Saturday, August 30, 2008

God Save the Queen (from Mike)

I've been so busy with work that I haven't done many "tourist" things to tell you about--however, I have made some time to befriend some Brits. Considering my family's severe and intense Anglophile history, I expect my kin would approve. Things got off to a great start with Mike, Daisy, and Katy, when the 4 of us plus several other Dramatic English people (native Chinese and gweilos, what they call Westerners--it means "ghost person") went out to a restaurant that had some sort of dice game--everyone had been eliminated but Mike, Daisy, Wendi, and myself. Someone pointed out that it was the Americans versus the British; Mike made a boastful remark and I retorted with something like, "I think we all remember who won the Revolutionary War." Our relationship really just skyrocketed from there. The loser had to sing the winner's national anthem. I won and Mike stood up and sang the Banner---in his own words. If he were American, he could have been arrested for treason. To reconcile our great nations, joined in for a rendition of "God Save the Queen" which I knew better than the Brits. And it didn't end there...Mike is actually Scottish and informed us that Scotland has their own song--two songs, in fact--with which he graced us.
The above has absolutely nothing to do with Hong Kong, I suppose, except that it happened there.
As for the happenings at Dramatic English, we have auditions today for "The Jungle Book"--I filled in for Matty and auditioned a few kids the other day. Cantonese children, in general, are so reserved and quiet--afraid to take risks unless pushed and told that it's ok. It may be because they are required to do so much academically that their imaginations are never allowed any use.
"Imagine you could be anywhere in the world--where would you be?" long pause...."here." "Oh, come on, anywhere outside of here, where would you go?"....."home?"
And one last thing--an interesting language tid-bit. When I asked the kids what they had done on vacation (we do this just to hear how they speak) every single one of them said something like, "Last week, I go...or we go..." Then I learned from Eric that Cantonese doesn't have any past or future tenses and tense is inferred by words such as "yesterday, tomorrow, this morning", etc. Man also told me that Cantonese doesn't have equivalents to words like, "would have, could have, should have" and so on. Things either are or they are not. It's fascinating how language reflects a culture. We can wind the English language around anything and distort it to suit our own purposes. We have loopholes and euphemistic ways to address touchy issues--an infinite number of shades of grey. China is black and white. Mike, Tim, and I are starting Cantonese lessons this week------God Save the gweilos.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Local Mixing

I got a gym membership because several locals (perfect strangers) said, in so many words, that I needed to. It's apparently completely socially acceptable to offer such suggestions.
It has been fantastic--I went to aerobics and yoga this evening, and each instructor approached me after class. Apparently, I stood out for various reasons. Both of them conducted class in a bizarre mix of Cantonese and English. I told them to just stick with Cantonese to accomodate the masses (I avoided a communist joke at this point), and that I would be able to observe and follow along, as movement is universal. The gym also offers some free personal training, so I had a session with the only English (or Engrish) speaking trainer, Eric.
We went through the basics and he counted my reps outloud. I said to him, "We're counting in Cantonese from now on," and I finally feel I have a firm grasp on 1 through 20. He was sure to warn me about the number 7, and if I say it wrong, it can be "foul language." Then he went on to teach me some foul language, and this is what it was: "Poke/eye", which separately means "to fall on the street," but when put together it is quite "foul." He also taught me some practical things such as which bank I should use (assuming I ever get a visa). He laughed when I told him that I've been saying "doe-tjay" to everyone, thinking it means a simple "thanks" when it actually should only be used only on the very special occasion of receiving some fabulous gift. Live and learn.
A friend I met in France gave me great advice about how to really dive into a new culture: "get a haircut"---and I find it to be so true. You have to go to the places where regular people (not tourists) go and put yourself in a situation where you have to TALK to a person one on one. My new roommate is completely resistant to the culture. She won't eat anything, she constantly wants to go find white people, and would rather go to the beach than see the Po Lin Buddha. It's a bit difficult to experience Chinese culture eating a burger in a booth of a TGIF. Or a Ruby Tuesdays--yes, for real. I need desperately to find some more adventurous friends. I did meet some of the Dramatic English teachers today, and they seem much more open to abandoning (temporarily, at least) that which is familiar (fish and chips) for that which is unknown (...yeah, I can't even pretend to pronounce what any of us ate for lunch today).
We just today revamped the Greek mythology show, and added Wendi, my roommate, to the mix. She's a very talented actress and made performing the show a much more enjoyable experience than it was with the other girl (pampered little bratty model whose Herakles sounded more like Janice from Friends than an epic hero). Now if only I could get her to eat Pad Thai...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Look at this vase!

