Thursday, December 29, 2005

Quiet, lazy holi-days

Went hiking on one of the Lantau trail sections yesterday. Saw only a group of teenage students going camping for 4 days down at the beach, and get this: they were literally carrying several dozen large boxes of supplies, food, tents, sleeping bags, water, firewood, and who knows what else.

They were still trying to make their way down these steep steps, working on the chain-system format where one would carry a box three steps, put it down and then pick up the next one. Not the most efficient way to do it.

Incredible, i wonder if they made it to the campsite before dark.

Anyways, the hike we did was relatively flat, perfect hiking weather too. We passed several big cows who are apaprently so used to hikers they don't budge even if you walk two feet away from them.

We're thinking of going camping there on New Year's Eve with YK and Tomoe (who's never slept in a tent before) and making a huge bonfire - should be great fun!

It's nice to know that we can get up in the morning, decide to go hiking on the spot and get to the beginning of the trail within the hour. All without much advance planning!

On boxing day, my grandfather and Auntie Jennifer and cousin David came over for a buffet lunch at the clubhouse. At first we were going to have a BBQ at our place but then we thought perhaps grandpa would want some Chinese dishes, so we opted for the buffet.

Good thing, my grandfather ate at least twice the amount Matt did, and that's saying a LOT! He may be old but he's still got his youthful appetite!

During the afternoon, we met one of the families on our floor.

We had dropped off Xmas cards at each door inviting people for a housewarming-holiday gathering party. Since only 3 out of 4 of the flats are occupied and one of the families was away for holiday it left only one family besides us: Laura and Marcos and their two adorable children, Anita (3 and a half) and Thomas (16 months). They are from Italy but have been in DB for the past 3 years.

It was nice to meet our neighbours finally, and on a side note, we can ask them to water our plants when we're away and just keep an eye out on our place.

That evening, my Uncle Shak Hai and Auntie Teresa and cousin Stephen visited us for a BBQ-turkey dinner. Despite Stephen locking himself outside on the rooftop patio and then me accidentally knocking my wine glass onto his lap, it was a fun night.

Today was the first day where it drizzle-rained here in Hong Kong since we arrived! What a nice refreshing change. I walked to the plaza to get some groceries and it felt and smelled like springtime in Canada.

So these few days have been busy entertaining guests but also quite relaxed with lots of time for reading, cooking, watching movies, going on walks. Who could ask for more?

Here are some pictures of us since arriving in Hong Kong (moving in, friend's dinners, Xmas, Boxing Day). More to come!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Memories of Toronto Banquet, Jersey Ceremony and Xinjiang Wedding!

Matt's Dad's Retirement Party!

It's July 16th, I'm meeting my father-in-law for the first time, and i'm dressed as a PLA officer with braided pigtails and all.

The theme was 60's night and it was Matt's Dad's surprise retirement party with the entire school staff, friends and family members (old, new, and yet-to-be).

Matt and I were the 'big surprise' and surprise it was! However, i knew from the moment we were welcomed at the airport by Matt's aunts and mum and then how happy his dad was to meet me, this family was the kind I've always dreamed of joining.

The rest of the weekend, we went sailing twice, had a gorgeous bbq outside, went cycling around the island, swam in the sea, and just basically enjoyed each other's company.

Ottawa Party
Then we flew to Ottawa for a few days where we had an intimate gathering at Mom and Dad's place on July 20th with many of my old friends from Ottawa and Cornwall.

Thanks for all who came out - it was lovely to see you again!

Toronto Chinese Banquet
A quickee stop in Toronto where we tried to see as many friends and relatives as we could.

July 23rd was a busy day for us; we started off by performing the traditional Tea Pouring Ceremony for my grandparents. But since they don't drink tea, it ended up being a Hot Water Pouring Ceremony!

After an afternoon social of mah-jong, the evening banquet included lots of good traditional Chinese food (minus the shark's fin soup!), silly games which involved flour, raw eggs, and chicken's feet, entertainment from various sorts (including Dad with his infamous "My Way" rendition), and of course, sappy sentimental speeches.

An unforgettable day with 120 of our closest family and friends from across Canada.

Some more photos from Uncle Shak Hai, sister Anice, friend Michael Russell and cousin Fiona Wu.

Jersey Ceremony

Back to Jersey again! Swarmed with family and friends and chauffered in the decorated Moggy by Claire, we officially got married on sunny July 29th at the beautiful Jersey registrar's office.

Followed by a gorgeous champagne and strawberries gathering at a local hotel, we continued the festivities later that evening at l'Etable where we had decorated the house and marquee with Xinjiang cloth earlier.

Delicious food, a beautifully home-made wedding cake decorated with a marsipan camel and yurt!, more toasts and speeches, the evening wasn't complete until Dad sung "My Way"... or at least what he could remember of it!

Here are some more photos from Mom and Dad Wong and Mum and Dad Thornington.

London Party
On our last night of our whirlwind tour, July 30th, we had a lovely dinner aboard a lightship restaurant in London, meeting old friends of Matt's and my host sister when i was in Beijing for the first time, Xumeng, who is currently studying at Oxford now.

Fast forward to September...

Alas, the wedding we had been planning for months in Xinjiang!

With 31 overseas gusts and about a 100 local friends, we had the most amazing week playing an assortment of roles: tour guide, chauffeur, host, translator, laundromat service, internet cafe, and finally... bride and groom!

Here are some pictures from Anice and Andy Alexander starting from the wedding day following their Silk Road travels to Xi'an by plane, train and automobile.

Anice also took some black and white pictures of the day trip to Tuyugou in Turpan. Thanks lil' sis, you've done a great job capturing the daily life and local people through your lens.

As for Andy-Pandy, an old highschool friend, put his Master's project on hold to visit us. He really got into the sights and 'weirdness' of China, playing bumper cars at Hong Shan Park, wearing this ridiculous cowboy hat at Tian Chi, dressing up as a cute Uyghur lad...

Samantha's Pictures of Xinjiang Wedding

Sam is Anice's friend from Uni who is currently living and teaching in Japan. She came out to join in the entourage of our overseas guests - it was great to have her here and to have finally met!

Jenny Ma's Pictures of Xinjiang Wedding
Jenny, my cousin, made the trip from Toronto to Xinjiang with her cousin Peony (from HK) to attend our wedding. If the number of pictures she took say anything about her week here, it looks like she had a marvellous time!

Allison Grimsey's Pictures of Xinjiang Wedding
Allison, one of my best and oldest friends, from Cornwall/Ottawa sacrificed time away from her Master's program to be my bridesmaid. I can't begin to say how happy i was to have her here and to know she enjoyed herself immensely.

Basia and Thomas' Pictures of Xinjiang Wedding
Joining us from Beijing, these are the pictures Basia and Thomas took on our special day.

Aunt Judy's Pictures of Xinjiang Wedding
My dear Aunt Judy, despite getting gravely ill on the wedding day, was determined to come along to the campsite, even if it meant lying down the whole time in the yurt and listening to all the dancing and music going on outside.

What a trooper, and i'm totally grateful for her coming all the way out here!

Uncle Hong's Pictures of Wedding and his Xinjiang off-roading adventures.

My Uncle Hong had planned for months before coming to Xinjiang, his first time in China and what an eye-opening experience it was for him! Equipped with the latest cameras, a stomach of steel, and an adventurous mind, he writes:

"Good Bye Xinjiang and Hello Canada! After a 6600 km journey of Silk Road in southern Xinjiang, for a duration of almost four weeks, I have returned HOME - in one piece.

Now that I have fully recovered and caught up with my work, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Bonnie and Matt for their hospitality in Xinjiang. On behalf of Ivy and Calvin, we are wishing this couple love, luck and happiness to last them today ....... tomorrow and ever after!!!

Xinjiang is a beautiful place and has given me an unforgettable memory, including the good, the bad and the ugly. However, to sum it up, there is nothing better in this world than returning HOME, standing by the sides of Ivy and Calvin, and shooting breeze with relatives and friends, again, here in Canada.

Our Land Cruiser has done it all in - cruising on highways, bumping along on rocky sideways, treading water of streams and rivers, zig-zagging up and down snowy roads in mountains, dune-buggying in deserts, negotiating with cliff-hangers”, cutting through the meshland, getting stuck in the mud ....... a flat tire ........ and slipping off a little bridge into the stream.

