A Time to Remember
Upon news of prolonged school closure in Hong Kong after the Chinese New Year holidays, we extended our stay in the US for a total of three times. Our short 8-day family vacation eventually evolved into a 4-month long stay.
As the coronavirus started to rage across parts of Asia, we found a sanctuary at my mother's home in the Californian suburb, about 1.5 hours south of San Francisco. However, the outbreak in the US soon ensued. Although our area was relatively unscathed, we felt sad and frustrated that the virus could infiltrate parts of the US unabatedly, even with the benefit of lead time. In contrast, we were proud and relieved that Hong Kong, having a strong sense of working towards the common good, was faring much better.
Although we could not see some of our friends and family, I was comforted by a unique sense of solidarity that we, as in mankind, were all going through this – the changes, the loss, the hopes and the frustrations – together. Every night at 8pm, we would step outside to "howl" with our human and canine neighbors to pay tribute to the amazing healthcare workers and first responders. This and giving to PPE sourcing causes were the little we could do. It was also a special time to connect with others. As I looked up in the night sky, I noticed that the stars, in particular Venus (my astrophysicist stepfather was the only reason I knew), were shining so brilliantly and stood still admiring them for a few moments.
While taking a break from in-person interactions, we took solace in the easily accessible nature and found ourselves immensely enjoying the simple pleasures it offers. The combination of the cool crisp air and the bright warm sun melted half of our worries away, so we tried to soak up as much outdoors as possible. Each day was a new adventure. One day we would see a hummingbird soar and dive in big loops or count the banana slugs on our path. We even brought one home to keep as a pet before releasing it the next day! Another day a family of deer or wild turkeys or peacocks would appear and every day squirrels would come and play in the yard. The chorus of birdsong every morning and the hooting of the neighborhood owl every evening accompanied us in our daily activities. We went elephant seal viewing and observed the craters on the moon through giant telescopes, picked citrus from trees and dug up seasonal bamboo shoots which we savored. We visited a farm to see the newborn foal and feed the ever-hungry cow, and the beaches just to enjoy the sun-kissed sand and sea breeze. We gardened and worked with seeds of vegetables we consumed and plants from the nursery. The vanishing of the daisies we had just planted – the likely culprit being a hungry bunny that frequented the yard – amused us greatly!
The daily hiking routine and exploration of state parks, reserves and the hilly neighborhood landscape revitalized us. Social distancing transpired effortlessly with the lower density of people. Contrary to the unpleasant behavior exhibited in some parts of America, our neighbors were cordial and supportive. Greetings with complete strangers were most customary. Seeing us exerting ourselves jogging uphill, they would cheer on us or send a thumbs up from their cars as they drove by.
There were lots of indoor activities too. We managed to secure 20 pounds of flour before it went out of stock due to the sudden surge in baking activity! Baking, filling the house with aroma, and topping off our meals with the desserts lent us much joy. A myriad of online resources for children timely circulated, and as an animal loving family, the live webcams at zoos became an instant favorite. We religiously followed the activities of various animals, in particular, a pair of burrowing owls at the San Diego zoo, and were delighted to see that mommy owl started laying eggs, one a day until there were eight and rarely leaving them for the next four weeks. Then the first chick hatched, followed by others, eyes shut until one day the first pair of black beady eyes popped open! All the while, mommy owl brooded the little fluff balls diligently to keep them warm. We marveled at the manifestation of love in the animal world and these animals wound up in many of our dinner conversations. Of course, online schooling took place and we were grateful that schools, utilizing modern technology, made the best out of this trying situation to facilitate children's learning. Fortunately, the adults' engagements also allowed for remote or virtual participation.
It was breathtaking to watch the seasons change. The new leaves slowly populating an otherwise empty tree and contrasting bright green tips extending from dark green pine needles were a spectacular sight. The magnificent blossoms could not be missed: first the pale pink cherry blossoms in late February, followed by darker pink magnolias, purple wisterias, multicolored roses and magenta bougainvillea. The change in seasons and the owl family we followed served as a powerful reminder that in the face of a calamity, life cycles on beautifully.
Even though nothing out of the ordinary happened to us in the last few months, it felt plenty extraordinary. We treasured spending every waking (and sleeping) moment together and relished things and experiences we were previously oblivious to, mired in our busy lives in Hong Kong. It was a time that we will reminisce over and over again as a family. We are so fortunate to live in this beautiful world. Our lives may be completely thrown off course, some by phenomenal challenges, but if we just take a step back to reflect, perhaps we can find a place where stars sparkle more brightly and birds chirp more sweetly.