Today was my first performance day at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. I guided about 50 kids and parents through the special ancient Greek exhibit and dazzled them with bits of knowledge about helmets and jugs. Contrary to popular belief, I am not an authority on ancient Greek artifacts. However, the Cantonese kids did not need to know that. I was stunned at their grasp of not only the English language, but of the material. I had prepared (as instructed) to speak to people with an extremely low level of English, but after a few minutes and some fairly insightful questions from 9 year olds, I dropped the old subject-verb-simple-sentence-do-you-understand? routine and got down to it.

We dressed the kids up in tailor-made togas, did the artifact tour, held our own ancient Olympic events, and then presented the play. I was shocked it all came together and even the obnoxious curator approved. It's not ready for Broadway or anything, but the kids enjoyed it and apparently actually learned from it, according to questions they answered at the end of the day.
1 down, 18 more to go....and we start rehearsing for the show, "Oops, I Killed a Penguin" (about the dangers of global warming) sometime soon, I suppose. The first performance of that musical is at the end of September. It's so different when theatre is not just a nightly gig and efforts can be put into it all day. Apparently, there is a version of the Penguin in Chinese and Tim thinks that we should do it rather than have Chinese people do it.
I have plenty of time to learn this ancient 9-toned language in time to perform on-stage to crowds of native speakers. The word "goi" has 32 different meanings. I'm beginning to think that Cantonese is not an Indo-European language.
I've picked up a few key phrases--enough to make cashiers and sweet old ladies on the subway laugh.
My new flatmate, Wendi, arrived today (4:30 this morning......). First time out of the U.S. for this American, and she's a little overwhelmed. We have Monday and Tuesday off this week. Plans to get out and see more of Hong Kong are in the works.
I just remembered that I've forgotten the Ancient Chinese Proverbs lately. Chalk it up to lack of sleep. And no wisdom is coming to me now.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

and so on...

I don't really remember what I was going to write about in that last post I didn't finish. Guess you'll have to wait for the memoir to come out.
Yesterday, all of Hong Kong shut down for Typhoon Nuri, which reached a 9 on the scale of typhoonitude, or whatever. If the Observatory hoists an 8, then all schools and businesses must close. However, when I had to leave for work at 7:00, it was at only a 3. Half-way there, I received a text from Tim (the Aussie who always carries a plinth around), saying today's cancelled. I went back to Tai Koo and since nothing at the time was collapsing on my head, I decided to wander my 'hood, if you will. I saw an entire giant hog, completely intact, splayed out belly up in an alley, apparently for sale. I somehow resisted and went to the grocery store, with the stellar idea that perhaps in a typhoon, everyone else will stay home and I could possibly avoid the nightmarish shopping experience of the day before (did I mention that?--every aisle packed---I don't know what anything is--nothing really comes ready-to-eat and I have no cookware yet---all so tragic) So I went during the typhoon (the store was open for about 4 hours rather than 20) and while it was nowhere near empty as I had expected, it was less crowded than before, leading me to make the decision that I will perform my grocery shopping exclusively during typhoons at an 8 or higher.
As I wandered the aisles, I found an eclectic selection of juices. Several of them contain aloe vera. This was a ground-breaking cultural understanding moment for me. They put aloe in their juice, I put aloe on my sunburns; and yet we manage to get along.
One quick retrospective note: to anyone who asked which direction I would be flying to get to HK, east or west, and to whom I answered "west", I lied. We went north, scooting by the north pole, then down over Russia, Mongolia, over Beijing. Ah, yes, the Olympic spirit. I can feel it daily. Therefore, I am inspired daily. The equestrian events were held right here in Hong Kong, but I was unable to obtain tickets for any of them. Signs of the games are ubiquitous in HK. The slogan "One World, One Dream" is so inspirational, I'm convinced that Barack Obama wrote it for them.
Speaking of Obama, he is frequently talked about on Chinese news. I have no idea what they are saying about him since his name is the only word I can understand in any news broadcasts. HK is having their own elections in a couple weeks and a candidate for whatever office was parading around by my MTR station. He didn't try to solicit my vote. I wonder how he knew I wasn't Chinese?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Language Barrier of Olympic Proportion

Ancient Chinese Proverb: "Hit all foreigners in the knee, but not so hard that they can't get on a plane and leave."

