Well, just to prove that my brain is still capable of functioning I've decided to post a piece of schoolwork I just completed for my Use of English class. The assignment was to write an opinion/persuasive paper about the institution of the N.S.S. curriculum in Hong Kong's schools. I happen to be very opinionated on the topic of HK schools, so I enjoyed writing this one... but still its 1/4 BS to please my teacher. Anyway, I wouldn't say I'm completely satisfied with my work, but its an example of what I'm doing here. And unless you are a little familiar with HK schools this probably won't make much sense, but who knows. Here goes: Last year, the H.K.S.A.R Education Bureau introduced a totally new education system into Hong Kong schools. Dubbed the New Senior Secondary Curriculum, NSS for short, it strives to reform the old system, modernize teaching methods used, better equip students for the competitive future awaiting them, and take stress off the student body. To carry out these goals, it intends to encourage a more diverse learning environment. By utilizing more project learning, placing higher value on School-Based Assessment marks in the public exam grading scheme, and promoting life-skills acquisition, NSS aims to prepare students more practically for real-life situations they will encounter. Other changes include the addition of a new A Level subject, Liberal Studies, which will center around the analytical study of current issues in the world, the omission of Form 7 from secondary schools in favor of 4 year university study, a merging of the arts and science streams allowing student to study any mixture of elective subjects they desire, and the inclusion of Other Learning Experiences, OLE's, to broaden student's horizons outside of the classroom. But will these measures be drastic enough to overcome the incredible challenge of fixing a school system often quoted as being the most intense, impersonal, and stressful in the whole world? The changes being implemented are definitely a great step forward on the road to recovering the potential of Hong Kong's youth, but will by no means finish the job. While I appreciate the government's acknowledgment of the problems with education in Hong Kong, I am severely disappointed with their lack of real change to the system. I am not at all confident that the measures being imposed will succeed in preparing students for post-school life any better. Creativity won't be cultivated, stressful exams are still ever-present and extremely crucial to progressing through the system, and most of all, the actual classroom environment isn't changed at all, from a lecture-based atmosphere in which students' minds are put to sleep rather than stimulated, which I consider the most important factor still needing to be addressed. The new system is definitely a vast improvement though. Students are asked to do analytical thinking in Liberal Studies, though the presence of a public exam looming at the end of Form 6 squashes most real potential, will be exposed to new aspects of life through the required OLE's, and be able to become more well-rounded, happy students now that they may choose any elective courses they desire, instead of the old unbending 'streams'. Despite these tremendous efforts by the government to make the necessary changes, NSS simply doesn't perform its role properly. My main complaint with NSS is its refusal to make any real change to the everyday school life of Hong Kong students. Lessons are conducted in the exact same manner. Class is always based around an ever-repeating cycle of lectures, notes, and readings, leading to standardized examinations. This is the cycle that most needs to be broken. Active lessons are scientifically proven to stimulate real learning rather than acquisition through memorization of facts. More student-teacher interaction and communication are required to really streamline the efficiency of learning. If students ask more questions, teachers don't place shame upon incorrect answers, and an attempt is made to enhance student-staff relations, students will feel more comfortable in school and be more open and excited to learn. Teacher re-training should be done to ensure teachers are aware of this need, as many teachers are completely backward in this aspect, tending to overexert their power on students effectually creating a stressful environment in which students are unable and unwilling to focus on learning. Multiple learning styles definitely exist too, with some students learning best from visual sources, some from active sources, some from written sources, and some from oral sources. The current setup only allows those who learn from listening and reading to thrive. The addition of video sources, physical activity, audio-visual technologies, and a decrease in the amount of in-class lectures would be a wonderful option to overcome this obstacle. Sitting and listening to lectures all day long does the opposite of encouraging excitement about learning. It promotes dreariness and boredom among naturally active-minded teens. So, the complete lack of change in everyday lesson structure is the main change missing from NSS. Another complaint of mine about NSS is its supposed reform of the public examinations. Removing the CERT level is a truly great change; no longer will a large percentage of students be kicked out of their original schools or be forced to repeat Form 5. The shame accompanying poor results is lowered, as a student will never be asked to leave his peers behind due to bad marks. But the change isn't great enough. At the end of Form 6, students still need to sit for one public exam which determines the entire course of their futures. Good marks mean an opportunity for a better university, leading to a better job, and a more desirable life. Bad marks doom students to a lower-quality education and career options are greatly diminished. The elimination of the CERT level will only increase the pressure and stress coming with the remaining exam. In an attempt to reduce test pressure, NSS actually multiplies it by focusing all tension on one life-changing test. NSS is an abject failure on this matter. The only positive change to the examination is the fact the a certain percentage of the marks will be taken from the School-Based Examination, balancing the validity of test results a bit more. But for each individual student, the pressure is just the same as in the old system, if not higher. The Education Bureau missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a concrete change to the test-based nature of Hong Kong school. Even Liberal Studies, the new A Level, has a public exam proceeding the course's completion, making its usefulness as a 'skill building' class null. Teachers will catch on to exam patterns quickly, and begin to focus more on what