I love Hong Kong!
Yes, I have returned from my amazing, intense and oh, so informative trip to Hong Kong! My head is stuffed full of knowledge (just enough to be dangerous!) and my stomach is stuffed full of food. They must think that teachers are ravenous beasts in Hong Kong because they fed us just about every two hours the entire time we are at the conference!
Just getting there was a huge overly dramatic ordeal. I travelled with the head of the Primary school, who is a very nice Australian lady. It was great that I didn’t have to travel alone although at the conference we were in separate sections so we didn’t see each other at all. Anyhow, getting back on track… We left school at 9 in the morning. This meant that I was at school long enough to get exactly nothing done! After getting to the airport and going through customs we settled down to wait for two hours until our plane left. That is the thing with international travel; you never know how long things are going to take! Two and a half hours later we were in Beijing which has possible the most impressive airport in the world. Seriously, it is going to make LAX look like a third world country! Three hours and five lines later we were on our way to Hong Kong. Was anyone else unaware of how far away Hong Kong and Beijing are from one another? I sure wasn’t. On maps you never really think about the fact that it is almost a five hour plane trip. After going though security in the third country of the day we had to figure out how to get to our hotel. Which is always an issue and I am not sure why I don’t plan better for it. The solution was taking the airport express (an incredibly fast train) into the city and then taking a taxi to the hotel. Fortunately, the Chinese teacher at our school had kindly written the address of both the hotels we stayed at down for us. After getting checked in we went to sleep the whole thing having taken about 14 hours.
Hong Kong itself was amazing. 90 degrees and humid, but amazing... There were so many towering buildings! Row after row after row of 100 story apartment buildings. It also has all the “special” things that all humongous big cities have. Smog (mostly floating in from China), order (really what is that smell?), 14 million elbows, and crazy amounts of energy. New York may be the city that never sleeps but Hong Kong is the city that not only never sleeps it’s all hyped up in caffeine pills! It is also anally efficient, hushed (there are strict laws against noise pollution) and peaceful. It was also so so so clean. Forget laws against leaving your gum on the sidewalk there are laws against chewing gum! It was an amazing contrast with Ulaanbaatar which has more broken glass and garbage on the street than anywhere that I have ever been before. The best thing about being in Hong Kong was being completely confused by the influences and contradictions of a Chinese city with all of these Trans Asian and western elements. The nice thing about the western elements for someone like me, who speaks no Chinese (hello and thank you and that is about it!), is that everything is in English making it super easy to get around! Hong Kong is all savoring new tastes (soooooooooooo many restaurants) , weaving through a human gridlock and humming some dumb Canto pop tune (I have that stupid Chinese song from the Olympic opening ceremonies in my head still) while slurping your noodles (wondering what flavor you really ordered).
The workshop itself was on the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate. It was really useful but very heavy and complicated. My head is so full of stuff that I am not entirely sure how to use! To give you an example of how deep and complicated the week was, here is the PYP “mission statement” , “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. To this end, the IB works with schools, governments, and international organizations to develop challenging programs of international education and rigorous assessment. These programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” That is a lot to ask of a teacher who has only had three days of training!
The best thing about the conference was meeting and talking to all the other teachers. They call it networking. The international teaching circuit (also their expression) it fairly small so everyone sort of knows or knows of everyone. It was interesting talking to people and learning that they have very similar problems and ideals and reasons for teaching internationally. The funniest thing was that they still made the “Mongolia Face” when I told them where I taught. There are people who are teaching all over Asia and they are still intimidated by Mongolia? It was entertaining. They also had an “Alaska face”. How is the bush more extreme that teaching internationally? According to them it is. It just goes to show you that it is all a matter of perspective. Things are never as scary or intimidating as you think that they are going to be. (or at least they haven’t been yet!) I have to say that having talked to everyone I now understand that I am an addict. I will admit it. I am addicted to teaching internationally. It could be a very long time before I come back to the United States. I have decided that I would like to teach on every continent. This of course could be difficult as I am not sure that there are many teaching opportunities in Antarctica!
