Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Thoughts from Hong Kong

I have spent the majority of my time over the last couple of days inside of a room staring at my computer screen while my 8 delegates participated in Harvard Model Congress Asia at Hong Kong University. The 3 day conference consisted of long days and committees where my girls, generally used to a mono-cultural environment, were thrown into multicultural settings with students from all over Asia. Talk about overload. Coming in nervous and more than probably unprepared, the first day was definitely a shock to the system as they were forced to confront what it means to be a global citizen and why it is important to be a language learner in our increasingly interdependent world.
HKU (buildings on Right) in its humble habitat

As we concluded the conference today, I could see a light in their eyes. They showed us pictures with their new friends from other schools, laughed triumphantly about finding them on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, and spoke earnestly about coming again next year now that they know what it's all about.

Conclusion? I'm so glad we came. If only we had had a bit more time to explore this fascinating city.

Still, as per custom, here are some initial thoughts about Hong Kong:

1. The Vertical City
Hong Kong's many buildings tower above the streets, probably in a means to conserve space. We searched in vain for the sky between the peaks.

If you've seen the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets that came out this past year (I know it received mixed reviews, but bear with me), you might be familiar with the scene near the start of the movie where Valerian is falling through the different levels of Big Market. In some ways, Hong Kong and especially the HKU area reminded me of this sense of things hidden beneath the surface. We were on Hong Kong island for the majority of our stay and as we went between our hotel and the university, I found it confusing and mesmerizing. Each time you would "pop" out of a building or road, you would be at a different elevation and because there are so many buildings, you were constantly finding a different perspective in such a short period of time. I couldn't help but stare out at the city every chance I got. The university was confusing at first, too, because so much of the structure is vertical more than horizontal like I'm used to, but I also kind of liked it.
HKU and the surrounding buildings climb up the mountain...
2. The price to eat: Local Cuisine?
A lot of people complain that Hong Kong is expensive and I don't disagree, but I think it also depends on what you are hoping to eat. If you are looking for western staples like burgers, pasta, sandwiches, steak and the like, well duh, that's generally more expensive anywhere that I've been in Asia. However, if you're willing to eat more local cuisine or at local stands, you can totally find cheaper, satisfying and delicious food. Unfortunately for this trip, we didn't have the time nor the local for finding as many local places. I would have liked to have gone for a more in depth walk through the city. Next time!
Then some Dim Sum
3. Where does the food come from?

4. Ocean Park for a Cable Car
In Line for the Cable Car!
One of the first things we did in HK was head to Ocean Park as per suggestion by one of my coworkers. We were too early to check into our hotel and the conference registration hadn't quite started yet either. With hours to kill, why not?

It was definitely a fun place to visit, but also fairly empty. We gathered that January is generally not peak season for this water-rich attraction filled park. Despite the cooler weather, we still found it was a beautifully constructed park with a cable car attraction that yielded stunning views of the island and the sea. Worth it for the park's admission fee. Plus our students enjoyed the rides and the chance to shake off some nerves before diving into the conference.
View from the Cable Car as we went over the mountain
5. Language Barriers
I thought I would throw this in because one of my students expressed her frustration and difficulty when we were out and about at restaurants or stores. While you can find a lot of places where people speak some English, there are a lot of places where they don't. For my student who has mainly travelled in English proficient countries (or has generally travelled with parents to work through language situations), this was a bit of a shock. She couldn't understand why more people couldn't speak English in such an international city. It was interesting to alert her to the fact that in many places in Korea it's the same and because she speaks Korean she's never noticed. Definitely an eye opening experience all around.

That being said, if you can mime or are willing to point randomly at menus, you'll be fine.

In all honesty, these impressions are based on the smallest glimpse of Hong Kong since, aforementioned, I spent most of my time in a university classroom. I wish I could speak more to the hiking, transportation around the city, and food adventures. Alas, I'll just have to visit again I suppose...

Love & Hugs

Saturday, December 16, 2017

At last, Christmas Break

With a limp hoorah and a staggering gait, I’ve made it to Christmas. I am exhausted. Physically, mentally and a tad emotionally.
Photo of my mum's Christmas Tree
My mum's Christmas Tree

I’m so glad to be home in Canada for a bit (even if it’s cold). First order of business: get caught up on some Zzzs.

Coming back from our November break, I didn’t think it would be too, bad. After all, we only had 5 weeks to go and sure, they were busy with our school’s production, and parent teacher conferences.. and a full weekend of professional development… oh and coordinating and planning Model United Nations Conferences (local & international)...

Before I knew it, in addition to all the regular class planning and preparation, I had another full load. It felt like both a race and a crawl to the finish line. There wasn’t enough time to do everything I needed to, but then the days seemed to crawl past, posing longer for a picture or two. This last week, everyone could feel it and tensions were pulled taut like string. I like my coworkers a lot, usually, but with everyone on edge, one wrong move and someone would snap.

After having pushed myself over (and sometimes through) these last couple of hurdles to Christmas, I can say that I've learned a couple of lessons about teaching--both about what to do and what not to do.

First: The pros and cons of Google Docs
We use Google Drive all the time at our school. It's a way that we organize files and share assignments between teachers and students. If you've never used Docs before, it's nice because multiple people can work on the same file at the time and you can also leave comments as you go. That being said, toward the end of this last unit, I thought it would be a good idea to have my students share their documents with me so that I could give more specific feedback. Nothing wrong with that, but I decided to have all of my classes do it the same week. Next thing I know I had70-80 documents being sent my way and I was left wondering how I'd give feedback to everyone in time. Maybe not my finest strategy for maintaining sanity.

