Thursday, August 31, 2006

I am still living!

Hey blog friends. Ah, I do say with sadness that I have left you hanging for some time now. Yes, my life is just so exciting that it's like a cliffhanger- what's going to happen next? Oooooh.
You see, I've submerged into a sea of planning (yes I said it aloud), cutting, pasting, laminating, stapling, repeat process- again, and again, and again! I have never worked at such an intense and continuous pace. Seriously. Okay, maybe that's not hard to believe seeing I've only been "working" for two years (does China count?!). The week prior was spent organizing my new home in Hong Kong. There has been so much to do! But since the whole moving in deal, I haven't been home too often!
I am SO GLAD that I decided to live close to the school. It's a 5 minute walk to get home at night and it's especially wonderful for a morning lover like myself...get up and go! I will post pictures of my apartment and my building soon. I have a pretty neat view when I come home at night. Sparkling white and yellow city lights.
I am also now a computer owner for the first time. I went fruity and picked a Macbook. I haven't used it a ton yet because it takes a couple weeks to get internet installed at home, but so far it seems good. I saved quite a bit because I didn't have to pay tax and also got a teacher discount. It will be so good to be connected at home- can't wait. I feel like I haven't keep in touch well over the couple of weeks and that has left me feeling a bit disconnected from many of you. Send me an email if you get the chance?
I must tell you that the school I am teaching at is amazing. I honestly feel so blessed to be a teacher here. They treat us so well and the staff has been so warm and helpful. The adminstrative staff is fantastic and I know I will learn a lot from many people here. The staff is a mix of international flavors, ages, and backgrounds. I am impressed, and very appreciative, of the efficiency and overall focus of the school. We have tons of resources and lots of support. I have two preps everyday, and twice a week I get an extra as well. It's great to be a part of so far!
Today was our first teaching day. I have 23 students in my Grade 5 class. I have Chinese, British, Canadian and Spanish students in my class. They are a sweet group of kids (aren't they always on the first day?!). The favorite part of the day for me was when I did a little activity focusing on the uniqueness of the students. I brought one of my suitcases and put a mirror inside. Then I went on and on about how very, very amazing and special and valuable this suitcase was. It's worth millions, there's not another in the whole entire world, etc. Then I asked them if they wanted to come take a look. They were so cute! Man. So one by one they came up- very carefully as to not disturb the precious treasure. Maybe you guessed what was inside?
A mirror. Awwww. Get it? You're special too! :) I'm so cheesy.
Anyway, that was pretty fun. I am having a very good time here in Hong Kong. The city is incredible, really. In the same fashion as the school, Hong Kong amazes me with its efficiency. For one example- they have something called an Octopus card here. You put money on the card and then you can use it on the subway, bus, at 7-11, at parkades, parking meters, etc. It eliminates the need for change. The organization of the city is pretty neat- so many escalators, underground walkways, moving sidewalks, etc. It's amazing what can be done to make the best use of a small space. Come and see for yourself!
Okay, so I AM having a great time- it's all good...but I am very, very tired. The last 5 days have been goofy. I have definitely not been eating well, and it wasn't for the dear kindergarten teacher bringing me extra lunch, I'd really be in trouble. Ha! I have this thing inside of me that can't just let something go and be less than what I want or know it can be. Sometimes people who have "this thing" are called perfectionists. It's like an addiction, I think, and it comes out when you're a teacher because you could probably work at it forever and ever and ever. It's hard for me to just let things be less than what I want! Ai ya.
Well, speaking of that P word- I do need to do some planning for tomorrow. It's nice that the weekend is just around the corner. On Friday night I am going with one of the other new teachers, Mary, to the Yacht Club for a pool party put on by the church I've been attending. It should be a good way to kick back after a long week or so.
Anyway, sorry for the delay in updates- they should be more consistent now that both my classroom and my home are relatively set up. Let me know how you are doing, okay?!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Living on the 32nd Floor

