Three years a charm


happy in hong kong

Happy in Hong Kong – on the MTR.

This August marks three years in Hong Kong. I have a penchant for preserving memories (both real and imagined) but in the wake of the journey, some have all but vanished. Another explanation is my aging brain – it’s at full capacity. I should have listened to my mother-in-law and kept a diary, but everyone knows no one listens to their mother-in-law. #JOKES #LoveYouSheila!

HK has been a satisfying and weird adventure that has evolved into a life. We’re not staying forever, but definitely a while. Over time we’ve achieved stability,and that brings a comfort and ease we initially did without. I’m a pessimist poorly disguised as a realist, so achieving peace in this urban labyrinth hasn’t been easy for me (and by default, my husband). I’ve learned it’s all about attitude (a rule of thumb for everyone, but we all learn differently, and moving to Hong Kong was how I did). The world still scares the hell out of me, but living and traveling abroad makes me feel like I can face it, and when I can’t, I hide under the covers and watch Harry Potter movies like any normal person would.

The training wheels are off, yet Hong Kong remains a functioning contradiction of east meets west (what it’s famous for). Ironically enough, that can serve up a balanced lifestyle if you’re willing to keep an open mind and an energetic spirit. When you’re not, you can hide in your apartment and order McDonald’s! Oh, come on. Don’t give me that look.

I haven’t written about Hong Kong in ages, so why don’t we peer into the mundane caverns of my life and I’ll illustrate my three year perspective! To beat your winter blues I’ll focus on the fun, indulgent stuff: food and travel. What else matters, really?

 ***

Big Bite - a Canadian burger joint in North Point. Sooo delish.

Big Bite – a Canadian burger joint in North Point. So delish.

Snacks and the City

Food (can be) a universal gauge for worldliness. Ten minutes spent with me would tell you I’m a small town girl: I ain’t fancy, however, Hong Kong has broadened my palate. The first thing we learned when we set out to embrace the exotic food culture here is that it’s not about being lavish or pretentious, although you can do that if you’re fund-loose and fanciful. Hong Kong is a fascinating mix of high, low and every brow in between. Since it’s a proper cosmopolitan city, international cuisine is abundant and authentic.

Eating in Hong Kong is an adventure in itself. We could go out every weekend for the rest of our lives and still not visit all the eateries, bistros, snack stalls, Michelin-starred palaces or gastro-pubs and wine cellars. Hong Kong’s history was built on the backs of wet markets, street eats, tea houses and Ma and Pa shops and diners. It’s got posh – or – no-fuss dim sum, a growing niche of vegan-raw-organic, vast arrays of European-inspired decadence, Asian fusion everything, Spanish tapas, good (but sparse) fresh Mexican eats, Chinese fast food, Teppanyaki and sushi, ramen, sashimi supreme! There’s real American-style comfort food, and it’s done well. Sundays are brunch-fests, and there seems to be a real passion for upscale Italian. You might find a French bakery next to a hole-in-the-wall Thai place (serving a delicious, cheap curry), a fun Indonesian experiment or Vietnamese pho house. I recently heard about some Turkish delights, a burrito specialist and last weekend, we discovered a Canadian burger spot. Beef, bacon and beer – what else do you need on a Friday night? You can’t survive a Saturday barhop without kebabs, and luckily they’re a presence. I could go on for, well, 400-something square miles.

We don’t wine and dine all the time, of course. We mostly cook, and so Sundays are usually reserved for a hefty trip to the supermarket. We usually go to middle-ground stores where we can get everything and anything we need, but sometimes we’ll indulge in the GOOP-approved markets for oils, cheese, sauces and special items we feel like splurging on. If I’m lazy and budgeting, I’ll hit up the local grocery stores to grab the basics. My point is, there’s variety. Whaddya want? Whaddya need? It’s all out there, as long as you’re willing to brave the crowds, line-ups and sometimes, long commutes to get there. Word to the wise: bring back-friendly shopping bags and work horses (also known as boyfriends and husbands). It’s a jungle out there.

Hong Kong Beertopia on Hong Kong Island.

Hong Kong Beertopia on Hong Kong Island.

Hong Kong is a hell of a player on the world stage, but not in the way you’d expect. When it isn’t competing internationally, it’s got signature traditions, delicacies and comfort foods you can only tuck into in HK. Really interesting stuff, like thick toast with pork floss and peanut butter, warm egg tarts, macaroni and tomato soup with ham and egg (mmm, breakfasty), and even octopus tentacles on sticks (I’ll pass – thanks, though). For every Hong Kong snack or Chinese dish I recoil at, there’s one I love. I haven’t embraced stinky tofu, paper-thin seaweed sheets (although my students keep offering), the curried fish balls or garlicky plates of choy sum (Kate and Shamus love it). In the same breath, I could live off of dumplings and I’m working on the art of slurping noodles through chopsticks. I can finally manage it without embarrassing myself in front of my coworkers. I’ve come to savour the salty-sweetness of a steamed pork bun (Chris’s fave), and I sometimes grab a cheap egg-waffle treat at a snack stall: they’re only a buck! If you’re currently lost in this paragraph, that’s OK. Like any celeb, Hong Kong food does well to maintain a certain element of mystique. If you’d rather unveil the mystery, watch Anthony Bourdain  or visit me. Whatever.

 ***

The colourful chaos of Hanoi. Don't forget your pollution mask.

The colourful chaos of Hanoi. Don’t forget your pollution mask.

Hello, Eastern Hemisphere!

 If I wasn’t a wimp, I’d get ink’d in commemoration of my Asian adventures. No I wouldn’t, but traveling the east has forced me to see life through the eyes of the people and places we visit, and that shift – or mark – is permanent. Recently, we’ve been to Vietnam, Taiwan and Shanghai, and I haven’t written about any of these incredible places because I’m incredibly lazy. Oops! Snippets, anyone?

In Vietnam, we choked on the horrendous air pollution in Hanoi and endured a violent bout of traveler’s flu (or was it food poisoning?). Thank god for the gracious hotel owners who fed us ginger tea, Tylenol and, while I was miserable in my sickbed, invited Chris for Chinese New Year celebrations to eat, drink and sing. The people are happy, gentle and enigmatic, and the hoards of street bikes and mopeds blew our minds (and patience). Hanoi is teeming with life, and if you can appreciate the chaos, it’s something to see. The history of the Vietnam War is on mournful yet celebratory display, and it was hard to get a clear perspective at the Mausoleum. I suppose that’s the nature of history and war, isn’t it. The day we visited, Ho Chi Minh’s tomb was not open for viewing. Some of the locals claim his embalmed corpse is merely a wax figure. Rumours, of course, but still, this is what they were telling us. I don’t think I’d return to Hanoi without Google Maps and some cold hard cash for a five-star stay, but I’ll never forget our time there.

The beautiful, yet exploited Halong Bay.  A natural masterpiece and UNESCO site.

The beautiful, yet exploited Halong Bay. A natural masterpiece and UNESCO site.

We later boarded a charming boat for a cruise through Halong Bay, which was gorgeous and a little bit depressing. How can that be a downer, you ask? Tourism is an exploitative industry in Southeast Asia, especially in developing countries (just like anywhere else), so you get a lot of trash, exhaust and crowds polluting the waterways. I felt guilty and altogether mesmerized as I snapped photos of the stunning views. We met some really sweet people along the way: a retired couple from Madrid who we bonded with immediately, and an LGTBQ couple from Taipei who encouraged us to explore Taiwan, which we later would. The tour was peaceful, yet challenging as it forced me to face my fear of deep water and caves in a kayak (which forced Chris to pull some tough love maneuvers). We got through it, and we learned that tough love doesn’t really work on me, but neither does coddling and letting me wimp out. Conclusion: I’m a scardey-cat who somehow manages to do scary stuff that uh, isn’t scary for functioning humans. I’ll never forget the opaque turquoise of the water, the mischievous little monkeys eyeing us on the cliffs and the delicious meals we shared with our new friends (that undoubtedly gave us the runs).

