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Summer School is Over

Yesterday was my last day of teaching summer school and I have to honestly say I'm not sorry that it is over. I did have the opportunity to meet and work with lots of interesting children- but the summer school style of teaching is not for me. We taught five groups of up to 25 children everyday for 45 minutes and after two weeks I was just starting to remember all of their names. It is hard to establish relationships and routines when you see so many children for such a short period of time. It did make me realize however that the basis for my ability to control and manage a classroom over the years lay in building personal relationships with children and getting to know them well and in making sure the lessons I had planned were engaging.  Since the former was almost impossible in the summer school setting I had to work extra hard at making the lessons interesting which meant lots of work everyday after summer school was over at 1 pm.  I had four different curriculums, since the students were in grades 2,3,4 and 5. There were two groups of grade twos so at least I didn't have to use five different curriculums, but  planning lessons for all those classes everyday certainly kept me on my toes. I wished many times I'd had all the Sunday School and club curriculum materials I wrote when I worked for the Mennonite Publishing House with me for ideas for lesson plans. I was able to find quite a few things on the internet though- the text for stories and fables I'd used in the past and even videos of many of the stories and songs I used to teach to my elementary students before I started teaching high school. 

My job was made a whole lot easier by these two terrific people Eugene and Tze. They are both former students of mine and were my classroom assistants. They did all the routine stuff, snacks, taking kids to the washroom, taking kids to the the nurse, clean up, getting supplies, photocopying, attendance, dismissal lines and routines- it made things a lot less stressful for me. Eugene graduated from ICS in 2010 and was attending the University of British Columbia this last year and Tze just graduated and is going to Queens University in Kingston, Ontario next year. One of the strengths and joys of the summer program at ICS is that all the employees are teachers and present or former ICS students. Many alumni come back every summer to work till they graduate from university.  It was nice to touch base with former students during the summer school week and its great for the alumni to have a chance to reconnect with their former classmates and work together as well. Karen Lee our summer school program coordinator says many parents like to send their kids to our summer school program, rather than the ones offered by other schools, because they know all the instructors are our former students and they all speak English so well. Finding summer jobs in Hong Kong is not easy so ICS really helps out our alumni by providing jobs at the school for the summer. 

Most of the students at summer school aren't from ICS. They go to other schools in Hong Kong and come to our school to practice their English and receive the character and religious education we offer. Some of the students attend other international schools but many attend local public schools as well. This means there is a wide variety of English language ability within each group. Some speak English fluently while others are just beginning to learn the language. Planning lessons that catered to such a diverse group was challenging. I was teaching the speaking class so I wanted to be sure that they spent a good part of their 45 minutes with me actually talking. We did lots of songs and chants and poems and games that got the kids involved and speaking for most of the class.  The students also took classes in writing, computers, sports and reading. Dave was the sports teacher and in the summer school rotation I always received the classes who had just had an exciting and active time in the gym with him. 

There were lots of sweet kids in my groups and the last two weeks have been a good reminder of how much energy and careful planning it takes to work with younger students. 

We unwound after our two week summer school job with a fun night- dinner at Fat Angelos in Causeway Bay and then a couple of hours of karaoke with our friend Michelle and our house guest Joop.

Che Kung Temple


Yesterday our friend Joop arrived from Bangkok for a three day visit. Joop was an exchange student of ours when we taught highschool in Canada. We visited him in Bangkok last October. You can read more about Joop in an article on my website and about our visit with Joop in Bangkok in a former blog entry.  Yesterday I asked him what he would like to do first and he said he would like to visit a temple to pray.  I wasn't quite sure which temple to take him to, but I chose the Che Kung Temple because it was nearby in Tai Wai.  When Dave and I first moved to Hong Kong we lived just behind the temple and from our apartment window I could see long lines of people waiting to go there to pray during the Chinese New Year holiday so I assumed it must be a popular place of worship. The first thing Joop did was talk to one of the vendors about how many incense sticks he needed to buy. He told me the protocol is different in every temple.  He needed 15 sticks- five for each of three urns in which he would place the incense. 

