Stories, thoughts, observations, rants and dribble. Just another of my attempts to keep the interested people informed ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Inclement Weather

This was written on Saturday afternoon when I was already supposed to be back in HK teaching classes.  For some reason it didn't go through.  I finally arrived back early this morning, 30 hours late and six hours before I was supposed to show up to entertain a kid's birthday party.  It went well, considering that all I'd put in my stomach beforehand was a bottle of iced coffee.


I'm currently on hold with my airline waiting for someone to pick up the line to tell me when I can fly back to Hong Kong.  The hold music is terrible, and sounds like vaguely-Asian music done via midi file that keeps breaking up.  Quite frustrating to listen to.

I arrived at the airport in Bangkok last night after about 9 hours of travel from Koh Chang, only to be told that there was a typhoon in Hong Kong and I wouldn't be flying.  The airline has made no moves in the direction of compensation, but luckily my travel insurance doesn't expire until the first week of September, so I'm covered.  I thought I was having somewhat good transport luck yesterday, too, as the very first cab that pulled over agreed to take us on the meter without any sort of haggle (anyone who's been to Bangkok will know that this is rare), and when we arrived, the Italian couple I'd shared the taxi with offered to pay for the whole thing.  Yay.  Then, disappointment. 

It was incredibly difficult to get anything useful out of the call centre people (the only number I was given by the check-in staff), and after quite a frustrating time at the airport, I put myself on a bus back to good old Khao San Road.  I had to call the helpline last night only to be told to call them again in the morning.  This morning they said I would fly at 10pm, although the website says 19.20.  Hence the waiting on the line again now.

The actual holiday on Koh Chang was a lot of fun, despite the weather not being great (it is rainy season, after all).  I had an awesome time with Kirsh, including laughing at her when she fell off the elephant that one time.  Mostly we ate a lot of good food, drank tasty drinks and caught up with each other.  There was also a bit of beach action, and the expected pampering and shopping.  Something about Kirsha must inspire people to drink, though, and I can no longer say 'I don't drink beer' (which may shock a lot of you).  Now it's 'I mostly don't drink beer'.  The Sangsom buckets did me in, though, and Kirsh was kind enough not to laugh at me too much until the next day. 

I'm still on hold, so still don't know when I will be getting home.  I just want to get there so I can start on all these things that need doing before I leave for Shanghai next weekend!  I was also supposed to have some of my last classes today, so I don't get to say goodbye to the kids.  I'm quite sad about that, really. 

Ah well, it's all part of the fun of travelling I guess.  At least I will be able to claim something on my travel insurance for once!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Big News

I had hesitated to make any sort of announcement about this until it was at least a little bit confirmed, but my big news is that I've accepted my first permanent role (ever), and will be moving to Shanghai in less than three weeks!

That's right, this little commitmentphobe is finally taking the plunge, and the signing of an employment contract for an indefinite period of time is imminent. Add to that the fact that I will probably have to sign a lease on an apartment of my very own, and you will be very surprised to hear that I haven't yet had heart palpitations or resorted to hyperventilation. I am actually quite excited.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by a friend of a friend, saying that they needed someone if I was looking for a position in Shanghai. The job itself is doing scriptwriting and editing for English language learning podcasts, as well as some research, meeting clients, and conducting in-house training. As I eventually wanted to get into the publishing side of education, I jumped at the chance to fast-track this plan (not that I'm not enjoying the teaching, but more about that in a minute). A couple of emails, (what ended up being) eight pages of writing samples and methodologies, a phone interview, and some reference checks later, and I had a verbal offer. After a few clarifications about my future employment package, I happily accepted the job on Friday (just a few hours before the Olympics opened, and on that [hopefully] auspicious day 08/08/08). I won't go into the details about the benefits, but suffice to say I'm pretty happy (AND I get a lunch allowance!). I'll also finally get around to learning some Mandarin. Hooray for languages.

So I have not all that many days (or classes) left in Hong Kong. Around about now is usually when I start to appreciate a place, and do all those things that I'd meant to do for ages. Also it seems that now is about when I've just met some quite cool people, and am started to get more work offers. Oh well! They're balanced out by the fact that a couple of my male students (who are about 8 or 9) do not seem to know what is appropriate when touching teachers (probably they shouldn't do it at all, but they definitely shouldn't be doing what they did yesterday!).

And now the important part: What does this all mean for you? As of the end of August, I will no longer be available on my current mobile number or at my current postal address. It's probably best not to send me anything from now on (boo!) as I would hate to miss it during the move. I will update as soon as I know my new contact details. Of course I will still be contactable via all electronic means (and my Melbourne number).

The other important change that I will have to make is in my ridiculous sleeping pattern (it probably looks either like a Magic Eye or an Escher painting). No longer will I be able to stay up all night (or sleep all afternoon), and you will (probably) notice a significant drop in my online presence. I hope I will be too busy to be sad (in more ways than one) about this.

