I (Heart) Hong Kong

When I was in Hong Kong on Monday, I stopped in to visit some friends in their office in Tsim Sha Tsui. I hadn’t seen them for awhile, so we had a nice time catching up over a cup of tea.

I told them how much I loved Hong Kong, and since all of them were locals, they were curious as to exactly what it was about Hong Kong that I like.

First off, I told them, my affinity for Hong Kong was sentimental since it is the city that inadvertantly launched my China career.  In the summer of 1979 I did a three-month internship there, teaching English in some local community centers and doing transcription work at a research center. Even though I had grown up in Asia, this was my first foray into East Asia;  and I loved it, I think because it WAS still Asia, but more developed and without the strong Islamic culture that I had grown accustomed to in Pakistan.

On weekends I would explore the city, getting on random busses, riding them to the end of the line, wandering remote neighborhoods, then reboarding for the trek back home.  As a result I got to know my way around.

In the 1990’s, by which time I had actually taken up residence in China, I made an annual trek to Hong Kong during China’s Spring Festival for a teachers conference. A good friend of mine lived there, so I would always go down early and stay with her.  When she wasn’t working, we explored the city.

The second thing I like about Hong Kong is that even though it is one of the most densely populated pieces of real estate on the planet, it is a highly livable urban environment. The public transportation system is beyond efficient; the crime rate is low; there are lots of parks and nature preserves; and the social services are good. For that, the Hong Kong government should be commended.

Oh, and Hong Kong is the city where I had three screws installed in my knee to keep my kneecap from wandering about.

The following photo is roughly the same shot as the photo above, looking in roughly the same direction. Gotta love that Ektachrome!



Making a List

My mom (who some of us have taken to calling "Gracie" for some reason) has a blog called Gracewood Cottage.

Yesterday she wrote about going through my dad's roll-top desk for the first time since he died ten years ago. It was just something she could never bring herself to do until now. The desk was pretty much as it was the morning he died in 2001. 

She writes about finding his old index cards with lists of things to do.  He was an incredibly organized man, but for some reason that trait didn't pass to his daughters.  I'm not good witih lists.  I make lists, but then forget where I put them, or forget to take them with me, or just forget that I made the list. 

Anyway, the post is great, and poingnant, and makes me miss my dad. 

And makes me grateful for a great mom who blogs!!

Please click on over and give it a read.  And while you're there, subscribe.  Hopefully if she has more readers, she'll write more!!

Got Salt?

Today's panic in China centered around salt.  Rumors that future production of salt from the sea would be contaminated with radioactive particles coupled with the belief that consumption of salt is the best prevention/treatment for radioactive poisoning triggered nation-wide panic buying of salt.

Here's a report and photos from Shanghaiist:

An epidemic of panic buying hit supermarkets and stores across China beginning yesterday as shoppers laid their hands on any salt they could find under the false assumption that the ubiquitous food seasoning offers protection against radiation exposure. Multiple branches of the supermarket chain Carrefour in Beijing and Shanghai told CNN that their salt supplies have been effectively cleared out as of this morning. To allay fears, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has released a chart on its Web site which shows radiation levels in 41 Chinese cities to be normal. Potassium iodide tablets have also been snapped up at pharmacies, despite the explicit warning that such pills should not be consumed unless the government recommends it. In a mass text message sent out today, the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce assured local residents that the city has enough stockpiles of salt, and that panic buying should be avoided.

A few years back I read an interesting book about salt.  The title is, well, Salt, and it's written by Mark Kurlansky. Salt is one of the few substances that a body needs in order to survive.  Therefore, the production and management of salt has figured prominantly in governance down through the ages.

It's a great book.  Have at it!


Panic in the Streets

Yesterday morning (15th) an internet rumor got going on this side of the ocean that got the masses quite stirred up.  A message was flying around on blogs, by email, and via SMS that a giant radioactive cloud was spreading across Asia from Japan. Furthermore, it gave instructions on precautions to take to avoid coming in contact with this toxic cloud.  By all means, stay out of the rain!!

