Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Updates

Someone asked me recently if I'm still learning Cantonese. The answer is "yes, but..."  I have registered for Practical Cantonese (4 lessons) that begins next week and I just found a website, that has free lessons and some cool features if I upgrade. So! Between my face-to-face class and my online class, we'll see how I do. I have learned "tau fan" - fried rice. My vocabulary is now, "Good morning! Fried Rice! Thank you!" 

Last week was Mid-Autumn Festival. We did not see the Fire Dragon Dance or go out for lantern viewing - mostly because the crowds are like those in Times Square on New Year's Eve and it was raining. Mark and I agreed we HAVE to do it at least once! I did buy laterns for our apartment (purple, natch) and we tried a Moon cake (almost like Christmas Fruit Cake, but with an cooked egg yolk in the middle). They are a real treat but not for every palate, so we passed the rest of ours onto Elsie the housekeeper and her kids.

Mid-Autumn festival is just one night - everybody celebrates what we in the States would call the Harvest Moon. The next day is a national holiday and people visit their families and have family outings. We noticed an increase in activity at the temples and more make-shift alters with offerings. People not only make offerings of fruit and incense, but there are actual incinerators that people burn things in, such as fake money, clothes, books - anything they think their ancestors would enjoy in the next life. So! If you had always wanted to give your parents a nice house but they died before you could do so, you might build a small replica and then burn it so the smoke would carry the house to your parents in heaven.

Knowing that bit of information, it was with great interest that Mark and I observed the following. Last Thursday, the national holiday, we went to Agave, a fantastic Mexican restaurant here in Wan Chai. One of the great features of many restaurants is they open right onto the street. You can sit in the window with a/c blowing on you, but enjoy the sights/sounds out on the street. So, we sat at the window taking in the scene across the street. Wan Chai, at one time, was considered the Red Light District. In fact, prostitution is legal in HK. Across the street from Agave's front window is an "Aussie" bar flanked by two strip clubs and an upstairs "disco."  The Aussie bar is open to the street as well - and on street level.  Both strip clubs have a madam working outside, encouraging men to stop in for a bit. And of course, some men stop in and others don't. At one point, a woman shows up and enters the strip club. Mark and I are rather fascinated by this and wonder at her choice.  A moment later, she emerges in her madam clothes (actually, very conservative) - she is the night shift! There is some back and forth - she goes in, comes out (the doorway is actually just a set of heavy dark red velvet curtains pulled closed) and then she brings out a tray of food. Chicken (cooked), fruit, vegetables, and sets it down on a small wooden bench near the street. Then she lights some incense and begins making an offering at a make-shift alter! In front of the strip club. While her "girls" are hanging around the door enticing would-be customers.  She completes her labor of love, packs up her tray and alter, and takes it all back inside. When she comes out, she takes up her post on a stool in the doorway of the strip club, and starts her evening.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

yīyǎn zhèngmiàn (LOOK RIGHT)

