Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The US Navy is in Town: Volunteering @ Fenwick Pier (getting to be a “mom” again)

I have posted pics and “facebooked” about the Navy ships that come into Hong Kong.
We were lucky enough in August to get to tour the USS Ronald Reagan. One of the reasons we were honored with this (it’s a tough ticket) is because the American Women’s Association (AWA) works to host the “Welcome Desk” at Fenwick Pier.  I volunteer there, so I lucked into 3 tickets. The Pier is where 99% of the time the sailors exit into and out of Hong Kong.

Today, the USS George Washington and it’s support ships came into Hong Kong waters.  This group has over 7,000 sailors, so when they come to town it gets super busy!

The Pier is a little “slice” of home.  This is where families are reunited…so cute to watch the kids waiting for parents to come off the ship!  The sailors can get US magazines and books relatively cheaply. They can get SIM cards. There is a laundry (very popular…and NO I don’t want to SEE your laundry…just take it to that man over there), a US Post Office, a bar and most importantly WI FI!  It is so funny to look into the computer room and see EVERYONE on Facebook or Skype (no Skype on the ships)

Anyway, the volunteers sign up for shifts that are three hours in length.  We give out maps and books about Hong Kong.  We give restaurant recommendations,  tell them where the bars are (stay out of Wan Chai), help them find banks and generally get around.

Sometimes, the sailors ask the most FUN questions: 
“Where is China Town?” (Uhhh…you are IN China…)
“Where can I get good Chinese Food?” (Here we just call it “food”)

Nahh…we don’t answer too sarcastically, because quite honestly, many many of those coming off the ships are very young and many have not traveled too extensively. THIS is where the “Mom” stuff comes in! (I swear today I stepped back b/c I thought I was talking to a 12 year old)

I signed up for the first shift available.  The first few days tend to be the busiest for us and the most fun. 
The groups come over in “Liberty Boats,” so they enter the Pier 100’s at a time, so our desk can get really busy.

Their first priority is to get money.  The second is advice on how to get around.

Sadly, the taxi drivers in Hong Kong know the ships are in and take the opportunity to rob the sailors blind.  We warn, we talk..but it still happens. It happened today within 90 minutes of the ship coming in.

I had given two young ladies a recommendation to a place for facials and nails, etc.  I gave them the “The taxi should have $20 HKD on the meter” speech and off they went. Back they came to ask…”he charged us $290 HKD…were we ripped off?” YES!  They failed to see the decimal point…the ride was actually $29 HKD…sigh.  It won’t happen to them again.

We  love to help them get around on the MTR (subway) and how to buy their Octopus cards.  These cards are what we use to pay for buses, subway, and trams.  They are preloaded w/money and they are a GODSEND.  It works to avoid the taxi scams AND it’s CHEAP!  However, when we are talking, glazed looks DO tend to take over…it’s a lot of information that is hard to do in a few words and many times they just want OUT the doors (insert any conversation you have had ever had with a kid here).

The shift just flew by and soon I was going with my friend Lisa over meet others for Tea.  However, a Mom’s work is NEVER done.

As Lisa and I were leaving the Pier, there were lines of taxis waiting to take the sailors off to points around the island.  When a couple asked us if it was really $500 HKD to go to Northpoint…we scooped them up and escorted them to a different taxi line.  Before long, we had 10 people following us so they could find money machines and the Admiralty MTR station (time to go buy those Octopus cards).

Lisa and I hand delivered 3 different groups to various points…Lisa led the way and I was the “sweeper” to keep our groups together.

We just could NOT walk away w/o advising, leading, cajoling.  It is amazingly satisfying.

I left our tea and advised two more young men who were struggling with the MTR map and trying to get a ticket to the station near their hotel ...and while Corey would roll his eyes for me getting involved...they BOTH  said "thank God you came by"

It lets me be a mom now that  I’m so far away and my kids only need a mom a little bit of the time.

Corey is off on a trip tomorrow, so I have signed up to do a few more shifts.  When we aren’t busy I get to chat with lovely women and when we are…well…I get my mom fix. I’m very upfront with who I chat with that I’m “momming” them…most are as sweet as can be and just smile say “that’s ok”


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