Greetings! It is a smoggy morning here in Hong Kong. Sometimes it clears up quite nicely and we've got blue skies, while other times you wish hopefully that you are looking at a storm cloud. The pollution crisis is real in a tangible way here in HK.
I found a place to hang my hat! After some pondering, I have decided on a place that is just down the block from my school- less than a 3 minute walk. It seems there is not a perfect solution to finding housing here. Something has to give- you either live farther away and spend more time on getting places, or you live close and pay a bit extra for the convenience. The place I'm in is very nice and I'm sure I'll never live in such a place in Canada. It is a complex with 7 towers- each with 60 floors I think. As is the case in many apartment complexes here, it is outfitted with many amenities- my favorites include a huge swimming pool, indoor squash court and badminton/basketball court, and work out area. There a lot of teachers around this area too, so I'm glad for that as well.
I ended up finding the apartment through a pink-shirted real estate agent named Sam. Sam is on the strange side, but he's a great bargainer that guy. He negotiated the price down an extra $150 CDN per month, so I'm thankful for Sam! The flat I'm living in is nearly fully furnished, so that is a huge plus. I get the keys for the place tonight, so I'll spend the weekend trying to get things set up. I'm excited, and thankful.
Some of you will know the names "Andy" and "King". They are students from Western that I coached and taught last year. I went out for supper with Andy and his mom this week. It was so fun to meet her. She's so cute!!! Yesterday Andy and I spent most of the day hanging out and later joined King to play some Hong Kong street ball. King informed me of a few things beforehand- 1) they may take off their shirts and they'll be very slippery, 2) they may smoke inbetween games, 3) don't argue if they call a foul, that's just the way it is, and 4) no teamwork is to be expected, so be selfish because that's just the way it is. Sounds like the way we played in China- so the transition was not too difficult. I like being back in the land where I'm almost average height. It's great! The funniest part of the night happened as we were walking along the street. We turned a corner and this old, skinny man jumped in front of me and said in a huge loud voice with a huge smile, "NI HAO, HELLO!!!!!!" And then he grabbed my hands and started dancing on the sidewalk with me. I tried to dance along, but I was slightly taken aback by his enthusiasm! Funny old man!
Anyway, I'd best get moving (get it?!). Next stop, the 32nd Floor!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Harm is officially IN Hong Kong!

Hello all. Sorry for the delay in updates, but the computer here seems to have disagreements with blogger.
I have arrived! I have been in Hong Kong for almost 4 days now. I'm staying at an older couple's home that have gone back to Canada for the summer. My apartment is on the 48th floor and has a brilliant view of Hong Kong in all of its lit up glory.
It seems there a million things to write but where to start- hmmm. The first day or so was a bit slow and stomach issues are keeping me somewhat at bay, but the last couple days have been pretty fun. I'm trying to figure out how this city works, surely not without making a lot of wrong turns. It seems easy to get mixed up, although the transit system is slick, slick, slick. Yesterday I nearly got squished between the subway doors- yes indeed, there ARE 6400 people per square kilometer. I am not far from what holds the title as the most dense place on the planet. Apparently within the square kilometer belonging to "Mong Kok", there are 160,000 human beings. Thus, we live in apartment buildings that commonly have 50 floors!
Cantonese sounds absolutely goofy. It's a pity that it doesn't share many similarities with Mandarin, although more and more Mandarin is seeping into Hong Kong.
On Saturday I went to "The Peak". As the name suggests, the best view of the city is from the Peak. It's awesome- probably my favorite part of the city. I love being on the Island.
I have spent some time getting to know two of the other new teachers at my school. One is married with a tiny baby and they are from Saskatoon, and the other is a single gal my age from Michigan. They are great!
I have seen my classroom and I'm excited to get started with the planning and such, but before that I need to find somewhere to live permanently. I don't know where that will be just yet- I guess I'm going to look at a few more places on Wednesday. It's a bit of a challenge to find something within the housing allowance close to the school, so I'm going to take a look at some other places a bit farther away. It will be good to settle in, but I still have quite a bit of time so there is no need to rush.
Well, this concludes the end of the first official post of Hong Kong Harm! Time for some dim sum!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


For a bit more info on the A and A situation, you can head over to my sister Heather's blog.