 When in the states I would find myself talking louder when I did not understand what the person was saying to me, thinking that raising the volume would be a good substitute for my lack of language skills.  I was screaming at some people when no amount of volume was going to make me understand them or them understand me. So I promised myself not to let this happen on our adventure in Asia.
             We are having very  little problems with eventually  finding a way to communicate in all aspects of living without raising my voice. The Hong Kong schools here were/are requiring English to be taught to every student in the schools. This may or is changing due to the fact that now Hong Kong is no longer a British colony but is moving to China’s control.  Most have knowledge of some version of English.
            However, I have had my moments when we have been challenged.  I walk to the office and stop by the same little Circle K shop every morning for a bottle of water. The young lady and I have a system worked out now where I pull a hand full of change out of my pocket and she picks out what she wants or needs. Everyday, I think I pay a different amount but this is how we bypass any language barrier. The most difficult discussion I have had, is when I called DHL for a pick-up.  The operator was speaking Cantonese or it could have been Mandarin and I was speaking a version of slow West Virginia English. So it took about 20 minutes for me to believe that my pick-up was confirmed. I ended the conversation by saying slowly and repeating, “I will leave at front desk”, without raising my voice.( I have also found that instead of speaking loudly, I will revert to my Tarzen speak.)  Hoping of course that any problems will be solved by the receptionist at my front desk with the DHL carrier,  it got picked up so I felt some satisfaction.
            Restaurants have not been a problem as in most cases I can just point to the item without pronounciation. Most menus have both an English description along with a Chinese description.The other option is to make sure there are pictures of food. Many times I am glad just to point to a picture. It has been a good way to lose weight. Especially when I order chicken nuggets that turns out to be fried tofu. Pictures of fried food do not work as well when ordering. I am punished in this regard as fried food is probably not good for me anyway.  Who invented Tofu and said, this tastes good, so lets fry it?
            One of my favorite afternoons was experienced in Kowloon. The hawkers were out in force on these streets more than anywhere else we have been. Normally it is not an issue but  in Kowloon every 3rd person was selling either a fake Rolex, a knockoff purse for my wife,  a suit to be tailored or a trip to Australia.  After many polite “No thank yous” to these aggressive hawkers, I found the best solution was to speak my own langage. I call it Freitalhillbilly.  So when they would walk up to us, I go into a jibberish in answering them  The look on their face was priceless and it almost always stopped them in their tracks. It was one of those Scooby Doo moments. I had the realization that I had discovered a way to stop them from continuing their pestering while providing my wife and I  with a certain level of entertainment. I would turn to my wife or to the hawker and start with my Freitalhillbilly and his mouth would drop open, he would stop walking/following us and my wife would laugh. I intend on mastering this Freitalhillbilly as I know it will come in useful.
     The biggest challenge in communication is not the language but stopping people from getting hit by cars. I still have a problem walking up to cross walk and looking right for on coming traffic instead of left. As you know they drive on the other side of the road, so traffic comes at you in different directions. We are programmed since we are little kids to look in both directions but normally look first to the left. In front of most cross walks is written on the road in big words, “LOOK RIGHT”.  I have a feeling that quite a few people have gotten hit or close to being hit. My wife is quite vigilant about looking to the right first now and has saved me several times. The other day while walking to work, I looked to the left, stepped out into traffic, heard the slam of  breaks per tires squealing and was thankful I was safe as I jumped back to the sidewalk. But the person in the car had no problem communicating to me at that point, as he used the universal finger. Must have learned it from an ExPat.  And he did that without raising his voice.  I knew exactly what he said.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ngóh haih Méihgwok

Mark the Guest blogger

Two weeks in Hong Kong, one week in Taiwan, lots of people, food everywhere and yet no General Taos Chicken to be found. You would think when in Hong Kong/China, I could eat General Taos Chicken every night. How can I pick up the phone in the states and have it there in 15 minutes and yet not find it on every corner here. I realize that it is the comfort things we miss and the comfort things that make us feel safe.  
And I find comfort in many things here in Hong Kong. The first morning we woke up, the first place we ate was at McDonalds, although we have not eaten there since.  It was a comfort to find the 24 hour breakfast place called the “The Flying Pan” which is equivalent to Denny’s. How happy were we to find this place of comfort. It is not Bob Evans but we seem to feel a little piece of home here in Hong Kong every time we eat our eggs/omelet.  Many other opportunities have given us comfort in the names such as Shakes and Buns, Outback Steak House, Dan Ryan’s Steakhouse, two huge malls, the AMC Theater, the international grocery chain “Great Groceries” and Delaney’s(an Irish restaurant) which is right in the middle of Hong Kong. Yes it is these little pieces of comfort that have made our first three weeks unbelievable.
And yet we know we are in a foreign country everywhere we visit. The language, the short people and many of them all make it interesting. I can look down four train cars over the people even though they are packed shoulder to shoulder to my chest in the train car. Just so you know there must be a rule that the majority of expat males must be over 6' 4". We could start a great expat basketball team and dominate.
 The movie theaters are great as each theater only seats about 50 people with first class airline seating which you pick your assigned seat when you buy your ticket.  We have seen two movies and they have Chinese subtitles, but the previews show some great Chinese movies which have English subtitles which both of us are anxious to attend.  By the way, I fell asleep during the viewing of Inception, which means I was dreaming during a dream inside of a dream inside of a dream, making the plot even more complex. However, for as good as it is to watch a movie here, the popcorn is not good.  I miss the popcorn, one of our most important comfort foods for both of us.  How soon will our popcorn maker arrive after its journey across the ocean?
One of the best bits of comfort we have found is our American TV stations. How grateful we both are that my brother and his family have allowed us to position our sling box in his house on his cable DVR. It is an amazing piece of technology that allows us to watch the cable system from Washington, WV. As we were experiencing our first Typhoon here we were watching the Tornados that were devastating areas around Parkersburg area. It has been an utter joy for me to watch WVU football games live and know that my friends/family are all watching the game with me. We text and IM during the games which gives me plenty of joy as if I am singing Almost Heaven Country Roads. The challenge is that two of the games have started over here at midnight and 3:30 am due to the time difference.  Some of my smarter friends have suggested that I call them with who wins the games since we are 12 hours ahead.  I am looking forward to this week’s game time of 9pm EST which means we will be having breakfast at 9am on Sunday watching the Mountaineers play LSU.  We will put on our WVU gear, get our Ruffles (another comfort food) and get the party started with Breakfast at LSU. 
So while we are having the time of life so far experiencing the Far East, it is the comfort of home that makes our trip such an adventure. It is the times we talk to our families on Skype, IM or email that makes our trip here so exciting. The fact that we have comfort in our friends and family is what makes our lives rich and our time here the chance of a lifetime. Thank all of you for this comfort.  So during the coming years when we are looking for the answers of why are the cats outside evil looking, or if a hogs heads hits the ground, is there a three second rule, why are some cooked chickens really yellow (I mean real yellow), how many slopes are registered (hill sides), and how to order for a DHL pickup in Chinese, it will the comforts of home, family and friends that make this exciting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I'm happy to report that as of Wednesday and Thursday of this week I finally slept through the night, my usual 10p-6a.  Such an amazing feeling to wake up and feel like me!

