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!