Friday, January 29, 2016

The First Pre-Test

Tomorrow is the first and, according to some, the most important black belt pre-test. This is a four hour test that will determine whether each of us is really going to go forward to the next test and eventually Power Weekend, when we are tested a final time for our black belts. So, this is a really big deal.

These muscles aren't just for show
I have no idea right now whether I'm physically ready. I've done my best, week by week, to get into top shape, and I think that I've had a measure of success. But, I've also had annoying injuries, including shin splints and some persistent bursitis in my shoulders. I've had great running weeks and not great running weeks, and great push-up weeks and not great push-up weeks. The only things that I've been consistently good at are crunches and skipping. So, tomorrow could be physically great, or physically terrible, and I really can't know which it will be in advance.

The expectations for tomorrow are shrouded in mystery, as are the tasks we'll be asked to complete. A few of the people who have already got their black belts are gleeful as they warn us, with a twinkle in their eye, about how difficult it will be (e.g. there will be buckets nearby in case we have to be sick). There's a little bit of that old passage-to-maturity ritual feeling to it - 'we went through this, and now you will go through it, too, and we will keep the secret that was kept from us.' I understand it, but not knowing is obviously what drives the nervousness and anxiety about the testing. It's a mental game, as much as a physical one.

Mentally, I think I'm doing alright. I know that my emotions are my weakness. I sometimes have exercise-induced asthma, but I know how to control it. It first happened in high school, during a rugby game. I was in pain, exhausted, hot, and pissed off. Through the experience of years, I have figured out that it's fine to be in pain, fine to be exhausted, and fine to be hot. It's the pissed off part that gets me into trouble. When I feel frustration mounting in my chest, I know that my throat is about to constrict and the wheezing will start, and suddenly I won't be able to get my breath. I know how to talk myself back from that by telling myself to calm down, and breathe deeply. Tomorrow, keeping my temper in check and receiving each new instruction with calmness (joy, maybe??) will be my greatest challenge.

Last night I dreamed that my red-topped attendance card (a large rectangular piece of card stock that is used to record our attendance, and is colour-coded for belt level) had a thick, bold black line across the top of it. I didn't wake up feeling over-confident about this weekend. At first, I didn't even connect it. But I'm a bit weird when it comes to dreams; I think they often give us clues about ourselves and our actions. I think my dream was showing me the future, but not in a prophetic way; it was showing me something that I want and will be true, as long as I keep working as hard as I have been, and stay dedicated.

I'm not worried about failing the test tomorrow, but I also don't think I'm going to get a gold star at the end. For me and my teammates who have been working hard since September, this will be a difficult but possible challenge to meet. I will meet it; I will try so hard to surpass it. I'll try to be as sharp, as quick, as strong as possible. I won't be perfect, and I'll be in pain and exhausted, but I'll be calm, and take joy where I can find it, and keep my eyes on that bold black line.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Here Lies Kate: She Got What She Asked For

There's something about the power of intention, something spooky. There's something about telling the universe that you want to achieve certain things, and then finding yourself doing more than just achieving them, but surpassing your own expectations or wildest imaginings.

Just over two years ago, when I was about to turn 30, I wrote a list of things I hoped to achieve in my fourth decade of life. I know now that I could have said that I wanted to achieve them in the first half of my fourth decade; at this rate, I'm going to need some new goals by 35.

You see, some of the things I wanted to do were:
- become an eccentric aunt
- get my PhD
- travel "way more," and move somewhere new
- make a decision about whether to get my black belt
- wear fun things every day
- take more time for snuggles, and remember to love deeply and to be grateful

Well, it's only been two years, and already I can tick half of these off the list. I'm doing my PhD, and I'm actually half-way through it at this point. I decided to do it in Birmingham, England, so in terms of efficiency I managed education and travel quite handily. I am definitely travelling as much as I hoped I would. More, in fact; I think I spent six out of 12 months last year out of the country, so that's quite a lot of travel. Luckily, it hasn't all been to England. Drew and I went to Asia in September, and in February we're going to Australia. We'll be in Scotland in June, as well.

We haven't moved to a new city, but I think the PhD sort of takes care of that one, too. It's not definitely the case that I won't get a job in Toronto, but there's such a slim chance that it's not really worth hoping for, and very much not a good idea to plan for. A new city is in our future, I believe, and I really look forward to that.

