Sunday, February 9, 2014


Before going to Bali, I heard lots of conflicting things from friends who had been there. Some said it was a kind of tropical paradise, the jewel of Indonesia. Others said it was a tourist trap, filled with party beaches and scammers. Well, during our five days there, Sharman and I felt it was closer to the former. I wanted to stay much longer and could’ve easily filled a few weeks with different explorations. Alas, we tried to make the most of our short five days there. This was, at almost 25 years old, my first time in the southern hemisphere. I can’t wait to return! But to where? Australia? New Zealand? Hmmm...

Our hotel was in Ubud, towards the center of the island. We stayed there, as it seemed to be an interesting, artsy place, and not filled with drunk beach bums. About five hours after we arrived, I went out to a sports bar called the Melting Pot, about a 15-minute taxi ride away from the hotel. The reason I went was (drumroll please) to watch Super Bowl XLXIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. As this was a major priority, I’d contacted the owner a week before to make sure that I could watch the game there at 7:30 am.

The Seahawks won; it was glorious. I even met a few Seahawks fans in the place, though I spent most of the time sitting on my own, eating pancakes, shaking my head in wonder at the lopsided victory.

Due to lack of sleep and Seahawks euphoria, I was fairly dazed on the first day, though Sharman and I did get to go to a Fire Dance performance. The performance consisted of 100 men chanting and singing, while elaborately costumed actors performed/danced a famous Balinese legend around a spire of fire. Then at the end, another performer danced on hot ash, kicking the embers about while riding a straw horse. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, or probably ever will see.

Ubud jungle houses
Temple in Ubud
Fire Dance
The next day, we went out and around Bali with Nyoman, a taxi driver/tour guide who I’d met after the Super Bowl. He seemed to share my desire to avoid throngs of tourists so we asked him to take us to some places he recommended. After driving through some magnificent rice fields, we stopped at Tulamen, where I was able to go scuba diving through an old shipwreck. I hadn’t originally planned on diving on this trip, but then again, I hadn’t realized that there was a shipwreck I could explore. Though I had a bit of issues with the goggles leaking while underwater, it was quite cool to see. After that, we stopped by the staggeringly beautiful Water Palace. We ended that day at a beach called White Sand Beach, where we had dinner and a swim. Or should I say, I had a swim while Sharman got a massage. And best of all, we just about had the entire beach to ourselves.

Scuba time
Dragonfly, stay!
Water Palace
White Sand Beach
We enjoyed that day so much that we asked Nyoman to take us out again the next day. After stopping by another interesting Hindu lakeside temple called Ulun Danu, we headed to a nearby waterfall called Munduk. Though I didn’t expect much, this was a major highlight for me. Very seldom have I so strongly felt the power of nature as I did here, with literally tons of water splashing down just a couple yards from me.  

After that we ate lunch with a glorious view of Mount Watukaru and the Jatiluwih rice terraces. Walking through the green rice fields reminded me a lot of my trip to Yuanyang, China ten months ago, just with more English speakers around. Last we headed out to Uluwatu to see the cliffside temple. Unfortunately, though we were there for the sunset, it was too foggy to really see much. Oh well—can’t always get it perfect.

Ulun Danu
Waterfall plus scrawny boy
The fourth day, we slept in a bit and spent the day entirely in Ubud. As Ubud is the art capital of the island, we went to the main art museum there, which was outstanding. Not just because of the collection, but because of the lush, jungle setting. After a delicious Mexican lunch (sorry I’m so predictable) and a massage, we headed to another evening show, this time a dance involving a number of mythical creatures and elaborate costumes. The reason I booked tickets, however, was because of the gamelan troupe accompanying it all. What a mysterious, interesting instrument.

