Thursday, December 16, 2004

Lucky draw

The staff Christmas party was held at the Clear Water Bay country club on Tuesday and I spent a lot of time sleeping on the golf course. I eat something bad on Monday and I was feeling really sick.

The event would have been a lot better had it not dragged on for nine hours. In the afternoon we were free to use the club facilities but the evening was a formal dinner and presentations etc with presentations etc.

The formal part had some definite highlights and lowlights. Our department play was funny in parts but disastrous in others because one actor had got increasingly sozzled throughout the afternoon and evening. We practised several times during the afternoon and his part increased every time to the point where he had as much dialogue as everyone else combined.

The best part of the evening was a belly dance by one of the staff at our domestic helper and migrant worker's centre. I found out that she actually performs at a restaurant in central. I'm definitely going there to watch when I get back from Australia.

Dominating the evening was the lucky draw with over fifty prizes. Each prize was announced individually and each winner had to come on stage to shake hands with one of the board members as they recieved their prize.

Most of the prizes were not so special and in my unwell state I was actually hoping not to have to move out of my seat.

Not so lucky however because my name flashed up on the large screen as the winner of prize no. 9 - $500 cash.

I made my way up on to stage and tried to shake hands and recieve my prize with a minimum of fuss. Unfortunately, one of the board members refused to let go of my hand until we had posed for a photo.

The MC could see how much I wanted to get off stage and insisted that I couldn't leave until I had told everyone how I would spend the $500. At the time I couldn't think of anything. I had been too busy considering whether I would have to go back to my seat before going to the bathroom, lest everyone keep staring at me as I walked towards the loo.

One of the board members yelled "Donate it to (the organisation)". In a desparate attempt to get off stage I muttered a sarcastic, "Yeah, I'll donate it to (our organisation)".

My remark was met with a shocked silence from 250 people. I realised that everyone had taken me seriously.

I slinked back to my seat and just as I sat back down the executive director stood up and shouted, "Let the poor boy keep his money! He works almost seven days per week at Chungking Mansions".

I waited another five minutes before making my way to the bathroom hoping that I don't get a reputation for being the biggest suck up in the organisation.

As I sat on the toilet I realised that $500 would cover a dinner for two at the restaurant where my colleague performs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I spent about an hour yesterday evening shopping for Christmas presents for my goddaughter and her brother. I last saw them a couple of weeks ago and it was so exciting to hear Mahima talking for the first time! She's not quite up to stringing words together but she knows a lot of nouns. She's also very good at repeating any word she hears. I guess that might be because she's exposed to so many languages - Tagalog, Chinese, Bengali and English are the main ones.

I never thought that present shopping could be so much fun. I wanted to buy so much but in the end I settled on three things. One to promote problem solving skills, another to promote creativity and another to turn her into a real HK girl. I resisted the urge to buy the pretend Hello Kitty mobile phone and got some HK hair clips instead.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Before my fifteen minutes of newspaper fame had even faded we got a call from a HK television station who want to do a special report about asylum seekers in Hong Kong. The reporter sounds super sympathetic and they will come and interview my boss and I on Thursday, along with some disguised clients.

That's not the only thing happening this week. I leave for Sydney on Friday and every day between now and then is jam packed. Organised events include an organisation Christmas party (12 - 9:30pm Tuesday!), a Christmas party in our centre, pre-filming briefings on Wednesday and the filming on Thursday. I've also got several classes to teach plus planning meetings with uni students who are going to begin volunteer teaching next week. In between all that, there is a lot of work to finish and plenty of Christmas shopping to do.

At the same time I've reached a giddy level of excitement as I anticipate going back home for the first time in more than a year. Ironically, two of the things that I've been thinking about most are breathing cleaner air and driving.

Friday, December 10, 2004


I had more Cantonese practice than usual yesterday. Firstly, I had to go to our main office for a meeting about the staff Christmas party. I was annoyed about wasting most of the afternoon in a useless meeting and then even more annoyed when the meeting was held in Cantonese! I could understand just enough to figure out that there was nothing that couldn't have been explained in a brief email.

After work I had been invited out to dinner with Daisy's mum and Daisy's aunt and uncle who have come from China for a family wedding. We did very well despite the language barrier. None of them speak English and the aunt and the uncle don't even speak Cantonese! To compensate for this, we were continually clinking our glasses together (tea for me, beer for them) in silent toasts.

After dinner I took them for dessert in a new store that has opened not so far from home. It's actually a 27 year old family business but it has just relocated from To Kwa Wan to Jordan. An old lady makes the dessert, her daughter serves tables and her grandaughter is often on the cash register. To our surprise, the family spoke the same local dialect as Daisy's relatives and we got a bonus free dessert!

As I despaired of my pathetic Cantonese ability yesterday I also realised that I am hardly speaking Hindi these days, despite the large number of Hindi speaking clients we have at work. After a little thought I realised I have been subconsciously choosing to speak English to maintain a kind of 'professional distance'. It makes sense but it's also a little sad.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Since I last blogged I have been very busy at work preparing stuff for a Amnesty conference on refugees and asylum seekers that is being held this weekend.

I went to a pre-conference dinner on Thursday evening and was very surprised when someone asked me if I'd seen the asylum seeker newspaper articles last Sunday. 'Didn't you see the photo?' I asked? 'No' they told me, 'I got it off the online archive'. Aiyaa!

Anyway, because of the conference I have been working overtime all week. As usual, I am working today (Sat) and I also have to be at work tonight for a visit by a group of international church leaders. Tomorrow and Monday I will be at the conference and then Monday night is the closing dinner! The craziness is making me even more eager for my holiday home.

Despite losing a Saturday night, I have been looking forward to tonight's meeting. We've booked out an Indian restaurant in Chungking and we will be able to do kareoke in Hindi if we want! As long as the South Asian delegates don't look too stuffy then I think I'll go for it. Having visited several churches in India I've learnt that it's not always a good idea to display a liking for Hindi movies in front South Asian Christians. And even worse to launch in to 'obla dee dee dee, obla daa daa daa, obla doo doo doo, what to doo?'

I just looked at the guest list for tonight and was surprised to see a very prominent delegate from Australia, someone who is well known for their stance on asylum seekers and other issues. Not the first time since I've been in this job that I've got to meet a hero!

Sunday, November 28, 2004


Less than three weeks until I go back to Sydney and I need to start working on my accent.

I've had two interviews about work this week. One was with a postgrad student writing on homelessness. The other was with a reporter and a celebrity columnist from HK's premier English language newspaper. By 'celebrity columnist' I mean a very famous columnist, not a columnist that writes chiefly about celebrities. Having said that, I may be a celebrity after the article comes out (probably this week).

It sounds like the newspaper is going to do quite a special on the asylum seeker issue. They even took about fifty photos of my colleague and I sitting back to back, turning our necks to put our heads side by side in a pose reminiscent of an ABBA video.

Anyway, the newspaper reporter told someone else (who told me) that I was 'the most un-Australian sounding person she had ever met'. I was recovering from the shock of that when the student asked me if I was South African!

Seeking a third opinon I went to a friend from Sydney who gave me the following response ' Your accent is something between Indian English and Chinese English'.

Aiyaa bhagwan!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Crowd control

I arrived home last night to be greeted by Daisy, Uncle Yiu and Jacky who were gathered in front of Daisy's store. I'm sure Uncle Yiu has seen me several times since I returned from Vietnam (in August) but he must have forgotten and asked me about my trip to Thailand.

'Yuetlam' I corrected him. 'Oh yes, Yuetlam' Uncle You said. 'Before, not so good. Now getting better'. I guess Uncle Yiu should know. He used to work on a ship and visited there many times while the war was still on.

As I was talking to Uncle Yiu I had stepped off the footpath and into the gutter so we were at a more comfortable height for conversation. I was in the gutter for a few seconds before Jacky grabbed my arm and yanked me back on the footpath.

Jacky yelled something at me and Daisy explained that the was trying to keep me safe from the passing cars. He then took it on himself to give the same treatment to the next three people that passed by, grabbing them by the arm and pulling them fast onto the footpath.

All three of them were elderly citizens who feared they were getting pulled into the nearby alley and mugged. As soon as Jacky released each of them they scuttled off towards Shanghai St with Daisy calling out 'm'ho ee si' (no offense) behind them. She had to shout loud to be heard over Jacky yelling that they should be more careful of walking on the road.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


I went to see Bride and Prejudice again last night. It was a big group event that had been planned for weeks and I was too embarrassed to admit to the organisers that I had already seen the film. Particularly so because they had bought everyone's tickets.

I enjoyed the movie again but I found the difference in audience behaviour just as fascinating. In Mong Kok last Friday night, the teenaged crowd laughed loudest at the slapstick. Last night we were in the classy Pacific Place cinema complex on Hong Kong side. I noticed that there was a lot of laughter whenever people detected a cleverly adapted feature of the novel.

My own laughter was a problem. I started to giggle uncontrollably when I knew there was a funny scene coming up ('Mary's' version of Sri Devi's cobra dance was hilarious!). I was trying my best to suppress this because it was a sure sign that I had viewed the film previously. In addition to this, I began to laugh whenever the guy behind uttered 'crazy' in Cantonese. This also had to be suppressed. Why do I always get one of these behind me when I go to the cinema in HK?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Bride and Prejudice

After waiting for more than a year I finally got to see 'B and P' yesterday. Having read mediocre reviews for the film and worse ones for the music I was very nervous that I wouldn't like it.