Che Kung temple has been in Hong Kong for over 300 years although a new temple was built on the original site in 1993. The temple honors a courageous general named Che Kung- who is represented by a huge golden statue in the main temple. He tried to quash a rebellion in southern China during the Song dynasty and fled to Hong Kong with the emperor for safety before the dynasty collapsed. The general and the emperor settled in a small village near Sai Kung. The villagers so respected him they built a temple in his honor and he was deified after his death.

After Joop had bought incense sticks he went to a fire in the courtyard to light them and then approached the three urns on the altar to pray.

Joop put his incense sticks in the different urns and spent a long time praying at each one. I asked him later what he had prayed about and he said he had asked for success in his life- specifically his studies, for this trip,  his relationship with his family and friends and many other things.

All around the temple wall were these interesting art pieces that told the story of the various legends about General Che Kung. Apparently he not only was a great warrior but after moving to Hong Kong was said to have the power to heal epidemics. If he visited a village that was suffering from an epidemic, the villagers were healed and the epidemic stopped. People also came to him for counsel and advice. There are actually four Che Kung festivals every year and many people visit the temple on those festival days to pray for good luck. The temple is not far from the race course in Shatin and apparently it is a popular place to come to pray for luck before going to bet on the races. During Chinese New Year it is said the Che Kung temple receives over a 100,000 visitors. The temple is particularly well known for its fortune tellers and we saw more than half a dozen busy with customers on one porch of the temple.
Whenever we have visitors in Hong Kong I always learn something new as a result of the things they are interested in and want to do. I was glad Joop wanted to go a temple because it gave me a chance to learn more about one of Hong Kong's most well known religious buildings. 

12G4 Reunion


Last night we had a reunion party for 12G4 which was my advisory group of students at ICS two years ago. The students have all finished their first year of university and are back for the summer. Hannah and YK two of our group decided they wanted to organize a get together before I left Hong Kong and I had a great time catching up with them all and finding out more about their first year of studies. Here I am with Bryan who has been at the University of Waterloo this last year, Jon who was studying sports and recreation management at a college in British Columbia and YK who is studying business at City University here in Hong Kong.  

Hannah graciously hosted us in her home which she shares with her family and their two very friendly dogs. The dogs went kind of crazy when so many new people arrived and they were jumping all over us, but after awhile they settled down. The one Corgi especially loved Rosana. Rosana just returned from a trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg with her Mom. Rosana is minoring in Russian Literature at Northwestern University in Michigan and wanted to see some of the places she had been reading about this last year. 

Hannah and I got together at Starbucks for coffee before the party so we could do some good 'catching up' before everyone else arrived. Hannah was a design student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia this last year.  This summer she is taking three courses at the branch of SCAD here in Hong Kong and she showed us one of her pieces from her Life Drawing class. It was interesting to hear about the things she is studying at SCAD, her part time job at Five Guys- a restaurant I need to check out, her friends in Savannah and how she has adjusted to living in the American South.  Jiawei is a student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.  The first thing I noticed about him was how much weight he had lost. He was never overweight or anything but he is so slim now.  He says its because his university is dodgeball crazy and he plays lots of dodgeball many times each week. All that running around has got him into great shape. 

The kids ordered in supper and they wouldn't let me pay, because they said the supper was a thank you for all the breakfasts I had provided for them for our early morning advisory meetings during their senior year. We tried to Skype Sebastian one of our group members who said he was sorry to miss the reunion and wanted to talk to us while we were at Hannah's. Sebastian is a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis and he is doing a summer internship there. However it was very early in the morning in St. Louis and we couldn't connect with him unfortunately. Also missing from our reunion was Ruth who was visiting family in Korea and Jovie who was at a family dinner here in Hong Kong. She and I had a lovely long lunch on Tuesday though and I heard all about her studies at Ryerson University in Toronto and her plans for the future.
It was so nice to reconnect with these students and I am very glad they organized our reunion. Dave and I hope to visit many of them next year on our travels. 