While the Land Cruiser has done it all, I have got totally “done in”. You name it, anti-biotic, ant-diarrhea medication, Advil, Contact-C, Neo-citron, Polysporin, Hung-King-Tien, After-Bite, Visine, bandages for cuts and bruises ........ twisted glasses......., and I have tasted them all in this trip, with the exception of Reactine and Gravol. Lucky me, I have lost only six pounds.

Just like everybody else, I have taken some pictures here and there. Looking at photographs alone is inadequate, and more than often, photos give you a false sense in terms of understanding the reality.

Having said that, I do have some photographs arranged in the album format below for you, to commemorate with if you have been there, and to fantasize in if you have not (and you can view them in full screen on your monitor if you wish).

If you are serious in getting to know about Xinjiang (or any other places for that matter), you have to be there yourself in order to “experience” it. Wishing you all the best."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

those long-awaited and probably long-forgotten pictures

Here are a few links to photos that are now, finally, ready to be shared with y'all. I'm afraid you'll have to log into the Kodak Gallery Photos in order to see them, but hey it's free.

Surprise visit to Canada
For 17 days i went back as a surprise, mainly to attend my Grandma's 80th birthday, to visit friends and family, and to attend my cousin's wedding in Toronto. It was, as i expected, wonderful to see everyone, to experience typical Canadian November weather: heavy rain, sleet and snow, and to catch the tail end of the fall colours. Although it was wonderful to be around familiar surroundings and familiar faces, there was only one person missing the entire time...

Vanuatu Honeymoon
A hidden tropical paradise in the South Pacific where the waters are warm and welcoming, the people friendly as can be, the food always fresh and tasty, and the kava always strong! Without a doubt, one of the best holidays ever, and not just because it was our honeymoon!

We went trekking up the wrong side of an active volcano, bathed in a natural hot spring, dived one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world (and i got my open-water PADI certificate!!), sailed on a tall-ship for ten days as a crew member, climbing the mast, hoisting the sails, flaking the anchor chain.. and on the several islands we stopped at, we played a game of soccer with a local village, attended many village parties with cumtom dancing and string band music, and even met villagers who still practice cannibalism!

The pictures will say more than words ever can... take a seat, there are a lot to see.

Bayanbulik Roadtrip
Just before the wedding, we decided to take our last road trip with the beloved jeep. Bayanbulik, the beautiful grasslands of Xinjiang, was a place that neither of us had been to, but because of its mystery and difficult-to-access areas, we thought we should check it out.

Deciding to forego any permit, we lucked out and only managed to get stopped once by some local village police who didn't question us at all and wished us well on the rest of our journey.

Bleak, barren but in a naturally stunning kind of way, we camped on hard ground with the howling wind outside the first night. The next day we drove 18 hours straight, stopping only to buy lunch and to refuel, we passed the No.1 Glacier around 2am on roads where luck played as much as a part as driving skill; the steep drop into the canyon was unbelievable and the sheets of ice on the mountain sides were truly incredible. A definite must-see in Xinjiang!

Urumqi Friends and Colleagues
These are just some of the many great memories i had over the year in Urumqi with friends and colleagues, locals and foreigners. Lots of fun, laughter friendship and memories. Thank you all.

Matt's Mum and Dad's Visit!
Sandwiched between their visit to Beijing/Xian and Kashgar, Matt's folks came to visit us for a few fabulous days where we went camping in the mountains and shopping in Er Da Qiao. They loved every moment of it, even despite having hummus leak over all our camping food and crashing into the side of a huge truck on a narrow dirt road. Many great stories and laughs were shared, a perfect prelude to our wedding to come.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

and a merry christmas to you!

Another lovely day has gone by, but this one was extra special.

Full of presents, tender turkey, scrumptious stuffing, juicy gravy and cranberry sauce, a nice hike up the mountain for a sunset view of the bay, a quick and chilly dip in the sea, some warm apple crumble and ice cream to go along with a movie, calls to family back home, and now, a warm and cozy bed to share with the best present of all!

Here's wishing you and your loved ones a merry and joyous holiday season!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

exploring

Woke up with a massively sore throat, but have put it at ease with some chloroseptic spray and a couple of cold pills.

The sluggish race continues as i spend hours and hours browsing online for work, courses, volunteer options, etc. in Hong Kong.

There are an amazingly high number of english schools and english centres focused on the 'alternative teaching method' using 'fun, creative and hands-on' approaches. Sometimes i feel that i have a lot of these bases covered in terms of experience and sometimes i feel like a small fish in the ever-expanding sea.

As for courses, looking at several options (mainly education and journalism/media), and i get constantly excited when i read the course descriptions. Think i will apply to several and then make the decision if and when i get accepted.

I'm also amazed at the amount of social and youth services in HK, LOCAL ones, that is. I've only just skimmed the surface of researching these organizations but they all have good intentions for serving the community in a non-profit capacity. Very uplifting.

Went to see the British theatre piece "The Argument" at the HK Cultural Arts Centre last night. The show has already toured the UK, the US and Mexico and yesterday was its second showing in HK.

Witty and humorous, with excellent performances by the 4 actors, it's about a dysfunctional family that learns to never speak their true minds in front of each other after the death of the mother, propelling themselves into this false world where they are merely tied by obligation and guilt.

Matt is in Singapore for a few days and so i went alone, which made me see again how appreciating the arts is fun and rewarding whenever and wherever, but perhaps more engaging when you are with a close other. Not only in the sense that it's pleasurable to attend such cultural events with someone, but also in the fact that you both share and experience the same event and can learn and grow from it together.

Going home by ferry last night, the area of Wan Chai was completely blocked off due to the escalating riots of the WTO protestors. Several cars, buses, taxis and pedestrians were trapped and couldn't get out and some poor bystanders got swept up in the fights and were injured themselves.

The whole of HK was swarming with police in their riot gear and while crossing the harbour on the Star Ferry, I could see a few dozen police boats on standby, lights flashing.

Going out now to attend a presentation given by the Epoch Times on "The Future of China". With panelists from various parliaments and organizations, topics to be explored include: communism in China in the past and China's future in the world.

Very much enjoying the amount of these public discussions that are held here, be it social, political or educational issues. It's a great way to meet people and network.. and, fingers crossed, weasel my way into a job! Ah, and it keeps me learning.

After the presentation, i'm meeting up with an old family friend from Cornwall for dinner. Her and her husband moved back to HK ages ago and I haven't seen her in probably ten years, so it'll be nice to catch up and fill each other in, just updating her on my past year will take several hours! :)

Eek, i'm late. Off i go.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

sniffle sniffle

Feeling stuffy these past two days, it's an annual thing to get a cold in winter, so why should this be any different??

Because 'winter' in Hong Kong doesn't mean -40 degree weather with 5 feet of snow and ice. There are palm trees outside and not even a drop of rain in over a month!

Still, my body knows it's wintertime no matter where i am geographically, so bring on the tissues!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

a great today

Whoever said everything happens for a reason was spot on.

After a successful morning of sending parcels at the post office (what a queue, xmas rush indeed!) and paying some overdue bills at the bank, i went to buy some second-hand indoor plants, carted them home by a taxi-van which you can call up at anytime for a ride in DB, and then headed downtown on the ferry.

It's always a nice ride, 25 minutes in total, enough to read the paper, stare out into the sea without getting bored or antsy or to scarf down a meal on the go.

I headed straight to the HK Youth Group centre in Wan Chai. I walked into the building and posted on the wall was a notice of a panel discussion being held right at that precise time on the 1st floor, anyone welcome.

The discussion was "Civil Society Dialogue Project Hong Kong Seminar" and so i went out of curiosity. There were 4 panelists who were representing their proper organization from South Africa, HK, the EU and Lithuania. They came as delgates to the WTO ministerial conference and it was very interesting to hear their views and opinions on what was actually happening in the seminar rooms behind closed doors these past two days.

Head of the Global Network, in Hong Kong, Elizabeth Tang spoke passionately about her commitment to a freer and more just society for HK through the channels of education, empowerment and engagement.

One guy, the General Secretary for Solidar, a European network based in Brussels whose goal is to bring about positive change in alliance with trade unions, labour movement organizations and civil society, put being a delegate and advisor at the WTO conference in an interesting light: "It's like riding a tiger all week. You don't get to stop when you're tired, you only stop when the tiger is exhausted."

