Thursday, May 1, 2014

“Seeing” Hong Kong thru the eyes of the sight impaired


Once again I was offered an opportunity to participate in an activity that, while not unique (due to its availability in other cities), was definitely off the radar, yet life changing, and excuse this…eye opening.

One of my volunteer opportunities is Reading for the Blind.  My group is responsible for clipping news articles from periodicals for a two week period, then reading them in a recording booth. The readings are transferred to tapes, so the sight impaired of Hong Kong can check out tapes and hear news and, well, English.  I love doing it.  I am always amazed as I walk through the facility how many sight-impaired workers are there…doing office work, dealing with computers…just day to day stuff millions do around the world…but most of those millions CAN SEE.  I thought by going to the Hong Kong Society for the Blind I had a clue as to what went on with a sight impaired person…nope, not one inkling.

SO…the opportunity afforded to me (us, I went with a group) was to experience Hong Kong as a sight impaired person would experience Hong Kong.

We journeyed to Mei Foo…one of the stops on the Tsuen Wan line of the MTR (our subway). I take the MTR most days and don’t think twice about it. Buzz myself in with my Octopus card, go downstairs to my train (left is to one set of locations, right to another)  Get on, watch for the stop, get off. 

We walked over to The Household Centre ( a shopping mall of course) and took the escalators to our destination.  For those that needed the restrooms, off we went…those that wanted water at the SUPER HUGE Park ‘N Shop, yep, scattered to reconvene a few minutes later.

Travel.  Walking to destinations. Restrooms.  Supermarkets.  Just things that happen.  Just things we do.  In 90 minutes, my perception of all of that would change!.

We are met and briefed.  We are told to stow our belongings in a locker…NO PHONES!   Nothing that illuminates (watches, etc.).  NO glasses.  You won’t need them (total darkness) and I guess there might be a falling issue. We are shown how to hold a walking cane (you hold it like a pen??).  We are broken into two groups.  My group has 5 individuals, the other 4. 

We are moved into an area that is shrouded with curtains, I think to get us used to the darkness to come.  We are told to stand with our backs to the wall…and somehow, I end up as the last person (Matthew, the brilliant, personable twenty-something Pastor moved right to the front.  Oh the confidence of youth!).  We are told that when our guide is ready, she or he will turn on a green light, and we will enter the exhibition.

I have to tell you, I am getting anxious…like really anxious.  I figure this has to be a safe environment…I mean if the guests were hurt constantly, how would this place stay in business?

SO…on goes the green light, and we file into a dark room.  When I mean dark…well, DARK.  PITCH black.  We were told to keep our eyes closed as much as possible so when we exit the tour, our eyes won’t need as much time adjusting…but I would vary from opening to closing my eyes trying to get a glimpse of light.  Yea, there wasn’t a lick!

I was behind Eileen.  Eileen is a good egg.  I did apologize in advance for any random touches, grabs, etc. that might happen. Believe me…it happened!

Our first moments were to just get acclimated to the dark.  Eyes open?  Eyes closed?  It just didn’t matter…dark is dark.

Our first steps get us used to changing elevations.  They aren’t great changes…I am talking cement to grass…and back.  I’ve decided that tiny steps and shuffling is a pretty safe way to go.

Without leaving the floor of this warehouse, our guide has us move through different parts of “Hong Kong”  We cross a bridge, we cross a road (trying to get across before the light changes and the onslaught of waiting passenger cars and taxis hits us. Our ears are our allies.  The changing tones of the chimes as we cross the street lets us know the timing involved.  While I know I will not be smashed, I am still quite anxious.

We were instructed to bring a little bit of cash so when we stop at a store, we could buy refreshments.  We were told the menu (water, juice, milk, iced coffee) then ordered and offered change. I had a $20 bill carefully folded in my buttoned pocket. My water was $10 HKD,. I handed over my $20 and  I knew I got correct change since a $10 HKD bill is very distinct (small and plastic)…but it got me thinking…in the US…all bills are the same size…how DO the site impaired know?? They have to rely on the honesty of others for the correct change…and I’m guessing that does not always happen.

Our fingers move over products that are in barrels, feeling the goods that are for sale.  The store here was a general hardware type …buckets, mops, sponges.  The are large and obvious for a reason, but of course, that would never always be the case.

The next challenge sounded so simple…find a seat in a theater for a concert.  However, we were not prepped as to the seat arrangements. How many rows were there…how many seats in that row…was there someone else IN the seat?  I only tripped twice and sat on someone once before I kind of stumbled into a chair. Luckily the chairs did not move, or I would have been on floor.

