Monday, April 24, 2006


Today i officially started work as an Educational Assistant with the Learning Support Centre at Bradbury School, an international school on The Peak on HK Island. It's one of 19 schools scattered across HK, both secondary and primary, all using the British curriculum. Bradbury is one of the main primary schools of ESF (English School Foundation), the largest international educational body in Asia. Most of the teachers are from overseas, mainly UK, Canada and Australia, and the student body is a pot pourri of local and foreign students, all of them button-nose cute!

To get to work, I have to take a ferry and then a bus, so basically this translates to about 90 minutes of commute time each way door to door, which then means rising at 6am, something that i'll have to discipline myself for. Still, i prefer to live in 'remote' DB than on claustraphobic HK Island; it's just nice to be able to walk out and not have to immediately weave your way around hoards of people, cars, buses, etc. Not to mention the choking fumes.

On Saturday i went to substitute teach at Blink Think, the other part time job I've taken up. My first class was a girl of one and a half years old, no joke. Her nanny sat beside her the whole time. It took a few minutes for her to warm to me but by the end of the 90 minute session, i was truly impresed with her knowledge of the ABC's and 123's, not to mention her ability to focus and sit still for such a long time!

The rest of the day i had a range of 3-6 year olds, all keen and eager, with even keener and more eager parents. Instead of jumping straight into the lesson and for them to get used to a new face, i spent the first few minutes just talking and asking them general questions, like what they had for breakfast and what they have done/will do the rest of the day. Every child, i kid you not, replied by saying that they were on their way or had just come back from, piano/phonics/drawing/karate/swimming/mandarin/math lessons. Only one girl said she might go to her friend's house to play. This type of lifestyle for a 3 year old is normal here in HK. And yet, with a schedule that is nothing short of extraordinary, these kids have boundless energy. I almost forgot how exhausting they can be, running and screaming for hours on end. There has got to be a way to harvest all that energy, i swear it could run a small village.

One of the things that are on most expats' list of things to do when they live in HK is to row in a dragon boat. I've always loved watching the races either on TV or in Toronto during the summer. And chance has come my way, I've signed up on the mixed beginners dragon boat racing team here in Discovery Bay. On May 31st, DB will host its own dragon boat race, all in the name of community spirit and fun, with contests for best costume, best cheer and a big party at the end of the day. Our team had our second practice yesterday morning down near the Marina Clubhouse and it was exhilerating and terribly exhausting at the same time. Now, i rowed competitively in highschool for 2 years but i don't remember ever getting so worn out after just a couple minutes of hard rowing (a dragon boat race usually averages two and a half minutes). It's a completely different technique and today my back and shoulders are just killing me. I'm just hoping it'll get easier with time. I've also got to remember to wear my bathing suit as you tend to get absolutely drenched in the boat - go figure.

After a good practice of ultimate frisbee last Thursday in the rain (not as bad as you think, it actually keeps you cool), i met up with a friend and some of her colleagues in this cute little cafe in the Soho district called Joyce Is Not Here Cafe. It was jam night and anybody can just go and fool around on the keyboard and/or guitars. It felt more like someone's living room than an actual bar, and the fact that some French guys played my favourite Ben Harper song made my foolish incident of leaving my cell phone in a taxi 2 hours earlier a lot less painful. Yes, I've done it again. Gone are all my pics stored on the phone and all my contact numbers, arg. So i have now progressed to my 4th phone in this past year, not to mention ever in my life. So here i am, proud owner of a cheap, no-nonsense Motorola.

Last piece of news to report is that we've bought ourselves a motorbike! Yes folks, we are no longer bound to the schedules and crowdedness of HK public transportation. After seeing the Yamaha Dragstar bike last night, which was in great condition and with only a little over 6000 km on it (over a span of 9 years!) we have purchased this little jewel in order to expand our horizons by being able to venture out whenever we want into the remote hills and beaches of HK. The only little issue is that we have to park it outside of DB because nobody here is allowed to drive their own vehicles. So it's locked outside the DB tunnel and everytime we want to use it we'll have to take a 3 minute bus ride to actually reach it. Little sacrifice for many days of exploration and adventure ahead!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"a place where need and resource intersect"

