Monday, August 27, 2007

Hong Kong is a fabulous place

Scott and I have been in Hong Kong since August 22 and it's just been a wonderful time since the moment of our arrival. We're here for our teaching orientation program with Maryknoll, a Catholic missionary group based in a quiet neighborhood of HK called Stanley. The Maryknoll House, where we're staying, is a three- wing brick mansion built in the 1930's. It's set up on a hill, so the side of the house where my bedroom (I have a balcony!) is commands an excellent view of the harbor framed by palm trees and mountains. After the rigors of traveling in the mainland, Maryknoll's delicious food, effective air conditioning, and American washer and dryer are much appreciated. They even have a collection of about 1,000 movies and a DVD player for us to use.

We arrived to HK about a week before orientation began since our student visas for China were running out. For the past several days, we've had the Maryknoll House pretty much to ourselves except for a few resident priests. We've also been free to explore Hong Kong, which is an extremely beautiful, diverse, and exciting city. Since HK was a British colony up until 1997, it's also a very orderly place: queue lines are set up everywhere, you must stand on the right on escalators, and there are even signs instructing people with a cough to wear masks. Very nice change of pace, I must say.

The first couple of days were spent excitedly consuming much-missed foods like sandwiches and cheeseburgers (they have an Outback here!) and exploring the city's many gigantic, upscale shopping malls. It's nice to find clothes in a size medium that fit me, because in China I could only fit in the "gigantic person" sizes (XL, XXL). We made a trip out to Lantau Island, a less developed part of Hong Kong with open beaches and hiking trails. There's a "people escalator" on Hong Kong Island, the main island, to help people with the climb up the large hill in the middle of downtown. We rode the escalator and then took a tram up to Victoria's Peak to take pictures of the famous Hong Kong skyline, and then had lunch at the top at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company (random!) Each night at 8 pm, there's a light show across the bay and we watched that one evening, enjoying the lovely view over the water.

The Maryknoll House has been just great, as well. The priests are a lot of fun, and I've really enjoyed talking with them. It's like spending two weeks with a house full of well-traveled grandpas with entertaining stories. Yesterday, we had our welcome brunch at the Hong Kong Yacht Club. I was sitting next to a priest whose pre-Maryknoll life consisted of service in the Vietnam War and then home to work odd jobs on farms, in mines, etc. He told me a story about the first time he went to a buffet- style lunch at a nice restaurant. The menu said they were serving chocolate mousse, so he thought "Hm, that sounds interesting" and looked all around the buffet for moose meat covered in chocolate. When he couldn't find it, he asked the servers, "Where's the chocolate moose?" I thought it was really funny...

Orientation started today, and it's proving to be very interesting and useful information. There are about 10 other volunteers who also recently graduated from college, and about 10 more older teachers. Scott and I are the only Maryknollers at our school in Zhanjiang, but there are two women- one of them a nun- at orientation who will be teaching at a nearby college in the same city. Two additional, more experienced volunteers are already in Zhanjiang, so they'll be able to show us the ropes when we get there.

I've heard a little bit about Zhanjiang from other people who have taught there in the past. Supposedly it's one of China's '"green cities" and has relatively clean air due to its proximity to the ocean. There's a McDonald's, a KFC, a Wal-Mart, and a Marriott there. Zhanjiang was originally two separate cities, but now together with a central industrial section the two parts have come together to form one city. Scott and I will be on "the less developed" part of town, whatever that means (I'm a little nervous). The other section is about a 15 minute bus ride, and that's where most of the restaurants, shops, and the water front are.

Well, orientation is starting back up in a few minutes. I'll write more later!

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