As you may recall, I have been working out regularly for nearly a year now, and have missed my almost daily workouts during this long transition. Once we arrived, I looked forward to establishing a new morning workout routine but realized it might be challenging until we joined a gym or found an apartment complex with gym on-hand.  Last week I had the bright revelation that there is a public football (soccer) court just down the street ( And, as I suspected, it is open to the public beginning at 6a. Mark and I have visited this park a few times in the morning to walk/jog the track. Yes, we are the only white people. Yes, we are the tallest people. Yes, we don't care.  While discussing our morning expedition with a coworker, Mark was informed of another location, Bowen Road Park.  ( - check out the pictures!) 

Bowen Road Park has become our new favorite place. Just the hike to the starting point is a cardio workout.  We climb up Monmouth Path (it leads to our new apartment) and then hit a staircase. I will count the stairs the next time we climb up - I'm betting its more than 100, and steeper than 45 degrees - perhaps 50 or 55? Thankfully we get a breather at the top when we cross Kennedy Road.  We spend an exaggerated amount of time looking both ways for cars - can't be too careful!

Then we climb Bowen Road. Happily, no stairs, just a nice, long, steep hill.  So, from our apartment to the top of Bowen Road is about 20 minutes, 15 of which are spent climbing the stairs or hill. Once we live in Monmouth we will only have to contend with Bowen Road.  Although Mark the Lifestyle Coach has encouraged me to run the Monmouth steps once or twice a week for the cardio. I'll get right on that. 

There are lots of people on this path at 6:30a.m.  Running, walking, stretching, doing Tai Chi, chatting with friends, walking dogs, enjoying the view. Mark and I did one section, "out and back" as we say, and got a good 5 mile walk in.  Yesterday I started running/walking a bit of the path.  I'll be honest  -the heat and humidity quickly took their toll. It will be some time before I completely adjust to the weather. I was sweating so much I couldn't keep my glasses on...and me running blind could end up in a headline.

There are four immaculate tennis courts on our climb up Bowen Road - just minutes from our apartment.  Lots of other paths exit from Bowen Road that will give us many mornings/afternoons of hiking Hong Kong Island. I hope you come visit us so we can show you the beauty of our new world.

A Tail of Two Cats

Part of the decision-making process about moving to Hong Kong involved our two cats, Olivia and Audrey.  Olivia is a beautiful orange ball of ennui and Audrey is a bit skittish in her black, white and orange-dolloped fur coat.  Olivia was found on the grounds of a friend's home in the country and Audrey inherited from a cat-allergy sufferer. 

