Surprises and Goodbyes

A few weeks ago I got a text from an unknown number that read “Hey Emily, what are your plans for the weekend?” so knowing that it had to be someone I knew (because a] it was in English and b] they knew it was my number) I replied asking who it was. At which point I was told that it was a surprise and I would find out if I went to Perry’s our regular bar at 10pm that night. Now as children we are taught never to agree to this kind of thing but again I knew it had to be one of my friends so I agreed. Additionally the second text had provided me with 2 clues as to the persons identity however the answer they were leading me to seemed impossible since that person was not longer living in Shanghai. I spent the next few hours flip flopping from trusting my instincts to doubting them, and trying not to get my hopes up too high in case I was wrong. In the end the beans were spilled before we reached the bar that night. I went to a friend’s house party with Katharina first and there we met up with our friend Heather who didn’t realize that we were still unaware of the mystery texter’s identity and she told us that our friend Anna was back in Shanghai. Which is who I had suspected it to be proving that I am a regular Sherlock Holmes, or she just gave me lots of easy clues. Anyways we left the party and went to another friends place where we were reunited with Anna and it was lovely! She came for 2 weeks for a holiday. Luckily my job doesn’t have the same hours as most and I was able to spend lots of time with her in the evenings and on weekends. But all too soon her time in Shanghai was up and most unfortunately it coincided with the departure of another good friend. My friend Glen was offered a great job opportunity in Singapore so he took it and moved there last week. So needless to say it was sad to say goodbye to two friends in the same week but I’m very happy for the time we spent together and I know I’ll see them both at some point in the future.

With all that going on plus work, March has just flown by! Spring is here in Shanghai, the weather is warming up and the rain is plentiful. We are back in the swing of things at work and it’s hard to believe there are only 3 months left of school. I am still enjoying teaching and the kids are great. I’ve had some very good feedback from my teachers and my Pacican evaluations, as well as seen a marked improvement in many of the kids which makes me feel good about what I’ve done here.

Katharina and Jacob and I are headed to Suzhou for the day on Sunday. It’s a city about a 30-minute train ride from Shanghai. And it is supposed to be very nice, so it should be fun.

I’ll post stories for the rest of my New Year’s adventures soon!

Travel Diary of a Spoiled English Teacher – Hong Kong

Sorry I am so late in posting this. Things got quite busy when I started work again after my vacation and these are taking me longer to write then I had anticipated. So I will update about my holidays in chronological installments.

I had a wonderful holiday! Six weeks is a LONG time to be off! As you know from my last post I started my holidays on a bit of a low note with my terrible cold but things were looking up by the 25th as Katharina and I flew to Hong Kong that night starting off my adventures.

Let me start of by saying that I absolutely loved Hong Kong! It was a great few days and by the end I was wishing I could live there instead of Shanghai (but I still also like Shanghai!) however let’s go back to the beginning. We had a late flight which arrived around 11 pm. Nearly right away we noticed a difference in Hong Kong from Shanghai, not anything enormously, in your face different, but little things that all added up over time. One of the first things we noticed and appreciated was the amount of English, more signs with English, more people spoke and understood English, which was all very helpful when we were trying to figure out where the buses were, and which one we wanted to take. We got to our hostel with only one small hiccup, which was us getting off the bus one stop too early. It meant a little more walking and a few minutes of us just hoping we had gone in the right direction (which we had thanks to my fairly good sense of direction and a logical guess) in the end we found our hostel fairly easily. We were even treated to a nice surprise upon our arrival. While checking in we were informed that we had been upgraded, free of charge, to a private room with our own washroom, so needless to say we were pretty happy about that and it was a good way to start our trip. We had a general plan for our days based on where we wanted to go and their general geographic proximity but a very loose schedule.
Our first day we had a bit of a late start since we hadn’t gotten to our room until after 1am the night before. Our plan for the day was to go to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha. We took the metro out to where you could get a cable car up to the Buddha. The line was enormous and we waited probably close to 2 hours but it was worth it. The cable car ride was very fun with great views of the bay and the hills. It was lovely to be surrounded by nature, something we’d been missing living in the city. In our cable car were 3 other foreigners, a girl from Toronto in Hong Kong for university and a married couple from Bristol who were both professors in Hong Kong for a university fair. Once we arrived at the top we were greeted by an onslaught of touristy shops and restaurants all set in these made to look old buildings. I had read about getting vegetarian food at the monastery so we decided to climb to the top of the Buddha then get food and check out the Po Lin monastery. It was a bit of a climb to the top of the Buddha but the view was amazing and we were lucky to have a warm, sunny day. Down at the monastery we had our “vegetarian snack” of noodles and spring rolls, and walked around a bit. It was a beautiful monastery, one of my favourites of those I’ve visited so far. There were so many bright colours it was just beautiful. From the Buddha we took a crazy bus ride to a fishing village called Tai O. I had read about it online in my research and thought it’d be cool to check out. It is a small place largely untouched it seemed, despite the tourist trade going on. We took a boat tour through the village then out into the bay. The area is known for it’s pink river dolphins but we didn’t see any. We walked around the village for a bit, got a snack and some souvenirs before getting a bus back to the subway station. While walking through the square on the way into the subway we had a funny incident. We happened to run into 2 fellow Pacican teachers and friends from Shanghai, Tom and Joseph. They had just arrived in Hong Kong and were on their way from the airport. So we made plans to meet later in the week.