Many of the panelists expressed concern that these ministerial conferences were nothing but inefficient and extremely costly. They said that it wouldn't be surprising if something drastic in terms of scaling down such conferences were to happen in the near future in order to have everyone heard and to simply get things done.

With one of the main questions being "Does civil society dialogue actually influence the trade agenda?", our group was met with a resounding YES! when during the seminar, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson called the European Comission Representative of DG Trade, who was one of the panelists, to ask and confirm a meeting for tomorrow to meet with civil society groups and organizations and discuss certain issues.

efore, just a few years ago, politicians would cringe at the mere thought of having to have an open forum or dialogue with civil society groups. Now, as evidenced today, they are taking the initiative to ask for meetings to be held themselves! In any case, how refreshing it was to hear from the mouths of the people who are actually attending the meetings.

So many protesters demonstrate, and all for different reasons, but unfortunately the media sensationalizes and homogenizes them so as to make them seem that they are fighting for similar, if not the same, cause. And as we are all linked into this civil society movement whether we like it or know it at all, our inactions speak just as loudly as our actions.

It was humbling and reassuring to have sat amongst these people, to actually see them several inches away. What many people forget and probably don't even stop to think about, is that these so called hot shots who are making waves on the civil society frontlines with other countries' ministers and international organizations, are just as human as you and i.

It's no big revelation but it's extremely humbling to know that whatever hat we wear on the workfront, on our lifestyle choices and in the way we conduct ourselves with other people, we all have similar needs and wants as humans. It brings me back to what a dear friend and (at the time) my team leader, Jon, said to me about living and working overseas with people of different backgrounds: "You are just like the brother across the pond."

Shops were closed after the panel discussion ended, and so the shopping i was intending on doing had to wait for another day. No big loss, i wandered around the neon-lit streets a bit and decided to finally do what i've been meaning to do for a while, and that is to rid my hair of the roots growing back in and to dye the whole head to its natural colour.

It's at that really awkward and ugly stage, and since it doesn't give such a good impression at interviews, i thought i might as well do it seeing as i've got two more on Friday back to back.

Being in HK for about 3 weeks now, i notice my level of Cantonese rapidly improving, both in speaking and listening. All those years of what i thought were wasted Saturdays at Chinese School is paying off big time now, my parents will be happy to hear me say! There is something really satisfying in using a skill that i've been taught since childbirth where i can see the benefits and progress in my day to day activities. If only i could read and write though.... well, I've got Matt to translate! :)

Sigh, back home now and a bit tipsy having just downed some really delicious girly wine. Was getting into the usual rut of being new to an area and needing and having to start over again and wanting to meet interesting people but desperately impatient in the meantime.

Today was just what i needed to stimulate my intellectual side and pamper myself a tad. That said, going to cook some dinner and watch a film i think.

Whoa!! Matt just walked through the door! He was away in Beijing for two days on business and was supposed to come back tomorrow afternoon, but decided to catch the evening flight tonight instead after changed plans!!! Ahh, yay!! Soo happy! Enough here for now.

Another side of Hong Kong

Discovery Bay is like a little resort haven, with tennis courts, indoor/outdoor swimming pools, an esthetically-pleasing man-made pond surrounded by palm trees and wide pathways for young families and elderly couples to stroll around (i'm looking at it outside the window right now as i type), a relatively beautiful beach that is more or less always unoccupied, and so on.

There are even aerobic, pilates, yoga, and kickboxing classes. I went to a 'stretch and tone' class yesterday morning and today my body is punishing me for not being more proactive in taking care of myself.

There are some places where i had no idea i even had muscles there. However, having said that, biking around DB is a great way to build up leg muscle. There are these ever so slight inclines and hills around the community. You just don't know it until about 15 minutes after of really rigorous biking, you wonder when the top of the hill is finally going to appear.

Coasting down these hills is great fun, and might i tentatively say well worth the climb up.

Went to Mui Wo, another town on Lantau Island, by ferry yesterday for a quick cycle ride. I fell in love with that place, very authentic and slow-pace of life, every little lane you bike down and turn the corner to, there are more lanes to choose from, it's a little like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Bike-Ride.

There is a beautiful open beach, lots of local vendors, markets and a nice pub/bar right by the harbour. And everyone is so unbelieably FRIENDLY!

Going to head into town today to check out some youth oganizations, buy some running shoes i've been meaning to buy for almost a year now, see what all the ruckus is about at the WTO conference and to come home unscathed and fully intact - apparently there were some violent clashes with the Korean farmers and the police force yesterday which left some severely injured. I'll leave my views for another entry.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

overlooking the bay at sunset

Just returned from a lovely impromptu date at one of HK's tasty organic food restaurants called "Life Cafe".

Just a ferry ride away, there is this great neighbourhood called Soho where there are a multitude of eateries and pubs and bars, where the streets are quite steep and some still cobblestoned, where fresh fruit, veggie and fish markets are everywhere.

Today's gorgeous weather provided the ideal temperature for strolling around these streets.

This morning we played a game of doubles tennis with a couple who also lives in DB. An absolutely stunning morning, sun shining with a slight wind. It was fun all-around, plus i only hit the ball over the fence three times, a definite improvement!

On Tuesday, Dec. 6th, Matt and I celebrated our one year anniversary of meeting! I cannot express how unreal the whole year has been, full of discovery and love. I'm excited to see what will happen in the coming year.

To mark the occasion, we went to see Cirque du Soleil at the Cyberport, the Canadian-based group with an international cast who's claim to fame is to provide pure entertainment under a real circus chapiteau.

Though different from your traditional circus, each show has a theme and story where various acts of acrobatics, breath-taking stunts and silly improv skits with chosen audience members, are put on to a live accompanying band. Truly sensational.

Before the show, we went to eat at a Xinjiang restaurant. A self-proclaimed "Xinjiang FUSION dining experience" we had naan bread, banmian and zuofan, staple dishes in Uyghur cuisine, with of course all the mutton we could get. I realize one should never expect to have a replica of authentic dishes of the area, or you will be sorely disappointed.

All the waiters were Canto-Chinese although they insisted the cook was from Xinjiang. I think the thing with eating a hot steaming bowl of banmian wih sumptuous sauce and freshly-killed mutton seasoned with Xinjiang spices in Urumqi is not just the act of eating the dish, but of doing so amongst a throng of other men and women who are sitting at slightly filthy tables elbow to elbow, feet resting upon a layer of dirty napkins and disposable chopsticks, with sounds of Uyghur men shouting out at passerbys to come and buy their meat and of people wiping their snot with the rough toilet paper roll.

All in all, it made me feel nostalgic for Xinjiang. Especially the mountains!

On the job hunting front, i've put out at least a dozen applications, have done several interviews already and a few more lined up this coming week. I'm giving myself till the end of Dec to fully commit to something in hopes that THE perfect contract will come through, with a good loation, salary, benefits, colleagues, the works.

Tomorrow i another interview at 10:30. Since i'm going into town, i'm also going to try and find a shop where they can repair my erhu (the Chinese traditional 2-stringed instrument). During the move from Urumqi, the two strings unravelled and i'm not confident in how to string it back properly.

Hopefully it will be relatively hassle-free and i won't walk out of the repair shop with something totally unrecognizable, like what happened to my poor violin.

Christmas is coming up but it hardly feels like it. We've bought a few decorations in hopes of making our place a bit more festive.

Our hole in the ceiling was finally fixed yesterday, we've got our Uyghur mats and pillows set up in our living area, we've hung some pictures and paintings on the walls (getting more framed right now, mainly wedding gifts), i've already baked some banana bread and made some hummus - this definitely feels a lot more like home :)

Friday, December 09, 2005

the simple life

Very very tired right now. Had to wake up very early today (it was still dark out) just in order to catch a bus and then the ferry to get to HK Island.

Spent the day at one of the most professional hospitals i've ever been too, Matt had to get a procedure done and so of course i went to support him.

Good thing, as he was quite drowsy and disoriented when he awoke. It's been another few days of buying things like folders and labels and binders to organize our bills and forms and other miscellaneous documents in, but the inevitable task of actually placing them in their proper files awaits, looming over us like this evil eye.

