I walked into my school one day and was “voluntold” (a word we foreign English teachers around here use when we’re forced to do something for our school) that we would all be going to Hong Kong with a bunch of students at the end of the week. The students were going there to take part in English activities at a sister school, and we were tagging along presumably to help out, among other duties.
So on Friday morning we all board a bus and head to the Hong Kong border. At the border, instead of a guard who hops on the bus to check our documents, we inexplicably had to get off the bus and physically stand in line at the border, with customs agents checking our documents and allowing us to proceed. I don’t know why they make us do this when the other way not only prevents longer lineups at the border, but is so, so much faster. The best explanation I’ve come up with is: because China.
I had a minor hiccup when I forgot to fill out my Hong Kong arrival card, and in my futile search for it I was stopped by a security guard who redirected me out of a restricted zone and towards the cards. At least now I know for next time!
Our bus stopped at Gertrude Simon Lutheran College (路德会西门中学), a middle school located in an extremely suburban area of Hong Kong (I didn’t know Hong Kong even had suburbs!). We got off and posed for pictures, throwing up peace signs, feeling like a Chinese tour group. We marched inside and waited for the English activities to begin. Waiting consisted of drinking malted soy milk and sleeping on a bench inside the school cafeteria.
Finally, the students, teachers, the other foreign English teachers, and I all walked into the gym to meet the mock interviewers, who would be interviewing our students. Chatting with them briefly, I could detect an American accent on them though I never paused to ask, instead asking whether or not me or any of the other foreign teachers from our school would be conducting interviews. They checked with somebody and we quickly found out that not only would we not be conducting any mock interviews, we would be doing absolutely nothing. At all. Zero.
So essentially we were brought along as glorified babysitters. Sweet!
We followed our students upstairs to the library where a Canadian teacher and a Hong Kong teacher took turns explaining how to stand out in a group interview. They offered superb pieces of interview strategy, my favourite being that you should try to present an idea before your opponents do, in case an opponent says your idea before you do thus leaving you with nothing to say. Brilliant. I’m not sure how much the students understood, but I was loving this probably more than they were.
Since the other foreign English teacher (Chris) and I had nothing to do while our students did mock interviews, we went outside to try our hand at English games set up by the Hong Kong students. Chris proceeded to cover the back of his hand with stamp ink by winning all the games, while I tried a few and failed epically at the shell game (it was rigged, I swear!). After being taken on a tour of the school we went back to the gymnasium for the grand finale: two roughly 15 minute plays, all in English, one performed by students from our school and the other by Gertrude Simon students.
The first play was directed by one of our foreign English teachers, Liam, who was stressed out all week and became visibly agitated any time we mentioned “the play.” So while Chris and I sat back and did squat all day, Liam was running around for two hours doing dress rehearsal after dress rehearsal to make sure his students could perform comfortably. I couldn’t tell if he was more worried that his students would embarrass themselves, or that his students would end up embarrassing him.
The play had the theme of “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” and was an odd but appropriate combination of Little Red Riding Hood and ninjas. As I watched the play, I thought to myself ‘hey, this isn’t bad… this is actually pretty good… this is amazing…’ and by the time they were stage fighting with each other, pretending to slap each other silly, I was thinking: ‘this is freakin’ awesome!!’ Never since high school had I seen an amateur play that I enjoyed as much as this one. And most importantly, the students seemed to having a blast up there as well!
The second play was performed by the Gertrude Simon students. I wasn’t quite sure what they were going for, but I guessed it was sort of like a Hogwarts in Hong Kong where one student uses his magical powers to be a total dick to everyone else. The story followed a basic plot structure where the kid is naughty, then he gets caught, and then he’s straightened out by an old wise man who is always stroking his long beard as if deep in thought; the longer the strokes, the deeper the thoughts. After seeing both, I’d have to say I enjoyed our play better.
Though we ended at 3:30pm we had to wait until about 5:30pm for our bus to arrive, because China. So the foreign English teachers took a stroll around the neighbourhood, came back to play a few rounds of Exploding Kittens (the card game by The Oatmeal, funded by Kickstarter!) and finally boarded a bus back home to Shenzhen. After a long day like that, all I wanted to do was grab a big, steaming plate of dumplings and pass out on my bed.
Overall, I was glad to see that Hong Kong and Shenzhen (on mainland China) are taking steps toward better integrating the two cities, despite the animosity that exists between residents of both. Having students meet and learn from each other is a good start, and hopefully can lead to a better understanding of the differences, or more importantly, the similarities between the two, and abate future flare ups between Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese.