Monday, 22 November 2010

So, What's Positive About This Job?

Quite a lot actually.
Let me list them:

A Car
I have the use of a car. A small economical-to-run one. Mostly mine. May be used occasionally by S, she says, but they have another car and a van. This car deserves a short blog post of it's own - with a picture.

I love the countryside and this bungalow is surrounded by it.
Even in November it's very green around about. I love the green of the grass and the bushes and the tress and narrow lanes and there are still a few flowers out on bushes and plants. The large kitchen and lounge windows frame a view of hills, trees and cottages.

A Proper Fire
In the lounge there is a working fireplace where a living fire burns each evening. As an adult I've never lived in a place with a working fireplace so this is a real treat. Rural areas of Britain are not restricted to burning smokeless fuel so we have real coal. They also burn logs but I haven't seen that yet. I even laid a fire yesterday. It's quite easy.

There are two cats. They are new to the household so are not allowed outside yet to guard against them wandering off before they feel that this is their home. There is a fat older cat called Sally and a 10 month old cat called Milo. Sally loves attention but Milo is not used to being handled so I can only stroke him when he's sleeping. He likes that. They were only introduced to each other in this home but get on quite well. Milo licks Sally and they both curl up together on a pouffe looking out of the floor-length window in the lounge.

I've been invited to give all my ironing to the cleaner that comes once a week! So I did. She's good too, and fast. And jolly. And her name is Sally, which is a little confusing because she's not sure if it's her that's being talked to or the cat.

Wii Fit
They have a Wii Fit and encourage me to use it. In fact part of my job is to exercise with L each day. She is building up stamina. She did a total of 30 minutes yesterday in three blocks. Whilst she was resting I had my turn. I did one hour altogether. I like the sound off but L has difficulty keeping time on the stepping without the 'music'. I'll not talk about the 'music' because this is a positive post. :-) S also likes L to go outside for a walk each day. So far L is only comfortable walking around the garden but it's large and on a slope so it's quite strenuous for her at the moment. She's been sitting in front of a TV in a care home for 4 years so it will take time for her to be comfortable with the outside world and the exercise.

Comfortable Bedroom
I have the best bedroom in the house. It's a double room with fitted triple wardrobes, lots of space surrounding the comfortable double bed. It's warm and dry unlike the master bedroom. I don't know if the sun comes in yet because I've not been in it when the sun is out.

TV Headphones
L doesn't like reading but she enjoys watching the television. M&S don't watch much TV. In fact they got one especially for L when she came. They found after the first few days that the noise of the TV disturbed their concentration on their work. L wanted the TV loud but insists she's not deaf. M solved the problem by getting some wireless headphones for her. So she's happy in her world of soaps and quizzes in the evening watching a silent screen. Am I'm delirious because my mum's loud TV really bothered me.

Filtered Water
There is a large filter jug in the kitchen and one on each bathroom. The shower has a filter on it because apparently the mixture of fluoride and chlorine create a vapour that's detrimental to health. And the shower has a great flow of lovely hot water and it's in the bath so there's plenty of room. The water in the South West of England is lime-scale free so I'm happy with that too.

Fresh Olive Oil
Did you know that olive oil is a fruit juice? This means that it's not oily until it's 6 months old. This couple sell fresh olive oil, in fact M is a connoisseur of it. It's really lovely! and very expensive. £30 a bottle. If they still have oil six months after the harvest they have it made into soap. They also deal in Balsamic vinegar. The real stuff. Not the stuff you get in supermarkets that have been made with chemicals. They sell 10 year, 30 year and even 100 year old balsamic vinegar. The older it is the sweeter it is. Quite opposite to olive oil.

Good Food
I'm writing this on my day off and at this minute they are in the kitchen making the evening meal of steak (especially hung and very expensive), salad and chips cooked in the oven with olive oil.

