Category Archives: Asia

Conversations in Japan

I had two very interesting conversations while in Japan. They were with the same person and were not exactly separate from one another. In fact, it’s incorrect to consider them ‘two conversations’. Instead I might say that two very important points were raised during one conversation.

First, intrinsic motivation came up. A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to properly appreciate a conversation about intrinsic motivation, and I can thank my teaching degree for changing that. Essentially, we humans are motivated in one of two ways – intrinsically or from within – or extrinsically, by outside factors.

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Somehow, as only conversations with strangers in a hostel can do, a relatively deep issue was raised…. The psychology of why I started blogging. And in that moment I realised, or finally admitted to myself, that documenting and sharing my life of travelling had more to do with the recognition than intrinsic motivation to do so. Of course I might be selling myself a bit short here, a huge factor was that I was and am completely inspired by the new, intense, experiential nature of being abroad. I wrote because of that. But the gratification from climbing stats, likes and shares was a solid feeling. Ahhhh sweet recognition. (Is this delayed middle child syndrome?)

Ultimately, extrinsic motivation rather than motivation that comes from deep inside you will almost always run out, fall short. While it’s 100% true that I don’t have it in me to be a ‘struggling writer’, it is also true, for this time of my life anyway, that I’m in a motivational lull. A point where the extrinsic motivation has exhausted itself. It’s had a good 4 years! The aim is to find that internal, substantially more powerful, internal will to write and share.

No more blaming Hong Kong for sucking my creativity dry.

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The next point raised was the importance of experience. Not the kind of experience needed to grab that mid-level job; rather the idea that living vicariously through instagrammed photos is just not enough. It’s plain, old uninspiring. Perhaps I speak for myself, but I don’t think I do, when I say that scrolling through all the social medias hardly ever leaves me feeling inspired. It’s all just so abstract, not even real. And how sad because pictures are supposed to speak a thousand words and nothing is usually more real than a photo. (debatable with Photoshop) But en-mass they become overwhelmingly untrue.

“The Grand Canyon was the wind in my face the birds swooping into the gorge, thunder rolling in the distance. When I looked at a 2D picture of it afterwards I thought – this isn’t where I went.” Wouter. The Netherlands. Spoken in Japan.

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Of course I’ll probably never stop sharing my work. There’s absolutely zero to gain from that! And as for social media – streamlining rolls of beautiful imagery into your brain isn’t always a huge bore 😉

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Bringing You Bingin – Finally! Indonesia 2015

While I wait patiently to finish my teaching qualification (that I’ve only just started), I will continue to enjoy only 13 days annual leave on account of not working at a school. When Chinese New Year came along this year, and all the teachers enjoyed their extended two or so week holiday, I put in for some leave and got the hell out of the city to enjoy a week on some islands.

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Indonesian Islands to be exact. There had been some discussion about where to jet to but we finally settled on Indonesia and put Malaysian Borneo on the backburner for a bit. A quick outline; we spent 5 days on Gilli Trawangan. Note: It’s very hard not to say ‘island Gilli Trawangan’ but this would mean that you are, essentially, saying the ‘island island Tranwangan’. Not dissimilar to ‘tea tea’ when you say ‘chai tea’.

Anyway, after that we headed back to the bigger and better known island of Bali to enjoy three days in a pretty sweet surf spot. This spot was carefully picked out by my other half, the water-baby who lives for waves. Today I tell you about this second half of the journey and leave Gilli T and my PADI open water dive course a mystery for now.

So, about Bingin, Bali. Bingin is famous among surfers for the sublime waves it has on offer. According to a non-descript Bali and surfing related blog, “Bignin is one of the famous surfing breaks of the Bukit Peninsula. The short, fast barrel is a joyride for those who dare. Its ideal for advanced surfers and has a beautiful wave, that works really well during the dry season (June-September).”

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The observant reader, or someone who knows when Chinese New Year takes place, will realise that our trip to Bingin fell nowhere between June and September. And thus nowhere close to the time when Bingin enjoys that famous fast barrel ideal for advanced surfers. Unfortunately, we were stuck with very unpredictable, small waves. I say ‘we’ but really ‘he’ because this part of the trip was all about views from balconies and 400 pages of a cringy chick-lit book (that I found).

