We’re back!

Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.
— Francis Bacon

Well hello there! Remember us?

Sorry it’s been forever since we’ve updated this blog (she said, unnecessarily using the universal “we” and referring to herself in the third person…). It’s been a combination of work, travel, friends in need … you know, the usual stuff. Excuses, it seems, are universal.

Kev, the Whuffler and I returned to Portland last month. The two-and-a-half-week trip zoomed by; even with packed social calendar, there remain several people who I really wanted to see — or see a second time — who slipped by. I’m sorry if I missed you. Really.

But perhaps more shocking than the ephemerality of our trip was the fact that we wanted to return to Hong Kong. I wasn’t counting down the days with dread; I actually wanted to return to China. I missed the routine; I missed my students. I missed egg tarts, and the ferry, and saying “Jósahn!” to people in the morning. I missed our little flat, with our mishmash of secondhand furniture and a map on the wall, and our marvelous expat friends, and our big loud stupid cicadas, and our overseas adventure (…so called). It seems we have doomed ourselves to be homesick no matter where we are.

I was struck by the Francis Bacon quote above, because it seems like perhaps we’ve made the transition into adulthood over this experience. At first it was all education — and hard lessons to learn at that. Do not trust landlords implicitly to do what they promise to do. Do not travel overseas without a good deal of cash. Do not land on the other side of the world without knowing someone, or having a contingency plan if everything goes wrong.

But now, by and large, we’re onto to the “experience” part of our traveling adventure. We’re happy, healthy (yes, we’ve put back on the 30-some pounds we’d lost) and right where we want to be. Kevin’s business is thriving; it seems like he’s always getting a new certification, attending a new seminar or recruiting new clients. The money is good — and the predictability of a paycheck is a welcome change from where we were half a year ago. I love that he loves his work again.

Meanwhile, I’ve jumped wholeheartedly into English teaching. I love it, I really do. As I was reviewing my résumé and cover letter the other night, it struck me that I don’t need to BS stuff about how “my unique set of skills, coupled with my working experience” blah blah blah. I just have to say “I’m new to this, but I love this teaching stuff, and I want to do more of it.” Boom. Job offers galore.

And, yeah: after months of watching our saving account dwindle, I’m saving money like a squirrel on amphetamines.

I currently have three rotating gigs across the area, in addition to my private student. It’s not a packed schedule by any means, but it’s enough to keep me occupied and happy — and the money, which for once we don’t direly need, is super nice. I’m currently taking TEFL course to get my certification (and a higher wage). I have to wonder: where were these high-paying, super-cushy jobs back in December? You know, when we were freaking out about how we were going to afford to stay in HK? I guess when it rains it pours.

And right now, in all ways, it’s pouring. Kevin’s working late tonight —Monday nights has him at the studio until 9 pm — so I’m enjoying a little candlelit yoga as the rain howls outside. When did my life get so sanguine, so cinematic?

I leave you with this image which captures the essence of “learning by doing” our modus operandi of the past 10 months:





Stock photo. (No, I didn’t think to stop and take a photo; i was too busy getting my butt back inside!)

My New Years Resolution for 2012

This year, I’ll be making only one resolution:

Dragonfly pose…

…on the Great Wall of China.

Ta-da! That’s it. It encompasses a flexibility goal that’s pretty challenging for me—my hips are super-tight—and an excursion that’s both inexpensive and exotic. This trek will include a stop in the beautiful Hunan province (and I’ll be traveling by bullet train, naturally). I’m planning on going some time between April and September; I welcome advice — both travel- and yoga-related — and company!

Random Observations

Some observational bric-a-brac from my three months in Hong Kong:

People walk slowly here. Strangely, Hong Kong is a city of saunterers. For a big, dense metropolis, people never seem to be in much of a hurry; it’s not unusual for me and Suli to brush past able-bodied youths and businessmen in Central. I remember passing people on the street as Kev and I wheeled our new couch through the streets of Yung Shue Wan, baby in tow. I just don’t get it.

People wear warm clothes as fashion. You don’t need a scarf and sweater in HK yet; it’s only about 70 degrees. Part of me finds it charming; the other part wants to take every Hong Konger wearing a parka back to Portland, where they can see what real cold feels like. (Also: Columbia Sportswear is big here! Who knew?)

