Posts by Country

Monday, December 29, 2014

West Lake

On Sunday, the 28th of December Anita and I said goodbye to Waji and got on a train to Hangzhou. After arriving we hopped on the subway and then a bus to get to West Lake where we checked into our hostel (about $5 USD/night!). That night we watched a musical fountain show on the lake.
The next day we hired some bicycles and went for a ride around West Lake. We had breakfast and then, while we were riding, we saw many picturesque scenes, including the Leifeng Pagoda (tower) and many people relaxing and boating on the lake.
After Anita and I got separated, I went to the Chinese Tea Museum and, even though it was closed, I saw a lot of cool traditional buildings as well as the expansive tea fields which radiate out from the main museum area.
That night we had dinner at our friend Ocean's for the second time. Ocean is originally from up North where he started work at the ripe old age of 12. Before he even reached adulthood, he and his brothers had saved up and opened their first restaurant. Now about 22 years old he has opened up several restaurants with his brothers and, even though he's obviously doing quite well, he still spends all day, every day, cooking at his restaurant in West Lake. Many his age might let this kind of success go to their heads but Ocean is still a supremely humble and friendly guy. He continues to send me WeChat messages with the intention of teaching me Chinese and assures me that he has had success with this method before. So, who knows, I may end up learning Chinese through an instant messenger!

Saturday, December 27, 2014


On Saturday, the 27th of December we headed out to Gulangyu Island. For 36 yuen the taxi took us to the terminal and from their we took the ferry over to the island. After eating and walking around a bit, we ate some more at a place where we got everything we wanted for about 15 yuen each (much cheaper than the first shops you see). Next, we went to a museum which had a lot of stuff from the history of Xiamen and Gulangyu - primarily artifacts from the early interactions between East and West.

Finally, before leaving I had to get some of the famous Gulangyu dried meats which really are quite good. Back on Xiamen, we all took a nap and then went for dinner at the markets. We had more kebabs and Taiwanese food found there as well as some really nice french toast with ice cream.

For the rest of the evening we went to the beach and sat on a big boulder looking out at the water.

Friday, December 26, 2014


On Friday, the 26th of December Anita, Waji and I went on our trip to Tulou - the local way. We took a taxi, bus and train to a bus depot. At the bus depot we had our first experience of local pushers trying to get us to pay their marked-up rates. They told us that the bus wouldn't come for over an hour but, of course, we knew this wasn't true. So, we waited for a few minutes and, instead of paying 50 yuen each for private car, we paid 2 yuen for the bus to the next depot in town. At that depot we paid another 15 yuen and finally got a bus to Tulou! So far we had spent about 50 yuen to arrive in just a couple hours and the tour, at over 150, would have still had us waiting at our hostel to be picked up! At this point we paid 15 yuen for the bus to take us from the visitor centre to all of the sites. At the first site we took some shots from above (picture above) then went down into the community to see it all from the inside.
We were told that the departure time was uncertain so we looked around for a while and then realized that our tour had left. After talking to a few people and trying our best to figure out our options we found that we only had one - start walking. 
It was probably about half an hour of walking, and being offered a ride by a guy on a little scooter (for a price), before we were picked up by some Hong Kongers who were also on holiday. We caught up to our bus at the second site and this time only had a short look around before going back to the bus to wait.
The second site had much bigger structures, with far less clutter, and even had another structure within the structure. The third site was more of a standard village but had a river running through it which actually made it quite picturesque.
After visiting the third site, we had to arrange some transportation because, according to the driver (who we now know was actually just making a quick buck on the side), the last train would be gone by the time we got back to town. This private car that he arranged took us all the way back to Xiamen for a total of about 100 yuen each (about $15 USD). This put us a bit over the cost of the tour but it was really worth it all things considered. The driver actually put us right at the street market that we wanted to have dinner at so the whole deal was quite convenient. 
At the market we bought some tasty goat kebabs and walked around a bit before taking the bus back to our hostel for just 2 yuen.

