Monday, 11 May 2015

Why is the Grout Moving?....and Other Questions in Hong Kong.

Why is the grout moving?

I wondered this as I waited for the toilet tank to fill up so I could flush.  We could not simply leave the water on to the toilet because the valve had broken causing the toilet to simulate an indoor water feature complete with a waterfall and the plumber who was sent to us broke it more instead of fixing it.  When the plumber came to look at the kitchen sink he had this question, "Do you have a screw driver?"  Which lead to me thinking to myself, "Aren't you a plumber?  Why don't you have tools?"  The second time he visited was when he broke our toilet more and told us to fix it ourselves.  The third time he visited he finally fixed the valve.

To answer the original question; it was not in fact the grout that was moving, but a plaster bagworm, a small grey cocoon of a worm that would eventually turn into a moth. Apparently they frequently like a change of scenery so they drag themselves along in their little grout-coloured, flattened-rice-shaped mobile homes. Needless to say I did not feel very hospitable towards them.  I prefer my grout to not wiggle.

Some other questions that I have only ever asked since being in Hong Kong are,

"Why does it feel like 100% humidity?" (It actually is 100% humidity)

"Why do two year-olds have to do an interview to get into kindergarten?" (They have to get into a good kindergarten in order to get into a prestigious primary school, which they need to get into if they want to get into a good secondary school that will hopefully open up a spot for them in the better university that will allow them to obtain a well-paying career so they will be able to pay for the best kindergarten for their future children.)

"Why do I have to write a reference letter for a four year old?" (See above answer)

"Why won't my clothes dry outside on the line?" (See other above answer)

"Is that mould growing on my walls?" (Yes)

"Why is there mould growing on my walls?" (See above answer)

"Why do people walk so dang slow here?" (Everyone has a smartphone or two that they have their eyes glued to, sometimes playing games, sometimes texting, sometimes watching TV.  Also, they are fully clothed in pants and sleeves, sweaters and jackets.  If they move too quickly they will sweat.)

"Why does the a/c  have to be 15 degrees Celsius below the outdoor temperature?" (People are fully clothed in pants and sleeves, sweaters and jackets.)

"Why is this sick kid, who is sneezing and coughing all over me, here?" (See above answer about kindergarten)

"Why did I just high-five a kid who just pulled their finger out of their nose?" (I have no answer, except that I deeply regret my actions)

These along with many other questions have appeared in my mind as I live life in Hong Kong.

This is a baby bird that was chilling beside me at lunchtime.  It's parent swooped at me for getting a little too close.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Update for Nana's Birthday

This post is dedicated to my favourite Nana for her birthday.

A lot has happened since I posted way back in November.

To highlight a few things:

  • I had my second Christmas away from home.  I got to celebrate with my good friend and fellow Monkey Tree-er from the States who is also the oldest sibling of a big family, so she understands the "magic" of Christmas and all the "little kid" traditions like waking up early and tearing open stockings and even leaving out cookies for Santa. 
    I baked Christmas cookies with a good friend
    from church in my itty-bitty toaster oven!

    Christmas in Hong Kong with Emily, complete with
    stockings, tree, and "fireplace"

    Christmas Eve at Ned Kelly's, Asia's oldest jazz bar.
    Photo credit to Rachel. 
    Live jazz band at Ned Kelly's.

    I got my mandatory mall-Santa picture for my mom.
  • I celebrated New Year's Eve on a yacht in Victoria Harbour to watch the spectacular firework show at midnight from the water.

  • At the end of Jauary, I moved from Monkey Tree accommodation in Tai Po into a village house in Pai Tau Village in Sha Tin.  
New huge bedroom!

Breakfast in my new kitchen.

View of monastery on way up to house.  

Living Room.

New kitchen with Laura working hard during her visit.

View from my roof top.

  • The last weekend of January/first weekend of February I went to the Hong Kong Swings Festival, danced for hours and was pushed to the limit with the workshops I got to attend on Sunday afternoon. 