One Hour From Mum
My mother really needs a housekeeper. Each time I get back from being away the kitchen is piled with many days of washing up. She has difficulty climbing the stairs, let alone bringing heavy shopping up to her first floor flat. She won't acknowledge the need for help but is very happy when I do all the stuff for her. I think she thinks she should be doing it all herself.
Anyway, I'm just one hour's drive away from her and at the moment have two days off each week so I'll be able to use one of those to go visit, clean her kitchen and do her heavy shopping. Good job I have use of a car because it wouldn't be an easy journey on public transport.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Another New Adventure

I was collected by my new employer this morning. I took with me much more possessions than I took to Hong Kong - more books, more yarn, material, a sewing machine and warm winter clothes.

My job is to be a companion to an elderly lady who I'll call L.... in this blog. She has gone to live with her daughter S.... and son-in-law M.... who run a business. They sell aged balsamic vinegar and freshly harvested olive oil. Olive oil is a fruit juice and tastes like it when freshly harvested and pressed. It has been totally spoiled by the time it gets to the supermarkets. I had my job interview whilst they were manning their market stall and had a taste. It was amazing. M.... described what sensations were happening in my mouth as I was tasting the oil, in the manner of a wine tasting. I was hooked but they cost £30 a bottle.

On the way from Taunton to Wookey Hole we stopped in Glastonbury. We parked in the Glastonbury Abbey car park and walked over the road to the Abbey Tea rooms. S.... ordered a Somerset cream tea for her mother and a scone with jam and cream for herself with a skinny latte. I ordered a baked potato with tuna mayonnaise because it was lunchtime. 

We sat in the window and I observed a man crossing the road. He looked a little flamboyant. He had a chain around his neck with a very large (about 2 inches in length) oval purple stone set with some tiny stones around the edge. It must have been very heavy and was hanging in the middle of his chest. On one of his fingers was a smaller matching stone set in a ring made of a large amount of gold. He was holding a walking cane although it didn't look like he needed it to help him walk. The cane was adorned with a similar stone. Some people followed him across the road and then stood either side of him whilst someone took their photograph. I wondered what he was doing with his fancy dress - maybe an eccentric town guide. He came into the tea room and sat at a table at the far end of the room. 

S.... came back and asked "Did Nicholas Cage come in here?" as she looked around the restaurant. "Oh good" she said, "He owes me a picture." She looked at me and explained "He's one of our customers." 

She took her phone and went to his table. When she had explained who she was and that he had promised that his wife would return to their market stall with a picture of him in return for being given some gourmet salt. He suggested she have a picture of him taken with her on her phone. His wife took the picture. 

Apparently, even though he's American he lives near Glastonbury. 

In between being given instructions on how to do the job "Don't leave any water on the surfaces around the sink. It does my head in." "When you give my mother something to eat don't let her sit alone at the table. Sit with her even if you're not eating." "Don't leave any food around on the table or the floor." "If your sitting doing nothing when I come in don't feel you have to jump up and do something." "These are all the tablets she takes in the morning, noon, afternoon and evening. I'm trying to get her off them but we have to go slowly." - we had very interesting conversations. She taught me about olive oil, olive leaf extract, balsamic vinegar, and that organic vegetables are allowed to have 26 chemicals and still be called organic and it costs thousands of pounds to obtain an organic certificate each year for a product. And I taught her about metabolic type diets; fungus on the feet is caused by an acidic body which is caused by sugar and refined carbs and can be reversed by eliminating them from the diet and taking bicarbonate of soda; high blood pressure, arthritis, constipation and thick blood are a result of dehydration and the reasons why water is the only liquid that hydrates properly and the myths surrounding soya. We discussed addiction, why some people are rich and others not, why mother nature fights back, weight issues and how to improve the feng shui of the bungalow. She watched several videos of Dr Mercola explaining how to take control of your health and she signed up for his newsletter. 

S.... revealed she didn't believe in God or the afterlife yet does believe in spirits. When M.... came home he revealed deep knowledge of philosophy, religion and esoteric stuff. L.... watched the film Geronimo and five quiz/game shows in a row, listening to them through headphones. 

It's going to be an interesting life living here. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Leaving Hong Kong

Last Friday I arrived at Heathrow airport with a single air ticket because the woman who engaged me for the job was buying one because they wanted me to stay a long time. I asked her if I needed a visa and she said no. She's employed several teachers for this family so I thought she knew what she was talking about. 

