Nov 28, 2011

Hong Kong: Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui

A beautiful day in the neighborhoods

On our third morning, we grabbed breakfast and took the ferry across the harbor.

Real English-style breakfast is available at 18 Grams
Check out our album of photos in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui are two neighborhoods on the island to the north of Hong Kong Island. Whereas on our side of things, the shopping seemed to be more high end (we had Max Azria, Louis Vutton, etc.), in TST, things were a little more casual. I bought months and months worth of leave-in conditioner, and we browsed Tom Lee for an hour.

The streets were wide and crowded, somewhat like Fifth Avenue in midtown. Indian men were hawking fake designer watches every couple of feet, with very few takers.

After shopping, we hit up the Hong Kong Science Museum. I know science museums are usually for kids, but I love them. Tickets for both Peter and I cost HK$60, which is less than US$10. Attractions and public transportation are really cheap here.

Headless Emily at the Hong Kong science museum
Check out more photos of our trip to the Science Museum.

The museum’s special exhibit was on food science. They were sponsored by, or had the cooperation of - or something - McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. It was really weird to see those American brands splashed all over. Especially because the exhibit was put together by a Japanese institution.

Nov 25, 2011

The Singapore project

It’s very hush-hush

Yesterday, our head teacher asked if Peter and I could switch off once a week talking with a group of kids. She was kind of vague on the phone (though she was careful to stress that we’d get paid extra), but I said yes and showed up at her office at the appointed time. This is the way things work around here a lot of times. Her and another teacher whisked me off to a classroom, one of them saying, “We must go to the Singapore project.” That sounds exciting!

Turns out, they want us to help give practice college entrance interviews for a group of students who are applying to university in Singapore. Conversing with the kids while they try out their English is my favorite part of the job, and these kids, as potential ESL study abroad students, are some of the brightest in the school. It’s really cool to hear their stories.

I’m not sure where it comes from, whether it’s the nature of Chinese or how they’re taught English, but they say some really poetic things sometimes. One kid told me, “My teacher asked me to come up with a reason why I am unique, but I regret to say that I am just a common boy.” So we talked about basketball and how important his friends are to him. He also told me that both his parents are teachers. I asked him if he wanted to be a teacher, and he was savvy enough to say, “While I respect teaching a lot, I do not think it is for me.”

(Co-incidentally, Peter and I have just started talking about Singapore as a destination for our winter break. I’ll have to see what these kids know about the city. City-state. Whatever it is.)

Nov 24, 2011

Our first night in Hong Kong

Man, there are a lot of people here

Hong Kong street scene

Hong Kong reminded us a lot of New York in the best way. The population of Hong Kong is 90% Chinese, but still feels very international. The city is very walkable, and the public transportation is extremely user friendly. Oh yeah, and pretty much everyone speaks English. We were able to find foreign food (ie, non-Chinese) we were craving, as well as good beer and wine (non-existent in Luzhou). We found all the comforts of our old home with out having to go back across the world.

Our first night, it was raining, but we were back in a real city and we just had to get out there. We took the tram (which is more than 100 years old) down the busy main street by our hostel and got out and wandered through the districts of Central and Admirality. These were more businessy and sterile than where we were staying in Causeway Bay, which seemed a much younger, hipper, bustling area. So we bussed it back (that’s two modes of transport, if you’re keeping track) and wandered there.

There were shops upon shops and people upon people. Being a series of islands, the city is very vertical. You could find restaurants and shops on the tenth floors of buildings that didn’t look accessible to the public at all. Our first hostel was tucked away on the fourth and fifth floors of an unassuming-looking apartment building. It’s an extreme case of using the limited space you have however you can.

We were tired from travelling all day, so we packed it in and made it an early night. But something sparked: We were pretty sure we were going to like Hong Kong.

Nighttime in the city on our first night in Hong Kong
Our first night in Hong Kong was rainy and fun. Check out the full album.

Nov 24, 2011

The Hong Kong visa run

Fun with paperwork

Living in China entails a lot of paperwork. I don’t write about it often, because it’s kind of boring, but we’ve had at least one major form to fill out/file/correct and refile per week since June. We’ve been pretty meticulous about things, and had the help of our hosts, but every once in a while there are mistakes made that need correcting. One such incident resulted in me writing a letter to the police that I was very sorry in my heart (the language is really like that!) that I misfiled something, and I won’t do it again.

But so the occasion for our trip to Hong Kong was actually to fix something with Peter’s visa - that for whatever reason was not fixable in country (Hong Kong is not a fully integrated part of China). And this is what we did with most of our Friday.

Here’s the thing about visiting the embassy, both here and in New York. Go first thing in the morning, with all the paperwork you think you need already filled out. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do this, but it seems like they don’t. If things go smoothly, then you’re finished for the day, without having to wait on a four-hour line. If things do not go smoothly, then you have time to fix them.

Unfortunately for us, things did not go as smooth as they could have. Our head teacher forgot to give us the forms from Peter’s physical in Chengdu that proved he was healthy enough to work. But, since we got there early, we had plenty of time to fix it. We went back to the hotel and called our boss. She emailed the forms over and we found a print shop where we could print them out. By this time, the embassy was closed for lunch and wouldn’t open again until two. You’d better believe that we were back right at two. But still, the wait for our number to come up was considerably longer than it had been in the morning.

This time: Success! We got our slip which said to come back Monday afternoon.

They told us to come around 3 pm, so we got there around 2:45 pm. There was a huge line waiting just to get into the embassy. Yikes! But, we consulted with the guard at the front; that line was for people dropping off applications. As we were picking up, we could go right in. As on Friday morning, there was no line, and we were out of there in 20 minutes.

And we’re one step closer to being permanent temporary residents of Luzhou.

Nov 22, 2011

Back at home

It’s time for sticks

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

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

Nov 21, 2011


Number of modes of public transport taken in Hong Kong

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

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

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

Nov 20, 2011

A view of the harbor

And of a car park

Look at us, in Hong Kong

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

Nov 20, 2011

Real western breakfast!

And Earl Grey tea


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

Nov 18, 2011

Touching down in HK

A new city

Hong Kong at night

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

Nov 15, 2011

Talking with the students

Formal attire optional

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