All in all, quite a satisfactory result (I am trying to forget about the fact that I only get two weeks of annual leave a year).

I will make sure I have at least a futon for all my future visitors. Come to see me!

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Well, I was going to write about myself, of all things, but I just spent four hours watching extended live coverage of the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing.  The first hour, especially, was completely mindblowing, and I have just come to the conclusion that the Chinese are either magicians or robots.  Or maybe some amazing combination of the two. 

I can't even begin to describe some of the things they did, so here are some numbers instead:

  • 08/08/08: the 29th Olympiad Games opens.
  • 43 billion USD spent on this year's Olympic Games.
  • 15,000 individual (and very detailed) costumes involved in the opening ceremony.
  • 20,000 people performed in the opening ceremony.
  • Over 10,000 athletes from 205 countries are competing.
  • 4 of these athletes are from Iraq, and were only very recently allowed to compete.
  • 91,000 seats in the Bird's Nest stadium, with 11,000 temporary seats erected for the opening ceremony.
  • Tickets for the opening started at 600 USD, but the price increased dramatically over the past six months.
  • The famous Chinese basketball player Yao Ming is 7'6".
  • 29 sets of fireworks in the shape of giant footprints led to the Bird's Nest Stadium as the games open.
  • 2008 drummers began the ceremony in almost perfect synchrony.  2008 t'ai chi players did an amazing demonstration later on.
  • 29,000 fireworks shells were used in the biggest fireworks display in history.

I really just wanted to play it in the background so I could get along with a backlog of work I have at the moment, but it pretty much held my attention the entire time (except for when I got really hungry and ducked off to boil some dumprings during the bit where all the athletes come in).  So now I have a whole bunch of stuff to do, and I'm tired from the overstimulation of probably the biggest event the world has ever seen (until the closing ceremony, probably!). 

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Oh, also ...

The MTR station at Fortress Hill smells exactly like the Central Line trains in London. Is that weird? No other MTR station seems to, either, just this one.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Generally upsetting things happening

Today I went on a bit of a mission to pick up some money owed for services rendered last month, and while I was on the train, I noticed a girl wearing a black top with huge silvery writing that said:


Odd. I picked up my moneys (and it turned out that I didn't actually have to make the hour plus trip out there, but never mind. I had the opportunity to take a new cross-harbour ferry, and make some purchases I'd been meaning to make for ages. I also had the opportunity to take a picture of a giant sneaker slide. Unfortunately, it was closed.

After a quick and cheap lunch (thanks, Yoshinoya), I had to wait an upsettingly long time for my bus, which made me a few minutes late for my class. While I was on the bus, I noticed a man at one of the bus stops that looked strangely like a Chinese version of Bobcat Goldthwait. That was weird enough, but I noticed him trying to smooth a notice back on to a lamp post. Whether he was just trying to read it, or trying to make it look nicer, I don't know. I thought that it was marginally odd behaviour (and he was making really weird facial expressions), and this was when I noticed that from the end joint up, his left thumb branched into TWO THUMB TIPS. Nails and everything. As I was blinking in disbelief at the strangely heart-shaped malformation, the bus took off. Whew. I have never seen a branching digit like that before. [After a quick squizz at trusty Wikipedia, apparently polydactyly (extra fingers or toes) occurs once in every 500 live human births. That seems ... a lot more common than I would have thought. And it's more common in Amish populations, but I'll leave that one for you to consider.]

The rest of the day has gone by without too much disturbingness, but then of course there is this horrific story of a double beheading (parental guidance recommended), and, not to be outdone, another one, with added cannibalism (raw, and in front of a busload of innocent Canadians). [Little bro, if you're reading this, don't read this story, okay?] What the hell is going on?

I'm actually in a pretty good mood, though, through a combination of a few things and a few people. If anybody needs cheering after reading the weirdness, there is always this, and this, and, even though it's in Russian, this. Thank goodness for cute (and sorry to people who have already seen these links, but surely you can't have too much cute?).

Eulogy of Wong Chan Lai Sheong

The following is a slightly-modified version of the eulogy that was read at my grandmother's funeral on July 12, 2008. I'm pretty sure it made more sense in the original Chinese, so that's the only reason I've edited the English version.

I don't really expect anyone to read it, but she was an amazing woman who led an inspiring life, and I wanted to share her story.


Mrs Lai Sheong Wong (nee Chan), 陳勵嫦, was born on the 16th of June, 1917, according to the lunar calendar. Her home village was 下基, in the city 増城, in Guangdong province. Her father was Kim Chor Chan and her mother was Ping Yee Wong. She was the younger of two daughters.

勵嫦's grandfather migrated to New Zealand over a hundred years ago. He was the eldest of seven sons, who were all doing business in New Zealand. Like many Chinese men in New Zealand, 勵嫦’s father went back to China to get married. As her parents only had two daughters, he adopted a boy from one of his younger brothers. So 勵嫦 had a younger brother but he lived his whole life in New Zealand.