Truly listening to music in the dark is a pretty amazing experience.  With nothing to distract you, the music is 100% of the focus.  Instead of watching performers, your mind has a chance to paint its’ own picture of what you are hearing.  I do not know the name of the piece we heard…but it reminded me of space travel.  It was great.

Soon enough we were making our way to the end of the tour.  We were escorted out and told one of the guides would come and speak with us and answer questions when the 2nd group was done.

In the mean time…we were given the opportunity to try our hand at braille writing.  Each letter of the alphabet has a series of bumps attached to it…as do numbers.  You read it from left to right…of course…but here’s a thing…you WRITE it right to left…backwards…so when you flip the page over it reads properly (think mirror).  HOLY HECK!  It took forever to write my name…let alone a paper, or a test.  WOW. 

When our 2nd group returned, their guide was escorted in.  She was a lovely young lady.  Born in China, brought to Hong Kong at age 9 or so to go to school.  She lost her sight very young…and was just kept at home while her sisters went to school.  Hong Kong gave her the opportunity to go to school. 

The BEST BEST BEST part of the entire day is Eileen (remember Eileen?  I apologized to her early on for the probable groping that would happen!)…She taught this young lady years ago at Ebenezer School and Home for the visually impaired  here in Hong Kong.  The minute Eileen tried to re-introduce herself, the young girl knew exactly who Eileen was and got up to give her a big hug.

It was such a lovely moment and what a statement to what the school does for students.  This young lady was educated there.  She left and went to a main stream school in Sha Tin and now has worked for Dialog in the Dark in other cities. 

It brought the whole thing full circle for all of us I think. 

To this day I look at the tracks on the ground and listen to the bells as I cross the street and know how lucky I am…and again to take opportunities as they are opened to me.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dodgers Down Under



Over and over and, well, over,  I am amazed at the opportunities I have.  This last one brought some Americana our way…via Australia.

I miss sports.  I miss sports A LOT! I got in the habit of watching ESPN and Sports Center because there doesn’t tend to be much  BAD news there (except if your team is having a season like the Steelers had this past year).  I’ve never really gotten used to watching College football on Sunday, Pro Football on Monday AND drinking coffee during those games ! 

Low and behold, the Dodgers announce they will be “opening” their season against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney!  I mentioned to Corey that we should think about going…after all…Sydney is a mere 9 hours away!  A hop for us compared to those coming from the US for the game…well, mentioned probably is the wrong word…let’s just say I brought it up …repeatedly…you know, JUST in case he happened to have a trip into Australia that … week. 

My mentions (wishing, urging) stuck in Corey’s head…and yes, the trip was a few days before the games were to be played.  He moved heaven and earth to have me go with him from Tuesday – Sunday, but tight flights and my schedule had me going into Sydney on Thursday night.  Corey secured the tickets …airline and game…we were set.  (What a guy!)

Major League Baseball claims they wanted to help expand baseball in Australia.  It had been 100 years since Professional American Baseball had been played there. Others have theories of MLB going to Australia to expand a fan base, a fan base that would buy merchandise (oh boy…was that part right!).

The games were to be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). It is a BEAUTIFUL cricket ground with history and holds upwards of 70,000 people.  Some of it reminded me of the Ironwork around The Ballpark at Arlington (my favorite park)


A cricket field is a pitch. A Cricket Pitch is HUGE!  WAY bigger than a baseball field, so getting this particular field ready was a Herculean effort.  50,000 TONS of sand was brought in from San Diego to make the infield and fill Center Field.  Fences were erected, measurements to somewhat equal a big league ballpark.  Tarps were dropped over seats in “center field” so the batters would not be distracted.  It took 16 days to pull this off!  LORD only knows the money!  Four games were scheduled…two against Team Australia and then the Major League Openers.

Herculean efforts brought Herculean ticket prices:

IMG_3954 The tickets were very dear!  There is very little need for a currency converter here…the AUD is just about even with the USD. So, yep…you wanna SEE baseball?  You’re gonna PAY to see baseball.

Traffic was a nightmare…is that the way everywhere?

IMG_2101We ended up walking in.  It was a good night for it!

Corey was met right away with a few Dodger friends.  WHAT a picture opportunity!

IMG_3956They were so nice to stand by while he posed.

I loved that the ushers and attendants did not keep fans away from the field (pitch) during batting practice.  There was no pretense of “these are not your seats”.  There were tons of us down at the rail (or as close as we could get) snapping pictures, hoping for an autograph.

MY best spot of the night was this one:

IMG_3994a small glimpse of Vin Scully in the broadcast booth!


Some fans got souvenirs.  Most of us settled for being close to the field and grabbing some decent pictures.

