Fare Thee Well

May 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Although I still have a few more Hong Kong-related blog posts in the works (as well as the final segment of my trip to Singapore), I figure that now, as I am idling in the airport, is the best time to publish my concluding thoughts on my journey.

I really didn’t know what to expect this time around. It was a risk to even come all the way here for an internship — what if I hated it? What if they hated me? What if it was a total waste of my time? What if I died in a horrible subway accident in Hong Kong and my remains got buried and I was never found because nobody knew where I was?? (I’ve pictured that situation a number of times, and really, I could only pray for it not to come true.)

Thankfully, these worst-case scenarios remained mere figments of my overactive imagination, and while looking out at the passing scenery on the way to the airport just now, I felt incredibly rich — rich in spirit, rich in experiences. I’ve learned and undergone so much here that I might never have otherwise, and I’ve been truly blessed by all the friends I made in such a short amount of time.

One thing I’m really glad I did (and would recommend to others) was joining a church right away. This was a commitment I made in light of my experience the last time I was in Hong Kong, during which I attended church maybe five times in six months (yikes). I’ve realized since then that it’s almost impossible to truly feel like a member of the church community from only attending Sunday services. I was lucky that Michael, a friend introduced to me by Esther, invited me to Union Church, where I met his friends and immediately glommed onto a small group by attending their social event and taking a lot of photos that I posted on Facebook — one of the best ways to ingratiate yourself and make sure people friend you!

It sounds pathetic because it kind of was, but honestly, it can be remarkably difficult to find genuine community after transplanting to a different part of the world where you only know five people (who don’t know one another) in the whole city. And although I was nearly a decade younger than most of my new friends, their Christ-like generosity and openness imparted a feeling of comfort and pleasure that I won’t forget.

Of course, not every part of my experience here was so lovey-dovey, including but not limited to my never-ending fight with mold. I’ve also had more time to reflect on contemporary cultural issues, and they’re not especially pretty. For example, all of the Hong Kong locals I met told me that the city has changed — too much, in their opinions. “There are so many mainlanders here now,” they’d say, the word “mainlanders” rolling off their tongues as if it left a bad taste in their mouths, like some in America might say “negroes.”

Have I noticed any differences? Well, it’s true that every time I was in TST (an upscale-ish shopping/tourist area), I always saw tons of other Chinese people (usually couples) dragging rolling suitcases around with them even though it’s nowhere near the airport. I never bothered listening to their conversations to discern where they were from, but it’s safe to say the majority of them aren’t from around here. Apparently, rich mainland tourists arrive in Hong Kong with suitcases full of cash and leave with suitcases full of luxury purchases. In a somewhat related incident a few months ago, a crowd of Hong Kong locals protested outside of a Dolce & Gabbana store whose shopkeepers allegedly discriminated against local shoppers.

The furor over that was understandable: It’s insulting for residents to be barred from taking photographs while watching tourists snap pictures freely. (Also, I find it rather tacky to shop with a suitcase, but perhaps Hong Kong prices truly are that much cheaper than in mainland China. To which I would ask, why? Is it because the Chinese Yuan is strong right now??)

There are other issues as well, most noticeably the ire that Hong Kong locals feel when pregnant women from mainland China give birth in Hong Kong hospitals expressly for the purpose of making sure their child (and by extension, themselves) is guaranteed a (free?) Hong Kong education and residency and such benefits. These mainlanders are overrunning our hospitals! the locals protest. Of course, they have every right to look out for their own welfare and hospital space. But I found the situation sad rather than appalling.

In my mind, I ask, aren’t we supposed to be united as one country? I was in China during the summer of 1997, when the 99-year contract with Great Britain expired. I remember listening to cassette tapes on my Walkman of joyous Chinese tunes specifically written for that event. An air of celebration permeated the country. But Hong Kong is like the kid who got sent to some rich boarding school in the city and is now ashamed to return to his poor and unsophisticated parents in the countryside.