In rereading the list that I made when turning 30, I'm amused to notice that I only wanted to "make a decision about whether" to get my black belt in Taekwondo. Well, I definitely decided. I checked out a martial arts school around the corner from our house in January two years ago, and once joining the school there was no going back. Participating in the school means progressing in one's skills, and so since I joined with a brown belt, they let me get back into it at that level, and now I'm only a few months away from achieving black belt. A few months, and a few hundred hours of physical and mental training. Just in case you're curious, everything still hurts.

Regarding becoming an eccentric aunt, I pointed out before that the aunt part was up to other people, but that I could handle the eccentric part. It just so happens that in addition to my two 7-year-old nieces, all of those potential other people who could aunt me have now done so. It's a literal avalanche of babies around here. My sister, my two besties, and four or five other girlfriends are either currently pregnant or have just had babies. For two of these friends, they're already on their second.

So aunthood is well in hand, and the eccentric bit is coming along well, too, depending on who you ask. A friend recently made a comment to Drew and I about having eccentric friends, and I observed that eccentricity is a relative term. To many people, that Drew and I don't want to get married or have kids, that we ride our bikes as our primary transportation, and that we like renting, is enough to make us eccentric to the point of near-unrelatability. It all depends on where you're standing.

The projects of wearing fun things every day, taking time for snuggles, and loving deeply and being grateful are all long-term, on-going, constant works of self-improvement. These will never be accomplished, but always undertaken. I'm reading Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking," and I don't think there's another book that could help with the project of loving deeply and being grateful as much as this can. It's almost like being given the gift of time. Reading Didion's reflections on her husband's sudden death and the things that she remembered, questioned, or regretted is like getting a letter from my future self, telling me to take care now. It's like glimpsing the future, 40 years hence, and understanding that every moment between now and then is precious and fleeting, and that there is never enough time. I told Drew the other night that a whole lifetime isn't enough time with hm, and I meant it. I'm grateful to Didion for reminding me to go slowly and gently through the world, and to Drew for going through it with me.

It's nice to sit here, on a train to Ottawa to see my bestie and her son, and to reflect on how much I've accomplished and how much I have left to do. I started this post thinking that one should be careful what one wishes for, because one might just get it. I'm ending the post thinking that if my life were cut abruptly now, I would feel good about what I'd gotten done in the time I had.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015: year of the awesome woman lead?

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I have the distinct impression that things are changing. I think I see a sea change happening around me. It's been coming, but now I feel like I'm on top of the cresting wave, able to look behind and ahead, and what I'm seeing is a shit-ton of truly awesome women leads in movies and T.V. shows for what feels like the first time ever.

Rey is pretty darn good
with that bo staff
Obviously there have been women leads in the past, and there is nary a bigger fan of A League of Their Own or Sex and The City than me to be found. But even the SATC women weren't leads like I'm talking about here, because they were all focused on men. They existed in the world of men, and for men, and men were what shaped their lives and gave them meaning. What I think I'm seeing now is a remarkable swing toward seeing women leads that talk to each other as people and give their own lives meaning. Leads like Jessica Jones, Carol (and Therese), Imperator Furiosa, and Rey, to name a few. We even got a badass woman engineer-spy in Gaby in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Finally women are playing multidimensional characters! These women are SURVIVORS, and they're RESISTERS. They're smart, self-willed and independent, experts in the STEM fields, physically able to defend themselves, crack shots with rifles, emotionally wary and unavailable... Though maybe that last one isn't something we should encourage in our characters of either gender since it's a little too much like playing traditional masculinity, which really isn't necessary. And being able to recognize and talk about one's emotions is an important part of relationships and self-care. But really, fuck it, if men characters are allowed to be emotionally stunted fuckwads, then so are women. You do you, Jones. Just watch the drinking. And maybe the best part? None of these women characters are trying to be sexy, to fall in love, or to be saved by the Knight in Shining Armour. They've got sports bras on underneath their own armour, thank you very much.

BIG CAVEAT HERE THOUGH: all of these women are (appear to be) white. Especially in the Hollywood blockbusters, the badass women leads of 2015 are white.

Furiosa can and will
use your shoulder
as a rifle stand
So here I am, feeling visible and vindicated and voiceful as a white woman, but what about women of colour? I honestly left the theatre after watching Star Wars last night feeling good about myself, because Rey was such a cool character. I didn't feel like I'd just sat through a two-hour long attack on my personhood, consisting of hundreds of tiny sexist moments on-screen, and that has certainly happened before. I felt seen, and recognized. The next step is for WoC to have that feeling, and that means that WoC need to get those leads and play those roles, so that it's not just white women leaving the theatre feeling seen, but all women, and not just white women who get to be mechanics and crack shots, but all women.