Award Winning Artist

In May I did a series of five blog posts about some of the very talented artists from our school whose work I had the privilege of seeing at the ICS Advanced Placement Art Show. I profiled Mandy, Anastasia, Natalie and Felicity and Chloe. I always meant to do more posts about some of the other art students but so far hadn't got around to it. I was inspired to revisit the topic when I found out today that the young man in this photo, Ryan Ho, had one of his pieces chosen for the traveling AP art exhibit.  From the 42,000 AP Art Portfolios  submitted from around the world, 30 pieces of art were chosen for display and one of Ryan's images was included. Ryan's idea for his portfolio theme was brillant and fascinating. He took scenes of traditional Hong Kong and juxtapositioned them with images from the future. On Ryan's left are futuristic apartments displayed against a photograph of an old Hong Kong high rise.  In the image on Ryan's right a multi-tasking kitchen robot works outside   a traditional Chinese noodle shop. 

Ryan told me he was thinking about how society holds up this ideal for  guys to be 'perfect'- sensitive, wealthy, athletic, creative, scientific, well read, good dancers and many other traits- so he created the perfect robotic man for this traditional Cantonese opera singer to dance with. In the second image he's created bubble houses that protect you from nature's elements but at the same time allow you to appreciate the great outdoors. 

My favorite artwork of his however was this view of the Hong Kong harbor which combines elements of the harbor as it was in the past, the way it looks now and how it may look in the future. I am excited to see where Ryan's future will take him. He is such a creative designer. I had the privilege of teaching him in my Advanced Composition class and he is also a very gifted writer. I always looked forward to receiving his work because I knew how much I was going to enjoy what he had written. This coming year Ryan begins his two years of mandatory service in the Singapore army, so he will have to wait awhile before continuing his design studies.
I hope to do future posts about some of the other art students whose work I photographed, however my Hong Kong Journal has very few days left to live.  On Monday we fly back to Canada. I am not sure yet whether I will just change the name of this blog or start a new one, or in honor of my promise to my husband to begin a year of living aimlessly  not keep a blog at all. 

Last Quiz Night

Quiz Night has been a part of our weekly routine in Hong Kong since we moved here. I did a previous post on our Quiz Nights in Hong Kong, in which I explained that while we had started out at a Monday night quiz at the White Stag in Wan Chai, gradually we had migrated to a Tuesday Quiz Night at the Shamrock in Tsim Tsa Tsui. Every once and awhile Dave would still go to the White Stag mostly because he enjoyed visiting with Steve Justice,an American expat and music expert who always joined our ICS quiz team. Tonight for old times sake we paid one last visit to the White Stag. Michelle Pardini was the only ICS friend in Hong Kong for the summer but she happily accompained us to our 'last supper' and quiz night. Steve moved back to Rochester permanently a few weeks ago because his wife got a new job there and so he wasn't at the White Stag either. 
We certainly didn't do very well, especially in the music round, although Dave and Michelle did an amazing job of the television high school category.  Glenn, our Quiz Master would give us the name of a high school and we had to say which television program it was featured in.  I don't know how they knew that Welcome Back Kotter was set at James Buchanan High for example.  I did know that the high school in Glee was William McKinley High and that Springfield Elementary was the school the kids in the Simpsons attended. I was really no help to the team at all except I solved the anagram- which was A Cleanly Vulgar Thought- and the clue was a 2003 movie and its star.  It was Love Actually with Hugh Grant. For some reason I was able to figure it out.

We happened to be sitting next to our quiz master Glenn who has been a fixture at the White Stag since we started attending Quiz Night there. He certainly has an entertaining style but he wasn't happy when Dave told him Steve had moved back to the States and this would be our last night. Dave told him we'd see him in another life or perhaps on a future visit to Hong Kong. Dave was watching Glenn closely tonight and Dave thought he would make a pretty good quiz master and wondered if he should offer his services to some Winnipeg establishment and run a quiz night of his own. I think he would be great at it- with his sense of humor and vast knowledge of trivia. We got home very late. I was falling asleep by the time they read out the correct answers for this week's quiz, but it was nice to pay one last visit to the White Stag Quiz Night. 