I understand that things in Hong Kong were generally better under British rule; the corrupt Chinese government certainly isn’t doing Hong Kong any favors. But isn’t it sad that soon-to-be-mothers are so desperate to give their impending children a better future that they will literally cross the border while in labor so that the authorities can’t keep them from giving birth on Hong Kong soil? On one hand, you can see them as leeches and freeloaders. On the other hand, they’re victims of a system of disparity. What will it take for China’s education system (or whatever is so lacking) to match that of Hong Kong’s? Aren’t Chinese authorities alarmed by these migrating trends, and what are they doing to fix things?

Anyway, being a “mainlander” myself, I can’t help but take slight offense when people say the word with disdain. Somewhere down the line, most people in Hong Kong came from mainland China anyway. To them, I say, be thankful for what you have and that you don’t have to be the one trying to latch onto a loophole in someone else’s system.

Those are basically the two main things I wanted to get off my chest. My flight takes off in an hour! Then I have a six-hour layover at Incheon Airport, which I am absolutely not looking forward to. Good-bye, Hong Kong — it’s been real. I promise to visit again before I die!


Living Small

January 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

One thing I love about Hong Kong (and Asia in general) is the crazy clothing that people wear. Don anything remotely unconventional in the Midwest, and people will immediately turn their heads to gawk at your outlandishness. Here, wacky fashions are as common as the smog on the horizon, though I doubt I’ll be bringing back any with me. As soon as I rolled off the plane, I spotted this woman, who seemed to be the nanny of another woman and her child (although I could be very, very wrong):

Her shirt says: “my parent still think i am straight”

I feel like the only place someone who understands English would wear that shirt would be San Francisco? (Maaaaybe Japan too.) Then again, who knows?

Another aspect of Hong Kong that bothered me a lot is the prolific amount of PDA, especially in the subway areas — young couples just cling to each other like the world’s about to end! Take, for example, these two:

Maybe they were practicing the tango.

They were originally embracing on the left side of the photo, and then they hug-walked 15 feet to the right. Please…just stop.

Anyway. I had brought my SIM card from two years ago, hoping that it would still work (especially because I had to refill it just three days before departing), but it had expired, so I had to find a pay phone to call my landlord. I took a taxi to the apartment, which was quite a scary experience because I was no longer accustomed to the death ride that is a city taxi.

My landlord also happens to be one of my roommates. I’m living with an Indian couple (probably early 30s), Bobby and Tracy, and their maid, Aman, in an apartment listing that I found on an ex-pat forum. Bobby runs some kind of textiles business; Tracy actually grew up in Hong Kong and can speak some Cantonese. They’re both pleasant so far, but I haven’t interacted with them very much. Aman, probably no older than 20, is a gaunt girl who speaks very little English.

Upon learning that I was to be staying in an Indian household, quite a few of my friends expressed the sentiment that Indian people smell like curry, and their houses even more so. First of all, that’s racist. Second of all, I’ve never experienced a smelly Indian person or house, so I can only conclude that these are mere ignorant stereotypes. Third of all, I like curry, so I guess it wouldn’t be such a bad prospect anyway.

The apartment exceeded my expectations in many ways. The size — oh my goodness, the size. I had only previously been inside two actual Hong Kong apartments, which were both rather tiny, but as I was not living in them, I didn’t really pause much to think about them. Living in the dorm seemed cramped, but the rooms were comparable to American college residencies. Seeing this apartment in its dwarven reality kind of blew my mind. The whole apartment (two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom) is smaller than my parents’ master bedroom (plus bathroom & walk-in closets). Granted, my parents’ room is pretty huge, but fitting your whole life into a space this small is mind-boggling.

The washing machine, nestled in the kitchen, is big enough to hold maybe two pairs of jeans and a sweater. The shower is the nine square feet of tiles at the end of the narrow bathroom. Only the two bedrooms have windows. The (folding) kitchen table is the size of a nightstand. I have no closet. Aman’s bed is in the living room, as is the refrigerator. I would take photos of the place, but she’s kind of there all the time, so that would be awkward. I don’t think photos would do the place justice anyway — as someone who grew up in the suburbs of America, I would really have to see it physically to grasp the startling proportions.

