seemed to be produced by citizens concerned about pollution and global warming (the green revolution). A short tour which included some "4 dimensional theatre" was interesting and then we went outside into the sunshine! The fog had lifted and we toured the beautiful park-like grounds with the life-size animal models. The only real animals were in the ark and those were tortoises, rabbits, a snake, and some birds. Outside the animals and flowers created lovely photo opportunities. The trip back to HK island was enjoyable for the fog had totally lifted. We enjoyed a truly pleasant adventure. You can see our photos at

Between preparing our income tax return and helping the branches with music on Saturdays and Sundays, we have been leading a rather simple, hard-working life. We keep reminding ourselves that, "Hey, we're retired!" So today when Dale finished working on the taxes again, we went to a movie and then over to Kowloon and found the Kowloon Park. It is wonderful!!! The plants and fountains and birds are dramatically beautiful. We enjoyed the statue garden, the aviary, the rose garden, and the maze. You can see the photos of the part at

We walked a long way on our tour of the park after we had walked quite a ways returning to "Timmy's Art" where I had previously bought (and accidentally left behind) a small Chinese snuff bottle. The owner, Mr. Tong, was so kind to save it for me; I bought it a couple of weeks ago and somehow it missed the bag he put the other item into so I got home without it and telephoned him. He cheerfully returned it to me today and even gave me a little stand to put it on.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hong Kong 2010

January was a month of great anticipation for us because Amy and Millie were coming to Hong Kong January 23rd. The Saturday night they landed, we took the airport bus leaving Hong Kong about 10pm. As we rode the bus we were safely bringing that plane from Minneapolis via Tokyo into the Hong Kong airport on Lantau Island. Then we waited at the railing and watched arriving passengers, first on a tv monitor and then as they swung their luggage trolleys into the main terminal. Finally!! They were here and they were so happy! Their brains were probably like mush but their affect was joyous! We talked and talked as we rode the bus back into HK. It was 12:30am by then and there wasn't a lot visible in the dark but we enjoyed the details of the trip--which included running into a Columbia, Missouri friend in the Tokyo airport!

Mil watercolored on the plane; Amy seems to have resisted taking care of all the babies on the plane. Millie was sure she would be running a daycare the moment they were airborne! We got to Hennessey Street and hauled their rolling bags up the street to their hotel: the South Pacific. We had been there earlier in the evening to place fruits and candy and decorations for their room. It was a nice hotel and only 2 blocks from our apartment via street vendors and lots of taxis.

Mil and Amy were both quite impressed by the sisters in the Philippine branch where we attend Church. Their sincerity and sacrifices were overwhelming to them as they have been to us. Some of these women haven't seen their children in 2 or 3 years.

Monday we went to the Big Buddha and up to the Peak for supper and to see the 8pm light show. Tuesday we shopped in Wan Chai; Wednesday we saw Kowloon and went to the Nan Lian gardens. Thursday Amy and I went to OceanPark and saw lots of pandas and Friday we wanted to go to Macau but forgot the passports so couldn't take the ferry. Instead we found a good Mexican restaurant in Soho in the "midlevels" up many escalators. Shopping there included Millie's find of the Star Warehouse where we bought earrings and pendants.

Friday night was temple night; Saturday we went with our fellow senior missionaries to visit Kom Tong Hall, beautiful Edwardian mansion which was owned by the Church for 40 years and then sold to the government of Hong Kong, and is now a museum to the memory of Sun Yat Sen. He was the leader of the movement suppressing the Chinese Monarchy and is a hero to Chinese people today, in the PRC and in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

We did more sight-seeing in the week the girls were here that we had in the 6 months previous. The weather cooperated by being dry and pleasant with light jackets for warmth.

When the girls left, it was kind of lonely here for a while. Then Chinese New Year warmed up, and it is quite a celebration.

We hadn't realized what an event this would be. Decorations similar to the Christmas decorations adorn the parks and commercial buildings. But this is when Chinese people spend time with their families; the tour buses were full and the airlines and trains were overflowing! There was a huge parade on Sunday evening, February 14, the first day of the year of the Tiger. Fireworks exploded over the harbor on the evening of February 15th. And people didn't come back to work most of that week; some of the shops are still shuttered this week. The hairdresser warned he would be so busy that there would be long waits after February 7th and that he was leaving on vacation after the 14th until the first of March. Three days before the New Year is a special day is designated for people to clean their homes and businesses. At our office there was a competition for who made the best improvements and which area was most attractive. It was wonderful fun purging the cupboards and desk tops from the accumulated papers and adornments. It's a good tradition!

In Victoria Park, which is here on Hong Kong Island, a huge flower market was held. The prevailing flowers are dahlias, chrysanthemums, orchids, red gladiolus, orange bushes, and lotus blossoms. Homes are considered more fortunate if there are fresh flowers, so thousands of people were buying flowers in the market. It was a bit like a carnival atmosphere with lots of booths, many vendors seemed to be selling "as seen on TV" merchandise.

So now we are back to work and still resting from the many events we enjoyed related to Chinese New Year. I have a new "calling" to serve as Asia Area History Advisor. Today I had a teleconference with my advisor at the Church History office in Salt Lake City. I hope they can help me define my work so it isn't so overwhelming. There are 21 countries in our area and lots of things published about the history of the Church in this area. We started my training today in the teleconference and I worked on some of my assignments the remainder of the day. - Marge

You can see the pictures of New Year and the flower market at