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...

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


It's been a very bizarre day. We had a big meeting at work today with the bosses of a big organisation. I had been looking forward to asking if any of them had met Angelina Jolie since she is now their public face.

Unfortunately I didn't get the chance because they went straight in for the kill. One of the strangest things I got in trouble for was teaching my English class a lesson based on stuff from their website! They said that by helping people to understand their definition of what a refugee is, I was encouraging people to exaggerate and make false claims.

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Singapore was fantastic. I had expected it to be a smaller, cleaner and less interesting version of Hong Kong but it was so much more than that.

So here are the highlights:

- Walking off the plane and being greeted by a gigantic poster of Preity Zinta at immigration. Singapore is about to hold a Bollywood version of the oscars and there are posters of stars everywhere.
- Getting picked up at the airport! My first trip in a car in months!
- Trees, gardens and flowers everywhere! It really is the garden city. Kowloon Park paled in comparison next to Singapore's botanical gardens.
- Cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating. No glares if you stay too long. And no strangers getting put on your table (am I getting anti-social?).
- Wide streets and big spaces for pedestrians to walk on the sides of them.
- Little India! This is probably the best indicator of the difference between Hong Kong and Singapore. Whereas Chunking Mansions (HK's 'Little India') is seedy and dirty (two deaths from heroin overdose this week), the Singapore version is incredibly clean and beautiful. And like so many parts of Singapore, it contains old colonial era buildings that have been kept in almost perfect condition.

But the real highlight was getting to see my friends Joan and Saz. They were the ultimate tour guides. I'm hoping they visit HK soon and I'm planning to demsonstrate at least a couple of aspects in which HK outshines Singapore.
- Firstly, a trip up Hong Kong peak will make them rethink their opinion of Mt Faber.
- Secondly, I can't wait to see their reaction to Temple St and surroundings. I almost laughed when we drove through a nice looking suburb with lots of restaurants and fruit shops and they told me it was the red light district!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

My first cockroach

I was horrified several days ago to spot a cockroach in my room. It was one of the largest I have ever seen and I knew it must have come from amidst all the junk that my neighbours have stacked up against the wall along the common hallway.

I know they are a family of three but the amount of stuff they have there is ridiculous. It makes access a little difficult and it also doesn't smell good. I'm convinced that they've deliberately put all the smelliest shoes right outside my door.

It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't visible that they have unnecessary multiples of many household items. I still don't understand how three people can have nine umbrellas. Or how they can possibly need three brooms (there may be another in their room) for sweeping an apartment that is the size of the average Australian kitchen.

I whinged again to the real estate agent when I paid rent a few days ago. She kindly offered to buy me some cockroach traps and explained that she wants them out as much as me and the other tenants do. She even suggested that I call the fire department to complain about the obstruction in case of fire. I dismissed that idea but we're still trying to come up with something.

In other news, a man from the flat above mine was arrested this week. It was during the daytime and Nancy told me that four police entered and then came out after half an hour with the man in handcuffs.

Oh! and I'm going to Singapore tomorrow. I guess I won't be able to write again until after I get back on Monday night.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

'We deal with the facts, not with rumours'

When you teach adults it is very important to remember that they are not children. Adults have a wealth of prior learning and life experience and this should never be underestimated in the classroom.

Last week I based a lesson for the advanced English class around a news article. It was about a hunger strike by asylum seekers in Hong Kong's immigration prison. The article contained quotes and opinions of several different groups (Amnesty, the UNHCR, HK Human rights monitor etc) and I hit upon the idea of holding an in-class press conference.

I was a little nervous about whether it would work but I had forgotten that I was teaching a class of very politically aware people, most with much more experience than me in journalism, politics and activism in general.

The star of the class was a guy from Cameroon who was acting as the head of the UNHCR in Hong Kong. One of the best bits went something like this...

Ethiopian: Kelly Chan from South China Morning Post. My question is for the head of the UNHCR. Ms C, I have heard rumours that the UNHCR is taking too long to look at the claims of asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

Cameroonian: Thank you for your question. Our office deals in facts, not rumours.

Ethiopian: But isn't it true that many asylum seekers in Hong Kong have to wait one or more years for their claims to be processed? I have heard of people who have been in Hong Kong for almost a year without even having one interview.

Cameroonian: What you must understand is that our office does not act in isolation. Believe me, we are deeply concerned about the needs of asylum seekers but we have to consider our responsiblity to those above us. As you know, some asylum seekers are opportunistic economic immigrants and we have to screen cases very carefully.
I regret that these processes take a long time but everything we do must be in conjunction with our head office in Geneva. There is no other way.

This was all said with absolute conviction and the class was in stitches... especially me :)