ARMA museum
Ancient Muppet
For the final day, we took part in a Balinese cooking course. Much like our similar course in Thailand, this was a fun way to learn about the culture, while meeting friendly fellow tourists and enjoying delicious food. Before leaving, I purchased one souvenir, a painting of some fields near the volcano Mount Agung. I’m not really an art collector but I couldn’t pass up this chance, particularly as the shopkeeper was so friendly and came from a family of artists. This painting was apparently painted by the shopkeeper's uncle.
Cooking course
Painting of Mount Agung

I’ve now been to Southeast Asia six times and Bali may possibly be my favorite place there yet. The culture, the natural beauty, the atmosphere, it all just added up to a good vibe. Now, I need to buckle down and survive the next nine weeks of student teaching, exams, projects, planning and more until I head down to Malaysia in April.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

This post has little to do with Chinese New Year but as today is the day, ‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’ (the Cantonese holiday greeting, roughly meaning 'I wish you good fortune') seemed like an appropriate title.

I’ve written at least one blog post every month since I moved here in July 2011 and I ALMOST blew it this month. Thankfully, today, the 31st, is a public holiday and I have some free time to churn out post number 58.

So let’s see, when I last wrote in here around Christmas, I had just arrived home on Bainbridge Island after traversing the Pacific for the third straight December. I had a relaxing two weeks there and was quite upset when I arrived back in Hong Kong. I think it was a combination of loneliness (about 20 hours of travelling alone just after New Years), missing my friends and family, sleep deprivation and knowing that I shortly would return to work. However, it didn’t take long until I settled back into things and overall, it's been a solid January.

-First off, for various reasons, I’ve enjoyed my job a lot more this month than before the holidays. I think a lot of it has to do with gearing up for my student teaching next month. My coworkers David and Katie have given me a great deal of help and advice and I feel that I’m developing skills that I haven’t been able to develop previously as a teaching assistant. For example, I’ve spent lots of time lesson planning, carefully studying a piece of children’s literature, improving my time management, thinking creatively about the lesson material etc.

-January has also seen me dive back into Cantonese with a vengeance. I’ve learned two new words a day for the past three weeks. And that’s after several months without hardly studying it at all. Tonight, I’ll be going to Chinese New Year family gathering at Sharman’s aunt’s house and will have plenty of chances to make a fool of myself by trying new words.

 -I played two musical gigs this month. One was an open mic performance that I was quite pleased with, another as a restaurant entertainer along with my English friend Chris. We played Beatles, Bob Marley and other old classics for the patrons of a recently opened Western-style restaurant here in my neighborhood of Tai Wai. It was lots of fun to play with Chris and hopefully the first of many shows there. I don’t think I’ve played a show of just covers since high school. And the icing on the cake? We got paid.

-The Seahawks have had a splendid month of January and I’ve been basking in that glory all the way through. Second chance at a Super Bowl title this weekend!

-In my fleeting moments of spare time, I’ve been reading an excellent biography of Jim Henson aptly titled Jim Henson: The Biography. It’s been fascinating and eye opening to me, as someone so interested in creativity, education, humor and art.

-Sharman and I are getting quite excited for our upcoming trips to Bali, Indonesia (February) and Penang, Malaysia (April). We hadn’t gone on a trip together since England/Scotland/Ireland six months ago. For us, the constant travelers, that’s kind of a long time.

-This isn’t exactly a highlight of the month but I’ve decided almost for certain that I’ll be leaving my current job at the end of June. After two years, it’s time for a change of scenery at a new primary school in HK. Of course, I’m not thrilled about all the job application work ahead, but it’s part of being a professional I suppose.

Here are a few photos from the last month or so. From the USA and a trip to Vancouver at the end of December to a couple nice hikes in HK over the past few weekends.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Highlights of 2013

Well, the year is nearly over. I’ve mentioned most all of these things on the blog at some point in the year, but here they are again, summed up in a top ten list. It’d be silly to rank them, so I’ve just listed them out in no particular order.

Badminton (April onwards)
I don’t think I’ve been so motivated to improve at a sport since I was in Little League playing baseball over ten years ago. Despite not being tremendously gifted athletically, I love sports and all the triumph, disappointment and fun that go with them. I think that my heart had always had a badminton racket shaped hole and now that hole has been filled.