It was a perfect night. 


All too soon it was time to head to our seats, hear the anthems and Play Ball!


The Dodgers were playing the Diamondbacks.  So we got to see Kirk Gibson (who was the inspiration for our Kirks naming)


Corey and I had a great time…the Dodgers won!  IMG_4104IMG_4103

AND…nice people took our pictures! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

You know how your mom ALWAYS told you NOT to talk to strangers…

(this could also be called “Almost Shanghaied in Shanghai!

Most of what I have written is about my travels…and most of my travels have been in China.

As a blonde (cough cough) traveller in Asia…I experience what to the Westerners seems odd…but once you consider whence it comes…you learn to accept it.  Now, my brunette and red-headed friends have also been approached…but blondes…well “us” blondes seem to get the most attention.

People want to take their pictures with us.  A LOT.  This tends to happen most in more remote areas of Asia…and when I say Asia…I really mean China.

The Chinese have really just started to travel in the last few years…so coming from remote areas to the “big city” affords them to see things they just don’t normally see…and when I say “things they don’t normally see” I mean fair people…and by fair people I really mean blondes. 

What I know about the gene pool can fill a thimble…but I do know that Asian genes are dominate…and with 1.3 billion dominate people…blonde just is NOT going to sprout….ever.

SO…now they are traveling,..and blonde haired people just stop them in their tracks. 

The first time I really was aware of this was Chengdu.  The ladies I traveled with were inside shopping…the sales clerk had irked me so I left.  I was standing on the sidewalk waiting when a little girl came around the corner slightly ahead of her grandfather.  She saw me and she stopped in her tracks.  STOPPED DEAD.  She turned back to Grandpa…and thankfully, for my self esteem at least, she did not burst into tears. He bent down to her…whispered in her ear…and THEN she turned to me and gave me the slightest wave.

I really think I was the first fair-haired person she had ever seen.

Friends have told me about being stopped for pictures.  It happened to me in Beijing and Harbin…in Harbin I could have charged!  I literally had to step away or risk losing the tour group.

The other crazy time I’ve ever seen with Chinese Nationals being enthralled by blondes was in Jiuzhaigou and Chengdu (the second time).  Most of our group was blonde:

1467203_10152365846884129_1580128745_n This is literally my favorite pic of the trip!

…but Becky Wong was approached relentlessly.  She was a good egg and took many pics…smiled her beautiful smile, and took it all in stride.


SO…what’s this all got to do with our title?

Fast forward to Shanghai.  Now…this city gets LOTS of tourists…cruise ships…so tons of westerners and tourists from inside the country.

I like to travel with Corey.  I like to travel with Corey which means I get to tour alone most of the time.  I can do whatever I want…go when I want…come back when I want…selfish maybe…but it just works!

Today I decided to take a walk on the Bund (I will write about this another time) and take a river cruise. 

There were 15 of us on a boat that held 100’s.  I was the only blonde…hell, I was the only westerner. 

It was windy and cold (not Harbin cold…but the wind chill was impressive).  I stayed outside the entire time…hoping to capture “that” shot of Shanghai

IMG_3652 IMG_3666

Yea…that didn’t happen…sigh

So we cruised for 50 min…and at the very end I was approached by a young couple who wanted to take a pic with me.  I obliged.  Two snaps…off I went…they took TONS of other pics…I didn’t think anything of it.

My other goal today was to walk the Bund.  ALL OF IT.  Well, I thought it was longer than it was b/c my Active Link is being STUPID (it’s telling the truth)…and I only earned 3 activity points so far…

As I walked…I was approached by a young lady who wanted me to take a picture of her w/Mao.  “Make SURE you get the statue”  Ok…whatever…

IMG_3742(here he is)

After I took the picture…she starts to chat me up…Also not super new b/c students like to practice their English.  She goes on and on…and I chat back…I’m from HK…here for 5 days…nothing terrible.  She talks about how her friend has not time for her b/c she is working and she is from Harbin (I’ve been there!)…She asks what I am doing today (meeting my husband LIE).  She asks what I have planned (lunch with husband LIE) Then she tells me she has made a reservation for a tea ceremony and would I like to go? “Come with me”…and goes to take my arm. 

SEE ABOVE NOTE.  I like to be alone…and well, seriously…I’m going to follow a stranger in SHANGHAI (have you NEVER seen a Bonanza or Big Valley episode people…they barely got Nick back alive!)? I don’t’ think so.

