Tuesday, July 15, 2014

And the Living Is Easy...

^DuBose Heyward/George Gershwin^

For the second year in a row, my July, or at least the first half of it, has been fairly uneventful. In some ways, this is great. You may call it well-deserved relaxation after working hard for the past ten months. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling restless when I’m not busy doing something. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to go back to work ASAP. But I wish I had the will power to take these few weeks and churn out a masterpiece of some kind. Maybe a sculpture made of cheese? But not to worry, in two days, I’ll be off for a two-week holiday in Japan. Then I certainly won’t be short on things to do.

Much like last July, this month has been peppered with private English lessons, mostly for really young children who I met at the kindergarten I left two years ago. Also like last July, and pretty much every month for the last year and a half, there’s been plenty of badminton. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve actually booked a public court several times and met some people for games. This is the nature of Hong Kong; you can never just go to a park for a casual sports game. You need to book in advance! The only games I can get are in the afternoon during office hours, so I’ve been booking those time slots now that I’m free enough to do so.

Sharman and I have been in our new flat for two weeks now, and that has taken a bit of time as well. While she’s been working (sucka!) I’ve been home to schedule internet installation, build two DIY wardrobes, de-clutter the office/spare room where I write this now and sort out a quirky electrical problem. Now that everything has more or less been sorted, we’re quite happy and comfortable in our apartment here in Hung Hom.

Lastly, as part of my attempt to be more creative, I’m going to posting weekly on my resurrected 'Page 43' blog. There may be anything from a video to a photo to a poem to a drawing to a song to a short story, who knows! Stay tuned.

Here are some photos of Big Pink. Inspired by this.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

End of an Era

It's been a unique week of transitions. I could easily write for hours about the bittersweetness of it all, but I won't, as I'm in an empty flat, and if I don't get out of here soon, I may go bonkers. In a few short days, I'll be able to relax in my new place and write to my heart's content. Something I'm very much looking forward to.

So, to sum up the reasons why this week has been so crazy...

School play

This last month, I was sort of the director by default of the school end-of-year performance, as my coworkers knew I had a little background in drama and the part-time music teacher was not available to rehearse on a daily basis. In the end, this last Tuesday, the cute fairy tale mish-mash we did came together quite well. I was so proud of the kids and really felt like we'd achieved something quite entertaining. And the cherry on top was a giant gift basket of nacho ingredients as a token of my coworkers' appreciation for my services. A few of the teaching staff said, "We figured it was better for you than a bouquet." They were absolutely right about this Mexican food fiend.

Last day of school

After two years, I ended my job as a primary school teaching assistant. It was my second ever full-time job and the longest yet. As one might expect, I'll desperately miss the kids I worked with for two years as well as my coworkers. Especially the three that are leaving from Hong Kong (all the best David, Katie and Rachael!). After school broke up, my closest coworker friends and I celebrated until late at night, savoring every last minute as part of the same school family. Though I'm clearly bummed that something good has ended, I am confident that my next job is a step up. After two years as an assistant, I now have a teaching post, which is how I hoped it would turn out all along. 

My two years at the primary school were always kind of like an apprenticeship, and despite the ugly bits with management and various aspects of school policy I disliked, I know I'll look back on this job fondly in the future.


I moved into my current Tai Wai flat in March of 2012 and am about 24 hours from officially moving out. The majority of my stuff is already in the new place in Hung Hom, which Sharman and I found two weeks ago. Similarly to the job stuff, I'm sad to go for nostalgia's sake but thrilled for the future. So many things about the new flat are improved from the old one. Overall decor, location in HK, apartment size and living with Sharman, to mention a few. As I said at the start of this, once I'm settled, I'll divulge more details about my new home.

There's my end of June. Farewell to this, farewell to that and onwards. I've almost forgotten that I have the next five weeks off from work! Bliss.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Moving in Hong Kong

As I mentioned a couple months ago, soon I will be moving from the Tai Wai area, my home of 2.5 years. This has to do with changing jobs as well as moving in with Sharman! It's all very exciting, but the endless amount of important factors in making this choice can get a bit overwhelming. You'd think that moving from one high-rise apartment to another in the same city wouldn't be a huge deal, but it is. I like to think of writing as a way to help organize a muddled brain, so here it goes. Humor me.

