Archive for August, 2012

Living like a Local

Had our first full week of teaching this week and it was knackering, definitely living for the weekend while I’m here. Saying that, the week has been fun and we’ve had drinks or gone out for meals in the evenings. On Wednesday, we went to Mr Wong’s for the All-you-can-eat and drink again for Jayde’s birthday and seen as we’d signed for our flat the day before, we were up for really celebrating. A great surprise was that my Freshers’ Rep from Lancaster, Tom was in Hong Kong with his girlfriend Hannah for a couple of days, so I invited them along and we had a great catch-up. Expertly smuggling about 8 of Wong’s free beers into our bags, we MTR-ed it to Red Bar and had them there. It was a great send off for them before they went back to the UK after 7 weeks of travelling: drinking ice cold beers in front the view of Kowloon lit up at night.

One interesting thing we saw was outside a lot of Hong Kong houses. It’s the time of year for the Ghost Festival’, where it is tradition to have a little red-coloured tribute with incense, candles and a fire, where Buddhists burn fake money. They think that as living descendants they should pay homage to their deceased ancestors as on Ghost Day, the deceased are believed to visit the living. All the gear is sold in bulk at corner shops everywhere. Probably a bit like when the shops in the UK stock up on Halloween stuff and you can buy it everywhere. It’s interesting to see such a festival still occur, as it’s mainly for the older generations and the kids. Here’s some pictures of a few we saw.

Being the responsible English teacher on a weekday night that I am, thinks got messy after some drinks on Wednesday and I lost my crap Hong Kong phone, so was phone-less for a few days until I sorted my Blackberry out. It worked out for the best though as I’m now using the phone I’m used to instead of the out-of-date Samsung Keystone…

The funniest thing that happened this week was going to lunch in a nearby shopping mall to our orientation school, Haking Wong. We went to the same place on two consecutive days and the food was great but when we first arrived, they brought out cups of boiling water. We found it strange they did this but went along and drank them, thinking logically that because of the tap water not being drinkable, they boil it before they serve it. Then there was the awkward moment when we looked around and realised the boiling water was to clean your utensils before you use them…so   we were pretty much drinking cleaning water. Spot the tourists.

On Friday, we properly signed for the flat, paid the deposits, got the keys and met everyone out at Red Bar (now pretty much a universal meeting spot for after work drinks). I’ve found Hong Kong’s version of Lambrini, doing my fellow Lambrini Girl Matt Lancaster proud while away. Pretty much a vase of white wine. Classy bloke.

Hong Kong Culture

Trying to sum up how different the culture is here, is difficult. So here’s a list I’ll be keeping during the year of things which appear interesting.

– Traditional Chinese breakfasts are weird to get used to. As much as a steak and noodles sounds great, for breakfast we’ve mostly stayed on CoCo Pops and Corn Flakes in the Hostel.

– Eating out – Hong Kongers eat out ALL the time! This is great news for a big fan of Chinese food like me. We’ve only been to a couple of restaurants so far but one, Mr Wong’s gave us basically an All You Can Eat and Drink – a complete buffet with bottles of wine and beer on hand. (So much we had to put some plates on the spare stools next to us). This cost $50 which is about £3.50 in total, which is just an unreal amount to spend on a feast like this…

– British-ness – There is so many colonial hangovers that remain. The official languages here are both Cantonese and English so all the signs remain in English, but so too are the plug sockets, street signs, traffic lights, road markings and even the shops. You can walk down one road with so many Chinese shops then round the corner is Marks and Spencer’s or Clarks. Hong Kong Island had more of a remaining British influence, as it was British for longer and there still is a stereotype that Islanders are posher/richer/have higher standards than Kowlooners, although this is never always true.

– Music – the kids we’ve already met really love K-Pop (Korean Pop Music) as well as really random British/American bands – Westlife and Michael Jackson are huge, as are Taylor Swift and One Direction. I’ll have to show some of them who are in to music some REAL music (eg Mr Noel Gallagher). I’ve already sort of started through randomly singing/air guitaring to She Bangs a Drum by the Stone Roses with my mate Adrian when we were on the way home. A slow process of assimilation but I’ll make sure they’re all screaming Slide Awayyyyy by the end of the year.

– Construction work is happening everywhere. Our Deputy Project Director says that ‘Hong Kong will look nice when its finished’ as there’s always something happening. They boast the largest indoor escalator, the 4th largest building in the world (the ICC, shown below) and an awesome cityscape view, especially by night. There’s a mentality geared towards this as they appreciate space is scarce and building has to make efficient use of land, while taller is better.

