Tuesday, October 31, 2006

HOTdog, it's an indian summer

i'm sitting here, online, reading the news, reading blogs, basically wasting time at Pacific Coffee, waiting for orchestra rehearsal to begin. it's times like these that i realize i'm still impatient when it comes to waiting for time to pass.
i observed a Form 1 class today, a group of 36 rowdy boys. i officially start teaching tomorrow. can't wait. have been feeling that my hands are a bit tied at school, not expected to do a whole lot (although they consider it a substantial bit already), am hoping the pace will pick up when i am actually teaching. the hardest bit is perhaps coming in halfway through their semester and not knowing their names. i remember those painful first few weeks in Zhuozhou where i struggled to commit to memory the names of my students. chinese names are something of a nuisance to pronounce, especially if you don't know how to read the characters or aren't sure of the tones.
still don't like wearing these 'smart-casual' clothes that i merely think are costumes. yea it makes me look more professional and probably commands more respect from hormonal 13 year olds, but i feel constricted and unable to move freely. will change into more comfortable shirt before rehearsal.
my lil' sister has arrived; we picked her up on motorbike, surprise surprise! visited some relatives on saturday and went to Hong Kong's wetland park yesterday, a public holiday. a huge disappointment though, as it was like visiting a dimsum restaurant set amongst the marshes. the incessant chatter and disregard for wildlife (there were signs posted that read: "Birds have ears too. Please be quiet") was almost too much to bear. when we stepped out of the wetland park and walked back towards the light-rail station, that beautiful thing called SILENCE blasted in our face.
happy halloween to y'all. boo.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Beijing, the familiar and the ever-changing

A terrific long week-end in Beijing! With temperatures hovering around 13 degrees in the day, only to drop to a chilly 5 degrees at night, it was great to be able to wrap up in layers and jackets and tuques again.

We stayed at the
incredible Bamboo Garden Hotel which I highly recommend, and this is saying a lot! It takes something quite drastic or awesome to really surprise/wow me, but i have to say my first impressions of the Bamboo Garden Hotel was shock - in the best of ways. The rooms were like brand new with gorgeous antique furniture and careful craftsmanship and ornate light fixtures (on the verge of gawdy, but passable). The gardens were simply gorgeous, with little pathways, fountains and persimmon trees. And this was all set amongst the hutong area where the high walls enclosed the peace and tranquility within. I think what shocked me most was that this was in CHINA, and having learned to not expect such a thing in this country, it was a pleasant surprise to see i was proven wrong.

We arrived late Friday night and went out immediately in search of food. As luck would have it, just on the other street we found a little local Xinjiang restaurant, and so began the feasting on mutton kebabs, naan bread and banmian. See pic of Matt chowing down on greasy sheep fat.

We rented bikes the first two days, touring the city and watching life go by. I have never really cycled Beijing before but it is by far the best way to really get a glimpse into local life. We met with my old host family for dinner on Saturday. It had been a few years since we last met and it was indeed very good to have them meet Matt. They were, of course, smitten by his extensive Mandarin and charmed by how much younger he looked in person!

We went up the famous Drum Tower and saw the Asian Games Torch being passed down the main street that connects the Forbidden City and the Drum tower. Olympic fever was everywhere and we remarked that Beijing had made some significant improvements on their transport systems, taxis especially. New cabs and buses could be seen, and taxi drivers didn't even try to cheat us once!

We woke up early on Sunday morning to catch our 6:30 train to a nearby local town, so
uthwest of Beijing, Shidu. Known as "the little Guilin¨ because of its mountains and deep gorges (Shidu literally means Ten Gorges), we hired a car and driver and visited a couple of sights, hiked up one of the gorges to a waterfall and rented a bamboo raft at the river.

We ended off with a greasy, oily lunch of deep fried local legumes, deep-fried mini shrimps and an eggplant and minced beef dish literally drowning in oil (see pic). The cook had left the previous day and the restaurant was actually supposed to be closed because tourist season was over, but the woman kindly let us in and did her best to cook up a good spread. It was good while we ate, but we settled on a no-oil, no-grease, no-deep-fried-anything dinner that night.

I flew back Tuesday night and on our way to the airport, we stopped by friends' Thomas and Basia's place for a home-cooked Korean dinner. They live in probably one of Beijing's most luxurious condos; large open rooms with high ceilings and big windows, a western kitchen, and even a jacuzzi! The last time i saw them (and the first time too) was just a little over a year ago when they came to Xinjiang for our wedding. They are still outdoor and travelling enthusiasts and are planning a trip in May to Tibet by the new rail-line and then to Nepal.

Matt and I reluctantly parted ways at the airport; he stayed to attend a conference and I had to go to my teaching practicum school back in HK the next day.

o ends another mini adventure, one of familiar sights, sounds and smells, and yet i was surprised by how much the city has advanced and developed over the years - the number of HUMONGOUS buildings is astounding, all so grand and imposing-looking. It's definitely a dynamic period of change for the city as they prepare for the much-hyped Olympic games in 2008. I think it's worth another visit then.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ready to go

It's Friday and I'm happy! Reading week is officially here. Doing presentation after presentation certainly does your head in and I'm thankful for a weeklong break. I had my first official day at my teaching practicum school, King's College, on Wednesday. My mentor is fantastic. We share the same maiden name, Wong, and the same given first name, Mei. I think we'll have a successful year together.

But for now, it's off to Beijing we go (23 minutes to be exact) for a few days of sight-seeing, visiting old friends and eating Xinjiang food again! AND, it's a lovely chilly 6 degrees up there! We've packed the hats and scarves!

And then Anice arrives next Friday after her year in Japan, to begin her next adventures hopping around South-east Asia.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A humid day

Today i had a free day so I thought I would pay a visit to my dear old colleagues at Treasure Island. I didn't see any water buffalo surfing this time, unlike my last day of work there (see pic) but i was greeted with a bunch of smiling faces instead. Already into their school season of camp, the place was teeming with primary-aged students learning about rock classification.

Uni life has taken on a familiar routine of readings, reports and group work. It's not a particularly heavy workload, just steady, and I'm enjoying getting to know my group mates and tutors better.

We have a group presentation tomorrow bright and early. Gotta be alert for that, so best be off to sleep.

Monday, October 09, 2006


To all who are gathered with friends and family today for turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, i wish we were with you! Matt and I will celebrate in our own style by making home-made pizza tonight, although i couldn't find turkey to use as a topping. We'll just have to wait till Xmas i guess! Oh that's right, for those who i haven't told, we'll be going back to Canada for the Xmas holidays. Snowboarding, skating on the canal, hockey game (?) and seeing family again! I can hardly wait.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

non-stop tourists

The week went by in a flash. Aunty B and Anne did literally everything they could in HK. They shopped till they dropped, saw bustling markets (see Wanchai market and tram in pic) in the city and in remote fishing villages, ate all sorts of local cuisine, saw the lantern festival and fire dragon dance during the mid-autumn festivities and managed to travel by skyrail, car, tram, taxi, bus, ferry, metro. Couldn't quite fit a motorbike trip in there but it was close.

Anne, who is an experienced primary teacher in Albany (WA), and Aunty B who was a former home-ec teacher, offered valuable insight and wisdom into the education profession. I begin my practicum teaching soon and it was fantastic to hear their impressions and stories from their time as a student-teacher.

The highlight of the week (for me at least) was attending the benefit concert for the Beautiful Mind Charity Organization, a group of physically and mentally challenged Korean musicians living in HK. Their aim was to simply "give back to HK some of the benefits they enjoy as residents of this amazing and vibrant city" and to raise funds for the Rainbow Project (educational facility for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder) and the Ebenezer School for the Visually Impaired. I have never cried at concerts but there we were, three grown ladies weeping at just how beautiful it was to be witness to such incredible talent. It was truly inspiring. See pic of us outside the HK City Hall admiring the city's bright lights after the show, post tears.

It was great to show them around and they left with a positive impression of HK and its people.

Thank you again, until next time!

Monday, October 02, 2006

"She's 86 and her feet are sore..."

This was the phrase of the week as Aunty B and her sister-in-law, Aunty Jackie, visited Hong Kong. But in all honesty, they have no problems keeping up with us young'ens and i can only hope to be as active and heatlhy when I'm an octonagarian.

Since their much anticipated arrival on Sept.26, we have done practically everything on the tourist trail: up the tram to Victoria Peak (see pic), betting at the Hong Kong Jockey Club horse races (and winning $1500 collectively - beginner's luck? see pic), shopping at Stanley Market, feasting on a gorgeous dinner at a famous Chinese Restaurant (see pic), sitting in the second row at the HK Cultural Centre where we heard the Philharmonic Orchestra accompany a famous Japanese Taiko drummer and organanist, wandering the streets of the WanChai wet market, and taking the newly-opened cable car to the famous biggest bronze Buddha in the world (see pic).

What's been most fantastic about their trip here is having the time to talk and get to know one another better. Last year Aunty B made the trek from her home in Perth, Australia, to our Xinjiang wedding and as most weddings go, there wasn't much time for lengthy conversations. This time round we have her for almost 2 weeks and it's been simply wonderful hearing stories about Matt's granny (Aunty B's sister) and grandpa, their courtship, marriage, etc. We learn so much from stories about our family history, images are conjured up in our minds about how it was then and how we've come to be today.

Aunty Jackie has just left to go back home in the UK. Aunty B's daughter, Anne, has arrived to continue the sight-seeing with her. Today we had a lovely girl's day out at Stanley Market where we bought as much as we could carry back: camera, mp3 player, electronic games, blouses, 3-piece suit, dresses, candles, fans, fruit bowl, wooden candle holder, postcards, hats and toy dragons. Oh, and let's not forget the heating pad we each purchased, for those aches and pains after a 6 hour shopping spree.

Yesterday was China's 57h Birthday and there was a huge fireworks display on the harbourfront. We gathered around the clocktower with thousands of other people and watched the 23 minute show, which was quite impressive to say the least.

As always, it's fun showing guests around, as we also get to appreciate more the city we live in. For the next several days, we have plans of attending a benefit concert for the Korean mentally/physically-handicapped orchestra, trying a dimsum lunch, climbing the Buddha and Victoria Peak again, checking out the lantern festival in Kowloon Park for Mid-Autumn Festival and of course doing more market-shopping!