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Week 9 - Boarders Return

Ninth entry of my year in HK. School reopens for boarding having been closed for the first four weeks of term.

sunny 33 °C
View Bham->Dam->HK on David Zhao's travel map.

Posted on 27th September 2020

Huge thanks to Dr and Mrs Holliday for awarding me the Nick Holliday Travel Scholarship, in memory of their son Nick who was a geography teacher at KES. He was an avid traveller, explorer and climber, and died tragically in a climbing accident doing what he loved. The Scholarship helps fund the travels of KES students who aspire to travel, which I am sure Nick would be very proud of.

Writing this entry on Monday evening as I had no time over the weekend. School has finally started to open and return to normality. Year 6 boarders came back last Tuesday evening, with the year 7 and 8 boarders having just come back today. School started properly last Wednesday for all years but 7-9, who start tomorrow (staggered start to implement social distancing measures). Atmosphere has completely changed for the better; had the house common room all to myself for five weeks which felt a bit awkward, whereas now we have one of the loudest common rooms in the school, with constant screaming coming from it. School felt a bit like a ghost-town when no kids were in, being huge and empty. Can't explain how nice it feels to finally have kids about and the place feeling like a normal school again. No more looking after the Year 1s and 2s, who were lovely but a real challenge to care for and provide for their educational needs. Starting the jobs we signed up for tomorrow, helping the boarders in house and coaching lots of sport.

Massive upside of school reopening is that we are provided three meals by school every weekday. No more working out meal plans between the six of us, making a forty minute trip to the supermarket and then transferring £3 here and there to pay for the meals. Downside of this is the early start, with a 6:45 wakeup for a 7:15 breakfast; think the days start earlier here due to the heat. When the year 6s returned last week, and the 7s and 8s today, I was taking the students and their families from the drop-off point to the house. Luckily I'm decent with names (even with the masks) so I think I've memorised all of them already. Very interesting to hear their family stories, with people having grown up in Canada, Singapore and New York before coming to HK. One of them actually lives in Macau now which is awesome. Lots of cool people to talk to, which shouldn't come as a surprise given it is an international school and the people here pretty much all love to travel, both staff and students.

My job is almost like a combination of being a fun uncle and a responsible parent. Have to keep the kids entertained with games and activities, whilst also teaching them good habits (e.g.) hold the door open for the person behind you, no shoes on the sofas. Bulldog, signs (a fast-paced circle game) and table football are house favourites at the moment. I eat breakfast and dinner with the boarders - now there's nineteen, up from the six year 6s last week who were tiring enough - and lunch with everybody in the house. Never experienced a boarding school environment before, and honestly it is just like a big family, with the House Master (HM) and his wife standing in as the kids' parents. I'm in Banks house, named after Sir Joseph Banks who was a British explorer. Our common room has a geography and exploration theme, with each room being named after a country that Banks explored. I'm in Canada, with South Africa and Argentina next to me.
Banks house exploration-themed common room, my room and a boarding room

Pupils in the prep houses (year 6-8) view the Gap Tutors (my role) as older brothers/sisters given how young we are in comparison to the rest of the staff; they can easily relate to us. This means they feel more comfortable talking about issues with us than the HM/senior staff a lot of the time. On Thursday I spent over an hour in the medical centre with two boys, with both having mild medical issues. Last night I had my first late-night knock from a homesick boy - apparently we should expect plenty throughout the year - at half four in the morning. Many of the boys have never been away from their parents before, so boarding is a real challenge, especially given how many of them have been at home with their parents every single day since June due to COVID lockdown. In the end we ended up watching some Among Us funny moments on Youtube and he was comfortable enough to go back to sleep at 5am. Genuinely wasn't annoyed about being woken up at that time; actually quite nice being the person they come to talk to if they are upset.