Those three days were so relaxing time almost went backwards. We did manage to fit in a cultural activity in the form of a visit to a nearby temple in Uluwatu.

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We also managed a walk along the beach to neighbouring Dreamland which is less like a dreamland and more like a package-holiday for taking selfies and hanging out with friends from China and India. No, Dreamland was a nightmare and we were eternally grateful to be strolling back to our Bingin ten minutes later. Other than those two strenuous activities, I sat, lay, swam, photographed, read, ate and drank smoothies. All while watching my man trying to find a good wave with about twenty to thirty other surfers. I shudder to think how difficult it is to get a wave to yourself in high season.

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Arriving to Bingin is interesting. Its not the easiest place to find and I was happy to sit back and be guided by my surfer who’d actually been there before. After the narrow winding roads come to an end and cars can go no further, you get out and walk the rest of the way. Winding through small concrete paths shaded over by great big leafy trees.Eventually you’ll start your decent towards the beach, and you’ll arrive there through the back doors of various accomodations.  

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Bingin is small and set against a cliff which means you don’t have to go very far to find a place to stay, everything is very much layered and within arms reach. This can all be pretty ideal if you arrive looking for a bed. Note; this is a dangerous way of going about it if you’re visiting in peak (dry) season. I don’t expect you’d find a bed as easily as we did out of season. The place is tiny and popular so keep that in mind. 

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With all the doing nothing I couldn’t help but imagine myself at Bingin as a teenager. While I felt completely at ease there now, I know the young me would have been unnecessarily self-conscious and constantly aware of how I paled in comparison to everyone else. Literally. I would have felt uneasy about my lack of knowledge and involvement in the world of surfing and sat watching from the sidelines as the more bronzed and toned surfer girls rubbed up against their male equivalents. 

I suppose what I’m saying is I’m stoked I got to experience Bignin going on 27. I soaked up whatever unwritten surfer rules came my way from Reece and enjoyed my first attempt at surfing photography, although nature wasn’t on my side. Things are always better experienced hang-up-free. In some ways, being on the dangerous side of 25 is so much cooler than being a youngster. Young me was always questioning….. older me is very stoked on life. Not that younger me wasn’t.

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The One With The Boerewors Making Competion in Hong Kong

A few weekends ago a local establishment, The Butcher’s Club, held an event that saw various Saffas, and a Brit, go head to head in a boerewors making competition. $550 got you in with unlimited food and booze for the afternoon, as well as a duty to taste and rate each competitor on their boerewors.

Obviously no matter what happened our votes were to go to our friend Steven. And while his boerewors contained more spice than a winning spiced sausage should, he received numerous votes based on the amount of buddies he had there to support him. Unfortunately the rest of the voters did indeed have taste buds and could detect a slight overworking of the ingredients and a liberal-to-extreme amount of spices.

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No, that day a South African spiced sausage competition was won by a Brit. However, in true South African style, the MC abused the free alcohol and misread the winner’s name. A Brit hadn’t actually won, but he did go home with the prize.

The rooftop event on the south side of Hong Kong Island was a fantastic day, well worth the money spent. Of course we were concerned about this; over-indulged and left feeling disgustingly over fed. Low carb/no sugar went out the window upon sight of the confectionary stall and I’m pretty sure beer and gin are also not exactly on the green list either.

Are you in Hong Kong? Keen to give the Butcher’s Club a visit? Find more details here:

http://www.butchersclub.com.hk/

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Faces That Say “I Just Finished the Hong Kong Marathon”

As a tidal wave of marathon finishers surged past me, I waited for my marathon runner to appear. Unfortunately we were not able to find each other in the sea of 75 000 people and had to rendezvous back at home a couple blocks away.

I had an inkling this might happen but I also had a feeling I’d get in some good practice with the zoom lens I hardly ever use. Asians to the left and right of me obviously put my weighty lens to shame with their stereotypical telescope look-a-likes. With the zoom I was able to put faces to the otherwise faceless crowd. I found Caucasians, Asians, Africans, celebrants, wincers, stretchers, sitters, elders and all the combinations of adjectives you can think of from ecstatic to defeated and everything inbetween.

