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.