When "the girls" and I first started living together, it was in my tiny house on West Washington in Athens. We got along just fine - of course there was the usual territorial disagreements ("This is MY couch seat. I sleep ON THIS SIDE of the bed." And that was just between Olivia and me!). Audrey and Kitten (as we call her) eventually identified their favorite spots and life was peaceful.

Mark and I purchased our house on Sunset and the world opened up for our two kitties!  So much space to run and romp! More sunspots than shade! The crowning glory: a screened in porch. Well, perhaps the mouse was the crowning glory - a fun filled night of mousing about a month after we moved in. And, because Olivia can't read this, I will confess that Audrey is the better mouser. Olivia was interested but not as quick to understand the amount of hilarity a real live mouse can produce. I won't bore you with details of me standing on the couch, calling Lauren and Mark on the phone, trying to crawl through the kitchen window (because Audrey and the mouse were dancing in the only doorway of the family room) and eventually waiting outside for Lauren to give the all clear. Nor will we discuss Mark coming home at 6 in the morning to finish the job that Audrey started - that also involved me standing on a chair "cheering Mark and Audrey on" with high pitched squeals. Either way, the mouse was relocated to a more private setting and life went on. 

And then the news came about our move.  Here are just some of the hoops we jumped through to get these cats 7,000 miles across the world.  First, the cats were flying cargo as there was something about not being in the cabin during international flights. So, we had to purchase very specific carriers (big enough for them to stand and turn around, plastic, handle on top, two tray dish for food and water). I picked purple because its my fav color.  When they arrived and were assembled, I spent time strategically placing treats just outside, just on the edge and inside the crate, so the cats would get used to being inside of them. Soooo clever! Olivia would only reach in with her paw to grab what she couldn't get by craning her neck.  Audrey zipped in, zipped out and then sat just outside the door, licking her paw, almost like a gunfighter blowing the smoke off his hot gun.

Second, the cats had to have chips implanted and updated rabies shots. That was easy enough and not expensive!  Our vet at Abfall Vet Clinic in The Plains was awesome.  She had to fill out two sections of the Animal Health Certificate. It was she (Dr. Murray) that caught I had to go to the US Department of Agriculture and get the third section signed and notarized. Thankfully, the USDA was just a 60 minute drive north of Athens and we completed this part of the assignment on the way to drop our car in Cleveland.

Third, we had to have a certificate of acceptance completed in Hong Kong. For that, we relied on Derek at the relocation company. Emails flying back and forth - how did the world work before the Internet? Confirmations, delays, time differences - I have to say, it truly came down to the wire - we were faxing and emailing documents at 2 a.m. on the day we were flying out to Hong Kong!

Finally, the cats could not fly if the the temperature on the tarmac would be above 85 degrees.  Can you believe a heat wave came through that week! On Monday we checked the predicted weather over and over. We had to make a decision that involved a gazillion phone calls to Delta. This is where Mark's amazing patience and negotiation skills came into play. In the end, he had it all arranged to have the cats fly out on Friday (one day after us) and arrive on Saturday night. Our final challenge, what to do with the cats as we were leaving on Thursday.

I know there are people reading this that would have given up by this point...and I am one of them!  Much earlier in this process I told Mark between the cost and stress, these two cats might just find a new home in the U.S.  Once the cats were safely on their way to HK Mark teased , "I'll never tell them their mother had them just moments away from the incinerator." 

The cats boarded with my wonderful brother, Crispen, for two nights.  We dropped them at his house on Wednesday night and he dropped them at Delta on Friday morning. 

A slight bit of confusion on Saturday night indicated the cats had not left on Friday morning but out-dated emails were updated and suddenly all was right again.  The cats arrived, safe, sound, tired and a little disoriented.  They have settled into our life here in Shama. They have lovely views from several windows and have befriended the apartment's housekeeper, Elsie.  I know they miss the spaciousness of our house but have found their favorite spots here as well. Audrey on the back of the couch and Olivia on the chair, when she's not on the bed snuggled under the comforter.

Here's Audrey checking out the new hiding places.