UK/Ireland Trip (July/August)
This one’s a no brainer. Our whirlwind trip was truly special. Seeing the Beatle-shire for the first time, experiencing Scottish and Irish culture up close, London and its majesty, and of course, being able to see it all with Sharman and my parents.

My Students (all year)
I’ve been primarily working with the same children at school and for private tutoring during the entire calendar year. Because of this, I’ve gotten to know them extremely well. Seeing and interacting with these kids every day is genuinely a joy and distracts me from all the unpleasant aspects of my job.

Hua Hin, Thailand Trip (February)
It’s not every Valentine’s Day that you get to spend riding on elephants with your partner! Sharman and I had a lovely escape to the quiet beaches of Hua Hin for our Chinese New Year. 2012 CNY was the idyllic island of Palawan, Philippines and 2014 will be Bali! Seems to be a beachy theme here.

Hiking (all year)
This clearly wasn’t the first year I’d been hiking, but it was the year I discovered just how much Hong Kong’s trails have to offer. I hit the country park nearly a dozen times this year, discovering war relics, waterfalls, beaches and more.

Vietnam/Yunnan, China Trip (March/April)
I met my good friend and classmate Luke in Hanoi for an adventure that took us to some beautiful (and terrifying) places. Trekking through these strange lands was a rewarding contrast to the more comfortable Thai holiday I’d had two months before.

Visitations (all year)
I still can’t believe how often Bainbridge Islanders find me in Hong Kong. This year, I saw old classmates Evan, Henry, Cosmo, Luke, Greg, Ryan and Sean. All had ventured to the east for different reasons and I was thrilled to host them and play tour guide during their time! Also, this was my first year hosting CouchSurfers.

Seattle/Vancouver Trip (December)
For the third straight December, I’ve crossed the Pacific to be with my family and friends during the holiday season. It’s always such a great time, filled with gatherings and reunions. My old roommates and I even plan to drive up to Vancouver, BC for a weekend exploring the city, where I remarkably have never been before. 

Commencing My Postgraduate Program (August)
Though it’s still too early to say whether my primary teaching degree will be worth all the time and effort in the long run, I am happy to be back as a student again after two years removed. Also, meeting a network of teachers with varied experience around HK is incredibly valuable and good fun to boot.

Playing Open Mic Nights (June onwards)
After searching for the right sort of venues in Hong Kong for two years, I finally managed to play my songs at five different musical events, performing both solo and with friends like Erin, Andromeda and Ryan. Music is in my blood so I hope to continue building on this and play even more in the coming year. 

Of course, this year hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows every day. In 2013, I’ve felt more disillusioned about my full-time work and have been overwhelmed at times with balancing work and my university courses. In October, I learned that my cat Liddie died at age 19 back home. I was disappointed not to write any original music this year and was shocked to see my rent go up by a full $2,000 ($258 US) from January to December.

But every year is filled with highs and lows and 2013 has been no different. I’m blessed to be so healthy and have so many opportunities to explore the world with my amazing family, friends and girlfriend.  Here’s to another interesting year ahead!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Autumn in the Country

Well, not much has changed since my last post one month ago. I'm still busy with work, and still counting down the days until Christmas. But one thing did happen after my fifth trip to Cheung Chau, this time with my high school friend Sean and his girlfriend Hannah. I began to seriously think about moving to one of Hong Kong's 'Outlying Islands' sometime this summer, after my rental contract is up. You can take a boy off an island, but you can't take the island out of a boy.

For those of you who don't know, my hometown is Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride away from Seattle. It's green, quiet and relaxed and despite occasionally complaining about nothing to do as a teenager, it was a fantastic place to call home. Even now, I'm still discovering how the island shaped the kind of person I am today. Walking around Cheung Chau, I began to imagine a life in a small island house, minutes away from the beach, with no cars in sight, and relatively reasonable rent. There I'd be, playing my guitar to the rhythm of the waves. I still consider this dream fairly unrealistic, as my job hunt may land me elsewhere and who knows what kind of logistical challenges may come with a home far from any roads. Still, as John Denver sang many years ago, "Thank God I'm a country boy!"