It's true. Hong Kong people have way too much money on their hands than they know what to do with it. Old money, new money, it doesn't matter; a majority of them have the disposable income to spend it on whatever their hearts desire. And spend it they do. On penthouse apartments, antique furtniture, overseas holidays, the latest electronics gizmos, designer clothing, grade-a jewellry, cosmetic surgery, and the list continues. And so what happens to the stuff when a company decides to relocate half a block down the street and decides it's too much hassle/time/money to move everything over, a 400-bedroom hotel goes through a major makeover, a school who ordered playground equipment from the UK and realized that it won't fit in their tiny field, a business person who is moving to another flat across town and couldn't be bothered to pack a single item and would much rather buy everything brand new again? All that precious stuff goes to the dump. Well, it used to.

Enter Crossroads International, a locally-run charity started by HK-based Canadian couple, Malcolm and Sally Begbie, who were asked in 1995 by friends in the north of China to send over sweaters for the victims of the massive flooding. They asked around HK not really knowing what to expect but pretty soon came the influx of donations. Not only were sweaters given by the boxfull, but food, blankets and school supplies were also provided. And the generosity hasn't stopped since. There are stories of people driving up to the remote Crossroads site, dumping all of their stuff onto the side and pulling away again never to be seen. Today, hospital equipment, eyeglasses, top of the line computers, flat-screen tv's and unused i-pods are not uncommon donations!

I came across this NGO on the internet and i've been out to help out about 4 times so far. Each time i meet interesting people, many who live on-site and are given free accommodation and food for their work, and each time i learn a new skill and share my own knowledge. It isn't just a crossroads for physical objects but one of the human spirit, and it is truly inspiring. I sound like some cheesy promo ad, but in bustling money-oriented HK, it is extremely gratifying to rub shoulders with people who are committed to improving the lifestyle of the greater global community.

The picture posted in this entry is an activity which i helped out with a couple of times. Dubbed Slum Survivor, this situational game takes highschool students and breaks them into groups of 'families', whereby they are given separate family profiles, but they are pretty much identical in the fact that they are all struggling to survive in the slums of India. The goal for this activity is to make enough money to send their daughter to school. Each family has the task of making paper bags from newspaper and homemade glue, where they then have to go to the local 'shop' and sell them for money. This scenario is taken from actual situations and although the students don't actually go through the despair, hunger and utter poverty that face these people, there is a sense of empathy that is created. While the game is going on, each family has to ensure that food is bought, rent is paid and that at least one member o fthe household attends workshops given by the local community worker. When he/she doesn't, a family member falls ill and must pay for medicine and hospital care.

It's interesting to see the different groups interact and lead (re: democracy, communism, full-on dictatorship), and strategize (lie, beg, steal). At the end of it all, we sit down, debrief the activity and give out current facts and statistics about the world's underdeveloped nations and what the rest of the world is (not) doing about it. We end it by simply stating that by having these youth come out and volunteer with Crossroads, a little bit of hope is being restored to those less fortunate.

I can still remember my World Issues class quite clearly in highschool. It was during that class that my eyes opened to a whole other world, one that seemed exotic, exciting, mysterious, and also one that was a much harsher reality of what i was living then. Today, it is thrilling to see the naked realization in these students' eyes, reminding me how naive and innocent i once was.

Monday, April 17, 2006

la vie est belle en France

With the bags packed, all the oysters consumed and some delectable Jersey fudge bought, Sue, Guy and I left Jersey on April 6th by boat, destination: Le Chalet at the foothills of the Pyrenees. The ferry crossing was perfect; the sea was 'slight' and it felt like we were gliding on ice while we ate our sandwiches and crisps (chips).

Disembarking at St. Malo on the northwest coast of France, we zoomed off and covered about 500 km before stopping just outside Bordeaux where we overnighted. Continuing south early the next morning, we didn't stop until just outside Mirepoix where a bunch of student protesters were holding up traffic at the town's roundabout. They were protesting the new employment law that they claim gives them less job security and rights in the workforce. We were tired from driving all morning and just wanted to get to the supermarket to do our shopping. So we signed the petition and were eventually let through. At the store, we saw a few dozen students stocking up on the essential goods required for any mass protest: bags of crisps and crates of beer. Some customers were obviously angry by the holdup and had absolutely no sympathy for the students, throwing looks of disgust at them. Some were quite supportive and showed their enthusiasm by honking and hollering along. For me, it was strange to see about half a dozen police officers in their sunnies, hands on their hips, just watching the whole show and not doing a thing about it. I guess their only concern was that nothing too disruptive was happening. The French way perhaps but probably also the wisest.