Kitten loves how the carpet compliments her fur.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Quantity v Quality

Mark and I spent a rainy Saturday running (via real estate agent and driver) from apartment to apartment, challenging our quantitative memories and qualitative desires.  Will our bed fit into this tiny room with the amazing view?  Can we substitute "under-the-bed-storage" for closet space so we can live close to the Escalators?  It seems like our porch furniture and sectional couch will fit here although we'll have to put one faux wicker chair in each bedroom. Do we care we don't have a dishwasher when there's a gym and pool down on the first floor? Even though we do not plan on having a "domestic helper" we're sure glad there are rooms set aside for them so we have a place for our automatic litter boxes (happily called, Litter Maids - so, I guess we will have some type of domestic helpers).  The day ended with me writing the names of two buildings (Imperial Court and Monmouth Villa) on pieces of paper. Over red wine and Thai food, Mark pulled the name (in a trial run) of "Our New Apartment."  It was Monmouth.

The reason I say "trial run" is because I really loved the view from Imperial Court.  The apartment was slightly smaller than Monmouth Villa, but the view was s p e c t a c u l a r. Far above the hazy, noisy world of Wanchai and Central, Imperial Court made me feel like I had a lot of breathing room.  No gym, no pool, no closets, no easy access, really its saving grace was its view of Victoria Harbor and beyond. 

Monmouth was (is) the most logical choice. An amazing rent, tons of storage, gym, pool, some views of Wanchai, and lots of shopping, restaurants and quick access to Mark's work, it just screams "PICK ME."  And being the anti-establishment type, I decided on Imperial Court. Mark had left the decision up to me and after consulting the Magic 8 Ball (a.k.a. Facebook), I was going for the view.

I met Liza the Real Estate Agent, at Imperial Court and took another look at The Apartment With The View.  Still stunning, still enough room (no closets but we could negotiate that), no gym (but we could join one), not exactly easy access (but its a $4 cab ride downtown), I was ready to say, "Yes!"  Liza suggested one more look at Monmouth (Mark and I affectionately call it Mammoth). I reluctantly said, "Sure!"  (I call that the False-Positive.)  Once we walked in the building I knew it was the right choice. Why would I try to put the "round peg in the square hole"?  Good sized rooms with tons of closet space and a decent view in both the living room and master bedroom.  I turned to Liza and with unexpected confidence and joy I said, "Yeah - this it. We'll take this apartment."  View from our living room:

So, happily we have found our "permanent" home here in Hong Kong...I'll send out our new address once the lease is signed. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Night of the Iguana or Year of the Rat?

Really, it should be Night of the Rat. A sturdy fellow, walking down the street about 6:30pm in search of his dinner, just like me. It took me a moment to identify the skittering object - I've been know to freak out over a blowing leaf. And everyone walks so quickly in HK (including rats, apparently) so that I am walking quickly towards the rat who is walking quickly towards me and I'm trying to identify this little creature (wow, what a small cat...right? that's a cat right? i mean, wait, oh holy sh*t, gaaaa....)  A little "eeeek" and side jump and I avoided his head. I did not hear a reaction from people behind me so either they kicked the thing aside without a thought or he made it to the garbage bags without further recognition.

I don't have one specific topic for this entry, just a list of thoughts that have accumulated.

They use bamboo for their scaffolding here.  Picture, as promised:

I joined the American Women's Association of Hong Kong (affectionately called AWA by those in the know). Almost every Thursday they have CHAT (Come Have a Talk - at what point in the development of written language did someone invent this acronym thing? Someone in Marketing, no doubt. "Shakespeare, I have this awesome idea for promoting Romeo and Juliet - LOVE - Love Over Violence Everytime - what do you think?") Anyway, AWA CHAT is held at the Marriott in Pacific Place on Queen's Road, Wan Chai, in case you ever want to drop in. Really, a very friendly bunch - about 15 in all this week. We introduced ourselves (3 people from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati area - and one mom who's son just graduated from OU! It took me 5 days to meet someone who knew Athens.)  Afterward 4 of us newbies stayed and had lunch together. I had this feeling - like - you know when there is a group parachute jump - everyone goes individually, then they come together and make a formation, and then they split off again and continue on individually...that's how this felt. I've been alone all week (don't take that the wrong way) and then suddenly I am with this group of women laughing and talking and sharing and commiserating and then back to my own silent world.

