Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday afternoon fever

Last period on a Friday afternoon before a 3 day weekend, so of course i shouldn't have high expectations right?! Luckily, I didn't even have to open my mouth to start the lesson; the boys were clamouring all over their desks and each other to get a view out of the 3 windows to catch a glimpse of the live football/soccer match happening between two Teacher Teams out on the court. This week was "Kingsian Fiesta" and besides the various activies (badminton, table tennis, flea markets, cook-offs, etc.) the highlight of the week was by far this much-anticipated football match.

Although some classes were allowed to watch at ground level, there would have been just too much chaos if all the students (some odd thousand of em) were given permission to do that. My poor Form One Boys were only allowed to view it via instant recording, broadcasted onto the screen in class. But when you could hear the actual srcreaming and you know all the action is happening outside, why would you want to sit still in your desk? I know i wouldn't.

In the end, it wasn't as bad as i thought it could be. But i think after 13 weeks at an all boys school, nothing really phases me much. So as i stood in the back of the class, I just let them enjoy the game, resisting the urge to shush them each time one of them shouted or screamed. If you want a good laugh and a half (and a healthy dose of testosterone), try being locked up with 35 13-year-old football fanatics who are not allowed to watch the game happening just outside their 2nd storey window, with several thousand other teenage boys raging and screaming within a 100 metre radius.

I will miss their youth, zest, and even that sweet sweaty smell that only boys seem to have after a lunchhour of intense 'playing' with their mates.

Newest addiction

This FACEBOOK site is consuming my every waking working hour. If someone has a remedy (i should really stop cold turkey), do kindly pass it on. It's not even been 24 hours, how scary.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


It's only 9:13 am and i've already eaten my mid-morning snack. I'm trying to conjure up a cunning way to sleep sitting up, eyes wide-open. I'm again so seriously tired. I feel delirious and all i know is that i am unable to make good decisions if asked. Chronic fatigue over a few days is something HK people are apparently accustomed to. Does this mean i'm fitting in well?

this laptop, my saviour

At school and am so tired. So unbelievably tired. Tonight i've made a serious date with my beloved pillow. 28 minutes until i can leave the school gates.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


March 24-25. Another quick year and it was Matt's birthday again... i went into automatic rack-brain- for-ultimate- birthday-gift mode as i tried to decide what i would do for him. As it turns out, my friend from Uni, Wanwah, gave me the brilliant idea of taking him on a two-day- one-night cruise aboard the STAR CRUISE PISCES! Basically it takes you from the Hong Kong pier just outside into international waters and back again. A big circular circuit, but it isn't where you go, it's what's onboard which is what is fun. It was Matt's first cruise ever and I managed to pull it off as a surprise..? See pic of Matt just about to board the Star Ferry at the new and improved Ferry Pier. He has no idea where he's going, i told him only to pack his swimsuit, toothbrush and passport - the boy says he likes surprises.

Although the whole trip was less than 24 hours, it felt like a mini-holiday nonetheless. The Pisces had a very "Chinese" feel to it. Besides the required many restaurants aboard (Thai, Chinese, Japanese, etc), there was an indoor and outdoor pool, gym, jacuzzi, hair salon, duty free shops, video arcade, piano bar, 2 cinemas, running track. But the classic signature Chinese features were the many gambling halls (horse racing, football/soccer), casinos (blackjack, roulette, backeral, slot machines), mahjong rooms, and of course the staple Karaoke rooms.

There were many activities to keep you busy also: juggling acts, dance exhibitions, Mandarin lessons (!), live performances (dance and music), animal balloon shows, and fruit carvings (see Master Chef at work).

Our favourite was listening to the Piano Man and Trio Band play all-time classics and oldies as we sipped our celebratory birthday sparkling wine. We were amongst a small group of listeners, and during one Elvis song (see singer with turned up collar), a cheery old woman got up to dance, fantastic!

After a yummy Thai supper, we attended the nightly shows, the first one called "Faith" encompassed well choreographed dance acts and pretty incredible acroboatics. Later that night, there was an 'adult show' which required one to purchase tickets in advance. When i booked us for the cruise, i didn't realize they offered such a, ahem, diverse choice of entertainment. Curiosity got the better of me, and well, as for Birthday Boy, it didn't really take too much convincing (wink wink). When else would we have an opportunity to do this anyhow? So we bought our (early-bird discounted) tickets and went to sit near the back of the hall.

Surprsingly enough, we both agreed it was a classy, tasteful performance. The dancers were very talented, very impressive and very topless (even the men, it's only fair i guess). Sorry, no picture-taking was allowed. What surprised us wasn't what was up on stage but who was in the audience. We expected the hall to be full, but there were probably a couple dozen people only, all mainly older men (no surprise there) and some couples. We finished off the night with a Chinese supper and then a final drink back at the Piano Bar, where they serenaded Matt with a jazzy Happy Birthday.

The next day we joined our frisbee friends for 3 hours of fun in the sun (yes, the sun was out and without the usual Hong Kong cloud/pollution coverage, it was HOT). Afterwards a few of us went out for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant and then shared a homemade cheesecake for dessert.

No birthday would be complete with a little excitement, huh? That afternoon at frisbee, Matt hurt his ankle by having it stomped on by another person on the other team. It was completely swollen and we thought we should probably have it looked at. Seeing as it was late on a Sunday night, we opted to go to the closest hospital emergency ward. Afer an almost 3 hour wait, he got an x-ray taken. Luckily it wasn't broken or fractured, just a contusion and a very very sore ankle and knee.

So, all in all, a great weekend to ring in Matt's 33rd birthday. Complete with good food, good friends, good music, good wine, good exercise, good news from the hospital and good(looking) breasts, I'm sure it's one that he'll remember for a while - some parts more than others too! Just kidding lovely ;)

Sunny-side up

It started off as a Bad Day. I woke up with my left eye all puffy and sore, making me feel even more tired than usual at 6am. It must be the weather, I tell myself, the intense humidity and heavy pollution these past couple of days.

The foggy weather slowed my ferry journey down quite a bit and as a result, i was two minutes late. It was two minutes too many and i got tattled on - by the office staff. There are school staff members posted at every single door who monitor who moves in and out. For some reason, i'm on their watchlist and have been since Day One. I've been trying to understand where this all stems from. I wonder if i'm not too far off by assuming that because i'm not "100% pure Hong Kong Chinese" people take offence to it. There are 2 NETs (Native English Teacher) here also but they keep to themselves and from what i can see nobody tries to include them - or vice versa. I speak to one on a regular occasion (he's also a fellow Canuck) and he's leaving after this year, unable to take the heavy top-down management and inflexible ways of the Hong Kong Government School System.

Although this is an EMI (English Medium of Instruction) school, outside the classroom walls, Cantonese is by far the dominant language. Fortunately i can hold a decent conversation in my mother tongue. Unfortunately i cannot read or write and it's pretty obvious from my accent i'm not exactly a local girl. Could it also be because nobody can actually pronounce my name (Thornington, not Wong i mean) properly and so in the spirit of saving face, avoid me altogether?

There has been a gradual wall building between a lot of the teachers in my staff room and myself, and i'm thankful i only have 5 days left here. I cannot deny that i could be partly to blame by isolating myself to a small group of people here with whom i converse with, even if only at a minimal level. I just don't have much to say to the stuffy ones who are so arrogant and cast evil glances and snicker behind their hands at the younger teachers for reasons i don't comprehend or even care to know.

My mentor, although sometimes mentions these unfortunate circumstance to me, advises me to just keep my head down, obey the rules and only then i can go unnoticed and coast along. Hmm, seems i am not so good at conforming to these rules. I am not the type to just 'give in' and let it wash over me, but i figure i do not want to end my Teaching Practice on a really bad foot. I'll pick my battles elsewhere to win the war.

Saying that, behind every cloud there is a silver lining. After being in a foul mood all morning, i went into my classroom hoping for a well-behaved class and totally out of the blue, was given a gift. Ken (see pic) presented me with a bookmark with a note written on the back. He thanked me for being a good teacher, expressed how grateful he was for my efforts in making each lesson interesting and related to other IH (Integrated Humanities, subject i'm teaching) themes and how appreciative he feels at the opportunity to learn "words which are commonly used in America or U.K". What a nice gesture! He has no idea how much i needed that pick-me-up.

That, and being able to vent publicly here, makes things more than alright. It's all worth it when they (my boys) try, when they show they care and when they are eager and anxiously anticipating your next lesson. Maybe it's a bit like having your own children who are appreciative and grateful for the effort, however little, that was put into their learning. I think us teachers could and should learn from that.

Monday, March 26, 2007


This morning i woke up feeling tired with my bad eye, red and puffy from whatever is floating in the room... makes me more tired than normal..

So i decided to take the minibus after getting off the ferry, just to save a bit of money since i took taxis yesterday and will probably do so again tonight.

I get into school two minutes past the bell, and i get a big talking to afterwards for being late.

I left school just after 4pm yesterday, so tired and not being whatsoever productive. It seems it's the small little things that i cannot get used to.

I cannot just be chained to my chair and imprisoned here for the sake of just being here. Conforming to rules which i find absolutely ludicrous and completely inflexible is what has made my experience here not as i had hoped.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


What do you say to someone who has lost someone dear? When you try to make sense of the tragic realities of life, more thoughts and questions surface. The thing is, do you face those too or should you simply try to come to terms with what is immediately achievable? When is it enough? When is it too much?

I have 43 test papers on Natural Hazards to mark now. It will keep my mind occupied, but wishes of sympathy and tenderness are but a thought away. To BL and family, our most deepest and sincere condolences. M+Bxx

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

desperate cravings

It freaks me out thinking about what i would do for a fatty donut from Tim Horton's right now. A honey cruller, or perhaps an apple fritter... or 12, right MLR?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

bittersweet countdown

Days go by in a blur, but at least they go by quickly! It seems like the minute i sit down at my desk at school, it's time to leave again! Here is a pic of the boys lining up for morning announcements on the basketball court. The Form 7 and 5's are already finished school, usually the court is a sea of dark blue uniforms and black heads. Countdown to the end of teaching practice is going strong but i will miss them. For some reason or other, they have found a way to worm their way under my skin.

Friday, March 16, 2007

It's Friday!

My young Form 1 boys had a "Service Learning" project to conduct and the topic was preserving Hong Kong's cultural heritage. And so on Tuesday afternoon we piled into a bus and headed to the "Western Market" where we learned how it was preserved and renovated to maintain its unique identity. Here's a picture of some of the monkeys interviewing a shopkeeper.

The Queen Elizabeth II visited Hong Kong and before meeting Grandpa Ma and David for a seafood dinner, we took the Star Ferry and caught a glimpse of this humongous ship. It really is big, makes you wonder how it can possibly float.

We stopped into the Ocean Terminal Shopping Plaza and after (unsuccessfully) trying to find a cd we wanted at a record store, we walked out with something better: a WII!

It is Nintendo's newest and hottest game console where players strap the control to their wrist and to play any game, you must swing and punch and bat your arm like the real thing. The WII comes with 5 built-in games: bowling, tennis, baseball, boxing and golf. It is quite good fun and a serious workout! See me trying boxing for the first time.

You can also purchase other games from the WII store, and so far we've collected "Ice Hockey"(with zambonies and everything!) and "Super Mario Brothers!". I love it, tons of fun and a good excuse to get active but still stay at home in the evenings!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

choosing my own battles to win the war

I jinxed myself. I shouldn't have made that reference about ruling with an iron fist. Today i had to lay down the law with my Form 2 boys. They were being unrealistically chatty and disrespectful. It was the period right before lunch and so they were squirming in their seats waiting for the bell to ring.

A few of them were so disruptive, i've asked them to stay after class for detention with me. One of them, Ringo, a cherry-cheeked lad with thick rimmed glasses, rushes up to me after class to explain why he was talking and how it wasn't fair that he stay behind for something he "didn't do." I told him this wasn't the only time i've caught him not paying attention and that this behaviour is unacceptable in my class. Not only does he not learn, but the others around him are distracted by him and cannot learn as well. Now, if i've learned anything working with children, pre-adolescents and teens, it's that consistency is something they need. And something i must uphold in order to earn the respect that is required to continue any form of teaching. So no, I tell Ringo, you stay after school with me and the others. Cue the floodgates; he starts to cry, wiping his tears on his tie. I winch a bit but hold my ground. If i give in this time, there will be others and i cannot allow it.