I should have had more faith in Gurinder Chadha and ignored the reviews because the film turned out to be hilarious. I'm was extra glad I liked it because I had already committed to see it again on Tuesday with different friends.

At the same time, I definitely laughed louder than anyone else in the cinema. Being a huge fan of Aishwarya Rai (and Hindi films) who has read 'Pride and Prejudice' more than ten times I certainly was the ideal audience.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

My raffle tickets...

Brought all of Yau Ma Tei to the yard.

One of Hong Kong's big charity fundraising events was held on weekend and I got lumped last week with thirty raffle tickets to sell.

Since most of my friends have very little buying power I anticipated having to buy a lot of them myself. That was until Daisy took over as my sales manager.

She was working in the shop when I asked her if she wanted to buy a ticket. She bought four and then sold several to her colleague and customers who were shopping at the time.

We then asked the lady in the book store next door who said that she isn't lucky and wanted to give ten dollars without buying a ticket. From there we went to the key copying stall, the shoe shop, the Nepali hairdresser and the bag shop. My real estate agent and her daughter bought seven tickets, making sure they picked their lucky numbers. We were planning to sell some to the naughty nun in the Buddhist centre but we ran out before we got there.

I couldn't believe how keen people were to buy the tickets. Daisy told me that Hong Kong people are very good in giving to charity. I teased her that they jump at any excuse to gamble.

I was quite disturbed when Mama, the old can-collecting lady, insisted on buying a ticket. At ten dollars she would have to collect 1000 cans to cover the cost. In my guilt, I've started collecting cans from friends to give to her when she drops by Daisy's shop in the evenings.

It's going to take a while to reach 1000 but she was very grateful for the first five I gave her yesterday. Her thanks were so heartfelt that Daisy suggested I give her a kiss. Mama then said I should kiss the beautiful girl (i.e. Daisy) so no one got kissed in the end.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Our current affairs English class studied a couple of articles about Yasser Arafat this morning.

The first was an Al-Jazeera article which quoted an anonymous Palestinian official as saying that Arafat's death would be announced today.

The second was a BBC article which said that Arafat was in the final stages of his life after suffering a brain haemorrhage on Tuesday.

It turned out that the official announcement of his death was made while our class was in progress. Arafat will probably have a funeral in Cairo and be buried in Ramallah.

I love that our mixed nationality class that includes both Muslims and Christians can discuss Israel and the Palestinians in such a sane way. Having suffered so much violence themselves, I realised that most of the class can empathise in a way that isn't even possible for me.

Setting boundaries

This week my popularity in Chungking Mansions has hit an all time low. I'm normally greeted with enthusiastic cries of 'Mr Joe' at two metre intervals when walking through the ground floor. Now I meet with nasty stares as I walk past the crowd who congregate around the main enterance.

What did I do?

The aim of our centre is to help two types of clients. My job is to coordinate the help that we give to asylum seekers and refugees. My Sister S' job is to coordinate the work we do with ethnic minority Hong Kong residents.

We also have a third type of clients who don't fit into these two groups - those who are in Hong Kong on a visitor visa but not doing very much. Most of these come from Ghana because, unlike citizens of most other developing countries, Ghanaians get an automatic three month tourist visa to Hong Kong on entry.

Previously we turned a blind eye to the couple of these non-asylum seekers gettting assistance from our food program. When the number starting to increase dramatically I had to make an 'asylum seeker ony' rule. Resources are limited.

As far as I'm concerned, non-asylum seekers on visitor visas should return to their countries if they are in financial difficulty. I'm just going to have to ignore the angry stares for a while!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Beware! Hawker Patrol!

There's a restaurant where I usually eat dinner. It's a terrific Nepali place where I can eat as much rice, daal and vegetable curry as I want for $HK20. I even get pickle and a bowl of yoghurt on the side.

This particular restaurant is on Temple St and faces out onto two night market stalls. One is a jewellery stall where the stallholder has been playing "Jenny from the Block" constantly since its release. The other is an illegal VCD stall.

Illegal VCD's are rife in Hong Kong. They are particularly rife on Temple St. At the (relatively) respectable end where I live you can find copies of latest Hollywood and Canto films. At the other end you can't walk two metres without someone yelling 'sexy movie!' at you.

Most illegal VCD vendors sell their goods out of a large wooden suitcase like contraption propped on cardboard or polystyrene boxes. The vendor in front of my favourite restaurant has rented a whole stall space which can fit four of these large foldable suitcase things.

At least two people have to be working at the stall at any one time. One sells the VCD's while another keeps an eye out for the Hawker Patrol - kind of like traffic wardens who go after illegal street vendors. This photo comes from the HK government website:

The thing is that the Hawker Patrol are not that vigilant as they appear to be in the above photo. In addition to the illegal VCD hawkers there is an abundance of illegal cooked food hawkers selling fried stuff around my place. Their little kitchens are on wheels for an easy get away but the little old ladies operating them don't move all that fast.

Sitting in my regular restaurant I get to see exactly how hard the hawker patrol try to do something about the illegal VCD stall.

Sometimes the scout sees the Hawker Patrol coming and they pack up the stall before the HP manage to saunter up. The HP then observe that absolutely nothing illegal is going on in the strangely empty stall.

Sometimes they don't finish the pack up before the HP arrive. On those occasions, the HP stand close by, looking in another direction until it is safe to observe that nothing illegal is going on.

Once last week, the stall holder didn't notice the HP and they had to make their presence known. They said something, probably along the lines of 'Don't you know you're supposed to run away before we get here?'. The stall holder then packed up and the HP noted that nothing illegal was going on.

I have two things to say about this:

Firstly I don't think it does anything for HK people's respect for the law. I will blog another time about how this type of problem is huge in HK.

Secondly, I want a t-shirt that says:
'Yau Ma Tei Hawker Patrol'


Wednesday, November 03, 2004


The personalities in our centre continue to diversify. I have come to appreciate this crazy mix as a source of humour. I have also come to appreciate the bizarre range of talents that I can rely upon when I want to delegate tasks.

At the mental end of the task spectrum we have university maths graduates who can help me out with statistics for monthly reports.

At the physical end, we have huge ex-army types who can break open locked bags with a screwdriver and their bare hands. A few weeks ago I even requested a couple of guys to carry a very heavy, 213cm long desk up sixteen flights of stairs. I tried to help but they wouldn't let me, fearing that a white person would be crushed under the weight.

Recently, however, I have delighted in delegating a particular task. As would be expected, the majority of our asylum seeker clients have been hoping for a Kerry victory in the US election. Amidst the sensible people there a couple of deluded ones who say they admire Bush's approach to tackling terrorism. I've been busy lately and I don't have time to argue with everyone. Fortunately, I have several eloquent and convincing anti-Bush clients who have been diligent in doing re-education on my behalf.

After the release of Osama's message last week we analysed a BBC article in English class. I got them to compare the latest image of Osama with one from several years ago and recieved the following comments:

"Now Osama fat, before thin" (The word is healthy! In English fat is insulting.)
"Before Osama wear military, now suit"
"Before in cave, now office"
"War on terrorism only kill people, no killing Osama!"

Correct answers make this teacher very happy!

Voting has now closed in Chungking Mansions with a decisive victory going to Kerry. Unfortunately it looks that the same may not be the case in the US. My only consolation is that a Democrat loss may increase the probability of Hillary running as the Democrat candidate in 2008.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

It must have been love

It's been an exciting week at work. I got a promotion. I went to a meeting with high profile human rights activits. And we had a staff karaoke afternoon!

With around 200 staff in our organisation, it made for pretty daunting karaoke. In addition to the huge audience, the event was a competition. It was more 'Choi Hung Idol' than fun karaoke session.

The afternoon began with the executive director doing a very professional rendition of 'Memory' from 'Cats'. She was followed by a mix of canto pop, Chinese opera and even 'London Bridge is falling down'.

Each of the departments in the organisation pitched an individual or group to represent them on stage. While most departments had group items, we in the 'humanitarian program' sent a lone guy up to do a very brave 'How deep is your love?'.

I had wanted to sing originally but I ended up glad that I hadn't volunteered because I got a cold a few days ago. Once the competitive part of the afternoon was over I did get up with a colleague for a duet of 'It must have been love' by Roxette.

Word is that there is going to be karaoke again at the staff Christmas part so I will be in training for that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Yay for google

I don't know how I would teach without the internet. In particular, I have become completely dependent on google for sourcing material for my classes.

Since February, when I began in this job, I have been teaching English classes for asylum seekers. For the last six months I have split the learners into two levels.

For the basic class I prepare a lot of the materials myself. After a lot of resistance, I've given in to student pressure and begun to include a high amount of grammatical content.

For the advanced class, I've recently decided that we will focus on current affairs. It's something that keeps all the students (and me!) interested. Plus, it's super easy to source a huge range of texts on the internet.

Currently, we're studying Hong Kong politics. Elections were held here a month ago for LegCo (the legislative council) and one of the most interesting results was the election of "Long Hair", a radical democracy protester, as a legislator.

For my last class it took all of five minutes to find numberous different images of protests using google image search. I used these as prompts for a discussion activity to start the class.

It then took just a little longer to search articles giving a range of viewpoints on Long Hair, ranging from mainland newspapers that condemned his actions to overseas newspapers that found them comical.

So, so easy!