  • Finally, I was promoted to be the head teacher at my language centre!   

Sunday, 9 November 2014

It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing

Mid-September I was presented with the opportunity to go to a swing dancing social complete with a free beginner lesson.  Now, ever since seeing a movie when I was eleven or twelve that featured swing dancing I have harboured a deep-set dream to try and learn how to swing.  I was never able to make time to try it out in Ottawa or Kitchener.  The thought never entered my mind that I might be able to swing dance in Hong Kong.  And yet here I am, slowly feeding my newly kindled passion for swing more and more days from my week.

I went with a friend from work, Emily, to the social at Grappa's, an Italian restaurant, and fumbled my way through the beginner lesson, apologizing to and laughing with all the others who wanted to try out this thing called swing.  After the short beginner lesson the social dancing began.  I awkwardly danced with a couple other beginners.  Then the lead from the pair who taught the class asked me to dance.  I apologized before we even started.  I danced three dances that night with him and that was more than enough to make me run and leap with a blazing passion into the swirling vortex that is swing.  He was and is an excellent lead, and made me feel like I could actually dance.

I was more than hooked. I kept going to the socials.  Mostly the weekly ones on Wednesday night, but sometimes the ones on Monday and Saturday nights too. I met new people and became friends with the lead, Michael, who first introduced me to how much fun swing can really be.
Me and Michael at the Halloween Swing Social

I am currently doing a Beginner Charleston studio course with Emily, and I am looking forward to the Beginner Lindy Hop course that begins right after the Charleston course ends in two weeks. 

Swing has opened up a whole new international community I hardly new existed and I have already begun looking into the swing societies back home in Canada to make sure I will still have a place to feed my voracious hunger for swing. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Desperation in the Market

Hong Kong is famous for its various large street markets that dot the tourist spots and highly populated areas.  In these markets your eyes will be met with a sensory-overload of colours.  The stalls are packed to their brims with anything that can be made cheaply in mainland China that might appeal to the tourists' wants.


"You want?  All colours!"

"You like this?"

The markets are not a place for the faint of heart or those who easily acquiesce to the deceptively charming broken English of the stall-keeper.  These stall-keepers make their living off of the full wallets of naive foreigners.

"How much is this?"

"400, but for you 350!" A winning smile is flashed as quick fingers tap out 350 on the ever-present calculator.  Hands reach to put a pair of unquestionably knock-off sunglasses, brazenly advertised as genuine, into a bag.

Gullible first-time market-goers might think their pasty white complexion and naturally light hair is working for them in getting such a good deal on those "designer" sunglasses.  "Asians love white people, right?"  Aside from that idea being a gross generalization and rather racist, it is also not applicable in this situation.  Market stall-keepers love selling things, and unsuspecting foreigners have lots of money to give them.  

If you ever end up in a Hong Kong street market then I would suggest that on your first time do not buy anything.  Instead, test out your haggling skills and see how the system of the market really works.  One of the best ways to get a lower price without even asking for a lower price is to act uninterested.  As well, do not be afraid to walk away if the price isn't to your liking; I can pretty much guarantee that you will find the exact same thing in another stall a little ways down the street, if not in the very next stall.

My housemate, Yasmine, and I had our very first Hong Kong street market experience in Kowloon at the Temple Street Night Market.  One evening in the first few weeks of being in Hong Kong we made our way on the MTR to Jordan Station, and from there we found our way to Temple Street.  We walked into a tacky-tourist's dreamland.  We wandered through in awe at the sheer amount of kitsch and "designer" and "name-brand" items.  From "TOMS" to "Ray-Bans" and "jade" jewelry to Disney paraphernalia.

I bought a couple of things, trying to steel my courage to bargain against those who dealt with likely bargained with thousands of young, wide-eyed expat women just like the one before them with Elsa-blonde hair and blue eyes.  I got ripped off a couple of times I realize now.  The sticker on one thing said 30, so I asked for 15 and I got shamed and told that the sticker says 30; submissively I shelled out 30 Hong Kong dollars.  If I had just walked away I would have found the exact thing I had just bought in six or seven other stalls.