2015 is just the start of getting women into amazing and powerful roles, and it's a good one. I'm really amazed that it's taken so long but also that it's happening at all, when patriarchal systems and institutional sexism are still so very strong. I feel the change, I see it happening, and I'm eager to see it keep going, to see women of all colours in amazing roles in the future, so that we can all be recognized as the multidimensional people that we are.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Black Stripe: One step closer

Drew got his brown belt, too!
This week in Taekwondo, I got my black stripe belt. It's one step closer to the main event. Because I'm right in the middle of training for my black belt, and I have five more months of super hard work ahead, it almost doesn't feel like getting my black stripe is a big accomplishment. But it is an accomplishment, and it's the official nod of the head that sets me on track for black belt in the new year. So, I felt I should acknowledge it here, even just to remind myself that this is really cool.

This week's grading ceremony required me and my co-red-belts to perform two forms (patterns/katas) for the audience, break three boards in different ways, do some three-on-one self-defence, and do kicking demonstrations. It was really fun, and I felt really prepared for it, so I wasn't too nervous.

Tomorrow's classes are the last ones for 2015, and we have a two-week break over the holidays. Then we will be ramped back up to total-dedication-six-days-per-week training. I'm so grateful for the break! I will do some light training I think, but I really need my shins to heal! I've been plagued by shin splints all autumn - and I still haven't figured out what the British term for this ailment is. Rest assured, I'll be saving some birthday/yuletide gift money for new running shoes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Self-Worth and Fuckwithability

One of my former professors and Facebook friends recently posted an image with a word and a definition. The word was 'unfuckwithable,' defined (loosely - I'm paraphrasing) as not being in any way affected by the opinions or thoughts of others about one's self. I understand the sentiment, and think it's awesome that some people reach unfuckwithability in most areas of their lives. I have an element of unfuckwithability in my life; if someone makes some dumb comment about my appearance these days I'm not going to give it a moment's notice. I did enough noticing of other people's opinions in my 20s. However, when it comes to my PhD, and my future career prospects, I am utterly, despairingly fuckwithable.

I've been pondering this idea lately, wondering about how people can push on, even when they feel fuckwithed. How do people pursue new challenges, even when they think they might fail? What makes someone think that they and their ideas are worthwhile even when they do fail? My quarterly bout of PhD-related panic about the future and about failing at publishing things, not becoming an academic, or ever being employed again (though according to the Current, 1 in 5 Canadian PhDs will get a tenure track position - thanks CBC, I feel weirdly optimistic about my odds now), dovetailed nicely with some reading I've been doing and some conversations with friends.

Another Facebook friend, someone who I was friends with in elementary school but hadn't seen or spoken with for over a decade until we saw each other at a mutual friend's funeral a couple of years ago, sent me a message after reading my recent post about black belt training. With her permission, here is an excerpt of her message and our ensuing conversation. Remarking on the things other than money that our parents can give to us when we're growing up, she commented:

It was an interesting conversation, because even though neither of us came from affluent backgrounds, we had very different experiences growing up. My family placed a lot of value on education, and my sister and I were raised into the idea that we would attend post-secondary schools of some kind, even though no one in my family (minus my grandfather, who died before I was born) had gone to university. I say 'raised into' because there is no moment that I can recall being told that I would go, or I should go, to university; there was just a kind of assumption in the air around us that after high school we would do more school, like a natural next step.

We were expected to do well in school, so good grades were met with approval and some praise, and not-so-good grades (for me, OAC physics.... ouch) were met with questioning looks - because my parents thought that, fundamentally, we were capable of success in all things. My friend said that she was not raised with these expectations, nor the idea that she was capable of success in whatever she was doing. Rather than just leave her without the motivation to push herself forward, she took the lack of these positive attitudes into herself and believed herself to be lacking.

People like Natalie Stojar, Carolyn McLeod, and Paul Benson do a lot of thinking and writing about how a person's self-esteem is influenced by others. Self-esteem, and feelings that we're valuable and worthwhile, does not come from inside us - at least, not originally. We get our self-esteem from other people throughout our childhood, and maybe even into our 20s. We have to learn from other people that we are valuable just because of who we are, and others show us that we are valuable through the ways in which they speak to us, listen to us, and expect certain things of us. This, to simplify, is why some people can gain systematic power over other people - tell them (individually or in groups) that they aren't worthwhile from a young age or over many generations, and they could largely come to believe it's true, even though I suspect that each person always carries deep within them a nugget of positive self-regard. Large parts of humanity live in a constant state of ultrafuckwithability, but we can resist being fuckwithed, we can protest the messages that undermine us, and we can redefine who we are.

