INTRO TO HONG KONG
September 28th: 3 days before Chinese "National Day" celebration. The locals say to expect lots of fireworks.
It seems amazing that our last update was almost a month ago. September has flown by with each week going faster than the previous. Well, let's see... Ann has her official "Hong Kong ID Card" and is truly a resident of HK while Billy's remains tied up in paperwork. The school technology is slowly sorting itself out; we now have a true e-mail system, working library system, software is getting installed, operating systems updated, decisions for using iBooks are being made, and a lot more that doesn't sound like much but takes tremendous amounts of time and mental energy.
The weather is slowly turning to fall with less humidity and hints of coolness. Earlier this month we experienced our first "Signal 9" typhoon where the city literally comes to a halt and all businesses and schools close, and the streets are jammed as everyone tries to get home before it hits. Luckily the typhoon veered north at the last minute and we were spared the brunt of its force.
We continue to learn our way around the city, and the busses, trams, and subways are not quite as confusing now. We've even taken a "water taxi" which crosses the small harbor near our apartment.
HK is truly a city of international foods - we've experienced a Morrocan restaurant which took us to another corner of the world, a small but good quality Mexican restaurant, found an Italian supermarket, a South African food store, and an American health food store, while Thai, Vietnam, and Indian restaurants abound.
We continue to enjoy exploring the hiking trail systems around here and marvel at the infrastructure of dams, resevoirs, slope maintenance, canals, and trail work that we see on our walks. Every slope here is registered for maintenance, as a tremendous amount of work has to go into keeping the hillsides from eroding and making sure that they are draining properly. At least once a week we hike home over the local mountain and down the other side - about 1.5 hours, sometimes ending up at KFC at the bottom of the mountain. Sometimes the walks end up in the dark, but with even far off city lights, it is very walkable. Billy is having "star withdrawal" symptoms - there is just too much ambient light to see many stars.
There was a beach picnic recently with families from our school and because it took place on a very hot day, lots of people (expecially the kids) enjoyed the swimming. The beachs are surprisingly uncrowded here and it's not because of the holes in the shark nets!! Our director of school says that only a couple of people a year get eaten... not really. There were water skiiers outside and didn't seem to worry about sharks or maybe it makes for really good skiiers as they are afraid to fall down.
The busses and streets are filled with school children in the morning with every color and style of uniform. All children wear uniforms to their public or private schools. The public school are even open on Sat. with some children attending and the teachers are required to be in attendance but cannot teach any new content..It seems to be almost a babysitting service provided for the many parents who work 6 days a week. The majority of people work a standard 6 day work week - no overtime!
We met up with an interesting cultural phenonmenon. Many people from the Phillipines live and work here because of economic hardships and lack of jobs in their country. Quite a few of them are servants/helpers for the local population. They live in with the families, sometimes in minimal space, and cook, clean, take care of children, etc. On holidays and Sundays the families don't want them around the house so they are literally put out onto the streets for the day. They congregate in huge crowds all over the city - sitting in parks, hallways, public areas - and sit with friends, play cards, sleep. HK is embarassed by the situation, but doesn't know what to do about it.
Night life exists here as in any major city. There are some young and adventurous (single) teachers we work with who like the late, loud, crowded street and bar scene. We unknowingly accompanied 3 such energetic people to dinner last Friday and got a glimpse of another side of HK. Talking about crowds, there is an area of town called Causeway Bay that has been dubbed the "World's Busiest Intersection". How can I describe this experience?? You literally move with a crowd across intersections and down streets - like one bee in a swarm of thousands - streets are blocked off to traffic - stores are so crowded sometimes people wait outside to enter. We are constantly amazed at the "vertical shopping" - stores on the 10th and 20th floors of buildings.
Billy has lost his hair again, but this time to a good cause. "Locks of Love" is an organization that collects hair of at least 9 inches in length and uses it to make wigs for children who have a physical defect in their ability to grow hair. Ann says it looks great!
Thanks for "tuning in". We're excited that a couple of family members from the states are making plans to visit. Yea Richard and Michael! We would love to see any and all of you.