We left the market tired, but satisfied with our thoroughly touristy experience.

Our second street market experience happened just yesterday.

Yasmine and I were in Ya Ma Tei in Kowloon.  We had just eaten lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and we decided to take a walk down the Ladies' Market, which was on a street that ran perpendicular to the one our restaurant was on.

The customary "designer" bags and accessories filled the stalls, along with the usual souvenirs of chopsticks and key-chains.  I was keeping my eye open for a small handbag with a wrist-strap.  I stopped and looked at a couple of things with Yasmine.  A couple of the stall-keepers tried to persuade us to come back and buy by calling out reduced prices.

Then I stopped to look at a handbag that had caught my eye.  The shop-keeper swooped in with a big grin and began telling me something I wasn't able to understand about the colour and pattern of the handbags.  She took the one I liked down and I looked at it more closely.  I asked her how much it was and she flashed another grin as she told me 390, but special new price for me, 350!  She grabbed her calculator and typed it in and presented the number to me.  I was not going to pay that much for a handbag, even if it were a genuine designer handbag.  I furrowed my brow and shook my head.  She tried to explain the great deal I was getting.  I was not having it.  She then brought the price down to 320.  I decided I didn't really want the handbag enough to bargain her down to a reasonable price.  I shook my head again and thanked her.  Then I turned and took a couple steps away.

I did not get very far.  The stall-keeper had lunged after me, grabbing my forearm.  She then proceeded to drag me back to her stall to talk me into buying it still.  She kept a firm grip on my arm as she explained yet again the amazing deal I was getting and then prompted me to choose a colour.  She had reduced the price even further.  I still wasn't going to pay whatever the reduced price was.  I was shocked and confused at what was happening.  She must have dropped my arm and I made another get-away only to be ensnared by the woman again.  I desperately wanted to be away from that place.  I could not understand or believe that this was happening.  She dragged me back to the stall her grip on my forearm tighter this time, it hurt.  She brought the price down to 100.  I hesitated.  I didn't want the bag anymore.  I just wanted to leave.  I considered just buying the bag so she would let go of me.  Finally, I just kept shaking my head and pulled my arm away.  Then I nearly ran with my housemate to put a few stalls distance in between me and the aggressive stall-keeper.  

We continued down the street and we came to a stall that had some cute dresses.  We started looking at them and of course we were pounced on almost immediately by the stall-keeper.  She told us they were 100 each, but if we got two it would be 90 each.  We continued looking at them as she pulled off the ones that we indicated any kind of preference towards.  We didn't want to pay 90 for the cheap dress, so we continued to hesitate and look.  We had not really decided on which ones we would actually buy, but the stall-keeper had already put two into a bag and said she would give them to us for 80 each.  That was still too high.  I tried to start some better bargaining.  I said, "Forty each."  She gave me a look, clearly not impressed with my offer, but instead of giving a counter offer she tried to shame us and tell us how low she had already come and insisted on 80 each.  We decided that we didn't want the dresses.  We walked away leaving the stall-keeper with the dresses in the bag calling after us.  Little did we know that her older sister was lurking nearby, and she not about to let our wallets get away.  She lunged after us armed with her calculator and started agitatedly speaking to us in very broken English.  At first I thought she was telling us off for what she thought was us agreeing to a price and then walking away.  I blurted out in a flustered tone that we had not said we were going to buy them, and that we didn't want them!  She continued nearly yelling at us asking what we wanted to pay, shoving the calculator at us.  We tried to walk away, but she persisted.  We walked faster and she trailed after us her cries of lower and lower offers shrill in the close space of the market.





The English numerals quickly dissolved into what we could only assume was a stream of Cantonese profanity; our assumption was aided by the expressions of the other stall keepers and shoppers.

We decided we'd had enough.  We left.  We tried to shake off the jarring experience by laughing about it.