Tomorrow, i declare, will be designated as Official Sort-Out Day. After a visit to the doctor for the analysis, getting our DVD player delivered and having our big hole in the ceiling fixed, along with the leaky tap...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

brr

It's cold here, for Hong Kong at least, about 10 degrees.

With no heating system it's colder than one may think. i wore a sweater to go out yesterday!

Have been researching for jobs, visiting universities, went to a graduate studies fair...it's all very exciting to think of all the possibilities but it's also tiring when it comes down to the nitty gritty.

People do say looking for work is like work itself.

With one more IKEA item left to be built, it's time to tick off stuff on our list that doesn't require any purchasing. Too bad, we were getting good at that, buying stuff that is.

Ok, time to get ready for another interview, keeping fingers crossed!!!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

DIY

OK, it's time for me to update again. The last of our IKEA furniture has just arrived so i better make this short.

Yesterday, I attended a HELP clas way up north in the New Terrirotires (I had to leave at 6:30 for a 9am class, taking bus, ferry and then another bus) with Ada, a CECES employee. She's a funny girl, a bit of the typical "hong kong character" in her but desperately wanting to impress me too, for some reason or other. She told me this hilarious story about herself meeting some guy over the Internet, but i shouldn't tell it here for i wouldn't want it to be broadcasted if it were me.

Anyways, the main reason i was asked to shadow her class was because she was having some trouble with disciplining the students (aged 10-13), and making the lessons engaging and interesting without having them compare her with the program from last year.

From what i could observe, the kids definitely had a lot of energy but isn't that just expected from kids? One thing that i've noticed after seeing two classes already, the kids in HK are a lot more HAPPY than in China. It's hard to explain, but the only way i can describe it is that they glow.

Perhaps i've mentionned this before, but Chinese kids seem to get stuck with the weirdest and funniest English names. Sometimes it's their teacher that gives them their name, sometimes they name themselves.

In Urumqi, the ones that stick close to mind are: Elmo, Nemo, Starfish, Blue and the best, BUS STOP!! Yesterday i met my first Bobo and Pinky. Haha!

Last evening, Matt and i took a ferry from DB to a nearby village on Lantau Island, Mui Wo. More authentic in HK flavour, it had a nice seaside cafe/restaurant that serves a delicious cappuccino cheesecake.

I bought a second hand mountain bike there too, so happy about it and can't wait to ride it around later today. From Mui Wo, one can get lost in the many hiking and biking trails, can't wait to go and explore.

Gotta go and be useful with my screwdriver now.

written by: Bon


OK, finished our second weekend of intensive lessons in how to delve deep into the Swedish psyche and figure out how use six screws to fill seven holes in the infuriating pieces of Ikea furniture we bought.

Add to that the fact that we only got one of the vertical shelf stands and the cross bar at the back was delivered with all the paint peeling off and covered in rust, anyway glad it's all done now.

Also had time for a game of tennis and a quick trip on our bikes to round off the weekend. Settled in to watch Etre et Avoir now then another fun week starting tomorrow!

written by: Matt

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Home at last!

Wow. So much to say. After a 16 hour flight of restless sleep, countless meals and 4 movies, I arrived at HK airport and flung myself into Matt's arms, bliss.

He then told me we had to go immediately to the new apartment because the landlord was waiting for us there to go over some forms. I was a bit disappointed because i wanted him (Matt, that is) all to myself but when we stepped into the door, amongst the bare walls and floors, a beautiful surprise awaited me.

Matt, who had just returned from training and orientation in Hamburg the previous day, had rushed around that morning to buy some flowers, champagne, fruit and a new mattress, to welcome me home.

This was the wonderful start to our busy week of setting up our first home.Neo Horizon is the name of our building (which is quite fitting for us), a ten minute walk to the beach, a bus stop right at the entrance, and a 15 minute walk to DB plaza (shops and restaurants).

We are living in the penthouse of the building, the 26th floor with a great ocean/harbour view in the front, and a scenic mountain view in the back.

Since Matt will be working from home for the first few months, we decided to get a 3 bedroom place, which also means our living/dining area is a bit bigger. Typical to Hong Kong style, our kitchen is tiny, but we're determined to make the best of it.

Most people in HK have a live-in maid who does most of the cooking, hence the sealed-off kitchen setup. Further in the back of the kitchen is the maid's room with a simple toilet, sink, showerhead and enough space to fit a single bed. We'll be using that space for storage which we desperately need for our 48 pairs of shoes. No joke, and most of them aren't even mine! :)

Discovery Bay is the area where we live on Lantau Island, home of the giant outdoor Buddha, a 20 minute journey to the airport and access to plenty of hiking/biking trails. It's a little self contained community of 20,000 people, with a grocery store, bookstore, health clinics, post office, flowershop, furniture shop, hardware store, computer store, hair salon, etc. It really has everything you need. For me, as long as there is a wide selection of cheeses and breads i'm happy. There is, in exponential amounts.

Here in DB, cars are banned and everyone gets around by bus, privately owned golf carts (expensive), and bikes. You can probably walk the entire length in an hour, so it gives you an idea of how small it really is.

Tennis seems to be the big social sport here, oh and there is a boat club where people have their own kayaks, canoes, sailing boats which they store on the beach. It's unbelievably community focused and i swear the average age of the population is about 8. Every other adult i see is pushing a stroller or holding the hand of a toddler - or both.

It's great to see kids being able to run around freely without their parents worrying too much. Like Matt said, we'll learn a lot from just observing parents and their kids, useful info for future reference.

This week we spent more money than i've ever spent in my life. A lot of first buys for me, such as a bed, dining table and chairs, couches, tv, BBQ, and a coat rack although who knows why we bought a coat rack since nobody here wears coats! I think we were just into the flow of things and got carried away. Oh well, maybe we can hang a few shoes from it.

We have yet to buy an office desk and chair, a few more shelves, a shoe rack and some hooks for the kitchen. It's starting to come together and feel like home.

We had our first guests the other night, YK and Tomoe. They also attended our Xinjiang wedding and before that, they came to visit us in Urumqi last May where they tagged along during the first few days of the desert rally.

It was great to see them again and it gave us an excuse to try out our BBQ for the first time. Our furniture had arrived that same morning so we spent the day assembling tables and chairs but by the time they arrived, we were still making the chairs for them to sit on!

After they left we assembled our bed frame and tired, still jet-lagged, and a bit drunk as we were, it took a lot longer than necessary. I was holding some bars in place while Matt was drilling and i actually managed to fall asleep sitting up.

I've always found great joy in playing 'house' with my girl friends when i was a kid, making pretend meals and serving them to guests in my 'dining room'. Even during the dead of winter, i'd love to go outside and build snow forts, making little passageways to various 'rooms' and building a 'snow bed' and 'snow toilet'.

When i step back to think about it, i'm no longer playing house, i'm actually living it. It's unreal and unbelievably fantastic. But it isn't all perfect as i realized, when we tried to draw the curtains in our bedroom the first day and the railing came off. The tap in the maid's room is leaking and already we've collected several buckets of water. Also, after only an hour of use, our main air conditioner in the living room began to leak, conitnuing to do so even three days after! It was so bad, the ceiling was coming apart and now we have a 2 feet x 1 foot gaping hole.

The landlord, an energetic fellow, came by yesterday with the air-con people to fix it, and will be back on Friday to have the hole resealed and painted. The curtain rail and leaky tap will also be fixed on Friday.

I've noticed this week how people who say they'll come by to install something, move something or fix something, will actually come BEFORE the agreed time. Is this a Hong Kong thing or have i been in China too long so as not to expect these kind of promises to be kept?

My maternal grandfather is in HK for the duration of Canada's winter, we went to pick him up last Thursday at the airport. It will be nice to see him on a regular basis, he is still quite fit and since he's arrived, has been out with other relatives and friends everyday. We have a lunch date in about 2 hours.

Our stuff from Urumqi arrived yesterday in 54 big cardboard boxes. I am currently sitting amongst books, paper, clothes, camping gear, wedding presents, kitchen stuff, etc. It will be nice when everything is in place but i'm quite enjoying the process of getting there.

Friday, November 18, 2005

mood: anxious

It's funny, being back in Canada, things are so easy and predictable that there aren't many random and bizzare events to recount. All i seem to be doing is journalling my daily activities and the ever-changing weather, how so typically Canadian of me!

