So I got the results of all my exams back now. And actually, I'm pretty impressed with myself. First, I'll mention that Hong Kong exams are TOTALLY different from U.S. exams in the grade expectations. In the US 'passing' is assumed, even for quite low-performing students. But in Hong Kong, simply passing is everybody's goal. Getting an F is a real possibility with the incredible 'marking schemes' student work is compared to to figure out the appropriate scores. And these are not graded on any curve; all students are judged against this marking scheme, instead of each other.

And so, my results:

My Use of English Exam was not really any surprise. If I hadn't gotten the highest results in Form 6, it would have been a real shocker seeing as English is my first language and everybody else's second or third (after Mandarin). I passed every section (there are 6)with excellent scores, just missing some marks here and there for silly errors or due to the specificity of answers required by the teacher. eg. I put more complex versions of the desired answers, and they were marked wrong. But whatever, I don't really care about arguing for every single point. I passed. I did wonderfully. Hooray!

Then, I got back my Biology exam. But I take Form 4 Biology which is quite easier than any Form 6 classes. The exam was much easier too, consisting of multiple choice and short answer questions rather than essays. Also, as my A-Level class exams were 3 hours long in duration, this one was simply 1.5 hours. Much less mentally taxing, and I didn't even bother to study at all since 90% of the information we cover in class is review for me. And, it turns out, I really do know what I'm doing in Biology! I got 71/100 marks, an extraordinarily high score by HK standards. The highest anybody got in my class was 80/100, and I was in the top 4 in the 4th Form. I'm pleased!

Then comes history, which is divided into two sections: China and Europe. Each section had its own exam (2/3 essay, 1/3 Data Based Question) but the scores are combined in the end to form one big 'History' grade. I knew that History posed a big problem for me, as all my in-class essays received quite low marks for their lack of evidence. Apparently I have many excellent theories but I just don't back them up enough. Anyway, I studied about 20 minutes through the notes from both sections, which by Hong Kong standards is the same as not studying at all, but for me it was all I needed to remember a few basic important facts. And it worked; I passed both sections. 30/50 on the European part and 25.5/50 on the Chinese. I'm very pleased and surprised!

Geography. Geography is the one subject I have never studied before in America and I have absolutely no interest or background in. Soil and biomes and agricultural systems just put me to sleep. And the exam was 3 hours of hellish essays about topics I honestly didn't know much about. Just some facts I remembered from the lessons and another 20 minutes of reviewing the class notes with some improvised details to accompany them. It worked. Kind of... I passed the section on Physical geography but failed the human geography section. But when you factor in my daily marks, I passed!

Really, I'm just so glad the exams are over. No more sitting in a hard wooden chair for three hours writing essays about things I don't really understand or care about. And I passed all my classes, a real personal triumph.

What did I do last Sunday? Not too much... just WENT ON A HELICOPTER RIDE!!!It was amazing.

Incredible. Exhilarating. Inspiring. I'm exaggerating now... but really it was great.

But anyway, the way this came to be was that one of my host mom's Mandarin classmates who came over during one of our Christmas gatherings was a helicopter pilot. And, during the dinner party, he graciously invited to take me on a ride around HK in a helicopter! Of course I expressed great interest, and before I knew it, the flight was scheduled!

So, on Sunday I met the pilot (Mr. Fung) at the Fanling Railway Station, and we took taxi to the People's Liberation Army Barracks at Shek Kong (in Hong Kong), where the HK Aviation Club is located. It was an experience in itself to see the PLA's Hong Kong base! The soldiers in their blue Communist uniforms, holding big rifles guarding the gate, always walking in stride with one another and none walking alone (they seemed to have buddies they stuck with at all times), were fascinating. They come from various areas of China, so most don't know Cantonese or English. Just Mandarin. So communicating with the gate guard who wanted to see my I.D. was kind of tough. But, bodily gestures and Mr. Fung's translation made it a non-issue. After passing through an airport-style metal detector and luggage scanner, I was in! Then there was a slight issue: the Aviation Club is nowhere near the entrance to the barracks/base. And no taxis or other public transport are allowed inside to take people around. Most of the club patrons posses their own private cars which they can easily drive to the Club, but we had none with us of course. So, luckily, a student-pilot happened to be entering the Base at the same time as us, and he was in his own car. So, we requested a ride in his beautiful Audi, and he drove us to the runway area. It turned out this man who drove us was a retired German entrepreneur/businessman living in Hong Kong who decided to learn to fly in his old age. Very cordial old fella'! Anyway, after a long while of watching other pilots take their turns  in the 2 shared helicopters the flight club owns, it was finally our turn. Now, originally, the plan was for Mr. Fung to take me all around Hong Kong - seeing Victoria Harbour from the air as well as some of the 'rural' areas. But, the cloud cover was extreme on that day, and visibility made it impossible. But still, we were allowed to make circles around the airport and stay fairly low to the ground!
Now to the ride itself: After the pre-flight checks, we hopped into this tiny, insect-like helicopter.and Mr. Fung started the rotors. The feeling was instantly captivating - the deep rumbling of the engine and shaking of the whole craft as it awaited Control Tower permission to take off. When the message finally came that we could go, we gradually lifted off the ground! It was amazing compared to an airplane's takeoff - this one was quick, controlled, direct, and downright comfortable. We just rose straight into the air, and once Mr. Fung pushed to throttle, we began or ride! The feeling of the whole flight is incomparable to a fixed-wing aircraft in every way. This didn't feel like a speeding ship in the sky - it felt like a jet-pack. It seemed as though simply leaning left or right could have made the copter turn, and that the machine was an extension of the pilot's body as he deftly maneuvered around the sky. I was enraptured (is that a word?) by the 1 hour trip. Even though the sight-seeing itself was quite limited by our low altitude and lack of permission to travel outside the vicinity of the airport, I loved the experience in its entirety. My first ever helicopter ride was... perfect!
We safely landed after an hour in the skies around Shek Kong, and that was that. I hope that this isn't the last opportunity I have to take a ride in a helicopter - its definitely something I'd like to try again.