That night on our way back to the hostel Katharina and I stopped at the supermarket to get some snacks and food for breakfast. It’s going to sound silly but we spent 45 minutes to an hour in that supermarket because it was amazing. It wasn’t a special supermarket, probably not much different then a Metro or No Frills at home, but that is precisely the reason why we loved it. Walking around that supermarket felt like home, there were so many familiar brands and foods, things that we hadn’t seen or were harder to find in Shanghai. We spent so much time just looking at things before we went back and actually got what we had come in for, and we went back, everyday after that (for food! Not just to look around). You might think we are crazy but we loved that supermarket and it is one of my fondest memories from Hong Kong. After that we headed to the hostel to relax, eat junk food and watch TV (in English!), it was a great end to an awesome day.

Next morning we took the Turbo Jet from Hong Kong to Macau. We had a late start as tickets were sold out and we had to wait for the 12:15 ferry. Once in Macau we grabbed a map from tourist services and hopped on a bus to the historic downtown. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day other then seeing the ruins of St. Paul’s and walking around the old town, so we got off the bus once we thought we were close and started walking. Wandering is something Katharina and I are both good at and enjoy, it’s a great way to see a city, just picking a new direction each time you come to a crossroads. Macau was under Portuguese control until 1999 and the influence from the Portuguese culture is still strong today, as seen in the city’s architecture, which is a strange but neat mix of Asian and European, as well as the food and overall feel of the city. A great example of this is the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which fascinated me to no end. All that’s left of the church is the façade as the rest was destroyed in a fire, but the carvings on the façade are a mix of symbols from both Catholicism and Asian culture. There are dragons and lotus flowers alongside Saints and Jesus, even the Corinthian capitals of the columns had a slightly Asian twist to them, it was fascinating.
After wandering for a bit we got lunch at a little Portuguese restaurant, it was great food and we had this interesting sparkling juice that was passion fruit flavour and really good. After lunch we walked some more finding the Ruins of St. Paul’s and subsequently a lot of tourists. From there we went up to the old fortress and walked around taking in the views of the city. Then we headed down in search of Senado Square. The square was all decorated for the Chinese New Year and it was beautiful with the contrasting cobble stone street, Chinese lanterns over head and European style buildings lining the square. We decided to get ice cream and sit in the square for a bit since it was such a nice day. After that we wandered some more buying some egg tarts and almond cookies, both of which Macau is famous for. Around 6:30 we decided to head back to the ferry, so we got on the same bus we had taken downtown assuming it would loop back to the ferry dock, but we assumed wrong. Instead we got a nice little tour of Macau and ended up at the bus station from there we transferred buses, had a similar tour of Macau and eventually arrived at the ferry dock. We got back to our hostel around 10:30 at which point we planned what we wanted to do the next day and how we would meet up with Tom and Joseph to go to the museum in the morning.

In the morning we met the guys outside the main entrance of the Hong Kong Museum of History. The museum has free entry on Wednesdays, which is why we planned to go on that day. The museum is set up as one large exhibit telling the history of Hong Kong from prehistoric times to reunification with China/ present day. It was very interesting to learn more about both the history and culture of the area. My favourite parts were learning about the opium wars and the Japanese take over during WW2. The museum did have some cool artifacts but many were recreations as the main point was to tell the story of the development of the area and how it became the city that it is today. After being briefly separated from Katharina we found each other at the exit and we all headed to get Dim Sum for lunch. We went to a place I had found online that was supposed to be both good and relatively inexpensive, and it did not disappoint! We had a variety of dishes to share and everything was delicious, plus split between the 4 of us it ended up being very cheap. After lunch we parted ways with the guys who were headed to the Peak while we were going to the Mong Kok neighborhood and the markets. We started with a coffee at the Flower market street, from there we made our way toward the goldfish market and then the ladies market. At 7pm we took the MTR (subway) to the Star Ferry Pier to see the light show at 8pm. It was cold by the water which hindered my enjoyment of the show because I wasn’t dressed for it but it was still very cool to see. After the light show we went to the Temple Street Night market, when we arrived we got food at a little place on the street, then we browsed the market. We got some little things and headed back to the hostel around 10:30.

The next day was our last in Hong Kong. We started the morning late again (surprise, surprise! If you know Katharina and I you understand). We packed our bags and checked out of the hostel by 11 am. From the hostel we went back to the Mong Kok area to get a purse Katharina had had her eye on the night before. I had a headache that morning and was not on my A game, so I accidentally led us in the wrong direction but we eventually found our way back to the shop and she got her purse. From there we took the MTR back to Causeway Bay to get lunch. We went for Dim Sum again to the same restaurant as the day before (it’s a chain in Hong Kong and I highly recommend it! Called Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum, I know weird name). The restaurant was overflowing with people but they found a small table for 2 upstairs so we didn’t need to wait. Because we had eaten there before we already knew some things we wanted again and we tried a few new dishes as well, it was just as good as the day before and we ate till we were stuffed. From there we made our way back to the hostel, stopping to look in a few stores along the way. Once at the hostel to pick up our bags we asked about a post office to mail post cards, and were told that they could do it for us so we gave them our letters and left. We took the subway to the airport instead of the bus this time, it was more expensive but much faster. Once at the airport we had a few minor hiccups, like going to the wrong terminal, then our flight being delayed. So we grabbed coffee and dessert and waited. Once our gate was finally posted we had an adventure getting there which included a bus and another delay upon our arrival. We didn’t get back to Shanghai until close to midnight, at which point there is only one option for public transit into the city. So we took a bus to Jing An temple then we each got a cab to our respective apartments getting home around 1:30-2am.

Overall it was a great trip! We had a blast and I would go back to Hong Kong in a heartbeat. However this was just the start of my New Years Adventures.