Welcome to China!

On Thursday, the 25th of December I met Anita and Waji at Kowloon Tong Station and the pushing began. First, we pushed our way onto the crowded train to the border. Then we pushed our way into immigration. It was here that we got in the line for "Chinese Nationals" because there was no other option presented. As it turns out, we were supposed to go to the last line (also for "Chinese Nationals") and present our foreign passports there... So, already late for our train and having waited in line for half an hour, we got into THAT line. At this point we had no chance of catching our train so the tenth security check that they then put us through didn't make any difference nor did the unusual token system for boarding the subway. What DID leave us feeling hopeless were the endless lines at the train station for picking up and changing tickets!

What was really AWESOME was when we realized, after an HOUR of waiting in line, that we were, in fact, in the WRONG line... What's more, we had to wait in two other lines because the people who exchange tickets don't give the refunds for the old ones nor do they give you tickets which you have already ordered. Needless to say, our whole day was spent standing in lines...

After FINALLY sorting out our tickets, we went to get something to eat. Unfortunately, my bank was locked because Hong Kong banks, unlike my American bank, won't allow you to use your card outside of Hong Kong unless you tell them first. Thankfully, the place we went for food had wifi so I was able to skype my bank back in Hong Kong and have them unlock my account for use in China. The fun was not over yet though! No no, I still had to order my food and use a toilet before leaving and in China, of course, these things are not as straightforward as you would expect!...

See this food? This is sweet and sour chicken... kidneys. Of course, it couldn't just be normal chicken meat. No, not in China - in China, it has to be strange like ORGANS. In Hong Kong this happens as well, but not without you knowing it. Rather, somebody would ask you in English, "are you sure you want kidneys today, sir?"

Okay, so I tried my best to finish what tasted like, well, kidneys, and then went to use the toilet before going to catch the train. Of course, this being China, they don't put toilet paper, or even soap, in the good ol' WC (in case you're wondering, that's European for "water closet" AKA toilet). Luckily I had some tissues in my bag that I had forgotten about and was able to finish my business without incident. After that we ran to our train and continued our journey to Xiamen.

Well, if you're tired of the complaining you'll be happy to know that this is where it stops. After arriving in Xiamen we to the BRT and then a taxi to our hostel for 39 yuen (about $5 USD). At our hostel a nice Taiwanese lady helped us plan our trip to Tulou for the following day without the cumbersome and time consuming, yet rushed, tour companies. Also, our hostel was super nice and clean with all the comforts of a upscale hotel room and, at about $10 USD a night, it was a pretty good deal.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sunset Peak

On Sunday, the 21st of December I went camping at Sunset Peak with Chu Sum and Anita. After a couple hours of pollution-free hiking, we arrived at the top - and it was windy! In fact, we couldn't even make a fire to cook our food, at least, not outside...

Eventually the wind did start to die down and Chu Sum got some great shots of the night sky. The next morning we made breakfast and started back down the mountain. On the way, we met a Kiwi guy who owned one of the holiday huts at the top where we were staying.

According to our new friend, these huts were built way back in the days when missionaries were living in Hong Kong. The missionaries would come up the mountain during the Summer where the temperature is a good 5* Celsius cooler. Here they built these huts out of concrete and steel beams, beams which were pilfered by rather desperate individuals during the depression. This destroyed the roofs of the huts and gained the thieves a few dollars for a day of hiking down a mountain with heavy steel! Now our Kiwi friend, and many others, are reconstructing these huts as holiday homes. Sitting high above the city pollution and intense Summer heat, these huts are probably the most practical investment in Hong Kong. Of course, some of the stuff needed for the repairs can be a real pain to haul up and down the mountain, as we were told, so it's not always so relaxing as it may sound!