One of the books I started reading this week is "The Jesus Creed" by Scot McKnight. I've only read the first couple chapters, but one of the things the book encourages is to allow the Lord's Prayer to become the framework for our conversations with God. So today I tried it. Everything was sailing smoothly until I arrived at "Forgive us of our sins just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us". I felt like I had been clotheslined. I didn't realize the jungle of unforgiveness I had been stumbling through. Forgiveness, in light of the darkness of real pain and heartache, floods me with questions. Here's a piece of my meandering mind this afternoon- maybe you've traveled this way before:

You mean forgive even if they don't think they need forgiveness? Even if they won't change because I forgave them? Even if they are the meanest, nastiest person I know? Do you KNOW who I'm talking about, Father?! Even though they're hurting the people I love the most? Even if they'll never know how much pain they've caused, how many tears have been shed because of them? Even if I'm in China, a million miles away and I won't see them again for a long time? Does it matter? I can't do anything from here anyway. You know what's going on here, God! When you said be kind, be forgiving of others- you actually meant this situation too? You couldn't have? Even in the midst of the mess they're making??? Doesn't forgiveness come at the end not inbetween?? You mean today? Is it okay if I have to do it all over again everyday until it's full in my heart? I don't know if what I can offer today will be enough. I'll probably have to come back again tomorrow. And the next day, and the next day, and the that alright, or does that mean its less genuine? I wonder what healing looks like on the other side of it all?
I am not there yet. But I'm feeling this tug that it's where I should be aiming to be. So help me Father- help me have your heart of grace. Do you have these questions when you're thinking about us? How about me? Thank you for being love in all its completeness- and help me to get there and give up the negotiating when it comes to grace. You've never negotiated anything with me.

I liked something I read in Anne Lamott's "Plan B" today. She writes well of the journey of forgiveness:
"Any willingness to let go inevitably comes from pain; and the desire to change changes you, and jiggles the spirit, gets to it somehow, to the deepest, hardest, most ruined parts. And then Spirit expands, because that is its nature, and it drags along the body, and finally, the mind."

And on a sidenote, if you're reading this and know the story of A & A, please pray for them today. If you need/want more details, send me an email.

That concludes today's pondering- a slightly altered tone in comparison to recent posts. But I didn't really think about the solidified pig's blood served for lunch (I draw the line at blood) or the psycho driving in this country today, I thought about forgiveness.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Qingdao Adventure

  • Today we had a stellar lunch- Korean barbecue. Mmmm. And I ate the tongue of a cow. It was chewy, which makes sense (yours would be too), and it doesn't taste like much of anything. Oh, and the other night Rachel almost conned me into eating the leg of a starfish- and it wasn't a cute starfish tentacle either. She innocently told me it was "sea cucumber". I didn't fall for her trickery!
  • We went to the beach today. The ocean is amazing, and I think waves are fantastically fun. I felt like I was 7 years old prancing around in the water and jumping over waves with all of China watching me, in their tight spandexy swimming gear. And no, Jeremy, just because Chinese people wear them doesn't mean you should!
  • I'm enjoying time that I haven't found for a long while- time to read. And it is good.
  • Rachel and I find many reasons to laugh in a day. She's a funny girl!
  • Yesterday we saw all sorts of sea creatures at a park. Walruses are funny looking and fat, seals are instrumentally very capable (they played in a band), and beluga whales are plain lovable! Plus, I found Dori,Nemo, and Bruce the Shark too! Scary! That could have been the highlight right there!
  • I am feeling a bit more adjusted to life back in Asia now. The first few days felt on the rough side. I am missing my family a lot. The focus is one day at a time- that's all it ever needs to be.
  • It's easier to let pictures do the talking. Here's a photographical summary of the last five days in Qingdao:

All of my pictures have been updated on my Flickr site, which you can link to by clicking on the fun image on the sidebar (including pictures from my last week with the kids in Calgary). I will leave Qingdao on Thursday and arrive in Hong Kong, where I will move through the "settling in" process.

Cheers from Qingdao!

A Chinese Wedding Story

On Sunday I had the privilege of getting the upclose and personal version of a traditional Chinese wedding. The groom was Rachel's cousin. It was a very memorable experience. Hopefully the images below give you a simplified overview of the wedding tradition here in China. There was also a reception, but I didn't take any pictures. It was loud, they played the Star Wars theme music when the bride and groom walked in (and it wasn't a joke), and the bride changed outfits three times during the afternoon. And there was a lot of wine flowing. I preferred the more traditionally flavoured rituals in the morning. The dragons were my favorite part! Enjoy! (Click on the image to enlarge)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

An Eye A Day Keeps the Doctor Away..

