Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Integrated Korean: Beginning 1 (Review)

This book is part of the University of Hawaii's Klear Textbooks series for Korean. There are so few good books teaching Korean and even fewer that teach at upper levels. My criteria in finding a series that would help me review my Korean was one that built up to an advanced level. The Klear series has 10 books with 2 books per level: beginning, intermediate, advanced intermediate, advanced, high advanced. There are also some good auxiliary texts that look really nice. All in all, it fit what I was looking for. The first book has 7 chapters. That doesn't seem like much but each chapter is 30 to 40 pages long and covers a lot of material. I was actually surprised at the amount of stuff introduced in the first book and I was happy with my choice. Now for the bad. The authors explanations are a bit muddled in some places and barely adequate in others. The mix of advanced linguistic terminology, cases of bad punctuation, and putting too many words in one explanation while not saying enough for another makes this a sometimes annoying read.

Example: "When a plain plosive consonant or the fricative consonant ㅅ is preceded by a plosive or fricative consonant, it is reinforced to become a corresponding tense consonant....."

I'm sure that there is a much clearer way of saying this. Grammar and such should always be explained in a clear and easy to remember way. In any case, this book could have used some more editing to make the explanations clearer. Since my Korean is pretty decent in the first place, it didn't bother me much, but I'm having a hard time imagining a beginning student being able to get through it. If I didn't already know what they were talking about, I'd be at a loss.

Anyways, for my own purposes of filling up some holes and reviewing my Korean, this is a good book that has a lot of potential to be better.


Learning Korean: Confessions of a Cocky Bastard

My Korean is pretty good. Some might even say fluent. But the fact is that I still have a long way to go. When I was studying, the problem was that often times, I let my pride get in the way. My excuse? I was young. I mentioned before that I was born in Seoul and am half Korean so there was a lot of extra baggage there and it was difficult for me to approach the language like other students who don't have Korean blood. For example, if someone used a word that I didn't know, I would often pretend to understand and try to figure it out through context. I just didn't like to appear like my Korean was second rate, even if it was. Another example is that it really ticks me off when someone tells me that I should speak English or that it was unnecessary for me to learn Korean; these comments are especially insulting to me since the implication is that being half Korean is the same as not being Korean at all. Anyways, it always seemed like I had something to prove and it affected my studies. I didn't study as much as I should have because I didn't think I needed to; I'm half Korean, isn't that an automatic B, at least? I didn't pay much attention to words I thought were unimportant like business, economic, government, military vocab and literary grammar. I was far too busy hanging out and drinking/clubbing/gambling with my friends and speaking 'real' Korean (keep in mind I was in my late teens/ early twenties). Actually, I still enjoy those activities, but I feel like kicking myself because I had an opportunity to significantly expand my knowledge of Korean and I blew it because of pride. I'm a young professional now and me not knowing all those 'unimportant vocab/grammar' looks really bad since I am supposed to be a 'fluent' speaker. Don't get me wrong. My Korean is good, but when the conversation goes up a notch towards ROI's and investment planning to correlate to recent government legislations, I tend to stumble a bit.

Anyways, I'm older and wiser, so I learned to put my pride on the back burner. But the damage is done. I gotta go back and start from basics all over again and fill in those holes in my Korean. Especially my honorifics. Of course, living in Japan for the last three years and not speaking Korean all that often didn't help matters. I decided to work with the Integrated Korean (KLEAR) series from the University of Hawaii. Seems to be the best of the bunch out there and includes some great accompanying materials. There is one good thing that came out of this, though. I learned to appreciate my opportunities because the cost of wasting them is high.

Genki I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (Review)

I just finished the first volume of Genki Japanese. This book was published by the Japan Times and I still haven't found a series that matches it in quality....but then again, I haven't been actively looking for any other series. The best thing about this 2 book series is that it introduces the kanji from chapter 3. There really seems to be some unspoken (well, sometimes spoken) belief that foreigners can't learn kanji so a lot of materials out there don't even try. Billions of Chinese and millions of Japanese use characters so it can't be all that difficult to learn. It just takes the right approach. It doesn't say much for any book that claims to teach Japanese, but think kanji, a PILLAR of the language, is too difficult for a student to grasp. The grammar explanations were very clear and easy to understand. Also, I really enjoyed the reading materials at the end of the book. There was an ever increasing amount of kanji introduced, but I never felt overwhelmed. I started to get this warm fuzzy feeling from reading and comprehending all the reading passages and it only encouraged me to keep studying more. Yeah yeah. I know it is a beginning book and the materials weren't all that hard, but I still enjoyed it enough to give myself the proverbial pat on the back for getting through the reading. Another aspect I enjoyed was that this book seemed to focus on the more mundane and common situations a student might find him or herself in. There were no chapters about going to a tea ceremony or flower arranging (that might come up in the 2nd volume). Instead, we had sections on getting pictures developed and words needed to get around the train system. Good stuff.