Second: Have a better plan for assignment submission
This last week was the end of the second unit for all of my classes which meant that it was time to hand in their summative assessments. I generally like to grade a hard copy when I can (digital screens can just be so distractable, you know?), but as I was asking my students to print, I then remembered that I would be doing a bunch of travelling over the holidays and if I planned to get any marking done, I would need a digital copy. So naturally I'm then asking my students to send me a digital copy as well, but for some students, they had 2-3 files for their summative because they kept their research notes over here, but then their written response over there and then their works cited page on easybib.com which just meant chaos in the grand scheme of organization.

Next time, I will have a plan. I promise.

Third: Always budget for that extra day
I didn't like the idea of finishing our summatives on the last period before the break and so I pushed my students a bit to get down the next to last period. This meant that we could have a bit of a party and relaxation before the holidays. It also meant that if something went wrong (which it invariably did), I had a bit of wiggle room to follow up with students and collect any last minute tasks. I definitely want to keep this in mind moving forward since it worked out so well.

Moving on... insert clever and/or thoughtful ending here.

Happy Holidays!

Love and Hugs.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Things I learned on a Cruise

I think it’s important to go out on adventures and try new things. That being said… If I didn’t, I suppose I would never have packed up my life and moved across the world to Korea. Ha. But that is neither here nor there.
View of the Ruby Princess from the Port of San Diego
Last week, one of my friends from high school got married on a cruise ship. After scrounging up pennies and time off, a couple of us decided to partake in the fan fare that is a cruise wedding. It was quite an interesting experience and the wedding was both lovely and fun. As is the trend with my other adventures, here’s what I’ve learned about:
Inside of the ship in the "Piazza"

1. Demographics
Sarrah, Jaslyn and I were unsure whether it was the trip we picked (down the Californian Coast), the company (Princess Cruises, a more upscale-fancy cruise line), or the price (which was probably a huge factor), but whatever the causal factors, we were in the minority. Most of the guests on the boat could be our grandparents—and some even told us as much. We met some lovely people, but at the same time, it would have been nice to hangout and mingle with people more of our own age. We also recognize that with the reality of student debt and the post-uni job hunting struggles, that for our generation, cruises are not the top priority. Ha.

2. Fatal Foods
It never stops. You can eat 24 hours. You can go to a buffet, you can get pizza, you can get burgers, you can get never ending ice cream and dessert. Ugh. Seriously. I can’t believe how much food you have at your beck and call and I will admit it grossed me out a bit. One of the wedding guests told me about how she was waiting for an elevator with a group of the bridal party post-wedding night. They had just finished a nice meal all together and were heading back to their rooms. The elevator came and they couldn’t quite all fit with the current occupants. One of the other guests inside motioned for a couple more to push in and she said, “Oh, I know it can hold 18 people,” referencing the sign inside. The man shook his head and replied, “Nah, we’re halfway through the cruise now. It only holds 10.”
View toward the Stern of the ship.

There is one dominant body type on this ship as well.

Sarrah, Jaslyn and I opted to take the stairs when we could.

In other food news, we found the food kind of bland (again betraying the main demographic on the boat, we think), and Jaslyn had some trouble with vegetarian options, but the service was amazing.

3. Service
The wait staff were amazing and deserve mention all on their own. They were always on point (in all areas of the ship, not just related to food) and super helpful. Sarrah needed to make a last minute dress alteration and in no time at all we were provided with a needle and thread. Every day they would make our beds (a little overkill we thought, but hey), bring fresh towels and vacuum. I really hope they like their job and that they do not secretly hate the passengers—but then even if they did, they kept it close to the vest and I wouldn’t have been able to tell. Also the staff was very international with countries from all over the world represented.
Me, Sarrah and Jaslyn

4. at Sea VS at Port
Jaslyn, Sarrah and I are quick to claim status as "land lubbers" despite the usual insulting connotation. Our favourite part of the cruise was being at port. We were itching to get off the boat and explore the different locations.

Some of the people on the cruise stayed on the boat almost the whole time. Yeah, they are a lot of programs and events running each day + spa and exercise facilities if you so choose, but isn't the point of a cruise to relax on the boat in between travelling to new places?

When we stayed on the boat, it wasn't quite warm enough to stay on the deck and so we would retreat inside the ship looking for something to do. Going back to the issue of demographics, not everything catered to our interests. Ready for a singles mingle, eh? Haha. Plus, we could often feel the movement of the boat. Sometimes it was really rocky, and sometimes we even felt like we were still drifting when we were on land.

5. Trivia
Trivia was our jam. We were pleasantly surprised by all the trivia and might have spent 4 hours at one venue participating in a series of trivia challenges. I know nothing—or at least nothing super useful when it comes to Trivia (we sadly missed the Disney Song rendition. I would have p-owned), but Jaslyn and Sarrah have seemingly endless stores of knowledge and we were able to hold our own in a couple of categories from animal discovery, song lyrics, motown, and more! Our prize for our winning round was a bottle of Sparkling Wine that we did not drink. Haha. We didn’t check out any of the shows but the other guests gave them high praise, so who knows.

6. Tying the Knot
Last, the reason that we came in the first place: Our friend’s wedding. The ceremony was small, but lovely. The back of the boat was reserved for our party and we gathered midday on one of our days at sea. It wasn’t terribly hot and surprisingly it wasn’t too cold either. The morning rain had ceased and blue sky came out to join our celebration. The ceremony was brief with the captain officiating, and then we enjoyed a multiple course meal in one of the many elaborate dining rooms followed by dancing the day away as the sun set over the water... Not too shabby.
Sunset at the Wedding Reception
The results of this current adventure, are… still out at sea. Get it? ㅋㅋ. We aren’t entirely sure if we would go on another cruise—especially not so soon. Maybe if the demographics were different... and maybe more of an island-hopper like a Hawaiian or Caribbean Cruise...

Love and Hugs

Just leaving trails through the wave...