I left Vietnam thinking we’d only scratched the surface, and I had mixed feelings about traveling there. From then on, I wanted to consider, with a bit more wisdom, where we went and how we traveled. I’m still happy we went, but I had to admit, touring that sacred, beautiful place with hoards of people packed into gas-guzzling boats was not the type of globetrotting I wanted to be doing on the regular. Didn’t we cause enough damage living in the city? I knew we were more conscious than that. I’ve talked to travelers who have toured the bay and they’ve often shared my sentiments.

A busy, rainy Taipei. Early morning commutes!

A busy, rainy Taipei. Early morning commutes!

Next on the list was a quick trip to Taipei. OK, I love Taiwan. I think I could live there. It’s chill, humble, and free-spirited with a peaceful intellectualism you can find in subtle folds of the culture. Their food is delicious, their coffee perfection and they love to drink, smoke and play cards late into the night. Super cool, right? We stayed at a poshy boutique hotel with an amazing breakfast and super small, comfy rooms. We ate the best dumplings and spicy noodle soup, and had a great night out at a local pub. I forget now, but I think an Aussie owned it. We met a few expats, and I witnessed a drunk man-boy (he had just turned 30 but was acting more like 20)  knock over a standing neon sign and smash it to smithereens. The owner was not pleased.

He’s a contemplative soul, isn’t he. A stroll through a village filled with fancy hot springs.

We went to a swanky hot spring resort and soaked out our hangover, then walked through the countryside a bit, marveling at the lush greenery. It was a great getaway, but we barely got acquainted. I’d love to go back and really get to know the place. The only downer was when we visited the Tapei Zoo. Watching a distraught Bengal tiger and brown bear pace back and forth was not entertaining. It’s a  well-maintained zoo, but I now realize zooing is not my thing. Yikes.

Last, Shanghai. I want to go back! First of all, people, stop comparing Shanghai to Hong Kong. It’s silly. In Shanghai, you’re in China (and you feel like you’re in China). That’s not the vibe in Hong Kong (obviously). Hong Kong is part of China, but it’s very separate in every way. We know this. Yet people are always comparing the two. I’ve noticed this in news articles and on blog sites, increasingly so. It’s not fair to either place to pit them against one another. I get it – China is on the rise, and so it’s on full display. It’s got a lot to show off, and I applaud Shanghai. I definitely wouldn’t want to live there. I felt a bit vulnerable at times, and although it’s got a thriving expat community, I feel like it’s too far into the motherland for me.

Walking the promenade in Shanghai.

Walking the promenade in Shanghai.

Shanghai is this fascinating mix of moneyed innovation and old-world charm. The skyline is surreal and futuristic – like nothing I’ve ever seen – and the French Concessions are a neat cluster of brickyard facades and overpriced bistros and cafes. I could have meandered through it all day long, but it was windy and only  5 degrees, so we eventually ducked in to a Pizza Express to stare out its humongous windows and stuff our faces with pizza and beer.

Shanghai is definitely a boasting point for China’s progress and wealth. Its cutting-edge  swank impressed the hell out of me. Behind the shiny edifices therein lie the old neighbourhoods. We explored, but I felt kind of lost and out of place, and a bit hesitant. It was fun to mix in with locals, even if it meant having an old Chinese man with a hairy mole blow smoke in my face and yell in my ear. I kept on after I was scolded by a hostess who ordered me to  “get my own” dumplings and “wait in line” if I wanted anything at all. Alright already!

Yang's Dumplings in Shanghai. Famous, delicious and cheapy- cheapy!

Yang’s Dumplings: famous, delicious and cheapy-roo. 

The food was amazing, and I’d go back just for that reason. Yang’s Dumplings are the best we’ve ever had, and 12 of them cost us $4 US dollars. People stared at us nonstop and our personal space was continuously violated, but not to a degree we couldn’t handle. There was a Dairy Queen, a partially outdoor Subway that sold “American style” chips (they tasted like moldy BBQ), and a multileveled indoor market packed with odd things, smells and people. There was also a mall for the obnoxiously wealthy that was beautiful, intimidating and massive. I did several twirls in it. Welcome to China.

Touching down in Hong Kong is always a relief, and I often feel a bit closer to it each time. I do this “Oh, hi HK, it’s me, HK” inner dialogue (OK I just made that up, but still – I might start doing it – who knows) and take a moment to bask in the HongKonginess of it all. The smell of strong Starbucks coffee, the toddlers riding on their parents’ suitcase dollies, and a family of twelve waiting for one person to arrive fills me with joy. I love to see the array of faces. People from all over the world live here, and that’s what makes HK such a complicated, fascinating place. I love it, and I’m happy to call it my home away from home.

A Tale of Two Women (in Fiction)


Like I said, I’ve been working on a writing project with my longtime friend Kiersten. In the throes of it all I’ve decided to redirect my focus to fiction.

We’ve been chosing one word and writing a short piece on it. Here are the first two instalments: Joy, both horror pieces, and then Distance, snippets that focus on women and relationships. Our current project is called Burn, and don’t even ask because I’m stuck in the mud with it.

Joy

She woke choking for air, but her instincts kept her still, rigid. She felt his breath on her naked spine; his hand combing upward through her hair, cupping her skull. 

“You’re just having a nightmare.” 

“I know.”  

Her heart pounded against her ribcage as she stared into darkness, quietly working at catching a breath. A nightly ritual – the battle to breathe – but her body wouldn’t let her. It was cruel, nature allowing the body to betray itself – to be indifferent toward its own perils. Distraction was key, so she stared at the darkened door with fury, and it stared back – mocking; threatening. 

I dare you.

Open. 

I’m here. Come on.

He’ll stop me. And then - 

Run. Scream. At the top of your fucking lungs! 

You know what he’ll do to me. 

He’ll kill you — eventually.  

Thea Bright closed her eyes and drew breath, silent and small. Finally, it caught. She exhaled and let herself slowly sink into the mattress. Her captor’s piano fingers scooped her breast, pulling her into his angular form and let the stubble of his hard jaw press into her neck. 

She imagined the door melting into its frame, sealing off every hope in hell. Vacancy lulled her toward sleep as she fixed her gaze through a strip of bare window. She listened to the buzz of the rusted neon sign as it blinked the word JOY.

Read Kiersten’s JOY on her new writing blog, Love Her Madly

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

DistanceDistance

It didn’t matter: time, miles. She’d packed those boxes long ago, yet he was in her dreams more frequently than ever. She hadn’t seen him in 17 years. He’d been married – twice now – and she was certain he had a kid, but there didn’t seem to be contact between father and child.

She’d kept a finger on him in all the ways people do: a search here, a click there. It was eerie how machines detected feeling, yet equally unsettling that people no longer disappeared. No time to mourn, no space to grieve. No distance to forget. The new world had ripped romance and melancholy from life, and Beth hated that. The last time I laid eyes on him or I’ll never know what became of him was defunct. Even the idea of what if had fallen flat because there was no what if. It was simply what was, wasn’t and the cruelest: what is, which glared at her from a luminous screen.