Whatever rage was in me was teased out bit by bit and near the end of the lesson, i issued my stern lecture at full volume, arms crossed, feet firmly planted on the floor, eyes glazing over each and every one of them, pausing at crucial moments to ensure maximum effect. It worked. I think. There was silence, and maybe, just maybe, a tiny bit of fear.

Will they remember this tomorrow? I'm not entirely certain. All i know is that now i have self-imposed detention supervision in 20 minutes.

Ruling with an iron fist? Easier said than done.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A small ripple in the great big sea

I'm starting to really bond with my boys at school. I've developed a sort of soft spot for each class, although i can't show it or my ability to rule with an iron fist is shattered, ha yeah right. But I know what to expect - more or less - when i walk into the room, where the cliques of friends are, who i have to keep a close eye on, how they react when i attempt to draw yet another blob-of-a-map-of-China on the board, what to do if a few of them get out of hand, how to get their attention...

And it's true what they say, that every class has a "Class Clown" and sometimes they are a welcome pleasure in the lesson and sometimes (most times really) they are a nuissance. But it doesn't stop there. Every class also has the Leader, the Brain, the Nerd, the Athlete, the Teacher's Pet, the Tattler, the Bookworm, the Bigmouth, the Observer, the Rebel and the many many Sheep. Who were you?

I've got a few students (whom I refer to as The Keeners) who simply amaze me with their over-the-top work and initiatives to try and do more than what is asked of them. Most of us have heard this: "If i made a difference in only one child's life, then it was all worth it." But it's so true.

*pic: overlooking the outdoor garden at King's College with fountain full of goldfish, famous ivey tree in the foreground

Sunday, March 04, 2007

March already?! AIYA!

We finally got around to celebrating our "first meeting" date (Dec.6, 2006) on Friday. Since we met in a Japanese restaurant, we decided to keep the theme going and went to the famous Okinawa restaurant, recommended by YK, and then saw "Letters from Iwo Jima" (which won Best Sound at the Oscars) at the cinema. Emotionally sobering and well worth seeing for its effects and educational value.

After a very very VERY lazy Saturday, we summoned the energy and went to see the Youssou N'Dour concert, part of the 35th Hong Kong Arts Festival. We bought our tickets back in December upon hearing he would be coming with his band "Super Etoile de Dakar". It was exactly what i needed after a day of doing absolutely nothing. I still get amazed at how music can alter my mood instantaneously and this was no exception.

Youssou has a voice that has been described as "pure velvet" and it's true, the man must have a set of hidden lungs under his beautiful flowing Senegalese shirt. We were up in the balcony and the majority were sitting throughout the whole performance, and so those who did get up to dance during some of the songs blocked the view of those behind. After putting on our best "convincing face" we still couldn't manage to get down to the lower level to join the other dancers. We ended up sitting a bit closer to the stage which was better than nothing.

I still find Hong Kongers a strange bunch of people to go to such concerts with. Firstly, the venues that are chosen are obviously not for acoustic sake but on the number of people it can hold. The Cultural Arts Centre is, granted, a gorgeous example of superb HK architecture (see pic of Cultural Arts Centre with famous clock tower), and it's perfect for a philharmonic orchestra where the acoustics and sounds are second to none in the Concert Hall, but it was just not meant to house a fast-pumping show of electric guitars, African drums and intimate African singing and dancing. Secondly, a lot of people just seem uncomfortable in their suits and heels, not knowing if toe-tapping or hand-clapping is considered out of line with the concert code of conduct. I love watching people who simply give it their all and dance and clap and sing, truly unleashing any anxieties and simply enjoying for the sake of good music. Love it!

It was a great show and afterwards we took the Star Ferry across Victoria harbour (see pic of HK's brilliant skyline at night), went out with some of my uni buddies, and over lychee margueritas and nachos, we caught up on our MTP (main teaching practice) experiences and of course gossiped and complained about "The System" of HKU and our program and... I'll not bore you with the details.

Today was a day out in the open field playing Frisbee with friends and now thoughts are heading towards this week's lessons and projects. But first: sleep.