Current status: spent the day wandering an island and now feeling the “singles tax” of getting a sunburn in the places my arms couldn’t reach on my shoulders and back, very clearly outlining the dress I wore. Proud owner of six new plants acquired in the last 24 hours. Hair in pigtails. Wine in glass. While buying the plants I “needed” earlier, I forgot to pick up the laundry I had sent out, so I am sitting in bed sheets that haven’t been changed in eight whole days and this is bothering me. But all the laundry I had left in the house is done and hung on the clothes rack and strategically placed on my terrace to hit the sun first thing, but I am worried about the middle of the night rain. Seeds of the very healthy crackers I ate for dinner lodged into various crevices of my mouth and keeping me occupied. Listening to my “90s – 2000s Brooding” playlist and Fiona Apple is heavy in rotation. Oh, here’s the Goo Goo Dolls. “Aw, May, put your arms around me!”
It’s been a day, a week, a – gosh does time mean anything anymore? My last blog recounted the first week of quarantine, ending with my never-ending dramatic tooth issues which resulted in an emergency public hospital visit during my 14-day mandatory isolation. I was so grateful for the organization of HK in those few days, which helped me feel a bit better, and I’m happy to report my tooth stuff is either better or I’ve adapted to ignore it and I’m just praying the infection isn’t somehow laying dormant and sneaking its way to my brain.
To get out of quarantine, I had to schedule a collection agency to collect my second spit sample four days before I was due to exit. Through a series of unfortunate events, when they collected the sample, I neglected to put in the paperwork that identified the sample as mine. Several hours and panicky phone calls and buckets of tears later, they returned to my apartment to get my paperwork and issue my spit with it so that I could be officially released on the proper date. (Honestly. I long to see the day I do something the “easy” way but am starting to doubt there is such a thing as an “easy” way as far as I am concerned.)
I got a text the night before that said I could cut off my tracking bracelet at midnight, and I had planned to go dance in the streets as soon as I could, but I fell asleep before the moment hit. I think I will save the quarantine bracelet though. What a strange memento. Maybe I can make a Christmas ornament out of it.
I almost expected a spontaneous song to erupt when I left my apartment that first day (it is possible I’ve seen too many musicals). I smiled at everyone (from under my mask) and wanted to talk to everyone I saw and literally bounced to every shop I visited. Pretty sure I said “GOOD DAY, SIR!” when I got into the cab to head to Kennedy Town to meet Amie. There is a 2 person max rule in Hk right now, so I met one bestie for coffee for a few hours and then another for a waterfront hang for a few hours, then went on a long walk out by the ocean that night, and went to the grocery store. It was lovely.
And now we’ve somehow completed two weeks of school online! Doing four months of virtual learning (with only five hours to plan it in transition) last year was pretty challenging. But meeting my 25 new students over Zoom, trying to connect with them and their parents, helping a new teaching partner transition to our complex school and to teaching online for the first time, while being stuck at home, living alone, and enduring the social distancing rules of the third wave of infections in Hong Kong (with a whopping 100 cases a day, which feels like nothing after a summer in the States), was a lot. Possibly more than a lot.
In the first week, I was online and teaching pretty much from 8am-2:30pm each day. I also called every parent, assessed each student in reading, writing, and maths, held an online Zoom parent meeting, lesson planned, provided remote tech support to 25 students, attended multiple meetings, one with a parent who made me cry over things that were out of my control. I occasionally ate, slept, remembered to breathe. We even had a massive typhoon, which normally would have closed the school and given us a welcome day off! Instead, we continued the chaos of online learning.
It’s also funny to teach from home, because I have to be standing close to my door to get good enough Wifi for all the things I need to do. This means the kids can see my bed, my bathroom, and my kitchen all in the background. They are blown away by how small my studio is. “Miss Weight – but everything is so close! You sleep in your kitchen? Can you get a snack from bed? Can you hear someone on the toilet?” (It’s only me here, guys).
The second week has been a slight improvement, in that I have completed most of the things. In the end, I’d rather do online than be in a health-risk situation. I signed up to teach kids, not to possibly die from being around them. The seasonal colds are bad enough. I will say I enjoy getting to wear all the clothes that actually don’t look great from the waist down (thanks, Covid-15 lbs) or are accidentally slightly see-through in the light (thanks, cheap Amazon dresses), as I’m just waist-up or less in my Zoom classes, so it’s nice to cycle through parts of my wardrobe I’ve been too lazy or too optimistic to throw out.