I check in and am told I either need a return or an ongoing ticket in order to enter the plane. The ticket guy gave me a return ticket for free 'cos I was saying I had no money in my account. (a return is the same price as a single so I think that's how he did it). It's dated 15th November, arriving 16th November. If I had had a say in it, it would have been for a month after arrival.

I'm not really happy in this job. The hours are too long for me. I had nothing in common with the mother or the maid. The maid smokes. She hides whilst smoking and I'm sure she doesn't realise the smell carries. She does it in the toilet or behind the washing on the balcony. The smell makes me feel nauseous and gives me a headache. 

 I left teaching because I didn't like forcing the children to do the work the government dictated they learn, and here I am doing the same thing with a poor 5 year old. All in all I can't see myself doing this for 2 years. 

On Wednesday I got an email on from a person who interviewed me for a job in June. She was advertising for someone to look after her mother when they moved house and could have her to live with them. The job was supposed to start at the end of August. I was due to go to the USA for the summer, coming back on 1st September so I asked to have an interview before I went. I had it sitting behind their market stall in Wells. They import fresh and delicious olive oil. 

She said she was 90% sure she wanted to engage me but had promised interviews to other people next week. However, when I didn't hear from her I thought she's engaged someone else. I did have a little niggling thought that an email might have got lost in cyberspace but I could see the job wouldn't be all plain sailing due to the daughter, the woman I was having an interview with. So I didn't do anything. 

Anyway, it seems she had her phone stolen, lost papers in the house move and had much legal stuff to sort out due to her aunt dying. Her mother only moved in last week and she engaged a temporary help in the meantime. She phoned my mum, who told her I was in Hong Kong for 2 years. She then emailed me to wish me well and ask if we may keep in touch. I emailed back saying I wasn't sure if I could stick the job for 2 weeks let alone two years and had she found someone else to do her job? 

I realised that I had a return ticket for the following weekend so I could go back to England then if I felt it was the right thing to do. She emailed me back to say the job was mine if I wanted it. 

So Thursday afternoon I spend the time in prayer and meditation to ascertain what God's will was on the situation. Should I stay or should I go? I surrendered both situations and became unattached to the outcome. Both had plusses and minuses. I understood that I should ask the father if I could move out, to get away from the smoke and see what he said about the boy having an earlier bedtime. 

So when the father came home on Friday evening I was ready to try and make the job more to my liking. However, he told me that he realised I needed to get a work visa.  He wanted me to give him the piece of paper he had written the details of the pay he'd given me. He wanted to destroy it. He told me I wasn't to do any more work until I got a visa. He said I could stay with them but must keep a low profile. He was very worried about the authorities getting to know I'd worked for him without a visa, in case he lost his licence to trade as a businessman and he said he was sure I didn't want to go to prison. 

On Saturday, I got a phone call from him to say he was buying a ticket for me to go back to England ASAP as it would take 6 weeks to process. (The website I checked on said it would take 8 weeks.) So I told him that I couldn't be without pay for 6 weeks. I told him that I had been offered another job in England and that I initially going to take it because I wanted to stay in Hong Kong, but as things had changed I would be taking the job so wouldn't be coming back. 

I'm so glad that I have ascertained God's will in the situation because this way around he felt bad about it and not only did he not ask for the original air fare money back but he gave me extra because, I suppose I could have kicked up a fuss! 

My flight was Saturday night 13 hours straight through from Hong Kong to London arriving 4:30 am. 

So having a job for one week broke my previous record of four weeks. This is  not going to look good on my CV. My next employer wrote "I've looked at your CV. Do you want a long term position?" Ah. 

Friday, 5 November 2010

Life in Hong Kong

I think the air is a little polluted as I've not seen a proper clear sky since I've been here. When I first arrived each day started out hazy, but cleared a little as the sun struggled through the haze to shine on all.

The last few days however, it's been hazy the whole day and today it looks like we're living in a rain cloud.

Some people go around the streets wearing breathing masks. This could be because they don't want to breathe the fumes - certainly the road workers and the toll booth operators - but it's possible that the mask wearing person has a head cold.

