Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stranded on a Populated Island

The title may give away the punchline of this blog, but the entire experience is worth reading. Perhaps not, but I've posted many pictures for those of your strapped for time. Due to an excessive work-load for the week, the TIE team had Saturday off--my first since moving here, I believe. I took advantage of it and went on a day-trip to Cheung Chau, an outlying island, to visit Elvis' grandma. Yes, Elvis is back in the building. I always enjoy the signs:Like every island in Hong Kong, Cheung Chau's economic base is seafood. This is a fishing boat cleverly disguised as a spider. There are two giant nets on either side:I hiked this entire island with Joan about 6 months ago, so Mark (Elvis) and did the island from a new angle. It's still breathtaking:
Now you see why I call him Elvis:I requested that we rent bikes to ride around the island. He said we would go to a certain vendor because he will give him a special discount. He told Grandma, and she insisted she escort us because the vendor would give us an even bigger discount if she were along. I'm almost certain that Grandma chose that bike for me:A Cantonese opera was going on in a temporary bamboo and tin scrap metal building. It was some god's birthday celebration:Last time I went to Cheung Chau, Joan and I saw the priate cave but we didn't know we could go in. It looked so narrow, I thought I'd get stuck. All that aerobics has paid off and we made it through. You can't tell from the picture, but it was pitch black in there: We met up with several of Mark's friends that day. In the afternoon, Michael, and Jackson in the evening. I did not just make that up. Helping Michael out of the cave.This is a picture of a picture for my dad. It was a celebration for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, circa dated to early in her reign, perhaps the mid 1950s:Ancient rock carvings are apparently all over Hong Kong, but this is the first I've seen them. They all face the sea and were probably meant to bring favor from the ocean gods. Experts reckon these are 3,500 years old:Despite all of the above, the most popular attraction to Cheung Chau is the annual Bun Festival. Still one month away, these workers are building a structure that will ultimately be covered in buns which some brave youths will climb:Of course, one high-light for me was meeting Grandma, or Mah Mah, in Cantonese. Mah Mah doesn't speak any English, but I feel like I already knew her based on similarities with my own grandma. For instance, she insisted that I eat more, then insisted that she pay for lunch. Of course, we went to this place for both meals that day because Mah Mah gets a really good discount there:And who doesn't love a good respaurant? Here we are waiting for our table. I'm not sure Mah Mah knew where to look:After dinner, we went back to Mah Mah's house to play Mah Johng. She had to help me a lot, much like my grandma helps with Wist. I don't think she ever understood me when I spoke Cantonese to her until during the game when I told her she was very smart, she smiled and laughed.
Despite it being way past her bedtime, Mah Mah also insisted that she make a traditional Chinese dessert soup for us. The similarities really never stop. Here she is with another friend of Mark, Phoebe, and the soup:
We all went for a walk on the beach and found a message in a bottle. That may sound cool, but if you can read this, you'll see that the sender set it out to sea on March 20, 2009, or 8 days before we found it. lame.
We went to Mah Mah's house to collect our personal items and headed to the ferry. The time was 11:50pm, the last ferry was at 11:45pm. The next ferry would be at 2:20am. So we went back to Mah Mah's house. I slept and they woke me up at 2:30---
"Wasn't the ferry at 2:20?"
"Yes, but we'll just get the next one, it's at 3-something."
We go to the pier and the gates are closed...the next ferry will depart at 5:10.
Back to Mah Mah's house again...
We all made it on the 5:10 ferry and I arrived at home around 6:30am to judgemental looks from the doormen.
Somehow, I still made it to church this morning and the ballet "Swan Lake" in the afternoon.
But, before the ballet, my friend Meagan suggested that I take a picture with the East Asian Games mascots:

Good thing I did, because I found this gem:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Antiquity to TV

Romain and I finally rejoined forces at a mutual friend's birthday party--and that matters to you because he returned my camera and now you can enjoy breath-taking photographs of Asia's "world city." A couple of weeks ago, Romain and I went on an adventure involving the Light Rail. I had heard horror stories about the Light Rail. These stories involved train cars packed so tightly that people get squeezed out of them and fall out onto the track. All false accusations; I must have confused it with trains in India. Our peregrinations led us to the far western reaches of the New Territories--uncharted waters for both of us. Fortunately, Romain is excellent at reading maps:We went to a unique Buddhist temple--one with an internal courtyard. And circular doorways:

The main event of the trip was to see this pagoda, which we circa date to 1300, making it the oldest pagoda in Hong Kong:

And Devon, don't worry, I have done something about that hair.

