Thursday, April 29, 2004

Et tu?

As of last week I've divided my asylum seeker English class into two groups according to ability. It was getting difficult to teach a class where some students could only ask 'how are you?' and a couple were almost at a native speaker level!

In the basic class today we role played some introductory conversations. My favourite was between the most and least advanced students in the class (the two eldest asylum seekers who have been nicknamed Mama and Papa)

Papa: Hello how are you?
Mama: I'm fine, and you?
Papa: I'm very well. Could you tell me which country you are from?
Mama: I'm from Congo, and you?
Papa: Oh really? I'm from Congo too!
Mama: Why you laughing?
Papa: I am surprised that you are also from Congo! And how long have you been in Hong Kong?
Mama: Two weeks (this has been Mama's standard answer for some time now) and you?
Papa: I have been in Hong Kong one month. And where do you live?
Mama: I live in Yau Ma Tei, and you?
Papa: I also live in Yau Ma Tei
Mama: C'est fini!

Stay tuned for details of the advanced class where we conducted a press meeting starring a Cameroonian asylum seeker as the head of the HK UNHCR office!

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Quotes from work

'Before I found out about this place it was just me and myself. I didn't even have Irene!'

'What _______ language is that? Oh, my god, you think I'm a Russian prostitute don't you! I'll have you know I'm a British junkie, there's a difference.'

'In Somalia the family of the groom have to give guns.'
'you give what?'
'guns... kalashnikovs'

And a highlight of internal email:
'Please arrange to print the attached document and displace them in your centre'
I think they meant display!

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Mum's visit

My mum is on holiday here from Australia at the moment and we're having a great time. She's been here almost a week and she'll be leaving on Sunday evening.

One of my concerns about her trip was that she would get worried by my neighbourhood. It turns out that she's been fine despite a huge increase in dodgy stuff going on.

Here is a rundown on the excitement this week:

The Mah-jong parlour
Nancy told mum and I that it was triad problems that forced it to close a year and a half ago.
When it reopened a couple of months ago the owners paid off a whole load of triad groups but one particular group was left out. The group didn't take well to this and they were the ones who came and kicked down the door several weeks ago. It has remained closed since with a sign in Chinese which I'll have to ask someone to translate.

The cat (?) burgular
The night after mum arrived there was a huge drama in the street below the bathroom window. There was over ten police officers with multiple bikes and they had closed off a small alleyway. Some of them were wearing helmets and it looked very serious.

Along with the police, a large crowd of people amassed along with several photographers. Nancy had disappeared inside her stairway when the police came, only to be seen scurrying across the road after about five minutes.

I called down to Daisy to find out what was happening and she told me that someone had fell from the building into the alleyway. After several minutes an ambulance arrived and took someone away on a stretcher.

At first I thought it must have been suicide but the next day Nancy told me that there have been several cases of theft in that building with people climbing up from the wall adjacent to the alleyway. Everyone seemed to think it most likely that a robber had fell.

Anyway, since no one heard anyting either in the news or in local gossip it was concluded that the victim must can not have died and also can not have been a resident of the building.

A hawker accident
Only two days after the fall from the building, nearby Shanghai St was full of a crowd of people and police, also visible from the bathroom window. I went downstairs and Daisy told me that an illegal hawker (street vendor) had been running from the 'Hawker Patrol' officers and had ran straight onto Shanghai St in front of a bus. She's well known to everyone and it was good to find out that she's also still alive.

Check your head
One of Nancy's girls has left her employment and the ladies who wander Shanghai St are starting to encroach on Nancy's territory in the hope of catching some of her disappointed regular customers.

Last night on the way home from the supermarket (at 11pm!) I sat down on my 2.5 kg tin of milk powder to chat with Nancy. While I was sitting there, one of the Shanghai St ladies started doing laps up and down the pavement we were on. Finally Nancy asked her what she wanted. She pointed at a doctor's sign behind Nancy and feebly said 'I wanted to see the doctor'. Nancy glared at her and growled 'You want to see your head! Get lost!'.

I learnt some new Cantonese!

Thursday, April 15, 2004


Having two consecutive days off over Easter (HK is an evil place!) I seized the opportunity to go on a last minute trip to Macau.

Macau is ex-Portugese colony and it is an hour's ferry ride from Hong Kong. It's famous mainly for its casinos, patronised mostly by HK residents because gambling (other than betting on horses) is prohibited here.

Because of that reputation I have never been before but I found out last weekend that Macau has much more to offer. The main highlights were the food (and coffee) and the cool Portugese feel (architecture and narrow cobbled streets).