The eyeball-eating progression, for your enjoyment:

Mmmm. A seaside delicacy.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The City by the Sea

Day 2 in the City by the Sea is winding down with a flavorful peach and lukewarm ice tea. I am in Qingdao (pronounced "ching-doww"), a city of 8.5 million people on the coast of Shandong. Shandong is a province to the southeast of Beijing. It is known primarily for its beer. Seriously- these people are pumped about their beer. It's one of the only English words Rachel's parents have spoken to me thus far, thus suggesting its significance.
However, I would say the best part of Qingdao is its beautiful coastline and backdrop mountain range. Gorgeous! Yesterday Rachel and I walked along the coast, west to east across the city. Qingdao is green, clean and fairly affluent in comparison to the other parts of China I have experienced. I have seen a handful of foreigners and it seems they stare less here, which is a nice plus. Because of its seaside geography, Qingdao's menu is high on the fishy flavours. Mmmm. I am admittedly fearful of most of these creatures. It has been an adventure in fine fishy cuisine thus far, and no doubt it will continue. I refused the long shelled water worms that poke their head in and out (SICK- why would you want to EAT that?), but I did test out the waters in the ones that are covered in shells of all sizes and shapes. So far I am still alive and I don't look like a mermaid, so I'll keep trying to be brave, and try not to disappoint the locals too much. I do enjoy (and I'm not just faking it) the more regular flat looking, shell-less fishies. Tasty.
Today we climbed a mountain with Rachel's dad. Her parents are a lot of fun, despite the significant language barrier. They are kind, generous and quick to laugh.
This evening Rachel and I were spoiled at the Beauty Salon. Ahhhh. Foot massage. Back massage. Hand massage. Head massage. Facial. You get the picture!!!! And now you understand why I'm back in China, right?!! Ha, ha. Come for a visit and I'll share the experience with you!
Tomorrow I'm joining in the wedding celebration for Rachel's cousin. It will be a neat experience. Rachel and I are singing a song- the beloved Chinese pop hit that translates "I Love You Like the Mouse Loves the Rice". :) I'll let you know when our first CD hits the shelves...BAH!
Well, it seems that I hit a bit of a wall come 6pm- though tonight I was able to work hard and make it through the whole beauty salon bit. Anyway, it's now 10pm and I'm ready for bed. I'm not yet feeling "just right" just yet, but I'll get there. More to come on another night.
Good night from the City by the Sea!

Talent Sharers

This is a shout out to my talented friend Cody Peterson, whom is credited with the new look to Hong Kong Harm. It's fun!!! Thanks for sharing your creative ways, Cody! And thanks to Paul Taylor, who is my HTML go-to guy. Thanks, guys!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Amazing Chinese Race?

Hoofta- say that aloud with great emphasis okay?! I made it. It was a long trip. I've been up for about 26 hours now, so I'm not feeling so well. Very weary and the stomach is flip flopping and spinning around like those tea cups at Buffalo Days.
I made it to Beijing- though I didn't realize I was signing up for the Amazing Race when I decided to join the ratrace in that human swamp of an airport. I laughed when I later realized I was actually wearing the Amazing Race VBS t-shirt!!! It was meant to be. The three weighty suitcases were not helpful in manouevering through the gridlock. It ended up being me dashing like Don Narcisse down the concourse to Gate 31. But, I made it- and I was greeted in Qingdao by beautiful roses and more importantly, Rachel Hao and parents. It was really good to see her familiar face.
So, I'm here....and feeling overwhelmed with tiredness, and stickiness. I'm drenched. Literally soaked. Welcome to the new life of constant humidity!!! It was weird, and overwhelming too, in the plane surrounded by Chinese zipping around me and men and their newspapers and cel phones everywhere. I'm back!
Well, I must go to sleep- it's been a long time coming.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Farewell Canada

Pre-boarding for Beijing has now begun. Here we go- things have turned slightly Asian just passing through one passageway of the airport. I've joined the masses; I'm officially in the minority.
Thanks for being patient with me through the goodbyes- it was genuinely difficult, but I haven't taken a big deep breath for awhile, and I'm looking ahead to Rachel Hao and the Qingdao adventure. I love you guys so much- friends all over and oh, family- you are just so special. I'll talk to you on the other side of the sea. And Heather, please don't worry. I am not alone. :)
Gotta go!