I took the train out to Choi Hung MTR Station yesterday afternoon (after my AWA CHAT) to meet Catherine the Real Estate Lady. This bit is about making decisions, having a sense of purpose.  So, every day when I venture out, I have to plan ahead quite a bit. Where am I going and why? (I should rename this blog Elaine or Stacy) that is, after 20 years of working full time, raising a child, going to school with a purpose, I find it challenging to wake up each day without a purpose. So, when I say, "plan ahead quite a bit," I am thinking, "'What am I about today?" and I also tend to worry about things like - will I understand what people are saying? Are there social rules/cues that I will miss and then look foolish? Venturing out means making decisions - like my previous example of going to the post office. It can be daunting and tiring. You know, research shows that women learn by talking to others.  That is, they process information and make decisions by talking with others. So, I'm doing a lot of processing and learning very quietly, which, as anyone who's ever shared an office with me knows, that's not how I roll. I digress. Yesterday, I went to the MTR and was going to buy a ticket. One single ticket. Then I remembered the Octopus Card. Here in HK you can buy an Octopus card ($150 HK - $50 ($6.41USD) deposit, $100 ($12.82USD) to spend.) You use your Octopus card to make small, quick purchases and of course, you can reload the card up to something like $1,500 (about $190USD).  Without thinking a lot, I walked up to the ticket window, "One Octopus card, please," paid my $150, "mgoy" and was on my way. YAY! I made one simple life decision in HK yesterday without a lot of Mary Worrywart behavior. Today (as its 3:45a.m. Friday) I'm going to use my "O" card when buying my paper, water and D.C.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

And Good Morning to you as well!

Day Two of using new words: Dzou sahn - Good morning. Let me tell you, that little phrase is like a miracle drug. It didn't matter to whom I spoke, giving that precious gem was like handing out money.

I started off with my usual list of assignments: buy salsa ingredients and fruit at the Wan Chai Market, find another place to hang out and read while sipping a beverage, buy daily paper, water and Diet Coke.  Fueled by my success from yesterday and slightly overwhelmed by my desire to stay in bed, I left the apartment about 9a.  Already 90 degrees F (we are on Celsius here - so, 30 degrees C),  thick, steamy air coiled around my skin. I headed over to the Hopewell Center to purchase said newspaper and water. Slightly nervous about throwing out my first "dzou sahn" but went for it with confidence and it went unacknowledged. Hmmm...was it my pronunciation?  Maybe I wasn't loud enough.  Went to Taste and bought two bottles of water - tried again - success! Wow - cashier went from pleasant enough to genuinely friendly in .5 seconds.  She gave me "dzou sahn" right back and said "Very good!" with a big smile. I called "mmgoy" over my shoulder, trying to sound confident about the ending upswing. (Who knew speaking a new language would cause such emotional turmoil?)

On to the Wanchai Market! What is that popular quote "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams"?  Yeah - it's best if you  have some idea of in which direction those dreams are located.  I was prepping myself for speaking with vendors - envisioning myself going to the same stalls every few days and building comaraderie and getting into the whole "immersion" thing. About 45 minutes later, after having walked the same 3 block area several times, I had to admit I had no idea where this market was located and immersion now involved a cool bath. It didn't matter that I had actually been to this market twice in the last two days(!) - I was losing The Memory game.  And in 30C weather, its not time to lose anything!  I finally gave in and decided to head home, if for no other reason than to put on some dry clothes.  Turning one last corner it was as if I had dropped into a movie set.  Vendors, shoppers, tourists, umbrellas, shopping bags all appeared out of nowhere. Yay! Wanchai Market! 

Tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onion purchased (giving out my dzou sahns and mmgoys to anyone who would listen) I was looking for one last item: bananas.  Easily spotted, I walked over to a stall and did "as the Romans do" and served myself. The vendor, a short woman with a round face, smiled and I said "dzou sahn!" and that was all it took. She was off and running in Cantonese, gesturing, smiling, talking, more gesturing to the bananas, to me, to the bananas.  I smiled, nodded, kept working to get the bananas off the peg, and finally handed them over. She kept right on talking and then gave me the price, in Cantonese. I raised my eyebrows - the universal gesture for, "What?" "Say that again?" and she did. In Cantonese. She either didn't know English or wasn't budging. So, like a three year old, I held out my hand with coins in my palm and let her count out the amount. She very cheerfully counted loudly and slowly for me and deposited the money in her basket.  I liked her style....Mgoy! I called as I left her stall. I am definitely going back to her for more practice!