Our life in Hong Kong continues with lots of hours at school in getting systems up and running, but having fun doing it and really enjoying the staff and kids. Working in a primary school is new to us and all those little bodies running around is quite amazing. We have the utmost respect for any teacher who can keep those small minds and bodies in productive classroom activities for each day! We even have pre-school, so there are 3 and 4 year olds in addition to the K-6 children.
We are constantly amused and befuddled by the differences between the American and Chinese cultures. Add to that the influence of British language which, although it is supposed to be English, has some words and expressions that are quite foreign to us. Then, there is the transliteration of Chinese to English which makes for some interesting wordings. Along our journeys we have taken candid shots (our cell phone has a camera in it) of many small day-to-day occurences and signs. So to the right are a few for your enjoyment...
Hong Kong is a great study in opposites: high sky scrapers, McDonalds, and every electronics company imaginable, intermixed with small crowded streets of open-air markets. These markets have wonderful quantities of fruits and vegetables (many new to our eyes), anything that comes from the seas around here - fish, squid, eels, abalone, mussels, and numerous unidentifiable objects, fresh butchered beef, pork, and poultry hanging out for sale, herbs and medicines, clothing, toys, and many small goods.
For a teacher social event, we went out for Dim Sum lunch; it is a lunch served in a restaurant where the waitersses come around with carts of different kinds of food in steaming baskets and each table takes what looks good, puts it on a large lazy-susan in the middle of the table and everyone takes a bit of everything. After lunch we went to a section of town where there is a large wet market and our assignment was to pair up and purchase something for less than $20 HK (about $2.50 US) that we counld not identify! Fun! Then afterward we went for some ice tea and showed our treasures. People found dragon fruit - a beautiful red fruit shaped somewhat like a pineapple but tasting like a kiwi, dried mussels (we didn't try those!), freeze dried egg yokes, dried squid, chicken feet, ceremonial offering papers to be burned as offerings to one's ancestors, and more that I can't remember. See photos to the right of the WET MARKETS.
What a hike!! From the top of "The Peak", Hong Kong's tallest mountain back down to sea level. Beautiful tropical foliage, rain showers off and on, nearby islands, great trails, good company. And, wet and bedragled but happy - chinese food for dinner. See photos to the right of a HIKE.
August 14th -
(Excerpt of email to a friend about work at school)
We are straightening out the remnants of ibooks, imacs, emacs, os9 osx, osx server, folette library software, etc, all are in great disarray. Within a month or so we hope to have a completely operating network. We were pulling cat5 yesterday, (they have a lot already here, as well as 5 airports for roaming around - I just have to place them in a bit better positioning) setting up a temporary lab for teacher inservice that is now underway. Are purchasing First class, and will get that in place muy pronto. Our staff is about 15, great enthusiasm, people have come from all over the world, many with states background, lots of stories to share, etc.
Finally got a cell phone yesterday - Nokia 3650, triband, bluetooth, great features. Already synced it with iSync last night. Got a free roaming SIM for travel in and around other parts of the world, etc
We have a global phone card that is really cheap for international calls, and I'm going to put the speed dials in later today. We are not going to get a land line, and see how it goes
Someone in our apartment building has wireless that I'm using. A kind word for this person is in order, should I meet him someday.
Our school is vertical, lots of steps each day in a rather humid environment. We spent all day on Tuesday getting our Hong Kong identity cards, a new high tech card that is required for all citizens, etc. It will take them approx 4 years for all citizens to have them. Useful for many things.
We have an 'octopus' card that keeps electronic money inside it and is useful for trains, trams, busses, some cabs, it is really cool. Just go to 7-11 and purchase a 'fill up' and away you go., All over the city with just a swipe of your card. It's about 50 cents to go most any place.
This city, its subways, streets, etc, is spotlessly clean. $1500 fine for spitting or littering, gum included! (That's hong kong dollars which is about 8 to 1 for US)
Need to work on our personal website, I think I'll put on AIM and see who is out there.
A and B
August 11th - One week in Hong Kong -
Thanks for all the notes, it's wonderful that we can be so far away and feel close to so many people. Isn't e-mail great?
