Thursday, May 31, 2007

leaving on a jet plane

With pieces of the puzzle coming together, i cannot help but just be permanently giddy.

Full medical exam completed, getting updated vaccinations (i've got 2 more rabies, typhoid and HepB to go), found a reliable and reasonably priced relocation company, property agent meeting organized, fixing goodbye dates with friends and family... the list goes on.

In exactly 26 minutes we're off to the airport for our overnight direct flight to Johannesburg!!! Youpeee! We'll get picked up by some of Matt's contacts, drive 2 hours to Pietersburg, the capital of Limpopo province and spend the night in their guesthouse. The next day we fly back to Joburg in a propeller plane and catch our connecting flight to Cape Town. There, we'll spend a good 10 days or so getting to know the city, looking at properties, meeting other contacts (for Matt) and trying to get in as much live music as we can! It's been a long time since i've felt this excited for a trip. I guess because it'll be a glimpse into our new-life-to-be.

A little nice surprise greeted me the other night in my email inbox. One of my students, Anthony, back at King's College wrote an email asking how i was. A little 'hello' like that is all i need to make my day a happy one :D

I replied to him this morning asking how school was, etc etc. He's written back, saying:
"the exams are coming up soon! And in our last IH quiz, 22 out of 33 of us failed, despite that you were such a good teacher!
I passed, of course.

Haha, it made me laugh real hard.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Done like dinner

Finally, after so many wasted hours of procrastination, i've completed the final assignment of my PGDE course! It feels good, and makes me wonder what took me so long.. harhar.

To celebrate, Matt and i had a yummy dinner on HK island, followed by a live performance given by Thierry Nkeli Fala, a Togolese musician, in a cozy bar. He sang mainly in Mina, one of the many tribal languages, and the one which i learned from my host family. Superb and makes me excited all over again thinking about all the live music we'll get to experience in Cape Town!

Two more sleeps to go...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

EXCITED = elation beyond the bounds of sobriety

A few weeks ago we went over to friends Hubert and Linda's place for a night of chicken curry and poker. Hubert (in pic) is South African, more specifically a Capetonian, and so besides losing all my money at an astonishing rate, we were picking his brain about places to live, things to do and see. Holy exciting!

We've spent every day, since making our decision to move, researching about Cape Town down to every ridiculous detail and our excitement just grows exponentially. Last night was the epitome of giddiness; going to bed at midnight only to fall asleep in an exhuasted slumber around 3am, after adding more to our list of things-to-do, we were like children waiting for Christmas day.

We are literally living from journey to journey. We've just booked ourselves an "exploratory trip" to Cape Town (courtesy of good ol' Conergy) this coming Thursday for about 12 days, where we'll do all the basic set-up things like getting cell phones, opening a bank account, looking for accommodation, and just basically exploring the city. So it's off sooner than we expected but better than we had hoped!

And oh darn, that little nagging voice in my mind that keeps flashing "Bonnie, do your essay!" is becoming a constant companion, but even though it's overshadawed tenfold by other more 'important' things to do, i cannot put it off any longer. I'll start the day after tomorrow.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hi Ho Hi Ho it's off to the Stanley Cup we go!

Admittedly, i don't follow ice hockey to be considered a true die-hard fan, but i am super thrilled that the Ottawa Senators have made it to the finals! I can only imagine what the atmosphere is like back home!

I would write more now but i'm on a roll writing my second to last essay and i've promised myself to finish it before going to bed. It does help that it's been absolutely pouring outside these past few days so i'm not tempted to go out. Typhoon YUTU has brought massive wind and heavy rainstorms, forcing the HK Observatory to put up the Amber Rainstorm Warning which indicates "Heavy rain has fallen or is expected to fall generally over Hong Kong, exceeding 30 millimetres in an hour, and is likely to continue." I just hope our ceiling and stairwell don't start leaking, it would be no fun to have a repeat of last year's headaches!

Happy Victoria Day to folk back home!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

running full-steam ahead!

Making promises and not fulfilling them is not what we're about, especially if that means missing out on visiting Aunty B in Perth!

SO with Matt's air miles points just sitting in his account gathering virtual dust, we redeemed them for two roundtrip tickets to Perth in mid-June. Youpeee!

Just as we thought things couldn't get more exciting, we'll spend a "full on" week in the beauty of a Western Australia winter. After Aunty B visited last October, accompanied first with sister-in-law Jackie and then by daughter Anne, it is very exciting to be going to see where they live and meet the rest of the family.

Things are coming together so quickly. We sold the motorbike today to a guy who hasn't even seen it! There were about a half dozen or so interested people and because it is so time consuming to take it out to show just one person at a time, we offered a kind of "drop in open house" tonight. That scared one guy and he immediately offered to buy it without even test driving it! We'll miss our Dragstar but we've got lots of fond memories of her here in Hong Kong.