I decline…move away…off I go.  About 30 minutes later (still walking stupid active link…) and I am approached again by another young couple.  Yes, I will take a picture with them.  He asks me where I am from…do I speak Cantonese (no…)and the girl goes…I kid you not…”What are you doing…we are going to a tea ceremony.  Come with us" 

HUH?  I’ve lived in HK 3 years and I’ve not been invited to tea EVER…let alone a tea ceremony in a new place…let alone twice in 30 minutes.  I decline and move on.

I finish the walk…start making my way back to my hotel.  I am stopped one last time by an older couple and yes…I will take a pic…he flashed the “peace” sign…and thank me and off they go.

SO…I walk along and walk some more… stop in to see if the tunnel from this side to the other is work 70 Mao's to use…I see a curious sign about not believing “tour guides” and the “coMsumption trap”…and my mind starts to work overtime.  What is WITH all of these invitations? 


I get back to our beautiful room with a view, download my pics (sigh again…just nothing great today)….Well…I DO like this one….

IMG_3750 I couldn’t capture it …but all the flags…straight out, being whipped by the wind…on top of all of these old buildings…it just looked cool …

And I do a GOOGLE search.  Yes, you CAN do GOOGLE searches here…I’ve been able to find answers for things I want to know…but I’m not looking for anything too interesting…

I search  “Tea Ceremony + Scam + Shanghai”  (no quotes and YES KIRK I KNOW…I don’t need the “+” anymore).

In .26 seconds I get 1000’s of results.  Yep…my instincts held true…being a “glass half empty” person served me well…Mom’s training came in handy.

These overly friendly strangers are indeed scammers.  They take you over the river, through the neighborhoods to a tea place (the one girl called it a festival)…where you taste 3 cups of normal tea…then get the bill for 100’s of Yuan.  I guess the deal is the scammers and the tea place split what is paid b/c people are afraid to rock the boat in a foreign country…so they pay, escape, and kick themselves all the way back to their hotel. Some report paying upwards of 50-100 (or more) USD….for 3 cups of tea! 

There ARE reports of people getting the police and finding their way back (the police stand by…really don’t get involved)…but most of the stories just say “learn from me…learn from my lesson”

Here’s what I’ve learned:

***Your gut is good to follow.  If it feels wrong…it probably is. 

***Do an internet search for scams in the city you are visiting.  I have NEVER done this before…but I will from now on.

***When people want a picture with me…they just want a picture…not a conversation…those that want a conversation…want something else…

***Signs on the main tourist walkway that don’t’ seem to make sense….WILL make sense…you just need to mull it over Smile

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

When what has always been there…Won’t Be


Today…was a rough day here in Hong Kong.  Nothing personally happened to me…but I received a bit of news that saddened me beyond belief.

It is no secret that 13 1/2 years ago…I walked into a Weight Watchers meeting in Lynnwood Washington.  I was greeted by Phil Cook, Jean Osborn, Marcia Montgomery … all of whom were supportive…and later became friends and colleagues.

From October of 2000 to August of 2001…I removed around 45 pounds…I traveled (twice to Italy, one time was a cruise – and yes I lost weight).  My father was diagnosed with cancer and died that year.  No, I did not eat my way through it.

In 2002, 2003 and 2004 I trained for and completed Sprint Triathlons (this from the girl whose athletic life peaked in the 1st grade after I won the potato sack race). 

In 2002 I became a staff member as a receptionist, and later, from the urging of Linda Guangorena and Caryn Shively, I became a leader.  I was well trained, molded, lost my fear of public speaking, and if I do say so myself, became pretty damn good at working a meeting. 

I watched, urged, and supported 100’s of people as they worked themselves into a healthier lifestyle.  I witnessed Marisa and her mom collectively lose over 200 lbs.  Virginia could not walk from bench 1 to bench 2 at Green lake…and 75 lbs. later…was walking the whole thing.  Marissa received her lifetime award THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING!  Which SUCKED…b/c most people were too afraid to be there…so she celebrated with a smaller group than she deserved.  She is now a staff member and doing AWESOME!  A real role model. 

Our Saturday meeting walked/ran a 5k to help get people moving…we collected canned goods for “lose for Good”  I got to go into people’s work and watch them change and become healthier people and embrace activity as a lifestyle (Ms. Virginia…you rock) .  And even while some friends did not stay with WW…they continued their work to become healthy and fit (Rhonda is KILLING it)

I never left my work in a worse mood than when I entered.  How many of you can say that about your work?  Not very many I am betting.

I worked with the BEST group of people…all seriously and ridiculously fun, awesome and dedicated. Ms. Claire was especially dear to me…I think to all of us.  My 2nd day of training as a receptionist…I was pushed into the deep end of the pool…she stood next to me…but I was on my own.  I swam…I loved her. 

