Sunday, 26 February 2017

Weekend Wander: Po Lo Shan

Hong Kong is more than just a concrete jungle. In fact, the ease at which you can hop from bustling cityscapes to natural landscapes is one of Hong Kong's most endearing features. And with around 70% of the region being covered in lush countryside, there's no shortage of hikes to escape on.

Hike Name: Po Lo Shan (Pineapple Dam)

Duration: 3 hours

Difficulty: Medium

Hong Kong seems to have a bit of a thing for the texture of a pineapple. Pineapple buns, a much-loved sweet snack in Hong Kong, don’t have an ounce of pineapple in them and are so named because their crumbly texture resembles that of the fruit. The same logic applies to Po Lo Shan – the ‘Pineapple Dam’. This is a true out of the way hike, so much so that you can see China in the distance as you trek. That’s not all this hike has to offer though. There are luscious hills; Hong Kong’s answer to the Grand Canyon; plenty of Mars-esque terrain and, to round it off, a marshy beach (Ha Pak Nai) which is heralded as one of Hong Kong’s best sunset spots. All of this is packaged together in a hike which might get you breaking a bit of a sweat but shouldn't cause you too many issues. Sometimes going the distance isn’t a bad thing.

Getting there: Take the MTR or bus to Siu Hong (purple West Rail Line) then take Light Rail 505 to Leung King. The trail starts just off Tin King Road. To return, take the green minibus (33) from Ha Pak Nai back to the MTR station. If you are returning after sunset, be aware that the minibus queue will be very, very long, especially at the weekend.

The 'Bible' of hiking in Hong Kong - Hike Hong Kong - is one of the best resources out there for budding hikers in the region. There are a wealth of hikes on there with easy-to-follow directions and pictures to each one.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Chinese New Year at Wong Tai Sin Temple

Chinese New Year brings the second real opportunity for CNETs to travel outside of Hong Kong and venture to other parts of Asia. However, still fatigued from a whirlwind trip to Vietnam at Christmas, my parents’ visit during the Chinese New Year break was a perfect excuse to stay in Hong Kong to fully explore what it had to offer during this colourful, family-oriented celebration.  

We stood along the harbour, gawped at the impressive (albeit partially cloud-covered) fireworks display over the bay, mingled in the crowds for the Tsim Sha Tsui street parade, and took a stroll through one of the many vibrant flower markets. Our good luck and prosperity took a beating on the final day of celebrations however, as we lost a fair bit of dollar at the Sha Tin Racecourse, so we thought a trip to a temple could reinvigorate us somewhat...

With that in mind, we made a visit to Wong Tai Sin Temple. As we emerged from the MTR station, we were greeted with bustling crowds, stalls covered in various red and gold ornaments for sale, and air thick with the perfumed smell of incense. Camera in hand, I decided to capture some of these moments on video.

By Dan Pearson

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Weekend Wander: Dragon's Back

Hong Kong is more than just a concrete jungle. In fact, the ease at which you can hop from bustling cityscapes to natural landscapes is one of Hong Kong's most endearing features. And with around 70% of the region being covered in lush countryside, there's no shortage of hikes to escape on.

Hike name: Dragon's Back

Duration: 2 hours

Difficulty: Fairly Easy

This is the quintessential Hong Kong hike. It’s certainly the most well-known for tourists and locals alike. Forming part of the 50km Hong Kong Trail on Hong Kong Island, Dragon’s Back is so named because of its rugged terrain. Despite this, it’s a fairly leisurely hike and is a great first trek to try out in Hong Kong. It’s the hike that got me addicted to rambling in Hong Kong. Even better? It finishes off at Big Wave Bay so you can beach bum to your heart’s content once the hike is finished.

Getting there: MTR to Shau Kei Wan (Island Line). Exit A3. Then take bus 9 and alight at ‘To Tei Wan’. The same bus or a minibus can be used to return to the MTR afterwards.

The 'Bible' of hiking in Hong Kong - Hike Hong Kong - is one of the best resources out there for budding hikers in the region. There are a wealth of hikes on there with easy-to-follow directions and pictures to each one.

Friday, 17 February 2017

A Day in the Life with Chatteris

Wake up in the morning feel like Ms. Norbury.  Grab my glasses, out the door, imma form those young minds.  Or something like that, anyway...
My hero
It is said that teaching is one of few professions where no two days are the same and that is certainly true for Chatteris and Hong Kong.  There really is no ‘typical’ day in the life of a CNET (Chatteris Native-speaking English Teacher).  Searching for the common denominator, however, I realised that all of us, whether in the Primary, Secondary or Post-Secondary programme, are united by the fact that you have an impact on the young lives around you.  You’re in your very own Tina Fey movie, every day.