Ah, life is good. There is so much happening, so many places to research, so much to do (find accommodations, start job-hunting, obtain visas & resident permits, do full medical checkup and get vaccinated, book the many flight tickets, sell some furniture, organize our accummulated 'stuff', ship it, and of course saying goodbye to everyone here), it's a shame i can't concentrate on my final essays that need to be finished soon!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

on the move again

And i have to say our travelling luck is on a continuous streak: we have been planning our next trip already for July, for ERITREA!! Matt's old roomate from UWC Atlantic College, Ghebre, will be going back to Eritrea to visit family. Last June we became godparents to his youngest child, Yohanna, at an Eritrean Orthodox ceremony in London.

Since Ghebre and his wife Nigisty spent their honeymoon in Jersey, they've always wanted Matt to visit their home country. And so what more reason do we need? What we're most looking forward to is visiting his village, Adi-Gulty, a bus ride away from the capital, Asmara, and then an hour's walk on foot.

Oh, and we just decided last night that we will be coinciding our Eritrea trip (with a possible stopover either in Yemen or Egypt) with our move to CAPE TOWN, South Africa, where Matt will start up the Conergy business!!!!!!

There is lots to do now but with a goal and date set, things will fall into place quickly. First, i've got 2 major papers to write, harhar. Exciting!

Islands of Happiness

It's simply incredible how we can wake up at Neo Horizon (our apartment) in Hong Kong and only hours later be on a tiny remote island in the beautiful Philippines.

We flew 2 hours from Hong Kong to Cebu, took a 1.5 hour ferry to Tagbilaran on Bohol Island, transferred for 15 minutes by van to Panglao Island and then took a 45 min bangka (motorized outrigger boat) ride to Balicasag Island (it's so tiny, it's not even on the map). Just as the sun was setting and the sky was illuminated with gorgeous deep hues of purple and pink, we arrived in our little nipa hut.

That night we feasted on grilled lapu-lapu and an entire deep-fried pig's leg (see Matt pre-pig-binge with his signature San Miguel).

The next day we went diving and with an impressive 25 m visibility (better than Hong Kong's 2m!), saw an incredible variety of colourful fish, turtles and coral. See pic of enormous school of jackfish passing us overhead, bright blue starfish amongst a coral bed, and a clown fish (or Nemo, as they're more commonly known).

In the morning we visited Royal Garden and Diver's Haven in the afternoon.
Unfortunatley we weren't able to spot any baracudas or sharks like we had wanted to. However, we were warned by our guide, Raoul, about the vicious triggerhead fish who are apparently in their nesting phase and so bite anything and everything that comes too close. At one point i was in my own little state of underwater awe and didn't see one close to me, nor did i notice their (Matt and Raoul's) warnings or attempts to get my attention. Lucky for me, i wasn't worthy of even a nibble that day.

Diving makes you incredibly hungry and we had one of the best meals after rinsing our gear and searching manically for Matt's snorkel and mask (never to be found) was the grilled squid and prawns on the open bbq. Served with sticky rice wrapped in leaves, we washed it down with a cold mango-banana shake, a daily staple of our holiday. The Philippines is absolutely bursting with diferent varieties of fruit, most of which i don't know the names of but i can say with absolutely certainty that their mangoes have got to be some of the juiciest i've ever tasted.

That evening, we travelled back to Panglao Island and checked in at the Bohol Beefarm in Dauis. Truly one of the best places i've ever stayed in, this little paradise within a paradise follows the simple philosophy of supporting "an agricultural development that leads to healthier soils and diverse agricultural ecosystems, conditions that help promote a better environment. One that we hope would be populated by a happier and healthier people."

Serving organic food from their garden, employing over 70 young people to give them a headstart in the workforce (all employees are expected to work in the admin part of the hotel as well as tending the fields in order to gain more skills), the Beefarm has truly mastered the art of sustainable eco-tourism, organic farming and beekeeping with practical work opportunities for locals.

Some of the little treasures about the Beefarm are the private swimming cove (see pic), the organic garden salad (with edible flowers), the squash muffins, the mango spread and the sweet corn coffee.

We took a tour of the farm and our happy guide proudly showed us how honey was collected. Did you know that all worker bees are female? And that all male bees are only used for reproduction, after that they're left to die?!

The next day we rented motorbikes and chugged our way to the famous Chocolate Hills in the interior of Bohol near Carmen city. Since Matt let me lead, i set the speed at a stunning 40 km/hr, but considering it was my first time ever to be out all day riding my own motorbike, it was the perfect speed for me.

We went past several gorgeous and imposing churches, built when the Spanish were here in the 16th century. Starting from our hotel at Dauis and passing through Bool and Baclayon, we turned inland at Loay and passed Loboc town and Bilar, eventually reaching our destination at mid-day.

The Chocolate Hills are huge mounds, over a thousand of em, all pretty much identical and although they aren't exactly a chocolate colour, it is pretty impressive. Caused by water eroding the limstone rock that lies on the bed of clay, it has become one of the must-see landmarks in Bohol.