I mentioned in a previous post that I never learned Japanese in a school, but through actual immersion (not being able to order food was a great motivator to learn). I wanted to fill in the gaps of my Japanese by going back to the basics through the Genki series. For my purposes, this was a great book and I have no complaints.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I can finally get around by taxi without having to repeat myself several times. Woo hoo. I no longer need to get from point A to point B by means of point Q.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Unique Challenges

Studying Cantonese has turned up some unique challenges. I decided to start with "No Sweat Cantonese". It is not as structured or complete as some other books out there, but it offered more practical info that I could use right away like ordering food, asking/giving directions, and using money/making purchases. The biggest challenge for me so far is that the romanization system being used for the characters is kinda clunky. Just looking at the romanization won't always give you the correct pronounciation. How would you pronounce 'neuih'? That means the cd is absolutely essential for the novice. Just having the book won't give you the right pronounciation so you need the cd. When listening to the cd, it is sometimes hard to 'transcribe' the pronounciation and nuances in your head since there is no alphabet you can relate it to. All you have is a romanization system that tries to put you within spitting distance of the correct pronounciation but not always succeeding. This goes for all Cantonese textbooks, not just "No Sweat Cantonese". In comparison, Korean and Japanese both have an alphabet with comparably simpler phenomes than Cantonese. Even Japanese uses hiragana to accurately portray the sound of kanji-based words. Because of the simplicity of the Korean and Japanese sound systems and their use of an 'alphabet', it is quite easy to review with just a book or just a cd. Cantonese has some unusual sounds coupled with the use of tones. Therefore, you need the book and the cd at the same time always in order to match the meaning, character, and pronounciation correctly. You can't do one without the other. That puts me at a slight disadvantage since I like to listen to the cd while I'm out jogging or on the MTR. Also, I won't be able to just pull out the book to look over some words. Once I (hopefully) get better and am more familiar with the sounds and tones, this will no longer be an issue, but in the here and now, I'm just a novice and this is proving to be a pain.

Saturday, December 09, 2006



Why Learning Two Language at the Same Time is a Bad Idea

My Korean is pretty good. But when I started living in Japan, my Japanese was getting better and my Korean was getting worse. But the funny thing was that I DIDN'T NOTICE. In case you didn't know, Korean and Japanese are very similar in terms of grammar and vocabulary. For example, bag: krn) 가방=kabang; jpn) かばん=kaban or newspaper: krn) 신문=shinmun; jpn) 新聞=shinbun. What started happening was that I started to seriously mix up my Japanese and my Korean into one nonsensible mess. It got to the point, that when I thought of a word, I couldn't remember if it was Japanese or Korean. Here is one of the worst cases. A friend of mine asked me if i could eat something. My response was going to be 'I can eat.' In Korean, this would be, 먹을 수 있어 (muhgel soo isuh). In Japanese, this would be, 食べられる (taberareru). What came out of my mouth was 'tabel soo isuh.' Of course this was met with looks of, 'Huh?' On my really bad days, whether the person I'm talking to is Japanese or Korean, they only understand half of what I'm saying and think the other half is just bad and unintelligible pronounciation.

Another problem was the style of speaking. Most of my Korean, I learned when I was young. Hanging out with friends and going to bars or what not so my korean is very down and dirty. For Japanese, I learned in an office environment (and bars) so my formal Japanese is much much better than my formal Korean. Japanese in a formal environment is very roundabout and indirect. In English, we might say, 'I don't think this is a good idea.' In Japanese, it would be more like, 'I slightly think that perhaps it would be nice to maybe consider this other alternative to see how it goes, if that is okay with you, but of course your idea is good and i'm fine with it.' Alright. I'm exaggerating, but I sometimes feel like that. Anyways, I had a three month biz trip to Korea and this was the first time I was in a Korean office environment. But since I was not great with formal Korean, I spoke Korean using the Japanese style of being roundabout. Turns out, formal Korean is much more direct than Japanese and and I just sounded weird and wussy like I left my backbone at home.

