City kids: what they might lose and what they can gain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 February, 2013, 4:29pm

My three children - one girl, 12, and twin boys, nine - were all born in Hong Kong. The ubiquitous sound of construction work and the sight of high-rise buildings are as commonplace to them as open spaces and two-storey buildings were to me growing up in England.

As a child, I remember playing outside in the back garden behind the house after school and at weekends. As my father was good at carpentry, we were fortunate to have a Wendy house. My grandparents had a large garden, so during the summer my sister and I could play on the swing and I was even allocated a small plot to try my hand at gardening. Alas, despite my best efforts I never inherited my father's gardening skills.

Bringing up three young and energetic children in North Point has its challenges. So often, I wish I could open the door and let them loose in the garden, to reduce the noise level in the flat and let them run off a bit of their energy.

We live near a small playground and Victoria Park, where they can run around at least a bit, but not as much as I would like. There are so many restrictions - no ball games, no bicycles - so what are older children, who have outgrown the playground, supposed to do? Take a stroll, presumably. Parks in Hong Kong are designed to be looked at, not played in.

During trips to England when the children were younger, I was surprised by what they found fascinating and new. The stairs in a two-storey house, for instance. I remember spending several hours sitting on the stairs with a cup of tea watching my children climbing up the stairs then sliding down on their bottoms. For them, going "upstairs" to bed was a new concept. They were a little unsettled at first; maybe to them it was like going to bed in a whole different house.

I wish I could open the door and let them loose in the garden, to reduce the noise level in the flat and let them run off a bit of their energy

Walking around an area with rows of two-storey houses which all look virtually the same was another thing for them to get used to, as well as all the open spaces. I always joke that whenever we go to Britain and Ireland, where my husband is from, the children get agoraphobic.

Living in North Point and with busy lives, we don't get the chance to take them to the beach much. As a result, sand has become an issue. On a recent holiday to Thailand, Connor decided he hated how it felt between his toes.

As a child, I was used to an abundance of wildlife virtually on the doorstep. My children are not. Feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the birds in the garden, or the ducks in the nearby pond are all alien to my children. With the threat of bird flu, feeding the birds in parks is something that is not encouraged.

I also took the children horse riding while we were on holiday. This was not only their first experience of the activity, but also of actually seeing the animals up close. Despite initial reservations, especially because the animals are quite large, they really enjoyed it. Now it's something I will look into doing in Hong Kong.

The schools my children attend encourage them to find out about and experience nature. They have had many opportunities to visit the Wetland Park and the Botanical Gardens, and have lived a few days away from home both in a hostel on Cheung Chau and under canvas on Lantau. They also got to look at and learn about some of the sea life. These are things I never had the chance to do at school.

Noise level is another difference. As babies, my children had no problems sleeping through noise. This was very helpful as it meant that my husband and I did not have to tiptoe around the flat when they had gone to bed. Even to this day, a brass band could march through their bedrooms when they are asleep and it may not wake them.

Put them in a quiet environment, though, and it is a different story. In fact, when they were babies, I would often walk around the streets with them until they fell asleep. The traffic seemed to lull them.

As "city kids", my children are experiencing a very different childhood to mine. Is it better or worse? Neither: it's just different.

Fiona Bishop is a working mother of three