Took a nice leisurely walk/run by the river this morning, snapped a few photos, cleaned the house, started to pack, and then walked up to the dentist office where i had an appointment. I ended up getting a cleaning, a checkup and then a quick filling for my cracked upper right back tooth.

Apparently if the crack isn't filled right away it can be prone to plaque-buildup; i'm a bit skeptical and couldn't help thinking it was just a way to squeeze more money out of me, but i relented since i didn't know when the next time i'd have a checkup. It had been a couple of years since my last visit, and at least 5 years since my last filling.

I was amazed at all the various tools they have now to drill, fill, and clean your teeth. I didn't have any local freezing done to me, a first, and the sensation of the drill boring into my enamel was actually kind of cool, if not a bit tedious after a while.

Spent the afternoon downtown in the lovely Byward Market of Ottawa, sipping coffee, reading all the papers i could get my hands on, browsing through clothes shops, then treating myself to a movie at Ottawa's famous independent theatre.

I saw "The Constant Gardener" with Ralph Fienes and Rachel Weisz. Basically the story revolves around an international drug company's illegal and unethical methods of testing on the poor and vulnerable in Africa, mainly in Kenya and Sudan. Interesting, captivating, a bit of Hollywood mixed in for effect, but overall pretty good.

The weather has taken a turn and today we were plunged into the -10 range, a bit too chilly for me. Tomorrow mom, dad and i are heading out to Toronto for my cousin's wedding, and then i fly out early Sunday morning. I can't wait.

It's been great visiting, but i'm anxious to get started on the HK side of life. That, and i'm growing increasingly impatient to see Matt again. That plane won't be flying nearly as fast enough for me, that i'm sure of!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

food for the belly and mind

Spent a great, wet, damp, two days in Montreal visiting Andy (Pandy - sorry just had to do it!), a dear highschool friend who also made the long trek to Urumqi for the wedding.

On the way there we (Allison and i) were driving in a snowstorm which then turned to sleet and then rain. The ground was slushy and walking around downtown St. Denis and St. Laurent was just a brutal reminder that you just can never tell with the weather in November.

Andy read my mind and immediately suggested we go for a big fattening plate of greasy poutine for lunch, and then for Ethiopian food for dinner. This morning we went out for crepes and i bought a dozen Montreal-style bagels to bring home.

Ah, what's not to love about this fabulous city - the thought of wanting to live there for a while crossed my mind several times, it truly is a great place where there isn't the stress and pressure of 'success' like there is in Toronto but people seem to do their own thing, do it well, and enjoy life in the meantime. Great boutiques, art and book stores, cafes, restaurants, all with a flair of their own. We ended up chatting a lot about China; Andy and Allison had toured Beijing with my sister Anice the week before the wedding, and then continued on the silk road by train with my parents and sis (and partway with the Thornington crew too) after the wedding. Being first time Asia-travellers, they enjoyed the trip and had great pics to show for it. So nice to see the glow on their faces when they were telling me how they overcame certain obstacles such as bargaining for a fake Rolex watch, how they now view Buddhas in a different light, how they equally loved and hated being treated like superstars, and just how their experiences in China have changed so many perspectives on life.

Andy shared with us his master's project and although i don't dare try to repeat what he told us for fear of getting it all wrong, all i want to say is that i'm super proud of him and that he's one of those other people whom i know will go places, and as a side note to myself, should stay in close contact with ;)

Met up with Simon, Matt's cousin, who lives in Montreal and runs his own business. Lots of fun that night, and we topped it off by going to a hookah bar: middle eastern decor with techno Turkish tunes, perfect!

Tonight i attended a presentation at the National Press Club near the Parliament Buildings, where there was to be a guest speaker who was sharing his experience as a captive in a Saudi Arabian jail. I noticed an ad in the 'Ottawa Citizen' paper a few days ago and decided to attend even though i had only vaguely heard of Canadian citizen William Sampson and his horrendous experience.

Back in 2000 while living and working in Riyadh, he was suddenly captured outside his home, taken to prison, tortured daily for 964 days, and forced to confess to 'crimes of terrorism' which he did not commit. Upon his release, which in itself is an incredible story of how corrupt our governments and how hypocritical our politicians are, he has writen a book and is now suing his captors/torturers. Probably one of the most powerful and moving presentations i've ever attended, i was most taken aback at how easily he spoke about his ordeal, as if in the third person, and how passionate he is in righting the many wrongs in our justice and political system.

I've missed having the opportunity to attend such talks and panel discussions that are offered in the community. I'm eager to find similar setups and forums in Hong Kong, where strangers can gather in an open and safe space, share knowledge and ideas, create awareness and enact positive change.

Monday, November 14, 2005

just a chillin day

I have to say, the longer i spend in Canada after having been away for a while, the more i see why and how Canada gets stereotyped for certain things in the rest of the world.

For instance, Canadians have this reputation of being "nice, a bit of a pushover, but extremely polite and friendly". This is so so so true. People come to a slow halt half a block before the stop sign just because they see someone about to cross the road; they say 'sorry' when they have to cut in front of you in the line to get to the other side (i think 'excuse me' would do just fine, they didn't do anything wrong to warrant an apology!); clerks in stores share with you their little frustrations of family-life and work as if they're your best friend (I had a woman who was working at the post office today tell me how the computer wasn't working since morning and "no matter what i do, it just won't work and darnit, it must be because it's Monday morning and..." blahblahblah).

I feel a bit ashamed to admit that i not only find these polite and friendly gestures and comments a bit too much and over the top, but i think they're a bit unecessary. However, it does make me smile to myself and make me feel comfortable and more at ease when i'm out and about, knowing that i'm that much closer to my neighbourhood grocer because he's shared the intimate details of his dog's bowel movements to me (no joke).

But then again, i can't help but miss the rough and tough ways of dealing with things on a daily basis in China, isn't that absurd? Perhaps "miss" is too strong a word, but there is some sort of gratification at the end of the day when you do manage to accomplish something that took a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

Like buying aluminum foil. It took me ages to first, figure out the chinese name for 'aluminum foil', and then having to go in store after store to ask if they had it, only to be disappointed. Most stores had wax paper and/or plastic wrap, which they all tried to insist was the same as foil. I spent over 2 hours roaming the streets of Urumqi for this mysterious foil, but didn't succeed in the end.

I guess my point is, it's SO EASY here, to get whatever you want, need, or even things you don't need or want but after seeing it on display on the shelf, THINK you do. Like that banana basket thingy i saw the other day, where you can place bananas in this steel hammock structure that rocks back and forth. Strange, but very cool.

Last night i saw NORTH COUNTRY with mom, Allison and her dad. It was exhilerating to be sitting in a bit theatre again, totally in awe of the big screen. And the sound system - my god, i forgot how convincing and engaging a movie can be when you have surround-sound speakers!

The movie itself was pretty good, about women who work up at the mines in Northern Minnesota, get harrassed by their slimy men colleagues, file a lawsuit and win, thus paving the way for many major American companies who've had to adhere to specific gender equality guidelines since. That's the plot, but the characters are quite complex and deal with the situation in different ways - based on true events and a real tearjerker.

Today was a relaxing day, had a leisurely walk to Timmy's up the hill with Dad (our alltime favourite father-daughter activity), updating contacts on the computer and being sidetracked by many-a-websites, updating photos online (soon to come!), reading the news, visiting my bank, shopping at the bookstore and grocery store, and then cooking up a delicious pot of Kraft Dinner!

It's been years and i know there is absolutely no nutritional value in it, but i was just craving it for some reason. At least it's done and over with, I'll be set for a few more years.

Une semaine, mon cher.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Friends are those rare jewels in life that are strung together in perfection

Had a wonderful day hiking in the Gatineau Hills with old friends from uni: Hoining, Hana, Caroline, and Sebastian. How i forget th of being surrounded by felle feelingow IDSers (International Development Studies), where conversation flows like wine and there is never a dry moment but only a faint pause for reflection.

I love having my mind challenged and learning and inquiring, it's when i feel most alive and open to acquiring knowledge. While nibbling on delicious scones, topics discussed ranged from the state of the developing world today to the origin of the word 'tarrot' to the inefficiency of the tsunami cleanup in Acheh to trying to master Slovenian tongue twisters.

Most of the fall leaves have fallen and a lot of the paths were muddy and wet, but there is a raw beauty to it and the air is crisper than usual this time of year. Every breathe inhaled is like gourmet food for the soul.