I think the people here are obsessed with germs. There was a page in the hotel book about them. It told me to use the hand cleaners dotted about the hotel and to put on a mask if I have a cough or cold so as to not spread the germs. Also to always carry a tissue and cough or sneeze into it, throw it away and wash hands. All the taxis have a box of tissues in the front.

There are sterilised plastic sheets over elevator buttons with a notice to say they are cleaned every X hours. Around the malls there are hand cleaning stations with those awful toxic gels. I've not seen anyone use them though.

At the entrance to the boy's school there is a hand cleaning station. Unfortunately lots of little ones slather their hands with it.

No child or adult is allowed into the building without having his/her body temperature taken. A person zaps each forehead as we go past. Every parent is supposed to take and record the temperature of the child in a little book each day.

Tao Tao has been entered for a speaking competition and each entrant has to have their body temperature taken and recorded on a form. There will be spot checks to see if they are correct. Without this signed form the child cannot perform!

There are loads of red and white taxis. None of the drivers speak English so when I went somewhere by myself I had to have my destination written on a sticky note to show the driver. No way could I pronounce and remember the words. It was helpful because the Chinese maid must have an accent that's difficult for them to understand because she asked me to show my paper. I have difficulty understanding her when she's trying to speak Engrish.

The drivers have a mechanism that opens and closes the back doors. It was quite disconcerting the first time I came across it.

Everyone must take off their shoes before entering the homes. Even though they all have easy clean hard floors. The family I'm with are very kind and offer flip flops for their visitors. But maybe they are scared of catching something. The temperature is a little too cold to be comfortable in bare feet on cold floors at the moment anyway.

Eating Out
Even though the people here are very bothered by germs they don't seem to be bothered about eating out. (Although when we were at a restaurant the maid filled the bowls with water, dipped the chopsticks and spoons in and swished them out into another bowl.)

There are more restaurants here than in any place in the USA I've been. They have the pizzas, McDonalds (though not many), and KFC (quite a few of those) and of course all the different Asian types of cooking. Occasionally you can find a place that says it adds no MSG, but most dishes have some sugar in them.

I started to feel quite ill after being in this house for 3 days. So I've arranged with the maid that I cook my own meals. I didn't want to do this because I didn't want to offend her   and she cooks very tasty meals. However, even with her refraining form adding MSG I'm sure it's in the sauces she uses and she definitely sues sugar because I can taste it.

They go out to eat such a lot in the evenings that I've been taking my own food in a plastic box. A restaurant may cater especially for someone who doesn't want MSG but in a food court it's take it or leave it.

The first meal out with the family was in a hotel restaurant with the father the first day (I've not seen him since). The set menu all had MSG so they cooked dishes especially for me. He has remarked on my size several times and tells me I need to keep off the carbs (which is very true, but a bit disconcerting to have him mention it so often) so he ordered me several fish dishes. One was squid but he didn't tell me until I asked. It was lovely. And then a whole large fish (Tao Tao ate the eyes). It was delicious. He told me he was glad of that because it cost more than the whole of the rest of the meal put together!

I'm glad I already knew how to use chopsticks. I felt they were all surreptitiously watching me to see how I managed. I think I shocked them. I'm also getting better at it now too.

I realise that some of my readers may be wondering what the problem with MSG is. Well, first off, I'm sensitive to it. I feel like I have flu the next day - toxic heavy and achy limbs.
Secondly it's an excito-toxin. This means it excites the cells in the brain, which vibrate so fast that some die. I need all the brain cells I can retain.

I'm also sensitive to sugar. It feeds the candida in my gut which then grows in other areas of my body and makes me feel ill. It suppresses the immune system too. So I generally steer clear of that substance.

The Father
He is a business man who wants his son to speak English perfectly, with an English accent, yesterday.

He is bothered that his son doesn't speak proper grammatical sentences. He keeps telling me how I should teach the boy. Correct him when he says it wrong and get him to repeat it correctly. He's told me this several times when he's phoned to see how I'm getting on. Actually it's more like tell me what to do. He wants to see results and will throw loads of money my way when he sees them. He told me, three days into the job, to hurry up and get results. He wants me to do three hours concentrated work with him at the table each day.