Convenience of Location: With my new job on Hong Kong Island and Sharman's in Kowloon Tong, obviously it is ideal for us to reside somewhere in the middle. The distance between the two schools is about six miles, which may seem laughably small, but in Hong Kong, that's a lot. Especially considering that over two million people live in the 18-square mile peninsula that is Kowloon. We've been looking at places that lie along bus/train routes to our respective jobs. And it wouldn't hurt to be able to travel to my university in a direct fashion either. 

Cost: But with convenience comes extra cost, of course. Here's a handy link I found about living costs in Hong Kong. Scroll down to the bottom and you'll find that an average one bedroom apartment in the city center costs over $2000 USD a month. I find it truly staggering that the rent I paid during my final year of university was less than 20% of that, and my roommates and I were paying one of the highest prices in the area. Sure Washington apples and Mandarin oranges, but still, rental costs in Hong Kong are frighteningly high. When I ask around about certain areas, local friends always say, "Oh that area is quite expensive." I want to say, "Well, duh! Stop being so discouraging." Unless you live off in the boonies where you'd have to commute for hours every day, it's going to be pricey. That being said, I'd love to move to the boonies some day. But for now, I've decided to commit to paying for time saved. My future apartment won't be where that website describes as the city center, but close to it.

Comfort of Location: One of the hardest things about leaving Tai Wai, is knowing that I probably won't have the same sort of quiet, natural vibe that I have here. Sure I live in a 25-story cement high rise, but I can still see lots of trees from my window and even hear birds chirping if I wake up at the right time. And to go with that, walking along the Shing Mun River, man-made as it is, is a relaxing, beautiful thing to do on a weekend, with all the mountains and local parks in full display. On the Kowloon side, there are parks and nature but it's limited. There, the priority is on housing an huge amount of people, and keeping them fed and clothed. One of Hong Kong's saving graces is that you're never far from a country trail or a mountain top, but still, my new locale will likely be much more...concrete in style. At the same time, that may mean more interesting cultural discoveries. Shops, music, restaurants, etc. We'll see how those pros and cons balance out.

The Apartment Itself: There are many old, old places in Hong Kong and people who look for a bargain by renting out these flats that look like they have hardly been touched since World War II. We're all about saving money, but there's a fine line between a bit older and decrepit. Today, Sharman and I are going to look at some places as there's only so much you can learn from photos on the internet. We don't want to pay a deposit only to find out that the air conditioner is broken and can't be fixed for a week.

Again, I'm quite excited about moving but one must carefully navigate the labyrinth of it all. In a month, I expect to be settling in to a new place, and though the physical distance from my current home may be short, the personality of the area will be quite different. Hoping for the best!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Penang and Langkawi

During my recent trip to Malaysia, I was thinking about how to go about writing this post. I wondered how I might keep the content fresh and interesting after so many travel blog posts over the last few years. I mean, seriously, unless you’re someone like Bill Bryson, it’s hard to make these little word doodles intriguing time and time again. Then I thought about something much more relevant—I am so damn lucky to have this as a challenge in my life. Honestly, this is more than just a #FirstWorldProblem; this is the thinking of an ultra-privileged individual, who’s probably been on more vacations in the last three years than 99% of the people I see on my journeys. Lucky is an understatement. Oh and another thing I’ve been ludicrously complaining about recently. This summer, I need to go to the US Embassy to get more blank pages stuck in my passport. There are only two left and I’ll need a new work visa soon. Woe is me!

Before getting into my adventures around Penang and Langkawi, let me just digress a bit more and list off all the travelling I’ve done since I came to HK in July of 2011. And I won’t include the handful of trips to Guangzhou and Macau as those cities are too close to really call “travel destinations” OR my annual Christmas trip stateside, which is the longest journey of all. I’m talking about truly new sights for these fortunate eyes.