Later that day, I told my new friend who is a local of Hong Kong about the experience and even he was shocked.  Normally they are not so aggressive.  He said they must be desperate for business.  They are likely seeing a steep decrease in customers due to the protests that have been happening that area.        

We'll be waiting a little while before we set out for another taste of the bustling tourist trap of street markets.    

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Getting Settled Into My New Home: Hong Kong

After my two nights in the hostel at Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island I packed up my things, dragged my luggage to a bus stop, and made my way to my apartment for the next year.  As the bus made its way out of the city the scenery got more and more beautiful. The further north one goes the more rural it gets. I live in Tai Po, a town in the mid-east part of the New Territories. 
It takes about an hour and a quarter by bus and MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to get to the main island, sometimes longer depending on the traffic.  After I hopped off the bus and got myself oriented I lugged my baggage to the apartment block I would be staying in.  There I met Yasmine, my new unbelievably cool, incredibly stylish, remarkably intelligent housemate from London with a British accent made for producing audio books.  She was waiting outside with her luggage as well.  When the employee from Monkey Tree arrived, we all went in and had our first glimpse of our apartment.  After showing us around Tai Po a bit, the employee left us to wander and get settled. 


Front Door
Dining Room
All my floor space
Our rooms are certainly tiny, but then we don't spend that much time in them.  I think that my is just big enough, and my only complaint is that there are no curtains.  I am hoping to remedy that eventually with something better that my towel.  The living and dining room are a nice size, but the kitchen is definitely disappointing.  Our only counter space is the top of our itty-bitty washing machine, and there is only one outlet for the microwave, washer, kettle, and our newly purchased toaster oven.  However, it is not the smallest kitchen I have cooked in, and I like the challenge it poses.  When Yasmine and I had come back from our wander around Tai Po in the evening we met our other housemate, Gemma from Wales, who had been living here on her own for about a month.

A trip to Ikea has helped to make this place our own.  It is slowly beginning to feel like home.   
Hallway to bedrooms

My bedroom window
View from bedroom
Settling in

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Welcome to Hong Kong

I have now been in Hong Kong for about a day and a half.  It has been quite interesting so far.  I am currently at the YesInn hostel as Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island.  I will be spending one more night here before heading to my new apartment that I will be calling home for a year.

My indirect flight to Hong Kong was long, but surprisingly enough it did not feel as long as the twenty plus hours it was.  I think the fact that for the main flight to Manila we essentially chased the sun, meaning for the vast majority of those hours we were in darkness, helped me trick myself into thinking that it was actually still night and time to sleep.  I was fortunately able to sleep on the plane, mostly they were hour or two naps at a time.  Since the meals were a few hours apart I could only take naps.  And there were plenty of meals!  A little while after leaving Toronto, at around midnight, we were fed dinner.  Then after stopping in Vancouver to pick people up and change our crew, we were fed a second dinner, this would have been around four or five in the morning Ontario time. A few hours later we were given lunch and then a few hours before landing in Manila,
Philippines we were given what was my first breakfast.  On the short flight from Manila to Hong Kong I had my second breakfast.  I certainly did not starve, and the food was rather good for airplane food.  The decent into Manila and later the ascent were spectacular.  It was so neat to fly right down through the clouds.  The pictures above are of the Philippines on after transferring in Manila.   I just thought it was so cool how the clouds seemed to gather like flocks of sheep at the tops of the mountains.  Descending over Hong Kong was an amazing sight, I wish I could have taken pictures, but I didn't want to get in trouble.  The amount of green on this island is startling.  One would think that Hong Kong should have turned into a complete concrete jungle with the amount of people crammed into such a small space; there are about seven and a quarter million people living in 1,104 square kilometres of land.  However, the Hong Kongers obviously seem to greatly value their forests and green spaces, and have instead of wide, sprawling houses and condos, or even stores, everything is built up, up, up.  My hostel shares a nine story building with a bank.  No space is wasted here.   