needs to be learned for good test marks than what is really most beneficial to students' learning. If anything, the number of required A levels should have been lowered rather than added to, if schools really want to encourage students to pursue what they love in school. A stronger focus on class grades rather than just test marks should also have been added to prevent the epidemic of students neglecting homework and classwork assignments, citing lack of necessity to complete them as their excuse. An emphasis on everyday work being of top quality rather than relying on a single test to comparatively gauge students, makes far more sense. The prudence of the Education Bureau must be questioned, having overlooked such simple, practical changes that could have led to vast improvement over the old system. NSS has gotten a lot of fanfare in the first year since its inception. Many people claim it provides the much needed changes the Hong Kong's schools. It clearly has its positive aspects; it brings Hong Kong closer to proven successful Western education techniques, promotes creativity more than ever before, and hopes to engage students in life outside of school more. Supporters say NSS is enough; it does its job. Stress will be reduced from students' hectic lives with the removal of the CERT level and AL exams. Liberal Studies will bring awareness about current events to naïve students, and fill the gaps between materials covered in other subjects. OLE's will force students to go out of their comfort zones and experience new things. Opening the 'streams' will let students do what they really want and follow their desires. But this is failing to see the big picture. While each individual reform is a good thing, the total package of NSS fails to fulfill its obligations. Unfortunately, NSS doesn't go far enough with its revisions. It falls short in modernizing teaching methods, diversifying education, fixing the problem of the exam-based nature of schools, and preparing students for life after school. While it is a courageous attempt to mend the old system, NSS simply doesn't make the essential changes. Feedback please! Ben
So I'll start off by explaining the title: In Hong Kong English, pronunciation isn't always... correct. Many words are simply said differently here. One of these words is 'pizza', coming from an advertising campaign by Pizza Hut in which the word is pronounced 'Pissa'. Thus, the general population only knows that delightful circular Italian cheese-bread with the incorrect pronunciation. Anyway, one day I was talking to my classmates about ordering some pizza for lunch (which by the way is damn expensive here) and they just started laughing and laughing. After a while they asked me what on earth I was talking about - ordering 'pizza' for lunch. After some more confusion it was discovered that the word Pizza (said correctly) matches the local (mis)pronunciation of the name Peter, and they really though I would talking about ordering Peter for lunch. So the happy ending to my tale is that a few HKers now know the real way to say the word Pizza. We never got it in the end either; far too small and expensive. But I really miss pizza actually... greasy cheesy tomatoey breadiness is hard to come by here. The Pizza places are all 'upscale' and its impossible to buy by the slice. Whatever, there are plenty of other greasy foods to tide me over until next June. And on that note I'll point out that I'm nearly half-way done with my time in HK. OH MY GOD!!! It's shocking; the time has zippppped by faster the speed of light. Not that I haven't learned, experienced, and accomplished many many things, but it just doesn't seem like I've been living in Hong Kong for 4 months already. But what have I done here so far? Well, apart from the fact that I've matured greatly, am much more independent, more capable of fending for myself, and have a new view of life, there are a couple of more calculable things I've done. My knowledge of the Cantonese language has jumped from 0 to extremely basic conversational ability necessary for life, plus I know many abnormal/random words and phrases good solely for the purpose of showing off. I am now learning to write a few characters too. Hard as hell, but I'm oh-so-gradually learning how to draw those pictographs legibly. For the past two Sunday's I've been going to Tuen Mun to learn some Kung Fu basics as well. It's a great release of energy/stress to smack those pads with all my might! Plus I'm learning South Chinese kung-fu in South China; how cool is that?!?! I'm not sure if I have enough time/commitment to become a master or anything, but just as a fun, unique way to spend Sundays, its perfect. What else? I'm in my school's singing contest (the whole class joined much to my chagrin) and we will be singing an old-school 70's HK song called ShaLaLa in front of the school. It's in English, but still getting on a stage, even collectively, is something I doubt I'd ever do in America. But circumstance is forcing me, so it shall be done. I'll give more info when it actually happens. Okay so I guess I'll just continue by saying more things I've done lately. AFS organized a volunteering activity for all exchange students at a charity in HK called 'Crossroads'. We did an interesting activity which simulated the daily life of the world's slum-dwellers, and it was actually quite eye-opening and enjoyable. After that we just did some standard volunteer work; packing boxes, moving furniture, carrying things around, folding clothes. Otherwise I've been having gobs of fun doing countless different things with my various groups of friends. Eating and window-shopping are recurring though. Hong Kong's malls are simply unescapable, and the desire/necessity to eat never seems to wane. I got a ticket to Muse, coming to HK next February! One of my all-time favorites, and I'm going to get to see them live! Sooo excited. Christmas is coming! Meaningless to me actually, but still I will mention that Hong Kong likes decorations. A lot. Almost every building is now covered in twinkly little lights, with generic Christmassy music playing everywhere, and specialized advertising for the holiday season has arrived en masse. Even the people who work at Tuen Mun Town Centre Information Centre are wearing Santa hats... I would be lying if I said all this wasn't PISSING ME OFF already. I am the grinch. No matter if I'm in Iowa or Hong Kong, the Christmas spirit just ends up making me angry. It's inexplicable really, but I just have a cultivated hatred for all things Christmas. And thats all my exhausted brain is capable of providing my fingers to type today. Until next time... byebyela!
So, I've been thinking about how to make this blog more interesting with my limited time, brain power, and technology. So this post has a theme: Music!