The good thing about the apartment is that they keep it very clean. The bedrooms both have rugs to give a carpeted feel, and all three of my…roommates…are very particular about stowing things neatly and keeping everything tidy. The living room faintly smells of curry in the mornings because they eat dinner late, but other than that, I’m pretty impressed at how immaculate the place is. That’s good, because I’d probably shriek and faint if I so much as saw a hint of a cockroach indoors.

Due to the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, during which pretty much everyone gets the week off, Bobby and Tracy have gone to India for two weeks, leaving Aman and me to get to know each other (not). I’m still trying to figure out my relationship with her; considering her age, I’d like to be friends, but the language barrier is quite extreme. Having come from midwest America, I’m not really familiar or comfortable with the concept of having a domestic helper, especially a live-in one, which increases my feelings of uncertainty around her. I do wish that I could converse more with Aman and find out her story. My guess is that she was brought here from India to work as a maid so she could make money for her family back home. I can’t see any other reason for someone so young to waste her potential by spending her precious time taking care of a Hong Kong apartment and watching Indian TV.

After five days here, I’m still trying to settle in. Before coming, I imagined that I might be able to do some cooking, which I now have given up as impossible. Cooking takes a lot of supplies — you at least need a pan and some ingredients, of which I have none. I can’t ask if Bobby and Tracy would let me use their pots and fridge space because they’re in India, and even if I could, I don’t know if I would be motivated enough to. On one hand, it’s pretty easy to find a meal in Hong Kong. On the other hand, eating out all the time usually means an acute lack of any nutrients other than fat and carbs, so we’ll see how this goes.



October 24, 2010 § 4 Comments

Did you know that there are tons of Chinese people doing business in Africa? This is a short documentary on their motives, struggles and successes, as well as the larger economic impact. [It also shows the happiest baby I’ve seen in my life.]

When I watch something in Chinese with English subs, I realize just how much the subtitles leave out. [I wonder if I miss 50% of the content of Korean shows because of this language barrier…] And OMG at 21:50 the main interviewee reveals that he’s from SHENYANG, my hometown! MY BROTHA! No wonder I could understand him much better than the other Chinese people HA HA HA

Anyway, some screenshots for you to enjoy if you’re too lazy to watch it:

But as more Chinese make their way into Africa, competition will increase, hmm…

They’re at a karaoke place that caters to Chinese customers [don’t ask about the cleavage-y lady on TV]

I wonder what’s more intimidating, Africa or America?

lol @ his USA shirt



Teaching: Day Two 7.2.10

July 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Fake it til you make it

That night, I dreamed that a bird somehow got inside my room. Frightened, it kept trying to escape, but the windows were closed, and it would fly into the window, fall down in a daze, and repeat. I finally caught it in my hands and tried to calm it, but I could feel its terrified body shaking in my palms. Resigned, I released it through the opening in the corner of the window, and it flew away as swiftly as it could.

I was awakened at 6AM by voices coming from the classroom outside my room. Panicking, I checked my phone and saw that there was still an hour before I was supposed to wake up. Eventually, the students began singing praise songs [loudly]. I love that they love Jesus, but I wondered if they had anything better to do with their time…like sleep… Amazingly, they appear to wake up for morning prayer every day at that time.

The sunshine uplifted me a bit after the previous night’s indulgent wallowing, and I tried to put negative thoughts out of my mind as I prepared for the day’s lessons. In addition to the prayer/worship time at 6AM, the students also sing a few songs at the beginning of class, sung acapella [because that’s how they do] and led by one of the students.

I’ve decided to start every day with a writing exercise that they all read aloud to the class and turn in to me. I come up with a list of personal-ish questions that use some of the previous day’s vocabulary so that they can get thinking and speaking in English. It’s a bit reminiscent of the DOLs we did at the beginning of English class in elementary/middle school, which were exercises in which we had to identify the grammatical and spelling mistakes in the given sentences: editing, essentially, which I had no idea would end up being my choice of occupation..!!