Autumn has some of the best weather in HK and I've tried to take advantage of it. Here are a few photos from the past couple of months. From Pui O Beach, Cheung Chau, Shing Mun/Kam Shan Country Parks and Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Autumn in the City

Since I last posted here, I’ve had six busy weeks of work at the primary school, postgraduate studies and private tutoring. From Monday to Thursday, I usually don’t get home until well into the evening after leaving my apartment at 7 am. However, this week is our mid-term holiday and hence, I am able to type this up on a Tuesday morning. And as is usually the case, I long for these days to take care of things long put off…and then I never get anything done. Oh well, I still have until the 21st before I embark on another nine week mission of long days, saved by a lovely Christmas holiday in the US of A.

I don’t plan to complain about being busy though. I, like most busy people, have clearly understood all the commitments I’ve made and was not forced into them by anyone. Also, I’ve found I feel more alive when I’m busy. Sure, everyone needs a lazy day once in a while, but it doesn’t take long to feel guilty about wasting precious time that could’ve been spent seizing the day one way or another.

Though not too much has happened for me this fall, one new goal I’ve set for myself is to get into the Native English Teacher scheme that is run by the Hong Kong government. The program is set to recruit quality English teachers to work in local HK schools. These teachers often get great benefits on top of a good salary, including a housing allowance and a flight back home once a year. After two plus years working in international schools, I’m ready to try a switch to the local system. More importantly, I think I’m ready to be a true teacher, as being a teaching assistant has been more of an apprenticeship than anything else.

It’s impossible to predict the job market and whether my resume and accomplishments fit the bill. But nonetheless, this time next year, I hope to be a class teacher. If not in a local school, then I'll find an international one that will hire me. I’ve taught in one way or another nearly every day I’ve gone to work in Hong Kong, but I feel like after three years of practice, I’ll be ready to perform, because honestly that’s what teaching primary kids is.   

On a side note, there is more happening in my life than just work and class. Over the past month or so, I've continued voraciously feeding my badminton addiction, I've taken a few trips to various beaches around HK, I've gone to the cinema countless times, I've learned some new Cantonese words, I celebrated my second anniversary of dating Sharman, and am two days away from hosting my good high school friend Sean and his girlfriend Hannah, as they stop by Hong Kong before traveling all over Japan. I'm always happy to play the tour guide :)  

And last! I've started a new blog that's less related to my life as an American in Hong Kong and more to whatever the hell I'm thinking about. If you'd like to read it, go to There should be a button somewhere where you can request permission to read it as it isn't a public one like this; if not, just send me an email. Don't worry, I just made it private as I want to feel more free to write about anything, publicly appropriate or a bit more abstract.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ireland and Scotland

Before I begin this post, I'd like to make it clear that I didn't title this 'Ireland and Scotland' because the two countries are similar. In fact, they felt very different from each other. However, about half the trip was spent in either of those two places, so I've combined them into one post. After all, this title sounded better than 'Not England.'
After flying from Liverpool's John Lennon Airport (whose slogan is 'Above Us Only Skies') to Dublin the night before, Sharman and I spent our first day in August just exploring the city. We saw Trinity College, went on a famous Literary Pub Crawl, and went inside Christ Church Cathedral. Our favorite though was probably the Dublin Castle, which housed the English government in Dublin before Ireland gained independence in 1922. This was a sand sculpture outside of it. We weren't sure if it had any significance to the castle, but it was extraordinarily captivating nonetheless.

On our next day in Dublin, we went to the other side of the River Liffey, which flows through the heart of the city. Here is the General Post Office, which was the setting to one of the biggest rebellions against the British rule in the early 20th century. The statue is of Jim Larkin, a notable trade union leader during the time of the rebellion. Inside there was a small museum, about the history of the site as well as the process of mailing letters and parcels, which was surprisingly interesting. Later on in the day, we went to the Guinness Factory. It's Ireland's most popular tourist destination and I'm glad we went, but overall, my opinion hasn't changed on Guinness. Still gross.

After Sharman posted on Facebook about our trip, an old friend of hers from an English class in Australia contacted Sharman and offered to host us during our stay in Dublin. Lizzie is Malaysian and has lived in Ireland for six years, currently studying information technology. The area she lives in is called Malahide and has a totally different vibe from Dublin City. We had a nice walk through a park where people were playing cricket before heading down and along the rocky beach pictured above. Lizzie was a gracious host and gave us many tips on the rest of our journey. If you ever read this Lizzie, thanks so much!

The next day we joined a tour from Dublin to the west coast of Ireland to see the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Though the place was packed with tour buses and tourists like us, that didn't take away from the majesty of it. To get a scope of the size of these cliffs, take a look at the people towards the upper right corner of this photo. Gargantuan. One of the scariest things was looking across at people who sat right on the edge, posing for a photo while an inch away from falling some 800 feet. Some of the trip's very best photos came from this afternoon. 

After saying goodbye to Lizzie, we headed to a rental car dealership to get the car we'd reserved. Then and now, I feel this was the biggest mistake of the trip. As expensive as it was stressful, I took us across the island on the motorway to Galway, the largest town on the west coast. We would've enjoyed this place a bit more if it wasn't for the anxiety of constantly being lost, not knowing where to park, feeling confused about the upcoming roundabout or being just flat-out frustrated by driving on the left while sitting on the right. The redeeming part of the day was wandering into an old church called St. Nicholas' that hosted something called 'Tunes in the Church.' The two women above performed some absolutely gorgeous traditional Irish music, sung in Gaelic to a fairly small audience without any amplification. These heavenly sounds were just what we needed at the end of a long, long day. 

Despite renting the car for two days, we turned it in in Galway after one and took a bus to our final Irish destination, Killarney. Like Galway, we didn't have enough time here but managed to enjoy our handful of daylight hours in the place. I took this picture during a walk through Killarney National Park, which was so delightfully quiet and non-touristy. Only people walking around, enjoying the natural beauty. On my hometown of Bainbridge Island, seeing deer is commonplace. But after over a week of mostly urban and/or touristy environments, this was a sight for sore eyes. 

After Sharman and I flew north from London and checked in our hotel well outside the city, we still had time for a stroll around in Edinburgh. This picture was taken on the North Bridge, with giant Waverley Station and its transparent roofing below us. Being in Edinburgh during the middle of the Festival Fringe made the place a bit of a madhouse. I read somewhere that during August the population of the city triples. This made for crowded sidewalks, but also, fantastic street performers all over the place.  

We spent the morning of our only full day in Edinburgh touring the famous Edinburgh Castle. Though it seemed like half of Europe was waiting in line at the entrance, the place was plenty large enough to accommodate us all. Cannons, panoramic city views, prison cells, museums, crown jewels, chapels and more, the Castle has it all. In the afternoon, we enjoyed various musical acts along the Royal Mile and even went to see Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in one of the Fringe venues. In the evening, we took a ghost tour through some of Edinburgh's cemeteries and seedy back alleys. Always nice to end the day with stories of gruesome murders and ancient torture devices.

On our last day in Scotland, we went on a tour to the Famous Grouse Whisky Distillery. This wasn't our first choice of tours, but we wanted to do some activity in the Scottish countryside and this one had availability and got back before our flight in the evening. Despite Sharman and I not exactly being whisky connoisseurs, we had a great time. The group of us on the bus was quite small (8-10 people) and we were able to see some stunning countryside on the drive up through the Highlands, much of which was covered in purple heather. The distillery itself was interesting as well, especially the variety of smells, which I wish I could capture for you. Of course, there was no filming inside the distillery anyway, for fear that a flash would wake the sleeping whisky or cause a dangerous chemical reaction.

Our three weeks in Great Britain and Ireland went past in a blur. Like most trips I've been on, all the sights only whetted my appetite to see more. Before long, I hope to go to mainland Europe, particularly Italy, France, Spain and the other places just exploding with cultural heritage and natural beauty. But for now, since I don't know when I'll return to Europe, I'm quite satisfied with the 18 days of non-stop amazement to reflect on. EngScotIre, fare thee well!

