Monday, December 31, 2012

Mixing work and pleasure #4- Back to Monaco

As you have read in years past (20102011), one perk to my job as a college counselor is our annual conference usually in a fun European city. This past November we headed back to Monaco to get some warmer weather in the French Riviera. I was really looking forward to this year's conference because I was going to have a reunion with my former Frankfurt colleagues. Also I am lucky to have two girlfriends that work as counselors in Frankfurt and we would be keeping with our new tradition of making a girls weekend out of the conference in Nice, France.

Flying to Europe from Hong Kong is no small task and I am very grateful that my new school, DBS, was gracious enough to send me. After a whole day of traveling I arrived to the view below-not bad. I have to admit it was nice to be back in Europe. It felt familiar  probably because I had been to Monaco and Nice before, but I do get a little nostalgic when I am back. Just to warn you I didn't take my camera on the trip so all these pictures are from my phone and some are blurry and have bad lighting.

View from my hotel room

Representing DBS for the 1st time

Reunited with my office mate from Frankfurt, Roger.

My boy Buddy from ISF.

I really enjoy this conference and the time to connect with professionals in my field. Justin made a good point before I left, that it is nice to have a guaranteed reunion with all my college counselor buddies every year and I totally agree. Having met and kept in touch with so many colleagues throughout the year it is nice to actually have a time every year to see them. Especially since taking a new job in Hong Kong it was also great to update people and see my friends from Frankfurt. I really love what I do and it is always nice to be around people who feel the same way about their careers.

Girls Weekend with Jessica and Alison

It was so nice to see these ladies. I know when I am with them it is going to be a good time and this year was no exception. With yet another awesome apartment rental and a great location, we enjoyed many heartfelt and interesting conversations over fabulous food and wine as well as sunshine.

This was a funny scene. It was a cool morning in Nice and these crazies were stripping down to their bathing suits and getting in the water. It looked like a  long standing tradition or something, but I know that water wasn't warm.

Being back in Europe did make me miss some of the things I love about it. Especially random markets with fun knick-knack and amazing fresh produce. I had forgotten how good a tomato could taste, they just don't grow (or import) the same stuff here in Hong Kong.

The French Riviera in November is not a bad place to be.

Yet another successful conference and girls weekend. I really cherish this time and I look forward to it every year.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

School Trip to Chiang Rai, Thailand

     Upon arriving to our new school in August I remember the teacher that showed us around campus mentioned in passing that they would be taking a trip with our 11th grade students to Thailand for an adventure/service trip in December and might need some volunteers.  Without hesitation I said, "Well if you still need help then we'd love to come along".  Since Marisa had taken a trip to Monaco in November, she ended up yielding her spot to another teacher, but I was still game on for this end-of-the-term CAS trip.
      Just to give you some background, I teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.  In order for a student to earn their IB Diploma they must fulfill an extra-curricular component called Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS).  In short, each student must plan and initiate projects in each category over the two years of their Diploma Programme and fulfill various learning outcomes in order to meet this requirement.  In order to help them with this the school takes our 11th grade students on a trip where they can carry out community service projects while being exposed to another culture and participating in a ton of outdoor activities which aren't easily accessible in Hong Kong.  
     I was excited to have the chance to chaperone on this trip and participate in all of the activities alongside the students.
We visited a hilltribe village near the Myanmar border for our community service project.  Overnight, we stayed in a bamboo bungalow with this view in the morning.   

Being near Christmastime, I bought one of these handmade purses for my niece.  This man and his wife make the rounds on their scooter selling jackets and bags.

As a welcome and "thank you" some local tribespeople hosted us for a campfire dance performance.  I've never seen anything like it firsthand and it was really cool because it wasn't one of those staged touristy things; rather, it was a traditional dance that is typically only done once or twice per year during festivals.  Many of the village women put majority of their savings into these traditional dresses which are intricately embroidered and decorated with silver ornaments.

The village was having a local holiday, complete with a football tournament amongst the different villages of their tribe.  It was 7 v 7 with mixed-age teams and most of the players played on this dirt field with flat shoes.  Pretty impressive footwork despite the conditions.

I didn't understand a word that this announcer said, but I wish I did because he had everyone in the crowd busting a gut.

The kids enjoyed a day off of school.

My group of students were put to work painting a new schoolhouse for the village.  Many of the students hadn't so much as picked up a paint brush or roller before, so even this was a learning experience.