We then went for a bite at this little cute Quebecoise cafe in Old Chelsea. A quaint place with loads of ambience, it was the perfect end to a great day. PLUS they serve a wicked lentil soup!

Hanging out at home with Mom and Dad has been nice, comfortable and familiar. We have been pouring over the hundreds (literally!) of pictures from the 3 weddings and watching the home videos too. It's great to see the captured memories since all i really recall are certain things that have sort of morphed together into one big picture; i attribute that to excessive giddiness at the time. In any case, it's nice to see the different perspectives that our guests got from that day.

Caught up with my good old friend Allison too one evening over peppermint hot chocolate and espresso brownies - (how i love the fact of being able to get such treats again, and so readily too!). Allison and i have known each other since we were toddlers - i don't even remember meeting her we were so young. She and i have remained close friends despite time and distance and she made the long trek out to Urumqi to be my bridesmaid at our wedding in Sept.

There are no words to really describe how i feel about our 20+ year friendship, but the word 'humbled' comes to mind. It was beyond words to see how happy she was and how her trip to China has left such a positive imprint on her life.

In a nutshell, being in Canada again has not posed any problems of reculture shock, although i didn't even anticipate it at all. It's nice to drive again, to have a selection of cheeses and breads to choose from, an infinite supply of dark chocolate at 24 hr conenience stores, the ability to read, write, and speak fluently again AND be understood!!!

Of course i cannot wait to return home and start our new life there. Everyday it excites me more and more. We've already looked around and found a place to rent: 26th floor with private rooftop, balcony, ceiling to floor windows. Anxious to get settled into a more set routine and looking forward to the day where i don't have to look into my suitcase (aka portable closet) for a clean item of clothing.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oh, Ottawa

When i woke up at 4:30 am it was pouring out. If i look out the window now at 9:04 pm, it's still pouring out. It has been like this all day, this incessant downfall. It's rather nice in a bleak, dreary kind of way. I do miss the rain and how you can hear and taste and smell it all at once. Today i met up with a good uni friend for breakfast, Estelle. I admire people who are committing themselves to their passions and life-goals, putting a lot of thought and research into deciding 'the next step'.

Stella is no exception and right now she's embarking on a long and winding road down med school. If anybody can endure 7+ years of intense studies, it's her. She's someone who you look at and think, this person will go places, just you wait.

We were so engrossed in our conversation that i was late in returning the rental car and had to rush downtown to catch my bus to Ottawa. Running in the rain with a big backpack is no fun, but i made it!

Mom picked me up - so nice to see her - and we went out for dinner, and then stopped at SDM to see dad, who had already announced to his staff that i was coming for a surprise visit home. It's nice to see people who love to see you, but then again, they are my parents...

I realize here in Canada people spend (waste, more like) time travelling in cars. Pretty much every where you go, you've got to drive because everything is just so spread out. It's more apparent to me this time and i tell myself this is not the kind of commute-lifestyle i want to lead. Not now, and not ever. It's strange how it is so strong in me, this feeling of how ridculous it seems to me to spend up to 4 hours a day separate from the rest of the world in a box with 4 wheels and an engine.

Looking forward to spending a few quiet days here, cleaning out my room, rummaging through old letters, pictures and diaries, going for walks by the river, eating some good home cooking, catching up with more friends, playing the Baby, taking a road trip to Montreal, and hopefully going away for a couple of days away from the city for some canoeing and hiking.

As i wander the house looking at the pictures and little ornaments and figurines, i'm reminded by so many wonderful memories collected over the years. Once in a while, it's important that one remembers these things that can be so easily be forgotten. Familiarity is what it means when i come back to my parents' place in Ottawa, and that in itself has a warmth and glow to it which i love.

Just 12 more days, my dear.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Surprise, I'm Back!

Well, i'm at another internet cafe right now, but instead of being surrounded by obnoxious prepubescent boys, all i hear is the humming of the coke machine behind me and the howling wind outside that is so typically fall weather in .... CANADA!Yup, i'm back in Canada! This was a planned (surprise) visit where i wanted to come back to see family and friends in a less frantic kind of pace like it was in July.

I flew direct from HK to TO 4 days ago, a tedious 15.5 hour flight with crappy movies and stale, bland food. AC is definitely not the kind of airline that makes you feel that you want to rebook with them again.

But i digress, it was probably me just being picky about things when really i was just trying to get used to the idea of being separated from Matt for 16 days, the longest we've ever been apart since we met!

While i'm out and about doing random things in a non-structured kind of schedule, Matt has already started work with CONERGY and is in Beijing now for a conference. He'll then fly to Hamburg for training/orientation. We'll meet back in HK in 2 weeks, but just after 4 days, it seems like centuries away.

Ok, enough whining from the peanut gallery.

Upon arriving in Toronto at night, i went straight to my friend's Ritu's apartment. She's a good friend of mine from highschool in Ottawa. Whenever we were going or coming from somewhere, we were known as the 'caffeine twins' who would stop for a "Timmy's Double-Double".

We spent the night jumping up and down at the excitement of seeing each other, drinking copious amounts of wine, walking out to get Japanese tempura and noodles, sharing a moment on her balcony, cigar/cig in hand. It was great to see her again.

The next day i rented a car and went to see my grandparents at their flat, unfortunately they had already left for lunch so i managed to track down their whereabouts with the help of my Aunt Judy and we went to surprise them at the restaurant. It was great to see their expressions, stunned and in disbelief.

Visited my Aunt Amy's new house afterwards. Their dog, Chummy, was so excited to see me that i got a little 'welcome tinkle' that i could have really done without.

That evening i went to surprise my grandma at her 80th birthday dinner. When i walked into the restaurant carrying a dozen roses, my whole family just sort of sat there, not moving. I had called GM the day i flew out to wish her a happy birthday and she could not get over the fact that i was there now in the flesh. It was magic.

Yesterday, Ritu and i drove to Waterloo to visit Michael L.R. and Colin (aka Peter) who are doing their graduate studies there. It was unbelievably windy and dreary, the kind of day that is perfect for staying at home, curled up on the couch with a good movie or book. The drive up was amazing, all these golden coloured leaves were swirling and dancing around the car as we sped down the highway. I'm glad i'm catching just the tail end of the fall colous, i missed that most.

All we ended up doing was sitting in Mike's apartment, eating delicious pizza, drinking beer, reminiscing and just talking (conversation topics ranging from Nine Inch Nails concerts to the trials and tribulations of how one chooses a life-long mate). I was so comfortable i even fell asleep at a point during a discussion regarding the newest and hottest music hits in Canada- just goes to show i've been away for too long!

It was so great to be able to hang out and be so comfortable doing so, even though it's been over a year since we've all been together. I appreciate how we all enjoy each other's company but we have no expectations of one another and so although we don't communicate on a regular basis, we can still pick up from where we left off each time. I am fortunate to have befriended them in highschool and very lucky to still call them my good friends today.

Today i spent the day with grandma. We went shopping at Scarborough Town Centre for about 5 hours, the same mall i was taken to as a toddler to watch the hot-air balloons rising and falling, completely mesmorized and in awe. I then took out all 3 of my grandparents for dinner. Being with them 3 has proven to be a test to my limits in terms of consumption capacity. My stomach always expands when i'm in Toronto, and this time is no exception.

Ok, better go now. Will update more in a few days i'm sure.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Somewhat Solitary Day

It's so completely bizzare to be spending a day on my own. For the past 7 months, I have not spent a day/night apart from Matthew until today. It's not unfamiliar to be wandering the streets alone, lost in thought, but i definitely feel the difference and without a doubt i much prefer having that special hand to hold while walking.

