Hello Uncle Foreigner

Dec 1, 2011

A little help from the kids

Noodles and shoes

Most days at lunch, I like to go out to a little noodle stall by our house for a bowl of spicy noodles. (Peter generally naps during our break.) I bring a book to read, and every once in a while some of my students will spot me, and come over to sit and talk.

Today, some of my junior students came to sit with me. Their English isn’t so good, so the conversation was pretty slow and repetitive, but it was fun, nonetheless. They also translated some questions that the non-English-speaking adults that run the stall had. “Do you like the soup?” being one of the most frequently asked. Of course I like it. I eat it every other day!

I finished, and they asked if I was going back to the school. I told them I had some shoes I was going to drop off to be polished at the shoe shop a few doors down, but after that I was going back to school. They offered to walk with me, which turned out to be very helpful.

I do think I could have accomplished the transaction completely through gestures, but the girls very nicely translated for me - which was funny from my end, but must have looked hilarious from the POV of the people at the shoe store: this American comes in with two eleven-year-olds who conduct business for her. But now I know for sure that she said come back in three days, not three hours. They’re also going to re-sole them for me, too, which I can use because I walk the crap out of my shoes.

Nov 30, 2011

Hong Kong: The Peak

Going up

The Peak gives a great view of the rest of Hong Kong.
Check out our slideshow of our pictures from The Peak.

Our Saturday night also included a trip up The Peak, a mountain that overlooks Hong Kong’s city center. I’m sure it’s pretty in the day, but at night the views are spectacular. We rode a tram up from town, and as you’ll find most places in Hong Kong, there was a giant mall at the top. We actually had to ask one of the ladies selling tickets if there was an outdoors up there, and could we walk around in it.

Of course there was. There was loads of outdoors, including nature walks and restaurants. We skipped the hiking, however, in favor of a drink on a terrace overlooking the harbor. That’s two terraces in one night.

Nov 29, 2011

Hong Kong: Pizza and Martinis

A decadant feast

Martinis!

On Saturday night, we found a lovely place that served pizza and martinis! In Luzhou, we can find neither. (Well, the Western restaurant has something they call pizza, but it isn’t. “You can call it a ham pie,” says Peter.) Spasso is actually located in a giant mall in Kowloon, but Ruby Tuesdays it isn’t. When we asked if they had olives and could they make us dirty martinis, our server asked us, “How dirty?” which was music to our ears; She knew there was a variable degree of dirtiness to a martini!

Pizza at Spasso
The pizza was not the best pizza, but it was very good pizza. It fit the bill for us. Also, It was quite nice to have some real wine. A night of indulgences was just want we needed! Or, wanted, I guess.
Look at the lights
This was the view from the patio. You’re looking back at Hong Kong Island.
We're actually here, in Hong Kong!
Here’s us, with our backs to the view. We had a lovely meal, Spasso. Thanks!

Nov 29, 2011

Us, onstage

Now with more photos

Peter and Emily, rocking and rolling

As promised, here’s Peter and I performing with our students.

See a few more photos here.

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong’s Walk of Stars

A walk by the harbor

Bruce Lee on the Walk of Stars

The Hong Kong Walk of Stars is located in Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s not quite as fancy as the one in Hollywood, but there’s a plaque commemorating Hong Kong and Mainland movie stars, like Chow Yun-Fat, Maggie Cheung, Jet Li, etc. Some have the stars’ handprints, but many just have their name. I got the sense that it wasn’t really that big a deal.

In fact, as an attraction it’d be only alright if it wasn’t for its location: along the waterfront with a stunning view of the harbor and Hong Kong Island. We walked it at sunset, and it was gorgeous. We ran into many other people enjoying the view (and some joggers, even though this seems like it would be a crowded and annoying run).

Anyway, take a gander:

Hong Kong's waterfront Walk of Stars
Check out our slideshow of photos of the Walk of Stars.

Nov 28, 2011

From this week’s Juniors lesson

Just so you know ...

We’re talking about movies and genres.

“ ‘Transformers 2’ is an action movie. It is not a documentary.”

It’s important that they realize …

Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong: Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui

A beautiful day in the neighborhoods

On our third morning, we grabbed breakfast and took the ferry across the harbor.

Real English-style breakfast is available at 18 Grams
Check out our album of photos in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui are two neighborhoods on the island to the north of Hong Kong Island. Whereas on our side of things, the shopping seemed to be more high end (we had Max Azria, Louis Vutton, etc.), in TST, things were a little more casual. I bought months and months worth of leave-in conditioner, and we browsed Tom Lee for an hour.

The streets were wide and crowded, somewhat like Fifth Avenue in midtown. Indian men were hawking fake designer watches every couple of feet, with very few takers.

After shopping, we hit up the Hong Kong Science Museum. I know science museums are usually for kids, but I love them. Tickets for both Peter and I cost HK$60, which is less than US$10. Attractions and public transportation are really cheap here.