Along with a number of other activities, we used the articles to make a list of all the things that Long Hair has done since being elected to LegCo. They include:

- Protesting on the street on China National Day carrying a mock coffin in reference to the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
- Wanting to be sworn in as a legislator using an oath that he had written himself.
- Shaking his fist and yelling "Long live democracy, long live the people" after being forced to use the official oath.
- Insisting on wearing t-shirts for LegCo sittings. Usually t-shirts with pictures of Che Guevara and assorted slogans.
- Refusing to shake the hand of the HK Chief Executive and demanding his resignation.
- Getting into a scuffle with the Chief Executive's bodyguards.
- Showing up at the anniversary celebration of Mao Zedong's seizure of power yelling pro-democracy slogans.

I don't think Hong Kong politics has ever been so entertaining!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Oh what a miserable coincidence!

Without a TV or computer at home, I have come to rely much more heavily on reading and radio for entertainment. There is very limited choice of English radio in Hong Kong and the couple of stations that do exist are on the AM band. It took a while to get used to listening to music with so much static.

The books that I have read this year have been pretty mixed. I began with modern Indian fiction before going on to read both Clinton autobiographies. I am pleased to announce that after reading them both (and watching Farenheit 911) I am safely on the road to becoming anti-Republican rather than simply anti-American.

Lately I have been reading some African fiction. My current book is extra special because is was written by the brother-in-law of one of my friends. It's about an English anthropologist who attempts to assimilate with the members of a traditional tribe in order to do her research.

The book I am reading is an English translation from the original version. The novel is very well written but the translation is obviously a translation. The style of the writing in English draws on various literary influences, oscillating between Enid Blyton and tabloid magazine.

The following is a lengthy but priceless Blytonesque section of the book. It is a narration of an encounter with lions:

Sitting without a gun in the bush was a real claim for their pity. However, they fortified themselves with some courage; and finally, they emerged from their hiding place.
"Oh, look!" one of them produced a horrible cry.
"Look! There... the lion and the lioness"
His yellowish eyes stared at them.
"I don't believe this," Delti murmured pejoratively, pounding on the coincidence. He straddled his legs to keep his balance. Predators who love anonymity as a paradise were walking along the narrow path. Leaves and tiny red starry flowers were dropping down on the ground.
The men hid with fright and observed the leaves and trees moving in the distance. They peered through the leaves to see if the lions had shifted their direction.
"Oh! What a miserable coincidence! - The lions have turned towards us," Lalombe whispered. All of them were greatly shocked. The wind blew the leaves and they were so upset when they shut in.
"We better escape from this deadly predicament!" somebody screamed in horror.
No! Escape is more dangerous. Be ready to make a ferociously hostile attack with bayonets."

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Boom boom

Having five of our clients go into prison has made me realise how much of a family we have become. Every so often someone will get a dejected look and start shaking their head, uttering the names of one or more of the guys that were arrested.

Another indicator of the family vibe is the collection of nicknames that we use. A Sri Lankan client who listens to hip hop has become '50 rupee'. A very large Congolese client is now 'boom boom' - apparently the Somali equivalent of 'fatso'.

We won't forget the imprisoned ones for some time because one of them left his phone with a friend. The arrested client was a vigilant collector and the phone has been ringing non stop over the last four days with calls from various girlfriends.

The friend doesn't speak great English and he often passes the phone over to me with weeping girlfriends on the other end. It's hard to know whether to feel more sorry for them because their boyfriend is imprisoned or because they were one of ten!

Some of the girlfriends seem to have gotten over their loss, however, and have arranged to meet with the phone's new owner tomorrow. I hope they don't mind exchanging a 27 year old 6'3 Nigerian for a 22 year old 5'1 Sri Lankan.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Ants and elephants

It was going to happen sooner or later. The number of asylum seekers (and other assorted visitors to Hong Kong) sleeping near the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui has been growing for some time.

Local tabloid newspapers have run articles claiming that wealthy African businessman are sleeping homeless just because they are stingy. I doubt that this is true but it's indicative of the amount of sympathy that exists for the people who stay there.

Yesterday morning there was a big operation to catch people who have overstayed their visas. I was told that about 100 police descended on the area around the cultural centre at 5am in the morning. Daisy later explained to me the Cantonese expression 'many ants can kill an elephant' - 'Your clients are very big. Some Hong Kong police officers are very small'.

As I was serving breakfast at work several hours later, there was a call from one of our clients who was detained in the Tsim Sha Tsui police station. He was being held there with seven other regular visitors to our centre.

After a day full of drama, three of the eight were released after I went to the station to identify them as asylum seekers. I have no idea why. The remainder were transferred to the immigration detention centre (I was corrected by an officer when I called it the immigration prison). They will stay there until a decision is reached on their case for refugee status.

Everyone else has been in a bad mood - sorry for their friends and worried that they too may be caught. Hong Kong police generally leave asylum seekers alone when they see that they have a paper from the 'oo en aich ce er' (think French) but they have the power to detain them because they have usually overstayed their visas.

The frustrating thing is that nobody takes responsiblity for the asylum seeker problem. And because there is no official system, the police and immigration are working outside of the law according to their own discretion.

And I will have half as many students in my basic English class tomorrow!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Oh dear Australia

So I went to vote this afternoon at the Australian consulate. It was a very exciting affair, involving a bag check and a metal detector. I even wore a special election day outfit which took issue with several Howard government policies. Unfortunately, my friends threatened to abandon me if I kept the pink Che Guevara "We Want Peace!" hat on.

There never was any hope of removing Bronwyn Bishop's Butt Print from my seat. I think that's probably why I numbered the senate ballot from 1-78, taking extra care because it is the only place I can make a difference. If I ever move out of home in Sydney I will have to try and relocate to a seat where a party other than the Liberals has ever been in power.

It was a doomed day really. I woke up at five thirty when an asylum seeker client called my mobile for the following bizarre interaction:

Me: Hello?
Client: Mr Joe?
Me: What's the matter?
Client: What time will the centre open today Mr Joe?
Me: Ten
Client: I won't be there until twelve
Me: No problem, goodbye

At least I am consoled by the fact that 'Bride and Prejudice' released internationally yesterday (to mixed reviews, nonetheless). I'm sure it's out on VCD in Chungking already but I'll hold off buying it until the good quality DVD copies from Dubai are available after a couple of weeks.

Also, I booked a holiday back to Sydney this week over Christmas and New Year, using the remaining eleven days of my fourteen days annual leave. Many thanks to my generous parents because the ticket costs more than my monthly salary! I'm very excited about coming home.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Mass Destruction

At last it has been confirmed that Iraq had a WMD program. It was inside Saddam's head.

I can't wait to vote on Saturday.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Cold spell!

As I stepped out the front door this morning I realised that something was wrong. I realised that the temperature had dropped dramatically overnight and I was not even sweating.

Walking to work, I passed people wearing heavy coats and even a couple of ladies wearing woollen scarves. I just checked the HK observatory website - the temperature has dropped to an icy 23 degrees and humidity is only 63%.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


It's mid-autumn festival in Hong Kong and lanterns are everywhere - ranging from the beautiful traditional paper variety to plastic, battery operated cartoon characters that light up and jiggle to the 'lambada'.

The festivities started for me on Saturday night when I went out for a dinner with Daisy's family. Her mum was leaving the following morning for their village in China and the dinner was their mid-autumn celebration together before she left.

Despite our struggle to communicate, Daisy's mum and I are becoming better friends by the day. After our orchid shopping trip a few weeks ago, she gifted me with a plant from their house. She's also been bragging to everyone on Saigon St about how neatly I fold my t-shirts.

I was very honoured to be invited to the dinner which was just me and the immediate family. Taking my cue from Daisy's mum I dressed up a little, not knowing where we were headed. It turned out that I needn't have bothered.

The restaurant we went to was close to home. Actually, I've been there twice before. Once when Daisy's aunt was visiting from China and a second time two weeks ago with Daisy, Nancy and my friend Y who was about to leave for Canada after being accepted as a refugee.

The mid-autumn meal was hot pot. It was only my second time and I still haven't become a hot pot lover. On Saturday, most of the items for cooking could be categorised as either fish or fungus. Accustomed as I am to rice and bread, a stomach full of fish and fungus felt kind of strange

But even stranger than the feelings in my stomach was the clientele. From geriatric grandparents to triad bosses, there seemed to be at least one person in each group yelling and thumping on the table. The men at the table next to us were engaging in an arm wrestling competition.

But I spotted the weirdest thing when I went to the bathroom. One family on the other side of the restaurant had brought their two pomeranians along for the meal. It might have been unremarkable except that the pomeranians were both seated on chairs like the rest of the family. I didn't notice whether they had plates in front of them.

Maybe Daisy's mum and I can take the orchids for a meal next time. In the meantime, I'm awaiting her return and enjoying the TWO! public holidays this week.

Saturday, September 25, 2004


I just arrived at work and had another visit from yet another ray of sunshine:

ROS: So the name of your organisation is actually a misnomer

Me: How do you mean exactly?

ROS: Well, you're not preaching the gospel

Me: Yes you're right (thinking: yes, then we could call ourselves 'Christian Talking')

I was talking with a friend this week about how I am becoming less and less inclined to reason with people I don't agree with. I hope that it's a sign of maturity and not just an admission of defeat.

Anyway, I'm glad to have friends and people I respect that I do agree with. My favourite example at the moment is the pastor of my church.

Last week was the church's 80th anniversary service and he had invited a Catholic minister to speak. That was especially cool because I had invited a Catholic friend along. This week, the speaker is a Hong Kong Muslim leader. The occasion is an international day of peace.

I should have invited this morning's visitor.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

I love Hong Chong

After a month without swimming I took my first trip back to the pool yesterday.

Why the break?

Hong chong (small red worms often used as fish food) were found in some Hong Kong public pools about a month ago. Although harmless, they caused lengthy pool closures, countless newspaper covers and general hysteria.