 She could pretend that access to him wasn’t possible, that she didn’t choose to seek him out. But it was too easy. The first time she typed his name – one she hadn’t uttered in years –  she felt her insides contort. She was being dishonest and childish. What if Ryan found her scrolling through photos in earnest? There would be no explanation for that.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to say she was happy, and impossible now to believe Ryan was. He was never home. But somehow they were content. In fact, the fear of losing Ryan and the contentment was more than she could bear. What if he just went on one of his trips and never returned? Maybe they’d be eating dinner and he’d throw down his fork and say, ‘I’m fucking bored to tears, Beth!’

It wasn’t an outrageous thing to imagine; it happened every day to ordinary people.

A growing part of her was hoping it would. What would she do? Call him up and ask what he’d been doing all these years? Or would she find someone else? Maybe she’d find fulfillment in being alone. Sometimes she imagined a caricature of herself in New York, writing and and walking the streets. Not joyful, but not unhappy either. She imagined a woman without wistfulness or longing.

But what she dwelled on most was him. It was almost as if his memory had crystallized. It wasn’t he, the person – it was he, the cloudy, balled mass of memory. The smooth and fuzzed feeling that welled in her when she thought back to that slushy winter they shared an apartment in town. Just one winter, but no amount of distance would allow her to forget it.

***

 Read Kiersten’s brilliant piece here.

She Was My Mentor: Part II


Redettes 2004 (my final year). Amazing team full of bright, athletic girls. (If you squint you can see Carol and me in the background).

Redettes 2004 (my final year). Amazing team full of bright, athletic girls. We kicked ass! If you squint you can see Carol and me in the background.

After my first year of university I felt thoroughly lost. I lacked the independence and focus one needs to thrive in post-secondary life (not uncommon, worrying nonetheless), and my 20-something dramas had me concentrating on the wrong things. I longed to feel sure-footed again, so I veered toward what I knew.

In the summer of 2001, the Redettes’ head coach Cathy was leaving, so the job was up for grabs. I was determined to be the heir (or usurper). For whatever reason, Carol gave me the green light. I was very much the isn’t-ready-to-move-on-so-turns-to-coaching kid; selfish and immature on all fronts, but usually those elements fall away (and they mostly did for me). I support young coaches; it’s essential to have youthful role models, but I think it’s right and fair to consider why that person wants in. Looking back, coaching was something I grew into, not without the growing pains.

One of the first things on the agenda for Carol and me was our dynamic. It was still comfortably set at athlete-coach (a polite term for kid-grownup), which I was fine with (or heavily dependent on). As long as I had free reign over the routine and our practices (which I didn’t), I was content. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t ready to accept full responsibility, so Carol as teacher-in-charge, manager and co-coach was the situation on the ground. Over time, I grew to realize I wasn’t the center of the universe, so some of the weight shifted to me, but only when I started my own team and teaching career in 2008 would I know what it meant to be a real chief.

Flash-forward to 2009: I met up with Carol at Cheer Expo (the biggest cheer event east of Montreal). She was with her daughter, my former teammate and athlete, and I couldn’t wait to show them my new team, the Huskies: a sweet, hardworking group of beginners. It had been five years since we coached together, and I wanted to prove that I was a bona fide grown up (even if I was still very much in the process). She was really happy to see me coaching and teaching, and when I expressed gratitude for her mentorship (in a shaky voice), she smiled humbly and said what she always says to me “Oh, Hollie!” I remember this moment vividly because it reaffirmed the purpose of why we pursue our passions collectively, like in sport: fulfillment, and a big part of that fulfillment is found in our relationships with each other.

We talked (it was more her telling stories), but all the while I was thinking about what I couldn’t verbalize: two big things I’d learned from our working relationship that were currently helping me to succeed:

Always be friendly but never be ‘the friend’

This was the first lesson I learned in coaching. At 31 it’s a no-brainer, but at 19 it’s neither easy nor clear. When I started out, a quarter of the Redettes were my former teammates. For a while I scurried between gathering false confidence from these relationships to greatly resenting them. I loved these girls, but if I wanted to establish myself as coach, something had to shift. Carol watched me battle it out in the locker room, on the floor and in my head. I’d hang out with my team and yell at them to run drills all in a day, yet I was baffled when they’d become offended or brush me off.  Before long, Carol passed me the proverbial stick and I drew a line in the sand. The best way to illustrate is through one of my favourite Harry Potter moments. Right?!

Rufus Scrimgeour (newly appointed Minister for Magic): It’s time you learned some respect!

Harry: It’s time you earned it!

I learned what Carol had been reinforcing all along: you can’t coach your friends. I had to be there for them, not with them. Am I saying the boundaries didn’t continue to blur? No, they did, but Carol taught me how to be friendly and forge bonds without being ‘the friend’.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever made a difference to anyone, but I really pray that, at least, I did no harm.”   ~Carol (many times).

This, unfortunately, wasn’t the first but the hardest and most significant lesson I learned in my three years coaching RHS. As a young, new coach I was a bit power-hungry and hotheaded.  I said stupid, mean things. I cursed, yelled and pushed too hard. I lectured too long and doled out insensitive punishments. Cringe-worthy, but that’s what happens when a 19-year-old know it all is in charge. Or thinks she is. Carol would repeatedly pull me aside and give the “You just can’t say that!” speech, warning me about parents and feelings. I’d listen, but I was still too much of a child to get it. It took me telling one of my girls, (whose sister is my best friend), to casually ‘f**k off’ in order for me to learn my lesson. It was a horribly low moment for me. But coaches curse and say things they shouldn’t. They can be insensitive and rash. Even seasoned ones find themselves digging a hole or shoving a sock in their mouth. It happens. They only thing to do is apologize, mean it, work to regain trust and pray that somehow we can make it right. The thing is, a lot of the time we can’t. Carol told me that from day one. Observing her, I learned about the need to practice kindness and understanding above all. Young, new coaches can do this; with Carol’s encouragement and support, I was able to.

*We all know foul language is part of sport. Controversial as it is, coaches have used it to rally or drive home a point. We don’t need to use the big, nasty words and there ways of speaking powerfully without being explicit, especially if we’re teachers. Language, I’ve learned (through mistakes and good practice) is hugely about mutual respect. In other words, I choose my words wisely.

***

When talking about women’s roles, people often say “I don’t know how she does it”, and that drives me crazy. Pay attention and you’ll see! Come on.  Carol juggled motherhood (two girls, one boy), marriage (sweet man), a career and a team of surly teens (plus me). Watching her manage it all was baffling, intimidating, amusing, and above all, an education. She had no problem telling me what it took to get things done or owning her flaws. We had endless talks in her van, in the gym, in my car, and over coffee – you name it. I could draw on those talks forever (I especially recall one on her front step. It started with an argument (me being a brat) and ended with a heart-to-heart (her giving me advice). But I won’t drudge that up. Instead, I’ve called upon a few longtime friends and former teammates who like me, have been lucky to have Carol as a teacher, coach and in later years, a friend:

Carol has remained a steady influence throughout the years of my life. Even after I left high school ,where she was my teacher and  my coach, she encouraged  me to take my education degree, and just last month ,came for a visit to meet my new baby, Milo. She has been a wonderful mentor to so many of us and Hollie’s blog post has allowed me to really grasp what a positive influence she has been in my life.  
In the gym, she was always there for us. As a coach myself , I know what it takes to be there for 30 cheerleaders, 3 to 5 days a week. It isn’t easy. You sacrifice a lot to coach a Triple A sports team, and she did so for years. She really was the backbone of Riverview Cheerleading. What is a Redette anyway? (I think it should be a shadowed outline of Carol with one foot lunged forward with her fist up!)  Hahaha She may not have always known the right lingo but she did know what looked good and what didn’t. She was a stickler for timing which is a major component to this sport. She also kept us in line: “Don’t be the one dancing on the table at the party!” and taught us how to be team players. I will always continue to love and respect Carol as an amazing teacher, a dedicated coach, a loving mother, and quite honestly, a dear friend. Love you, Carol and thanks Hollie for taking your time to really highlight a fabulous person!

