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%.