Besides my direct colleagues, no one can understand how difficult this is, both the teaching aspect and the being a foreigner in a Hong Kong we’ve called “home” by choice but is, little by little, disappearing into China. My soul aches from the isolation, the disappearing democracy, the erasure of generations of Hong Kongers, but also from an strange awareness of being an outsider looking in and not being able to really comment or help. My body feels weird from the constant sitting or standing on hard tile all day with my make-shift office, from the mask, the constant humidity, the lack of physical contact because my God, I miss hugs. My eyes hurt from so much online, my chest and shoulders feel out of whack from bending over a laptop set up in an awkward spot where I can get wifi. My heart hurts to feel the gap in interaction with my students that I can tell need a nice, goofy, caring adult in their life. Even in affluent Hong Kong, at a private Christian school, the classroom is often the happiest and most rewarding place for a child to be, even if they can’t consciously articulate that.
But it’s been fun getting to know new kids. My jokes get a new audience. They’re quirky in a different way than last year’s class. They’re 8, turning 9, which is when girls still worship their teachers and they all want to please you BUT they all tattle on each other and they’re old enough to lie if it suits them. Some sign emails “I love you!” and they laugh with their whole bodies at my very terrible jokes and some pretend they’re doing work but actually they’re playing Minecraft.
I’ve tried to keep it interesting – we play scavenger hunts and I secretly hope they bring something inappropriate to give me a chuckle. They bring pets to class every day and I laugh-cried over a cat that looked like it had been dragged up from hell and was so angry to be on camera. We have story time where I read favorite books from childhood like Ferdinand, and Aesop’s fables, and Eloise.
It’s not all great, of course. They change their names to inappropriate terms on Zoom, pretend to work and do nothing, ask why I have a red spot on my chin, mess around. A neighbor texted me the other day and asked who I kept yelling at, but I was just trying to teach maths without being interrupted during a presentation.
I get an hour for lunch, and since I’m home, I usually skip eating and just starfish on my bed, stare at the ceiling, and pray for strength. There is usually an amount of flailing I won’t quantify publicly.
But now it’s the blessed, blessed weekend. The first few Fridays of a new school year, teachers can usually be found at the closest watering hole right at 4pm, sharing the gossip and the triumphs and horrors, dissecting every email, high-fiving, tearing up in exhaustion over kids/friends we miss/are proud of. In this Covid world, Friday afternoons have found me accidentally napping, or enjoying a nice walk on the water, talking to my plants, or reading whatever dystopian novel series I’m currently addicted to, which just feels like personal research at this point of the world timeline (but really, someone read Scythe so we can talk about it!).
The weekend finally came. As a treat to myself and a necessity for the outside world, I shaved my legs. I’d kinda forgotten it was a thing to do, seeing as I’m not around others very much at the moment. But I walked the promenade on Thursday night and could feel the wind lifting the hairs on the backs of my legs because it had really just been that long. I had this moment, this thought, wondering if that what life was like for dudes? Being able to predict the future weather patterns because you sense a slight draft on your calves? It was so unsettling.
I wanted something different today, and so my friend Marie and I planned an outing to a fishing village island called Cheung Chau, a 35 minute ferry ride away, just different enough to feel like an adventure, a holiday. It was well over 100 degrees, with 70% humidity, so we were swimming through the air on this tiny island, tourist free, wandering from stall to stall, baking on the beach, snacking and missing the ferry home once and then almost a second time.
My feet touched ocean, curious fish swam around, I asked for a pedicure, they declined. They’ve probably been enjoying their space a bit more with the beaches closed for so long. And they still are, mostly. Although we did see one rather obnoxious rugby fellow on his stag do barrel through the “Closed” signs and flounder about in the water illegally, providing entertainment for the locals and embarrassment for us expats. I felt my skin burning and let it happen, every part of me sweat, I saw new things, we talked nonstop and left each other with more we could have said. It was lovely.
Ah, now “You Wanted More” by Tonic is playing. Man, this song still sends vibes.
The best thing that’s happened in a long time, I became an aunt! I’ve been called “Auntie Rachie” by lots of kids but it’s been extra special to watch my sister and her husband make a tiny human who they say I will get along with really well because he likes to be up all night and is constantly demanding food. I get to call Ellis James my nephew. It still feels weird to say that word out loud! I’m sad because I won’t be able to meet him until he’s almost a year old, but I have never been more grateful for technology that keeps a constant stream of photos and videos and Facetiming coming my way.
It’s Sunday afternoon, raining right now, blessing my plants and cleaning my terrace and I get to watch it from bed, tucked under my duvet, fairy lights and candles on, which is lovely. I’m having a delightfully lazy day, reading books, paying rent late (oops but to be fair, my air con has been leaking so badly I have to put a bucket under it), eating salsa with spoon, and planning for upcoming staycations. Hong Kong numbers are looking pretty good (PTL!) so we live in hope! Wear a mask, stay distanced in real life but I’m always up for a text chat if you need it. Until next time.
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