Taipei, Taiwan, August 2011
Palawan, Philippines, January 2012
Bangkok, Thailand April 2012
Sabah, Malaysia, August 2012
Guilin, China, August 2012
Hua Hin, Thailand, February 2013
Northern Vietnam and Yunnan, China, March/April 2013
England, Ireland and Scotland, July/August 2013
Bali, Indonesia, February 2014
Northwest Malaysia, April 2014

That’s ten trips in less than three years. One of the main reasons I came to Hong Kong was to explore new territory and I’ve been able to do that with gusto. Not to mention two more trips planned before next school year. So, um, lucky stars? Thanks. Sincerely, scrawny 25-year-old from Bainbridge Island, USA.

Anyway, brief summary of the trip, Sharman and I went to two islands just off the northwestern coast of Malaysia. The first was Penang, second was Langkawi. Very different from each other, but each charming in their own way. We stayed for about three days on each island.

Without further ado, here are the (monster truck voice) TOP FIVE TOTALLY AMAAAAAAY-ZZZZZING EXPERIENCES OF THE HOLIDAY, IN HELLA CHRONOLOGICAL ORDERRRRRRRR  (wailing guitar solo)

1. The view from Kek Lok Si Temple

On our first full day in George Town, we weren’t sure what to do so we just wandered around the city, trying to follow one of my guidebook’s unclear itineraries. Once we reached this old Chinese-style mansion turned museum, which was closed, there was a taxi driver named Hardie who asked us if we’d like a tour around the area. Normally I automatically say no to strangers who ask for tourist business like this, but after talking with the good-natured Hardie a bit, and considering the fact that we’d just wandered around for ages to find a museum that was closed, we took him up on the offer. Hardie told us that Kek Lok Si was the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia and once we arrived, we could see its magnitude. (Side note: one may not expect the largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia to be in a small, Muslim country but that’s just another part of Malaysia’s fascinating diversity). The place wasn’t just one temple; it was a whole system of connected temples. One might say it was like an entire mountain of Buddhism, with gift shops in abundance to keep the ringgits rolling in. The highlight of our walk about the place was the tip top of the main temple, which is a unique blend of Burmese, Thai and Chinese architectural styles. From the top, we could see all of Eastern Penang, including George Town and the coast. These were probably my favorite photos from the trip, as the sky, ocean, Penang skyline and color of the smaller temples just beneath us really were breathtaking. Even more than the view from higher up Penang Hill, which felt too crowded and touristy, uncannily reminiscent of Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak, tram and all. The convenience took away from the site’s majesty I thought. At the top of Kek Lok Si, it was only Sharman and me. Thanks for climbing up all those stairs with me, darling!

2. George Town bike ride

For our second day in George Town we booked a bike riding tour around the oldest section of the city. This area is designated as a UNESCO heritage site and it biking turned out to be an excellent way to see it all up close while moving along quick enough to see the key places. The group of eight of us rode were able to see the old Chinese family jetties, Little India, an old Hindu shrine, the temple of a Chinese secret society, the central Mosque and remnants of British colonial buildings from when the Brits used Penang as their trading port in Southeast Asia. The variety of culture and history was extraordinary and one of the reasons we came to George Town to begin with. And along with the sites, we gorged on delicious food and were led by the entertaining and knowledgeable Ken, who blared music from his bike in the front to keep us all on course. We began our ride with the international anthem, "Gangnam Style." It started out as mildly embarrassing, but eventually we came to embrace his eccentricity.

3. Parasailing

Last time I came to Malaysia (see Sabah post linked above) I tried scuba diving for the first time. This trip, I tried parasailing for the first time. Yes, one activity took most of a day and the other lasted a few minutes, but still, the country has enabled me to be both a bird and fish and for that I’m grateful. Unlike the scuba excursion, I had no idea that I was going to go parasailing beforehand. After checking in to our Langkawi hotel, Sharman and I naturally made our way to the nearest beach, Pantai Tengah, as it was still only afternoon. Before we even arrived at the beach, we saw parachutes floating ahead of us, well above the seductive turquoise water. Once we got there, a handful of Malaysian beach boys asked us if we wanted to try. When I saw how easy it was to sign up and go, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist. After a quick swim, I returned to the posse of Malay para-hawkers (yes pun intended) and got strapped in for the flight. As I said, it was only for a few minutes, but what a feeling. Did I mention the weather was perfect, not a cloud in sight? Wish I could’ve brought my camera to capture the view of Langkawi from above, but obviously, the odds were high I would drop the camera into the ocean and I didn’t want to take that risk. When I came back to earth, I could not stop smiling. People use that as a cliché, but I mean it. My mouth was stuck. It was weird. Blissfully weird.