Well, to start off, I'll mention that Hong Kong seems to be a musical black hole. Cantopop is king here, and Mandopop, J-Pop, K-Pop, and late 90's American Boy Band music come next in popularity. I'm not going to say that this music is bad, but its not what I consider quality listening. I don't understand why this music is relevant to the locals' lives either; I think I'd get into gansta rap, death metal, or speedcore if I had to suffer through the stressful Hong Kong school system and lifestyle for my entire youth. But, somehow, those sappy, melancholy love ballads crooned in Cantonese are whats 'in' in Hong Kong.

For anybody wondering what I'm talking about specifically, I can give you a few names of artists my classmates have recommended:

Super Junior
Eason Chan
Edison Chen
G.E.M Tang

Look them up on Youtube if you want to look and listen.

"But Ben, what do you listen to in Hong Kong?"

I'm glad you asked!

Well, actually I listen to tons of music here. You see, even though I have no free time, I have hours and hours of time that can only really be spent listening to music. "How?" you ask? Public transport of course!

Every day, I take a minibus ride of 40 minutes each way to and from school. That gives me 80 minutes with nothing to do but enjoy the contents of my iPod! WOOHOOO! I love it actually, because in the mornings it wakes me up from my semi-conscious 'get ready for school' state, and in the afternoons it relaxes me after 6 hours of listening to various lectures in broken English. It's a kind of therapy almost...

So now I'll mention specifics of who I've been listening to in the past few days:

Wax Tailor - French Experimental Trip-hop
Muse - One of my all-time favorite bands from the UK
Immortal Technique - NYC Political/Conspiracy Theory Gangster Rap
Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip - unexplainable spoken word/experimental duo
Rammstein - German Industrial Metal at its finest
Kid Cudi - A new genre I'd say, but in the realm of hip-hop
Mika - amazing singer, in Hong Kong later this month, but sold out :(

Thats just scratching the surface. But anywho, look up those names if you want to hear the same sounds I hear while making the trek from Sheung Shui to Tuen Mun every day.

My fingers are cold now. Heating doesn't exist in HK...

As usual, will be a breakdown of what I've been up to recently. Hopefully it's keeping all you crazy people who read my blog satiated with news from South China... if not, COMMENT and tell me how to improve.

At my school, last week was "Formal Test Week", meaning that all junior form students have a series of rigorous exams to suffer through, one for each subject they study, but for us senior form students all it means is that we get off at 1:15 every day! Each lesson is shortened to 30 minutes, and lunchtime is removed from the schedule. Anyway, it was very pleasant.

Friday was a very exciting day. After school, I ate some noodles with classmates, then went home to change, and then went to Wan Chai to meet my afser friend Jordan, to go turn in our monthly reimbursement forms to the head afs office. We get transportatin fees to and from school reimbursed, as well as $20 per day for lunch (about $2.50 US) and any textbooks we have to buy for school. Anyway, after locating the office with the help of a Russian bank security guard who knew the street, and multiple phone calls to the AFS 'workers' for further instructions, we turned in our forms uneventfully. Then, it was time for fun! The AFS/Hong Kong University Halloween Party was about to start. But, of course, it was a Halloween party, so costumes were needed. Me and Jordan had put some forethought into this, and I decided to be a random scary guy with crazy makeup and Jordan was an Asian Vampire. Anyway, we went to Jordan's house, put on our crazy makeup for a LONG time, made ourselves look as creepy as possible, joined some other partygoers (afsers as well), and took the train to Central, then a Taxi to the University, then trekked uphill to the building where the party was taking place, and finally we arrived. Actually, we were 2 hours late to the party, but still it was worth it. We were definitely the best scarily-costumed people there! Plus, riding the MTR in costume is the most fun thing in the world... More about that later. The party itself was nothing special; just meager snacks, crappy music, everybody dressed up in their costumes admiring each other and taking photos, and the University students who were the real hosts dancing and socializing a bit. It was fun just to have many people together though. After the party, it was quite late and nobody had really eaten dinner, so we went together to McDonalds and got some cheap food, then I went home to beat my curfew, while some others went clubbing. Riding the train in costume, is one of the strangest things I've ever done I think. Every single person either stares, pretends not to notice after taking a few glances, or talks to you. I met some crazy people from Atlanta, and Indian guy who (rightly) accused me of being a day early, and some local girls who insisted on taking photos with me. It's one thing to be a gwai chai (white boy) in Hong Kong, but to be white and in crazy makeup is just toooooo much! It was incredibly fun, because ALL the attention of passersby was on me, they all took their turn to stare, point, gawk, laugh, cry, scream... okay I'm exaggerating too much now. Basically, I got a look of odd looks, and had fun by staring down random people in an attempt to scare them a bit.

I got home, washed off my makeup, and had some good fitfull rest.

Then it was REAL Halloween!

In the morning, I just relaxed, ate breakfast with my family, relaxed, and then went to lunch with my family as well. They took me to an ancient Taoist Temple, situated really close to where we live, that serves traditional Taoist Vegetarian cuisine. The food was great; vegetables, noodles, rice and congee from the restaurant's communal rice pot, and all inside the gorgeous temple. It was a wonderful meal, and I believe the cost is quite low as well. After lunch, I joined some afs friends in Causeway Bay, where we window shopped for a while, drank overpriced coffee, and then went to Mong Kok. In Mong Kok, I bought a man-bag! All my life, I have thought of man-bags as being... not for me. But in Hong Kong, they are a must. Every guy seems to have one, and they are indredibly useful becuase they are smaller and lighter than a backpack, but allow you to carry infinitely more things with you than just using pockets. Anyway, we went to the ladies market, and I half-haggled half-got lucky with the price. Originally it cost 120 HKD, but I got it for 90. Maybe I'm stupid for thinking I got a good deal, but its still waaaay cheaper than you could ever find it in the US, plus the one I got is the perfect size for what I needed. So whatever.