Sherri (Grads of ’99, former Redettes coach)

Sherri's AMAZING team back in 2011. I don't know these girls, but I feel a kinship with them because we are all Redettes, and I SO loved watching them. Plus, they were all really friendly. Arguably the most skilled team RHS has ever seen. They captured the first provincial banner since our win in '98.

Sherri’s AMAZING team back in 2011. I don’t know these girls, but I feel a kinship with them because we are all Redettes, and I SO loved watching them. Plus, they were all really friendly. Arguably the most skilled team RHS has ever seen. They captured the first provincial banner since our win in ’98.

Watch Sherri’s team win provincials: 

 ***

Like I said, cheer is an ever-evolving sport; the stunts get bigger and the routines more complicated in each passing year, and from 2001 to 2004, change was swift-going. Despite everyone’s full schedule, we practiced five days a week for the three years I coached. During competition season it was every day, sometimes twice a day (ever run through routine counts with a sandwich in your mouth? It’s entirely possible). I used to tell our team to ‘own it’, which is totally 90s diva-ish (did I get that from a Brandy song?) but it’s true. The athletic orchestra that is cheer requires gusto – hard to keep up, but necessary. It wasn’t about winning: that can never be determined, and it doesn’t fully define a team’s success (especially in a judged sport). For us it was about being the absolute best. (Sherri, I think that’s the definition of a Redette).

Not only that, we were still battling stereotypes and a certain rigid ignorance within our province’s school sport association. These ‘old boys club’ board members recognized cheerleading as a sport (they had to – those were the rules) but cheer in Cape Breton was not getting the respect and opportunity it deserved. It was a precarious time, and during my first year, our team struggled in the gym while Carol struggled as an advocate for what was – back then – an all-female sport in small-town Cape Breton. I guess for a long time cheerleading was sort of an ‘old girls club’, and that didn’t always make for fair or transparent officiating. We often felt like certain teams were getting the shaft (as we used to say) by certain judges while other teams enjoyed what we saw as false victories.

Disclaimer: judging controversy has mended itself in CB (I believe), and to be clear, I respected most officials back then. But you know, it only takes one or two rotten apples. In retrospect, I see where we had the right to battle it out and where we should have taken a breath, but I regret none of it because we (Carol especially) pushed for positive change.

Watching her face adversity inspired the feminist and the protester in me. I’ve studied feminist literature and I admire female artists and public figures, but Carol was a real woman doing real work – in front of me and beside me – almost every day. That’s impactful. I can’t say I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind or challenge injustice, but when I do fear it, I think something in me draws on those early experiences with Carol, and I keep pushing on. Any one of my students and athletes will confirm this. Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one. More from the girls:

Over the years Carol has taught me many things, but what stands out most is how she (continues to) influence me:

 I learned from her that it is OK to not accept no for an answer, and to stand up for what you believe in no matter how high you have to climb to get there, and how much  shit-disturbing you have to do to get what you want.  

 She was someone I could turn to for anything, and I knew she would have my back 100 per cent (even if it meant a huge lecture after the fact – which I loved because I knew it was coming from a caring place).  She taught me how to have confidence and be outspoken. I was a shy, unconfident girl and Carol pushed me in a positive direction and helped me see the potential I had.  Cheerleading {in Cape Breton} would not be the same without her, and I think we were so lucky to have her!

 PS: One other memory: When I was in grade 11, we thought we were so good, and we weren’t…not like your grade 10 year when we really were awesome. We thought we were ripped off once again at a competition and we all stormed out after the announcement, making a big scene. Carol was so mad at us, and gave us a  huge lecture about having class (i.e. we are not to storm out of anything, and we are to lose with dignity).

 Jillian (Grads of ’98)

 I respect Carol; she was always good to talk to – even now at competitions we talk (and grab each other’s hands at provincials – we’re stressed when the Redettes are on the floor)! It has been 15 years since graduation, and watching provincials with her takes me right back to our big win in ‘98. Nothing will beat that weekend. I think it’s up there with most exciting moments of our lives.

 Carol looked out for us. And now, even though we are adults, she is still looking out for us. She gives me career advice, and we chat about the good ol’ days. She is always there. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without her.  

  Sue (Grads of ’99)

I have had the pleasure of knowing Carol way before I ever thought that I would become a cheerleader. She was the mother of one of my childhood friends. I got too see her, first hand, as a mother, a teacher, a coach and a friend. And I can honestly say she always had my back, even when I didn’t know I needed it.

If it wasn’t for Carol I don’t think I would have had the experience of being on a successful athletic team. That experience has led to so many things. I now find myself living a life of service; helping people on a daily basis. Not only do I help clients to lose weight, but I help them to feel better about themselves. At times, putting their needs before my own. Carol not only did this on a daily basis, but did so selflessly and with a big hearty laugh.

Each day I feel closer and closer to one day having a family of my own, a husband and a child (maybe children – you never know). You never know how people in your young life help to form you as an adult. Carol has taught me that you can be successful at having a family and career, all the while helping people (as she did with me and all of her other “children”).

Carol, thank you for everything that you have taught me, and for being there for me. I also want to thank Hollie for giving me this opportunity to let you know how grateful I am to you.

Alana (Grads of ’00)

 I often wonder what sort of impact I’ve had on my athletes. I know the ones who loved me and the ones who didn’t, some I’m not quite sure about (and maybe they weren’t sure about me). All I can do is try, and if I fail, at least do them no harm.

*I want to thank Jillian, Sherri, Susan and Alana for their contributions and everyone (my former teammates and athletes especially) for their feedback and support. You’ve all made an impact on me. Most of all, I want to thank Mrs. Carol Douglas for always being herself, no matter what.  I love you, Carol!

Check out the Redettes today. They’re coached by Jen (who I’ve known since she was just a girl; her mom coached our junior high team). Jen was always at our practices, observing. She went on to become an all-star cheerleader and coach.  RHS  is currently first in this season’s rankings. Yes!

Jen's Redettes - 2014

Jen’s Redettes – 2014

She Was My Mentor: Part I


Everyone yell RED,  Everyone now WHITE! RED. WHITE. RED. WHITE.

Everyone yell RED,
Everyone now WHITE!
RED. WHITE. RED. WHITE.

When a young person…grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become…her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, ‘Yes, someone like me can do this.” ― Sonia Sotomayor

 I’ve drawn a lot from my formative years, partly because I’m a sentimentalist with an elephant memory, but mostly because I’m a teacher, and so I try to put myself in my students’ shoes (when I’m not bending their brains). I’ve also been a coach, and although my whistle is stuffed in a drawer enjoying an uncharacteristic bout of silence, I think about the kids I’ve taught and coached through the years, and the people who have taught and coached me. One of those women has been, without a doubt, my mentor. Time and miles have grown between us, but I haven’t forgotten her or the lessons she’s taught me, starting from when I was just a teensy freshman.

This one’s for you, Carol.

I was a cheerleader all through junior and senior high. By the time I reached high school, I was helping out with the juniors while cheering for my senior team. If you think I’m not acutely aware that people still believe the widespread misconception that cheer isn’t a sport, then you definitely don’t know me. I even ran into one of these blokes the other day. Yes, he was an honest-to-God UK bloke. Enough said. What’s the current perception in the USA ? How about Canada? It changes so fast, yet stays the same. I’d be interested to read some of your comments, as would Carol I’m sure.