Woke up early, made my way to the interview which ended up extending into a meeting with some other staff members and then going into lunch. Very interesting work they do, and although it seems that everyone's plate is more than full, intentions are good and creativity and dedication levels are super high. Haven't committed totally yet, but i feel it's a good team to work with. Basically i've voiced my interests to them and they have responded with a couple of potential projects for me to help with. One of them is teaching preschool teachers, all women, about interactive and communicative approaches to helping their students develop their skills and social abilities. Topics covered include leadership skills, teaching through MAD (music, art, and drama), self and society, what is happiness, women’s issues, working and raising a family…a lot of these topics are beyond me for obvious reasons, but what CECES thinks is that I could bring in fresh perspectives and a different teaching style. The second project I would be helping with is the HELP (Honours English Leadership Program) project. I would be going to various primary schools, teaching a hand-picked bunch of students who are considered the ‘natural leaders’ of their class, and they in turn help plan and organize and implement school functions, events, concerts, etc. All this in English. So basically it would be drawing a lot on my facilitation skills to develop creative and engaging games/activities, preparing lesson plans and fine tuning teaching styles so in the end there will be a somewhat comprehensive guide for next year’s trainers. What really excites me is the opportunity to use my skills as a youth worker and teacher, comibined with the responsibility of preparing official documentation such as a realistic and effective curriculum plus an efficient method of evaluation. This is the first year that the HELP program has begun so it’s in its very primary stage of development. However it’s cool to think that I could be a part of a teaching approach (training student leaders) that is still in its infancy in Hong Kong. Everyone wants to learn English here too, much like in China, and the fact that this program is delivered only in English is a huge draw for many schools. Anyways, I’m quite pumped and although I’m aware of the limitations and drawbacks of working with a non profit organization, I’m pretty sure I will give it a go.

So after what was supposed to be a short and sweet meeting, I left the office after 4+ hours and headed to an internet cafĂ©. The first one I found was on the third floor of this dilapidated building, sandwiched between an enormous department store and an office building. The second I walked in, I had to blink and readjust my eyes to the darkness. The blinds were tightly shut and there were about 40 computers crammed into a small room which stank of cigarette smoke and sweat. Although pretty disgusted with the place, I couldn’t bring myself to leave and find another place. My right knee has been bothering me these past couple of days, it feels like there are these long sharp needles digging underneath my kneecap, it hurts the more i walk but unfortunately being in HK requires a lot of walking. So even though I was not impressed at all with this place, I stayed. I only meant to check email quickly and do some flat hunting, but after more than 2 hours, I was still there. By then every computer was occupied (school had just let out) and I was surrounded by 14 year old boys in their school uniforms yelling at one another while they shot and punched and killed each other on their virtual online games. Not only was their jeering and cheering ridiculously loud, it seemed that every speaker was turned to full blast and I could barely concentrate through all the sound effects of the games, which btw, is frightening realistic. I believe I was the only female in the whole room and I definitely know that I was the only customer who was a) not yelling, screaming, cursing at the screen b) looking up the price of 2 bedroom flats in Disco Bay. I also did some research on postgraduate degrees offered at HK Uni, still thinking about taking a course. Quite a variety of classes, most in English. Still gotta hunt around.

I dunno what has overcome me, but i'm overwhelmed with fatigue again, so off to bed it is.
bonne nuit!

Monday, October 31, 2005

And the weeks just roll on by

After almost a month of sun, sand and sail, we're back in metropolis Hong Kong! Staying at my aunt's place now, an empty furnished flat. It's fortunate we know relatives here who can accommodate us, but we are looking to find our own place asap. It will be nice to finally have a home and where our mess is our own problem. Matt's already working and has gone off to Seoul for a couple of days for meetings. So exciting, the whole thought of this new prospect, a new branch that is being born and could develop into something bigger than what i can imagine myself. I'm very happy and proud of him and in a sort of motherly-way, I felt like today was his first day of school, about to enter a new world.

I spent the day looking at flats in Discovery Bay, a sort of expat community neighbourhood on Lantau Island near the airport, where you can literally get anything you want. Right now as i type, images of bathrooms, bedrooms and balconies are dancing in my head and merging into one. I took my camera with me so that i will be able to differentiate one from the other, at least that's the plan.

Off for my 2nd meeting/interview tomorrow with CECES. Unsure if this is the right job to take, but i'm willing to hear out the details and see if it's a good deal or not. For the first time in my life, i feel that i am in a position to do whatever i feel like doing. Teaching would is the obvious choice, be it english/french or music. But here's a chance to do something totally different and un-me. Like taking a course in carpentry, flower arrangement, pilates, or ?? It's a liberating feeling to be able to do that, when i could look at it, and i have, and think being in one location is a limitation in itself.

Man that three hour time difference from HK to Vanuatu has thrown off my body clock. Sort of, but it's a good enough excuse to crawl into bed now. Goodnight all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

honeymoon ahoy!

Hello from Luganville, a sleepy south pacific town on the island of Santo in Vanuatu.

We're enjoying sitting here in the air conditionned internet cafe where we just came back from kayaking around the bay.

We've been here for a few days now primarily diving the Coolidge wreck. I've received my PADI open water certificate - although i have yet to see the score of my test. Anyways, this morning was my first 'real' dive (down to 35 metres!) and it was incredible to see the wreck and be able to swim through little holes.

Stopping in Sydney for a day and a half was great.

We saw the opera house of course, walked around to the parks, botanical gardens, took a ferry to one of the islands, saw a play at the opera house in our ratty outfits, oh well it was good.

In Vanuatu our first stop was Tanna island where we stayed in a little remote guesthouse that was first started as a community tourism project by a British guy. Beautiful little bay setting with (VERY!) hot springs nearby.

Tanna is famous for having the worlds most accessible live volcano. Matt and I decided to walk to the volcano from our guesthouse - a two and a half sweaty jaunt through the forest paths. We ended up getting lost but upon seeing the volcano, decided to climb it anyways since it was getting dark and we didn't think going back down the steep path was an option without a flashlight, water or food (bad planning).

We had to stomp our way through the 3 meter tall shrubs and grass - still have scars and scrapes from it. We were so lost we actually ended up climbing up the wrong side where there was glowing hot lumps of lava shooting up and then in our direction landing about a hundred meters away. Quite the amazing show, scary though as you can imagine.

Don't worry moms, we're alive and well and the only thing that we are fighting off now are pesky flies.

Hmmm... I guess i shouldn't elaborate on this morning's dive episode where Matt's tank fell out of its buckle at 40 meters depth.

Anyways, i don't feel much like writing more because i have too much to say but all is well - better than well actually! - and Matt and i are anxiously awaiting next Monday where we'll step aboard the Soren Larsen!!

Ten days of sailing and sunshine, yay bring it on!!!!!!

Monday, October 03, 2005

honeymoon bound

After a couple of days in HK where we got some things checked off on our to-do list (get SIM card, open HSBC bank account, get internet access, buy books and dvd's, visit Discovery Bay, a potential place where we might live) we're off in less than an hour to Sydney where we'll spend a day exploring and then onwards to Vanuatu! Lots of new sights and sounds await and i'm even excited for the journey there. We'll be there for almost a month which is fantastic. Had an interview this morning with a local non-profit organization that does primary school teaching through alternative leadership programs, it went well and i'm looking forward to starting with them when i return. Things are definitely looking up and... well, i guess one could say things have been looking up since this time last year exactly, when i arrived in unpredictable China :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

in transit

Not much time to write a proper entry right now. However, just wanted to say that the wedding was fantastic, everyone seemed to have had a good time, the weather was superb, now everything is all packed and currently being trucked and then shipped to HK, tonight our plane leaves at 7:35pm. I'm ready to leave, grateful for having met incredible people, seen incredible scenery and well, just having had the instinct to follow my gut to come out here and pick up one of the biggest pieces of my life puzzle that is now propelling me to another chapter of this journey.
But just before we go, there is time for one last banmien meal, mmmm!!

Monday, September 26, 2005

in a nutshell, in a very very big nutshell...
















It's like any other time, but not quite.

Whenever I leave a journal entry for too long, I have too much to say and never know where to start. But this is a million times worse because since the last time I wrote, Matt and I have taken 15 plane rides (without missing a single connection - a great feat!), visited 3 continents (body clock has been sacrificed and tricked numerous times by criss-crossing time zones – two nights ago we woke up at 4am unable to sleep another wink until 7am), went sailing twice in the gorgeous sea, boating on the Ottawa river and then again on Lake Ontario, drank champagne almost every night, met up with friends and family from my entire life (Matt did well to remember all their names and relations to me), met his friends and family (I think I’ve got the family members down pat, but then again I have a lot less to commit to memory in comparison), ate delicious cheese, bread, soups, deserts, bbq meat, seafood, on and on.

Backing up to the beginning of our trip: as we were driving up onto the on-ramp to get on the highway on our way to the Urumqi airport, we practically rammed into a car going down the ramp in the other direction!