4. Kayak trip through the mangroves

Our second day in Langkawi, we went on a kayak tour after reading excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, possibly my favorite website, after baseballreference.com of course. After starting out at the base of the Langkawi Geopark, we got into our kayak, and started following stellar tour-guide Mandy down the Kilim River. Sharman and I shared a boat, and our group included two English couples and a family of five from France. In addition to getting quite a workout during the long kayak voyage, we saw beautiful karst formations, an otter, eagles, mudskippers, multicolored crabs and of course, mangrove trees with their complex root systems. After that, we walked through a bat cave and saw a number of different fish at the fish farm/aquarium, most notably a number of large stingrays. And by large, I mean their barbs must have been at least two feet long. They gently snuggled right up to Mandy when she stuck her hand in the water with some fishy snacks. Thankfully, no barbs were unhinged. At the end, my back was sore and my knees were a shocking shade of crimson thanks to the relentless sun, but it was well worth it.

5. Sharman's chips being stolen by a monkey

Okay, so this isn't exactly a highlight in the usual sense, but it was memorable and I wanted to recount it here. On our last full day, we went on an island hopping speedboat trip around Langkawi. It was cheap and therefore all the stops, though beautiful, were filled with tourists on similar trips with similar companies. There wasn't much to do other than walking around and swimming. Towards the end, we got to sit out on the beach of a little island called (something). After a brief swim, Sharman and I came back to our stuff and out of nowhere, this macaque appears and decides to open up Sharman's bag, where he discovers her small bag of chips. He got there a second before I did, and I saw the culprit snacking, I felt a mix of amusement, confusion and awe, with more than a bit of fear as well. I may have grown up in a rural area, but that doesn't make me particularly comfortable being within spitting distance of a wild, mangy mammal. I grabbed the rest of our stuff away but let him have the chips, and watched the monkey nonchalantly chow down. He then finished the chips, tossed the bag (a thief AND a litterbug) and made his way down the beach. Moments later, he started rummaging through a bag just inches away from a sunbathing bald western man, who realized a few seconds later and snatched his bag back just in time. That monkey was ruthless!

Thanks for reading this outrageously long post. Here are some photos from the holiday.

Penang from Kek Lok Si
Thirsty after that spicy soup!
I think it was dead, but didn't touch it to find out
Much better than the Bruce Lee statue in HK
George Town sunset
Clock Tower, from Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee
Turns out the USA isn't the only place that uses an eagle as its symbol
Pantai Tengah
Not me, but someone parasailing around the same area I did. It's an umbrella, it's a plane, it's Super Tourist!

Mangrove forest, basically kayaking through mud at this point
Eagle feeding
Rogue monkey

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Forward

I've been writing an essay for my university class all afternoon and here I am, taking a "break" by writing here. Strange, I know, but I didn't want to end my streak of posting here at least once a month since I started this blog nearly three years ago.

Anyway, I'm here to write about my optimism for the upcoming season. Baseball season you ask? Well, yeah, but I meant, like, spring. Rebirth, Easter, etc.

First off, I'll be traveling twice over the next three months. Once to Penang and Langkawi, Malaysia in late-April and then just a week later, down to Bangkok with some coworker friends for a bachelor party, or as my British friends call it, a stag do. One trip to a country under heavy scrutiny because of a mysterious airplane disappearance, the other trip potentially involving outrageous drunken behavior. Don't worry though, I will do my best to stay safe! Hard to believe this will mark my EIGTH trip to Southeast Asia in two and a half years' time. What can I say? I came to Hong Kong to travel and I've done just that. 

Second of all, my university work is finally winding down for the year. I passed my student teaching practice last week and now, I only have one major project left, due in early May. It's been an up and down term, but I definitely have a better knowledge of teaching than I did seven months ago. That's the main objective, so I guess despite all the moaning and groaning, I'm on track to get what I signed up for. Almost halfway done!