Electronics have replaced books for anyone under 20. Sad but true: you almost never see a kid reading a book (unless it’s a textbook). Even in my tutoring groups, kids use their phones to look up words and find the answers to questions. (The other day, I pulled an English|Chinese dictionary off the shelf, and turned it open to a page that had illustrations of various things described in both English and Mandarin. The kids seemed surprised that a dictionary could also have pictures.) I want to shake my head and cluck my tongue, but hey: if I’d had easy access to an iPad back in 1999, there’s no way I would have carried a discman, a pocket dictionary and 20 pounds of books everywhere I went. As was the case back in my day. [Cue old-timey music…]

Tattoos are unpopular. You just don’t see them here; my understanding is that this is also the case with much of the Eastern world. A quick Google search reveals that there are approximately 10 tattoo shops in all of HK (including Kowloon and the New Territories). A similar search of the Portland area —an area with 1/13 the population density — yields about 50 results! (To put it another way: tattoo shops per capita in HK is about 1:700,000; in Portland, it’s 1:11,000.) If I hadn’t left Portland, I might have thought that every person under 40 has at least one tattoo; I suddenly see this as a very localized trend.

Fashion is big here — but if you’re not into it, no one cares. I received the same admonishment embarking on this trip as I got when I went to New York: start following fashion, or expect to be ridiculed and ostracized. Well, it wasn’t true for the Big Apple, and it’s not true here. My experience is this: the bigger the city, the more subcultures are present — and the less likely it is that anyone on the street will recognize the name on your handbag. There’s a Gucci or Coach store on every corner in Central, sure, but those stores cater mostly to the richest few. For everyone else, there are convincing knockoffs for sale pretty much everywhere.

Have you checked out my travel blog?

My new home!

You may have heard that I moved to Hong Kong with the family a couple months ago. Well… the rumors are true! If you haven’t already, please check out our travel blog at http://theadventuresofwhuffler.wordpress.com/. I’ll get back to regular updates on this site after the dust settles. Thanks for reading!


American education vs. everywhere else: all children left behind

I’ve recently accepted a sad fact: kids in Hong Kong—and other parts of the world—are clearly getting better education than kids in the US.

It’s evident in the way the address each other, the games they play, and the fact that they speak at least two languages by their fifth birthday. Their parents—wealthy or not—place their kids in educational playgroups, hire bilingual nannies, and prioritize education over video games and other distractions.

The other day we took a ferry back from Central with a family visiting from Wales. They had a nine-year-old boy who asked intelligent questions, waited his turn to speak, and generally behaved better than most American teenagers. His eleven-year-old sister, meanwhile, was studying Mandarin in school; she was actively engaged and curious about the culture around her.

Another story: Kevin and I recently went out to dinner at a restaurant in Yung Shue Wan. Our favorite server, Leo, is a charismatic guy who lets his eight-year-old daughter help with taking our order. This little girl is fully bilingual—her English is better than plenty of Americans’—and generally more observant and attentive than a most of Portland’s disaffected waitstaff. It’s worth noting that this little girl is not a member of the Hong Kong monied elite—her dad is a waiter in a small island town—and yet, her intellect is plainly superior to a lot of adults I know back home.

To the rest of the world, American education is a joke. Our former landlord, an American expat, was a schoolteacher; he once told us that his school was “American style—but more advanced, because American kids are dumb.” I didn’t believe him at first, but now it’s undeniable. It’s alarming, disturbing—and, frankly, inspiring. Regardless of where we are living, our daughter will not become an American cliché.

We’re moving to Hong Kong!

… and we already have a blog devoted to the experience.

Kev and I should be posting more info there in the coming weeks. We’ll likely be in Portland through the end of August, and we’re planning on having a big farewell bash. Our lives are pretty chaotic right now, but when things settle down, we’ll be sure to reestablish contact.

And, why not come visit us? We’ll be living on a fishing village called Lamma Island: a non-motorized jungle just 25 minutes by boat from the city. We’ll be enjoying three bedrooms (which is, like two more than we have right now), a rooftop terrace (yoga anyone?) and a small pool. Come say hi!

That’s the aforementioned rooftop terrace. Oh man, I can’t wait!