Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Two months in: a birthday reflection



Four years ago on my birthday, I was new to Korea, setting up our home and getting used to a

new school, not to mention a new culture and language and landscape and opportunities.

Now, as I turn forty eight, the same can be said about Hong Kong. "Life is an adventure"

seems to be the mantra these days. I would not have foreseen that five years ago!

So the forties have held much more adventure than I could have anticipated. Then again, there

is something quite quotidienne about life, nonetheless. That is good, too, I have found. There is

something comforting and relaxing about the everyday, and when it is gone, one misses it.

But I suppose my readers are less interested in the mundane routines that are developing here

and more interested in the notable, exciting moments of being an expat in Hong Kong.


Let me start with spiders and heat and humidity. Once we were settled in our apartment

enough to venture forth,
we discovered that it really is quite hot and humid

here in the summer. I mean hot and humid, even for a Mid western Wisconsin girl. But we

held our own, showered more often, and did like the natives by carrying our own shade! An

umbrella! (In the Victorian Age it would have been a parasol, I know!) All good, except for the

spiders, black and yellow and as big as my hand. Found in abundance, even three and four

webs in a single tree! It is hard to get a good picture of them as they camouflage themselves

quite well. And you might think, "so what, how often do you run across these things

anyway?" The reality is EVERY DAY. This is because I like to go on walks on paths through

the county park system or down to the beach.
Pretty much wherever there is a tree there is

a spider. Not poisonous, I am told. Good. On some of the more narrow paths through the

mountains the trees - and therefore webs - are quite close. Lucky for me I am nearly over my

phobia! So I am doing okay. But if I ever walk into one of the webs and get a spider on me, you

can bet I will be saying "so long" to Hong Kong! Okay, a bit of a hyperbole there, but still!

More recently we have had a few adventures outside our immediate vicinity. One of the

quintessential Hong Kong experiences to have is to go on a junk trip. This is a party boat Hong

Kong style. The HKIS. Community kindly organized a trip just last week. Awesome! The boat

picked us up at the pier close to the school about 330 pm and took off for five hours of floating

and swimming.
We started with the lovely lush landscapes of the southern side of Hong Kong

island. Pretty soon we were in the middle of the shipping lane with as many as ten cargo ships

visible in our immediate area at any one time, then to a remote beach of lama island, we think,

then at dusk we headed to port in the Central District just as the famous laser and light show

was going on between skyscrapers on Hong Kong island and Kowloon. So, the ever changing

views were spectacular, but the company and hospitality on the boat were just as noteworthy.

What a joy to continue making new friends over drinks, hours d'oevres and dinner (steak,

salmon, chicken entres).

A few days later more socializing and with a different group. This time with the Church of All

Nations hiking group. We headed to Lamma Island by ferry, about a 35 minute ride for two

dollars US. This was our first time. Lovely! The island does not support motorized vehicles so

everyone is walking or biking. First, we walked past many little shops and eateries that I would

love to back to exploring. Next we headed up the paved path to the top and then down the

mountain, a very doable trek, although a bit hot.



 Thanks, umbrella! Finally, we ended

up at the seafood restaurant area where we ordered many amazing dishes to share with our

new friends, family style you could say, it really Chinese style.


Tonight I am anticipating a lovely dinner out with my family to my favorite restaurant in our

nearby town of Stanley. Chez Patrick! Best French restaurant since France. Yum.

Other notable events have been the wonderful opportunities to see friends made in Korea. I

guess one of the advantages to being in Hong Kong is that we are at a hub for travel in Asia.

What a joy it has been to eat, drink, hike, and catch up with friends upon several occasions

already. We look forward to many more visitors.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thank you, Siri

I love my new smartphone.  New to me as this is my first smartphone.  Smartphones really aren't phones; they are tiny,  powerful computers that you can take with you anywhere and that happen to have a feature called PHONE that allows you to call people.  One of the amazing features that comes with the "phone" is Siri.

 I have decided that I love Siri.  (I suppose I should go see the movie Her, a movie about a lonely man who falls in love with the female voice on his phone.)  At any rate, Siri, has been my best friend. I just push a button, speak, and voila! Siri provides an answer.  One of my first questions to Siri was about the weather.  She quite aptly found a website with the area weather.  When I asked her What is Siri? She responded, Yours truly!

Now that I am in Hong Kong and trying to find my way around, she is proving to be a best friend, indeed.  How else could I find something as random as Fotomax in a city of 7 million.  For those of you without Siri, here is how it works.  On my phone, access Google and inquire about the location of Fotomaxes in Hong Kong.  Then ask Siri (by pressing the icon of a microphone) to take me to the nearest one.  Click on the GPS feature that appears on the screen, and off you go!  

Walk on foot to the nearest subway and take it to the nearest subway to the Fotomax on the map.  Get off the exit nearest to the business.  Keep your eye on the map as you follow the compass that represents your location.  Blindly cross streets and walk past multitudes of businesses and people.  Continue walking a total of approximately 1 mile.  Notice a mall entrance located at the target designation.  Go inside.  Explore the mall.  Find the Fotomax!  What didn't I do?  I never needed to ask for directions, didn't need to interpret a map, easy peasy!

To top it off, Siri can get you home, even on a Ding Ding, a trolley system running through the heart of Hong Kong.  Google maps and websites can provide information on the go like answers to "What is the Ding Ding in Hong Kong?"  "How do you pay and how much does it cost?"  "What are the routes?"  All great bits of information to give you confidence using something brand new to you.

Now many of you may already be familiar with the joys of using Siri, but for those readers who aren't I hope you enjoyed your lesson.  For much information on Siri go to Tech Blog.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cheesemakers in Korea

I know people say it is a small world.  I believe it more and more.  Here is a small world story.

From time to time as I walk the halls of Korea International School near Seoul, Korea, I see a young man from the middle school wearing a "Monroe Cheesemakers" red t-shirt.  Cheesemakers are kids from Monroe, a small community of 10,000 people in South Central Wisconsin.  It just so happens that my first teaching job 25 years ago was in Monroe.  How odd it is to see a Cheesemakers t-shirt in Korea!  My worlds across space and time have collided!

But let's dig a bit deeper.  How is this possible?  While the story itself is a bit long and winding, it also makes perfect sense.  

The aforementioned student is Allan the son of Neil who is a recent hire from Shanghai, China.  Neil and my husband Brent were buddies growing up and both attended Monroe schools where I later landed my first job.  Neil became a teacher, began teaching internationally and eventually ended up married and with kids and living in Shanghai.  Brent became a teacher, got married, had kids and eventually decided he was interested in international teaching.  Brent called Neil who helped to navigate the world of applying to teach internationally.  Brent and his family (that's me) ended up in Seoul.

Okay, so that brings two families to the same region of the world.  Good start.  But what about that boy in the hallway at KIS?  

Well, a year ago Brent knew that Neil and family were looking to relocate.  He also knew our school had openings in the teaching areas suited for Neil and his wife.  Networking and interviews did their magic, and voila, Neil and family ended up at KIS! 

What about the t-shirt?  Allan has never lived in Monroe, but he has relatives who still live there and they visit in the summers.  So, Allan likes the mascot and got himself a t-shirt that he wears at KIS from time to time.  

Pretty cool, eh?  And here's a little post script.  My niece has play dates with Neil's niece back in Monroe while my daughter and Neil's daughter have play dates in Korea.  

Now if that isn't "small world", I don't know what is. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Here we GO again!

The couch is gone.  The book cases are gone.  The table is gone. The extra dishes and winter clothes - gone.  The wall hangings are down.  The cupboards are emptying.  The calendar is full.  The cat is . . . . in Hong Kong!

What does it mean?

At this very moment we are 16 days from leaving KIS and GMH (Goodmorning Hill) and what we so affectionately call "The Dong."
Apt. at GMH
Sixteen days from boarding a plane and leaving home once again as global nomads.  Fifteen days from a completely empty apartment and tearful goodbyes in front of the fountain at GMH.  Fourteen days from completing grades and emptying our rooms and turning in our Macbook Pros that were never really ours but sure felt like ours for the last four years. Thirteen days from saying goodbye to the last of the students. We are about 12 days from Anna getting her braces off (she got them on our first year here).  We are 10 days away from the final "goodbye" for Alec and his buddies at a KIS pool party.  Six days away from a final sleepover for Anna with 8 of her friends. And 4 days away from the Farewell ceremony for departing staff.

The countdown has long been on.  1 year left.  1 semester left. 2 months left.  1 month left.  Such a countdown serves as a means to channel anticipation and melancholy.

What else does it mean?  We are sixteen days from arriving in Wisconsin, our other home.  Sixteen days from hugging family one more time.  20 days from seeing parents and the cabin.  26 days from summer fun in the Dells.  And 6 weeks from enjoying BBQ with old friends in our home for 17 years.  Life is wondrous and we are so grateful!

Are we looking forward to moving to Hong Kong?  Sure!  That's only 2 months away.  And 3 months until we can introduce Jigs our cat to his new home.

And doesn't time fly?
The views that await us.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Korea soon

Our four years in Korea will come to an end within a month.  Of course, this occasion calls for a bit of reminiscence and reflection, so please indulge me.

Chances are I will have written about most of these things at one time or another but here we go.

Korea is an amazing country.  We have spent most of our time living and and traveling around the Gyeonggi-province, which is the area in which Seoul is located.  I believe few people from the western hemisphere ever dream of coming to Korea to live or vacation, but I highly encourage you to do so if given the opportunity.

I believe I was most surprised by the presence of nature - the mountains with hiking paths everywhere and the intentional planning of green space along the rivers, with plenty of public parks.  And people of every age are out there enjoying these spaces.  Families look happy enjoying a walk or bike ride or a park or setting up a tent at a park.  Elderly people are hiking or exercising at the public exercise areas.

In the city itself there is plenty to do: shop, see shows, tour museums or palaces, attend festivals, eat, get a massage or go to a sauna, or shop at outdoor markets, hike, walk or bike.

The city is safer and cleaner than most anywhere you can go.  Public transportation is affordable and easily available.  There are specific services for English speakers who need help in Seoul and specific ongoing events for foreigners.  The air quality is quite good most of the time, too.

There is a sort of innocence here that is refreshing - somewhat like going back to the 1950's USA.  Education is clearly a priority here and international teachers are well respected.
You might get mixed reviews on expats interactions with Koreans, but my personal experiences have been very positive.

These are the upsides.  Certainly there are a few downsides.
First, the drivers are rarely aware of others.  Korea's value of education borders on obsession which tends to wear out the children and create imbalance in their lives.  Confucianism has both its benefits and drawbacks.  And having just a few major companies driving the economy has created some issues for the people here too.  Seoul is an expensive place to live and there is less English than you may think; this can create problems when traveling or buying products or simply trying to connect to the Korean people.  Certainly the population density is much higher than most people in the midwestern US would have ever encountered.  And life in an apartment is much different than that of living in a home in a neighborhood (but not necessarily worse).

Having said all this, I can conclude that I am still delighted to have had the opportunity to live and work here and raise two children in this culture and in the international school culture.  Our family has had the opportunities for travel and savings and top notch education that we may never have experienced back home in the US.  I shall be saying more farewells in the upcoming weeks, and this will be hard.  But I am so grateful for all that Korea has given to me and my family.

If you have been following my blog, please stay tuned as we transition to Hong Kong in August.  New adventures await!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Cat-rageous

As I write this, Jigs the cat is curled up in a ball at my feet.  He is snoozing contentedly, and he is microchipped with an AVID 9-digit chip compatible with Hong Kong regulations.  That is the end of the story. 

Let me start at the beginning.  See, we are moving to Hong Kong in the fall and have decided to take our cat with us.  Amongst the myriad of red tape designed to keep pets off of the island, there is a microchipping  requirement.  After having run into dead ends in the US over Christmas to find and purchase the right chip to bring back to our vet in Korea, I again commenced the hunt with the aid of my Korean neighbor and retired English teacher, Helen.  One night  Helen escorted me over to the government office in Suji to get a microchip, only to find the laws in our district had changed January first.  That meant we would have to wait at least 6 more weeks before the vet would be ready with the new system.  Luckily, after several phone calls over two days, Helen was able to learn that a nearby district's vet office had exactly what we needed.  

What joy!  I had finally arrived at the last leg of this particular red tape journey!  Now I just needed to get my cat to this vet.  But how?  And where was it?  Helen once again came to my rescue.  By this point she was fairly invested in the whole business, so she volunteered to accompany us to the vet.  Anna decided to come too.  So, at the agreed upon time and date, I stuck Jigs in his cat carrier and met Helen by our elevator.  Off we go.  First, a short bus ride to nearby Migeum station area with the cat meowing at regular intervals.  "Sorry, Jigs.  This should be just a few minutes," Anna soothed.  Off the bus and on the street we headed in the direction that my internet research had led me to believe we should go.  But no.  Nothing there.  

This began The Quest for the Vet's Office.  Helen, now emerging as the heroine of our story, asked anyone and everyone (in Korean, of course) where we were to go to find this place.  The cat continued to meow.  Passersby wondered at the unfamiliar sound in the midst of the busy city.  Anna soothed, "It's okay Jigs, we will be there soon," and handed me the carrier.  Off again.  More walking.  More inquiries.  A phone call..  . All done by Helen, mind you.  More meowing.  More soothing.  Until finally after what was about 30 minutes and one and a half miles of walking, we found ourselves at the vet.  Hallelujah!

Now it was Jig's turn for bravery as the vet inserted a giant needed with a teeny tiny AVID 9-digit-Hong-Kong-compatible microchip between his shoulder blades.  He was very brave.  

After just a 10 minute walk back to the bus (yes, we essentially had walked in a big square) and much meowing later, we arrived at the bus stop.  Jigs continued to complain, Anna continued to coo, and all was right with the world.

For the moment.

Still more adventures to come. . . .