After landing in Hong Kong  and retrieving my luggage, I sat down to gather my thoughts and put a plan into action.  I decided I wanted to get an Octopus card right away, which is similar to Ottawa's Presto card, it is simply described as a public transportation gift-card that I can refill with money.  Fortunately there was a place in the airport I could get my Octopus card.  After that I headed over to the bus terminal just outside of the airport and waiting for the airport bus that would take me to my hostel.  The bus trip was scenic and quite pleasant.  After finally finding my way in the rain from the bus stop to the hostel I checked in, but couldn't get into my room for another hour since I was a bit early. I stored my luggage in the space the hostel has set aside for that and headed back out to look around a bit.  Was that overwhelming!  My hostel is in the city there can be no mistake of that.  There was a new smell to experience every three steps along with new sounds, topped off with brand new people with a whole new language.  I got back to the hostel and settled into my room.  I showered away over twenty-four hours of travel time and then after meeting some of the other girls in my room, I got up the courage to head back out and find something not too intimidating to eat.  I picked up some cucumbers and kiwis from a little grocery store down the street.

When I got back to the hostel I needed to just sit quietly after the craziness of the city.  So I spent the next little while keeping myself awake until my some of my friends and family were awake to chat with over facebook.  I managed to keep myself awake until about midnight, which certainly helps with the jet-lag.

In the morning, I spent an hour or two getting ready and planning my day and chatting again with my mom.  I wanted to get out, but I didn't like walking around Causeway Bay so I decided to walk over to Central, another section of Hong Kong Island, and visit the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. The walk was about forty-five minutes.  It was pouring rain.  It is monsoon season in Hong Kong right now, so rain is to be expected, but I was sincerely hoping the rain would stop for a little while today, unfortunately it would not be so.  The rain seems to have petered out now, but all afternoon and early evening it was going strong.  I put on my purse and then my rain jacket and set out a little after noon.

The walk was fine and I was quite happy I didn't get lost on my way there.  I ended up going to the Hong Kong Park first, which happened to be on the way to the Gardens. Both the park and the Gardens had completely free admission.  The Park was beautiful.  Since it was raining so much I couldn't take as many pictures as I wanted, but I did risk taking a few.  The park had ponds filled with gold fish and turtles and there was a huge aviary with around six hundred birds in it!  There was also a look out tower where I got some great pictures of the city.

The Gardens were a little bit further and by the time I got there I was quite wet and had realized the reason I hadn't seen nearly any national people wearing rain jackets, but instead had umbrellas.  That reason of course would be sweat. In Ottawa it get cold when it rains.  Hong Kong doesn't understand this concept and stays warm while it is raining.  By the time I got home I was wet through with rain and sweat. I am on the look out for a good umbrella now. 

The Gardens were basically a little zoo with a few different bird, reptile, and mammal exhibits.  The most famous exhibit was the orangutans because in 2011 twin orangutans were born and are being raised by zookeepers since their mother would not take care of them.  After being tired of the rain in the zoo I decided to go be in the rain in the rest of Central.  I wandered around looking at the buildings and shops, simply trying to take in everything.  Finally I decided to stop and get something to eat at a little Turkish kiosk.  I sat outside to eat, it was a covered area thankfully.  It was a very nice vantage point to do people watching.  A bit later I was joined by a guy who was clearly not Asian.  He asked me if I was American, which he was, and we chatted about what we were doing in Hong Kong and our programs at school. After that I decided to make my way back to the hostel.  It took me a while and a few wrong turns to finally figure out which way I was supposed to be going according to the soggy, gradually disintegrating map I had.  I stopped in at a health food store because I saw brands that I recognized such as Bob's Red Mill.  Understandably so, it was all fairly pricey, but I did buy a bottle of handmade organic soyamilk.  It is unsweetened and it is nothing like the soyamilk in the grocery store.  I finally made my way home.  I could have taken the subway, but I felt I could keep walking so I did.  When I got back to my room it was seven!  I had spent nearly seven hours just wandering around Central Hong Kong.  I hopped right into the shower to rinse away the rain and the sweat.  I would say it was a fairly successful first full day in Hong Kong.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Growing up, many of the relationship books that I read and the youth seminars that I attended used a certain analogies to describe the evils of dating relationships to teenagers.  One of the common ones was this: Picture two construction paper hearts, a pink one for the girl and a blue one for the boy, to symbolize dating we stick the two of them together with glue and let it dry.  Then comes the day that the couple decides to break up.  The two hearts are ripped apart messily.  Looking at the two separated hearts it is clear that there are pieces now missing from each that are stuck to the other.  The well-meaning authors and speakers use this to present the clear message that dating is painful and you will give parts of you away to the other person when you break up, which is obviously undesirable.  Therefore avoid dating.

