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!