Friday, October 2, 2009

Random details that, if I were less lazy, I would put in a real post

  • Doormen in Hong Kong will not open doors for helpers.  To do so implies tha the helpers are above the doormen. 
  • The pool on campus has a very strict rule:  no jumping in the pool.  It causes waves that disrupt the lap swimmers.  They are very strict about enforcing this rule, forbidding our kids even from doing a robot walk to the side of the pool and then doing a pencil drop into the water.  Apparently, though, they have no rule about big fat people in black and white swimsuits swimming back and forth ACROSS the lanes while people are doing laps.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.
  • According to one of my colleagues, the Chinese drink tea with their food to cut through the grease and aid digestion.  If you don't want tea, you can ask for water.  It, too, will be hot.  
  • There are no buskers in the MTR stations, though we did see a man playing some sort of stringed instrument near the ferry docks on our way to Lantau Island.  It sounded beautiful and old and traditional and for a moment there we felt wonderfully abroad and surrounded by the exotic east.  Then we realized whatever it was was hooked up to a state-of-the-art amplifier made by Bose.  Oh well. 
  • In Hong Kong, you don’t tip taxi drivers, waitresses, doormen, or hairdressers.  I don’t know about the hookers, but I would think you would.  I mean, isn’t it only proper to show your appreciation to someone who’s given you an STD? 
  • One of the English teaching assistants on campus tells me that, of her roommates, the mainlanders are the least shy about approaching her and speaking English.  This could be because, in a flurry of patriotic fervor prior to the handing over of Hong Kong to China in 1997, some Hong Kong politicians decided on a “One nation, one language” policy that resulted in the near complete eradication of English education from public schools, replacing it with Putonghua, the Beijing dialect of Mandarin.  Apparently no one sent the memo to the mainland, where they actually increased English instruction.  The new policy is “Two languages, one alphabet.”  This is because Cantonese and Mandarin use essentially the same characters.  And yes, I did use the phrase “a flurry of fervor” just now.
  • In Lucy’s class there are students from Hong Kong, Malaysia, mainland China, Cambodia, Finland, Canada, and Germany.  Three of the kids have parents from two different countries. 
  • I’ve yet to see a Chinese give a powerpoint presentation with anything other than a white background.  The Anglos, on the other hand, seem to choose bright colors and busy patterns. 
  • According to one professor I met recently, Americans look at conversation as a game of basketball.  The Hong Kongese look at it like bowling. 
  • Everywhere you go in Hong Kong, there are people tending to the public gardens and sweeping the streets and sidewalks with large brooms made of course straw.  They wear wide brimmed hats with black veils that hang down three inches to keep the bugs away.  And they wear green t-shirts over long-sleeves and jeans.  How they keep from dying in this heat is beyond me. 
  • One of the bigger issues for Americans I know who are teaching is students’ absolute refusal to speak in class.  Part of this is cultural:  students will not volunteer in class is because to volunteer is to assert that you’re better than everyone else.  But it goes beyond that:  students who are called on, even if they have a perfectly good answer written down, will stand in silence, preferring embarrassing silence to the embarrassment of making a mistake. 
  • Hong Kong students ages 9-10 are the most literate in the world, according to one survey.  By the time they reach age 15, they are the 2nd in the world in science, and third in reading and writing.  Finland tops them in both categories.  Damn those Fins.
  • The other night I was at dinner with a bunch of professors from all the HK universities.  I was joking about living so far out, I was actually in the PRC   Joseph, a political philosopher, laughed and slapped my arm.  “This is not funny,” he said.  “We are ALL living in the PRC.”
  • In Hong Kong, there are many ways to say “No,” for instance, “I’ll get back to you.”  “No,” is not one of the acceptable ways of saying “No.”
  • If you’re at an elevator with your boss, you let your boss enter first.  When the elevator opens, your boss is allowed to exit first.  How you’re supposed to get around each other in a crowded elevator—and every elevator in HK is crowded—is your own problem. 
  • Of the exactly 40,500 HK students who enter HK universities every fall, 98% will still be there at the end of the first year, and 95% will graduate.  If I could export those numbers to any University or college in the states, I would be a billionaire.  And I would like to be a billionaire. 
  • In Hong Kong, associate professors make US$120,000 a year.  Um . . . 
  • If you’re served fish, you’re supposed to de-meat the bottom side of the fish without flipping it over. 
  • The other night, one of the other Fulbrighters was telling me about how essential general education is in a culture where oftentimes students have very little say in what subject they end up studying at university.  As evidence, he mentioned two filmmakers he'd recently heard speak at his university.  One had been pressured by his parents to go into teaching, but had failed his exams.  The other had been pressured to go into accounting, had done so, but had quit to go into film.  Both were much happier with the new direction they were taking.  Later that evening, I heard Gray, my colleague, mention Ang Lee.  I tapped him on the shoulder.  "That wasn't one of the filmmakers you heard speak the other night, was it?" I asked.  He nodded.  Um . . . 
  • Last night Ellen and I were coming back from Mong Kok (yes, that’s really the name of a place, and yes, it is filled with “saunas” and streetwalkers) and transferred trains at Kowloon Tong.  It’s a long haul from one line to another and it was 10:30 at night, but the place was packed, wall to wall, from one end to the other.  And everyone was strolling.  No pushing, no shoving, no powerwalking, no fast-legged shoulder bobbing I’m-so-damn-more-important-than you banker with a briefcase stuff.  Just strolling.  Everyone.  Moving along.  

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