After MK, we needed dinner. Then began the journey of a lifetime. Haha, we all decided (Me, Jordan, and Axel) that we wanted Indian food. I hadn't had any Indian food since coming to Hong Kong, and as it is nearly my favorite cuisine in the world, so my wait needed to come to an end. We decided that Tsim Sha Tsui was the best place to find good cheap Indian food, because that is the district of Kowloon where all the Indians live/work, plus Axel had been to an Indian place there before. But, once we took the train to TST, we got lost walking around the confusing streets. TST may just be the craziest part of Hong Kong because the Indians are incredibly pushy. They grab your arm, try to hand you pamphlets, adversitse fake watches and other illegal merchandise openly, and the mix of rich and poor people makes it a strange area. As white folks, we are thought of as 'stupid people with money to spend', or at least thats what it felt like. Anyway, after getting totally lost, we took a taxi to the main Indian area of Hong Kong. Finally, a man on the street called to us "Indian Food!". So we took his pamphlet, read the menu/prices, and decided to go for it. Well, the restaurant happened to be in Chungking Mansions, one of the most famous buildings in Hong Kong. It used to be the center of crime in Hong Kong, housing triads and drugs dealers and other illegal activities. But now, it is somewhat better, being a place where Indian and African immigrant have settled and formed their own sub-communities. Still a lot of dangerous folks inside (the building is a gigantic maze of small, sketchy looking businesses), but now it has its own professional police force and security cameras everywhere. Plus the man-on-the-street who originally enticed us to go inside was our guide. He took us to the elevator, then asked us if we wanted to take the stairs (we refused of course, we didn't want to be alone in a stairwell in that place). After making some semi-racist comments about Nigerians, he left us in line for our elevator. We made it to the restaurant alive and well, the elevator ride and small walk through a corridor after alighting were uneventful. And we did well in our choice of restaurant! It was a well-lit, busy place, that had other white and chinese patrons, meaning that it was safe and 'high-class'. But still not too expensive. Anyway, I had Chicken Vindaloo, and it was a great meal. After paying, and exiting the crazy building, we went to Central for the Halloween festivities in Lan Kwai Fong, the bar district of HK. It was crazy; thousands and thousands of people in costumes walking around. Of course, I didn't go into the bars/clubs and just stayed for a short while to embrace the atmostphere. Then I went home to meet my curfew again, and had a goooood rest.


I wrote all that on November 5, now its the 9th. I'm slow at finishing these things...

Anyway, another exciting weekend has passed by now, but I'm just gonna leave it at that. This post just needs to be published!

Another blog entry!

Okay, so this one is about the past 7 days I guess. But really its all about the weekend. Interesting things always seem to happen on weekends...

But I will mention that school is going well. I'm trying to participate in my classes as much as humanly possible, without being a nuisance. Hopefully its working... I think so though, because I got a great compliment from one of my Form teachers/geography teacher. She told me that I am the best exchange student she has ever taught (she's taught 7), and the other teachers in my school agree. Apparently, I am hardworking, I participate, I'm smart, I care about the lessons, and I have a talent for Cantonese. This surprises me, because honestly school is my lowest priority when it comes to time-management. I ALWAYS put social life and sleep above school when deciding what to do. Plus, I tend to chat during lessons. So I'm pleased my teachers here don't hate me!

The only notable thing I will mention about this school week was that after school on Thursday I went with a classmate to the Music Room at my school for the first time, and the music teacher graciously let me play all the traditional Chinese instruments! Just the sort of thing I love! It was amazing to me, to get to mess around on the erhu, pipa, guzheng, Chinese drum, woodblock, and countless other instruments I can't possibly remember. The music teacher and my super classmate were really excited to tell me a bit about each instrument and tell me the basics of how to play them too. They seemed impressed by my 'natural ability' to pick up the instruments and play them. Okay, I can't really play them, but the teacher said I sound better just messing around than some of the actual beginning music students! And my ability to make up random rhythms on the giant Chinese drum was appreciated too; according to her, Chinese people have no ability to improvise at all. They just drill the rhythms by studying sheet music, but I could just walk up to the drum and play random things that sound decent.

Well so far this is ending up being about people complimenting me. Sorry. Don't think it's getting to my head or anything. I still think I'm a musical failure and dunce in school :( . Haha, but actually it is somewhat interesting to me how easily impressed people here are with me. For instance, my ability to use chopsticks 'the traditional way' has been commented on twice by random passers-by when I eat out. Also when I say a few VERY SIMPLE (don't think I'm anywhere near fluent)phrases in Cantonese I get stares which I can only assume mean "Oh my! A white boy can speak a bit of Canto.? Amazing!" Really, I think there is a big double standard here which I benefit from.

Now on to the weekend!


Friday was a DAMN boring day at school. Just a stupid geography test and an English Listening Quiz. The geography was actually a well-thought-out quiz paper, but the incompetence of the teacher makes preparing for it difficult. You can't study notes you don't have. You can't answer questions you've never been taught about. The Listening Quiz is just a 'spit back *exactly* what you hear' activity. Now that I know the formula for an A, I think I aced it. But I really don't know... the grading system here is impossible to understand. Free lessons, lunch, and then P.E.! And yes, bowling is a recurring theme in this blog. Bowling this time was, unfortunately, the same as last time. No actual bowling, just strategy and form. Couldn't be more disappointing. But after bowling, I met up with Axel (hey Axel!) from Finland, and we took the bus to Causeway Bay. In Causeway, we met up with many other exchange students, went to Toys R Us for Halloween costume stuff some people needed, ate congee (rice porrige) for dinner, hung out at McDonalds and then Starbucks, chatted, and went home. Sounds simple, but really its evenings like that which are the most fun. Kind of relaxing and makes me remember that I'm in Hong Kong and I'm amazingly happy here. The fact that a simple train ride less than 1 hour can get me to so many incredible places and connect me with so many incredible people is something I will really miss when I have to go home. Actually, I feel like Hong Kong is my home now. I think of the people in America (friends, family) but never the places or things. I know so much more about HK after just 2 months than I know about Iowa after a whole year there or even Kansas after 4 years. I guess I'm just very used to quickly adjusting myself to the places I live, having moved so much my entire life. That, coupled with my fascination with Hong Kong and open attitude, is making my experience here sublime. Hopefully this continues, and my remaining 8 months here will be as fantastic as the first 2, if not better!


On Saturday morning, I ate a quick breakfast with my family of toast, cereal, and coffee, and then set off to meet my friend Jordan (other exchge student from USA) in Kowloon to accompany him on his mission to get his HK I.D. card. His wallet was stolen, so he was delayed a bit in this process (I got my HK ID a month ago). I took the train about 45 minutes to Ngau Tau Kok for the first time, to go to the pick-up place with him. Really, the morning was relaxing and uneventful. He got his ID, and then we went to Causeweay Bay (2nd time this weekend!) to meet up with more AFSers for some good old KARAOKE! Karaoke is something I had never tried before coming to Hong Kong, but now I have done it 4 times, and I really love it. It's great becuase you get a nice room with couches and a giant TV, you choose whatever songs you like (they have English and Chinese, we do English of course), and just do whatever you want. Sing, chat, eat (Lunch included!), drink (non-alcoholic of course), play, joke... I could go on forever. It's just a great way to relax, enjoy yourself with friends, sing a bit, and get away from the constant crowds of HK in your own little cocoon. No expectations, rules, or supervision. Not that we do anything bad, but regulations seem to universal in HK, so its good to get away from them for a few hours.

Okay, so after about 4 hours of awesome karaoke, and diagnosing Axel with tone-deafness, I went with Jordan (USA), Jenny (Germany), and Yannick (Switzerland), to Central by train to meet up with my old First Friend (afs assigns you a local to help you out for the first week). We were going to Ocean Park! Ocean Park is the biggest and best theme park/aquarium in HK, and they have many special exhibits for the Halloween season, so we really wanted to enjoy this unique HK experience. About 10 AFSers total joined us. Getting to Ocean Park was quite a challenge though, because there was terrible traffic and we had to take 2 buses and a train to make it there. But eventually we made it. We had a great time. After splitting up into smaller groups of people, we really began to enjoy ourselves - Rollercoasters, a cable car, a log ride (I got totally soaked), and best of all the haunted houses specially for Halloween. The rides were fun, but nothing spectacular compared to US amusement parks. But I think the haunted houses were excellent! Dark, dramatic corridors, frightening furniture, and some SCARY looking actors jumping out at you around ever corner! You could hardly tell who was a mannequin and who was real, until suddenly they pounced in front of you, making some horrible noise. From 6:15 until 11:30 I was thoroughly entertained. I wish it could have lasted longer! But of course I had to come home.

When I left Ocean Park, I thought the excitement for the day was over. Wrong.

You see, Ocean Park had thousands and thousands of people ALL wanting to go home at the exact same time. So, I had to wait a loooong time for the shuttle just to get down the mountain (the park is split into 2 section connected by bus/cablecar) to the main entrance. And after that bus-ride, I had to locate the bus to Mong Kok. Another looong wait. Plus, due to miscommunication with the driver, I ended up getting off too early, at Yau Ma Tei. At that point, it was almost 1am (I was supposed to be home at 1. OOPS!) and I wasn't even half way home. I was VERY lucky. I caught the last train of the night to Mong Kok (trains end at 1am), though again, it took a looong time to leave the station as it was the final train. Already very late, I had no option of taking the train, like I usually do, home. So, in MK, I asked the station-helper how to get to Fanling (home). He told me to find a minibus outside, but he didn't know the number of it. Dammit. So, I left the train station just as it closed for the night in search of a minibus heading north. Luckily, I recognized the Chinese character for Sheung Shui (next to Fanling) and was able to ask a storekeeper if the minibus towards there stopped at the sign. He laughed, said yes, and instructed me to go to the back of the line. Only then did I notice the humongous line of people stretching back around the block. I kept following the line around 2 corners - probably 250 people total. Only then did I spot the back of it. Crazy. Well, I was happy to have found the right bus, so I waited it out - about half-an-hour of standing in line as minibus after minibus came by and the line got gradually shorter. I still don't know why so many people were all waiting to go to Sheung Shui so late/early, but I think the trains should run later. There is definitely a demand! Anyway, I finally got on the minibus, rode to Sheung Shui station, and walked to Fanling (15 mins) home. WHew....

Of course, I had been awake since 8 that morning and now it was 3am so I was exhausted. So I immediately went to sleep and woke up on Sunday about 10am. Still a little tired, but all-in-all I felt good. I ate some breakfast, and then I remembered it was one of my classmates 20th Birthday! So, I took the minibus to Tuen Mun for some more karaoke! Hooray! But this time it was with many classmates, thus I got to hear them sing Chinese songs. Also, my Geography teacher was there too; she is a good friend of the girl who's birthday it was. Oh, and an explanation of why she is 20 and in my class - she is from Mainland China, so when she emigrated to Hong Kong she had to stay back 2 years to learn better Cantonese, English, and various subject matter in other subjects. Thus she is 2 years older than the other students, and nearly 4 years older than me (I am the youngest in Form 6). A note about the Chinese karaoke songs: They are mostly from Taiwan, apparently Taiwan makes most popular asian music these days. Accordingly, the songs are Mandarin, not Cantonese. But the strange thing is that they all sound the same: sad, slow, duets or female vocalists, love songs, and they are all about finding 'Mr. Right'. And the videos are all the same too - scenes of beautiful couples having fun, or some are about breakups and then you see them fighting and crying. But I've never heard so many songs that sound... identical! Anyway, it was really fun to listen to my classmates sing, and I sang a few English songs too. I was surprised how good at singing they all are! Must be because they speak a tonal language, so they are naturally good singers.

We had a wonderful time singing. Then we ate at the food court in the mall next to the karaoke place. Cheap, oily food, but still tasted great!

Monday I had no school of course. But I had a small cold, so I stayed home, ate Dim Sum with my family, took Chinese medicinal herbal tea, felt a bit better, and slept. Nothing exciting, but a great relaxing day at home was just what I needed.

I've written this blog entry over the course of about 24 hours, so now its Tuesday afternoon (I started Monday afternoon). By now, I know that I got good marks on my English Listening Quiz mentioned earlier. Also, I love formal testing week at my school because for me it just means I get out at 1:15 everyday this week. HOORAY!

This is too long now, so I'll stop.

Until next week,

This weekend was amazing. This post will be purely informational because right now I'm too lazy to come up with anything resembling 'insight'right now:

On Saturday, a bunch of us exchange students and some local friends decided to spend the day at the beach on Lamma Island, one of the outlying island of Hong Kong. So, we met in Central early in the morning, and after some delays took the ferry to the island. This was my second time going to one of the Outlying Islands, the first being on my Class Picnic day when we went hiking on Cheung Chau. I have to say, I love the outlying islands! They are toooootally opposite to Hong Kong island; open space, relaxed atmosphere, not so busy, traditional buildings, and just a great vibe! Of course HK island is amazing too, but its nice that in less than an hour by boat, you can reach a beautiful traditional island. Anyway, once on the island, we had to walk about 25 minutes to get to the beach where we planned to 'party'/relax. Along the way went through the ancient village, very very very traditional, ate a bit of dim sum, and then got onto the beach. It was a tiny beach, but it was just what we were looking for! You could swim, relax under the palms, listen to music, meet the other foreigners/tourists on the island, and get good food and drinks for amazingly cheap prices right there. I felt a bit smug sitting on the beach getting a tan (not really, I'm too pale) relaxing under a tree and chatting with some HK locals, knowing that in Iowa it was probably freezing with nothing fun going on. Its a wonderful thing to be able to go to the beach in mid-October! I really don't miss the Iowa winter at all. So after a wonderful relaxing day at the beach I was sleepy, and went home a bit early to get some rest. Because after Saturday comes Sunday!

Sunday was another fabulous day. After a lazy morning of messing around and doing homework, I went bowling with some classmates in Tuen Mun (where my school is). If you remember from my last post, bowling is different here (look back if you want details...) But still, we decided that since we never got to actually bowl during our P.E. lesson, we'd do it ourselves. So, me and 5 of my best friends from school went bowling. For some, it was only their 2nd time ever bowling, and nobody was very good, so I was actually the best bowler there! Amazing! Actually I think I was just having a lucky day, becuase I've never scored so high in my life (I got 145 in one game!) But who knows, maybe I've just subconsciously figured out how to bowl well...

So after about 3 games, we went next-door the bowling alley (which is in the 2nd floor of a big 'multipurpose centre') and played snooker. I am terrible at snooker. Nothing more to say. I think I got one ball in the whole game. I prefer pool a million times over. 'Twas fun though. So then after snooker we went and walked around the mall, relaxed, had a snack, and then went for dinner at a local Hot Pot place! This was my 3rd time having hotpot here, and it is really one of my favorite ways to dine now. A big pot of bowling oil is placed in the middle of the table, and you just order various meats and vegetables, throw them in, wait a few minutes, and then go fishing for whatever looks good! It's exquisitely social, the restaurant is loud and casual, and the quantity of food in incredible. You just keep ordering more and more until you think you will burst, but thats just the was its done. Anyway, I managed to sample some very intersting things most of which I have no idea what was, but one thing I know is that I ate toad. Yes, toad! And it tasted good! Actually I would say its nothing too special, just some generic tasting meat, but its the thought that you're eating a chunk of toad meat that is quite exciting. Another thing is that hot pot meals take a loooong time, usually about 2 hours total. So by the time we finished all the deliciousness it had gotten quite late. I took the minibus home, did a bit of homework, and slept.

And that was my weekend! Hooray!
So now the day is further along, and I figured I would shock everybody by posting AGAIN! I'm really gonna try to keep this thing up.

My unusual(ish) day:

Okay, so today in school I really only had 2 lessons. 2 lessons of Geography in the morning were normal, then 2 free periods, then Use of English, but it was Oral Presentation day so I just read my own book the whole time (my class number is 32, I'll be presenting tomorrow), and then it was lunch time. But today was different with the lunch schedule because we have P.E. on Day 7's and today was a Day 7. And it was a special Day 7 becuase my P.E. class is doing bowling now! Hooray, I love bowling.