I would argue that this is a terrible, unrealistic analogy for dating that is not biblically based.  Relationships are what the Gospel is built on.  Relationship within the Trinity, relationship between the Trinity and humanity, and relationship between other humans.  We cannot escape being in relationships.  Dating is another kind of relationship.  What if instead of teaching people that dating is bad and "giving pieces of yourself away" is wrong, we teach them the picture of the perfect relationship within the Trinity and the relationship of God with humans.  It is God's goal to leave us changed after entering into relationship with God, Christ's identity takes up residence in our hearts.  It is our goal as followers of Christ to convey that identity and influence to others.  In a sense we want to leave pieces of ourselves, and in another sense there is no way to be in any relationship without leaving behind pieces of ourselves and taking away pieces of the other person.  That is what relationship is.  We influence and evoke change in each other. 

Dating is just another form of that.  This is not to say that dating is not painful at times, and can be unhealthy.  Is there any human relationship that is not painful at some point or has the potential for being unhealthy?  

Therefore I propose a different analogy for dating relationships.  It is this: Each person has pieces of fabric, these pieces of fabric never run out for they represent the life experiences and characteristics of the person.  When two people meet the begin an acquaintanceship or a friendship and they show each other their pieces of fabric.  At some point they decide that their pieces of fabric would work really well together and they begin to sew them together into a quilt.  This represents the dating relationship or even a deepen mutual friendship.  As they continue to share experiences and sew their fabric together they continue to acquire new pieces of cloth that they add to their quilt.  As their quilt gets bigger it becomes more possible for them to help other people in a way that they were not able to when they were separate from each other.  Then there comes a time when they simply feel that they need to go separate ways and they begin the process of breaking up.  The stitches are picked and pulled out and the fabric is gathered; some of the pieces that originally belonged to one person end up in the collection of the other and vise versa.  Those are the lessons learned from each other.  Some quilts are harder to take apart than others.  But that is okay.  It was still a beautiful thing and it still was an excellent experience.  Now the two people with their pieces of fabric can meet other people and begin new quilts until they find the persons that they will continue to make a quilt with for the rest of their lives.

Relationships take a lot more skill and patience than slapping together two pieces of construction paper with glue.  This analogy does not eliminate the potential for getting hurt in the process.  There is a great possibility for pieces to be torn and mistakes to be made.  But we are not people with hearts that have a limited amount of love, or a legalistic limit on the amount and types of relationship we can build.  We are not glasses of water that have been spit in when we have been intimate to some degree with another person.  We are not pieces of gum that once chewed can never be desirable to another person.  We are not chocolate bars that get passed around and nibbled on.  We are not apples bitten and left out on the counter to brown.

We are human beings.  We are complex.  Do not reduce us to a cheap object lesson.  Some of us have different more difficult experiences in life and some times those pieces of fabric will be more difficult and painful to work into a quilt.  Our worth does not lie in how few people we've dated or who we have not kissed, or our virginity, our worth is in our being created in the image of God.  Our salvation does not lie in our "purity" or whether we've waited.  Stop preaching this like it is the "gospel".  This is not the true Gospel.  Christ came not to tell us to be careful about who we date, but to live out among us the ultimate relationship.

I am not a construction paper heart missing parts.  I am a human, a child of God, with a collection of personality characteristics and life experiences, which I am willing to share with others.