Headless Emily at the Hong Kong science museum
Check out more photos of our trip to the Science Museum.

The museum’s special exhibit was on food science. They were sponsored by, or had the cooperation of - or something - McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. It was really weird to see those American brands splashed all over. Especially because the exhibit was put together by a Japanese institution.

Nov 25, 2011

The Singapore project

It’s very hush-hush

Yesterday, our head teacher asked if Peter and I could switch off once a week talking with a group of kids. She was kind of vague on the phone (though she was careful to stress that we’d get paid extra), but I said yes and showed up at her office at the appointed time. This is the way things work around here a lot of times. Her and another teacher whisked me off to a classroom, one of them saying, “We must go to the Singapore project.” That sounds exciting!

Turns out, they want us to help give practice college entrance interviews for a group of students who are applying to university in Singapore. Conversing with the kids while they try out their English is my favorite part of the job, and these kids, as potential ESL study abroad students, are some of the brightest in the school. It’s really cool to hear their stories.

I’m not sure where it comes from, whether it’s the nature of Chinese or how they’re taught English, but they say some really poetic things sometimes. One kid told me, “My teacher asked me to come up with a reason why I am unique, but I regret to say that I am just a common boy.” So we talked about basketball and how important his friends are to him. He also told me that both his parents are teachers. I asked him if he wanted to be a teacher, and he was savvy enough to say, “While I respect teaching a lot, I do not think it is for me.”

(Co-incidentally, Peter and I have just started talking about Singapore as a destination for our winter break. I’ll have to see what these kids know about the city. City-state. Whatever it is.)

Nov 24, 2011

Our first night in Hong Kong

Man, there are a lot of people here

Hong Kong street scene

Hong Kong reminded us a lot of New York in the best way. The population of Hong Kong is 90% Chinese, but still feels very international. The city is very walkable, and the public transportation is extremely user friendly. Oh yeah, and pretty much everyone speaks English. We were able to find foreign food (ie, non-Chinese) we were craving, as well as good beer and wine (non-existent in Luzhou). We found all the comforts of our old home with out having to go back across the world.

Our first night, it was raining, but we were back in a real city and we just had to get out there. We took the tram (which is more than 100 years old) down the busy main street by our hostel and got out and wandered through the districts of Central and Admirality. These were more businessy and sterile than where we were staying in Causeway Bay, which seemed a much younger, hipper, bustling area. So we bussed it back (that’s two modes of transport, if you’re keeping track) and wandered there.

There were shops upon shops and people upon people. Being a series of islands, the city is very vertical. You could find restaurants and shops on the tenth floors of buildings that didn’t look accessible to the public at all. Our first hostel was tucked away on the fourth and fifth floors of an unassuming-looking apartment building. It’s an extreme case of using the limited space you have however you can.

We were tired from travelling all day, so we packed it in and made it an early night. But something sparked: We were pretty sure we were going to like Hong Kong.

Nighttime in the city on our first night in Hong Kong
Our first night in Hong Kong was rainy and fun. Check out the full album.

Nov 24, 2011

The Hong Kong visa run

Fun with paperwork

Living in China entails a lot of paperwork. I don’t write about it often, because it’s kind of boring, but we’ve had at least one major form to fill out/file/correct and refile per week since June. We’ve been pretty meticulous about things, and had the help of our hosts, but every once in a while there are mistakes made that need correcting. One such incident resulted in me writing a letter to the police that I was very sorry in my heart (the language is really like that!) that I misfiled something, and I won’t do it again.

But so the occasion for our trip to Hong Kong was actually to fix something with Peter’s visa - that for whatever reason was not fixable in country (Hong Kong is not a fully integrated part of China). And this is what we did with most of our Friday.

Here’s the thing about visiting the embassy, both here and in New York. Go first thing in the morning, with all the paperwork you think you need already filled out. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do this, but it seems like they don’t. If things go smoothly, then you’re finished for the day, without having to wait on a four-hour line. If things do not go smoothly, then you have time to fix them.

Unfortunately for us, things did not go as smooth as they could have. Our head teacher forgot to give us the forms from Peter’s physical in Chengdu that proved he was healthy enough to work. But, since we got there early, we had plenty of time to fix it. We went back to the hotel and called our boss. She emailed the forms over and we found a print shop where we could print them out. By this time, the embassy was closed for lunch and wouldn’t open again until two. You’d better believe that we were back right at two. But still, the wait for our number to come up was considerably longer than it had been in the morning.

This time: Success! We got our slip which said to come back Monday afternoon.

They told us to come around 3 pm, so we got there around 2:45 pm. There was a huge line waiting just to get into the embassy. Yikes! But, we consulted with the guard at the front; that line was for people dropping off applications. As we were picking up, we could go right in. As on Friday morning, there was no line, and we were out of there in 20 minutes.

And we’re one step closer to being permanent temporary residents of Luzhou.