Two more highlights of the week were getting new sports kit and a gift from one of the boys. Always fun to get new kit. Harrow has a contract with Tsunami who are a HK based clothing manufacturer that places emphasis on being eco-friendly. They use recycled plastic in all of their clothes and the plastic packaging is water-soluble, leaving no micro-plastic or harmful molecules. Surprising that HK is home to one of the world's leading eco-clothing manufacturers given the general lack of care for the environment here, but I'll talk more about that later. Thursday 1st October is Mid-Autumn festival, celebrated by gathering of family and mooncakes. Got a nice box of mooncakes from a year 8 boy who arrived today. Apparently none of the teachers here like mooncakes, so a few of them have said they'll send them my way. Works out well in my favour until I need to go a waist size or two up; they're so dense.
New Tsunami kit and mooncakes given by one of the boys

Now that we're more or less in the full swing of things we only have time to go out on the weekend. School commitments occupied most of the week but still managed to do some little things. Went to the HK Maritime Museum in TST. Interesting to learn about the Chinese empire's naval history, being the world's largest exporter of tea and silk in the 1600s. Merchant ships sometimes had a golden dragon's head at the bow, more of a statement of power and a very Chinese feature. Chinese artists shipped artwork to Europe during the Renaissance period, and Italian artists were fascinated by their style and tried to copy Chinese characters and porcelain designs exactly, in order to use them in their own work. In Kung Fu Panda, Po is carried in a chair with long handles after he is announced as the Dragon Warrior. I leant that they're called 'sedan chairs'. They were often seen at old naval ports, used to carry officials or merchants around as a status symbol.
Chinese merchant ship with distinctive dragon bow and a sedan chair

Went on the big wheel in Central on Saturday, which gave a fantastic view of both Central and TST Waterfronts. Then went to a wartime prison from when Britain controlled HK, called Tai Kwun. Anything made out of brick in HK is colonial; Chinese people simply didn't use brick to build stuff, but instead used concrete or stone. Fascinating to see this brick prison courtyard in the midst of modern shiny skyscrapers. The prison has been refurbished into an art gallery too, and there was a cool extension on top of the old cells that looked futuristic and reminded me of a giant cheese grater. Style of the building was something you'd expect to find in Italy or Portugal, and it seemed very out of place in the middle of HK. Apparently there were even more buildings of similar style around it that have been demolished since Britain handed back control.
View from the big wheel, British prison and newly-built art gallery inside the prison

Went to Mr Wolf restaurant on Sunday; if you're ever in HK you need to go there. £30 for an all-you-can-eat British roast buffet. Potatoes are absolutely gorgeous, and they offer three meats: chicken, beef and pork. Pork comes with a thick layer of crispy crackling, whilst the beef is rare and tender. Nothing better than top quality food after a night out. The three of us boys went in there with a 'we're going to bankrupt the place' mindset that I always take into a buffet restaurant, but the plates were so big and the food so filling that we only got through two each. Poor performance. Genuinely though food was amazing.
Mr Wolf, Central

HK confuses me in terms of its take on environmental care. The amount of plastic packaging used is ridiculous. Things like sweets come in packets so oversized you could fit more than double the amount of sweets that come in them. Often there are more than two layers of plastic packaging on things like toilet roll (outer packaging of the 12-pack, then each roll is packaged too), straws and masks. They use way more single-use plastic than they need to. Also apparently recycling isn't a thing; recycling bins are rare and even then bin-men are often seen throwing the plastic recycling into the general waste lorries to go to landfill, indicating HK isn't very concerned with environmental care. Yet I've seen a couple of electric buses around which I don't even think the UK has, bearing in mind the UK is very strict on environmental regulations. So it's a bit confusing when HK has zero plastic reduction rules but then has invested money into electric buses.
Fully electric bus seen occasionally in HK. Ridiculous how quiet it is for a bus

School finishes on Wednesday as Mid-Autumn festival is a public holiday here in HK. Booked tickets to go to Disneyland HK on Thursday which the six of us are thrilled about. Essentially a four-day weekend so I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about this time next week. Will continue to aim for Sunday entries, however we are extremely busy now that school has properly reopened so I might miss the Sunday deadline more often than ideal. Hopefully see you again next Sunday.


Posted by David Zhao 10:02 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged reopening

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