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How to Grab Some Quiet Time in Hong Kong

There’s not much opportunity to get away from it all in Hong Kong. It is the most densely populated part of the planet and boy can you really feel it sometimes. Every now and then you’ll find a place all to yourself – but you’ve gotta make sure of a couple things first.

Don’t go in search of quiet time on the weekend. Seriously- rather just stay in doors or you will be competing for sidewalk space with the rest of them. We went to the seaside village of Shek O last Monday {which we’re lucky to have off every week}. Everyone else is working which kind of makes up for having to work Saturdays.

Go in winter. In the summer, Shek O will be crawling with people- Monday included. Like anywhere else in the world, summer means no school and no school means packed beaches and other fun places. Winter vacations seem bearable since everyone heads out in search of snow…or sun for that matter. Neither of which Hong Kong tends to offer in winter.

Not a long list but a fool-proof one. See how uninterrupted and glorious it all looks? The sun coming out to play helped a lot too of course but that’s not something us mortals have much control over.

So just remember- if you’re looking for some quality quiet time outside of your house in Hong Kong – make sure its a Monday, absolutely not during summer vacations and organise some elusive wintery sunshine and you’re good to go!

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The View’s my Muse: as Seen From the 21st Floor

A few weeks ago I came out and admitted that I feel Hong Kong is stifling my creativity. She’s a lovely city with many strengths like banking and shopping, but her ability to feed (at least my) creative side is a little lacking. Then one day, while working from the home office, I looked up and realised that I needed to open my eyes. This is not Barcelona who throws herself at creatives, begging them to use her assets to fuel their imagination. Its not India who’s poverty, overflowing religions, customs, cows and enlightened-wrinkled-half-naked men are available on every corner to photograph.

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A deeper look and a sharper eye will go a long way in Hong Kong if you wish to capture its soul and share it with the world. And then came my epiphany. The apartment I live in is the apartment I live in simply because of the view. We chose it based purely on the fact that it had a great view (and it fell into our price range). The ktichen’s not great, the bedroom only fits the bed, its generally pretty f*cking tiny- but that view!

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IMG_0866Cliche as it sounds, sometimes the things you’re looking for really are right in front of you. Just like my view of Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong is said to connect the east to the west, two worlds far apart in almost every respect from geography to culture. All this connecting is naturally going to keep its harbour operating at a maximum 24/7. While a busy harbour means a fruitful economy, for me it simply means a view that is in a constant state of flux. There’s not a minute that my view remains the same. In the time its taken me to write two sentences its changed again.

IMG_0882It changes with the weather, it changes with the sun, with the vessels that pass, the ones that anchor within sight and even the buildings change. The ICC is the tallest in Hong Kong and if its not disappearing into the clouds and smog, its constantly showcasing impressive moving, 3D images. Sometimes it tells me when its going to rain by way of a stormy rain cloud. In fact as I write this the whole building, from top to bottom, resembles a peppered TV screen that’s lost signal. You know how they go all black and white and make a god-awful noise? Its hard to explain.

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Christmas is fast approaching, and more than ever, you don’t have a choice in staying ignorant on the matter. Way before December arrives, the decorations, sales, and all round madness begins. If, for a moment, I wanted to gaze out my window and forget about it all- the consumerism, the red, green and white, the fake snow splashed all over the tropics –  my eyes would rest upon a festive, christmasy, Hello Kitty building across the water. I do wonder what their electricity bills must be like.

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I’ve always maintained that a good view is imperative. It does something for the soul, and at the very least it gives you something to do if the electricity goes out. Its true, one fateful night while home alone, the electricity failed and I had nothing but a half cooked meal and a dying phone to keep me company. The bright lights only kept my attention for so long before I resorted to creeping out the inhabitants of the building opposite. It really is a different life here- single apartments for whole families including grandparents and maids. Its enough to keep a creepster like me entertained.