It seems to me that my family's belief that I was capable of success in things, even when I wasn't showing success, shaped my sense of who I am and what I can do. At this point in life, failures sting my pride and poke my insecurity, but can't cut into my feeling of overall competence deeply. After a few days of wound-licking, I tend to realize that I'm a worthwhile person, that I know how to work hard and not get lazy, that I'm interested in my work, and because of that I realize I'm driven, and deep down I think that I'm capable; I near unfuckwithability. These self-regarding feelings start with other people, and if it wasn't for my family teaching that I am a valuable person, no amount of skills training could have gotten me where I am at this moment, having done all the things I've done.

One line from my friend's message stands out to me: no one encouraged her to go to school, or to do anything, really. So she thought she wasn't good enough. As she says, imagine growing up with that. Why would you even try something? Why would you even risk showing that you were interested in trying something? Just expressing interest can be enough to get you made fun of by people who don't think you're capable. Those kinds of comments about one's abilities and aptitudes sink in deep, and shape a person's sense of self.

However, my friend is also at a point in her life where she's becoming unfuckwithable. The nugget of self-regard that has always lived deep inside has woken up, and her sense that she really is capable of things - things she didn't previously think were possible - is newly alive. She's taking new risks, she's finding her passions, and she's got a lot to give. She's valuable, she's capable, she's worthy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Black belt training is... well... it's something

If I could accurately capture the sound of my aching muscles in text, that would be the title of this post. Something like, 'aaaaaaagggggcchchchchchchaaa!' every time I try to walk. This is black belt training, it would seem, and it is hard. There is never a time that some muscle in my body isn't aching. At the moment I'm walking like I've got a peg leg.

Master Donnelley, far left, instructs
a group of kids before the seminar
My peg leg situation is the combined result of a seminar on Sunday and my regular Monday class, both of which happened to involve a lot of kicking. The Sunday seminar was really interesting. It was taught by Master Paul Donnelley, 8th degree black belt (9th is the highest possible), and though it was short, it was intense. Apparently it was nowhere near as intense as his classes used to be - physically demanding and rigorously disciplined. Now in his 70s, Master Donnelley is still quicker on his feet than any of the younger of us were. It's amazing to me how physical skills can get sharper and more refined through life - age is no barrier.

My fancy Taekwondo Association
of Great Britain dobok
Besides a couple of classes per week while I'm in Birmingham, the rest of my current training regime is independent - three runs a week (for a total of 15km), skipping 1200 times, 50 push-ups, etc. No one is watching over my shoulder to make sure I do it. I have to keep a weekly journal of what I'm doing, but it would be easy to lie, saying that I'm doing things that I'm not. Even on days when this is extremely tempting, when I would really rather not go for a run (which is every day I'm supposed to go for a run), I do the work instead.

Look at that forced pre-run
smile -at least it's sunny
for once in Brum!
I know that if I don't do the work, no one but me will suffer. If I didn't do all the things I am supposed to do, and didn't lie about it, then I would get my butt kicked in class with crazy hard work-outs when my Master (Veronica Desantos, also known affectionately as Kwon Jan Nim, or KJN) saw that I hadn't done it. If I don't do the work but pretend that I have, and then make it evident that I was lying when I really don't have the endurance to do the same things during our black belt grading - also known as power weekend - I will also get my butt kicked. I'm going to get my butt kicked anyway, on power weekend, and that's the final reason for doing all this training: if I don't do it, I'll have no one to blame but myself for having the most hellacious experience in grading. I have no idea what happens during the weekend because it's all veiled in ritual, but I get the impression that it starts on Friday night, allows little sleep, involves being pushed to one's physical and mental limits and being made to do a wholly unethical number of burpees, and that it finishes with an eight o'clock 5km run on Sunday morning. Power weekend is not a joke.