So…forward to January 2011.  I said goodbye to my friends, members and colleagues and moved to Hong Kong.  Day 2 I got my HKID (took a bus alone…but Corey met me)  Day 4 I went to CHAT (the AWA’s Come Have a Talk).  Day 7?  I was in a Weight Watchers meeting. 

When I found out we were moving…that’s what I looked up.  Where was my meeting?

I blogged about finding the meeting.  Again was met by great staff members…Thanks Tonda and Lisa .  I met two friends who immediately introduced themselves and took me under their wings and invited me to lunch.

Have you figured it out?  Weight Watchers has been a huge part of my life for all of these years.

And Monday I found out that Weight Watchers Hong Kong is closing.  Forever

Well…not just Hong Kong…China too…but I never went there…Hong Kong.  Closed . 

So…this girl (lady, old broad) has a hole in her week.  I have struggled with 8 lbs. for 4 years…I’ve always been at a “healthy” weight…just not the weight I want to be…and I’m not in the “shape” I want to be. I’ve been up…down…but always in the range.  My meetings kept things from getting out of hand…and reinforced the knowledge I had the tools to keep/take control of my world. 

I am not thinking that without a meeting I will regain all my weight.  I won’t let not having a meeting derail the efforts of all of these years.

HOWEVER…and it’s only been 2 days…I have a true sense of mourning and loss .  It will be fine.  I know my friends will be there for me in a more casual way. 

But please... don’t’ take for granted what’s “always been there”…b/c you just never know when what has “always been there” won’t be anymore…

By the way…if you want something to stick around …YOU HAVE TO SHOW UP.  Just sayin’

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Lion Dance Comes to K-11 Art Mall


Chinese New Year is a beautiful time.  There are decorations and flowers everywhere…


IMG_3244(these little “orange” trees are ever-present)

One very popular one are these wishing trees…branches with Lai-See packets hung from them.


During the weeks of Chinese New Year Lion Dances are EVERYWHERE!

At first glimpse…one might think they are watching a Dragon at work…but alas, no, these are Lions.  You will see them on corners, in parks, at malls.  Well…actually, you tend to HEAR them before you see them.

My first real encounter with Lion Dancing happened in January 2012.  Most Mondays a group of us would head down to Pacific Place to have salad at the Metropolitan Café.  We would eat, rehash our Weight Watchers meeting…and then sit and chat.  It was a weekly tradition and we had loads of fun sitting and catching up.  After 2 PM, the Café would empty out,and we would have the place pretty much to ourselves.

Then…the drums started from afar…and we didn’t think much of it.  Then the drums continued, and continued…and got closer, and closer, and then…the drums arrived.  We tried to wait out the drumming…but it went on and on.  FOR HOURS.  After an hour of TRYIING to keep conversation going…we left. (Note to self…NO MUSIC during dinner at any weddings I’m involved in planning!)

Fast forward to today.  I entered the K-11 Art Mall (I live above it)…and I heard the drums.  FLASHBACK…I wanted to flee. As I made my way upstairs…I noticed the “offerings” hanging above the doors OF EVERY RETAILER in the Mall!


See the “greens” hanging…every shop had one!  A quick search discovered the following:

“Chinese martial art schools or Chinese guild and associations will visit the houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of "cai qing" (採青), literally means "plucking the greens", a quest by the 'lion' to pluck the auspicious green normally 'vegetables' like lettuce which in Chinese called 'cái'(菜)that sound like 'cái'(财)(fortune) and auspicious fruit like oranges tied to a "Red Envelope" containing money; either hang highly or just put on a table in front of the premises.”  --From Wikipedia 

The Lion grabs the greens


…then carefully cuts away the greens and  Lai-See (offering packet attached)…shakes it’s head…and TOSSES the greens back into the store!


(see above…going in for the kill…grabbing the packet)



Shaking his head (YES…I know it’s blurry)…getting ready…and


TOSSED … back into the store.

The aftermath…


This goes on from store to store to store!


SMILE Yogurt wasn’t quite ready…and had to hurry to get their offering up in time!

A new one for me…(well, it’s all new)…was one of the jewelry stores had MANY packets tacked to the walls…and the lion went from packet to packet and grabbed all of the offerings.  Entering the store:


IMG_3378IMG_3379IMG_3380  It looks a bit like the Lion is licking the wall…but EVERY packet must be collected!

The Lion travels with a big group!


And it must take hours to go from store to store to store…EVERY store participates b/c it is believed the greens and packets will bring good luck and fortune to the store!

Here is the Lion…in all it’s glory.  Shots were tough b/c of the crowds!


I’m in absorption mode…must take pics and admire all that is Hong Kong.