Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ireland and Scotland

Before I begin this post, I'd like to make it clear that I didn't title this 'Ireland and Scotland' because the two countries are similar. In fact, they felt very different from each other. However, about half the trip was spent in either of those two places, so I've combined them into one post. After all, this title sounded better than 'Not England.'
After flying from Liverpool's John Lennon Airport (whose slogan is 'Above Us Only Skies') to Dublin the night before, Sharman and I spent our first day in August just exploring the city. We saw Trinity College, went on a famous Literary Pub Crawl, and went inside Christ Church Cathedral. Our favorite though was probably the Dublin Castle, which housed the English government in Dublin before Ireland gained independence in 1922. This was a sand sculpture outside of it. We weren't sure if it had any significance to the castle, but it was extraordinarily captivating nonetheless.

On our next day in Dublin, we went to the other side of the River Liffey, which flows through the heart of the city. Here is the General Post Office, which was the setting to one of the biggest rebellions against the British rule in the early 20th century. The statue is of Jim Larkin, a notable trade union leader during the time of the rebellion. Inside there was a small museum, about the history of the site as well as the process of mailing letters and parcels, which was surprisingly interesting. Later on in the day, we went to the Guinness Factory. It's Ireland's most popular tourist destination and I'm glad we went, but overall, my opinion hasn't changed on Guinness. Still gross.

After Sharman posted on Facebook about our trip, an old friend of hers from an English class in Australia contacted Sharman and offered to host us during our stay in Dublin. Lizzie is Malaysian and has lived in Ireland for six years, currently studying information technology. The area she lives in is called Malahide and has a totally different vibe from Dublin City. We had a nice walk through a park where people were playing cricket before heading down and along the rocky beach pictured above. Lizzie was a gracious host and gave us many tips on the rest of our journey. If you ever read this Lizzie, thanks so much!

The next day we joined a tour from Dublin to the west coast of Ireland to see the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Though the place was packed with tour buses and tourists like us, that didn't take away from the majesty of it. To get a scope of the size of these cliffs, take a look at the people towards the upper right corner of this photo. Gargantuan. One of the scariest things was looking across at people who sat right on the edge, posing for a photo while an inch away from falling some 800 feet. Some of the trip's very best photos came from this afternoon. 

After saying goodbye to Lizzie, we headed to a rental car dealership to get the car we'd reserved. Then and now, I feel this was the biggest mistake of the trip. As expensive as it was stressful, I took us across the island on the motorway to Galway, the largest town on the west coast. We would've enjoyed this place a bit more if it wasn't for the anxiety of constantly being lost, not knowing where to park, feeling confused about the upcoming roundabout or being just flat-out frustrated by driving on the left while sitting on the right. The redeeming part of the day was wandering into an old church called St. Nicholas' that hosted something called 'Tunes in the Church.' The two women above performed some absolutely gorgeous traditional Irish music, sung in Gaelic to a fairly small audience without any amplification. These heavenly sounds were just what we needed at the end of a long, long day. 

Despite renting the car for two days, we turned it in in Galway after one and took a bus to our final Irish destination, Killarney. Like Galway, we didn't have enough time here but managed to enjoy our handful of daylight hours in the place. I took this picture during a walk through Killarney National Park, which was so delightfully quiet and non-touristy. Only people walking around, enjoying the natural beauty. On my hometown of Bainbridge Island, seeing deer is commonplace. But after over a week of mostly urban and/or touristy environments, this was a sight for sore eyes. 

After Sharman and I flew north from London and checked in our hotel well outside the city, we still had time for a stroll around in Edinburgh. This picture was taken on the North Bridge, with giant Waverley Station and its transparent roofing below us. Being in Edinburgh during the middle of the Festival Fringe made the place a bit of a madhouse. I read somewhere that during August the population of the city triples. This made for crowded sidewalks, but also, fantastic street performers all over the place.  

We spent the morning of our only full day in Edinburgh touring the famous Edinburgh Castle. Though it seemed like half of Europe was waiting in line at the entrance, the place was plenty large enough to accommodate us all. Cannons, panoramic city views, prison cells, museums, crown jewels, chapels and more, the Castle has it all. In the afternoon, we enjoyed various musical acts along the Royal Mile and even went to see Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in one of the Fringe venues. In the evening, we took a ghost tour through some of Edinburgh's cemeteries and seedy back alleys. Always nice to end the day with stories of gruesome murders and ancient torture devices.