To make things worse, half the employees in the company I work for are Japanese while the other half is Korean and the majority speak both languages. This means that even when i screw up everybody understands what I'm saying and I have no idea I was mixing things up again. Anyways, I'm trying to be more careful and making sure I'm putting the right words with the right grammar with the right language. The pitfalls of being multilingual.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Learning a language is probably one of the most unfulfilling endeavors one can go through. The fact of the matter is, no matter how good you are in the language, you never feel like you are good enough. No matter how long or how hard you study, you will come across a word that will throw your game so far off and leave you wondering how the hell you got this far without knowing it.

But here is the thing. The ones who think that their abilities are not good enough are the smart ones. They strive, they work harder, they push themselves to get better. The ones who think they are great are the ones who drop the ball, slack off, and care more about their ego than their ability to speak. Besides, it is good to stay humble because no matter how good you are, there will be someone out there who is better, including millions of native speakers.

Language learning and retention is like a girlfriend. If you don't put in any effort and just ignore it, it will go away. In any language, there are so many things to learn outside the basics. Economic terms, business vocabulary, government lingo, high school slang, historic grammar, surfing words. It is a long, hard, endless road to language acquisition and to think you can master it all is a serious flaw in reasoning. But if you keep working at it, you will be better than you were the day before.

Language learning is unfulfilling because there will always be some aspect of the language that is slightly out of reach. It is also one of the most worthwhile things you can do. Now, excuse me while I find out how to say 'oxymoron'.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Language Proficiency Tests and Why They Suck

UPDATE: It came to my attention here that my comment regarding test expiration dates may be incorrect. If anything, it would probably be more accurate to say a FEW of these tests have expiration dates. However, when applying these tests to some end such as a university, the school or institution may require that the test be taken within a certain period from the time of application.

The whole idea of the language proficiency test is completely beyond me. Honestly, what are the benefits? Most will tell you that it is necessary for getting a job. Not true. Whether or not you put your score on your resume, the true test of your language abilities takes place during the interview when they can see for themselves whether or not you really speak the language. Besides, in more cases than not, if you are not a native speaker, no one really expects you to speak their language. If you write down that you are fluent in something, they'll probably roll their eyes and give you a condescending smile until you whiplash them with your linguistic snake-style kung-fu. Just write down you speak whatever language at whatever level and let the interviewer judge for himself your abilities.

The second excuse: I just want to know how good I am. This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. The language that is taught, the language that is tested on, and the language as it really is are all completely different. In your day to day life, you can easily measure how good you are just by walking outside your door. If you can grab a cab, order food, and tell your buddy you wanna meet that night, you're probably doing ok. If you have trouble finding toothpaste at a convenience store, well, you are probably not doing ok. Also, most of these tests are divided up in levels. In the case of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, there are four levels with four being the lowest and one being the highest level. If you take test three and get a great score, what does that say? I'm great at speaking Japanese at a mediocre level? How can that possibly be useful to anybody with an IQ higher than one? Besides, I've seen plenty of ESL students with fantastic toefl or toeic scores that can't speak for the life of them and fantastic English speakers with poor toefl or toeic scores. Just goes to show, these tests are a poor litmus test for ability.

For me, the only real reason to take any proficiency test is if it is required to get into a school or class that is taught in the local language. And even then, only if they put a gun to your head and make you. Outside of that one reason, these tests really have no value. In fact, in my humble (yet probably correct) opinion, these tests are just another way to squeeze some money out of the populace. Think about it, multiple level tests to test proficiency?? Shouldn't it be one test that starts from the dummy questions and goes up to Einstein questions? Yet, some people insist on taking each level test and dishing out the cash. This can get expensive, especially if that person sucks and has to redo these tests. Wouldn't it be cheaper and smarter to study until you feel you can take the highest level test? Another thing, most of these test scores have an expiration date. This means you would have to retake it after a couple of years. Kinda useless for a guy that is fluent, I would think. The JLPT, the HKS, the KLPT, the TOPIK, the JETRO are all a waste of money and time. The thing is, if you are fluent in the language, there is absolutely no reason to take these tests. From what I can see, most people take these tests so they can brag about how much better they are to other students. In any case, the only thing that can truly measure your ability in a foreign language is yourself. As for me, I don't need to take a test to know how much I suck. I already know.

note: HOWEVER, books and study materials made for people who plan on taking these proficiency tests are, for the most part, pretty fantastic.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Things I Wish I Knew Before

In the course of my life, I've studied several langauges and like to think that I'm proficient in some. Each language has its own difficulties and challenges and sometimes require different approaches. I've probably tried every language learning method available and these are some of the things I've learned.