For the record, it is indeed a (highly competitive) sport, and although I don’t have time to elaborate on that, an ode to Carol should shed some light on it. Like many of my role models and peers, she has fought hard to promote and advocate a sport that gives young women (and men – YES, men), confidence, a sense of belonging, and a unique platform to work their talents and athletic abilities. Besides, I think she enjoys being a sort of outlaw, and cheerleaders, when pitted against their athletic counterparts, are often that (the real ones, not the paper dolls on the big screen, although I do love me some Bring it On – a hilariously fun nod to the subculture). If you don’t get it, fine. But if you do, thank you. Sports that continue to bear the weight of discriminating stereotypes need that positivity. If you don’t know a lot about cheer, check it out, especially if it’s a thing in your community. Hopefully it is.

High school cheerleading was a fast-growing scene on Cape Breton Island in the 90s. It’s much more established now, but it’s always evolving. Yet, it was (and perhaps still is) bullied by communal ignorance. You know, the chauvinists, athletic elitists and general naysayers about town. Maybe that was part of its appeal: it had something to prove. We can’t fully blame discrimination on the general public. Pop culture’s caricature of ‘the cheerleader’ perpetuates these attitudes that continue to be championed today. So, what else do folks have to go on besides these stereotypes, and what references did they have back then? Us: our team and our growing sport.

It was a gritty battle, but we kept on. By continuously asserting ourselves and gaining respect through hard work, the sport gained momentum, and by the late 90s, teams across Nova Scotia were competing for regional and provincial titles in a legitimately athletic domain. The stunts were exciting, the routines laborious and the competitions tense. A lot of injuries, upsets and rivalries, never without major fun (and high drama). That’s still very much the case, only now the routines are shorter, even more difficult (explosive, really), and FINALLY, there are boys! And man, do they add to it. I know they’ve been part of the sport for a long time, especially in the USA. They’ve been joining in larger numbers over the past decade in Canada, which is great to see. I was fortunate enough to coach a boy. He was fantastic. Great attitude, totally respectful and an extremely hard worker. Amazing toe-touches. Guess what? He was a star player on my husband’s hockey team, too. He was bullied quite a bit by some of his hockey mates, but again – ignorance. Unfortunately it’s part of the experience, especially for boys.

Back to the 90s:  I’ll never forget that time in my life. I was involved in something challenging and exciting – something that pushed the norm for young girls. And I could fly. You know, literally: out of my teammate’s arms and into the air. And that was an incredible feeling.

***

 When I met her, Carol was the teacher-in-charge and assistant coach of our high school team, the Redettes (What? It’s vintage). She had coached a rival team back in the 80s, but since then, the sport’s athletic component had grown exponentially, and she was back learning the ropes. By ’97, she’d gotten a good grasp on what cheer had become, and was starting to garner a more prominent role in the gym. By the time I was on the roster, our team had big love and respect for her, and that year, we would build the foundations of a local legacy in high school cheer.

 Carol is, without question, fierce. She was a popular French Immersion teacher who always encouraged big laughs in class and in the gym, but that didn’t mean her kids had free reign (except maybe sometimes). We had a ton of fun, but when it came time to work, shenanigans didn’t fly. The first time she freaked on me, I had missed a crucial practice for a stupid reason. I waltzed into the gym (like an idiot), and all I could see was a pair of long black leggings making strides toward me, blonde strands of hair flying, and Carol’s eyes blazing. The next thing I knew, she was screeching something about responsibility (or was it stupidity?), but I’d gone into shock. I was so embarrassed I’d messed up that bad I was facing one of her renowned tongue-lashings, especially when I was proving to be a less-than-stellar rookie that season. What was worse, my teammates were visibly pissed at me. She was clearly speaking for them.

After that moment, I realized I had a real role to play, and so I endured the shade my team threw at me. But as soon as it was over, it was over. After a few shoves, wedgie threats and smacks on the ass I was tying up my laces and being pushed to my spot on the floor. At the end of the practice, Carol gathered me into a hug and laughed, assuring me I would be just fine. That was the year we won provincials (something none of us will ever forget), but it’s that particular tongue-lashing I often look back on with a big grin.

Carol has often fought for the underdog; whether it was the sport itself, supporting another team through their struggles, or buoying an athlete who was going through hard times, she was there fighting. She worked hard to change defunct regulations and fight for transparency and fairness in a judged sport. Through her advocacy, us girls learned what it was to truly fight for something. It often meant being unpopular, seeming and feeling like a nuisance to others, and saying something that a lot of people – sometimes an entire room full of people (who you worked with) –  didn’t agree with. And let’s face it: it was largely a female issue. Come to think of it, Carol was one of the first feminists I ever knew. Through all of it, she held her head high – even if she made a misstep or lost her cool, and that did happen. But, she apologized when (and only) if that was the case and admitted when she was wrong, encouraging us to do the same. But she never backed down. Intimidation was not a tactic that worked on her, and she did everything to instill that attitude in us. Yet, there was a kindness behind everything she did. In her battles she was stoic (or extremely passionate), but softhearted and open with her team. Many times, she opened her home to us, drove us all around town, and told countless stories about her life. It was Carol who taught me the difference between ‘getting personal’, yet never ‘making it personal’ in the gym, and I still draw upon her ability to balance duty and relationships to this day.

My younger sis, Jen, and me in our uniforms. I was on my way out and she was just coming in. Summer 2000. Go Redettes!

Classic. My little sis, Jen, and me in our uniforms. I was on my way out and she was coming in. Summer 2000. Go Redettes!

When the year 2000 rolled around, I was reluctant to say goodbye to the team even though I was ready to graduate. In three short years, we had risen among the ranks and secured one provincial gold and two silver. We had a few regional banners in there, as well as our fair share of trophies and medals. But, we’d lost a significant amount as well. We felt, as a group, that we’d been on a proper journey. Our team survived a six-day-a-week practice regimen, ill-fated and amazing team trips, and countless bouts of teen drama. It didn’t matter what it was: family crises, broken hearts, soured friendships or those tried-and-true adversities: we’d gone through it all and always came out strong, together, and Carol was our matriarch.

That was just the beginning of my relationship with Carol. In Part II (yes, there’s more) we’ll hear from some of my fellow cheerleaders and you’ll get a glimpse into my  coaching years with Carol, in which her mentorship  came full circle.

Have any of you had a mentor, past or present? How has he or she impacted your life?

XOXOXO!

Transparent


This piece is part of something I’ve been working on with my longtime friend and fellow writer, Kiersten. I’ll let it speak for itself. MUCH LOVE.

She felt like she was becoming transparent.

She felt like she was becoming transparent.

She hadn’t written a thing in months. The idea of writer’s block – god help us all – brought out the cruelest cynic in her, even if it did feel like a reaper – some dark phantom in the corner of the room, stifling her without a touch or a word. Maybe guilt kept her skeptical of its existence: what was writer’s block other than a fat, ugly excuse for being out of practice and out of ideas?

It was obvious; her naivety, her mediocrity. And that wasn’t a slice of humble pie – it was the truth. Thoughts flowed through her like a tape that wouldn’t stop: cyclical and fading, concerning themselves with the same principal memories, only adding new ones if they were reminiscent of the old. She was intent on the preservation, surely a sick practice. A perversion or an inability to tell her story, to find the right words for it.

So she’d write out the preserved nuggets again and again, different shades of the same colour, and delete it all. Her stories had begun to spoil from too many alterations – rips and smudges and all of that. Didn’t someone once admit to writing the same story over and over, just disguising the main line in the details? That admittance seemed attention-seeking. If you can tell it well, let yourself tell it. Although that could be like watching your spouse perform the same party trick for years. You’d eventually tire of it, maybe even grow to resent it, and perhaps that’s how the writer felt about himself. But she remembered a great writer – an Aboriginal who revealed the essence of storytelling. Something about stories being all we are, which she knew was a smart thing to say, but couldn’t quite understand it, though the notion was starting to become clear. That same author had also warned his readers to be careful of the stories they tell, and to watch out for the ones they hear. She thought that was right too, but how? It was something she thought about more than she realized.

