Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thankful Thursday*

*Even though it's two months until Turkey Day, I still feel like giving thanks.

I sit and write this on a lazy Thursday evening, which was preceded by a lazy afternoon and morning thanks to a high typhoon warning in Hong Kong. The typhoon is HK’s equivalent to a snow day in Seattle. It happens very rarely and mostly in one season, but when it occurs, it means no school and is a great gift to students and teachers alike. If you haven’t heard of a typhoon, it’s a giant windstorm that’s born in the ocean and gets swept towards tropical countries like Hong Kong. They are very rarely dangerous to us, just exciting. They can be destructive, but this time, it just scattered tree branches and leaves on the ground sometime early this morning.

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write a post about how thankful I am for my circumstances in life. I am fortunate in so many ways that I can’t take for granted. Here are the main reasons:

-Getting to living in a foreign country. In the most general sense, living abroad is an invaluable experience everyone should have. There’s no other way to realize how insignificant your culture is, yet at the same time, treasure it. If you are reading this and haven’t lived abroad before, try to find a way.

-Having a great job. How many 22-year-old American college grads in 2011 can say they have a well-paying, fulltime job doing something they like? It was a risk to take this job without ever doing something like it before, but the risk was worth it, as teaching toddlers has proven a rewarding and fun profession. It’s hard work, but I truly feel that I’m improving people’s lives with what I do. Not to mention, my workmates are people I enjoy seeing every day.

-Having an ideal living situation. For my entire life, I have been comfortable with my housing and my current flat is no exception. From day one, I enjoyed living in Clearwater Bay with a man who has become my good friend in my roommate Ben. Furthermore, it’s a spacious flat with a roof overlooking the beautiful mountains and valleys for a cheap price. Sure it’s a bit out of the way, but all the positives outweigh that detail.

-Being surrounded by Hong Kong’s vibrancy. The people and places in this region are so full of life. Only six months ago, I just knew I wanted to travel but not where. Turns out Hong Kong was about the best place I could have picked, though I’ll have to test that theory out more thoroughly by travelling around in the future ☺

It’s not a perfect life, with some days being much better than others, but if I could’ve seen my current self a year ago, I would have been thrilled beyond belief. So much has gone well for me, it hardly seems fair. I can only end this by thanking the powers that be for the top-notch hand I’ve been dealt.

Friday, September 23, 2011


In an earlier post, I wrote about the huge amount of time this job requires. If you can’t remember the exact number, it’s 49.5 hours every week, including 4.5 on Saturdays. And a solid chunk of that time is spent singing and dancing and walking all over campus. Long story short, this is a very tiring profession and it’s made even more tiring when we’re asked to pick up the slack for absent teachers. Still, just about everyone (including myself) has a very good attitude about it and we all realize that what we do is much more enjoyable than sitting at a desk in a cubicle alone all day.

This Friday, I took my first sick day since starting work here. Or half a sick day, as I came in later in the afternoon, feeling much better. Considering that I’ve been working here since early July, I think that’s a pretty good track record. I’d had a cold for the past few days, but another reason didn’t leave the flat in the morning was that I needed a bit of extra rest like never before. I don’t expect to make this a routine but just one work-free morning did wonders for my attitude and physical well-being. It really sucks that we have to feel guilty about the inconvenience that the other teachers go through in this situation, but sometimes in life, we have to look out for number one.

I can’t blame all of the fatigue on my school. Entering the working world for the first time is definitely a factor as I have far less relaxation hours than I did in college and am still adjusting to that. Oh yeah and also, I’m in a foreign country that’s hot and crowded. Lastly, I have to commute for a total of nearly two hours every day. Fortunately for me, I’m very young and a naturally energetic person. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken this job.

But a 50-hour week is not uncommon is Hong Kong. Most Westerners know about the crazy work ethic of the Chinese people and there is no better place to study that than in Hong Kong. As one of the densest cities on earth, the competition is frighteningly fierce. Why else would parents want their kids to get educated in two languages at six months old?

Even with all the work, it’s hard for me to really complain considering all that’s gone so well for me here in Hong Kong. I have no doubt that I’m living an abundant life, which is often not the case for recent college graduates, sitting on their parents' couch. This is very important to me. I’m undecided if I’ll work at my school for one or two years but at the very least, I’m now trying to savor my free time like never before. Thank you Mom and Dad for getting me a Kindle!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Macau and Miscellaneous

Good afternoon, morning, evening to you all. Nothing truly significant has happened to me in the past two weeks and hence I skipped last week's post. Sorry about that. Anyway, I enjoyed a day off from work last Tuesday for the mid-Autumn festival and went to the former Portugese colony of Macau for the afternoon. Macau is the most densely populated place on earth (545,000 people in 11 square miles says Wikipedia) but my friend Sandy and I managed to navigate through the casinos and cobblestone streets pretty well. I only did a bit a gambling (cheap slots) but did a lot of walking and observing the fascinating combo of Chinese, Portuguese and Las Vegas culture. I hope to go there again one day when I have more time. But for now, I can check it off the list of things to do in the greater Hong Kong area. Here are some photos:

As for the rest of this post, I think I’ll just describe some of the unusual things that have happened to me lately. I mean, why not.

-I played the hero of a Chinese folktale in a skit we put on for the children and their parents this Monday for the mid-Autumn Festival. It was incredibly chaotic being told five different things by the five different Hong Kong teachers that were also in the drama but I had a really good time. Most Chinese people know the story of Sheung Oh but it was new to me, so as the children watched me shoot down the nine suns with my bow and arrow, I was probably as clueless as the kids were, despite being one or two years old. I had a good excuse though, being the only foreigner involved.

-That same day, my key would not fit in the door of my apartment for no apparent reason when I got home. At 1:30 am, I spent about half an hour walking around in the rain between houses of sleeping people I knew until my roommate Ben finally answered his phone and I got in safe and sound. Because it was the night of the holiday, tons of people were still hanging out outside in my usually silent neighborhood. A random Chinese guy offered me beer and to play cards with him and his friends, but I politely declined. I was quite wet and tired.

-I’ve been in contact with the new English teacher at my school. He seems like a good guy and I’m excited to meet him in a couple weeks when he arrives in Hong Kong. And strangely enough, he's from Eugene, Oregon!

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Just like every year since 1994, the beginning of September has meant the beginning of a new school year for me. Now for the first time, I’m a teacher and not a student. My first six weeks working at my school was for what they call “summer term” but now, it’s officially the start of the 2011-12 year.

Much like July, this month is about learning lots of new names. I’d say about a third of my 120 (or so) students are new, but I usually am able to remember everyone after a week or two. The beginning is always the hardest with teaching this age group as most of the kids take a while to become comfortable with a new person in their lives. There are, of course, the exceptions that sit on my lap seconds after I introduce myself. But the vast majority of the children will gravitate towards their mothers when I approach them. Fortunately, this distance goes away fairly quickly.

This week had a bit of a dark cloud over it as one of the teachers at the school was let go in what I felt was an unjust manner. He had done nothing wrong, but wasn’t teaching the way that he was expected to and was let go because things weren't working out. I won’t go into this with too much detail on this public forum, but let’s just say I got my first taste of injustice in the workplace in this, my first real fulltime job.

Overall, my love for teaching the kids and working with my fellow teachers is much greater than my disappointment in some of my superiors. Still, it’s hard to see a friend treated poorly and not be able to do much about it. I am not personally concerned about getting fired as I’ve had no complaints from my boss or kids’ parents so far. I must not take for granted my good fortune in finding a job that was such a great fit for me on the first try. I’m not sure if I’ll continue on here after a year though. It depends on a great deal of things, and I can’t see into the future.

Other than that, there’s not much to report here in Hong Kong. I’m working hard on my Cantonese and have even started watching some Hong Kong films to more familiarize myself with the culture. As I’ve said, the farther I can remove myself from your stereotypical clueless tourist, the happier I’ll be.