I work in a local secondary school on Hong Kong Island where all lessons are taught in English.  This means students not only have to deal with me coaching them on discussion and presentation skills but also face the rigorous task of sitting their Maths, Science et al. lessons in a foreign language.  The Hong Kong education system is academically tough and exam heavy.  If you thought a dissertation took your life away, wait until you see a Form Six student during their mock exams.

IMG_2086 2.JPG
Teaching a Form Two Speaking Lesson
A working day balances this pressure with a, hopefully, more relevant brand of English teaching.  My role is twofold: to help my students pass their speaking assessments but, more importantly, to provide light relief and boost confidence in their English speaking abilities. This is done by bringing in more humorous topics to their average English lessons.

This week, I’m showing my Form Three (year 10) students the joys of West End Musicals.  In the past, we’ve done a murder mystery whodunit (“your class killed the CNET at the school picnic”), sixty second Shakespeare plays and debated, to much hilarity, who would win in a fight: the school principal or Mr. Bean.  

Lessons aside, a huge part of my job is to encourage English activities outside the curriculum.  This week, we’re decorating Valentine’s Day biscuits but other examples include a Pumpkin Pie workshop, Christmas party (complete with karaoke) and an Easter Egg scavenger hunt that I’ve secretly been plotting hiding places for all year.

Pumpkin Pie making workshop with the gals

My average day runs from 9 to 5 and I teach for about half of this.  In true teacher fashion, I print what feels like 100 worksheets a week, staple, photocopy, run around losing pens and make endless PowerPoints - a skill I now cherish.  I plan and run activities, try my hand at teaching drama and check in with Chatteris.  I coordinate with local teachers and it’s been a real privilege to be treated so generously by my school’s staff.  Many in the English department have become my friends and are unique gateways to Hong Kong culture.  I was even lucky enough to be invited to one teacher’s wedding last month.

Wherever you are in Chatteris, the fact that you are young, different and probably quite excited, entices the students to talk to you.  Some of my most rewarding, ‘breakthrough’ moments have been in the school canteen.  Perhaps it’s hearing the kid who doesn’t say a word in class talk about Manchester United for fifteen minutes.  Or asking the girls about the Fifth Harmony concert they’re going to and reliving my pre-teen days of seeing Busted at Hammersmith Apollo.  Working with teenagers is routinely hilarious and, cliches aside, it can be genuinely gratifying.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sunrise in Myanmar

The lights in the bus suddenly illuminated the faces of weary travellers around me, forced from their uncomfortable snatches of sleep. An announcement followed: we have arrived in Bagan, Myanmar. It was 5am and surprisingly cold as we gathered our things and trooped off the bus towards the throng of taxi drivers awaiting our arrival. Yet, despite the lack of sleep and the early hour, we were all really excited to spend the next three days exploring Bagan and all it has to offer.
Bagan is an ancient city in central Myanmar. It is known for the Bagan Archaeological Area, where more than 4,000 Buddhist monuments tower over green plains and red dust roads. I was travelling with five other CNETs (Chatteris Native English Teachers) who had all seen the photos of the stunning pagodas and the burning Burmese sun. We couldn’t wait to see it for ourselves. This early morning excitement / delirium led to the interesting decision to forego the hostel and go straight out to watch the sunrise above a nearby pagoda. After all, we were already awake.
The taxi driver dropped us off at the end of a dirt track, in the pitch black and pointed vaguely to something we couldn’t make out in the darkness and said ‘climb’. The instruction was clear. So off we went, with our cameras and iPhone torches. We left our shoes at the bottom of the pagoda and began to scramble up the side, not really able to see where we were going and finding the whole thing hilarious, if a little terrifying for those scared of heights. We made it to the top, and there we sat on the ledge of a 12th century pagoda, and waited for the sun to rise.

A popular tourist activity in Bagan is to take a hot air balloon trip at sunrise as a way to appreciate the landscape from above. This gives an added benefit for those watching the sunrise from the ground, as dozens of hot air balloons rose into the air with the sun and the tops of hundreds of pagodas could be spotted on the skyline. Since we had arrived in the pitch dark, this was our first glimpse of Bagan, and it was just as spectacular as we had hoped.
That morning was a definite highlight of the whole trip, and an amazing way to start our time in Bagan. The next few days were busy, full of sight-seeing, general wandering and eating. Renting E-scooters we navigated our way to some beautiful and deserted pagodas. It was a lot of fun driving through the Burmese countryside, stopping if we saw something interesting, and feeling like we were uncovering all these temples for ourselves. A day trip to Mount Popa, a volcano 1518 metres above sea level with a temple on the top, marked our last adventure in Bagan before we took a day cruise up to Mandalay, which was to be our next stop.  Despite everything we saw and did throughout the ten days we were in Myanmar, this first sunrise vividly stands out: it was truly breathtaking.