I started my first day of work yesterday--rehearsal and technical preparation for a play about Herakles (Hercules) which we will perform at the Heritage Museum. For the first time in history, the British Museum is allowing their ancient Greek artifacts to leave its grounds, and entrusting them as a sign of good China. Well, Hong Kong, anyway. Seems like Greece gets the shaft on this deal.
Tim, my Australian castmate/coworker, wrote the play. It's hilarious. I play Hera and Atlas. We had a short seminar on different accents yesterday and I introduced to everyone the wonder of the Yooper accent. And now Atlas, in his stupidity of getting duped by Herakles, speaks with a Yooper accent. Fantastic.
must go rehearse--will try to finish this later.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I don't think I'm in the mid-west anymore

I will begin each post with an Ancient Chinese Proverb. I do not mean for them to be a slap in the face to 5,000 years of Chinese history, but rather as a humor joke.

Ancient Chinese Proverb: To Make Smooth and Quick Passage In Crowded Chinese City, Carry Big Piece of Greek Architecture.

Wow...(I don't have much time to make this witty, so try to deal with drab just this once)
My flight friends were two Fillapino guys flying back to Manila after working on a tanker carrying 2 million barrels of oil from Iraq to the USA. That translates to about 62 million gallons.

My entire flight/arrival went off without a glitch--immigration, security, luggage came through, etc. I took the train from the airport to the Hong Kong station, where I was to call fellow Dramatic English employee, Johnson. As I searched the station for a phone, a young lady approached me: "Excuse me..." and I wondered why anyone would think it would ask the one caucasian person dragging three suitcases behind her ANYTHING and expect a reliable response. But she actually just asked if I was Camber. I affirmed the fact and she (Joan) introduced me to Man (the producer at Dramatic English) and Johnson. We hopped in a taxi (they're red here) and set off for my apartment.

Along the way, I received a personalized tour of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon peninsula across the way. It's spectacular. I haven't taken any photos, but I'll try to get on that soon. Apparently, the apartment where I live is where Johnson used to live, but he's moving out to another part of HK. My building is currently covered with bamboo scaffolding for renovation. Man promises that it's safe and that "we've been climbing on it for thousands of years," but I have no present plans to test it.

We dropped off my bags in the 26th floor apartment and went out into my new " 'hood", Tai Koo. We ate at Mos Burger, a Japanese chain. Man had a rice burger which is not, as I had envisioned, rice between bread. Rather, the BUN is made entirely of rice crammed together to create a bun form. Meat between. It's brilliant really. We picked up some groceries and went back to the apartment. I have two English language TV stations, but prefer Chinese soap operas.

This morning, I woke up at 3am and unwillingly stayed awake to watch the sun rise over the mountains outside my window. I had the day off, but went to dim sum with other Dramatic English people. Dim sum is great: several different selections of Chinese food on a huge turn-table. Spin it around and everything is shared as a group meal.

After dim sum, I tagged along with Man and Tim to acquire props for our upcoming Greek mythology show. We first went to Prince Edward, the plant and flower district. There, we picked up a few items on the list, notably a plith, which Tim carried throughout the streets and markets of Hong Kong thereafter. It's kind of nice walking around with a guy carrying an ionic column. He gets stared at more than I do, anyway. And it provides an instant, albeit miniature table for group meetings or to cross things off our list with greater ease. For example:
fabric for snake costume
3 fake birds
5 babies (preferrably human, mostly orphans)
Once, Tim nearly knocked over a little kid with the plith. I thought it was a ploy to get baby #1.
I start rehearsal tomorrow and have a performance on Sunday--
okay, I've rambled and need to go buy a phone and hope not to get duped by those smooth-talking used phone salesmen.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Farewell Address and Your Requests

On my final day in the United States, rather than packing and/or confirming I have necessary legal and travel documents, I have chosen to set up what is known in this web-based world as a "blog." It is here where I will post insightful commentary and dazzling photographs of life in Hong Kong. I would also like to provide you, my avid readers, with the opportunity to make requests. My list so far includes the following:
*Find out how Hong Kongers view Her Majesty and the British in general (dad)
*Harry Potter in Chinese (Becky)
*4 yaks/4 yetis (Pat)
*DDR arcade machine (Mark)
*a panda (Sarah)
*Chinese Magic cards (Matt)
*silk/Chinese fabric (mom)
*pirated DVDs for no more than $1 each (you know who you are)
*a man (Nikki)

Please feel free to request anything at all, provided it be legal in China at least 30 U.S. states. I'm actually going to try very hard not to get arrested in Hong Kong, and would appreciate your support in that endeavor.

I fly from St. Louis to Chicago to Hong Kong starting 10:17am on Sunday, August 17 and arriving Monday the 18th at 4:45 Hong Kong Time.
This reminds me---I will be 13 hours ahead in time from the Central Time Zone of the U.S. and of course 12 hours from the EST. What this means is that I will be living in the future.
Don't be jealous, because I can and will tell you what happens, should you so desire.