We somehow ended up walking around through narrow alleys with entrances to people's homes. Many people post these kinds of images on their doors. Romain usually isn't there:

These look like flowers, but they're actually pink leaves--amazing! :

Farther down the road, we came across a small temple with various porcelain figurines displayed out front. If we had been bad people, we easily could have stolen them.

Fast-forward to today--filming day for my students' TV debut. The glamorous TVB bus picked us up in high-fashion:

I'm in the back with Kiki, our intern, Matthew, Anson, Leona, Jamie, and the inimitable Enoch, who, as my family would say, is the dominant character of this picture. They interviewed the students in Cantonese and then Anson and Leona performed. I hadn't been involved in any sort of television production before, unless you count the time that meteorologist Gus Gordon came to my 5th grade class, talked about the weather, and then took a video of us waving. I'm sure my head was covered with that day's high temperature anyway. So I was pretty excited to witness the magic of television. I was too cool to notice all the minor celebrities walking around or take a lot of photos, but I got one on-set picture for the records. Leona, Jamie, and Anson:

I think they use that set for a children's show. Hong Kong, the definition of understatement. For the next 2 weeks, we have at least 1 show per day, so don't expect anything cool in the near future. However, I will be going to my favorite island to visit Elvis' grandma next week. The anticipation is overwhelming.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Brush with Fame

I still don't have my camera--turns out that the schedules of an actress and a French banker are difficult to mesh.
Despite the lack of photos, I must relate this story: a group of us went to Mong Kok this weekend for dinner and karaoke. As we were walking in the packed streets, I hear, "Penguin! Penguin!" Two girls stop me, "You're the penguin!"
"Yes, yes I am."
"We're from the ----- school!"
"Of course, I remember you." = Lie. But I did remember the school.
I never would have pegged these two as secondary school students. They were dressed like ladies of the night (is that politically correct terminology?) and had more make-up on their faces than I have in my room. Last time I saw them, they were probably wearing matching over-sized sweaters, plaid skirts, and tall white socks. Lovely students, really.
But the point is that my fame as the penguin is spreading. The message of environmental protection, through the penguin, is reaching out to Hong Kong students, and making a deep enough impression to cause them to approach the fish-bird.

Also, a Hong Kong TV station wants to air a scene from the high school musical I've been working on. Matthew, the head director, chose the scene/song that I directed!! My students will be on TV next Sunday; I hope to go with them for moral support. They have worked so hard and absolutely deserve this.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Heartbreak Hotel

Recently, we've added a lovely and talented young lady from London to our studio staff. I have the opportunity to assistant direct under her for the educational musical drama, "School House Rock, Live!" I use the words "educational," "musical," and "drama" with utmost sarcasm. However, I'm looking forward to working with her. At our first rehearsal last week, Sarah had to deal with some sort of bureaucratic issue and left me alone with our 15 little angels--all under age 10. Like anyone would, I decided I should reveal to them the splendor of the noun. We spent a good 15 minutes naming off all sorts of different nouns and scorning all verbs and adjectives. I counted it as a success.
When Sarah returned, she wanted to start teaching the song which we decided to do with a country-western theme. She asked, "What is a cowboy?" To which one astute student replied, "A noun!"
Sarah glanced at me quizzically, I shrugged, and the show went on.
I've also started ADing for "Seussical--the Musical" under the venerable Mr. Matthew. These songs haunt me. My life is beginning to rhyme all the time. gah!
No pictures--and this is not because I haven't been anywhere. au contraire. I went way out west with my good friend, Romain. We saw HK's oldest pagoda, ca 1300, unique temples, ancestral halls, etc. We also ate at a NEM place. No English Menu. My Canto is actually good enough now that I can become friends with restaurant staff and not worry that they'll serve me squid brain as a joke. BUT, Romain accidentally kept my camera and therefore all of the pictures. I'll probably get my camera back soon, unless he's actually a klepto and then I'll never see him nor the camera again.
I have about 4 days off in April and plan on travelling--having a hard time deciding where to go, so I'm open for suggestions: Beijing/Nanking/Sherzjazwan---Vietnam---Taiwan--Chengdu--Cambodia--Guam--S. Korea--Rwanda. I think I'll nix Rwanda because I'd spend over 2 days in travel and I'll nix S. Korea because they're throwing 'satellites' in the space. Obviously, Devon wants me to go to Malaysia and buy glasses. Not sure a Seinfeld joke is *quite* worth it. Yes, I said it.
Many of you have inquired about Elvis. Sarah does almost daily:
S: "So what's the word on Elvis? Do we talk about him?"
I haven't heard from him in a while, so...
me: "He ain't nothin' but a hound dog."
S: "As long as you're not cryin' all the time."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tai Tam Hike & Road Runner

My excuse for not writing much last post was an upcoming hike. I soon shall reveal photographic evidence of said hike, but first, my new friend, Plato, with his creation: me (in Cantonese): What's your name?
P: Plato.

me: As in...The Republic?