As 勵嫦’s father was doing business overseas, the family in their home village was rich and open-minded. Even though 勵嫦 was a girl, she still received a very good education, which was rare in those times. She studied in Guangzhou city and graduated from the faculty of Library Management at Guangzhou Technical Institute. When she was 19 years old and hadn't yet graduated from her studies, her parents arranged her marriage. She married Mr. Lai Chow Wong. Her husband was also well educated and encouraged 勵嫦 to finish her studies.

The political situation was very uncertain by that time. When Japan invaded China in 1938, her family escaped to Hong Kong. 勵嫦’s eldest son was born on the way there. The family stayed in Hong Kong for five years until Hong Kong also fell into Japan’s hands. The family then went back to their home town. Their second son was born in 1944, during the Second World War.

The family moved back to Guangzhou city when the war was over. 勵嫦 taught at a secondary school, and later the couple planned to do some business together. They opened a dairy shop, a barbecue shop and later a dairy farm which supplied milk to the local residents. The farm was still running when China was taken over by the communist government. 勵嫦’s father and mother were also back from New Zealand to have their retirement in Guangzhou. It was good news to 勵嫦, as her parents were finally reunited. However, the dairy farm had to be joined-ventured with the government in 1957 under the new policies. The couple lost control of the company and 勵嫦 became an accountant for the company.

Furthermore, her husband was marked as anti-revolutionary during the political upheaval and was sent away for ‘re-education’ to a place that was essentially a prison, and he lost his freedom. 勵嫦 had to look after the whole family on her own, taking care of her four children as well as her parents. 勵嫦 and her husband were forced to separate for 16 years. During the Cultural Revolution, their home was searched three times in total. Nearly everything was destroyed and no furniture was left intact. Times were harsh, but 勵嫦 never lost hope and kept waiting for her husband to come back home.

In order to see her husband, 勵嫦 had to take a long train journey and then walk for several hours. However, the visit itself was very short, and in less than a few minutes her husband was taken away. The only thing they could do was to write letters to each other. Her husband wrote many traditional poems in the letters which were full of implicit passion. Their love for each other grew stronger and stronger. Their marriage was arranged and they did not know each other before the wedding, but their relationship was very successful. 勵嫦 always said she really fell in love with her husband after they got married. So, during this time of political deterioration where the traditional virtues were destroyed and moral value was low, the love between 勵嫦 and her husband was like a precious diamond that shone in a dark sky.

The second son and eldest daughter of 勵嫦 went to Hong Kong in 1970 to seek a new life for their family. There they met their uncle, who was taking a holiday from New Zealand. With the help of their uncle, they migrated to New Zealand in 1975. 勵嫦’s husband was released in 1976. When the Cultural Revolution was over, the door of China was opened again. 勵嫦’s youngest daughter moved to New Zealand in 1979. Together with her mother and husband, 勵嫦 arrived in New Zealand in 1982. Her eldest son and family joined them the next year.

勵嫦 was very glad to meet so many relatives again in New Zealand. She and her husband enjoyed the lifestyle there, as well as the air of freedom. They spent their retirement in peace and contentment. Besides taking care of their grandchildren, they would look after the garden and also grew some vegetables. They liked to be financially independent and sometimes grew alfalfa to sell at the market. When Mr. Wong passed away in 1990, 勵嫦 was very sad, but she was very strong and got through it quickly. She knew playing mahjong was a good way to cheer herself up and she enjoyed playing it. She also liked to do morning exercise and Tai Chi.

勵嫦 had a very high level of literacy, especially in classical Chinese literature. Even while getting old, she still maintained her reading habit. She was also a good cook and often prepared delicious meals for her family. When living in New Zealand with less Chinese food to buy, she learnt how to make dim sum and seasonal Chinese food to celebrate different kinds of Chinese festivals.

勵嫦 had a very happy retirement in New Zealand. She had many enjoyable and memorable occasions with her relatives and friends. 勵嫦 was a devout Buddhist, and although she could not drive to go to the temple often, she would read the Sutra and prayed every day. She regularly took vegetarian meals six days each month and eagerly gave donations to the Buddhist temple. She was a kind, respectful and gentle person who was full of compassion. When the earthquake struck Si-chuan, China, 勵嫦 was very generous and fully supported the fundraising activities.

Over the past two years, 勵嫦 had been getting weaker. Her two daughters took very good care of her. Unfortunately, she was admitted to hospital on the 29th of June, as her condition was deteriorating, and she passed away peacefully on the 7th of July.

勵嫦 lived a life of 91 years. She witnessed wars and the takeover of governments in China. She and her family were also the victims of political movements. But we can see the life of 勵嫦 shone in a dark era. Her love for her husband, her parents and her children never changed, even in adversity. We are glad that 勵嫦 had a rich life. She also showed us her virtue and selfless love. Her love for her family and all those loving memories are always in our hearts.