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On Trying to Fuel my Creative Fire in Hong Kong

I don’t blog enough about Hong Kong. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but its probably got a lot to do with the fact that I’m not a city girl. As far as cities go, Hong Kong is supposed to be up there with the best and yet I find myself lacking the inspiration to produce content on it. Also my teaching job leaves almost zero hours in the day to work on my hobby. Valid excuses but excuses none-the-less right?

That being said I’m going to do my best to change my ways. I won’t be here forever so it really is in my best interests to take a deeper look and let myself be inspired and challenged to document this Gateway to the East.

I started my new leaf turning by taking my camera to work one day so that afterwards I could stroll past the arts festival/mardi gras happening in the famous Victoria Park. Finally I was being proactive and exploring (the bf was away and this was a better option than Saturday night in an empty apartment). Luckily my hopes weren’t high since the majority of stalls and activities had already shut down, and although there were a good amount of people around they were 70 percent infants and I felt like I was back at work.

I stayed a couple minutes photographing the mediocre dance routine on the main stage before continuing my walk in the direction of home. There’s a great little modern art museum/gallery on the way and I noticed it was still open so I popped in. I’m hesitant to label it ‘modern art’ since I really don’t like modern art – least not their museums. So lets call this a hands-on cultural center, with a current showcase called ‘Imperfect’.

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I’d been in a couple months before to finally get a closer look at a very cool installation they had up. It was a massive mirror erected at a 45 degree angle to the ground. Below it was the facade of a building. The cool part? That you could lie on the facade and by looking into the mirror above you it would appear that you were dangling, standing, posing on the side of a building. (No idea what I’m talking about? see here) Naturally this would have made a fantastic photo opportunity but naturally by the time I got my ass there it no longer existed. This was when I discovered the ‘Imperfect’ exhibition.

It was too hot to explore so I drank some free hot tea on the hot day and took part in the exhibition by writing something on a coaster which was there to be written on and soon went on my way again.

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That exhibition was still going strong the evening I strolled onto the property again. This time I was game to have a better look around. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. In an Asian country focused on education, good grades, math, shopping and banking, I was intrigued to find a little artistic sub-culture manifesting itself inside these walls. I was more compelled to photograph then than I had been in a long while.

The idea behind it, I believe, is to partake in various activities, whatever tickles your fancy, or none if you just wish to wander around. There’s a room full of old sewing machines available to the public to make use of and donated clothing with which to sew. Or you can make a post card with hand made stamps which is what I took ten minutes doing. I was told though that the volunteers would help me if came by and wanted to sew. Maybe I should do that.

Upon further investigation, this arts and cultural center is called Oi! and you can read more about it here.

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Hong Kong, Occupy Central and the Struggle to Maintain Democracy

In the wake of back to back days of bumper to bumper traffic, Hong Kong slowly tries to readjust to life as it was pre-Occupy Central. Protester numbers fluctuate- still far from zero- rising mainly over the weekends when the dedicated find each other, once again, in the streets.

But for the most part, main arterial roads are again available for motorists to use as they were intended and Hong Kongers might let their minds flitter back to the hours and days spent in the unforgiving heat, fighting for an ideal they believe in. Others will reminisce less romantically about what it all meant for their daily commutes – if indeed they want to remember at all.

Photo from The Straits Times

Photo from The Straits Times

If nothing else, the far reaching headlines might leave a trace of curiosity in the minds of many about the world class city that is Hong Kong. Who is she exactly, this gloriously tall city? Is she China? Is she single? What is she on about and why?

The reality is that when, how and why Hong Kong came to be is often not widely known. Although the same can be said for the history of any city, thanks to our disinterest in the past and perpetual concern for future. The future in a personal capacity of course- not necessarily in a preserve-our-world kind of way.

The truth is that Hong Kong has a narrative. It might not be the longest or the goriest, but it is a rich one that is probably more relevant to now, and the future for that matter, than any other city’s history. Hong Kongers should, for all intents and purposes, suffer from an identity crisis. And a unique one at that.
Once ruled and shaped by the British Empire, who bred ideas of democracy and capitalism, Hong Kong emerged as a world leader, a gateway to the east. A vibrant port city and banking hub. When their work here was done and it was time to retreat, Great Britain and China came to a complicated agreement. Hong Kong would remain a semi-autonomous region for 50 years, during which time the People’s Republic of China and her socialist system would keep their distance. One country two systems.