1. CLASSES ARE A WASTE OF TIME: Every person's pace of learning is different so it can be very frustrating if you are faster than the class or slower than the class. Finding one that matches your pace exactly is very difficult. Besides, when you are sharing your class time with many other students, the time you can actually speak the language is severly limited and your listening can be screwed up by someone else's bad accent.

2. GET A GOOD TEXTBOOK SET: This seems very obvious, but I think a lot of people are not sure what to look for. For one, make sure it does not use romanization. There is no way to get around it; if you want to good at a language, you need to invest the time and effort to learning to read and write. Also, it is not a good idea to jump around different series. Unless the set you are working on is undeniably terrible, finish it. After that, you will have a feel of what you need to work on and you can focus your studies to your weaknesses. Another thing that needs to be considered is whether or not there is audio for you to hear the language. If there are no cd's included, you could be butchering the language and not even know it. And finally, a good series builds on itself so you don't waste your time repeating lessons. Find a series that goes from beginning to advance and go throught it all. For example, if you work on a three book series and then move to a six book series, you just wasted your money and time since the six book series should have everything the 3 book series has. In any case, before you start spending big, do lots of research and make an informed decision. P.S. You cannot learn a language in 10 minutes a day. Avoid these or similar books like the plague.

3. AVOID PRIVATE TUTORS AND LANGUAGE EXCHANGES: The only time I might recommend this is if you are not in your target language's country. Private tutors are overpriced and language exchanges are usually just trying to practice their English rather than seriously teaching you anything. Besides, if you are in the country, there are plenty of opportunities to practice just by going out your door. However, find a friend who can help you out if you have any questions. When I was studying Japanese and had a question, I just called one of my friends and asked him/her to explain it, and they me. I didn't burden them with the expectation that it was their responsibility to teach me the language at a certain time everyday like the terms tutor or exchange would imply. And they didn't burden me with that, either. If your or your counterpart's expectations are not met, it only leads to frustration.

4. HANG OUT IN GROUPS: If you are with one other person, often times, they will speak English, which is something you probably don't want to do. But if you are in a group, you will be immersed in the language because people will speak their language since it is more comfortable for them. Besides, a lot of people are shy about speaking English in front of their friends.

5. ALCOHOL: Drinking relaxes you and relaxes the people you are with. You lose that nervousness you get when speaking another language and you get some new friends. And more importantly, since you got these new friends now, all the formalities melt away and you can hear how the language really is. And if they don't understand you, you can blame it on their drinking. : ) Anyways, I'm sure there are a thousand other ways to get closer to people, but I have yet to see anything break social walls faster than a little bit of fire water.

6. FORGET ABOUT FLASHCARDS: Learning words on their own is really not helpful. Learning them IN CONTEXT is. Think of the words 'over', 'finish', 'end', and 'terminate'. They all basically mean the same thing, but the situations in which they can be used can be quite different. The movie can be OVER or the movie can be TERMINATED. I can FINISH my homework, but Can I END my homework? It is all in the conotations of theses words and you can't get that from flashcards. A student trying to learn English would be at a loss if he/she only used flashcards to learn these words. Read and keep reading. Works a thousand times better than flashcards. The ONLY exception for me is when you are trying to learn Chinese characters. I don't mean Chinese words, but recognizing Chinese characters.

7. SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE: Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid of looking like an idiot. Nothing burns a word or grammar point into my mind better than making an ass out of myself by saying something completely ridiculous because I got the word/grammar wrong. Will I look stupid? Yes. Will I remember? Yes. Small price to pay if you ask me. But most importantly, if you don't know, ASK.