P: Yes, yes, the Republic! The Republic!

I think it's a great idea for people to name themselves--since doing the interactive show where I brief a group of 10-15 students and get to know their names--I've met Money, Ghost, Chicken, Uncle Leung--

me: Uh..."Uncle" that really your name?

UL: Yes, yes, of course.

me: Can you do that?

UL: Why not?

Me (to other students): Is that his real name?

everyone concurred...

I also met a Kinky. Not to mention old forgotten favorites such as Oscar and Agnes.

But enough of that...back to the hike. Karen (my usual hiking partner) and I planned to go on a fairly difficult hike. Turned out, I invited my friend Lawrence and his cousin to go with us and they had never been on a hike. We still dragged them along for "The Twins" or "The Thousand Steps". It's been foggy/smoggy lately, as you can see---here's a view of Stanley, our final destination after 4 hours--on the south side of HK Island:

Karen, looking pensive in the glorious hills:

The World-Famous Tai Tam Reservoir! Jealous? : The view directly behind me: May and Lawrence. May is visiting from Manchester and Lawrence is my grocery store friend. He's from Northern Ireland. I asked if it were dangerous growing up there and he gave me the same look and response I gave to the kid who asked if I had an AK47. :

It's a sign! :

Probably my favorite discovery during the hike; here we have the "Trigonometrical Station". They urged us not to deface or destroy it:

on the rocks:
I think this is a view backwards to the first peak from the second one. "The Twins" says it all:

I had dinner with Elvis the other night. He's not dead, after all. And he's also Chinese. And speaks French. He's a magician, juggler, and in marketing. You know, on top of being the King of Rock 'n Roll.
At the last juggling night, I went up to my friend, Joker, to tell him about it.
"Hey, Joker, I went to dinner with Elvis."
"I know."
"What? How could you know that?"
"There are no secrets in The Club."
I haven't drunk any Kool-Aid...I don't think.
Elvis' real name is Mark, but his hairstyle is much akin to that of Mr. Presley. And he often wears white pants.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

After 4 months of rehearsal, we finally put up both productions of "The Jungle Book" to packed houses. Packed with mostly parents, probably, but packed nonetheless. I spent 12 hours at the theatre, rehearsing with the first group, eating lunch with them, their performance, and then as the first group did curtain call, the second group was ready to start their rehearsals and the entire process again...My jobs for the day were eclectic---helping change costumes, put on make-up, gently reminding the students of the importance of being quiet backstage, and generally keeping the peace. I don't have a lot of time right now; I'm leaving for a hike soon, so I'll just plaster this with photos and do another blog later.

I made those ears. And the tail you can't see...

Shere Khan the tiger! He was epic.

Tiger again and Bagheera the panther. I also made those ears.

Father Wolf. also played a mean elephant.

First group cast.

The other cast's tiger--mildly camera shy.

Coconut tree and butterfly

One of my favorite costumes--the rock.
He won best actor as voted on by the students. There are no small parts.

The other Bagheera and her sister as the flower--I made that pink thing, too. My talents never cease, eh?
Quick thing...
As I was at the train station after the shows, an older looking Indian guy came up to me and the following conversation ensued:
guy: Which way to Lan Kwai Fong?
me: exit D, turn left
guy: where are you from, anyway?
me: US, you?
guy: *unintelligible*
me: um...Uganda?
guy: No! UK London!
me: okay, sorry.
guy: You know, I really like Microsoft.
me: hmm
guy: You know why?
me: no
guy: Because I'm a big fan of Monica Lewinski.
This was the moment I fled.
This doesn't make sense, right? Or am I out of the loop? Am I not perverted enough to get Monica Lewinski jokes?
Also, I think I'm starting to look a bit Chinese. Today, a lady at my gym asked me (in Cantonese) if I were mixed. I can't be sure but I think I accidentally told her that my dad was Chinese. OR I may have agreed to wear a puffy shirt.