Nestled just a few steps away from the quaint village of Courtauly, Le Chalet is surrounded by a picturesque scenery of forest, hills, mountains, all enveloped in tranquility and peace (pic 1). After nine months of non-use, Le Chalet was in remarkable condition and all we had to do was sweep out the flies, turn the water and gas on, unwrap the dishes, cut up a few slices of bread and cheese, uncork the wine bottles and in no time, we were dining on the porch in the glorious spring sunshine (pic 2). What's more, we were treated to a rare sighting of two deer and a fox, all within a couple of hours of arriving!

The next few days were spent exploring the area by car and foot. We hiked through La gorge de la Frau, up to Mont Segur Castle and through the narrow streets of Mirepoix market. We also visited the old Thornington camping spot when Matt was a boy and saw the towns of Toulouse, Carcasonne and Limoux. When not walking off our calories, we were consuming them by the bucketful. It really doesn't get much better than cheese, wine and bread. Delicieux!

Thrilled to be able to brush up on my French, I also got a chance to reconnect with my Canadian lumberjack roots which I thoroughly enjoyed (pic 3). What a rush to hit something so hard it breaks with a deafening snap, mind you it took several swings for me to chop my first log.

For our last supper, we went to Carcasonne and dined at a great restaurant in the castle city. We all had the traditional 'must-have' meal of the region: cassoulet (pic 4). Comprised of beans, sausages of Toulouse, a piece of duck confit cooked in its fat, pork, pork rinds, and duck or goose fat, everything is thrown together and then baked in a casserole to a glazed perfection. It's every bit as delicious as it looks and the only requirement is to a) be absolutely famished beforehand and b) ensure that after the hearty meal, you will be either riding alone or with others who love you unconditionally. Or just do what we did: make sure everyone eats the cassoulet so that no one person can get blamed for that umm.. strange smell.

Back home in HK again and already missing that fresh mountain air. We came back to discover mould growing all over my handmade leather shoes from Ghana and several of Matt's leather belts. The leak from the roof is still rotting away at the wall and Management has yet to come and fix it. People keep saying the Hong Kong summer is just around the corner. But two days ago I was wearing a woolen scarf to go out! And yesterday I was sweating in my t-shirt and shorts! So now it's back into our weekly routine of Ultimate Frisbee playing and nightly reality TV watching. Right now we're into The Amazing Race series. It fulfills the armchair traveller's itch for adrenalin and adventure, not that we've been lacking that lately. Already starting to plan for the next trip: first the World Cup in July and then hopefully a visit back to Canada in the fall, with a scattering of friends/relatives coming to visit us in between!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

in transit

I'm sitting in the Cathay Pacific Executive Lounge at Heathrow Airport waiting to board our long-haul flight back to Hong Kong. Within arms reach is a wide array of fresh food and chilled beverages, showers, newspapers and magazines, tv, high-speed internet and it's all for free. What's more is the peace and quiet that one would not normally get in a busy international airport. So it goes without saying, accompanying Matt on his business trips is fantabulous. His ticket is for business class but each time he foregoes the pampering and luxurious food to downgrade and sit with me and the other 'regulars' in economy class. Very sweet.

So we just spent a lovely few days in France at Sue and Guy's chalet. It was extremely beautiful, tranquil and just a perfect getaway. So much has happened in the past few days so i'll leave it till next time. My tummy is rumbling, so s'cuse me while i go get a little something to nibble on.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


It's been a really nice birthday here in Jersey. Complete sunshine, some frisbee tossing, a nice stroll, a gorgeous lunch at the Watersplash beachside cafe, dinner at a superb pub/restaurant called The Black Dog, lots of tea and coffee and biscuits in between - all of this wrapped in a warmth of family love.

Thank you all for making it such a special and memorable day, here, there and everywhere. And what a treat to help father-in-law Guy celebrate his 60th on the same day too! Saying that, i've got a ways to go in order to earn my "Proud at 60" badge but what better role model than someone born on the same day.