Post SARS, the Hong Kong media has realised that nothing sells like a health scare. The funniest part about this latest scare was the abundance of TV cameras that descended on Kowloon Pool when the news broke. Outside the fence, twenty metres away from the water, I'm not sure if they were hoping to zoom in on one of the tiny larvae.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


This morning I sat opposite a very old lady on the MTR. The trip between Admiralty and Tsim Sha Tsui stations takes five minutes and it took her that long to blow her nose once.

She began by opening her bag. It was a large bag with a zipper at the top. Instead of keeping two zips at one end she had them both exactly in the middle. First, she pulled one zip half way between the middle and the end of the bag. She then did the same for the second before pulling the first and then second zipper the whole way to their respective ends.

Reaching into her bag, she rearranged the items within before pulling out a pile of tissues which had been laid flat and then rolled up into a sausage held together with an elastic band. She removed the elastic band and laid the square pile of tissues on her knees before removing the top one and wiping her nose.

She then held the pile of tissues up in the air to make sure they were all lined up exactly on top of each other. Having made some minor adjustments she laid the pile on her knees again and proceeded to roll them up before reapplying the elastic band. She inserted the roll into the bag again, rearranging the contents to put it in its appropriate place.

Finally, she did the same zip ritual in reverse, bringing one zip and then the other halfway to the middle of the bag before bringing first and then second to the centre.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I love Chungking!

Sparkling in the sunshine... these kind of days are rare.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Peasant class

The decision between upper and lower deck on the Star Ferry brings two strong Honky instincts into conflict:

1. For only a very small extra cost, the upper deck is much more luxurious than the lower deck. It has nicer seats, no exhaust fumes and offers a superiour view of the harbour.
2. At the same time, it takes longer to reach the upper deck boarding enterance and priveleged passengers are required to walk up stairs. At times, this extra distance could cost one a ferry.

For me, the choice is easy. I have been a lower deck person ever since my volunteer work days when even saving fifty cents (HK!) mattered. Taking the lower deck was especially natural since I was usually rushing to HK side to get my ferry to Lantau Island. Until now, I usually only take the upper deck when I'm with tourists or die-hard upper deck riders.

Crossing the harbour on the weekend I spotted a ferry docking and convinced one of those die-hard friends that we'd miss it if we took the longer journey up. The following conversation ensued:

DH: 'I feel like Rose in "Titanic"!'
Me: 'Oh, I haven't seen it'
DH: 'Well there's a scene where she goes to a party down below with all the poor people'
Me: 'Does she end up enjoying it?'
DH: 'Yes, it's a bit of a shock at first but she really gets into the swing of things, especially the dancing'

I looked around but the peasants were all seated.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


I woke up this morning to discover that an animal had done something in my bathroom overnight - quite appropriately, on the top of the toilet cistern.

Either a cat or a large rat must have come in through the window. Aiyaa!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Collecting for income

Next to my desk there is a phone for client use. Here is a collecters instruction guide compiled from overheard conversations and stories I've been told:

Andrew's tips to collecting:

1. Locating
- If this step is to be done in person then Star Ferry or Kowloon Park are recommended as starting locations. The real pros, however, are a little more clever. A highly recommended move is to make a visit to MacDonalds at a crowded time when you will be forced to share a table with someone.
- Some people get phone numbers from friends, 'I found this number on a piece of paper in my bag. I haven't seen the paper before but I wanted to see who it is'.

2. Impressing
Follows location. Possible lines are:
'Yes, I'm calling now from my office'
'Actually I do have a mobile phone but I dropped it in a bucket of water this morning. Do you mind to call me on this number?'
'Well I'm part Nigerian, part American'

3. Falling in love
'I love you three million times'
[repeated kissing sounds]

4. Earning
'$50! Baby! I need $150! I thought you loved me?'
'Andrew's girlfriend gives him much more than that!'
'Darling, I need a mobile phone so that I can call you. I miss you so much when I'm not with you... no, it should be a Nokia.'

5. Repeat steps 1-4 according to desired income
Creativity may be required when complications arise. Particularly on Sunday when all girlfriends have a day off at once.
'Honey, I'll be in church until two. And I have a prayer meeting at five so I can only see you in the afternoon... nono... it's African church so you won't understand the language'

Thursday, September 09, 2004


The men of Chungking and the domestic helpers are a natural match. Ironically, they generally pair off according to a Muslim/Christian religious divide - Pakistanis with Indonesians and Philippinos with Africans.

The complication, however, is visible on any Sunday walk in Kowloon Park (or anywhere near Star Ferry). The men of Chungking are greatly outnumbered, resulting in a phenomena which has become known as collecting.

For some, collecting is a choice, possibly reflective of acceptance of polygamy in their country of origin. These men have usually come to Hong Kong to do business and for them collecting means expenditure. The amount of girlfriends collected at any one time is representative of financial capacity.

For others, collecting is a method of survival. Many men pay large amounts of money to agents who promise to bring them to Hong Kong and put them in well paid work. When they realise that they are stuck in Hong Kong with limited options, collecting is often the easiet ways of earning money to live. The more girlfriends collected the greater the income. The same often goes for asylum seekers who have to wait months or years in Hong Kong without being allowed to work.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Disparity (a 'joe investigates' series)

It's a commonly held opinion that China and India are heading for a problematic social situation because of the increasing number of males relative to females.

Those wishing to investigate the possible results of this trend would do well to look at ethnic minority community in Hong Kong. Kowloon Park on any given Sunday is future China or India in microcosm.

A look at the Hong Kong government web site informed me that there are 340,000 non-Chinese living in Hong Kong. Over 50% of these are domestic helpers, mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Apart from the occasional driver, domestic helpers are always female.

The remainder of Hong Kong's ethnic minority community are mostly South Asians who are residents of Hong Kong (or their dependents). Among these residents, the gender ratio is fairly equal.

But there is another group who make a valiant yet futile attempt to address the numerical dominance of women among the Hong Kong ethnic minority community. I will call them 'the men of Chungking' - South Asians and Africans who are working illegally or seeking asylum in Hong Kong, all of whom have only a tourist visa. Those who work renew their visas by fortnightly trips to China and back. To avoid trouble they also have to make periodic trips back to their country, sometimes to take a fresh passport.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Special treatment

I've had a lovely day today. Church in the morning and a trip to the flower markets in the afternoon with Daisy's mum.

It was good to be back in church for the first time in several weeks. Stuff was just as usual - excellent sermon, slightly radical prayers and a 'young people's choice' hymn that was over 100 years old.

Probably because of my three week absence, I got a personal welcome from the pastor as he administered me communion. Unfortunately, he forgot that he still had the roaming mike on. Nobody else got special treatment and I was very embarrassed.

I got home from church and told Daisy (in the shop below) that I was planning a trip to the flower markets for new orchids. To get her mum out of the shop, Daisy suggested that the two of us make the trip together.

Daisy's mum is heaps of fun. We speak in Cantonese which means that we can't say much. Usually this doesn't matter because Daisy's mum erupts in hysterical laughter after every sentence (or part thereof) that I utter.

After an hour of looking at orchids I settled on a type that I liked. The flowers are very little and maroon and white in colour. It's a little unusual looking, the kind of orchid that you really could imagine growing in the wild somewhere.

When we got back I asked Daisy if she liked them. She said 'Of course you like it. Gwailo like plain. Chinese like big, colourful, expensive'. That certainly explained why it took so long to find something that i liked.

Friday, September 03, 2004


'Meaningful' is a word I hear a lot in Hong Kong. The word is very firmly rooted in the Honky English lexicon and most local people applaud my decision to work in an NGO with 'that is very meaningful'.

In true Honky style, my organisation has come up with a very meaningful fundraiser, to be staged on the runway of the old airport at Kai Tak. It took me a while to figure out exactly what the following meant:

- Use 900 cars and 3,000 participants (car owners/drivers and their families/ friends) to make a meaningful picture for setting world record.

But it gets even better. There is to be a publicity lead up to the event, a series of shopping mall appearances by two up and coming pop/film/tv/sports stars. I'll be working tomorrow and won't be able to make the first appearance in Causeway Bay. I might have to ask my friend in the communications department to get me autographs.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Buying ethnic

Four days in Hanoi has been very relaxing. The non-stop rain hasn't bothered me much, the highlights of the trip have been eating, chatting and sitting around. Four days seems like a major break when you're used to one and a half day weekends.

At the same time, it's weird to be somewhere so foreign. This is the first time since I was a kid that I've been in a country where I know nothing of the language and don't have any friends resident. I have very little awareness of Vietnamese culture and the currency still has me confused!

I felt like a real idiot shopping for souvenirs from mountain villages I didn't even get close to. At one point I was wishing that someone would confiscate that ugly lime coloured thread that the Hmoung hill tribes insist on using. Their baby carrying cloths would look much better on the walls of my room in Hong Kong without it.

Helplessness will be over soon because Dad, Mim and I fly back to Hong Kong tonight. It's just a shame that there's only a couple of days left before they have to fly back on Sydney on Friday night. I'll be working in the daytime so evenings are going to be action packed!

Sunday, August 29, 2004


I probably should have mentioned in a previous post that I've been planning a trip to Hanoi. My dad and sister arrived in Hong Kong on Friday night and we flew together to Hanoi on Saturday morning. We're going to return to HK on Tuesday night and then they'll fly back to Sydney on Friday.