Exams are over now! I get results soon... I'm kind of worried. They were nothing like exams I have taken before in my life. These were 3-hour long ordeals, basically consisting of writing essays spitting back exactly what the notes from the lessons said. Or, in some cases, essays about things never once mentioned during class. Confusing. But I did my best and what's done is done. I'm just looking to pass all my subjects (easier said than done). And that is that!

Ben Choi

I'll just jump right in this time:

Christmas in Hong Kong was basically nothing special. Just lots of decorations, music, several countdowns in various location in HK, but really most people seemed to kind of forget about the special-ness of the day. So did I. I just hung out with friends and family and family-friends. I met many new people as my host family hosted several groups of their friends/classmates over for dinner on the nights surrounding Christmas. Good Cantonese practice, good food! The break from school was also great; lots of freetime, exploring, doing HK stuff - singing karaoke, eating hotpot and dim sum, watching movies, meeting friends of friends.

On the 30th of December I did something amazing. I went to mainland China for the first time!! Shenzhen, which lies right across the border with Hong Kong, was the specific location. I went with my host dad and 2 classmates who are actually originally from the mainland, one of whom still lives in Shenzhen part of the time. Basically, they speak Mandarin (across the border Cantonese is secondary to Mandarin) and are great guides. First, we all went to Book City, a giant books and electronics store popular with Hong Kongers for its cheap merchandise. Super interesting. Indescribably different from every other mall I've ever been to. Just... different. Next, after a great meal of 'mainland' cuisine, I went with my classmates to one of the most interesting areas I've ever seen in my life called Dongmun or East Gate in English, where we spent the whole rest of the day.

Basically, it is an area of the city with tiny businesses selling various types of merchandise for extremely low prices. It had a special feeling too. Very 'real'. I have no idea how to go about describing it actually. The Shenzhen people were VERY different from Hong Kong people - to be blunt they were ruder, louder, more aware of reality, pushier, poorer, and even more competitive. I saw things I have never seen before in my day in Shenzhen. A young child doing a headstand in the street begging for change (most likely a 'slave' of the local gangs), blatant counterfeits being bought and sold EVERYWHERE (I got a high quality Faux-mega watch for about 15 USD!), old beggars who kept following me around in hopes of some money (not many white people venture into Dongmun, considered a dangerous place for unaccompanied tourists), streetside pet-shops where people just walk up to the cage, choose a puppy, pay a little money and walk off, filipino ladies in a filthy corner working speedily on sewing machines while a chinese woman 'oversaw' their work, and countless other incredible new things. And this was just in 1 day, in what is considered a rich part of the richest city in China. Speechless.

The word cheap gains new meaning to me now too. Fake products seem more plentiful than real ones, and they all are ridiculously cheap for US and even HK standards. In the mainland, everything is negotiable when it comes to price. For me as a white person, they original price given for any item is at least triple what it should actually sell for. Still cheaper than buying in the USA though. Anyway, with the help of my friends' stupendous bargaining skills I wasn't cheated too badly on anything. I only bought a watch and various snack-food items though... other salespeople might have been less forgiving. And the snacks were amazing - the best milk tea I've ever tried, some Shanghaiese bready thing, noodles so spicy I always died while eating them, squid on a stick, octopus meatballs, and fried potatoes (also delightfully spicy).

The day in the mainland was eye-opening, to say the least. Very difficult to even remember all the news things I saw that day... too much. I can't wait to see more of China in my remaining 5 months here.

New Years. New Years was fun - hanging out with friends and when the clock struck midnight, I was actually sitting in Avatar in a Mong Kok cinema. An appropriate way to welcome the new decade; enjoying the new technology that will gradually shape our lives more and more as time goes on. Great movie by the way! I'm a sucker for 3D I guess, and the story, while maybe sappy, was good enough to hold my interest. Beautiful brilliant movie!!!!!

Now exams have begun at school. So far I have just had Use of English Oral and Listening which are simple for me, but I expect Geography and History to be hard. Hopefully I can pass... More on that in the coming few days.

Hmmm... what else? I attended a local Jazz-Hip-Hop Dance Interschool Competition. Fascinating! I'm not a dance person, but it was amazing to see secondary school students with the courage to get on the stage and perform group dances that were kind of goofy to be honest. About 10% of the dancers in the competition seemed to know what they were doing, the remaining 90% flopping around the stage looking quite unnatural and uncomfortable. But, nevertheless, it was a unique Hong Kong experience to see groups of 13-19 y/o's dancing shamelessly. Mostly American music was used in the background, and the students and teachers clearly didn't understand the meaning of the lyrics. Let's just say profanity (including the 'N' word) went unedited and lyrics like 'strip for me, take it all off' were danced to by some pretty young naive girl and boys. Hilarious to watch! Plus the ones who were good were pretty damn good.

Okay, thats all. I'm busy, I'm happy, I'm loving Hong Kong.

So time is limited at present (too much fun to be had!). I have no energy or brainpower remaining to make a worthwhile blog entry. But school starts again tomorrow, which means I'll have free lessons with nothing to do. Basically, I'm not saying anything except that I'm having a fantastic time here, and a real blog post will be here soon. Sorry for the long wait! Next entry coming soon! Ben