But this is Chinese bowling. Anyway, I got lunch with some of my 'mainland immigrant' friends (I hope thats not too politically incorrect) at the local szechuan restaurant. Great food, spicy enough for even the strongest tongues of Hong Kong, made by a real szechuan man. I ordered my noodle soup 'lightly spicy' and my lips were enflamed by the end. Great, authentic food. Then we took a taxi to the bowling alley! I was just thinking, in America, it would be unthinkable for a school to expect all students in a class to travel several miles to get to P.E., paying for the transport themselves. Luckily, I was with 3 friends and we split the taxi cost so it was actually a good deal. Just a little more per person than taking the Light Rail (our other option to get to the alley). Plus 10x faster and not stiflingly crowded. So we got to the alley, and since it was bowling and we don't sweat we were all still wearing our normal school uniforms. Blehhhh, I hate that stupid white shirt and blue pants. But nobody stares; its normal to see everybody wearing their school's ridiculous vision of a perfect student's outfit. So then it was time to bowl, or so I thought. It turns out that bowling isn't thought of in Hong Kong as it is in America. First of all, this bowling alley was brightly lit, no music was playing, and the lanes were about 3/4 the length of American ones. Not at all the relaxed atmosphere of Colonial Lanes in Iowa City. So everybody got their bowling shoes from the counter (they didn't have my size, so I just squeezed into some size 10's. Chinese foot-binding is still alive!) and then we lined up silently as the teacher commanded us about how exactly to hold the ball, approach the lane, swing it back, follow-through with our swing, and shift our weight throughout the whole process. Of course all instruction for P.E. is in Chinese, so I just pretend to listen intensely, and then my fabulous friend Wing Wing translates quickly after the lecturing is done. This may seem quite reasonable for the P.E. lesson, except that we never actually got to bowl. We just kept 'training' for the whole 1hour and 10 minutes. Ridiculous if you ask me! Another thing is that here, bowling is something many students, aged 16-18, had never done before! This was their first time ever in a bowling alley! It's just not a common pastime here I guess. What else? Oh, yeah. They treat bowling like rocket science here. According to the teacher, there is a specific set of movements you have to do to have any success in bowling. There is no such thing as 'having fun' while bowling. To Mr. Ng (the PE tyrant as I like to think of him), bowling is a serious sport, never to be considered a fun, social thing for friends to do.

But, he did warn us not to put our hands near the ball-return machines, lest we get our fingers caught between two balls. I must give him credit; this warning would have saved my right pinky a lot of pain, had it been given to me in Denmark about 8 years ago.

So bowling was a bust. Booooring. But after that let-down, some friends from my class invited me to play snooker with them right next to the bowling alley. It cost about 5 US$ for one our, for all of us! Very cheap! And I guess thats the end of my day. We played a good game of snooker (none of us are any good) and then went our seperate ways. I just walked to the minibus terminus and took my usual 44a to Sheung Shui station, from where I rode my bike 15 minutes home. And thats my unusual(ish) day.

All comments, positive, negative, and unrelated, are welcome!

I'm in school right now! I have a free lesson during which I can use the internet, and I forgot my homework in my locker, so I'm gonna blog!

Okay, to start, I'd like to apologize to the world for practically abandoning this blog. My bad. I'm really gonna try to update it weekly from now on.

"Why did you decide to come to Hong Kong?" This probably rates as the #1 question I've been asked here. Schoolmates, teachers, the other exchange students - everybody wants to know. At the beginning of this journey, I would tell people that to me, Hong Kong is an exotic place, totally different from anywhere I've ever been before, that I am fascinated by the unique HK culture in which Chinese and Western ideas clash constantly, or that my version of escapism is to run away to the most densely populated place on earth.

But, these answers are becoming less and less relevant as time goes on. My real reason for choosing Hong Kong is becoming more apparent to me every day I am here.

The real reason I am in Hong Kong is because I have a fascination with people. In Iowa, or anywhere in the USA for that matter, I can see a person, and guess a lot about their personality, likes, dislikes, background, and values. Their hair, clothes, speech, and attitude are usually dead giveaways to what type of person they are, and I find this to be quite boring. Though each person is clearly their own individual, they all belong to certain groups, whether by choice or by birth. So, just by looking around, I can garner a lot of information about the people who surround me. Hong Kong is totally different in this respect. Becuase is it such a tiny place with a huge population, it has many more 'types' of people than Iowa. Also, the types are completely different. I just love the feeling of walking around and having no idea what the people around me are thinking, feeling, or doing. Just by looking at them, I have no idea what sort of personality they have, for the most part, and I am still trying to figure out the 'types' of people here. This is something I never expected to be so enthralled with, but it is quite amazing to me to be surrounded by so many people I feel I just can't relate to in any way. From the MK (a local sub-culture) guys with their dyed hair and strange fashion sense, to the stressed businessmen on the MTR screaming into their mobile phones, I feel like there is just some understanding about life we don't share. And its a good thing. Its what makes being an exchange student here so wonderful. I have the opportunity to live among these people, and learn about their culture from the inside out.

This is the most precious thing I think I will leave Hong Kong with. The knowledge that this crazy world has many crazy cultures that make many crazy people, but that I am just another crazy person out of the 6 billion on this earth. Even more so, the knowledge that the world is truly my oyster, and that by simply going, in person, to experience various parts of the world, I can expand my horizons more than I ever knew before. So, the reason I have come to Hong Kong isn't really any of those simple thing I mentioned before. It is becuase Hong Kong is the perfect place for me to start what I hope to continue in some way for the rest of my life; learning about people, their cultures, their lives, and especially what makes them truly unique. With so many people here, my task is quite simple; I am provided daily with thousands of examples of people created here, living the way they feel is right, and doing what they feel is right, that I could never find anywhere else. Because the change from Iowa to Hong Kong is so clear-cut (almost nothing is the same), I am really discovering that this is a passion of mine; being surrounded by these 'different' people.

Well, that all sounds pretty deep. But its true. I can't possibly put into words all the things I've learned here in these quick 7(ish) weeks, but I can now definitively say that the reason I am in Hong Kong is to learn about the world and its people, and to start my adult life. I feel much more independent and mature than ever before, and I have really just begun to think about what is important enough to me in life to pursue in the long term. I hope my self-discoveries continue througout the next 8 months here, and they can be applied to whatever I do in the future.