Our holiday so far has involved a lot of eating and walking around. We're staying in the old quarter of the city and the old buildings and tree lined streets are very beautiful. Except for the huge number of motorbikes and scooters on the road, this place is incredibly peaceful... relative to HK anyway.

This morning we went to see the 'Hanoi Hilton'. During the colonial era it was the prison where the French kept nationalist insurgents. Then, during the Vietnam War, the Communists used it for captured American soldiers who had parachuted into the city after their planes were shot down.

The prison has now been turned into a museum which attempts to contrast two very different prison experiences. Preserved cells, guillotines and torture equipment show the harsh punishment meted out to Vietnamese by the French. In the midst of all this horror, a photographic display provides a juxtaposed view of the treatment of the Americans by the Vietnamese. Photos include:
- American prisoners recieving gifts sent by family
- American prisoners attending church
- American prisoners cooking (with several whole chickens)
- American prisoners talking with Vietnamese officers
My favourite photo was cationed 'Citizens and soldiers of Hanoi rescuing an American who parachuted into the lake'.

I'm inclined to believe that the treatment of prisoners in the two eras really was very different. Still, it was my first time to see such an obvious spin put on a museum exhibition. That was very interesting.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Love and Life and the Experiental Metafunction

I've now been teaching English classes at work for over six months. Many of the students in the advanced class are the same ones that I started with and I'm having to become very creative in order to come up with new course content.

When I did teacher training we were repeatedly reminded of the importance of teaching language in context. A 'whole text' approach aims at studying and producing chunks of language with real meaning. Studying isolated sentences or (gasp!) words was strictly frowned upon.

One major advantage of this approach is that it makes the lesson more interesting for the teacher as well as the students. Role-play is a fun way of doing speaking activities. Reading is much more rewarding when the focus is on meaning rather than grammatical form.

After completing a unit on Hong Kong history I felt completely emptied of ideas. The survival English that the class needed for different scenarios in Hong Kong was acheived long ago. That's when I decided that we should take things easy and do a couple of weeks of study of pop song lyrics.

We started with Dionne Warwick's 'The windows of the world are covered with rain' which was very relevant to the student's experience of war and suffering. We then moved on to 'A house is not a home' which lent itself well to an introduction of functional grammar, an incredible theoretical framework for analysing language invented by Macquarie Uni linguist, Michael Halliday.

From there we have now moved on to my all time favourite, the Queen of hip-hop and soul, Mary J. Blige. We continued our exploration of functional grammar with 'Ultimate Relationship', a cool song about time that Mary spends in prayer and meditation each morning. In the last lesson we played a poker type game with cut out pieces of the song. Students got hysterically excited as they tried to collect lines from the same verse. After a couple of listenings the class was like a group kareoke session with all eleven students singing along.

I'm so glad I don't use the grammar translation method of teaching!

Thursday, August 26, 2004


I noticed a sign yesterday in the lift lobby of D-block in Chungking Mansions:

'Since the usage of this lifts is over 42 years old the operations are mechanical and not electronic. Management desires to upgrade the quality of resident life and will make improvements to Chungking Mansion lifts beginning in D-block...'

About time! Chungking Mansions must be the only place in Hong Kong where it's not uncommon to queue for up to ten minutes for a lift. Also, the lifts only stop to pick up passengers on the way down, very frustrating for those of us who have a reason to travel between different floors.

Like the lifts in Chungking, I also had a major overhaul this week when I shaved my head on Tuesday. I was very pleased with the reaction at work, a confirmation of my theory that African and Chinese people are much better at giving compliments than westerners:
- 'Mr Joe, you look like an African now' (yes, a very strange one! a Nigerian friend once told me that they call albinos 'unfortunate Europeans')
- 'Mr Joe, you look like a young boy' (very welcome after last week's comment on my age!)
- 'Mr Joe, you look very smart' ('smart' is nearly only used for looks in many varieties of English)

The one disadvantage of my new look is that the pawpaws of Temple St no longer recongnise me and are seeing me as potential client material again. It took me a while to figure out why I was getting a lot more waving hands, inviting looks, 'ho dai'(very big) and 'maaih la wei'(come and buy) than usual...

Monday, August 23, 2004

So old

I wasn't worried about turning 25 or getting older at all until my boss wished me happy birthday on Friday.

'How old is it this year? Thirty again?', she said with a smile.

I almost died! It would be one thing for her to guess that I am over thirty. Being confident enough to joke about it is a lot worse. If she was from Hong Kong I might not have minded so much but she's English. Suddenly I felt very aged.

Last week I also had to put a ban on asylum seekers calling me 'Uncle Joe'. 'Mr Joe' is bad enough, particularly considering that many of them are about ten or so years older than me.

At least I'm not the only one getting the weird terms of endearment. My 21 year old colleague has become 'Chini mama'. The 'chini' part comes from her name. What they don't realise is that 'chini' means sugar in Nepali.

Friday, August 20, 2004

I'm doing so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so...

After a long and traumatic battle with a fungal infection, my orchid Beyonce passed away yesterday. I don't usually name plants but a friend suggested the name when my other orchid withered and died from the same problem. Beyonce had contracted the infection at the same time but she was looking like a survivor until earlier this week.

Aside from my loss, I'm doing so good this week. I had a whole bag of presents and cards hand delivered from Sydney on Tuesday and I've had parcels, cards and letters in the post every day since the end of last week. I think I've eaten more chocolate in the last couple of days (sorry! I opened some things early!) than I have since the beginning of this year.

So thanks to everyone responsible for that and also thanks for all the internatioal sms messages today. Even the one that said 'Help! What is the currency of Macau? and what is its short form? I'm in the typesetters and need an answer asap'. Glad that I could be of assistance.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Wellcome Winona

Just when I thought I had no pride left to lose...

I'm so annoyed. The company that donates the bread for our asylum seeker breakfasts operates small outlets inside several locations of a large supermarket chain in HK.

The staff of the outlet that I pick up from three times per week are super friendly. Going for the bread collection before work and saying hi to them is one of the nicest parts of my day.

The supermarket staff are not nearly so nice. They look at me and my trolley as if I am causing some kind of nuisance. As of this morning, the bakery outlet staff informed me of a new policy. As I leave the store each morning, the supermarket manager will check through each and every box before signing me out. Hmmm.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Everybody soukous!

t was a disaster waiting to happen. Since last week, everyone in our centre has been mesmerised by a video CD of Congolese superstar Awilo Longomba. Every clip features Awilo surrounded by a possee of very energetic dancers. My attempts to imitate the moves pale in comparison but I'm improving and at least I've been keeping everyone entertained.

I had a call from one of my friends in Sydney last week to say that a couple of his friends are in Hong Kong on holiday. We caught up on Saturday evening and they convinced me to go out dancing for only the second time since I've been in HK. When we got on the dancefloor at about two it was crowded, conveniently inhibiting the Farah Khan steps that usually cause my friends so much embarrassment.

Everything was safe until Kelis' 'Milkshake' came on at two thirty followed by a soukous-style 'Crazy in Love'. The same beat continued and the next hour was my solo audition for Awilo's next 'Live in Kinshasa'. My friends were shocked and a group of tourists from the mainland screamed as I collided with them backwards. I became something of a celebrity and despite the aches (now two days later) I'm waiting to do it all again.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Quotes from work

- 'Me English already finished. English very easy. Now only I learn Cantonese'

- 'Sir, Kelly (sic - you figure it out) 36? Oh dear, sir, not looking 36. So old ! I no can marry!'

- 'I'm a Christian. Give me pork!'

- (cross-cultural communication in the lift)
'ya ga urp?'
'haiya, uppa uppa'

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Blame it on the name

I am so tired of the name of my organisation. When people hear it they tend to assume we are a missionary organisation. This would be fine except that many of our staff are not Christian. I think that in Cantonese the name even specifies that we are protestant.

The problem of the name is twofold. The first problem is faced by my colleagues and the second is all mine. It's really making me crazy.
1. Non-Christians feel that they are going to get preached at if they come here. My colleagues spend a lot of time explaining to our ethnic minority clients that there is no religious component to our langauge classes, health workshops, doctors consultations etc.
2. Christians get very critical because they feel that we are being Christian in name only and therefore deceitful.

We had a couple turn up here a few days ago from a church that is quite concerned about asylum seekers. When they arrived I was teaching a class and my colleague explained all of our different services to them. In the course of the explanation they must have sussed out that she wasn't a Christian.

When I finished my class and sat down to speak with them they asked 'Exactly how Christian is your organisation?'. I told them that I am the only Christian in our office. I also explained that most of our volunteers are Christian and we were working together with one church that is running a bible study group in our centre. I told them that we would be very glad if they wanted to do something similar.

This wasn't enough, however, and they proceeded to ask a load of questions about my church and its denominational background etc. So annoying. I blame it all on the name.

Monday, August 09, 2004


In another turn of events highly indicative of Hong Kong work culture, we now have a replacement air-con installed and a new one where one did not exist before. Both are fancy brand names and bigger than the one that had broken.

After three weeks of stalling, the new ones were installed in a big rush a couple of days ago.


The managers of our organisation are having a meeting in here tomorrow. Someone realised that it was going to be hot and things started moving very quickly.

Bring on more managers meetings! Last time I managed to get an exhaust fan put in the bathroom. This time two air-cons. Next time who knows! I might try for a spa.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

'Tujhe apne banane ki kasam...'

In many parts of the world lift rides can be awkward. I grew up in a lift culture that discouraged any kind of interaction with strangers. Eye contact and talking were striclty forbidden.

Not so in Chungking Mansions. Staring is commonplace and so is 'What country?'. Slightly more disturbing to my conservative lift culture is singing. Loud singing.