Lately it felt easier to stay silent. As a child she’d noticed some adults seemed OK with doing most of the listening. She admired these people but never understood why until she realized how difficult it was for stupid, boring folks to shut up. She did love a good talker, a good story teller, but they were rare, weren’t they? Unless it’s obvious, most kids can’t discern an entertainer from a bullshitter, and in the case of being precocious, becoming subject to a dumb bore was their own  fault.

She wasn’t exactly precocious, but it took her parents telling her she was a bit of a know-it-all to quiet her a little. That wasn’t the exact phrase they’d used (it was something about thinking she was always right). It was true, so she started practicing silence, and realized that was a perfectly fine thing to be doing.

Her new habit was in full swing, and she found was hard to break. It wasn’t because being attentive was a virtue (although it was nice to practice virtues), but being quiet got comfortable, and eventually easier than the alternative. She even took one of those personality tests and was overjoyed to score as an introvert, more or less. Those extroversions were alive and well, and she indulged, yet, turning inward seemed like the best course of action.

***

They’d been abroad for three years, and she was finally settled, yet anxious (like the expats she’d met had confessed to being). It would be time to switch jobs when the contract was up, so she spent time thinking about the groove they’d carved out together. It’d be four years married this summer, eight together, which astounded her some days and felt accurate on others. He liked to remind her they were just getting started, and in those moments she knew he’d never leave. She wasn’t sure if this would happen in the earliest days, but she loved him more over time, and felt like nothing could break them apart.

Having Hong Kong – a former figment, a bit of eavesdropping or news immediately forgotten, a fantasy in a film –  become their home was surreal, yet not as wondrous or terrifying as she’d imagined. Other travelers made expatriate life seem ordinary, but she felt they were either pretending or so unlike her that she couldn’t imagine what kind of people they were. Lifers had often struck her as people out of place; runaways. There was that group, and then those who were so wild and free nothing could strap them down. Who didn’t envy them? She would never admit to putting people into a box, but she did see patterns and clusters, especially among the motley crew of internationals.

Maybe people were running away, and why wouldn’t they? Everyone ran at some point, it’s just that most people came back. The choice not to return, to make this or some other foreign pocket their home nakedly awaited, and that was a source of unease and exhilaration.

He wanted to return to Canada. Not soon, but eventually. She couldn’t say the same, not right now. She’d watched others develop that four or five year itch and return home only to realize the grass was indeed no greener (what did they expect?), so they’d come crawling back, resuming old posts or even taking lower positions than they’d left behind.. They’d done so much to get here, then they’d panic or tire and flit off only to end up where they started.

There were many rays of light in expatriate life, like the prospect of new beginnings being real rather than the pipe dream rusting at home. She always dreamed of Scotland, just because of stories and movies and her literature classes, but those dreams now seemed a little childish, a bit selfish. God, really vague actually. Who knew? She’d vacation there with him, her husband who would take her anywhere, follow her everywhere, and they’d see, wouldn’t they? Before starting a family, she proposed a big trip, but not to put off having a baby, just to have one last adventure. After all, they were just getting started. But she felt like she was becoming transparent.

Letters to Everyone. Everyone!


Views from the 61st floor (our new place): What do you think Rapunzel did when she was trapped in that tower? Crochet? She wrote novels, son!

Views from the 61st floor (our new place): What do you think Rapunzel did while trapped in that tower? Crochet? She wrote novels, son!

Maybe I will do NanoWriMo after all. Granted, I’m two weeks too late and thousands of words behind, but we all know an unwritten story wrapped in a tortilla of failure makes for a toxic burrito. Please do not digest that shit metaphor.

 I (think?) I’m writing a non-fiction piece about expatriate life, just as I’ve done here, but I want to bang out something sharp. And, It’s time to breathe fire from the pages of HK in HK, so I’ve decided post the work-in-progress.

My blogging hiatus has me reading way too much news and YA (has anyone read Nevermore? Come on!) ‘All this’  wedged between episodes of pondering my existence (ongoing) and regular correspondences with beloveds, it came to me: why not write a book through a series of letters? Of course it’s been done a trillion times over, but not yet from my perspective, and therein lies the wonder. Letter-writing is, of course, one of the most intimate mediums of expression, no?  Our most delicate thoughts and emotions are carefully written in letters. I won’t completely flake out on you here (just did), but I often think about how my relationships have illuminated and concealed aspects of myself. Really, think of all the things people are –  and aren’t – to one another, and how that evolves, alters, or ceases to exist over the course of a lifetime. I want to write from all of those angles, to all of those people.

Thoughts on keeping relationships alive through written correspondence?

SEPTEMBER 2010

 So,

 You’re going. Can you do it? You know how much you procrastinate. You’re the worst. Just… don’t fail. That would be the ultimate gust of wind to blow your already withering self-esteem asunder, and no one needs to glue that back together, least of all your husband. Try to keep the vows untarnished beyond the honeymoon.

 It all comes down to this: you finally have a chance to do things instead of just blowing smoke. You want to travel (remember Europe? That’ll have to wait. Asia will suffice, and probably blow your mind). You want a legitimate teaching job, and the chance to pay the debts and build a life? Reach for it, like the ripe apple it is. Pluck it from the tall, swaying tree as you stand on the rickety ladder. You want to veer from beaten trails (minus jungle treks, Africa or any slimy food that is still alive)? Well, adventures begin with application forms and deposits. This moment, if not seized, will be ceaselessly wept and lamented for, and no one (other than me) will ever tell you that.

 Like I said, please don’t screw this up. You’re going to need guts, and you’ll have to do the dirty work. You’re living for two now, and who knows how many in the future? (I know, no more than four, and that doesn’t include fur children). It’s going to be a messy collage of red tape, long flights (in planes, over water), big expenses (don’t look incredulous) and a lot of cultural squirming. You’ve been warned, so ignore the town whispers – the familial buts! and the what-ifs?!  The fake wow, really?’s and all the I-would-never-could-ever-should-never/ever-do-thats.

 Resist, with all your will, the pull of negative gravity. No matter the force of the gaping black hole, refuse to let it suck you up. Just make it your sole business to get you and him and all of your clothes and shoes off this blessed, cursed, beloved island. And then go live your life.

 Yes I know – the how:

 Make a list of things you’ll get done today; this week. Make a bigger list of stuff you’ll need to do, say, ask for and work on to make this happen. Tack both to the fridge so you’ll stare at it every day. Call it HONG KONG.

 Set your alarm – get out of bed. Act like a woman who is going somewhere and doing something important, because you are.

 Kate said “Never accept there is a chance it won’t happen. Move forward like it’s the one and only option. That’s how it happened for us, and that’s how it will happen for you.” Repeat all the time.

 They’re really going to protest: silently and subtly; vocally and thoroughly. They love you, and they want you to be happy – and safe. Their version of happiness, their ideas of safety – of making the right choices – are different than yours. Understand them and completely ignore them. They’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.

 People get on planes and take up new jobs, new lives, every day. You’re not different, or radical, or special. You’re a girl (woman, yes, woman) with a real, tangible need for a new life, and you also happen to be really lucky. And you’re a chameleon. Metaphorically.

 Chris has your back and you have his.  

Insanely Warm Regards, 

 Yourself 

The Archives: Love at First Newscast


The moment I realized I was in a damn dream.