I hope this doesn't all come across as sappy. But I'm just having such a great time and this blog seems like a fine enough place to organize and share my thoughts.

Look forward to the next blog post! It'll be about hk, not me. I promise!

Okay, so maybe you thought I abandoned this blog. WRONG!

Everybody who will read this already knows my basics by now, so I'll get right into a decent story.

On Monday morning this week, it was raining. Nothing unusual, a typhoon out in the ocean was causing some drizzling; not anything major. Anyway, I usually ride my bike to Sheung Shui station (about 10-15 mins) to catch my minibus to school. Since it was raining, I couldn't ride my bike, so for the first time, I attempted to take a public bus. My host dad told me which number to take, so I thought it would be no problem, and it would even be quicker than biking.

It should have been quicker...

I got on bus 270A, the correct bus, but I forgot about the direction. It didn't even cross my mind. I just got on and waited for the announcement lady to say 'Sheung Shui Station' and for the words to flash up onto the screen. After about 15 minutes, I thought there might be a problem. It should have been a really short ride, but I didn't know how short. I waited a little longer. Too long.

When I saw the bus continue straight on past a sign stating that a right turn would take me to Sheung Shui and going straight would lead to Kowloon, I realized something was very wrong. I called my host dad, and we sorted it out on the phone. Whether I liked it or not, I was going to Kowloon. No stops along the way to escape. Not a chance of being on time to school, and I still had to make my way to Tuen Mun somehow once I arrived there.

So, as instructed by my Dudu, I got off at Kowloon MTR station (the terminus for that bus) and then took the orange line mtr to Nam Cheong (10 mins), then the entire West Rail Line (45 mins?), then the Light Rail from Tuen Mun to Kin Sang(10-15). I don't even want to know how much it all cost...

Actually I was only about 2 hrs later than usual to school and I missed the morning assemble (yay!) and my first two lessons, both geography. But, the experience was worth it. Getting lost in HK is safe, and its not hard to find your way to a train station, which connects you with everything. Plus now I know how to take a bus from my home to Kowloon!

Recap of transportation:

Bus: 1 hr
MTR: 10mins
Train: 45 mins?
Light Rail: 10 mins
Minibus: 35 minutes

On the way home I took my normal minibus about 35 minutes, and walked home.

Crazy day to say the least.

So now it's Tuesday and I have no school because Typhoon Koppu has moved in. Level 8 warning means no school! Hooray!

And yes, now I know where the bus stop is to catch 270A going TOWARDS Sheung Shui.

Well, its been a long time since I've updated, but now I have all the missing information!

First of all, I know my departure travel details. I leave from Cedar Rapids to LAX on the 19th, via Dallas, and then I'm handed over to AFS personnel. In this first step to my departure alone, I will experience two 'firsts'; my first time flying alone, and my first time in California. Hooray!

The next big pieces of info I've received are my Host Family and School Placement. I will be living in Fanling (about 17 miles north of central HK) with with a host mom and dad! I am so eager to meet them and learn more about Fanling, because the Internet lacks in English information about the town.

My school is Tuen Mun Catholic Secondary School in the town of Tuen Mun, about 15 miles from my home. I know my classes will be split between English and Chinese, but I really don't have any more information about the school. Its website provides no english translation and they haven't directly contacted me, so I have yet to find out the specifics. This will round out my types of schooling pretty nicely - at some point in my life I will have experienced public schools, private school, homeschool, military/government school (ok, so that one was really pre-preschool), and now financially aided religious school. Quite a list.

So now I have 3 days left in the following: the Western Hemisphere, North America, the USA, the Central Time Zone, the Midwest, Iowa, and Iowa City. And I can't wait to leave! Goodbye everything! In one sense I'm going home; back to the hemisphere in which I was born. Weird.

I still have to pack my suitcase and carry-on and make sure everything is within the strict weight guidelines, and then I'm pretty much set to go!

Just got back from a 2 week college road trip/family visit in the northeast. A little bit about each place visited:

Kalamazoo College (Michigan): Really went there for my sister, of no interest to me

Juniata (PA): Same as above

Swarthmore (PA): Snobbiest seeming school, beautiful campus, of no interest to me

Columbia (NYC): Great school/campus, definitely applying, probably not getting in

NYU: Unfriendly admissions people, no 'campus' feel

Wesleyan (Connecticut): Disappointing town, terrible info session lady, not good

Vassar (NY): Great campus, great school, definitely one of my favorites

Hampshire (Mass.): Very interesting alternative system, intriguing and very different from other places visited

Tufts (Mass.): Horrible info session guy; too smarmy,decent campus, nothing great or terrible

Cornell (NY): My favorite campus and school, everything great

In the end, Cornell was my favorite and Wesleyan my least favorite. Also had a lot of fun w/ cousin/aunt/uncle/Nana in NY.

Still waiting for my departure and family info for Hong Kong, and the conference call w/ AFS was a bit useless because the person who could give specific information about Hong Kong was absent. I spoke to the other American going there though, so that part was great.

Until more info arrives,

Well, now I really have to start planning for my departure. School ended on Thursday, and I have about 2.5 months left until I leave Iowa! Not so long.

Now I get really excited whenever I fill out more paperwork for AFS; it reminds me that I will soon be leaving for Hong Kong!

School is almost over here, and I'm beginning to start thinking about the start of my upcoming voyage. I'm excited to get out of Iowa City and go to a real city. Right now my focus is on finishing up my final 7 days of school with good grades, but soon I'll always be thinking about going to live in Hong Kong for a whole year!

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