Lastly, and most significantly, these will be my last three months working at my current school. I've been offered a job at another primary school as a co-teacher, and though nothing's official yet, I expect to sign the contract shortly. I think the hardest part will be saying goodbye to the kids, as well as the staff and the life I've gotten used to while working there. Of course, there are other reasons that make me more excited about leaving, but overall, it's not a good or bad thing. It's a change and changes are necessary.

And with a change of jobs comes a change of apartments. After two and half years, I'll be saying goodbye to The Lion's Den at the end of June. Not sure exactly where I'll move to yet, but the new school is a bit far from Tai Wai, so I'm looking to find something closer to the campus. Again, a big change of scenery and hopefully one with new opportunities and discoveries. 

So, the big changes I expected in 2014 are approaching. Thus far, the two jobs I've worked in Hong Kong have driven me crazy at times but overall, were fantastic decisions. Both for the people I met and the experience I gained. I sincerely hope this will be the same way. 

Lastly, go go Mariners!

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Before going to Bali, I heard lots of conflicting things from friends who had been there. Some said it was a kind of tropical paradise, the jewel of Indonesia. Others said it was a tourist trap, filled with party beaches and scammers. Well, during our five days there, Sharman and I felt it was closer to the former. I wanted to stay much longer and could’ve easily filled a few weeks with different explorations. Alas, we tried to make the most of our short five days there. This was, at almost 25 years old, my first time in the southern hemisphere. I can’t wait to return! But to where? Australia? New Zealand? Hmmm...

Our hotel was in Ubud, towards the center of the island. We stayed there, as it seemed to be an interesting, artsy place, and not filled with drunk beach bums. About five hours after we arrived, I went out to a sports bar called the Melting Pot, about a 15-minute taxi ride away from the hotel. The reason I went was (drumroll please) to watch Super Bowl XLXIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. As this was a major priority, I’d contacted the owner a week before to make sure that I could watch the game there at 7:30 am.

The Seahawks won; it was glorious. I even met a few Seahawks fans in the place, though I spent most of the time sitting on my own, eating pancakes, shaking my head in wonder at the lopsided victory.

Due to lack of sleep and Seahawks euphoria, I was fairly dazed on the first day, though Sharman and I did get to go to a Fire Dance performance. The performance consisted of 100 men chanting and singing, while elaborately costumed actors performed/danced a famous Balinese legend around a spire of fire. Then at the end, another performer danced on hot ash, kicking the embers about while riding a straw horse. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, or probably ever will see.

Ubud jungle houses
Temple in Ubud
Fire Dance
The next day, we went out and around Bali with Nyoman, a taxi driver/tour guide who I’d met after the Super Bowl. He seemed to share my desire to avoid throngs of tourists so we asked him to take us to some places he recommended. After driving through some magnificent rice fields, we stopped at Tulamen, where I was able to go scuba diving through an old shipwreck. I hadn’t originally planned on diving on this trip, but then again, I hadn’t realized that there was a shipwreck I could explore. Though I had a bit of issues with the goggles leaking while underwater, it was quite cool to see. After that, we stopped by the staggeringly beautiful Water Palace. We ended that day at a beach called White Sand Beach, where we had dinner and a swim. Or should I say, I had a swim while Sharman got a massage. And best of all, we just about had the entire beach to ourselves.

Scuba time
Dragonfly, stay!
Water Palace
White Sand Beach
We enjoyed that day so much that we asked Nyoman to take us out again the next day. After stopping by another interesting Hindu lakeside temple called Ulun Danu, we headed to a nearby waterfall called Munduk. Though I didn’t expect much, this was a major highlight for me. Very seldom have I so strongly felt the power of nature as I did here, with literally tons of water splashing down just a couple yards from me.  

After that we ate lunch with a glorious view of Mount Watukaru and the Jatiluwih rice terraces. Walking through the green rice fields reminded me a lot of my trip to Yuanyang, China ten months ago, just with more English speakers around. Last we headed out to Uluwatu to see the cliffside temple. Unfortunately, though we were there for the sunset, it was too foggy to really see much. Oh well—can’t always get it perfect.

Ulun Danu
Waterfall plus scrawny boy
The fourth day, we slept in a bit and spent the day entirely in Ubud. As Ubud is the art capital of the island, we went to the main art museum there, which was outstanding. Not just because of the collection, but because of the lush, jungle setting. After a delicious Mexican lunch (sorry I’m so predictable) and a massage, we headed to another evening show, this time a dance involving a number of mythical creatures and elaborate costumes. The reason I booked tickets, however, was because of the gamelan troupe accompanying it all. What a mysterious, interesting instrument.

ARMA museum
Ancient Muppet
For the final day, we took part in a Balinese cooking course. Much like our similar course in Thailand, this was a fun way to learn about the culture, while meeting friendly fellow tourists and enjoying delicious food. Before leaving, I purchased one souvenir, a painting of some fields near the volcano Mount Agung. I’m not really an art collector but I couldn’t pass up this chance, particularly as the shopkeeper was so friendly and came from a family of artists. This painting was apparently painted by the shopkeeper's uncle.
Cooking course
Painting of Mount Agung

I’ve now been to Southeast Asia six times and Bali may possibly be my favorite place there yet. The culture, the natural beauty, the atmosphere, it all just added up to a good vibe. Now, I need to buckle down and survive the next nine weeks of student teaching, exams, projects, planning and more until I head down to Malaysia in April.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

This post has little to do with Chinese New Year but as today is the day, ‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’ (the Cantonese holiday greeting, roughly meaning 'I wish you good fortune') seemed like an appropriate title.

I’ve written at least one blog post every month since I moved here in July 2011 and I ALMOST blew it this month. Thankfully, today, the 31st, is a public holiday and I have some free time to churn out post number 58.

So let’s see, when I last wrote in here around Christmas, I had just arrived home on Bainbridge Island after traversing the Pacific for the third straight December. I had a relaxing two weeks there and was quite upset when I arrived back in Hong Kong. I think it was a combination of loneliness (about 20 hours of travelling alone just after New Years), missing my friends and family, sleep deprivation and knowing that I shortly would return to work. However, it didn’t take long until I settled back into things and overall, it's been a solid January.

-First off, for various reasons, I’ve enjoyed my job a lot more this month than before the holidays. I think a lot of it has to do with gearing up for my student teaching next month. My coworkers David and Katie have given me a great deal of help and advice and I feel that I’m developing skills that I haven’t been able to develop previously as a teaching assistant. For example, I’ve spent lots of time lesson planning, carefully studying a piece of children’s literature, improving my time management, thinking creatively about the lesson material etc.

-January has also seen me dive back into Cantonese with a vengeance. I’ve learned two new words a day for the past three weeks. And that’s after several months without hardly studying it at all. Tonight, I’ll be going to Chinese New Year family gathering at Sharman’s aunt’s house and will have plenty of chances to make a fool of myself by trying new words.

 -I played two musical gigs this month. One was an open mic performance that I was quite pleased with, another as a restaurant entertainer along with my English friend Chris. We played Beatles, Bob Marley and other old classics for the patrons of a recently opened Western-style restaurant here in my neighborhood of Tai Wai. It was lots of fun to play with Chris and hopefully the first of many shows there. I don’t think I’ve played a show of just covers since high school. And the icing on the cake? We got paid.

-The Seahawks have had a splendid month of January and I’ve been basking in that glory all the way through. Second chance at a Super Bowl title this weekend!

-In my fleeting moments of spare time, I’ve been reading an excellent biography of Jim Henson aptly titled Jim Henson: The Biography. It’s been fascinating and eye opening to me, as someone so interested in creativity, education, humor and art.

-Sharman and I are getting quite excited for our upcoming trips to Bali, Indonesia (February) and Penang, Malaysia (April). We hadn’t gone on a trip together since England/Scotland/Ireland six months ago. For us, the constant travelers, that’s kind of a long time.

-This isn’t exactly a highlight of the month but I’ve decided almost for certain that I’ll be leaving my current job at the end of June. After two years, it’s time for a change of scenery at a new primary school in HK. Of course, I’m not thrilled about all the job application work ahead, but it’s part of being a professional I suppose.

Here are a few photos from the last month or so. From the USA and a trip to Vancouver at the end of December to a couple nice hikes in HK over the past few weekends.