It’s been exactly 56 days since I boarded a plane for the longest ride of my life and flew from California to Hong Kong. I’ve a laundry list of crazy things that I’ve learned or noticed or had happen to me as I’ve settled in here, but now it’s starting to feel a bit more like “this is my normal life now.”
The only Chinese I have is “stop, please!” to the bus driver with only a tiny tremor of panic rippling through my voice. It’s so humbling and strange and overwhelming to live in a place where the language I hear all around me I have no chance of understanding, unlike living in Brazil or traveling through Europe/Central and South America. But this is a pretty comfortable and easy place to be, and so it’s starting to feel less mystical and more lived in (but no less magical. every day is still so interesting). I’m able to enjoy my life and make plans and be more independent. Ish.
It’s nice to feel more local, and to have the space in my brain and heart and the energy to be good at my job. I think it was when I was teaching a group from year four and felt compelled to get out a piece of paper and start silently tallying how many times the boys said either “poop” or “fart” that I remembered how much I love teaching.
Or it could have been when the elevator at school was out of service for a few hours (it’s an 8 story building, I teach on the 6th floor, recess is on the ground floor. I’m killing the Fitbit game.). I was on lunch duty chilling with my favorite child who had decided he’d rather spend lunch chatting with me about nonsense than play soccer, and we both agreed that you probably never want to be the first person to test out an elevator that’s just been serviced.
We then went on to discuss my twin sister and her monkey, who had gone on an adventure to Bali to find the monkey’s wife and children. Mr. Monkey had been working in HK and sending home monkey money and now had saved enough to move his family here, but he was worried his monkey wife had moved on. (Sometimes when I talk to students and I can’t remember their names, I pretend I have a twin sister living a glamorous life and make up stories about her, but she’s come to switch places with me for the day, and you need to tell her your name again and remind her of the rules at recess because she wasn’t paying attention to those emails.) (siden \ote – imagination is the most powerful drug on the planet and I think everyone should be on it)
There were also some fun moments when the students explained how to get rid of a ghost, which is a pretty serious business in Hong Kong. So serious that occasionally the temple down the street from my work plays the bagpipes on some endless loop of high-pitched torture in order to scare them away. According to my students, ghosts don’t like strawberries, and only come out at 3am. So avoid those two factors, and you’re good.
Another fav moment was teaching a lesson on dealing with challenges, and the students couldn’t remember a vocabulary word I’d just taught them, so we played a quick hangman game, and the entire time a delightfully buck-toothed boy chewed his fingernails and said “I’m so NERVOUS” while staring at the hastily drawn noose and missing letters on the whiteboard.
Asian culture tends to be a lot more reserved than American culture, which means it’s practically frozen compared to the Brazilian culture I spent the last few years in, but I am starting to pull in a solid number of belly button level hugs. Which leads to fingerprint stains of unknown substance around the waist and some “you’re so comfy, Miss Weight” and “you’re squishy” comments. And I’ve now been told I “smell like cake,” on three continents, so.
One of the strangest but most interesting and often quite rewarding parts about going anywhere else is how you start to learn the subtext of yourself, your culture, your values. Being here in Hong Kong for just about about eight weeks, my first time in Asia at all, has been a roller coaster of emotions, blunders and missteps, public transportation adventures, concrete, never ending sweat, fetal position sobbing, belly laughs, aromatic waves of incense, urine, fake money being burned to the gods, fried street food, BO, strangers becoming best friends.
I’ve been all over the place mentally, emotionally, spiritually in the last few weeks. (Physically I’m just wishing for pumpkin spice anything, but holding on. Ripping through a bottle of hot sauce a week.) My roommate is pretty much the only American I hang out with, and we both lead such busy lives that we only connect from about 9 – 11pm every few nights and then it’s a series of “DUDE how was your DAY” and rapid-fire affirmations of how cool the other person is and then a sharing of food or ‘why does the fridge smell like something has died in it?’
Hanging out with so many Kiwis and Aussies and Brits and Asians and Indians, I hear my accent changing, my ear changing. I went to church this am and halfway through the sermon realized that the pastor wasn’t actually American. He had a pretty strong accent but I hadn’t been hearing it. I’ve spent hours talking about the difference in slang and tone and levels of language with these people I’ve met who have been all over the world. I’m so excited about linguistics. I want to sit in a room and read about it for hours. Make up my own language. Be the next Tolkien.
I leave for a solo week in Japan this Saturday. I am casually nervous. The hostels are booked, I ordered my Japan Rail Pass, and have spent a LOT of time on Pinterest looking at things about the places I’m going, so. That counts for something. I got a sim card I can use while I’m there, so that takes some of the stress out of it. I found a ninja training academy where I can RSVP for ninja lessons and another place where I can go through the traditional dressing of a geisha and a tea ceremony to experience a bit of culture. And I found a sake brewery to visit that is like a million years old so that’s exciting.
The visit includes Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Osaka. I’m staying in a capsule hotel for one night just to decide if I’m claustrophobic or not, and the rest of the time in what I hope are friendly hostels. This is my first vacation in Asia! I’m so excited! And terrified! And pulling out all the stretchy clothes because I am going to eat every bit of sushi that passes me on the sushi train. Also I really want to karaoke. That seems essential for a trip to Japan.
Alright, I scrambled this nonsense out waiting to meet my friend Spencer, whom I haven’t seen since 2008, for happy hour way out somewhere I have never been. But now I really need to hunt down some deodorant and my metro card.
Be good to each other. Love to all I love. Miss you wish you were here.