I just arrived at work after a lift ride where my co-passenger put an arm across the doorwar and burst out into raucous song. Not expecting that I would understand of course...

'I have vowed to myself to make you mine....vowed to myself
I have vowed to myself to make you mine....vowed to myself'

The strange thing is that I'm used to it!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

It's getting yit in here...

I'm melting! Hong Kong summer is at it's peak and the air-conditioner at work died two weeks ago. If I hear one more 'Mr Joe, here very hot' I'm going to go crazy. True, at home I don't use air-con either. But at home I don't have several kettles, a toaster and a fridge running almost constantly. Nor do I have over twenty bodies sharing the room with me and complaining about the heat. Plus, this flat is second floor from the roof and gets a lot of sunshine.

Of course the problem is being acted on. Over ten emails on the topic have bounced around between our centre, our boss and the admin staff in the main office. Since I reported the problem the following people have been to check the machine:
- my boss
- the admin staff handyman
- the contractor of the landlady
- a representative of the air-con company (I think)

Unfortunately, each of these has come in, turned the air-con on, put their hand in front of the vent and then announced that it is broken (thank you!!). It's like a Cameroonian funeral where the body is left for viewing in the sitting room for a week for the whole village to come and say goodbye.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Who put the cold in the snowflake?

Around April this year I was starting to get a bit worried. I'd been in Hong Kong for several months without finding a church that I wanted to belong to. And I was becoming more picky and critical with each new one that I tried. Most international churches seemed to be too big and impersonal - full of money and neurotic people. I sat through many boring (and a couple of painful) sermons noticing that 'international' seemed to be synonymous with 'American' and wondering what percentage of the congregation held NRA membership.

Finally I tried a church five minutes from my house which had made several donations to our work with asylum seekers. It exceeded all expectations.

The pastor is from Manly and his sermons make me think more than I'm used to doing in church. The congregation really is international, mostly from different Asian nations with a handful from Africa and the West. The style is a little more traditional than I am used to but the pace of life here has given me much greater appreciation for a service that is a more peaceful and reflective. I knew it was the place for me when the first week's announcements included an upcoming forum on torture and a protest later than day outside the US embassy.

But it couldn't be perfect. The music is absolutely hideous. The hymns are all very old and their tunes are terrible. If we have to sing old hymns then we could at least sing the good ones! Every week there is a more modern 'Young People's Choice' but I'm convinced that a real young person does not do the choosing. I know it's a bit long but here's the first verse of one of the worst ones so far. I just about managed to make it through this song without breaking out into hysteric laughter:

Who put the colours in the rainbow?
Who put the salt into the sea?
Who put the cold into the snowflake?
Who made you and me?
Who put the hump upon the camel?
Who put the neck on the giraffe?
Who put the tail upon the monkey?
Who made hyenas laugh?
Who made whales and snails and quails? (mezzo forte)
Who made hogs and dogs and frogs? (forte)
Who made bats and rats and cats? (fortissimo)
Who made everything?

Friday, July 30, 2004

Kitty rage

MacDonalds here has started another Hello Kitty promotion. Kitties of various colours (the colours of summer) are available to those who pay eight dollars extra on top of a meal. Along with the kitties, employees are wearing t-shirts saying 'Don't you just love Summer?' Probably not that much, considering the strength of the air-con inside the store. I'm sure the slogan has been transported from somewhere a little less sweaty.

I made a rare trip into MacDonalds last night to try the new green bean Sundae. It took me about five minutes to get served because a girl in front of me was doing extreme theatrics at the counter. She was about my age and was standing together with a very overwhelmed and intimidated looking boyfriend. The interaction between her and the cashier and then the manager went like this:

Girl: I want the black kitty.
Cashier:I'm sorry, the black kitty is unavailable, you can have a red or a green.
Girl: I want the black kitty!
Cashier: Sorry but you can't buy that now. You can only get the red or green one
(at this point the manager approaches)
Manager: Sorry, what is the problem?
Girl: (pouting) I want the black kitty.
Manager: I'll just bring you the red and the green one so you can choose which you like.
(manager fetches the red and green and girl spends some time in disinterested observation)
Manager: So, which one do you like?
Girl: I like the black one!

This last utterance was given three times with increasing volume as she alternately looked from the manager to the boyfriend and pouted. Finally the cashier decided to serve me while the girl contintued to look at the red and green kitties.

The green bean sundae had a pleasantly high green bean/syrup ratio (the advertisement had me worried) but the sauce was still too sweet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

There's a long thin winding stairway without any banister...

Over the last few weeks numbers have been getting huge at the daily breakfasts at work. In response I have taken a tip from Nigerian political history and stepped up my Buhari style 'War on Indiscipline'. Tidiness is stricly enforced and everything is rationed. Gone is the buffet style breakfast we used to offer. In its place, clients have to que at the kitchen door to recieve their plates of food and portion of milk for their tea. Coffee no longer exists and fruit was limited to half a banana each today. Though bread and pastries are abundant, margarine and jam are limited to one pot and one tub respectively per day. It's tough but I'm on a budget.

Earlier this week some visitors asked if our clients have much education. The following conversation occurred this morning at breakfast:

- Mr Joe, have you read anything by Charles Dickens?
- Yes, why?
- Are you familiar with the story of "Oliver Twist"
- Yes (realising where this is leading...)
- You see, these days I am getting hungrier and hungrier but I am afraid of the reaction if I express my need. You know what happened in the novel. I don't want to risk the becoming of such a situation.
- Of course you don't. What type of bread do you want?
- That one here is fine. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Tragedy and death in Ye Olde China

I went to see a new Mandarin film on Sunday. 'The House of Flying Daggers' is a martial arts film set in the Tang Dynasty. It's about two and a half characters (one is very poorly sketched) caught in conflict between the empire and an underground alliance from which the film takes its name. Like most of the Mandarin films that I have ever seen (about five) it left me feeling greatly relieved that I studied Hindi instead of Mandarin.

Hindi films are famed for their overly happy endings. When the hero dies (very, very rarely) it is not uncommon for him to be reincarnated so that he can be reunited with the heroine (or her reincarnation). In Mandarin films there seems to be a genre rule that all the main characters must die unfulfilled in very tragic circumstances.

THOFD treads a bizarre line between romance and violence 'Because you love him and not me I have to kill you' and the romance tends towards the extremely tacky 'I thought you were as hot as fire but you're as cold as ice'. If I'd seen 'Kill Bill' maybe I could say that it is KB meets soap opera set in a selection of differently coloured Chinese forests. The beatiful scenery and cool costumes certainly were the main redeeming features for me.

The other strange thing about the film was the severe 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' hangover. Apart from a repetition of Zhang Ziyi as the heroine (playing a similar role), there are a couple of scenes directly lifted from the previous film. Maybe it's a genre feature of historical martial arts films but a scene where ZZ bathed in the wilderness while the long haired hero made noise to prove he is too far away to see was deja-vu all over again.

All in all, it was well summed up by the stifled laughter in the violent climax sequence and the lady behind me who muttered 'crazy!' in Cantonese at regular two minute intervals.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


I just saw an older lady with a t-shirt:
'I want be supermodel
Can you teach me.
I'll be on the lookout for one.
Meanwhile Hong Kong is recovering from yesterday's brush with typhoon Kompasu. It didn't get too close but it did cause a typhoon no. 8 signal which meant that people got to go home from work. I stayed at work but I called Daisy to ask her to shut my windows. I've left a set of keys in her shop to avoid me having to access via the bathroom window again.
I referred all the homeless asylum seekers to a typhoon shelter because I knew that they don't check for ID or passports. I just found out that there was a big drama in the shelter with the arrival of the police and then the media. Apparently a couple of them got interviewed so I'm waiting to see if something turns up in the newspaper.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

More bread

I've now been picking up the new donated bread for two weeks. It's really nice stuff and there is a lot of it. The chocolate croissant that I ate this morning was particularly delicious.

Since we now have have more than we need for breakfast we have started a new program. Anyone who wants bread in the evening can come and pick up a small bag between 5:30 and 6pm.

When I announced this last week I made it clear that people can't eat the evening time bread in our centre. There are usually classes going on at that time and a second mealtime would induce chaos.

When I announced the arrangement someone called it 'take away'. More like 'take and go away' I said. The name stuck and people now turn up at 5:30 saying 'Mr Joe, I want to take and go away'.

Rules make life so easy. So does free bread.

Friday, July 09, 2004

'The little colostomy bag that could'

Earlier this week we had a long anticipated raid by police who claimed to have had a complaint that there was someone on our premises without a valid visa. Ha ha. Just the one dear?

We have a policy of not opening the door to police but on that occasion a client (and a visa-less one at that!) had already let them in. Seeing the police, my colleague leapt up and stretched out his arms across the hallway, blocking them from entering any further.

One officer then tried to push past but my colleague lifted up his shirt to show his colostomy bag, the result of a recent operation. He warned them that they better not try to force past him.

It was then that the senior officer lifted up his own shirt, 'you call that a colostomy bag? THIS is a colostomy bag...'

No, just kidding. On seeing the colostomy bag the officers stayed where they were and agreed to speak to our boss on the telephone. I don't know if it was sympathy, shock or fear of a legal suit but they left and the colostomy seemed to have saved the clients who were in at the time.

The next morning one of them said to me 'Sir, yesterday Mr B stop police. If no, police arrest me. (If) Sir here, what sir do?'. I confessed that sir probably wouldn't have produced such a good result.

