Saturday, 17 October 2015

Hong Kong: 2 Month Update

     So it's been two months now since I picked up sticks and moved halfway around the world to Hong Kong. I've written plenty about it so far, mainly the sights I've seen, and a few things about work, but I thought I'd give a more cohesive update about how everything is going so far. Many of my first impressions weren't wrong - I still find the city busy, loud, and chaotic at times, and although I still don't enjoy how crowded it can get, I'm slowly getting more used to it. Though don't ask me to go shopping in Mongkok after work, it will put me in a foul mood every time, without fail, as the streets are beyond crowded!

Hong Kong Island skyline across Victoria Harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui



     There are a lot of great things about living in Hong Kong though - the crowds and the humidity are my main concerns, but they're tolerable. There are so many things to see and do here, certainly plenty to keep me occupied for the year, and no doubt there'll be many, many more blog posts about them. And aside from the sights to see, there are countless festivals and public holidays and events happening - Mid-Autumn Festival has been the most exciting so far, though not every public holiday is as interesting, but there's also beer and music festivals coming to the city in the next few months that I hope to be at. The only downside to all of this exciting stuff, is only having 1.5 days at the weekend to do things, and I quite often have to drag myself out the flat, as I'm so tired (I've already explained my struggle with the work & play balance in a previous post). In terms of day to day living, I do hate errand running, as the only times I'm not in work are the same as everyone else (evenings & weekends), so everywhere is always packed, which also makes activities like shopping (i.e. for non-essential items) highly unappealing. That's not totally a bad thing though, as I want to save money to do more things in Hong Kong, and travel more of Asia, not spend it on things I don't need. It's also really hard when I need to buy something specific and don't know where to find it, and there seems to be far more independent shops than chain stores - though when there is a chain, you will find one on literally every other street (i.e. 7-eleven, Bonjour, McDonalds).

Average busy street in Tsim Sha Tsui, with shops, pedestrians and colourful signs

     In terms of culture, there are still a few elements I struggle to deal with. I'm definitely not a fan of the locals spitting and burping - it's particularly weird to have your headteacher burp n front of you, with no "excuse me" or attempts to be polite about it! Yet in contrast, they are far more germaphobic here, between taking the kids' temperatures every day, wearing face masks for the slightest cough, and frequent doctor's visits. I understand why, after the SARS tragedy back in 2003, but it does feel a little like overkill to me. I do find it hilarious though how they bundle these kids up to protect them from the "cold" - it's still 20 degrees outside and they come to school in 3 layers of clothing, and have started transitioning into winter uniform already! This is going to get even funnier in winter, when the kids will have up to 6 layers (I've been told), with the teachers not far behind, and meanwhile I'll have just put a cardigan on. I get that it's cold to them, with their 30+ degrees summers, but to a Scot like me, it's never going to get really cold here. Another big cultural difference is that they are similar to China here, in their expectations for their children. These kids start learning English at age 2, get regular homework by age 3, and participate in extra-curricular activities during almost every spare second by the time they are 4. And we've already got the application forms in for next year's nursery students, who will have to go through an interview process next. And our oldest students, the 5 year olds, will have to attend primary school interviews in the coming months. It all seems like a lot of pressure for them to deal with!

Skyscrapers n the Tsim Sha Tsui region of Hong Kong

     I have made a good group of friends here, which is really nice. I think the fact that I didn't have many friends when living in France, and even less who I saw outside of classes, contributed to my dislike of that year. Although I'm happy to spend time alone, and quite good at it, things got pretty lonely that year. Here, I can have peace and alone time on week nights (my flatmate is here to chat too of course though!) and then I see everyone else when we go do things at the weekend. We use a group chat to suggest plans, and whoever wants to will come along, so I don't always see all of them every week. They're all other teachers with the same recruitment company too, so being able to meet lots of people as soon as I arrived here was definitely a big plus for using the recruiter. Other pluses are the job, obviously, and having a place to live as soon as you land in Hong Kong, but negatives include the above-average rent I'm charged, and the fact that a part of my wages goes to her, as her payment. Necessary of course, when getting a job through such an agency, but frustrating nonetheless. Anyways, I still miss my friends (and family!) back home a lot, but modern technology makes it easier to stay in touch, and I'm already excited to be going home for Christmas, especially now that my flight is booked!

Skyscrapers taken from below in the Times Square / Causeway Bay region of Hong Kong

     Work is probably my biggest struggle at the moment. There are aspects of it I enjoy, of course, mainly the kids I teach. They are utterly adorable and endlessly entertaining, and although it can be irritating when they're naughty, it's not enough to ruin my day usually. They get a certain degree of leeway from me too, as they're so young that they're still learning what good behaviour is - if I were teaching older kids I think I'd be far more frustrated. And although the lesson content can get quite dry and repetitive, it's difficult to get bored in a room with a dozen 2 year olds! No, the frustration I feel at work comes during my non-teaching hours - which is a lot of them. I used to teach 3 days a week, and observe another teacher for the other 2 - but now the headteacher has decided I no longer need to observe, but rather than allow me to teach more, I spend those 2 days in the office nearly all day (aside from door duty in the morning and at home time, and singing time). My office work is making new textbooks for the school, working on the drawings and colouring in. It certainly could be worse, as I always did enjoy art at school, but I came here to be a teacher, not an artist (that word being used in the loosest sense), and the office days seem to last forever as I get so bored in there! I was sure I was originally told that I would take over all the nursery classes eventually, but there's been nothing more said about it since. I'm sure the headteacher is just trying to take it easy on me, but I'm starting to feel very fed up and under-appreciated because of this. I also feel pretty useless sometimes because of the language barrier, which makes it difficult for me to offer help, as I don't know what's going on, and I only get told the bare minimum about anything, so I'm pretty clueless half the time. This is even more true at staff meetings and extra events (I'm fine with how the average school day runs now). I also feel like I'm jut a poster girl sometimes too, as I'm frequently placed in positions so that parents can see me, but where I'm actually doing next-to-nothing, just so the school can show off that they have a native speaking Western English teacher. So between the minimal teaching time, and tasks that require minimal effort, the job is easy in some respects, but I feel very under-utilised in others, and as if my education and previous experience are almost unnecessary.

Fishing poles at sunset / dusk beside Victoria Harbour, taken from Wan Chai / Exhibition Centre Pier, and overlooking Central skyscrapers of Hong Kong

     Still, although it sounds like I'm complaining there, and yes it is frustrating, on the whole, Hong Kong is going well so far. Work leaves me tired, it's true, but it's definitely not the worst job in the world, and it's allowing me to live in a foreign city and experience a whole other culture, which was the whole point of this adventure in the first place! There's still no way I'd live here permanently, but I'm happy to stay for the rest of this year for now, and I'm excited about what other adventures I'll have here!

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