Photo from International Business Times

Photo from International Business Times

Just less than twenty years into the agreement, an uneasy mass of Hong Kongers assembled in their thousands for days on end to protest against the lack of independence from China and her policies. The democracy introduced and instilled by the British almost centuries ago, a local might argue, is slowly slipping away as China begins to play a bigger role. Puppet master if you will.

There is no better insight into the minds of the masses than through the mouths of their children. In contrast to the Catalan, who inaccurately lead their young to believe that Catalonia is indeed a country, Hong Kong appears divided in its opinion. Or in its dedication to the cause anyway.

A classroom filled with children from top earning families, offers an interesting cross section of opinions. ‘What’s the point? Nothings going to change’ shows what has to be parental apathy. A yellow ribbon sitting over the heart shows support for the cause, most likely not obtained and attached by the 11 year old himself. ‘I’m on the police’s side’ means mom and dad have obviously cheered on their efforts to rein in the protesters and their growing negative effect on the city’s functionality. Which is really quite a short sighted goal.

Photo from EJ Insight

Photo from EJ Insight

These folks owe their riches to the capitalistic economic freedoms that Hong Kong has relished in for decades. Might their children enjoy the same opportunities when China takes full control in 2047? If she can bare to keep her distance that long.

But fair enough, the average parent doesn’t dream of their child becoming a revolutionist – waiting for that phone call saying their baby’s been arrested and jailed. A parent wants the best for their child. And in Hong Kong, more than anywhere on earth, the best is seen as a high paying job in a well renowned company. Climbing that ladder as best as you can. But will that ladder even exist when China comes? Its easy to avoid revolution, but it’ll be hard when oppression arrives. Because lets face it, having something like democracy and then losing it is the epitome of persecution.

Photo from Time Out Hong Kong

Photo from Time Out Hong Kong

Of course China is petrified of her own people catching on to the unrest. Not unless a mainlander pops over for a shopping spree would they ever be aware of the battle against Beijing. Only those who happen to be around during Occupy Central are privy to the details, either staring them in the face on the street or on TV. Its preposterous to think the people of China are in complete agreement with their government’s limiting socialistic policies. China knows it and will naturally keep her people uneducated on the topic.

Unfortunately, never has freedom been won peacefully. Starting out, Occupy Central’s protesters were commended on their behaviour- composed and mostly unagitated. But will their efforts ever come to anything without a fight?  As Occupy Central becomes weeks old, clashes between protesters and police intensify. While numbers have dwindled, passions soar. Parents are starting to receive those dreaded phone calls from their handcuffed babies, with 30 arrests made this weekend. Should Hong Kong buckle up for a bumpy ride? What is it going to take and will anything ever be enough? 27 years to go.

photo from abc.net.au

photo from abc.net.au

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Turning 26 in the Philippines

This year my birthday fell on  Monday. On the bright side, that Monday happened to be part of a long weekend over which we decided to escape to the Philippines. Since I now live in one of the world’s most impressive cities, along with the fact that cities don’t really ‘do it for me’, we rummaged through a list of 13 beaches near Manila for the perfect spot. Long weekends are exactly that- not much longer than a weekend- so if you’re looking for seclusion in another country be prepared to mission.

Straight after work on Saturday (yes we work on Saturdays), we hopped on a flight that took us from Hong Kong to Manila in less than 2 hours. A quick couple hours of shut-eye in a nearby hotel and the adventure continued with a two hour bus ride south. From there we boarded a ferry which got us to our final location by 1pm. Perfect. A day and a half in paradise before we do that all again.

Now, in case you were wondering, that airport hotel, the bus and the ferry didn’t just miraculously arrange themselves in preparation for our arrival. No, a 72 hour getaway involves a decent amount of preparation because who wants to waste time in-limbo on a blink-and-it’s-over whirlwind tour? The vagabond in me took a back seat as I wrapped my head around the way ‘normal’ people travel. When time is limited, that obnoxious person who ‘doesn’t like to make plans and just goes with the flow’ needs to take a hike. Aint no-one got time for that.

