Wednesday, January 21, 2009

student / teacher

I am taking Cantonese classes - tutoring sessions in the mall's coffee shop. Two hours each time, while I'm trying to concentrate on hearing the difference between high level and mid level to high slanted tones.

"High level. Mid to very high. Mid to not so high." Etc. Etc.

I don't think I'm an amazing student or anything, but I do think I try hard.
I do my homework, I've made flashcards, and I try to stay awake for my tutor as we go over the words yet again. And more importantly, I've gotten to like the sound of Cantonese.
But still, my tutor never seems very happy with my progress - and I feel like a lazy American person.

I do have an appreciation for my tutor as I've become one myself- I've started tutoring a Korean businessman who wants to improve conversational English. The challenge really is to keep up a conversation. After a bit of trial and error as he did not want to discuss Obama; politics; economics; the financial crisis; Korean beef; hobbies - meh; being in Hong Kong - well the food was good...

I found that what we could talk about was tv. Specifically, The Office, which he enjoyed but did not find that funny. So more specifically, the jokes from the Office - which I never realized, were actually pretty complicated.

How do you explain a double entendre? It made me feel like those high school days when the teacher laughed hysterically while reading Shakespeare plays, "Bite your thumb, get it?" "Explore a country, get it?" and the students would be sitting in sullen silence.
"Mmm... that's what she said? all right well, that's Michael Scott's way of .. uh. well. trying to put things in a context of a woman. For example... he says, I need two guys on this... that's what she said? haha? Get it?"
:sullen silence:


I just finished reading Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. I mostly caught bits and pieces of it while I sat on the bus going back and forth through Hong Kong. When I finished it, I was also on the bus, swaying back and forth in my seat in the upper level. We were going up a large mountain, and we were about to reach my favorite part of the ride, a certain moment of view, where the city building lights are behind me.

It is a view that needs a soundtrack, but usually I don't have any - just the sounds of the tv in the front wall, tourists chatter, Cantonese, and occasionally the clicking of nail clippers (I've noticed that people really like to use commutes for that)

Sputnik Sweetheart is a lonely sort of love story - well, not love but rather obsession. There is the struggle of obsession, love and the loss of self. The plot is rather suspenseful, or at least has urgency. One of the main characters disappears, and so through half the book, the reader is trying to make terms with a character's absence.

I've gotten used to it when reading Murakami's stories, or maybe it's just that my brain is so tired that I'll accept anything - but his resolutions or explanations are always fantastic or extraordinary. And not to ruin the story - but it's the same for this novel. A disappearance that has no earthly reason, but is a combination of the "impossible". And even - this part was what made me wonder most - the idea of being abandoned by the self, a complete solitude - so then is one existing or non-existing?

There is a passage about the strangeness of the satellite name "Sputnik" - "Traveling companion", when in actuality "lonely little lumps of metal spinning around the earth in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality... each of us is locked up alone... When the orbits of these two satellites happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we'd be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing."

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I left New York a couple weeks ago, without much fanfare or tears - in a car filled to the ceiling with all my material possessions. I forgot to look back at the skyline and say goodbye, but it may have been because I was too preoccupied in preventing myself from being suffocated by my things. I had a stuffed dog balanced on my head, a potted plant in my lap, even my legs were curled under and stuck holding a random box in place.

I came back to New York later to fly to Hong Kong out of JFK. My brother volunteered to ride the bus up with me and then drop me off at the airport. It should have been a simple enough thing, but unfortunately, I discovered a whole corner of things in the apartment I'd forgotten to pack. We spent all night packing and stressing over what to throw away, while everything else was packed and tied up in plastic duane reade bags.

In the morning, as we got to the airport, we ended up abandoning more and more things, like a trail through JFK.. a nearly full bottle of febreze, the bottle of Gain, a box of cereal, clothes hangers... my fake snowboots. It made me feel like a refugee or one of those pioneers headed west, leaving things one by one at the side of a river.

I said bye to my brother.. it wasn't a very sentimental goodbye, mostly because I had to watch him stumble for a subway with plastic bags tied to his arms and strapped to multiple duffel bags, while balancing 2 pillows I refused to part with. sorry sorry.


I had bought a huge suitcase from Chinatown for my move. It was the biggest I'd ever seen; I could probably have lived in it. Even though Chinatown had failed me so many times, I figured the suitcase was just so big it had to be a good bargain, and besides how could a suitcase really go wrong anyway. The saleswoman promised it was good quality. She made a big show of zipping every zipper and pulling all the straps and showing off the pockets. There was even a combination that would lock the zippers into place.

It was the zipper lock that really persuaded me, I'd never seen one before - although afterward I was told that almost every Asian suitcase has a zipper lock and it's not really that special of a thing. hmph. I should have known better.

By the time I got to HK airport, when I pulled the suitcase off the luggage strip, a wheel fell off and bounced across the floor. Looking closer, the sides of the suitcase were coming apart, the seams were open and part of the fabric holding the top together was gone.

I was disappointed, but thought maybe the zipper lock could be redeeming. However, on opening the suitcase, nothing would get the combination lock to open. On the bright side, one thing that was lucky about it being so cheaply made was that I was able to pry open the zippers from the lock with a pen. Rawr. *shakes fist*


I like Hong Kong - it's always felt like a kindred city somehow. I think the landscape is really lovely, and the lights - well it's why I liked the city so much in the first place. And I get to see and hear the ocean everyday, I never would have thought that possible.

I've even gotten to like the sound of Cantonese, which I am currently learning. I'm determined to become good at it. If most urgently because I have to be able to order my own hui lan shan. (mango pudding shake with crystal jelly or sago... although I'm not really sure still what sago is).

I've tried to compare Hong Kong to impressions of other cities in my past... and it's hard to do. I thought of London, a city that wanted to kill me - with the constant grey weather and opposite street ways and crazy cabs (here in Hong Kong they do have opposite streets, but there is a polite cute noise that indicates when the lights are changing - and also signs on the road with arrows to let you know which way to look)...

Seoul was easy to get to know, but a somewhat snobby/intimidating one (but maybe that's just because of the crowds of Korean girls with high heels and Lv bags and identically made eyes is just naturally intimidating)

I guess that's one thing about living in a foreign place - a new place, is that there is nothing from the past that I really can relate it to. In a way, comparing it to the past or what's familiar is not doing it justice. Instead it's like discovering a new word, a new definition has to be made. It's a strange feeling, but a kind of wondrous one.