Sunday, August 25, 2013


As it’s difficult to sum up three weeks of traveling in a single post, I’m splitting into two: England and Ireland/Scotland. Sharman and I flew in and out of England six times over the course of the trip, mainly visiting three cities during our time there. The old cliché says that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not gonna give 1,000 words per photo but here are a few that I believe really capture our English experience. One per day.

Hard to believe but this was the view as we arrived at London-Heathrow on the plane from Moscow. Talk about a good omen for your travels. We were exhausted after traveling a third of the way across the globe, but got our taxi to from the airport to the nearby B&B without any hiccups. We knew we weren't in Hong Kong anymore when the immigration officer started making small talk with us as he checked our passports.

We arrived in Liverpool in the early afternoon. Still a bit jet lagged, this was an easy day of strolling and napping. I chose this photo for the day as it has some of Liverpool's most famous buildings as well as its most famous export, rock musicians.

Early in the morning, we got in a cab for a Beatles taxi tour. This was one of the true highlights of the trip, and satisfied my yearning to see Liverpool as what it is in my mind, Beatles-ville. I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable Beatles fan, but our top-knotch driver Eddie taught us so much about the early lives of the Fab Four. I've never gone on anything I'd call a pilgrimage until this trip. Still get goosebumps thinking about the streets that John, Paul, George and Ringo used to call home.

Finished with our Irish excursion, Sharman and I met my parents in London. The first word I'd use to describe the place was vibrant. Walking from our West End hotel down to Trafalgar Square (pictured) and around the area was overwhelming. So many people, so much architecture, so many shops. You'd think that living in Hong Kong would make me less impressed by urbanity, but this was not the case. London was bustling.

On our first full day sightseeing as a quartet, my parents, Sharman and I managed to see St. Paul's Cathedral, the Shakespeare museum next to the new Globe Theater and the Thames waterfront. It was here that I caught my first glimpse of the Elizabeth Tower aka Big Ben. It's always a special moment to see something you've seen hundreds of photographs of throughout your entire life. Perhaps I'll have a similar experience when I hopefully see the Statue of Liberty some day.  

This photo is taken from the London Eye. I've always loved looking down on big cities from high places (the Peak, Taipei 101, Columbia Center, etc.) and this certainly met my expectations. It was helped by some gorgeous weather as well. On this day, we also managed to go to the Charles Dickens' House and Westminister Abbey, which is twice as old as the USA and Hong Kong put together. Wowzers.

This picture was taken outside the backstage entrance of the Noel Coward Theatre, where we had just watched The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe. These are his nightly starstruck fans, waiting to see Harry Potter step out and sign an autograph or two. We didn't wait long enough to see Daniel afterwards, but the play itself was excellent. It was appropriate to see a very Irish play only a few days after leaving Ireland and the specific region the play was set on. The next day, Sharman and I flew to Edinburgh. See the upcoming post for photos of that.

Stonehenge was another one of those things that I couldn't believe I was actually going to see in real life. The trip to Wiltshire was well worth it, despite the fact that it really is just a bunch of rocks. But they are some very mysterious rocks! We also managed to go to Salisbury Cathedral, the last of many impressive church buildings we saw all along the trip.

For our final night of the trip, the four of us went back to the Globe Theater to see Gabriel, a play that had something to do with English composer Henry Purcell and the development of the trumpet in the 17th century. Though the play itself was a bit disjointed, this was another unforgettable experience, especially the scenery, the atmosphere and the music! What glorious music hath awoken the trumpeter in me! We tried and failed to get tickets to a Shakespeare play the week prior, but in the end, we heard some outstanding Baroque stylings we wouldn't have been able to if we'd gone to see Macbeth. Bravo.

We woke for a final breakfast in the restaurant of our hotel, the Dean Street Townhouse, before Sharman and I headed back to Hong Kong. Even with all the sightseeing, being around my parents and staying in that incredible hotel were among the best aspects of the trip. Obviously, it was hard to say goodbye!