The next evening I went to have dinner with Chu Sum's family for the Winter Solstice and the following day I finally got my Chinese visa!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Day

On Thursday, the 18th of December everyone went to Shek O Beach for the school picnic. At first I thought it would just be a casual hour or so of eating and then the students would get bored and want to go home. As it turns out, these kids really, really love barbecue! For over three hours I watched as they all cooked and ate everything that they brought which, in some cases, meant whole chickens and about 30kgs of meat!

After the school picnic I had to get to Kwun Tong for another gathering with all the teachers who work for Headstart Group. This time the food was prepared for us and we did a secret Santa activity so everyone got something to take home.

The next day was Teacher Appreciation Day and we had a bit of a show to put on... All of us NET teachers had to take turns singing Chinese songs, that only we could hear, while our students tried to guess the songs. This was not easy but somehow we managed to pull it off... kinda.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A New Place

On Monday, the 10th of November Anita and I cycled from Tei Wai to Tai Po. The path goes through Sha Tin and took about two hours. The next day we celebrated my birthday with dinner at Bel Cibo and then went to the laser show at Victoria Harbour.
A few days later my school had another sports day to end the week and then I spent the weekend with friends. On Saturday, I went with Anita to visit some of her friends and then we went to the Flying Pan to see if the Denny's of Hong Kong was any good... it was okay. While the atmosphere was a really cool 60s diner theme, the breakfast food was far too dry for my taste - not enough butter! We were slightly less disappointed by a flaming dessert we had later in the week.

About a week and a half later I met up with my friend Ayden and the others for a Thanksgiving feed and the next two nights I had dinner with my Italian friend Massimo, who I met in New Zealand, and my friend Joe who lived in my flat - we had surprisingly delicious frog and pigeon, a great local tip!

About another couple weeks later on Monday, the 8th of December I finally moved to my new place and the next night I had dinner with my friends Peter, Sarah, their kids and Joe from work. I actually met Peter on the plane on my way to Hong Kong and he introduced me to his wife, Sarah. Sarah and I had already met up a couple times to talk about teaching in Hong Kong among other things and it turned out that she might be able to help Joe find a local position at an international school - this is why Joe joined us for the evening. In any case, we enjoyed a big hot pot at the Temple Street night market and Joe learned a bit more about his options here in Hong Kong.

Also probably worth noting is the continuing protests that have been going on for a couple months now. About a week ago I was woken up at three in the morning by this protest march through the streets which clashed a bit with the local police:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Teaching in Hong Kong

On Monday, the 13th of October I started teaching at Yu Kan Hing Secondary School. I quickly learned that this would be different than the other schools that I had taught at. While many of my students are very friendly and well-mannered, a great many of them are also quite difficult. My S1-S2 students are particularly unruly but I suppose this is to be expected with a young class of around 30 students being lead by a lone foreign instructor.

Over the next couple weeks I ate more strange food (intestines), hiked Victoria Peak, dressed up as the Mexican version of an anime character for Halloween and got my Hong Kong ID card.

On Friday, the 7th of November all teachers and students went to the nearby field for sports day. Students did a variety of sports activities, such as running and high jump - both of which I also participated in.

After the day finished I went and finally got a bank account - something that is really quite difficult to do in Hong Kong, especially if you're an American. I needed my Hong Kong ID card, a letter from my employer stating my address since I didn't have a utility bill, a tax ID form for reporting my income to the US, my passport and my surgically removed organs for collateral...

Sunday, October 12, 2014


On Sunday, the 12th of October Anita and I went to Macau. After about an hour on the ferry, we got off the boat and hopped on a bus into town. The first place we went (pictured above) was the Palazzo Senado. As we walked around we went down many narrow alleys, much like the ones in Europe, and saw many interesting, often colourful, buildings. At the Wynn Hotel we saw the Dragon of Fortune and the Tree of Prosperity shows - each about 15 minutes apart.

After the shows, we went to the waterfront, watched a fountain/pyrotechnic show and visited the ruins of St Paul's.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sailing... sort of.

