Hello Uncle Foreigner

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.

Nov 22, 2011

Back at home

It’s time for sticks

After waking up way too early (4:30 am) to catch our flight, we’re back in Luzhou. Signs that we’re back:

  • The smell of the Old Cellar distillery; It’s stinkier and stronger than ever.
  • All the kids greet us enthusiastically in English. We’re special again!
  • No one besides our students speak English. It’s amazing how quickly we forgot in Hong Kong that most Chinese do not speak our language.
  • On the menu for dinner tonight: Things on sticks!

Nov 21, 2011

Six

Number of modes of public transport taken in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a really easy city to get around. And there are many ways to do it. On our short trip, we took:

  • Metro
  • Bus
  • Tram
  • Cable car
  • Light rail
  • Ferry boat

The only thing we missed was the light bus. We’ll have to go back …

Nov 20, 2011

A view of the harbor

And of a car park

Look at us, in Hong Kong

Hello! Hong Kong is beautiful! Behind us is the harbor and Hong Kong Island. And a car park.

Nov 20, 2011

Real western breakfast!

And Earl Grey tea

Breakfast

We’re having too much fun for blogging, but I promise a whole series of posts on our Hong Kong weekend. In the meantime, here’s the English breakfast we had this morning. Butter! Tea with milk! Baked beans! Salad!

Nov 18, 2011

Touching down in HK

A new city

Hong Kong at night

We’re in Hong Kong! It’s been a super hectic day and a half, but fun and awesome too. I’ll have more to say when I’m a little more rested.

Nov 15, 2011

Talking with the students

Formal attire optional

“May I have a word?” — One of my students asked me this very seriously after a class this morning. We then proceeded to talk about which pop stars I like. Beyonce and Lady Gaga are particular favorites here.

Nov 14, 2011

Our debut performance

Hello Luzhou!

First of all, today started out with a meeting with our boss, wherein she told us we’re doing great, everyone loves us, the teachers want tips, the students are learning and the principals want us to stay forever. Nice!

From then, the day was pretty hectic. The school talent show was this afternoon, and we were performing with one of my classes - Peter on guitar, me on bass. But we also each had other classes to teach. We grabbed a final practice at home during lunch (lunchtime here is a 2.5-hour break) and then got dressed for showtime: we wore white button-downs with red ties and black pants/skirt. But, before showtime, we had more classes. My juniors were utterly impressed with my gussied-up look; when I entered the classroom, I was greeted with cries of “Oh, beautiful!”

I had a break before the performance, so I ran over to the gym where the show was going to take place (I had some student roadies to carry the gear) and did a perfunctory sound-check while the class did the same. Peter had one more class.

The timeline went like this: 3:30 pm, sound-check; 4:00 pm, Peter’s last class is over and students start filing into the gym; 4:20 pm, Peter arrives in the gym, everyone backstage is relieved, I brief him on the way the sound is set up; 4:30 pm, SHOWTIME! The kids recite a poem and sing the school song before we join them on stage. We walk out to rapturous applause - this is actually my first live rock performance, so it’s a nice greeting. The actual performance was fun - there were a few glitches, but it was a kids’ talent show, not the Hollywood Bowl. There’s another big concert for Spring Festival (which sounds like it happens around Chinese New Year), and there’s already talk of an encore performance!

(There were plenty of teachers taking pictures, so we’re hoping to get our hands on some soon.)