The Tree of Life

Yesterday Dave and I saw the movie Tree of Life which just opened here in Hong Kong this weekend. I had read articles about it in Dora Dueck's blog Borrowing Bones  and in John Esau's column in The Mennonite Weekly Review.  I had also checked out what The New Yorker and Christianity Today had to say about it.  The one thing most reviewers agree on is that this movie raises more questions than it answers- questions like Why are we here?  Where are the dead? Does God exist?  Is the complexity of creation proof of God's existence? Do kids need tough love or unconditional love?  The central question for me after seeing the movie is one, that like many people, I have struggled with for a long time, particularly after our tsunami experience in 2004 and my travels through some of the poorest countries in the world. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?  The father in Tree of Life- played by Brad Pitt struggles with this when he loses his job.  " I never missed a day of work and I tithed every Sunday" he says. The mother played by Jessica Chastain struggles with this when her son dies unexpectedly.  She has always believed in grace, forgiveness and goodness but she cannot accept her child's death. This theme is certainly evident in the Sunday morning sermon when the family in the film is attending church and the pastor talks about how misfortune befalls both good people as well as bad people. 
Over twenty years ago when we taught in a Mennonite Mission School on the Hopi Indian Reservation my friend and colleague Mary Beth recommended I read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner, a rabbi who lived in her neighborhood in Natik, Massachusetts.  Kushner whose young son died of a rare disease answers the question of why God allows bad things to happen to good people, by saying that God doesn't.  God is not connected with any event or action that is evil and bad things happen in our world as a result of human kind's bad or sinful decisions. God is not the cause of, nor does God allow bad things to happen to 'teach us a lesson' or for 'some greater purpose' we may not understand. This is quite a different point of view than the one expressed by the grandmother in Tree of Life who says "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away", while she tries to console her grieving daughter-in-law.  So how does one have hope in a world where so many bad things happen to good people?  Kushner says we have hope because God is love, and when bad things happen to us God loves us and helps us and we help each other. The Tree of Life says we have hope because creation happens constantly and because we can find happiness and meaning if we only choose to love and to forgive.  
I have been thinking about this in relation to our recent trip to Ukraine and all the 'bad things' that befell our grandparents' families.  They were good people whose lives were turned upside down by events over which they had little control. In reading their memoires however it is clear that their belief in God gave them hope and they were sustained both emotionally and in a direct physical way by the love of their families and faith communities. Creation was constant for them. They created a new life for their families in Canada. Our grandparents remained 'good people' despite the bad things that happened to them and left us a legacy of grace and love. 

Eating at a 150 Year Old Restaurant


Tonight we had a 'last supper' in Hong Kong with our good friend Lot Tze. We have known Lot, a popular Hong Kong radio personality since we first moved here in 2003. I have written about Lot quite often in the past and you can read all about how Dave and I became friends with him on my website in an article called Meet Lot Tze.  Lot has been very generous during our six years in Hong Kong often treating us to dinners and movie premieres. Since he reviews movies on his radio program he is given complimentary tickets when ever a new movie debuts in Hong Kong.  You can read about our night out with Lot at the premiere of the new Bruce Lee movie in a previous journal entry called Gala Premiere. 

Tonight Lot took us to a restaurant that is a real Hong Kong tradition. Lot has eaten there since he was a child with his family. Tai Ping Koon Restaurant was founded in 1860 in the Chinese city of Guangzhou by Mr. Chui Lo Ko who worked as a chef for a western trading company. His first restaurant in Hong Kong opened in 1927 in Wan Chai. Now there are four restaurants in Hong Kong and we ate at the one in Yau Ma Tai. The restaurants specialize in a fusion cuisine that serves Western and European food in a Chinese way. Apparently movie stars like Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat have frequented the restaurant as well as former Taiwan/Chinese president Chiang-Kai-shek. 