We had to laugh, what else is there to do when little sights like that make up the high points of your day in China? It didn't matter anyways - we were outta there!

Our first stop was Jersey where Matt's father was being given a surprise retirement party. He had absolutely no idea that all this scheming and planning was taking place for the past year (even a separate bank account was opened to ensure the operation went uncovered!)

The theme was 60's Night and having not much selection in Urumqi in terms of 60's gear, Matt and I decided to go as two PLA officers, gold buttons and black cloth shoes, the works! I wasn't anxious to meet my father-in-law for the first time, but to be dressed up like a Communist - and believe you me, with my braided pigtails and sunglasses, I was even surprised at how 'Chinese' i looked - i was a bit, shall we say, excited.

The night went on without a hitch and there was even a live band made up of some of the teachers dressed up as The Beatles. The champagne and wine went down smooth, the food was absolutely delicious, the company fantastic.

Although having met him just a couple of hours before, it was an honour to see how he was so appreciated and revered in the community. After having dedicated himself to the education and well-being of so many students, it was amazing to see the successes he had achieved in his career, so much so that colleagues from the early years made efforts to come and show their support too.

After a few minutes of meeting me for the first time, after the shock of the surprise had sunk in, he turned to me in a serious way, looking intensely through his long curly wig and dark Beatles glasses, and said: "This is my home and i am surrounded by such loving friends."

And then without missing a beat, he asks me: "So where are you staying?" Uh oh, my mind goes into overdrive and i'm thinking, which, i didn't realize at the time, but i actually ended up saying aloud, "with YOU!" (if you don't mind, which i definitely said in my mind). Everyone got a good chuckle out of that.

It was a great ice-breaker for what would be a marvelous weekend.

We sailed, had picnics on the beach, an outdoor bbq overlooking the sunset, attended a live outdoor jazz festival, cycled to the coastline. And those were just the bonus bits apart from meeting and getting to know my new family.

Next stop was across the Atlantic (Matt's first time!) to Ottawa, where we had a mini-party for some old family friends from Ottawa and Cornwall.

My mother is a nonstopable machine when it comes to cooking and hosting guests, and this time wasn't an exception. After some medical appointments and an allergy test for me, hanging out a bit at home, we then headed off to Toronto to be bombarded with relatives and stuffed silly with food and drink.

On July 23rd we had a somewhat traditional Chinese wedding banquet, surrounded by 140 of our fond friends and family from all parts of my life. For some, it was a chance to be reunited again with long-lost friends and colleagues, great big hugs and shrieks of laughter were constantly had and heard throughout the evening.

In all, it was a great event right down to the teary-eyed speeches; my dad gave his all-time favourite song a go: Frank Sinatra's MY WAY. He changed some of the lyrics so that it become ".... they did it their way" - everyone loved it!

Afterwards, we showed some Uyghur dancing on the big TV screen to encourage everyone to dance. The Uyghur scarves and carpets were a great hit also! Even though i was weary about sending them home from Urumqi, it was definitely worth it in the end.

The only unfortunate incident was that the restaurant forgot to pick up the cake from the bakery and by the time they remembered, the bakery was closed. Poor Mom had gone to great lengths to ensure that the cake was just perfect (heart-shaped size, lettering, etc.)

Oh well, a bunch of family members met the next morning for dim sum where after plates of greasy dumplings and sticky rice, we worked our way through the ten-pound mango cheesecake!

That same morning, Matt and I did the traditional tea ceremony for my grandparents. A big part of having the Chinese wedding banquet in Toronto was for my grandparents, who will be unable to come to Xinjiang in September.

They were thrilled to see all of us gathered happily together before the inevitable reality of us going back to China for an indefinite period. And so for the tea ceremony, it was just something we wanted to do to make them feel like they're a part of our special union.

Unfortunately, none of us knew really what to do so in reality it ended up being this ordeal where everyone was shouting instructions but nobody was listening, and where Matt and I were looking at each other unsure of what to do but desperately wanting to do it 'right'.

In the end, we carefully poured hot water out of the thermos into the delicate porcelain tea cups (my two grandmothers don't drink tea so the 'tea serving ceremony' was actually a 'hot water serving ceremony'), and with both hands offered them the cup.

In turn, each grandparent gives us a red envelope with money inside. Unsure of what to do next, they took a tiny sip from their cup, posed for the flashing cameras, got up and brought it back to the kitchen sink where they rinsed the rest out.

It took less than a minute in total, but I'm glad we did it, even though it may not have been perfect or complete to traditional Chinese standards.

With all the family obligations combined with the lack of time and the need for sleep, we didn't get to see much of Toronto. However we did manage to rent a somewhat large barge (think pleasure cruise) to see a bit of Lake Ontario. Not exactly our first choice, but that was all that was available at the time.

Did some shopping at MEC, Chapters, had lunch with Anice, and then off we were again to Jersey! But of course not before bidding farewell to relatives. Grandma, especially, was overcome with emotion and her last wishes to me were: "I'm not getting any younger. Have lots of children as soon as you can."

Across the Atlantic again and as we touched down, Jersey greeted us was a downpour of water which we were told had not let up all day. Still, there is beauty through the fog and mist when you are looking out into fresh Jersey cow pastures and the crashing sea waves.

The following day, Matt took me to 'the secret beach' where you have to make your way through rocky crevasses and a deep dark tunnel in order to get to this secluded beach. Reachable only during low tide (or else the tunnel is full of water and impenetrable), there is gorgeous smooth sand and tall vertical caves that have been carved out by the powerful waves over time.

Stunningly beautiful, it was one of my favourite (mental) snapshots of our trip.

My parents arrived on the island the next day, and as suspected, everyone got along fabulously. There were lots of preparations, peppered with quick trips to the airport to pick up yet another family member from Liverpool, Plymouth, Leeds, London, etc. There was this huge energy buzzing throughout the house, like this enormous crescendo of excitement that was all to be let out on Friday, July 29th.

Alas, it came. And at 12 noon at Jersey's registrar's office, Matt and I were officially married in a short 'n' sweet ceremony. My father walked me down the aisle - well, we actually Uyghur danced it! - and suddenly, there I am standing at the front of the aisle, shaking with excitement and total happiness.

The feeling that overcame me as i was repeating the declarations is something that is and will be utterly etched in my memory forever. Those of you who know me to be a bit of an sentimental sap, I am proud to say that i was consistent by being incapable of keeping my eyes dry. Hey, i wasn't the only one!

Claire, Matt's younger sister, was our chauffeur for the day. She owns a beautiful baby-blue 'Moggy' which she polished and decorated with fabric to match my dress. It was the perfect day weather-wise also, as it was the only day out of the entire week where there was no rain. Just a few days before, Jersey received so much rain that the meteorologist declared that the island had received the equivalent rainfall in 24 hrs to what it would normally get in a month!

But we were lucky (as we’ve been told so many times for so many different reasons) and following a gorgeous reception at a local hotel, we gathered to wine and dine at the family home in the evening.

Speeches were made, numerous toasts had, and my dad attempted to sing "My Way" again, although without the words this time, and even though he forgot some of the lyrics, mixed them up, and then completely went blank, his efforts were well appreciated by all.

Leaving the next day for a dinner-party with Matt’s friends at the Lightship Restaurant in London, we left an entourage of loving family members at the departure gate, all waving us on towards our married life. Another snapshot memory.

Three more flights in a row and it’s back to life here. Everyone's talking about coming out to Urumqi for the Xinjiang wedding in September so the pressure's on to put on a good show.

Admittedly, it was nice to step off the plane and walk right into your own wedding (we have a lifetime of thanks to give to our parents for organizing such fantastic parties in Toronto and Jersey). All we had to do was smile and enjoy, and that we most certainly did!

Ok, I’ve really gotta stop here, running out of writing steam...

One last memory i will remember from this trip:

The morning after our marriage was official. We spent our wedding night in a tent in the garden, real comfy and totally warm, and as we awoke from the sun's strong rays, stepped out of the tent and strolled into the kitchen, i was greeted with a jolly "Good morning, MRS. THORNINGTON!"

Wow, so it wasn't just a dream. I do have to admit i've already practiced my new signature ;)

This may be the end of our whirlwind tour, but only the beginning of so much more.