If I can run 5km now, three times a week, without stopping, crying, or hyperventilating, then maybe - just maybe - I will be able to run 5km on the boardwalk with no sleep, an aching body, and a murderous desire for coffee.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hot, Humid, Happy Hong Kong

At this point it's been almost two months since Drew and I touched down in Hong Kong, and a month since we left it the second and final time. Our time in Hong Kong was so great that it's hard to know where to even start. I *loved* this city. To recap, some of the things we wanted to do while we were in Hong Kong included:

- climbing up to Victoria Peak
- going to the Temple Street Night Market, among others
- going to Lamma by ferry, and eating at the Rainbow Seafood Restaurant
- going to Macau for a day

The first day we were in Hong Kong was Thursday Sept. 3rd 2015, and it had been rather suddenly announced that this day was a national holiday, marking the Chinese victory over Japan 70 years previous, in 1945. This was the first time that this national holiday would be observed, and the last time. While Beijing had parades and fireworks and all kinds of celebrations, in Hong Kong, which wasn't even a part of China until 1997, it was just a normal day off.

Drew and Melissa check out
the fish at Rainbow Seafood
Because people had the day off, families were out and about together, and the 'helpers' - domestic staff - that Hong Kongers have were all sitting together outdoors, on pieces of cardboard, in their designated gathering areas. These were all women, and almost exclusively Filipina. My friend, Melissa, who lives in Hong Kong and let us stay with her (wonderful person!), also had the day off, which was amazing luck for all of us, and we decided to head out to Lamma together to hike over the island and check out the restaurant. The food was amazing everywhere we ate, and Rainbow was definitely worth the trip. Live fish were arranged in tanks, and everything was fresh and cooked to order. It was a recommendation from another friend, Christina, who had been to Hong Kong last year on her honeymoon, and it was a great call. I definitely recommend it to anyone going. The ferry ride to Lamma is also great, and gave us a chance to see some cool architecture, such as a collection of buildings that all have Feng Shui holes in them, so that the 'dragon energy' of the mountain behind them can escape to the sea.

Feng Shui spaces, for energy flow
Hong Kong was *super hot* - I can't even describe how hot it was. Mostly, it was incredibly humid, and though I'm sure that the real temperature wasn't outrageous - maybe in the low-to-mid 30's C - the air was smotheringly, inescapably, mind-destroyingly damp. It was like wearing a hot, wet duvet at all times. Drew and I were constantly sweating, and I envied the people around us who still looked crisp and comfortable in their clothes. This was another great thing about being on the ferry: artificial breeze and the illusion of coolness.

Spotting the Buddha from the gondola
Drew and I decided not to go to Macau after all, instead opting to take a trip out to Landau, a nearby island that one can get to by train, to visit the world's largest seated Buddha. Apparently, if you're flying into the city on a clear day you can see it from the air. We didn't get that view, but amazing views of it were possible from the gondola (!!) that you have to take from the train station, over the mountainous island to the Buddha. It turns out that Drew does not enjoy gondola rides, so he found it a bit scary. I was mostly impressed at the few people who I could see down below us crossing the island on a pathway that snaked up and down the mountains, with staircases here and there.

We climbed these stairs,
it was hard.
Again, this day was insanely hot, and Drew and I were dripping sweat just by climbing all the stairs up to the Buddha itself, so I can't imagine traversing the island on foot. The view from the Buddha was worth the shaking legs and soaked shirt, at least. After walking around the grounds and the statue, we grabbed some noodles and water at a vegetarian canteen run by the monks who live beside and take care of the Buddha, and then made our way back, utterly exhausted. Many showers were required in Hong Kong.

The following day, Melissa took us around to the various markets of Kowloon (the mainland part of Hong Kong). We started at the flower market, which was a long street entirely composed of flower shops, then went to the bird market, which was a square garden-like area full of people selling birds of different kinds.

A little bird in its
fancy cage
It's a sign of prosperity in China to own a bird, and we occasionally saw people walking down the street with birds in decorative cages. I can only hope that the birds had larger cages at home, and that the small decorative ones were just for showy walks down the street. They were super ornate, with tiny painted porcelain dishes for water and seeds.

From the bird market, we went to the Ladies' Market, which used to be where women would go to buy fabric and other materials for sewing and dressmaking, but which is now just a kind of regular clothes and gadgets market. We stopped in a few places, warming up our haggling skills, and picking up souvenirs for friends.

Just a fun picture of a parrot getting a
shower in the bird market.
She loved it; I was jealous.
From there, we next went to Sneaker Street, which is an entire city block of shoe - specifically, sneaker - stores. All of the stores were busy. Rather, all of the markets we went to this day were packed with people. Some of the sneaker stores even repeated, with multiple Nike stores and Adidas stores set up just a block from each other, and all doing a hefty trade. Then we stopped by the smaller jade market, which was more of a tent-based structure, with stalls inside. It was hard to tell good/real jade from non-jade stone, though it's easy to tell real stone from plastic or glass. We did some reading on what to look for in jade, because I wanted to buy a bangle, and we found some quite useful websites about it. I believe that I purchased a real jade bangle, and I think I haggled down to a reasonable price for it, but I doubt that I'll ever really know if it's real or not. In truth, it doesn't much matter - I like it, and didn't feel ripped off.