The first night after the conference we decided to just wander around. I should know by now that that is always a prelude to getting hopelessly lost! We ended up in this incredible high end mall waiting for them to realize that we could not in fact afford those Chimmy Choos and to escort us out. Actually, the way it turned out we would have welcomed it! We started turning corners in this place and then couldn't
find our way out! An hour later we still were walking around! This was a mall in a 100 story building so we were going around in circles and up stairs, around corners trying to find the freaking exit! Somehow, we made this huge circle and ended up in the same spot on the street that we had come in on. After that we decided that staying on the street would be a better idea.
We ended up in Lan Kwai Fong. It is the place to party. In a three block radius I was told that there are over 100 restaurants. I managed to introduce Jan to Ben and Jerry’s which she had never had before because she is from Australia. Having all these places to eat of course causes great completion and it is hard to walk down the street without being grabbed by someone wanting to drag you into their restaurants. “Missy, Missy! You hungee?” The area is probably the most westernized in town, and so is crawling with tourists, expats, and locals every night of the year. We passed some people dressed as Batman and Robin and a Buddhist monk walking along with headphones… Definitely one of the icons of Hong Kong!
I was lucky enough to be in Hong Kong for the Moon Festival (also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival) which is celebrates by Chinese people all over the world. Lots of people use the long weekend traditionally as a time for family reunions. Sort of how Thanksgiving is celebrated. The moon is supposed to be the biggest and most beautiful at this time of year and the people celebrate with lanterns in tons of shapes from the traditional to the modern. All open spaces and hilltops were crowed with families with bright lantern (playing obnoxious music), watching the full moon rise and eating traditional moon cakes. Families let children stay up extra late on this night. There were little kids all over having the time of their lives with their parents. They all had florescent glowing toys and were so ramped up on sugar and staying up late that it was more than a little entertaining to watch. Think little kids and Halloween. As with many Chinese celebrations there are numerous ancient myths and legends to explain the festival. One story that I heard was that the rebels in China (who were trying to overthrow the Mongols. Yes, those Mongols!) wrote messages to other rebels and baked them into cakes so that they wouldn't be found out and their plans ruined!
My vantage point for this whole spectacle was the Intercontinental Hotel. It was across the bay from where we were staying but we heard that it had by far the best view of the light shows. It was a little higher class than the hotels that I am usually. An observation: bathroom attendants are creepy. We decided that taking the ferry would be a highly entertaining way to get there. It was and when we got across the bay we found that there was a street festival atmosphere waiting for us. It was hard to know where to look first! I am not sure why but everyone in Hong Kong thought I was hilarious every time that I tried to talk to them or to take a picture. We took a picture of a little girl with glowing circles in her pigtails and she could hardly stop laughing at us! We were talked into allowing one of the hundreds of photographers along the waterfront take out picture with the whole city of Hong Kong behind us. How it is possible to be talked into something by someone who speaks three words of English? I
couldn't tell you but somehow she managed it. Of course it helps that the picture only cost three dollars… After making our way to the hotel we had dinner and watched their panoramic view of the city. The whole city put on a light show with the building lighting up like Christmas trees with laser show being performed in the sky. It was one of the most impressive things that I have ever seen!
The last night that I was there I went out with three other girls in my workshop group. Two of the girls were from New Zealand but working in Hong Kong and another American girl who was working in South Korea by way of Cameroon. Having now been to an apartment in Hong Kong I am again glad that I decided to work in Mongolia as my apartment is almost twice as large as theirs. There is something to be said for having the room to spread out! We decided to go shopping. This of course meant that we had to get there. A ride on a subway, a ferry, a bus a 10 minute walk later we were at the Woman’s Market. There were miles of stalls selling almost anything that you can imagine. And yes I did buy too much. Shopping in Hong Kong and China is always interesting because you have to haggle. I suck at haggling. You have to constantly be converting the money back into US Dollars to figure out how much you are paying. Plus, it’s stressful and the sellers are intense. You can’t even really look at anything without them coming over to put the pressure on. It was great fun for a night but I am not sure that I would like having to do it every time that I went shopping!
There was so much to see Hong Kong. Stalls of interesting food (whole cooked ducks and chickens with their head still on), people (why they push their dogs around in baby carriages I am still confused by) and just a great atmosphere! There was tons left to do but I suppose that will have to wait until the next time…