Lot ordered spaghetti, chef salad and three of the restaurant's signature dishes, ox tongue, Swiss chicken wings and souffle. As you can see from the first photo of Dave and Lot, the souffle was delicious and we dug into it with relish. I have to admit I had a bit of trouble eating the ox tongue. It looked a bit too much like the actual tongue and I kept thinking about what had happened to the rest of that big ox. Lot told us the story of how the Swiss chicken wings got their name. The chicken wings are served in a very sweet soya sauce and many years ago a Western customer asked a Chinese waiter at the Tai Ping Koon Restaurant what the dish was called. The waiter who did not speak English well, called the dish ' Sweet Wings' and the customer misinterpreted what he said as Swiss Wings and the name stuck. The Sweet Wings were very good. We had an interesting visit with Lot. He told us about the exhibit he is helping to stage at the Heritage Musuem in Tai Wai about the life of Bruce Lee. He also talked about his recent trip to Macau to visit a child hood friend who works as a chef there, some of the recent movies he's seen to review for his show, the dubbing voice he provided for a Chinese version of a recent Disney film and about the feature on the Righteous Brothers he did on his radio program. We said good-bye to Lot Tze quite early. He's had pneumonia and has been in the hospital so he needed to get home early to get lots of sleep. We made him promise that he will come to visit us in Winnipeg sometime. If you want to read about one of our other food adventures with Lot check out Lot Tze and Mennonite Food on my website. 

Additional Information


When we were on our trip to Ukraine I did a blog post about how we found Dave's father's birthplace in Tiege. He was born in an abandoned School for the Deaf there. Dave's grandparents had fled from their home in Schoenfeld after several dangerous encounters with roving gangs of bandits and went to Tiege to find work. Last week I wrote a story about that school for my article in The Carillon, the weekly paper I am columnist for in Canada. In researching the piece I found out lots of interesting additional information about the Tiege School for the Deaf and Dumb, including this photograph from a collection in the Mennonite Church Archives in Kansas.
The first additional thing I discovered was that it had been named after the Tsar of Russia's mother Maria, a former Danish princess and was thus the Marien Taubstummenschule.  "Taub"- means deaf in German  "Stummen" means dumb and 'Schule' is school. 
In an article in the Mennonite Historian published in September of 1982, a Jacob Driedger ( no relation of ours I don't think) writes an article about visiting the village of Tiege in 1917.  He says, 
"There was a stately two-storey building, a school for the deaf and dumb. It was a large complex with a number of auxiliary buildings. The students here not only learned to talk but were also taught a trade. The school drew its students from a wide range of communities. " 
In an article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia I found this entry 
Marientaubstummenschule (Mary School for the Deaf), at Tiege, Molotschna, South Russia, was organized in 1881 and named after Czarina Maria on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Alexander II, who granted the patent for the school on 21 December 1881. It did not actually get started until 1885, and did not have its own building until 1890, having been conducted in a house in Blumenort owned by Gerhard Klassen, a great friend and supporter of the school. A Protestant Armenian, A. G. Ambartsumov, trained in Switzerland, was largely responsible for the idea of the school and was the first teacher 1885-1891. The school was established by the Halbstadt district civil government (later joined by the Gnadenfeld district), with the moral support of the churches, and the two representatives of the two districts on the board of directors (a total of nine directors) always had to include one elder or preacher. The school in its full development had a nine-year course equal to the regular elementary school curriculum with five teachers and 40 pupils. It was supported by freewill offerings coming from all Mennonite groups in Russia, and had a small endowment fund. The Mennonite General Conference, though not directly responsible, gave it warm support. The school was a great success. P. M. Friesen said of it, "This first charitable institution of the Mennonites of Russia is a precious jewel and deserves all love and zealous support." The school was finally closed by the Soviet government.

I found the additional photo below on the Mennonite Church USA History Archive website.  The description is in German and I am assuming Russian or Ukrainian.

In a blog post Rudy Baerg who recently worked for a number of years at The Mennonite Centre in Ukraine says, "In its time the School for the Deaf and Dumb in Tiege was a state-of-the-art institution and had the reputation of being the best school for the deaf in all of Russia. Teachers were trained in places as far away as St. Petersburg and Frankfurt."
It has been interesting to discover additional information about my father-in-law's birthplace. 