The moment I realized I was in a damn dream.

I’m back to work and therefore delicately irritable. I’ll soon need an attitude adjustment (that my husband will be more than happy to provide). Don’t fret – it’ll be administered by “Enough out of you!” glances from across the dinner table. Subtle yet effective, like a silent and deadly weapon.

Reality has unpacked its suitcase, but when I’m working, I’m on. I eat well-ish, exercise often and think up the un-shittiest ideas ever thought…of. After a shot of caffeinated nectar and a punishing workout, I usually garner the energy it takes to be of use to the world. Yet, this year’s hive mentality arrived with a sense of unrest – I’ve been discontented about something, but I haven’t been able to get my head around it.

And then, as slow as the hive’s honey, it came to me.

This is going to seem wildly disconnected, but the news has been both a source and a cure for much of my discontent. It fills what would otherwise be a vacant cavern in my psyche, but consuming it hasn’t always been my habit. Let’s just say it keeps me in check, and not just concerning the events of the day. Shall we thumb through the archives for an anecdote? This reference needs a reference.

During an otherwise ridiculous era you’ve accurately guessed being years 22 to 25 of my life, I finished up my undergrad, tended bar part time and worked as a media monitor for NewsWatch, a now-obsolete sector of a PR firm in the city I then called home. It was my first office gig that paid pennies, requiring me to rise at ungodly hours and consume so much coffee that I (true story) dehydrated myself on several occasions. Idiot.

It also induced my love affair with the news, particularly talk radio and independent journalism.

Monitoring news meant transcribing, summarizing and compiling all manner of media: print, radio, TV and Internet. I started out cutting newspaper articles (with an Exacto knife) and faxing them to clients by 7AM, so that meant a 4AM arrival. Luckily I shuffled over to radio and TV, which felt like a promotion. Cutting up newspapers before sunrise sucked.

A stream of afternoon sun (and inspiration) at the entrance of the IFC in Central, HK.

A stream of afternoon sun (and inspiration) at the entrance of the IFC in Central, HK.

After I learned how not to screw everything up, transcribing news gave me a daily hankering for it, and redefined my love of a great story. Monitoring taught me more about the world than university had promised. I was being spoon-fed local stories, war and peace reports and feature pieces I’d otherwise never have the time nor the initial interest to digest. An added bonus: swallowing my pride at the bottom rung of the corporate world ( and realizing I was not made to thrive in it). Luckily, though, I forged several friendships with colleagues who were wiser and more responsible than me, yet found the patience to hand down their skills. They basically showed me how to conduct myself in a professional setting. We worked for a woman who genuinely cared for her minions, and I was grateful for that, because I messed up a few times. I also mastered a convincing ballerina bun exclusively set aside for hangovers and break-ups.

As a youngster, independent journalism wasn’t really on my radar, but monitoring coverage of elections, corporate takeovers, strikes and environmental disasters lead me to seek truth from alternative sources. While covering arts and culture programs, I discovered a lot of music, film and art. I got to transcribe innumerable interviews with movers and shakers, thus beginning to really care about stuff happening in my own backyard and abroad. The horizons did stretch, friends.

Couldn’t I have arrived at my state of enlightenment by, uh, tuning into CBC every day? Maybe, but I probably wouldn’t have bothered at the time. I had more 20-something grievances (18th century poetry and bad life choices) than I needed. Still, I would’ve consumed it all civilian-style. As a monitor, I was analyzing multifaceted news, in bulk, every day, and so I absorbed in an acute and thorough way. That hasn’t really changed for me.

Here’s the thing: my little job allowed me to engage myself in thought and discussion without bullshitting. I had the information – I did the research (whether I wanted to or not). I deciphered the real news from the propaganda, from the watered-down garbage we had to cover. I knew where to go for legitimate information, and what to dismiss as trash. I could identify the inbetweenies that neither helped nor hindered, yet still kept afloat. In short, I refined my research skills in a practical way, and for me, that’s been invaluable.

Eventually, all of us were laid off without notice, most bitterly accepting severance packages, some staying on to work for the company who’d bought us out, and a few skipping off to greener pastures. I took the money and ran. What did I care? I was about to start my next degree and NewsWatch would be history. It is history, but it has never become irrelevant like I childishly assumed it would.

Sometimes you think you're having a bad day - then you realize you're one lucky son-of-a.

Sometimes you think you’re having a bad day – then you realize you’re one lucky son-of-a.

Seven years later, I’m walking through Central District on a Tuesday. Mundane chores are muddling my thoughts of travel and adventure. I’m focusing too much on the tedious, I thought. So, after a lunch date with Chris (that I ruined by being a crarse – Chris’s hybrid for crank + arse), I knew it was time to smack myself. I was being the girl (not woman — girl) I dreaded: the whiny little witch from the west. In an attempt to rid myself of…myself…I called upon on the news of the day. I shut up and listened, swiftly regaining an appreciation for my life and the city I lived in. So I looked up, admiring Hong Kong in all of its splendor. It was that perfect time of day – just when the sun begins to descend from its perch. I pulled out my camera and took a few snapshots. The afternoon light was streaming through the pristine buildings and lush mountains. Here I was, in this insanely cool city, complaining…like a jackass. Back in my lackey days I dreamed about places like this, thinking, I want to be one of those women. You know, a woman like the one whose intelligent voice I’d transcribe, or whose experience-lined face I’d record. I dreamed of living abroad – discovering and trekking and doing relevant work. I snapped my last photo realizing I was in the damn dream, becoming that woman, knowing I have the news to thank.

Thirty-one Zoom


The view from Hong Kong's oldest and probably most treasured method of transport: the tram. This image encapsulates the entire mood of my 31st birthday. I was feeling the excitement of being back in the city, the romance of winding through Central on the old rails, just Chris and me, and wondering what adventures we'd embark on. After two years, I still pinch myself. It's real, right? I was brimming with thoughts of possibility, and for a critic like me, that optimistic moment deserved a snapshot.

The view from Hong Kong’s oldest and (probably) most treasured method of transport: the tram. This encapsulates the mood of my 31st birthday:  the excitement of being back in the city, the romance of winding through Central on the old rails, just Chris and me, and the dreams of travel and adventure we’d embark on in a matter of months. After two years, I still can’t believe we made the big shift. It’s real, right? I was brimming with thoughts of possibility, and for a critic like me, that moment deserved a snapshot.

I’m back, Muggles! It’s with a hopeful heart I announce the marriage of HK in HK to my Instagram account. They’ve sealed the deal, my two mediums, and I can report: it smells like love (full-bodied words with peppery notes of Lo-Fi).

Let’s be real: I’ve exhausted my expat anecdotes. Drawling essays on Chinese culture, the Hong Kong bustle and high-rise living all have a definitive period at the end of them. A monologue on the surprising, yet justified aggression of the Chinese elderly in public transit may churn out (how do they manage to squirm their way through the crowds that fast?), but it’s time to shift my perspective. It’s time to really zoom in. Ah! Maybe I’ll analyze the length of wiry hairs protruding from their facial moles. Too much zoom?

Seriously – I’m intrigued with the small stuff: the microscopic moments captured, say, in photos. Forget the broad, the expansive, and let us embrace the miniscule; the minute. It’s no less important, after all. As a child I relished living in the very moment. It was me discovering an awareness and appreciation of the now. Nah, really it just freaked me out and made me laugh, saying “nnow, n-now, now, nn-nnow!” in my head. Part of this antisocial game was taking note of the tiniest, seemingly insignificant things. Example: I’d stare at the pebbles in my driveway, or a few blades of grass, and think:

Little rock, little piece of greenery – what’s it like being you? Now I will hurl you from your home and into the street! How do you like that? Now I shall rip you from your roots and leave you to rot amongst the living!