Compared to HK the atmosphere is very relaxed, even despite the fact that the number of tourists from HK probably equalled the population of Macau over the Easter weekend. Even having to fight fellow HK residents for service in shops didn't ruin the vibe.

Here are a few statistics from my 30 hour getaway:
- Macanese style egg tarts consumed = 5

- other assorted Macanese pastries consumed = 4
- chickens roaming the ground floor of the Lisboa Casino = countless
- nuns sighted = 4
- complete human skeletons sighted = 4

- churches visited = 3
- applications of holy water = 1
- cups in my room to use for drinking the tea provided = 0

Macau comes with my full recommendation. Next time I'll try and stay longer :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Fame at last!

On the heels of my Hollywood debut disappointment I have been thrust into the limelight through another equally glamourous medium!

If any of you noticed the latest 'Hong Kong Christian Times' (highly unlikely!) you would see me making my debut as a covermodel. The newspaper recently covered the opening of our centre and decided that we were exciting enough to be the cover story for the Easter edition.

Although I feature in the picture I don't get much of a writeup. Only a misquote which reminded me of a game of Chinese whispers.

I said 'Many asylum seekers may not come today because it's raining and they live in Hung Hom and don't have money to get a bus'

They wrote 'Many asylum seekers may not come today because they live on Hong Kong side and they will want to save money on their ferry fare'.

Advice of the day for reporters: record your interviews or at least take notes!

Who eat all the pies?

Greetings to the person who searched 'how can I get fat?' on google and came across my blog. I hope you found something of use :)

Monday, April 05, 2004


Lately I've noticed that I've reached a new level of integration with the Temple St community. As I walk to and from home there are regular people I say hi to and a couple more that I will stop and talk with, at least to ask the Hong Kong greeting 'have you eaten yet?'. I've got regular shops that I go to in the market where they recognise me and shove extra fruit or vegetables in the bag when I buy something. Often I'll run into Nepalese friends that come for English or Cantonese classes at work.

All of this got me thinking about the role of wealth in Hong Kong. I realised that my (relative) poverty is one of the reasons that I've got to know so many people. The fact that I live in such close proximity to so many other people makes impossible to go anywhere without having to converse with at least half a dozen of them. At the very least, I can't enter or leave home without talking a couple of minutes to Daisy and saying hi to Nancy.

If my lifestyle was a step up from what it is I would live in a huge apartment block where everyone is anonymous. I would shop in a supermarket where there was little personal interaction with the salespeople. My chances for getting to know people would be limited to saying hi to people I saw regularly in the lift. If I lived at the standard of the majority of foreigners in Hong Kong I would be in some terrace style place on the far side of Hong Kong Island and my domestic helper would do the shopping. I might have a car parked right outside my door, making it unneccessary to even say hi to people as I came or went.

Anyway, I like my lifestyle and it's certainly helping my Cantonese acquisition. Nancy has extended her trip to Thailand. I know that because Daisy taught me how to ask ' Nancy, gei si fan lei?' and I asked the Replacement Mama. The situation was a bit dodgy at first because RM didn't know Nancy's English name and assumed I was after someone else. We sorted it out in the end and I'm waiting to see if she keeps her promise on bringing back a present and lots of photos!

Friday, April 02, 2004


One of my worst habits in Hong Kong is feigning complete ignorance of all languages other than English in order to eavesdrop. There's nothing more exciting than hearing people talk about you when they think you can't understand.

I've had some fantastic opportunities for this lately. The lifts in Chungking (I spend a lot of time in them cos they're really slow) are great for hearing gossip. I'm also having fun with the Cantonese reading and writing class at work on Tuesday nights. They're all South Asian and so far they have no idea that I can understand when they speak with each other.

But my favourite place for eavesdropping is in the hair salon. The hairdressers don't speak much English but we usually use 'hairdresser's sign language' to show that I want my hair shorter on the sides and a couple of centimetres long on top.

Yesterday, however, justice was dealt to me. I sat down in the chair and we did the usual gesturing. My white haired, big bellied hair dresser held his cigarette with his lips and picked up the clippers. He then made a swoop of my head on a number three setting. Before I could say anything it was too late and I ended up with a shaved head and a fringe!

I got rid of the fringe myself with scissors later but I'm not sure how the bosses will react to the new look. I hope they are better than the other hairdresser who told mine, 'You idiot! now he'll have to wear a hat everywhere!'.
to which my hairdresser replied 'No, God knows that white people look good without any hair'.