By the afternoon local governments and the BBC (which was quoted as being the source of this information) were doing everything they could to inform people that the message was a hoax.

When I received the email from a friend, it didn't pass the smell test, so I just hit the delete button.  I figure that the delete button was made for such a time as this.

In a city where the air quality is rated as HAZARDOUS more than 50% of the time, it seemed silly to be panicked about something that WASN'T happening 1500 miles away! 

I doubt if any radiation could even penetrate the smog here.


The Calendar is About to Strike Again

According to the local media, the public heating systems in Beijing will be shut off tonight at midnight.  The government has decreed and thus it shall be.

This isn't surprising.  Heat is another thing that is determined by the calendar, not the weather.  In Beijing November 15 is the day it comes on.  And March 15 is the day it is turned off.

Just because.


It’s the Calendar, Stupid

Since I've been obsessively writing about my desire to yet fear of wearing sandals as spring breaks upon us here in Beijing, I thought perhaps it might be time for a bit of background on the thinking that is taking place regarding when it is/is not appropriate to get out the sandals.

The crux of the matter is this:  in China, one dresses according to the calendar; whereas in my culture one dresses according to the weather. 

I first discovered this cognitive clash back in November of 1984, when I was teaching English at a provincial level teacher's college in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.  I had a small class of only 16 students, all of whom were middle school English teachers from various towns and cities around the province.  Due to the political upheavals  of the previous decade, none of them had actually been to university (those had been closed for almost ten years), and most of them had studied some Russian in middle school. 

By the early 1980's policies in China had done an about-face, and China was slowly opening itself up to the outside world.  One piece of that was promoting the study of English.  At the time this was quite amazing given the fact that just a few years before people in China could be jailed for studying English. 

My students were what we called "Russian Re-treads" at the time — people who had studied, and in many cases taught Russian, but who were now being re-trained as English teachers. They were a great bunch of students, and I remember well the eagerness and enthusiasm they brought to the task. Most exciting for them (or so it seemed) was that they had the opportunity to study English with real live native speakers (I was on a teaching team of 6 North Americans). I think that none of my students had ever actually seen, much less met a foreigner before.

As you can imagine, the culture learning opportunities (in both directions) were never-ending.

By early November, the temperatures in Zhengzhou were dropping fast.  The foreign teachers apartments (rooms) where we lived had been outfitted for heat, but the classrooms were unheated and cold — really cold.

On one particularly cold morning I wore my gloves to class.  When I entered the room my students all stared in amazement at my hands and snickered.  One spoke for them all:

He:  Miss Jo,  why are you wearing gloves?

Me (slightly confused by the question):  Um….because my hands are cold.

By this time I had noticed that his hands were covered with cold sores, and very nearly on the verge of frost-bite.  In fact, the hands of all my students looked like that.

Me:  Your hands look cold too.  Why are you NOT wearing gloves?

He:  Because We Chinese don't wear gloves until December 1.

Me:  That's interesting.  I wear gloves when my hands get cold.

We stared at each other in mutual comprehension, then went on with class.  And sure enough, on December 1, all my students showed up to class wearing gloves.

I had learned a very important lesson:  It's the calendar, stupid!


Tsunami Alert in the Aleutians

My niece, who is spending the winter with her husband near the village of False Pass, Alaska has posted a blog about their tsunami alert in the middle of the night last night.  It's titled "Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan."

In proper usage, repeated three times, “Pan-Pan” is the radiotelephone term used to announce an urgent situation that may become dangerous.  It has preceded all recent Coast Guard broadcasts regarding the tsunami warnings and advisories in this area.  It is a step below “Mayday” which indicates immediate and grave danger.

Last night around 11pm we began to hear chatter on the VHF marine radio between boat captains about a tsunami warning.   We immediately went online to get information and began reading reports of the massive earthquake in Japan.

Please go here to read the whole thing.