In addition to the painting, our students all prepared 20-minute English lessons to present to the primary school students.  Here the students are learning body parts with a little "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes".

On another epic day we took a 10km hike through a national park that took us through some really steep climbs, across several streams and even through a cave.

Our lunch stop was at this lovely waterfall.

The cave was only a few hundred meters through, but I'd never been in a secluded cave like this one - only Carlsbad Caverns in NM.  This had a large room with a Buddha in it since monks like to use it for meditation.  At one point we all turned off our flashlights and sat in complete silence and darkness for a couple of minutes which was a really weird feeling, in a good way.  I'd like to have more moments of silent meditation.

On another day we took a half-day hike near the Myanmar border.  We passed through villages like this one and eventually to the Buddhist temple in the distance.

Buddhist temple - not sure of the name but it was pretty neat inside with a huge relic on the top floor, encased in a crystal case.

View of the Maekok River - we went kayaking down this bad boy before taking mountain bikes back.

After leaving the camp, we took these riverboats down the Maekok to Chiang Rai.

No trip to Thailand is complete without an elephant ride.

 Our boys were funny because so many of the experiences were new to them.  They even felt a bit unsafe to ride in this open-back trucks a few km down the road.  Of course I was like Evil Keneivel to these boys by holding on to the back.

     Overall this was an excellent trip at the end of a very long term.  I wasn't so sure that it would feel like a vacation, but I was able to relax afterall.  It was somewhat therapeutic to do so many outdoor activities and enjoy nature.  I was also glad to be there as these boys experienced so many new things.  You could really tell that many of them were significantly impacted by doing things they'd never tried before that I'd taken for granted - like riding a bike, for example.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Hong Kong vs. Australia

We recently went down to the neighborhood stadium to watch a football match between Hong Kong and Australia.  It was a second round match of the East Asia Cup, so it wasn't a huge deal but it was a great opportunity to see the Australian national team up close for a really good price.

The fan club was present, but the atmosphere was much calmer than the Bundesliga that we'd been used to.  What's funny is that the cheers and sounds that people make sound very different from what you get at Western sporting events.  I can't really explain it, you can tell that the noises are just different.

Hong Kong's team had the speed, but the Australian side had the size.

Marisa and I along with two co-workers had some pretty ballin' seats, but the action wasn't too exciting.

A late goal was enough for Australia to pull off the victory against the scrappy HK team.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Guests in Hong Kong or A Very Hong Kong Thanksgiving

     Since arriving in August Marisa and I have been looking forward to seeing familiar faces in our new home.  Fortunately we didn't have to wait too long, as two of our friends from Frankfurt, Andy and Amy, were touring through southeast Asia and were able to pass through Hong Kong on their way home.  We were double fortunate too since they happened to stay with us through the Thanksgiving holiday.  We've had a history of having epic American meals with these two, so we were really excited to have them - not to mention we'd also just recently finished furnishing our guest room so it was ready to host.

 Andy and Amy rolled up looking like they'd been sitting on Thai beaches for two months, which isn't too far from the truth.

While we didn't exactly pull off a traditional turkey, but we did have a roasted chicken with head, fee, claws and all.  Couple that with some mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce and you have our first Thanksgiving in Hong Kong.

     Relationships are really the only thing that matters in life and we were blessed by this visit.  We were able to catch up on life since leaving Frankfurt with people that know us and understand what we left.  It was really great hearing about their travels in Asia and their future plans.  We had an excellent meal, shared what we were thankful for, played board games and had lots of laughs.  You could say it was all good for the soul.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival 2012

One thing I have enjoyed about Hong Kong, besides the plethora of sunny days, are the endless activities going on around the city. Since we arrived in Hong Kong back in August we have not gone on one trip, which is unusual for us, but due to the school calendar and trying to save some dough we have stayed in Hong Kong. That being said there has not been any shortfall of things to explore or events to attend. A few weeks back on a Sunday afternoon I dragged Justin to Hong Kong's Wine and Dine Festival. Overlooking Victoria Harbor we enjoyed some lovely imported wines (no offense but no good wine is coming out of Hong Kong) and some delicious finger foods. As a food junkie, I loved this event. It was great to get out even if it was blazing hot for November and see another side of life in HK. 

Raise your glass!

It was a great layout with France in one corner, Italy in another, and everything in between.

Check out the backdrop.

We'll definitely be coming back next year.

Next event will be Hong Kong Christmas markets (but I doubt they will be anything like the fantastic German ones).

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