On our last day in Scotland, we went on a tour to the Famous Grouse Whisky Distillery. This wasn't our first choice of tours, but we wanted to do some activity in the Scottish countryside and this one had availability and got back before our flight in the evening. Despite Sharman and I not exactly being whisky connoisseurs, we had a great time. The group of us on the bus was quite small (8-10 people) and we were able to see some stunning countryside on the drive up through the Highlands, much of which was covered in purple heather. The distillery itself was interesting as well, especially the variety of smells, which I wish I could capture for you. Of course, there was no filming inside the distillery anyway, for fear that a flash would wake the sleeping whisky or cause a dangerous chemical reaction.

Our three weeks in Great Britain and Ireland went past in a blur. Like most trips I've been on, all the sights only whetted my appetite to see more. Before long, I hope to go to mainland Europe, particularly Italy, France, Spain and the other places just exploding with cultural heritage and natural beauty. But for now, since I don't know when I'll return to Europe, I'm quite satisfied with the 18 days of non-stop amazement to reflect on. EngScotIre, fare thee well!

Sunday, August 25, 2013


As it’s difficult to sum up three weeks of traveling in a single post, I’m splitting into two: England and Ireland/Scotland. Sharman and I flew in and out of England six times over the course of the trip, mainly visiting three cities during our time there. The old cliché says that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not gonna give 1,000 words per photo but here are a few that I believe really capture our English experience. One per day.

Hard to believe but this was the view as we arrived at London-Heathrow on the plane from Moscow. Talk about a good omen for your travels. We were exhausted after traveling a third of the way across the globe, but got our taxi to from the airport to the nearby B&B without any hiccups. We knew we weren't in Hong Kong anymore when the immigration officer started making small talk with us as he checked our passports.

We arrived in Liverpool in the early afternoon. Still a bit jet lagged, this was an easy day of strolling and napping. I chose this photo for the day as it has some of Liverpool's most famous buildings as well as its most famous export, rock musicians.

Early in the morning, we got in a cab for a Beatles taxi tour. This was one of the true highlights of the trip, and satisfied my yearning to see Liverpool as what it is in my mind, Beatles-ville. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable Beatles fan, but our top-knotch driver Eddie taught us so much about the early lives of the Fab Four. I've never gone on anything I'd call a pilgrimage until this trip. Still get goosebumps thinking about the streets that John, Paul, George and Ringo used to call home.

Finished with our Irish excursion, Sharman and I met my parents in London. The first word I'd use to describe the place was vibrant. Walking from our West End hotel down to Trafalgar Square (pictured) and around the area was overwhelming. So many people, so much architecture, so many shops. You'd think that living in Hong Kong would make me less impressed by urbanity, but this was not the case. London was bustling.

On our first full day sightseeing as a quartet, my parents, Sharman and I managed to see St. Paul's Cathedral, the Shakespeare museum next to the new Globe Theater and the Thames waterfront. It was here that I caught my first glimpse of the Elizabeth Tower aka Big Ben. It's always a special moment to see something you've seen hundreds of photographs of throughout your entire life. Perhaps I'll have a similar experience when I hopefully see the Statue of Liberty some day.  

This photo is taken from the London Eye. I've always loved looking down on big cities from high places (the Peak, Taipei 101, Columbia Center, etc.) and this certainly met my expectations. It was helped by some gorgeous weather as well. On this day, we also managed to go to the Charles Dickens' House and Westminister Abbey, which is twice as old as the USA and Hong Kong put together. Wowzers.

This picture was taken outside the backstage entrance of the Noel Coward Theatre, where we had just watched The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe. These are his nightly starstruck fans, waiting to see Harry Potter step out and sign an autograph or two. We didn't wait long enough to see Daniel afterwards, but the play itself was excellent. It was appropriate to see a very Irish play only a few days after leaving Ireland and the specific region the play was set on. The next day, Sharman and I flew to Edinburgh. See the upcoming post for photos of that.

Stonehenge was another one of those things that I couldn't believe I was actually going to see in real life. The trip to Wiltshire was well worth it, despite the fact that it really is just a bunch of rocks. But they are some very mysterious rocks! We also managed to go to Salisbury Cathedral, the last of many impressive church buildings we saw all along the trip.

For our final night of the trip, the four of us went back to the Globe Theater to see Gabriel, a play that had something to do with English composer Henry Purcell and the development of the trumpet in the 17th century. Though the play itself was a bit disjointed, this was another unforgettable experience, especially the scenery, the atmosphere and the music! What glorious music hath awoken the trumpeter in me! We tried and failed to get tickets to a Shakespeare play the week prior, but in the end, we heard some outstanding Baroque stylings we wouldn't have been able to if we'd gone to see Macbeth. Bravo.

We woke for a final breakfast in the restaurant of our hotel, the Dean Street Townhouse, before Sharman and I headed back to Hong Kong. Even with all the sightseeing, being around my parents and staying in that incredible hotel were among the best aspects of the trip. Obviously, it was hard to say goodbye!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Halfway Done

Yup, my once giant summer holiday is halfway over. I think that ever since being a child, I’ve been programmed to want summer to go on forever and hence feel a tinge of sadness seeing so much of it in the rear view mirror. I love the flexibility and freedom to do so many things I want to do, as opposed to the dreaded responsibilities of work life. Still, stability is good and I’m sure by late August, I’ll be ready to get back into the routine. I do miss the kids for sure.

But between now and then, I’ll be going to Europe for the first time! As I said in the last post, it’s rather silly to write very much about this when I’ll be blogging about it extensively after I’m back. So let it suffice to say that I’m very excited to be exploring Ireland, England and Scotland for the majority of August! And with my girlfriend and parents no less.

In other news, many of you might have seen what I posted on Facebook about my new postgraduate program that I expect to start in the fall. To provide a few more details, it’s essentially a part-time primary (elementary) teaching certification program at the Hong Kong Institute of Education that will get me a diploma by June of 2015. Many of the specifics aren’t crystal clear at this point, but the gist is that I’ll go to lectures a couple nights a week, write some papers and arrange my six weeks of student-teaching at my current job in the spring. This whole thing was fairly last minute however—only applied on June 23rd—and even now, I’m still not even 100% enrolled. Sometime during the Europe trip, I expect to get my registration information and will sign up for classes on my return to HK. And I'll start attending those classes just a week or two later, if all goes according to plan.

I’d been deliberating over post-graduate plans for some time now, as I’ve always known that my Bachelor’s degree wasn’t the end of my student days. Even after this program, I half expect to return to a university one day to get a Masters in something. For this current degree, I’ve gone back and forth in my mind countless times between music, education and music education. And have also deliberated over going back in the US or here in HK. In the end, I chose this because being a teaching assistant at a primary school, I’m in a perfect position to do go after a diploma of this nature. Having full-time income makes the whole thing more financially doable and my current work environment makes it easy to put what I learn into practice without being overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a lead teacher. Let’s just hope I don’t come back and read this a few months down the road stressed and busy out of my mind…

So after four weeks of relaxed days filled with movies, badminton, tutoring and Skyping friends, I’m off to the UK and Ireland for 19 days. After that, busy times ahead as a teaching assistant, library coordinator and part-time student here in Hong Kong. Next post will have real-life Irish and Brits in it, the latter of whom will probably still be all excited about baby George’s first this and first that.

Friday, June 28, 2013

School's Out for Summer

And for the nineteenth year in a row, the school year has ended and my days will be substantially freer until fall. I really don’t like Alice Cooper too much, but I’m glad someone wrote a song about this incredible feeling that one gets as s/he walks out the school doors for the last time of the year. I don’t need to explain it; every person reading this surely knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s absolutely no different when you are a teacher. 

During this upcoming week, the first of my summer holiday, I will celebrate Sharman’s birthday and my own two-year anniversary of living in Hong Kong. To answer the question that American friends ask me frequently, no, I have no plans to return to the US anytime particularly soon, believe it or not. It’s staggering to think how two years ago when I was preparing to come here, I was very careful to make sure that I would be allowed to leave my job after one year if I wanted to. I remember distinctly thinking, ‘Two years is a really long time, and I’m not sure I want to commit to that right away.’ Lo and behold, two years (albeit two jobs) has gone quicker than I could’ve ever imagined! Really. 

This school year has been better than the first, which wasn't too bad in itself. Initially, I was excited about the close location to my apartment, working with older children and no school on Saturdays. Those aspects have indeed been a huge plus, but beyond that, I’ve worked with incredible colleagues and have become much more confident and skilled as a teacher. That being said, my job is only as a teaching assistant and I do less formal teaching than giving individual help around the class. But still, I’ve felt challenged, increasingly well-rounded and more sure of myself as I continue to pursue work in the teaching field. In the upcoming year, depending on how the die rolls, I may begin taking courses in a teacher certification program here in Hong Kong. I won’t say too much on that though, as it’s miles from being official. One thing that is official, however, is my position as ‘library coordinator’ for next year in addition to my TA position. I’ll use my four years of experience in the PLU library to get those Dr. Seuss books in order :) 

But before I return to work in late August, I've got a decent handful of things to do. Mainly, I plan to a) tutor as many children as I can, b) record another EP, c) read a lot more than I have been recently and d) go to Ireland and the UK with Sharman and my parents. Obviously, I’m looking forward to the big trip the most but no need to say too much about that while it’s still a month away. It’ll be strange not getting up at 6:10 every morning to go to work, but I think I’ll be able to cope with that. My only complaint is this brutal Hong Kong heat. Good thing I have air conditioning and a swimming pool!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

50 Photos from Hong Kong

This is my fiftieth blog post. I’m always a bit uncomfortable with the somewhat self-centeredness of posting about my life all the time so I deeply appreciate those of you who actually read this and sometimes even learn something from it. It reaffirms that this isn’t just a long-winded monologue.

Anyway, for the big five-oh, I have decided to a Buzzfeed-esque post with mostly photos, with each one representing something significant about my time here. They are in no particular order, and many of them have already been posted here or on Facebook. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy fifty photos from Hong Kong, taken since post #1 nearly two years ago.

1. One of the very first photos I took in Hong Kong. From the balcony of my Clearwater Bay house.
2. A different view of that same house. Abundant vegetation. 
3. My room for the first eight months in Hong Kong. 
4. Hard at work, teaching one and two year olds how to march.
5. Possibly my favorite picture ever taken of me. Chinese New Year celebration at school.  
6. Informal class photos are better than the professional ones. I'd rather have confused faces than terrified ones!
7. Was hard to say goodbye to all the teachers and students at my first school.
8. First photo of Sharman and I as a couple. On Halloween 2011 in Ocean Park, shortly before a man in a ghoul costume scared the sh*t out of us.

9. One year anniversary on Lamma Island.
10. Parents visit to Hong Kong. 
11. Typhoon warning. Level 8 and strengthening! 
12. Outside the MTR station, the morning after level 10 typhoon Vicente.
13. Sure do love taking ferries.
14. And swimming in the ocean, sometimes even with high school friends. 
15. What can I say, I'm a beach boy.

16. Who also loves hiking to get to these beaches.
17. This is the best one I've found in HK, tucked beneath the rolling green hills of Sai Kung. It's called Long Ke.

18. I go to the beach to escape these crowds, like in Causeway Bay.
19. But climbing small mountains also does the trick. Thanks to trek leader Henry.
20. Che Kung Temple, the closest landmark to my current home in Tai Wai.
21. Tai Wai. There's actually room to stretch out your arms here!
22. A door-knocker that would make Scrooge shiver. The apartment shall be known as THE LION'S DEN.
23. Not quite as exciting as it sounds but, pleasant.
24. The view from atop Amah Rock. My building's in the very middle of this photo, just right of the one covered in green construction tarp.
25. Speaking of nice views of buildings, here's looking down from the Peak on Hong Kong Island.
26. And looking across at night, from Tsim Sha Tsui.
27. My favorite building on the HK side, Bank of China.
28. And on the Kowloon side, the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower
29. I guess the Big Buddha's a building too, as it has two levels and multiple rooms inside
30. I've had a lot of great coworkers.
31. At both schools I've worked for.
32. Glad many could join me for an excellent 24th birthday at Tequila Jack's Mexican restaurant. Possibly my favorite eatery in the city.
33. But I've branched out with food as well. Snake soup anyone?
34. Along with this blog, I've written tons in this journal. Now completely full.

35. My favorite place to sit and write, when the weather is tolerable. In the public park area, one floor down from my room.

36. If it's too hot to write downstairs, I can swim instead.

37. Just after summer's swim season comes autumn's peaceful bike rides.

38. But my favorite way to workout is swinging this racket as hard as I possibly can (sometimes). 
39. Between playing songs for kids and recording an album, my ukulele skills have increased a bit. 
40. As have my singing skills, from "Twinkle, Twinkle" at school to Beethoven's Ninth with the Hong Kong Bach Choir.
41. I guess my countless hours practicing Cantonese have given me some Chinese skills, though I can still hardly understand a word when watching a Hong Kong movie.

42. Or joining in on a Leung family dinner. My smiling and nodding has gotten great though. 
43. Speaking of Sharman's family, the best decoration in my flat is this, painted by her talented father.
44. A Mariners fan, helping out with basketball, makes it into an education magazine. 
45. These are the children I'm trying to prepare for the future. 
                        46. Many things have changed, many stay the same. I find myself at the cinema nearly every weekend.   Sometimes even at 10 am.

47. I also love when old friends come to visit. Here's Luke, one of seven high school classmates to find me here.

48. Public transit in Hong Kong is beyond incredible, and this little card is the key to the magic.
49. But much of my time in Hong Kong has been dreaming about going other places.

50. A few words of wisdom to neatly wrap this all up.