Two more stops and two more "dzou sahns" both eliciting big smiles and return "dzou sahns" and one "very good!".  I came home feeling tired but accomplished. Tomorrow I tackle the MTR and minibus out to Sai Kung.  I wonder what phrase will be most useful on that trip...

Thank You

I decided to learn one new Cantonese word each day and practice using it "out in the field." My word yesterday was "thank you."  The word is pronounced "mmgoy" with a bit of an upswing at the end. I asked Elsie (the building's housekeeper) about my pronunciation and she laughed a little and said it was like listening to a baby learn to talk. Undaunted, I headed out to Queen's Road.

I had given myself a few assignments for the morning: buy stamps, something with which to dry clothes, and find a place to read for a bit.  While walking around looking for Pacifica Coffee House (this is like The Memory Game - I know I've seen it somewhere, I just have to remember what row/column it's in), I happened upon one of those street vendor places. This street (Li Chit) has stalls and small store fronts that sell everything from dried squid to curlers to roses.  Found a store with clothespins/clothesline and tried out my first "mmgoy" and the lady smiled and helped me say it a little better.  Walked down the lane and found hangers. Again, I gave my "mmgoy" and the lady said, "Thank you! God bless you!" (cute!).  Then I found Pacifica and treated myself to a giant hot chocolate with whip cream and chocolate syrup and a regular "Thanks." As I sat in the coffee shop I checked out the scenery outside and realized I was very close to my goal of finding the Post Office.  I crossed over to the Hopewell Center (office building with McDonalds, Taste (grocery), bookstore, flower shop, etc.), went up to the 3rd floor to an elevated walkway and I found the Post Office. I purchased a book of stamps and again gave my "mmgoy" and the lady smiled and asked if I was visiting or living in Hong Kong. She was so helpful! After I pasted the stamps on my letters, I turned to find the mailbox and she "pssssst" and pointed to the corner.  "Mmgoy" again!  Back over to Hopewell, I bought nail polish remover (mmgoy!) and a newspaper (mmgoy).  Down to the 7-11 (water, diet coke) mmgoy, and home.  It was 10:30a but I felt like I'd been out all morning.

I'ts interesting, being the new kid in town. Not only am I learning my way around, but just learning how to "be" here. Its actually kind of exhausting planning not just to go buy a book of stamps, but figure out where the Post Office is located, make sure I have money, figure out the process - which line to use, how many stamps - what kind of stamps, where to actually post the letters, etc. 

I've also noticed that when I say "mmgoy" - the pronunciation has a slight upturn at the end but I feel like I'm asking a question so I want to give it a downturn so it sounds final - "Thank you!" not, "Thank you?"

Mmgoy for reading my post today.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

beginning at the beginning...

The beginning began about 18 months ago when I first was introduced to my husband, Mark.  We love telling this part of the story in the presence of each other as it always brings some kind of reaction from the audience. We were both climbing Mount Everest when...okay, not really. Mark likes to say we met in third grade, which would be great if there wasn't this four-year age difference between us. (I actually know someone who met his wife in kindergarten and swears he knew, even then, that she was the one for him.)

Mark and I met on e-Harmony. Yes, its true, we are an e-Harmony success story. Matched in February, 2009, we corresponded through email and chatted on the phone through the month of March. We had our first date in early April, engaged in September and married Christmas Eve, 2009.  I know - whirlwind romance! But the whirlwind was only beginning.

When we married I was living in Athens, Ohio and working at Ohio University.  Mark moved in to my tiny (600 sq ft) house and we lived happily, and compactly, with my two cats, Olivia and Audrey.  Mark traveled a great deal thus making the living arrangements bearable but just barely.  We started house-hunting before the wedding and found a great house a few months after the wedding.  On the mid-March day we closed on the house, Mark got the phone call that his company wanted to interview him for a job with their international office.  By the time we moved to the house in mid-April, we knew we were moving abroad. I'll write some other time about mixed emotions and joys/sorrows of not unpacking every little thing we owned. By mid-May it was settled that Mark would be working from the Hong Kong office and a visit was scheduled for early July. By late July we knew we'd be moving permanently to Hong Kong in early September, 2010.

And so Mark and I are back to a compact life  in a 750 sq ft apartment in a charming serviced apartment building called Shama Wanchai. That's the beginning of the beginning of my life in Hong Kong.