During our motorbike trek, we took a mini deviation to check out a reputable hostel mentionned in our Lonely Planet, "a truly unique place ensconced in the jungle on the edge of the Loboc River" where the 16 cottages are completely integrated into the environment.

However the road leading to it which branches off the main road "is a rutted dirt path". No kidding. Going down was no problem for me despite the steepness and rocky boulders. Coming up I lost control after hitting a huge boulder and the bike came down, just narrowly missing the steep plunge down the hill on my left. Lucky, there was no major damage, just a few scratches on the bike - and a very worried Mattie ;) I think i'll perfect my smooth paved-road riding skills first before attempting more steep rocky hills.

The next day we took a taxi to visit the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, a conservation and research centre aimed at protecting this smallest primate in the world. They are as cute as they appear in the picture, with eyes 150 times bigger than a human's in relation to its body size. It can leap 5m in the air and turn its head almost 360 degrees! I was amazed at how close we could get to these adorable creatures.

We decided to try out a local form of transport, the Jeepney. Gutted entirely in the inside, decorated with words of God and colourful paintings on the outside, and adorned with dozens of lucky charms on the dashboard, these truly unique vehicles are equipped to squeeze as many passengers in as possible.

Our Jeepney, which was originally designed for probably 14-15 people, managed to hold almost 30 - and everyone had a seat, believe it or not (if you count the roof and someone else's lap).

On Monday, it was election day and all eligible voters were off to the polls to choose between 12 senators, 250 congressmen, 81 governors, 81 vice-governors, 770 provincial board members, 118 city mayors, 118 vice city mayors, 1510 municipal mayors, 1510 vice municipal mayors, 1322 city councillors and 12092 municipal councillors! No wonder there were so many posters and signs and banners plastered on every wall, vehicle and tree!

Unfortunately, as i read in the paper today, there was violence and killings during election day and a huge undeniable amount of corruption and bribery. It will take weeks before the results are announced but i sincerely hope that some goodness will come out of this election. Despite it all, i heard that voting turnout was over 80%!

Our last stop before heading back home was at Hinagdanan Cave, accidentally discovered by farmers. Although the LP says you can swim and snorkel in the half-salt-half-fresh pool, there was enough bat poo dropping down every few seconds to make you instinctively decide otherwise. Still, it was very interesting with the stalactite and stalagmite formations; it looked like a set of a horror film.

What struck me most about the Philippines was how many Filipinos were travelling themselves. You get the usual groups of Japanese and Koreans, but the majority of them were Filipinos, in large boisterous happy families. Perhaps they were coming back home from overseas for a visit or perhaps they do take the time to actually explore their own country and considering the diversity in all 7000+ islands, who wouldn't?

If you think you haven't seen enough pics of our Philippines holiday,

here's more!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hong Kong boasts more Rolls-Royces per capita than anywhere else on earth

Everything is so exciting right now.

My fantastic girls and i just finished our humongous project yesterday for our Major Methods course! It's an enormous weight lifted from our shoulders. It basically consisted of creating an entire curriculum pack for Liberal Studies, lesson plans, worksheets, teacher's guide, assessment tasks and marking schemes, justification for our rationale, teaching strategies and key concepts... After working non-stop for a few days and then spending a few frustrating hours battling with the printers at school, at 5:30 pm promptly, we slid our thick document to the Programme Office just as they were about to bring down the gate. Although it's not due until next week, our goal was to finish early as some of us were taking off for mini break...

... which is what i'm looking forward to next! Tomorrow we're off to the Philippines. We've booked ourselves at the Balicasag Dive Resort for the first night, a ferry ride then land transfer from Cebu, where we'll fly into. Apparently one of the best dive spots 'in the world' (?), Balicasag Island is only 25 hectares big, with the Dive Resort taking up 1.5 hectares of it, the only accommodation on the island. For the rest of the time we'll just take it easy, visit the famous Chocolate Hills and see what we see.

Tonight we had dinner with Aunty Ivy, Uncle Hong, Calvin and Ivy's father in Tai Koo (see pic). They are back in HK for their annual visit and over Peking duck and other yummy dishes, we caught up over the past few months (we stayed with them in Toronto during our Xmas visit - but had to run off to catch our flight back in the wee hours of the morning without saying goodbye due to our inability to read flight times correctly!). Tomorrow they leave for a couple of weeks of travelling in Japan but it looks like we'll just miss each other by an hour at the airport. No matter, we'll see them again when they come back to HK after Japan; it will be interesting to see how they found the experience. Notice in the pic, Matt is holding a huge bag. Inside are 4 boxes of heavy Harvest Crunch cereal lovingly delivered halfway around the world.

Packing just completed and if we go to bed now, we can squeeze in one sleep cycle. We want to get to the airport fairly early-ish to buy a magnetic Chinese Chess board. We bought a set at the Hong Kong History Museum the other week when we went to visit it (a great place with lots of fantastic displays!) and so it's become our new brain game of choice. Right, bed.