Anyway, yay to Bill and his colostomy bag. I did seek his permission to write about it seeing that he reads this blog :)

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Elaine and Bill Clinton

A few weeks ago I went to pay my rent and had a nasty shock when the real estate agent, Elaine, told me the amount of my electricity bill. Since my room is one of four in a subdivided apartment, the real estate agent takes charge of the account with the company and charges the tenants at her own (increased) rate using small meters installed outside our respective doors.

I protested that I could not possibly have used that much electricity since I hadn't used the water heater or the air conditioner all month. Realising that she was looking at the usage for room A and not room D, she apologised and recalculated my bill as $HK18. She couldn't believe the amount and recalculated twice, only to find out that she was correct the first time.

I assured her that I use very little electricity and her disappointment at her dismal cut was overtaken by the first sympathetic feeling I have seen her express towards any being other than her cats. She looked me in the eyes and said, 'poor boy, so young and so hard life...'

Anyway, after a couple of weeks the heat became too much and last week I decided that I would start using the air conditioner at night. Even on a low setting it worked too well in my little room and I woke up in the middle of the night last Thursday very cold and searching out my blanket from the wardrobe.

I came home from work the next day sniffing and by Saturday I had fever. I then settled down for several days recovery at home with nothing in the way of entertainment except Bill Clinton's autobiography, lent to me by a friend just a few days before. Unable to sleep properly, I spent two days drifting between reading and shallow sleep filled with nightmares that I was about to be defeated in the Arkansas Democratic primaries by an evil but popular segregationist. Luckily my health has recovered before Lewinsky et al. entered the plot.

On Sunday night I thought I was past the worst part but I woke up after an hour of sleep feeling sicker than ever. I was convinced that it was the feeling of imminent death from SARS, avian influenza or something else that you can catch by pressing lift buttons that haven't been wiped with bleach since they were pushed by a farm animal from Southern China. I dragged myself downstairs and found one of my friends in the park to go with me to hospital.

After a whole range of tests the doctor pronounced that it was just flu. I must have looked very disappointed because she looked at me and then came back with five different types of symptomatic medication which I'm planning to donate to the clinic at work. Actually I was upset that I'd suffered nothing more than the effects of Sudden Acute Desire For Air Conditioned Extravagance.

More on Bill Clinton's very detailed autobiography later...

Friday, July 02, 2004


I'm so excited! After a few rejections and a lot of waiting, I just got a phone call from a classy bakery who have agreed to donate us leftover bread.

This means an end to the mouldy bread we are getting third hand from another charity. It also means (hopefully) an end to me slaving over hot porridge only to drown in the subsequent flood of complaints.

Not only is the bakery very classy but it's also conveniently located, less than ten minutes walk from Chungking (Gateway, for those in the know). Plus they want us to collect before nine in the morning, perfect timing for breakfast. I can't wait for this weekend to be over so that I can go and do the first pick up on Monday!

Now I'm just waiting for my boss to fork out $HK500 for a thirty person rice cooker...

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Hot in here...

Hong Kong is getting very hot. Actually I don't mind this too much. I have been thinking lately of all the benefits of living in the tropics. My top two would definitely be the wide array of fruit and the speed with which my pot plants grow.

One less desirable effect of the warm weather is the increasing number of people swimming at MY pool. Even though I go there after eight thirty at night, the place is still packed. It's absolute carnage until the fast lanes open after nine and only marginally better after that.

I have taken it upon myself to be the enforcer of direction and movement in the fast lanes. I swim up and down on the left hand side (as the sign suggests) and show little mercy for people that get in the way or float around near the wall without swimming at all. Six out of eight lanes in the pool are dedicated for messing around.

No apologies to any of the following people who I swam into last night:
1. Those crossing between the two free swimming areas on either side of the fast lanes
2. The man swimming breastroke with his glasses on and head out of the water
3. The big crowd of teenagers taking up all the wall space when I needed to tumble turn.
4. The man doing aqua aerobics in the fast lane
5. The teenage couple who decided that the middle of the fast lane was an appropriate place for them to hug, kiss and giggle

Don't they know that the MTR is the designated place in HK for teenage PDA's?


Saturday, June 26, 2004


When I used to live on an outlying island it was an incredible coincidence if I ran into someone I knew in the city.

These days it's strange to go anywhere without bumping into friends. I have just arrived at work having come via the supermarket for some last minute ingredients for today's lunch for thirty.

That particular supermarket used to be my regular but I've been frequenting another one for the last few months. The cashier asked me why such a long time and no see. I told her I've been at the Hankow Rd store and she nodded, adding that it the range was much better there.

While still at the checkout, I saw another friend, a businessman from Ghana. I mentioned that I hadn't seen him for a while and he told me that he'd been out of Hong Kong on a business trip.

Arriving at Chungking I went to see Mabel, the Calcutta-born Chinese lady that runs my favourite movie store. The CD I wanted is the soundtrack of a new movie with a very strange name ('Why? We're in love, aren't we?'). Mabel hadn't heard of it and assumed that I was getting the name wrong. She gave a multitude of suggestions of similarly titled movies which I found quite amusing.

As I negated her suggestions, other customers also pitched in - maybe I wanted 'Tell me that you love me' or 'Is this really love?'. No, none of those. The music has only just been released so I guess I'll go back again after a week.

As I got in the lift someone mentioned to a friend in Hindi that my new trousers are very nice. I enjoyed the compliment without acknowledging that I had understood.

It's days like this that I really enjoy the sense of community in and around Chungking. If you can ignore the posters at the bottom of the lifts asking for information on a recent murder then it's really a nice place to work. I read an interview in HK Magazine last week where a Chungking resident stated that this is the only place in Hong Kong where everyone is equal. I think I agree.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Fan club

Since my local pool reopened a month ago I've been swimming at least two or three times after work per week. I've worked up to 3km per session and it feels good to be fit again. It also helps that I'm usually the fastest in the pool, a notable exception being the teenage girl in a red costume who occasionally comes to steal my time to shine.

As I walk through Kowloon Park to get to the pool it's not unusual to be greeted by a 'hello Mr Joe!' from someone too dark to be easily recognised at night time (please note that I do not encourage people to call me Mr!). Kowloon Park is the only nice quiet place around that the asylum seekers can hang out and pass time in the evening.

On Wednesday night I felt extra popular when I looked up mid-lap and noticed I had pulled a crowd of asylum seekers waving from behind the window next to the ticket booth. If it becomes a regular occurrence I'm going to have to become faster than my nemesis in the red costume.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

'The most beautiful woman in the world'

A couple of months ago, our boss told my colleague and I that we could employ a new staff member on a scheme for employing ethnic minority youth at risk of unemployment. It means that we pay half the salary and the government pay the rest.

My colleague and I were excited about the prospect of extra help but we disagreed over the preferred gender of our new employee. Since there's already an oversupply of men around here I wanted a girl. My colleague thought it would be better to have a boy so that she could send him out with flyers to promote our services. I thought a girl would be much better for this purpose anyway, as long as she went accompanied.

In the end we didn't have any choice because the interview candidates were all female. It turns out that our new employee has certainly changed the atmosphere of the place. Not only does she work well but she has developed a cult following among our clients and volunteer staff.

At first I thought it was just our 17 year old volunteer that was infatuated. He follows her around the centre and sits in a trance watching her when she is working on the computer. Whenever she gets sent out to do shopping or distribute flyers he sulks until he is sent too.

But when I witnessed another volunteer doing almost the same thing I realised that there was some kind of almost universal effect that I hadn't noticed.

This was confirmed when I went to the refugee's hostel for a Saturday morning breakfast and they began talking about her. It turns out that one of the refugees had arrived home after her first day of work and announced that he had seen the most beautiful girl in the world.

Possibly the best part about the whole thing is the willingness to clean, cook and generally help out that any men in our centre demonstrate when she is present. My workload in this kind of stuff has been cut by half :)

Friday, June 18, 2004

Cha cha cha

I came home on Wednesday eager to see the new mama. I was holding on to hope that she might be half as glamorous and exciting as Nancy with her permed hair, menagerie of friends and stories of trips to Paris long ago.

I was sorely disappointed to turn into my street and see the same boring mama who filled in for Nancy when she was on holiday in Thailand. She was squatting on her stool with legs wide apart. One hand was resting on top of her large stomach and the other was picking at her teeth. She was still picking at her teeth an hour later when I came out of the house to go swimming.

On her last night of working, Nancy told me that she is also going to use her new spare time to go to cha cha cha class. I figured out what this meant when she did a demonstration on the pavement 'One, two, cha cha cha, three, four, cha cha cha'. She was very good and went on to do a tango, a waltz and then a salsa. She's promised to call me so I can go with her to cha cha cha lessons.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Ends and beginnings

I checked the common post box this morning to find a letter from the HK Housing Authority. It was addressed to the family who are storing all the junk in the hallway. Could they have been allocated public housing? I wait in hope...

Nancy told me a couple of days ago that she has decided to quit her job. I don't think she really needs the money and she's been complaining so much about sitting outside in the hot weather. Today is her last day and she's planning to retire in style. Her plans include:
- knitting a jumper (don't know how she's decided on that in this weather)
- going on holiday to Thailand (again!)
- cooking
- doing a computer course so that she can chat on the net to her son in Taiwan
Daisy and I are very upset about her leaving but Nancy has promised to return often. We know that she will because her boss owes her a lot of money.

Speaking of Nancy's boss, I've seen a lot more of her recently because she's been patrolling the doorway of her building around the spot where Nancy sits. The mainland girls have been encroaching on her turf and I've had the opportunity for learning a lot of rude language as she sends them scurrying back over to Shanghai St.