Busy, Busy, Busy


I know I have not written a blog post for a few days and there are a bunch of reasons for that- the first one is that we have been busy most evenings going out for dinner and after coming home after a big meal and often a glass or two of wine I am ready for bed and since I'm on holidays I have been giving in to my inclination to just make it an 'early night'. In this photo, taken last night we are at The Red Penny Restaurant - my personal Hong Kong favorite. We were having a 'last supper' with Anna and Jeff Goh and Gordon and Jennifer Yip and the Yips lovely new baby daughter Hailey. I think the last time we were at the Red Penny was for my birthday in October.  Besides this being a farewell dinner for us and the Gohs who are moving to Florida we were also celebrating Gordon's birthday. 
On Tuesday night we went to the Shamrock Restaurant for a 'last supper' and a quiz night evening with our friend Darren Bryant.  On Saturday we went out for Thai food with Mark Loeppky, my cousin's son who teaches art at Christian Alliance International School.  His school year just finished on Friday. Mark has been here for a year. He stayed with us for awhile last August till he found his own apartment and we used to see him regularly- but he's been working hard at his new job and has made many friends here in Hong Kong who keep him busy socially so we hadn't seen him in awhile. Saturday he took us to see his art room at CAIS and some of his students' art work and also to see his apartment- which he has furnished very nicely.  It is on the 53rd floor and has a great view of Hong Kong. On Sunday we had a 'last supper' at Amaronis Italian Restaurant with our friends Bill and Yasuko Lawrence and their son Robert.  They are going to Japan this week to visit Yasuko's family and then they are moving to Hawaii. We have a standing invitation to their Hawaii home and certainly want to take advantage of that someday since we have never been to Hawaii. 

Priscilla and Eric Ng and their daughter Wing Yan took us out for a farewell dinner on Monday night to the Fung Shing Restaurant in Mong Kok.  It's a restaurant with a long history in Hong Kong and it is certainly very popular. Even on a Monday night we would not have been able to get a table without a reservation. Although neither Dave or I have had the privilege of teaching Wing Yan who will be a sophomore next year, Eric got to know Dave when he was a volunteer assistant coach for the ICS badminton team and Wing Yan was part of the group of twenty four students I chaperoned in Cambodia on this year's Week Without Walls trip. The Ngs are faithful readers of my blog as well. 

The Ngs most generously treated us to a lavish meal that included a delicious rice dish, a whole roast chicken that was so juicy and flavorful and a kind of dumplings we had never tried before.  We also had a broccoli and pork dish and a sweet pudding for dessert. 
As you can see our  social calendar has been extremely busy. Tonight was the first night we've been home in a week. Tomorrow we have been invited to supper at Brian and Christine Van Tassels. Brian was our principal at ICS.  I also have three lunch and supper dates with my former advisory students coming up. They have just finished their first year of university. I am excited about catching up with them. 
Another reason I haven't had time to write a blog post is because my job teaching summer school is very time consuming.  I am teaching speaking classes and have five different groups for forty minute periods beginning at 9 am each morning. I have two groups of grade twos and one each of grade three, four and five. There is a curriculum provided but many of the activities require a much bigger space than my small classroom and many are just not 'my style' when it comes to interacting with elementary kids so I've been busy creating lesson plans that will get the children speaking and using language for as much of the period as possible.  Only a few of the students are from ICS, many are from local schools so there is a real variety of abilities when it comes to speaking English. I am certainly enjoying working with younger students after six years in high school but it is 'high energy' - the kids are full of energy and I need lots of energy too to keep the classes interesting and the kids engaged. It takes many hours each evening to get ready for the next day's classes which is another reason why my blogging has bogged down a bit. 
Finally since moving to our temporary quarters in our friends' apartment for our last stint in Hong Kong, Dave and I have been sharing my lap top since our big computer is all packed up and ready to go back to Canada.  That means I have to make time for Dave's online Scrabble games and movie watching and can't always blog whenever I want to.  Since Dave generously bought my lap top for me for my birthday two years ago I've been spoiled having my own computer.  Maybe its good for us to share a computer again- it probably cuts down on the amount of time we both spend on the computer. 
I'll try to do better at blog posting this coming week.