The game of the day was a simplified version of Taboo, which I also miss playing with my Mizzou buddies. The male team won by one point. I’ve noticed that even in a classroom setting such as this, the girls women behave more shyly than the boys men, with the latter coming up to choose a word willingly while the former hesitate and look around at teammates. They’re not like this in every situation, but I would like to find a way to nurture greater confidence.

On the second day of every month, the factory workers get a day off, so there was no lunch to be had in the cafeteria [a relief?]. Instead, one of the students [Ruth] took me outside of the factory compound [finally], and we ate at one of the many little open-air restaurants lining a nearby block. So far I’ve been eating rather meagerly here, partly because I’m still not comfortable enough to eat openly [and for someone with a history of vaguely disordered eating, the act of it still carries the occasional tinge of shame] and partly because I’ve been so used to the rich and plentiful fare of Hong Kong.

Afternoon lessons ended on a happy note [no pun intended] after we did a musical dictation of Hillsong’s “Came To My Rescue.” I told myself that I would try to combat my loneliness by interacting more with the students outside of class time, which is…the obvious solution. Good job, self! I brought my laptop out and sat at the back of the room.

Most of the students were still hanging out there because really what else is there to do, and some started conversing with me. I mostly talked to the 19-year-old who looks eerily like one of my exes, since he was sitting the closest and took an interest in my Macbook.

This kid, who apparently took the phrase “Living Stone” as his English name [a direct translation of his Chinese name], is quite a character. During one of the class breaks [like passing period, except we all stay in the same room] when I sat at the front of the room writing in my notebook, he played the chorus of Westlife’s “My Love” loudly from his laptop and then yelled across the room for me to translate it. I’m very familiar with the song, having loved it for almost a decade, but how was I supposed to translate a love song?

“Please, teacher,” he called out. “I really don’t understand what it means.”
I could hear in his voice that he was baiting me, but I didn’t acknowledge it. Finally, I responded, “It means I miss you and want to see you, something like that.”
“Oh, well, I feel the same way,” he yelled back.
Insolent little…LOL.

When I was sitting behind him after class, LS asked me if I knew about the yoga epidemic in America. “Uh…it’s a very popular form of exercise,” I replied. “Even I’ve done it before.” Shock briefly registered across his face as well as the faces of nearby students. They tried to tell me some information on its pagan/evil origins, but I couldn’t understand all of it. Besides…really? I knew Chinese people were superstitious, but…it’s yoga! It’s that thing for upper-middle class people with time and space and money! Not some way to achieve nirvana, which was apparently its original purpose…

They also asked me about Halloween, which I thought most Chinese people translated as 鬼节 [“monster/ghost holiday”], but the students referred to as “All Saint’s Day” [I forgot the Chinese phrase]. Actually, LS specifically asked if people in Chicago celebrate it.
“It’s a rather foul day, isn’t it?” he inquired. “I’ve seen it in movies.”
I tried to explain that this holiday is basically a free-for-all for children to dress up like their favorite cartoon characters and gorge on candy.
“But I’ve seen reports on the news,” he persisted. “People dress up as fiendish monsters with blood on their faces.”
When I asked, he couldn’t spell out what exactly he thought these people did on Halloween, but they all seemed to have a rather odious view on the matter — a rather interesting cultural gap.

After dinner, I watched half of Daybreakers with LS and another student on his laptop. There are some rather morbid scenes of dead and/or bloody people, during which I made appropriately disgusted noises. This caused LS to hold up his hand in front of my eyes to shield my vision — funny the first time, not so much the third or fourth. And it reminds me even more of that ex. It was a surprising gesture from someone who insists on calling me “teacher” instead of my real name because he says our age gap [of 2 years] would cause it to be disrespectful T____T a joke, probably, but he persists.

I’d like to elaborate on this tangent and note that I really despise it when guys [of any friends/boyfriends/whatever] feel like they have to protect me. I mean, unless there’s an imminent ninja attack and he’s some kind of martial arts master, I can probably handle myself. More importantly, he doesn’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve seen — it might be nowhere and nothing, but he DOESN’T KNOW. For him to assume weakness is inexcusable. And if he DOES know me well enough, there should be no question of my capabilities.

Anyway, this post has gone on too long … time to end it!

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