Yeah, maybe not everyone can relate to that. I bet a few of you can, though, and I bet said few are my wacked friends.

What I’m trying to say is, living in Hong Kong can either lead me far away from awareness and into the depths of plugging- through-day–busy–tired. After I check myself (with a good slap every few weeks), I usually regain clarity and become hypersensitive to the right now, where so much is happening. It’s in these moments when I scan for signs of life to capture (with my iPhone). Hey – I know, I’m a drone.

So now that we are into our third year (what?!) of expat life, mulling things over just makes me tired. I’m done with analyzing and contemplating and all the articulating that goes with it. Instead, I love taking snapshots and Instagramming shamelessly to show you the world I dwell in. I know you dig it too!

Disclaimer: I am not above Instagram’s penchant for creating fake insta-art out of thin air and iPhones. There are super-skilled photographers out there who use this gem of an app, and I’m not one of them. But since I’ve been toying around with it, I’ve realized I really like taking pictures. It’s kind of like writing and painting and having great conversations. It gets me goin’!

So, I hope you haven’t lost faith in me, and now that you realize I still draw breath, you’ll join me for another year of HK in HK, in whatever form it may take.

PS: Our Canadian summer was insanely busy and fun, and I really miss everyone I love (y’all know who you are) Whether I was fortunate enough to lay eyes on you or not,  I wish there were more seconds in between the seconds so I could spend more time with all of you.

XO

Why I’m so lazy and how Hong Kong changed me: Part I


Better hurry before they all scatter and blow away!  ... Whatevs.

Better hurry before they scatter and blow away!

Whatevs.

Iv’e ceased to function creatively. Yeah, June Hollie will probably suck, but it’s still early to be drawing conclusions. I don’t know – it’s not like I haven’t got anything to say – I always do, but I’d much rather feed off of another’s creation, like a lazy suckling piglet. But if that proves to be work, I’ll watch Tangled and listen to old PotterCast episodes from 2005. When you peel back the layers, I’m an 11-year-old nerd with a fantastical fiction problem. My particular brand of adulthood is largely a façade and should never be fully relied upon.

Being a classic escapist doesn’t help. To illustrate, let’s analyze a case I’m currently working on: It’s textbook I’m so SO done with you meets Unyielding blank expression:

ISSDWY (me) vs. UBE (school year)

What’s a girl to do other than silently wage war? Like all of my problems, I move in with plan A: pretend they don’t exist. With school, I’ve tried what I thought would be failsafe solutions: earphones, naps, fro-yo-induced comas…I’ve even mixed a concoction of TED Talks and Facebook inboxes at my desk. I’ve tried expressing myself solely through Instagram. I’ve taken to calling home for lengthy chats on Tuesday mornings instead of Saturday afternoons. All shameless, yet frustratingly ineffective: I’m still working. Incredulous, I continue rise at 6AM, don cardigans – slip into flats, and reproachfully dig whiteboard marker residue out of my nails. I’m weary, defeated; withered. And I’ve realized the only remedy is summer, but that’s not scheduled until July 13th. Please, don’t weep for me. I’m determined to endure my first world problems with unflinching stoicism.

Before I can descend upon Canada’s coast, I must reflect on two years of HK life. I think owe my readership (friends, family, and approximately 8 quasi-strangers) an update on the state of my restless little soul. Right. So, sit back and enjoy the predictable format. You’re lucky you’re not getting a Pixar movie review or a recycled character analysis of Cersei Lannister.

Despite the uninspired void formerly known as my imagination, here’s an optimistic truth: after 7 years together, this has definitely been the best one for Chris and me I (loathe that particular piece of neo-grammar), and for that we thank change. Change does a lot of things to humans: mostly it drives them mad because it’s challenging, but it’s also  character revealing. Prophetic, I know.

I’m not saying we, in particular, possess extraordinary character. Really, we’re ordinary – just regular folks, but the mega change in our life, whether natural, gradual or forcibly created, has significantly chiseled away some unwanted fat, both literal and figurative. You know, restricting stuff. Change pushed us off a cliff and let us flail, but after two years of life in the east, we’ve resurfaced as new-ish creatures, except not totally radioactive, although we could be after our trip to Hanoi.

Anyway, a wise one recently reminded me it’s not Hong Kong that’s changing us – it’s just life, and it happens to everyone (no matter their circumstances). She’s absolutely right, but I need to have my Hong Kong-y epiphany because I’m still young enough to be slightly egocentric, and therefore must philosophize exclusively through my own little experiences. And why not enjoy a free feed of creativity, everyone? It’s on me.

Only, you’ll have to wait.

The meat of the bone I’ve thrown you will be served after my kick-boxing class, so hang in there. In the meantime, salivate over my mediocrity and enjoy a reveal of ten ‘How Hong Kong changed me’ subtitles:

  1. Bouts of patience
  2. A gram of worldliness
  3. Chiseled fat
  4. Lowered expectations: shifts and altercations
  5. Rude, crude and perhaps understood
  6. Unspoken words of shut the hell up
  7. I might be able to do that without crying
  8. Same, same but different
  9. I love you but I don’t have to miss you
  10. Portkeys and warp zones for rolling stones

Dream Girls final draft: a letter from Courtney


Blood, sweat and tears! I will forever love this team.  Courtney is among the group of victorious captured in this shot.

Blood, sweat and tears! I will forever love this team.
Courtney is among the group of victorious captured in this shot.

Courtney is a grade 11 student who I’ve had the pleasure of coaching and teaching. She is smart, creative and humble. She’ll probably want to strangle me for saying this, but I first discovered Courtney’s awesomeness when I taught her 7th grade English class. She wrote a story about a mermaid in a magical world, and it reeled me in. Her writing revealed heart and intuition; this was a young lady who keenly observed the world around her.

Two years later, Courtney surprised me when she joined my cheer team. Despite her quiet demeanor, she shone on the floor and behind the scenes. I have fond memories of seriously pushing her limits and proudly watching her perform.

Thank you, Courtney, for being a particularly lovely ray of sunshine. I know my students will be excited to read your kind and encouraging words. To know they’ve struck a chord in Canada is something they won’t be expecting. I hope it instills confidence in them, and confirms that their voices can and should be heard.

To anyone out there – let Courtney’s youthful wisdom be inspiration for you too, no matter your age, circumstance or location. This is what it’s all about!

Hi Hollie !

 I hope Hong Kong is treating you well. I was reading you’re Hong Kong Girls blog post and I just had to reply.

 I’m not sure what kind of response you were looking for, but I’ll give you my best one. What got me was how all these girls (who are my age) already have big plans for their lives. They wish to be strong, independent, and to create a great future. Just reading their words, I’m sure they can do these things, and go above and beyond.

 You can hear how determined they are, and they’re my age! That’s so crazy. Most girls here know what they think they want to do, too, but the difference is they don’t talk about raising a family, and how they’re going to improve whatever – so they can be a better person. Your girls want to be a good influence to the world surrounding them and the people they come across. They want to learn from their parents’ mistakes, and make a name for themselves. They want great things.

 I have no doubt it my mind that they will accomplish their goals, even go beyond them. It may not mean much, but a little Canadian girl wishes them the best of luck, and I hope you keep posting updates about them. I don’t have much advice since I can barely figure life out for myself: just some encouraging words for them:

 Don’t forget about your dreams. They won’t come easy, but they will come… If there’s a time you think you can’t, I know for a fact you can – just by reading your words.

 I may just be an emotional morning person, but I teared up reading their posts and felt a response was needed. Have a good day Hollie – hope your class does too!

 Courtney