Our Gaff

During Flat hunting, we’ve been exploring more and more of Hong Kong. Having really nice meals for lunch and dinner in proper nice places but paying about £3.50 each, its insane! On Sunday night, I met Xantha and her mate and we went to the United Services Recreation Club in Jordan, like a club house where I had some really nice BBQ-grilled beef in rice with prawns, before we headed to Red Bar to meet some of the other CNETs again.

From Monday onwards, we had orientation so flat hunting took place after 3:30pm when we left the school. Luckily on Tuesday we found a more than decent flat in the Prince Edward area. 3 equal-sized bedrooms, a long living room with a small kitchen and bathroom. We haggled a lot to get the price down from $12,800 a month (between the 3 of us) to only $11,000, makign sure we included new air conditioning in the agreement, the balcony cleaned up and the bathroom being blitzed so it will be like brand-new. And the estate agent himself said he’d give us his microwave – haggling at its best! We still have a long period now for finding furniture and sorting out internet etc so will take advantage of all the free meals and bus from the hostel for a while longer.

After signing (with a big help from Cantonese-speaking Jackson and Ka-Mun) we grabbed some beers and a taco at Tequila Jacks (costing about $45) then met the other CNETs at Sky Bar, a bar on the 13th floor of a huge shopping mall. A trip to McDonalds (so much tastier here, and cheaper – BigMac Meal for about 2 quid) and some more beers (a 4-pack for just over a quid…) later, it was definitely a great day. And it means I’m now officially a local…

Teaching Orientation

In the first orientation weeks its been easy sometimes to remember why we’re here. On Thursday of our first week we first met some of the students. They volunteered to come to the Campsite for extra English practice, which is a big thing here. It would be much more difficult trying to get kids to come during the summer holidays to a camp and practice their English, especially as most of them have part-time jobs too. But it’s not like that here – any opportunity to develop their skills is like gold-dust.

The kids I met vary in confidence and skill. They were all aged 19 plus yet some of them looked about 14. Half of them were silent and hardly even cracked a smile, while some were full-on enthusiastic, loud and funny. The main difference is between Youth College kids (YCs, mostly for the louder high-school drop outs) and Institute for Vocational Education kids (IVEs, for those not bright enough for university, but learning vocational subjects and so lack more confidence). Saying that, this divide isn’t arbitrary.

I ended up with a group of 5 lads from an IVE learning Mechanical Engineering and to say they were 20-22 years old, they we much like 16/17 year old British kids. Only one had a girlfriend, the others said their parents told them to focus on their studies first, and say they spend their  free time playing PC Games like Civilisation or Warcraft or something. Sport is not a huge past time here, neither is playing an instrument. The lads were funny and loud though – the activities we had included asking questions to each other in groups and for ‘What 2 items would you take to a desert island with you?’ one said that I would probably take ‘beers and ladies’. They also are scared of the consequences of swearing which I thought was weird – someone asked one of them what he thought of Lady Gaga and he replied ‘She’s a B.’, which turned out to be an abbreviation for ‘bitch’. Similarly we found out that they close their fist and point to their middle finger without raising it to insinuate they would swear like that if they could. Much different to swearing standards in the UK schools…

We have 2 intense weeks of orientation now while we also have to balance flat hunting too. The coach is leaving the hostel at 7:30am everyday to get to the college where we’re having training and I had to go pick up my 6 huge binders on last year’s work, so it is a big and complex job, but one which I’m sure we’ll get used to and enjoy. The college I am placed in is with a fellow CNET called Holly, from the USA and it is called Kwun Tong IVE. I’m excited to start learning and getting stuck in to organizing events, workshops, group seminars etc for the kids there in what will definitely be a great and rewarding year.

First Week

This week has been the busiest week ever, now its Saturday and I’ve been here 6 days, I feel like I’ve known the people here 6 months; that’s how intense this week has been! On Tuesday we had a tour of the local town, Kennedy Town and went for Dim Sum which is the best meal to have here, like a big buffet with the food on a rotating tray in the middle of the table. Pretty sure I needed rolling out of the restaurant after the meal I was that full. But we sorted mobile phones out and went to apply for HK ID cards before heading to Carnegies – a bar big on ex-pats and great music (Oasis came on during their ‘Krazyhour’). Me and a guy called Jack were debating how early we can show people what we’re like when we’re drunk as they put up metal bars on the bar for people to dance on the bar. We thought 48 hours of knowing people was a bit soon for them to see us dancing on the bar though…

Wednesday we had to practice a talent show in the morning before getting a bus to North Point on the Island for a residential trip to a campsite there. It used to be a military barracks, opened in 1936 but converted to a campsite in 1988. That night we performed our talent shows (ours was like Blind Date with celebrities and I was the guy acting as James Bond) and had a Hong Kong BBQ, with a fire in the middle of about 10 people and everyone cooking their own food. That was great to experience and hopefully I didn’t under-cook the beef. The reason we were at the campsite was for Thursday, when volunteer students came to the site for extra English practice. After debriefing we were introduced to the kids, who were more than enthusiastic to learn. It’s definitely a big part of the culture here, any opportunity to learn English and they love it. Was great to spend the day with them and their English was good despite being really simple. There’s the difference between Youth College students (like a high school drop out school) and Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) where the kids aren’t smart enough for university but are that age and learn vocational subjects. It was interesting to see the difference between the two types, especially during the Fun Fair that was on with different games where I could tell some of the Primary Students’ English was better that the YC’s English. I got my first Hong Kong McDonalds this night, a Wasabi burger, which weirdly tasted like every McDonalds food because of the sauce. We returned to the hostel we’re staying at, called Mt David Youth Hostel on the west of Hong Kong Island and had quite a few drinks (I ended up in an argument with a guy about Arctic Monkeys albums becoming more and more shitter through the years and he disagreed…)

 

Friday was great, seeing the new Chatteris office in Kwan Tong, which happens to be the area I’m teaching in for the year. We got lunch in a huge shopping mall and went practice flat hunting with Margaret, who works with Chatteris and luckily knows Cantonese which saved us loads of time in the estate agents. The flats are better than I expected, about the standard of living in a house in Lancaster so it was good to get an idea for the real flat hunting. Friday night was the messiest. We ended up going to Mr Wong’s restaurant, a guy who loves foreigners and its basically an All-You-Can-Eat and All-You-Can-Drink place for HK$50, which is about £3.80 (-ish). He brought 3 bottles of red wine when we sat down, and then a massive amount of food for 5 people. We ended up putting food on the side stools as there wasn’t enough room on the table. We then saw the Symphony of Lights show which is the best sight in the world by far, could have spent hours looking at the view there. It’s a show of lights to different music playing which happens at 8pm every day and it really hits home how awesome this place is. After that we had a stop at the grocery store for beers and headed to Bar Red, a bar on a rooftop of a mall on Hong Kong island where you can take your own drinks. Things got unbelievably messy (I was on Gin Club duty…) but was great talking to loads of the different CNETs, pretty much like we’ve been doing all week. We headed out to Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) area where all the clubs are, where I met Xantha from Uni out, which was great to see a familiar face (especially one used to making a drunken night even more messy). ‘Hazy’ is definitely the right word for the rest of the night, which is great for the rest of this weekend now we’re flat hunting for real.

 

Anyway, 6 days into this job, all I know is that it was the best decision ever to apply and end up being here. Everything is indescribably mint, I’m enjoying every single minute of being here and think I’m so lucky to be living here.

First Impressions

Having been here about 2 hours, we’ve been given some time off to recover from flying, which means a much-needed nap time. In terms of first impressions, I love this place. It reflects the UK in little things like street signs, license plates and street names but is distinctly Chinese in a lot of other things. The weather is roasting outside but so cool inside due to the air conditioning, I was taking my jacket on and off for the first hour or so travelling to the hostel until I decided to sack it off. Which makes my jeans and hoodies/jackets pretty redundant for now. We’ve had a brilliant first day, with a tour of the local town, Kennedy Town before coming back up the hill to the hostel in a taxi (which are all saloons and remind me of the ’50s) and some nastily-cheap beer called ‘Golden Beer’ (on par with Tesco’s ‘Biere de France’ or Sainsbury’s ‘Biere Speciale’…) and got to know the other CNETS on the hostel outdoor area, overlooking Western Kowloon and Lantau Island in the sunset as the bright lights begin to turn on for the night shift. There’s Americans and Canadians but mostly from the UK, with more than I thought from Manchester, Liverpool and Preston – had a right good talk with a guy about Krazyhouse in Liverpool and another about Lancaster’s Friary. From just a few hours I can tell they’re a good bunch of people to work with, and definitely be getting on the beers with…

Last Minute Preparations

A day before I fly out to Frankfurt, I watch this. Far too excited now…