Well, it's hard to know where to start! It has been a week filled with new surroundings, sites, smells, experiences, excitement and yes, some tiredness as well. We had hoped to have our website up by now so that you could go there and view pictures, but time seems to slip away very quickly. Maybe it will be done this week. We'll put a few pics in this email and then more on the website later.
We are starting to sort our how this city is put together, where the different districts are and how to navigate around. The public transportation is clean, efficient, and inexpensive (buses are about $.50 and trams about $.25) We haven't experienced the train or subway yet, and there are always taxis. Getting lost on buses a few times has been a great way to learn our way around town, as well as walking, walking, and more walking. People have been very friendly, many speak some broken English and others none at all.
So first, the central city - imagine huge skyscapers on large wide streets interspersed with small streets of open air vendors, small shops, and wet markets (vegies, fruits, and cuts of meat hanging in the open air). Such a contrast of old and new. Movement of people, vibrant colors of signs and dress, beautiful green areas and plants as well as the traffic of buses, trams, and taxis. The city is remarkably clean - a positive effect of the SARS scare - there are workers constantly sweeping sidewalks, washing steps, picking up the small amount of litter there, disinfecting everything. Hong Kong island is all hills so the buildings loom out of hillsides and as land is reclaimed next to the harbor more buildings go up there. One doesn't need to belong to an exercise club - all you have to do is walk around the city, up and down hills to get plenty of exercise. There is one section of town with a series of escalators (about 15 or so) that snake up the hills of the city - in the morning the escalator goes down and then around mid-morning it switches and for the rest of the day and evening goes uphill. There are many pedestrians walkways above the city streets so that you can easily traverse without having to walk through the traffic.
Steps down - escalator to the right.
City view at night from pedestrian walkway - you really have to remember to look both ways before crossing any street - that driving on the left side is really spooky!
We had been staying in a temporary apartment for the first week and yesterday moved into our own place. Here's the view from our bedroom how did that other building get in our way?? We are in a building similar to the one you see - on the 25th floor. The apartment is very comfortable - small 2 bedroom with AC and windows that open for the less humid times of the year and massively thick walls that block any sound from neighbors or street. You can't see in the picture, but people hang their laundry out to dry from their windows - there is a small clothes line outside of our kitchen window, as well as a small area to put plants outside the living room. Seems so funny to see high rise apartments with peoples laundry decorating the sides of the building. We couldn't understand why in a small apartment the kitchen is completely enclosed from the rest of the rooms with a heavy door and no cooler - someone explained to us that it is because some people have live in help so the help cooks in the enclosed space and doesn't bother the rest of the family AND in some cases if there is no other place, the help sleeps on the kitchen floor - we are reminded that we really are in a different culture.
We plugged in our computer today and have picked up someone's wireless network so we are happily emailing and surfing.
Sun. evening 10 teachers from school took a Chinese junk (boat) across the bay and to a small village on one of the outlying islands for dinner. Balmy, humid evening - sights of opposites - city buildings and tropical islands, huge freighters and small fishing boats. What fun!
Hong Kong is an extremely busy port. Containerized cargo is shown from all over the world coming to and from this beautiful harbor.
Another water view
Here is our apartment complex from the "water view".
Here is what we see from our window
Our school is located on a hill (as is everything here!). One side faces the city and the other a lush tropical mountain. We are busy figuring out computer networks, equipment, training, and everything that goes along with the computer world. Everyone has been very helpful and the school promises to be a wonderful experience.
All for now.
Much love from the East,
Ann and Billy
Oh - we have lost most people's AIM screen names. So if you have one could you please send it to us!!
August 5th - Arrival in Hong Kong
This is a very short message to let you know that we have arrived in the far East. Flight was LONG but fine (12.5 hours, saw 4 movies - sort of like a real crowded movie theater but without popcorn, United Airlines fed us constantly along the way).
We are currently on our first adventure - using a computer in an office in Hong Kong (more later.)
First impression is of a very clean, beautiful city. The airport was enormous - could fit about 3 JFK's inside it. There are lots of hills with a cool escalator that goes up and up and up... narrow twisty roads. Lots of water - down in the harbor the container cargo looked like little legos stacked up on top of each other - this is one of the world's busiest ports.
Hot and humid, but they say it gets better in Sept.
Love to all,
Ann and Billy