Over the last couple weeks I have managed to pick up some teaching work to get me by until I start my permanent gig at Yu Kan Hing Secondary School. On Tuesday, the 7th of October I tutored a friend and substituted at a primary school. On the same day I managed to sign the contract for my new place - one of a few small spaces that locals refer to as "cages."

The small room may be a bit ridiculous (especially for someone of my size) but so is the rent in Hong Kong. When normal rent is around 6-10k ($ 800-1200 USD), my place, at $ 2600 (about $ 335 USD), suddenly doesn't look so bad!

A couple days later I taught at a kindergarten in Tuen Mun. Far from my normal teaching experience, this was a rather strange and, at times, uncomfortable day. First, after all the little tiny kids arrived, we did an elaborate aerobic dance with them. After that, I thought my only job would be to teach via music - which I did, with singing and clapping hands to the same music over and over... and over. Just when I thought my job couldn't get any more silly and pointless, I was told to take the kids to the toilet. Of course, they neglected to tell me until just before that I would be supervising their toilet activity. Apparently, a couple of the boys needed coaxing to get them to pee and I was expected to watch them and make sure that they did. A bit apprehensive and unsure about what exactly I was supposed to say to these little Chinese kids, I walked into the room and was greeted by a line of about 15 little butts. As they all stood their huddled together with their pants on the floor I could only wait as, one by one, they presumably finished and turned around to wash their hands. When the two that had trouble tried to leave, I simply directed them back to the toilet to make sure they had given it a fair go. After a couple more hours I was finally allowed to leave and that would be the last time anyone convinced me to teach at a kindy.

The next day I went sailing with Tim from the church... well, sort of. Rather, Tim went sailing and I surfed behind on a surfboard. Of course, it would have been simpler just to ride in the dingy with him but, as it turns out, I have to be certified to sail before I can go along with someone else! So, in order to get around this little restriction, we grabbed a board off the beach and tied it to the dingy before heading out with me in tow. Surprisingly, it all worked rather well! We got a few strange looks from the lifeguards, and you could tell they were considering whether to send us back, but in the end they just laughed and waved. All in all, it was a successful trip - I even stood up a few times and properly surfed behind the boat!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Jumbo Floating Restaurant

On Thursday, the 2nd of October a bunch of us went to eat at a floating restaurant called Jumbo Kingdom. After having Dim Sum for lunch, we headed down to another boat and went to Lamma Island for a hike.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sai Kung

On Wednesday, the 1st of October I went to Sai Kung with Anita. After arriving we took a boat to Sharp Island and walked around. The first thing I noticed after disembarking was a long spit out to a smaller looking island. 

We found after walking over there that it was a Geopark with large rocks cracked which almost looked similar to the Moeraki Boulders in New Zealand. These ones were formed due to weathering and erosion but still looked rather interesting.

After walking up and over the small island, we took a swim in the waters on the other side before heading back.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Night at the Protests

On Monday, the 29th of September I was walking back to the home of my host family in Mong Kok and I saw many protesters setting up to sleep on the streets. I was intrigued and thought it might be interesting to walk around a bit more if I didn't have somewhere to be. Well, as it turned out, my host family was asleep and I would have to wake them in order to gain access to their home. After some discussion with my friend, a member of my host family who was staying at his dormitory at Chinese University, I decided to just go to the protests and see how things went. 

That night I met up with one of the groups of local nursing students that were volunteering at the protests and decided to spend some time helping them out. They explained a lot to me about what was going on and what the speakers were saying since it was all in Cantonese. One of these nursing students even went up and spoke a bit. What he said was what a lot of people were saying - that everyone needed to stay calm but be alert. He suggested that everyone was actually too relaxed and needed to be ready. At any time the police might show up and everyone would need to stand up at the perimeters to keep from being rounded up and sent home. 