Before I give you a blow by blow on the few hours- and even fewer days- I spent in paradise, there’s one thing I must share with you. You’re never experienced enough to be a cocky traveler. The moment you think you know it all, someone’s gonna come out of the woodwork and scam you. Here’s ‘Miss Wanderlust’ and her equally as wandering boyfriend handing over a small conservation tax fee to a man on the boat after being told NOT to pay anyone but the right people at our final destination.

This dude played it so chilled and there we were handing him our money like idiots. A moment later we realized we’d probably cocked up and said to him we’d like our receipts please. He came back with two torn pieces of paper that weren’t going to fool me (again). I tapped him on the shoulder and held out my ‘receipts’. Without saying a word he slipped my money back into my hand and carried on trying to scam people.

In other news, Filipinos are some of the most friendly, kind and helpful people I’ve ever come across. They definitely made an impression. Two ladies fanned me on separate occasions while we took public transport together. Now THATS hospitality.

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A Day in my Hong Kong Life

I roll out of bed, but not before I moan and groan and make my ‘monster’ noises. Getting up never seems to get easier. God help me when a child arrives to dictate my sleep pattern. I do the usual routine, one that is common place for anybody recently risen and preparing for work. Rub sleep from eyes, shower, dress, eat, put off walking out the door and then eventually do it.

I call the lift to the 21st floor and get in. Its an old lift and not the most efficient. By the time I reach the bottom I’m already two minutes into my commute. Then, depending on my mood, I have a quick chat with the doorman. ‘Doorman’, as he asked to be called, speaks a high level of English. Either he is chatty by nature or he just enjoys practicing his English with one of the few people around to do so. I don’t mind either way. I’m grateful for his presence and interest in my activities. He is easily the closest thing to a father figure that I have in Hong Kong.

The lobby, or doorman’s office, is blistering cold. In Hong Kong, it’s not uncommon to counteract the miserably hot summer with subzero indoor temperatures. As much as I love Doorman, he has a bad habit of exaggerating a problem. “Ohhhh, its a big problem,” he says when you ask where to dispose of your trash. It didn’t take long to figure out that we have differing ideas of what is ‘problematic’.

Its a good 5 minute walk to the bus stop. 7 if you’re taking it slow. And the beauty of finally having been here a while is knowing the short cuts. Up this side street, through that building and voila, your commute to the bus stop involves only one problem traffic light instead of three. Newbies waste so much time.

And waste time they do! Before my education ‘on how to catch the bus to work’ by the School of Life, I knew of only one bus I could take. There are actually five- and now I no longer have to curse as I see the 601 drive by while I’m stuck on the other side of the busy road. Within 3 minutes the 680, 10, 8 or 19 will be around to take me to work. Settling in really has its pro’s.

Work starts around 10am. This depends on when your first and last class is. Either way you are expected to be there for 8 hours. I’m a teacher, but not at a ‘real’ school. Here we are expected to bend over backwards to please the richest of the rich while helping their children gain entrance to UK schools like Eaton and Harrow. Hong Kong parents are no joke. Being a Hong Kong child is no joke either- their childhood is so vastly different to mine that I struggle to comprehend it. I won’t go into much detail but let’s just say they enjoy a one day weekend, and seeing your friends is reserved for school.

As each day passes and my hope of becoming someone who writes for money lessons, I think more seriously about becoming a ‘real’ teacher at a ‘real’ school. With a PGCE under my belt I could increase my already high pay check by a third, enjoy summer, winter and Easter holidays like a real teacher should and use that time to get my ass to new and old favourite places.

But for now I’ll enjoy my late morning starts and short commute to work. I’ll hope that someday someone feels like employing me as a writer but I’ll also accept the fact that I’m too lazy to pursue that goal entirely. It’s no small mountain to climb and while I feel like I have the equipment, I’m not sure I have the will-power to push through all the others trying to do the same. Even if their equipment sucks.

Oh and speaking of equipment, my laptop is broken and I have to pay through the ass to recover my hard drive and I’m writing this on not my computer and I’m feeling very sorry for myself.

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