Finally, my new boss is starting today, a refugee lawyer from England. it's going to be good to have an expert around.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

'Yes, but how do you minister?'

It can be both a blessing and a curse working in a secular NGO with a religious name. My Hindu colleague complains that the name of our organisation makes it difficult to attract ethnic minority residents to our centre. Time and time again I hear her on the telephone explaining that our centre is not affiliated to any church and our classes and workshops have no Christian content. I've heard the spiel so many times that I know it off by heart in Nepali.

One other side effect of the name of our organisation is that we get all kinds of people turning up because they assume that our entire staff are gung-ho missionaries. On occcasions this is a good thing. An old lady from PNG dropped in a few months ago on a break from her work as a teacher in China. I helped her to find a cheap place to stay in Chungking and she spent a bit of time hanging out in our centre. Her big hair and big attitude made her kind of reminiscent of Whoopi Goldberg (with a few teeth missing). Every sentence was finished with a 'praise the lord'.

At other times the effects aren't so great. Chungking Mansions must have the highest concentration of 'Pastors' of any building in Hong Kong. It certainly has the highest concentration of pastors from Ghana. We get a steady trickle of pastors from Ghana (and other assorted countries) coming to our centre in the hope that we will be able to sponsor them to stay in Hong Kong and work in our organisation. They may or may not have overstayed their visa at this point. It takes them a while to figure out that this won't happen and move on to their next target.

This week something downright annoying happened. We were visited by an American family returning via Hong Kong from a mission trip in India. They walked through our door with a few PTL's, bringing back fond memories of my friend from PNG. I then heard 'Praise the Lord, tracts in so many languages!'. The exclamation tapered off towards the end as the dad realised that the 'tracts' were actually brochures on HIV awareness, left over from a health workshop. As I heard the change in tone I bit my lip in anxiety. I then gave up the anxiety but continued to bite my lip, suppressing a laugh. It reminded me of our boss' reaction when he demanded to know why bananas were listed as as 'program expense for health workshop' and not 'food for breakfast'.

I invited the family of four to sit down and have some tea and coffee. They told me they were in Hong Kong for two days and wanting to visit some mission organisations. They had seen our sign downstairs and were keen to know what we did in our centre. I began to explain our food program, language classes, computer classes, art classes, health workshops and medical centre. As I rattled off our impressive list of services they looked at me with a frustrated blankness. Finally the father asked, 'Yes, but how do you minister?'.

I explained to them that, despite our organisation's name, both my colleagues are Hindu so we're not exactly a mission organisation. I told them that, at the same time, I consider everything I do there to be part of my own personal ministry. I didn't feel in the mood to mention that we hold a bible study group on Saturday afternoons. Nor did I say that the asylum seekers often ask me to pray with them.

It was at this point that the father decided that our organisation was decidedly unchristian and he shifted focus to try and make a ruling on my own personal faith...
- So what is your church background?
- Well I grew up in an Anglican church (ok, I was exaggerating to deliberately annoy him) but my family and I (baiting again - do I have my own personal faith?) have gone to a Baptist church for the last few years.
- Oh! The Anglican church is pretty spiritually dead.
- Well I don't know if you can say that. Maybe it's better for you to judge each individual church. Or judge person by person (glaring).
- Yes, you are right. But you do have your own personal experience of salvation, don't you?
- Yes.
- When was that?
- When I was fourteen (okok... I know when to give up)
- Oh good (still sceptical). Because you need more than just a sprinkling to get to heaven.

Out of complete despair for the spiritual environment of our workplace, he then asked me if his son could play a song using one of our guitars. After five minutes of purification from the Wannabe Contemporary Christian Music Superstar, dad asked if they could pray before leaving. Excited at the prospect of the latter, I agreed but didn't concentrate on his words because the doorbell went three times before he had finished.

As they left I thought of how many times I have encountered this attitude since starting in my job. It's okay for a Christian to work in any kind of secular company but when they work in a secular charity they are considered to have sold out.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Excuse my Cantonese

Considering that I've been in Hong Kong since the start of this year, my progress in Cantonese has been pathetic. I've joined a class at work but I'm moving at a very slow pace.

One of the reasons for my lack of progress is that I hardly ever get the chance to practice. I spend most of my waking hours at work and my only chance to speak is when I receive wrong number phone calls. Apart from telling people they've got the wrong number, the only other area where I excel is shopping for food. I know the names of an impressive array of fruits.

As I lose hope of rapid progress in Cantonese I've set my sights on another language. I realised a couple of weeks ago that I've spent the last few months immersed in French and I've actually begun to pick up a bit. It's a bit like (but now quite!) the Simpsons episode where Bart goes on exchange to France and becomes fluent without realising. My initial 'Bart moment' came as a result of inability to communicate with my basic English class. I yelled out an instruction in French and surprised myself more than anyone.

This development has been quite a shock because I did only a couple of months of French at school. In fact, I've always thought learning French was just for people who dream of holidaying there and I find the random insertion of French words into conversation a particularly pretentious bourgeois habit.

Anyway, speaking some French would help me greatly at work and I've now found myself a couple of teachers. For the moment I'm having fun making everyone laugh.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Taking a razor blade to the hand that feeds you

Work has been getting busier. I don't know if it's a sign that the political environment in Central and Western Africa is worsening but there has been a deluge of asylum seekers from Congo (both of them), Cameroon and Nigeria in our centre.

When we started this place a few months ago everything was new and people were grateful for whatever help they could get. Many of them were living on the street and they were constantly telling us how much their lives had improved since our centre opened.

These days, the organisation responsible for asylum seekers in Hong Kong sends them to us as soon as they make their application. Many think that we are the food-distributing, accommodating-providing arm of that same organisation and they come with a list of demands:

I'm hungry! no crossaint? where's milk? Mr Joe give me bread!

My English lessons on how to make polite requests aren't sinking in fast enough! My basic English class has been able to learn to learn to use the classifier 'a piece of bread' much more easily than 'Could you please...'.

One of our part-time volunteers has quit. He couldn't handle the pressure of cooking meals and giving out food packages only to have the recipients give complaints. At one breakfast recently people ate so much bread that it ran out and I had to make porridge as an emergency measure. Most liked it but one guy came to me in the kitchen with his bowl, 'Mr Joe, this no good!'.

At the extreme end, things are even getting a little dangerous round here. Two people have had complete breakdowns in our centre in the last couple of months that have almost become violent. One client has been particularly problematic and is continually starting arguments with others. He began fighting with someone a couple of weeks ago and I was thankful that there were enough of us around to separate the two.

And then there's been drama with the set of hair clippers I bought (with my own money) for people to use. Last time someone used it they left five razor blades scattered around the room and a heap of bloody tissues in the bin. The hair wasn't all cleared up and a couple of the clipper fittings were left on the window sill. I let them know that I wasn't very impressed, particularly as the children's Cantonese class was to be held a little later in the same room.

Yesterday morning the same person that caused the hair clipper problem asked me for some bread to take away because he was fasting until six o'clock. I then saw him digging in to a huge plate of rice and curry at two o'clock in the other charity organisation in our building!

Anyway, in the midst of all this I've become very thankful for the 50% of our clients who are very helpful and grateful for the assistance they get here. I'm also becoming a lot stricter and more prepared to yell and say 'no' when necessary. I guess I"m learning to give 'tough love'.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


In the last week there have been a couple of milestones. Firstly, it's just over six months now since I left Australia for Hong Kong. There's been some hard work and some surprises (esp ending up in a different job than I thought I was coming here for!) but the last half a year has been pretty cool.

I've also noticed that my blog counter has now passed 1,000 hits. Thanks to everyone who's reading and commenting! It's fun to see so many people who are important to me communicating in the same forum, even when they don't know each other. So thanks to all of you in Australia, England, Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, Korea, Germany, Hawaii and anywhere else!

Friday, May 28, 2004

A fine balance

Last night I sat down to finish reading 'A Fine Balance' by Rohinton Mistry. I had only fifty pages to go and I was anticipating a touching ending about the triumph of the human spirit.

Not quite! There are four main characters in the book and in the last fifty pages:
Om: Gets forcibly castrated by the 'Family Planning Bureau' and becomes a begger.
Ishvar: Has his legs amputated after a botched vasectomy by the FPB. Also becomes a beggar.
Dina: Is evicted from her house and goes blind.
Maneck: Commits suicide following his father's death.

Sorry if anyone was planning to read it. It's a good book but it was hardly the ending I was hoping for! It was a much bleaker picture of post independence India than I got at uni so I'm going to do some research to figure out how much truth is actually in there.

Saturday, May 22, 2004


I'm just browsing the net for some English teaching ideas and I'm realising that English teachers are very crazy people. The following quotes come from a site for game ideas:

'The idea is that each student will have a turn at pretending to be Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton. Index cards bearing embarassing situations are placed in the center of the table. The student who plays Hillary who has to confront Bill over each situation card and Bill has to come up with a convincing lie to cover-up his mistake. Students can vote for the best "Bill" and "Hillary" at the end of the game.'

'Plus, from a psychologist's point of view, games like Word Shark and Hangman help little children deal with the inevitability of death. I mean, c'mon kids, wake up and smell the coffee. Some day you're gonna be worm chow.'

'This is a great improvement on the hangman game. When the first student makes a letter mistake, instead of hanging a person, hang Hello Kitty! It gives the class a good laugh, but be warned..... some students might purposely goof up just to see her die!'

Hang Hello Kitty... not to be confused with...