Sunday, July 28, 2013

So Why So Few Posts? Blogging in Hong Kong Vs. Spain

Now that summer has started and presumably I'm on holiday, the biggest question I think is "Why so few posts?" There are two major reasons for this.

1. Summer is the busiest time of year for an English tutor.

So, my official job is an English Tutor. Which means, I don't teach for an official school, but rather a center which sends me out to different places to teach. On the bright side, I get to see a lot of Hong Kong, but the downside means, when regular teachers are taking their holidays, I'm working non-stop! Many of my students are preparing for school entrance interviews and for the next school year. So I have a lot of summer students who want to improve their English. I've already said goodbye to one student who is moving to Beijing to attend the Beijing International School and another is leaving next week for Canada, where he'll attend high school. My schedule currently really is quite nuts, some days I teach 9 classes, and with travel can put me at over 12 hours of work. So, it doesn't leave a whole lot of time to do the things I need to do like grocery shopping, planning lessons, practicing voice, going to the gym and of course, blogging.

In Spain, the easiest time was summer. So I had a lot of time to blog and write about my experiences. But then again, life in Spain is just more relaxed than life in Hong Kong.

2. Separation of local vs. expat.

 When I lived in Spain, I lived with a local family and learned a lot about local customs and culture. I spoke the language, so I could go to local places and survive. Here in Hong Kong, I live in a flatshare with pretty much exclusively non-locals(one of my flatmates is from here but lived in Canada for many years so acts typically Western). I don't interact with locals outside of work(my students!). The most local places I go are places that still have menus in English, and all the bars I go to are fashioned after a Western pub. I don't speak any Cantonese, and any that I have tried to speak goes pretty much misunderstood. In short, I don't get a whole lot of exposure to local culture, so don't have as much insight as I did in Spain.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cheung Chau Bun Festival

One of the most famous festivals in Hong Kong is the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. Like its name, it involves...buns. Most people believe that it is celebrating the buns, but the reality is that it isn't! I had to look into this festival before I went because it was the very first cultural thing I heard about when I arrived(after Chinese New Year).

It took me a while to find information on this festival, most of its roots has been lost to time, most of the religious aspects are largely forgotten. One origin story that I found was that the bun festival began in the 18th century after Cheung Chau had suffered a period of being pillage of pirates and sickness. An image of the god Pak Tai was brought to the island and subsequently drove away all the evil spirits and pirates. I can't really go into the traditional Chinese gods because I really don't know much about them, but this festival was a fun way to welcome summer! I am in no way disregarding the traditional or religious aspects of this festival, but this is a case of ignorance due to a cultural gap and being largely unable to really bridge this gap.

The Bun Festival itself lasts for several days, with displays of traditional Chinese culture such as the opera and lion dances. Unfortunately, the day I went there was a HUGE thunderstorm over the island. So, not much was going on in the way of activities but I did see part of a processional and a garbage bag covered lion dance. I didn't get to see the bun snatching competition(yes, its a strange thing), it wasn't happening the day I went but the following night at midnight. But I did get to see the famous bun towers outside the Pak Tai Temple, which is where most of the festivities take place.

A note about the buns: Why buns? I have no idea. The belief is that eating one will give you safety and good health. There were two kinds available: Red Bean Paste and Lotus Seed Paste. I tried the Red Bean Paste, which was very sweet and tasted like...well red bean! The bun itself is white with a red character stamped on the outside. Some of my research pulled up that the character stands for "safety" and "health". I hope so, since typhoon season is upon us!

A Yummy Bun!
The most exciting part of the festival, as you guessed it, is the bun snatching competition. This competition is as old as the festival itself, but hasn't been going on for quite some time. The villagers of Cheung Chau would make 60 feet tall towers made of bamboo. Attached to these would be...buns. Trust me, you think it sounds weird, it gets weirder(but in a wonderful way). There would be three of these towers, and young men would climb on to the top for a certain amount of time, trying to collect the "lucky" buns at the top of the tower. I put "lucky" in quotes because the higher the bun, the more fortune it would bring to the snatchers family.

This race was eventually banned in 1978 after a tower collapsed and injured over 100 people. Pak Tai must have been looking out for Cheung Chau's unique tradition because a single tower race was allowed to be built, with safety precautions. Women were also allowed to join the race. In 2007 the buns were replaced with plastic ones, with some backlash from the community as they were concerned that the traditional practices were becoming too commercialized.

Bun Tower
Cheung Chau itself is a beautiful island, and I did take some time to rent a bike and bike around the island. The streets are so narrow, and the forests surrounding the village are amazing. I was disappointed it was so rainy, or I would have explored more. As my friend describes this little town "A place that celebrates buns and the firetrucks are like little cartoons to navigate it!" It was a pretty apt description. Is the bun festival a strange custom? To me, it was. But, I can see the appeal to the Western eye and I will be back to explore the island on an "un-bun day"!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

4 Months Later...

Wow! I can't believe its been four months since I've written!

These last 4 months have been absolutely crazy, and I've had little time to write. On the bright side, I've been able to do alot of the things on my bucketlist, which I'll talk about later. For now, a brief overview of what my life has been like here in Hong Kong!

First, I can say that it has been a difficult adjustment from Spain. The culture and life here is much different, its more fast paced and intense than in Spain. And there's nothing wrong with that but coming from a "Don't worry, Life goes slow" attitude to one of the busiest cities in the world was like jumping into a freezing lake for the first time. The social climate here is also very dicey for a woman like me, people are very focused on the materialistic and superficial aspects of someone. If you're not wearing the right clothes or have the right skin color(yes you read that right), its a difficult place to really enjoy. At a later date, I'll cover that(its in my drafts).

My job has been rocky, it was rough at first, getting used to my new boss and how things worked. Some days, I love my job, in fact most days I do, but there are a few days where I want to give someone a piece of my mind, or quit. The good thing for me is that both my bosses, have been very understanding and I know they are trying. My company is still in the start-up stages, which I didn't realize when I arrived, so it took me a while to understand that things are still up in the air. My co-workers are also pretty cool, I see them around town on occasion and text them regularly. We're a pretty small company, only 5 teachers, one of which is my boss.

There have been three things that have really been keeping me going. First was the constant support and contact with my family and friends. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have the support of my aunts, uncles, cousins, mom, dad, brother, and friends. :) They've always been supportive and kept me from just jumping on a plane and running. I recently helped my mom get Whatsapp, which has been fun to be able to text her whenever. Especially with my life, you never know what you'll see!

The second thing that's been keeping me going has been rugby. Obviously. I was out training the week I got here, and I haven't stopped. I've been able to attend a lot of events and meet so many great people. I'm excited for the new season, and I'll keep everyone updated on where I end up. Right now, its just alot of gym and training to get ready for the upcoming season. I go to the gym 4-6 days a week, depending on how my week goes.

The final thing was that I've started taking voice lessons again! I decided I wanted to expand my vocal abilities, and so I found a lovely teacher who specializes in more modern music( as opposed to someone who's been dead for 50 or so years). She is a sassy black woman from the US, and its been great to have a teacher who understands how difficult it is to be a minority in this city!

Well, that's all for now. Next week: The Cheung Chau Bun Festival!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hong Kong Bucketlist

Since I had a bucket list for Spain, I figured it only made sense to have one to for Hong Kong as well.

1. Go to Cheng Chau for the bun festival.
2. Watch the light show in the harbor.
3. Go to TST.
4. Go to the 10 foot Buddah on Lantau Island.
5. Go to Sai Kung.
6. Play in the Hong Kong Beach 5's Rugby Tournament.
7. Go to the Hong Kong 7's Rugby Tournament.
8. Pick a rugby team to play with.
9. Play in a 10's rugby game.
10. Go to Ocean Park.
11. Go to Disneyland.
12. Go on the Star Ferry.
13. Go to Stanley on a double decker bus.
14. Go to Macau.
15. Gamble in Macau.
16. Visit the top of Victoria's Peak.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Welcome to Hong Kong...It's Nothing Like Barcelona!

Well I've been in Hong Kong for almost two weeks and haven't taken ANY pictures, been sightseeing, or updated this blog! I'm terrible. But seriously, I think the last two weeks have been almost like getting pushed into the deep end of a pool and not knowing how to swim.

Before my departure was my birthday and my final rugby match, in really quick succession. Both were enjoyable, and it was good to say goodbye to everyone. At my game, the girls brought me 2 cheesecakes with the candles saying "23" for my 23rd birthday the day before. It was very sweet and I know I will miss playing for them. Even though there were many struggles, I know I am a better player and person.

Saying Goodbye to CEU-L'Hospitalet Rugby Femini

I got to Hong Kong on a Wednesday afternoon, feeling really ill and wanting to just sleep for a week. My boss and his wife met me at the airport and we took a bus from the airport to the apartment(I am currently staying with them and another family member). I spent the entire time with my mouth opening and closing because of how different it was visually from Barcelona and trying not to throw up. I felt better immediately after we got off the bus and I really like the apartment and my new, even smaller room. I met another teacher that night and went out to a local place for dinner.

Here, when I refer to "local" I mean it is someplace that serves Chinese food and often will ONLY be in Chinese. It also refers to the people who are from Hong Kong.

The next couple days were spent trying to get acquainted with the city, which is hard when its so huge. There are two different bus systems and the MTR, which is like a metro system. I have the MTR system down but the bus is so unreliable it usually just causes me to want to tear my hair out.

Basic First Impression: Everything here is bigger and entirely different than Barcelona. Add Chinese and I felt pretty screwed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spanish Buckelist...Finale

After 9 months in Barcelona, I am finally getting ready to say goodbye and take a look at what I did. While I didn't mark everything off nor is everything I did on this list, it just means that another adventure in Spain is waiting for me!

1. Ride on the back of a Vespa/Scooter.
2. Drive a Vespa/Scooter.
3. Give money to Sagrada Familia.
4. Try Sangria. 
5. Try Paella.
6. Go to the Fountain Show on a date.
7. Buy a summer dress that looks fabulous.
8. Buy sandals that look fabulous. 
9. Buy a pair of high heels or wedges.
10. Learn to make Tortilla.
11. Go to the aquarium.
12. Go the Wax Museum.
13. Go to Sevilla.
14. Go to Madrid.
15. Go to San Fermines.
16. Go to an FC Barcelona game.
17. Go to Tibidabo.
18. Spend a night speaking only in Spanish.
19. Find a Spanish rugby team.
20. Play on a Spanish rugby team. 
21. Go bar hopping in El Born.
22. Buy a winter coat.
23. Buy a pair of jeans from Caipira.
24. Buy a pair of boots.
25. See Les Mis in an English cinema.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year, New Adventure!

Well I'm back from India! It was an interesting experience, but I was happy to be home(Spain).

And when I got back, it was Epiphany, or the Coming of the Three Kings. We had a parade the night I got back. The family walked down there to watch the parade and I went as well, but unfortunately they were so darn late that I had to leave before the parade! I was meeting a friend later in the evening and had to walk home and get ready. But A took pictures and videos so I got to see what it was. He said it was pretty disappointing for a 45 minute late parade.

Then that morning we woke up to a lovely scene of balloons and gifts. The girls were very excited and I liked it alot as well! I've never celebrated ephiphany before, and there were even a few gifts from the Kings for me! Well, really it is A and E. The Kings brought me a scarf, a puzzle set, and a calendar of firemen of Barcelona. A said it was to "remind me of the men of Barcelona". I told him I ought to burn more stuff. E got one as well, but with A's face photoshopped onto every picture!

My gifts
But the Kings didn't bring me one thing: My next job! In February, I will be moving to Hong Kong to teach!