During the next few hours many small scuffles broke out and I asked about this. Seeing as everyone was so committed to keeping a peaceful image it seemed strange that a few here and there couldn't seem to keep their hands to themselves. Well, in actuality the "Umbrella Revolution" has many opponents. Many locals are upset because the protests delay emergency services and disrupt their daily lives and many people even report being offered payment to go into the protests and cause arguments to help break up the unity of the protesters and diminish their resolve. People from mainland China or "mainlanders" have also supposedly joined the protests under false pretenses in order to cause fights in support of Beijing politics.

Many have suggested to me that the incident at 2am the night I was there was a result of these subversive efforts. Around that time I was sleeping on a mattress in the street next to the nursing station when I awoke to people yelling and screaming. As I sat up I saw the crowds parting as a car came through honking its horn and refusing to slow down for anyone. I quickly jumped up with my pack in hand just as the car came through my camp. This guy drove over my sleeping spot and the whole nursing station - spreading rubbish and food all over the streets. I watched as people chased him out of the protest area and thought how easily I could have just become road kill.

After that I decided to join the protesters off the street and up on top of the metro tunnel. Up there was a better view, less people walking around and no chance of being run over by a car.

The next day I spoke to my host family and they were not impressed that I had gone to the protests. Rather, they explained that they were, as many local people, very frustrated with the occupy movement. As with the one on Wall Street in 2011, many people have been affected by the "Umbrella Revolution" and are not interested in seeing it continue. Not only does it cause problems for people trying to get to work and in some cases, shut down businesses entirely, but the crowds also disrupt general day to day operations in the city, including emergency services. Another point to consider is that mainland propaganda completely sabotages and confuses the message the movement is trying to promote. In the mainland the images of the protests are not presented as protests at all, but rather the government there has suggested to its subjects that the people in Hong Kong are simply "celebrating National Day."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Strange Hong Kong

Over the last week I have seen and eaten some strange things. No, I didn't eat the cat in the picture above, but it did seem strange to me that this motionless pet was allowed to nap on a food display. Though, some may feel that eating that cat would be preferable to some of the things I have seen and eaten recently, such as chicken feet and the aforementioned century egg.

A couple of days ago, on the 26th of September, I went to the beach again and this time we went skimboarding. Of course, the only video I have from that day is of me failing, but then again this is probably more entertaining for all of you who are watching - enjoy!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Surfs Up!

On Sunday, September 14th I went surfing with my new friend Colten at Big Wave Bay - a bay which, despite the name, didn't have very big waves... I had better luck a few days later after Typhoon Kalmaegi came through. Alas, I do not have any photos from that stormy day on the sea! On Saturday, the 20th I went with Chu Sum to Chinese University where he studies engineering. We played some squash and had dinner at his schools cafeteria. The next day we went to the local "wet market" near his home in Mong Kok.

There we saw many strange things, such as: century eggs and burnable paper replicas for the dead. A century egg is a egg preserved for several months before being eaten... it is black from the decay. The paper replicas are anything from band aids to the new iphone or even a car with a driver! The bereaved will burn these replicas as a way of giving things to those they have lost. Apparently, the idea is that it provides a way to maintain relationships after loved ones have passed away. Personally, after seeing the prices of these paper objects, I can't help thinking of it more as a form of extortion... but maybe that's just me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Arriving in Hong Kong

On Monday, September 1st I spent the night in Changi Airport in Singapore. The next day I arrived in Hong Kong and met my friend Anita at the airport.
Happy Birthday!

The next day I had an interview and afterward we went to the Art Museum. Over the next few days I received a job at Yu Kan Hing Secondary School and, meanwhile, spent my days living in the most notorious criminal hangout in Hong Kong - the Chungking Mansions.

On Sunday, September 7th a bunch of us went to the Mid Autumn Festival in Victoria Park.

Over the next week spent a lot of time swimming at the public pools with Chu Sum (Sam) and Anita and working out the details of my new job and visa.