Meanwhile the last time his son saw him was when I did last Monday. And he's stayed at home two nights during the week, so his wife doesn't see him much either.

He wanted me to write an educational plan, which I've done but he hasn't seen it yet because he doesn't read emails and there is no printer here. I read some of it to him on the phone but I could tell he wasn't interested.

The Boy
His English is good and he expresses himself like any other 5 year old English speaking boy - which doesn't always include grammatical sentences, especially when he's speaking fast talking about something exciting to him. His father is concerned that he is reluctant to speak English but I've not found that. Maybe he is reluctant to speak to his father because he doesn't know him very well, or that he knows his father speaks Mandarin, so why speak English to him?

He doesn't like to practice the piano. He's supposed to do it for an hour each day. This is the time when there is a lot of shouting from the mother and, when she's not there, the maid. Yesterday the maid wanted to extend the time by 20 minutes because he had been messing about away from the piano. I strongly suggested that he should finish at the agreed time of 8 pm. He did, well nearly. She went over to him at 8 and asked him to play two more pieces.

She told me she thinks he's not doing so well because he used to practice for two hours when they lived in China(!) I said no wonder he doesn't want to practice. He's only 5 years old! Two lots of half hour practices is plenty in my opinion. (Actually if he doesn't want to do it then I advocate him not doing it at all but that's far too radical even to utter.)

When he wakes up he is straight to his desk to practice Chinese writing, with mum hovering over him. His time is scheduled from then on until bedtime at 10 pm. Not surprisingly he is a very angry boy. So I give him as much choice as I can, whilst understanding that he doesn't want to do anything. It seems he has about 30 mins of free play before he goes to school. Fortunately school is run on a learning by play program but it's still directed. He goes to a private school and each class has an English and a Cantonese teacher who team teach. His class also has a Mandarin teacher 3 days a week.

No wonder the Chinese are still under communism. Free thought and action have been squashed out of them from childhood.

The Other English Teacher
The boy goes to another English teacher for one hour each week. This man is from Hong Kong but went to Oxford University. The father respects him because he has been to a few of his lectures. He works at the university here. They often have an evening meal together.

When the boy went for his lesson this week he didn't get one. Instead the teacher spent the whole time talking with me. The first thing he said to me was that our job was to shield the boy from the pressure his father wants to put upon him to succeed. to make things fun for him. To not sit for three hours at a time doing concentrated work.

I showed him the educational plan and talked about the boy's need for more sleep and water and less sugar. He agreed to talk with the father about it all including that less is more, and that he would learn perfectly well by doing games etc in short bursts.

It was lovely to talk to a sane Chinese person. He also obviously doesn't want his hour cut because he told me he was a balance to my teaching because he has the Chinese background and can talk to the mother. He in fact did talk to her about the sleep, water and sugar, but she said she has no sway at home. No wonder she shouts at the boy when she's feeling so invalidated herself.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Royal Ascot in Hong Kong

The father told me that he had persuaded the maid to move into the small room so I could move into her old room. Actually it looks more like a cupboard, with no windows and I'm sure she won't be able to stretch her legs. 

So he came to get me from the hotel. His apartment block has a luxurious entrance and is called Royal Ascot. 

This is because it overlooks the Hong Kong Jockey Club and (a very small by British standards) race course.
The flat is on the umpteenth floor. There seems to be a constant roar of traffic in Hong Kong and especially here, with many roads which are surprisingly not congested considering the amount of people living here.

Tai Chi and the Roar of the Traffic

This morning I woke up to the sound of pleasant Chinese music being played over a PA system outside. I looked out and in the courtyard below there was a group of people doing Tai-Chi. Then more groups gathered in different spaces between buildings and trees. It was quite beautiful to watch. I'm sorry I didn't think to take a photo of the Tai Chi, but this was taken on Sunday. 

The roar of the traffic increased so much that I could eventually only hear the music faintly. 

Yesterday at midday there was a group of children, all wearing red T-shits and black trousers, having a class of some sort in the courtyard. It looked like exercises to do some martial art. They did a lot of lining up in single file while they took turns in doing an exercise in front of the instructor. They did things like swinging a leg high and in front of the body whilst walking.