Waiting for yummy food at the
Temple Street Nigh Market
Finally, after this stop we went to the Temple Street Night Market. At this point we were heavily marketed out. We'd spent money along the way at the various markets (with the exception of flower and bird), and kind of just needed to sit and watch the crowd. Fortunately, the Night Market is packed with restaurants serving delicious food at outdoor tables. We went to a spicy crab place, and had a number of dishes, including some seriously good crispy duck on noodles. Hong Kong is really a food-lovers paradise.

After being in Hong Kong for a few days, I felt like we had adapted a bit to the heat. My feet and hands had stopped doubling in size with heat-edema the instant I walked outside (Drew and I both had this - Drew had to have a silver ring that he bought at the markets sized down significantly when we returned to Canada and his hands went back to normal). I thought that maybe we could handle hiking up to Victoria Peak.

We set out to take the bus to the bottom of the path that leads up the mountain, with plans to walk to the top and maybe take a bus or the tram back down to the bottom. We got off the bus at the spot where the map kind of showed a street or lane-way leading up into the park, and promptly got very lost. We weren't lost in the sense that we didn't know where we were, but we were lost in the sense that we had no idea how to get where we wanted to go. We started walking vaguely in the direction of 'up the mountain', following paths that looked to be going the right way. We finally thought we were on the right pathway when it abruptly ended at, on the left, a building complex, and on the right, a gate, slightly open, that seemed to lead into some kind of garden. We saw a man watering plants through the gate, so we went through to ask for some directions. We were disconcerted to find that he was unable to locate us on a map, so we just asked if he could tell us where we could get a taxi. He pointed through an archway, up some stairs, and told us to take a right at the top. As we walked through the archway, and up the stairs, we realized we were passing a pool and tennis courts, and a restaurant, and everyone at the tables and around the facilities looked fresh and neat compared to our sweaty and panting state. Finally we walked into a lobby, took a right into a larger lobby, and walked past a lovely reception desk where people were checking in for tennis fours and making dinner reservations. We smiled warmly at the reception people and the door man, and exited swiftly into the open door of a waiting taxi. And that's how Drew and I accidentally broke in through the back way of the Ladies' Recreational Club, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong from the Peak!
The taxi was a life-saver. There was no way we could have walked up to Victoria Peak that day, sunny and humid as it was. We made it to the top, wandered around with green tea ice cream cones from McDonald's, took a bunch of great photos of Hong Kong harbour, and laughed at our misadventure. We took the bus back down to the Wan Chai neighbourhood for lunch, and (after I recovered from car-sickness - Gravol is recommended for Hong Kong bus adventures) wandered the streets and ate delicious food from vendor stalls.

Me at the peak, admiring the city
There's still more that I could tell about our visit in Hong Kong. It was a great city that I could easily have spent more time in. We managed to see and do a lot, and Melissa was a wonderful and very generous host and tour guide, and yet there is so much more that we could have done if we'd had more time. Hong Kong is so accessible to the Westerner, because everything is in English (road signs, restaurant menus, subway signs) and pretty much everyone speaks English, including in the markets. It was easy to haggle, with the help of a calculator to display the amount you were offering, and people were friendly. There were also big cultural differences between Hong Kongers and Chinese people (mainlanders), which was interesting to see and experience. Hong Kongers, because of the British influence, I assume, have many more Brit customs and cultural expectations (table manners, for example), which also made it a pretty comfortable place for us to visit, and interesting to contrast this with mainland Chinese culture and how their customs and expectations were so different. I really hope to get back to Hong Kong, and I can't recommend it enough. I'd also like to see much more of China, now that I feel like I'm a bit prepared and it feels less intimidating.

Drinks at the top of the ICC!
Drew and I can't express enough tanks to Melissa, for showing us around and making excellent recommendations about what to see, where to go, and how to get there! From her many umbrellas to her expertise on top-of-the-world cocktails and soup dumplings, Melissa really made our time in Hong Kong the excellent experience that it was. Thank you so much, Melissa. You are so generous, and so willing to give your time and space and energy to friends! We love you!