Anyways, these are some of the conclusions I've come to all these years later. I wish I knew them a long time ago. It would have saved me a lot of money and a lot of headaches.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Good Okinawan Eating

I've never been to Okinawa, but while living in Japan, I developed a taste for Okinawan food since there are restaurants everywhere. Honestly, it is one of my favorite cuisines. Lucky enough, a buddy introduced me to a Okinawan place in Hong Kong. Good stuff. As a plus, all the waiters and waitresses spoke Japanese so I didn't have to fumble around a Chinese menu and play charades or pictionary to get my order across. I did take a small blow to my pride when I found out that the waitress spoke Japanese as well as me even though I've lived in Japan twice as long. I guess there is something to be said about learning Japanese by working in a Japanese restaurant. Anyways, at least I have a place to go to to get my fix of Aomori, pig ears, and goya chanpuru.

Pimsleur's Cantonese I (Review)

Just got finished (for the 3rd time) with this set. 30 audio-based lessons at 30 minutes each for a total of 15 hours. Honestly, I think the Pimsleur method is fantastic as it forces you to use your brain instead of just parroting whatever the narrator is saying. It is also great because it helps me get a feel for the language and how the tones and rhythms work together. Now for the bad. There were a couple of times where I was not sure if I was hearing what I was supposed to be hearing, but there was no way for me to check since it does not come with any written material. Very frustrating when I had to replay some portion of the tape over and over again trying to figure out what they were saying. In this case, being audio-based is this product's best and worse aspect. Also, this is ridiculously expensive and as much as I like it, it is not worth the money. Better to borrow it from the library or something. That being said, I look forward to sets II and III.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Still Studying Japanese

When I first went to Japan, I spoke absolutely no Japanese. I took one class several years ago and only remember the hiragana. However, because I came to Japan, the logical first step was to start learning the language. I am the first to admit it. I hate textbooks. Not because I think they are not any good. It just seems that I have better results when I'm out there hearing and parroting the language. I bought the Japanese for Busy People Kana series and went thru it, but, to be honest, little of it stuck. I would say 95% of what I have learned was from harassing the people in my office to explain what they were saying. What was especially helpful was that I was in the deep countryside where I had very little chance of speaking English. Anyways, for me, the textbooks became helpful AFTER a couple of years learning the language when what I learned thru intuition was explained clearly and things 'clicked'. For myself, learning some of these rules beforehand were difficult because I couldn't understand their importance or what situations they are supposed to be used in.

In any case, I can safely say that my Japanese is pretty good. But when I moved to my new company, I realized that pretty good doesn't cut it. This was the first time that I NEEDED to be good at Japanese. Normally, no one expects a foreigner to speak Japanese. If you can say hello and goodbye, that is good enough for most. But as a friend once said, the better your Japanese is, the more people will not put up with your mistakes and misunderstandings. Very true.

My first few months were difficult, but in all honesty, there is almost no better motivation to improve your Japanese than feeling like an idiot in the office. And my learning curve shot up. Of course, I am the last to admit that I'm fluent, but I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was and hope to get even better. Even if I am in Hong Kong now. So what am I doing now? Going back to the textbooks.

I am using two resources now: The Genki series and Remembering the Kanji. The reason I am starting from basics with the Genki series is because 1) since I never really went thru a structured course, I feel like there are big holes in my Japanese that I should know. That is why I am starting from the very beginning. And 2) the Genki series does not talk down to its users. After lesson 3, it introduces the kanji and forces you to learn in a very structured format. This series is published by the Japan Times and I think their whole lineup is excellent. Any course that does not teach hiragana, katakana, and kanji does not deserve to be on any serious student's list.

Remembering the Kanji is fantastic and helps you to learn how to write more than 2000 characters although it doesn't teach you the pronounciation. But reading online articles with the help of Firefox's rikaichan plug-in, remembering the pronounciations of the characters is very easy.

Before, textbooks frustrated me, but after 3 years of studying the language, these textbooks are helping me firmly grasp the language and making it mine. But one thing is true. The best way of learning any language is being in a situation where not being able to use it is not an option.

Just Some Background

Probably in the course of this blog, I will mention several other languages that I am currently studying outside of Cantonese. Am I a glutton for pain? Am I trying to give off the impression that I'm smarter than the average bear? Nope. Fact is I need to learn languages for my life and career:

Cantonese: I'm living in Hong Kong
Japanese: I work for a Japanese company and have lived in Japan for a few years
Korean: Korean is definitely the most personal to me since I was born in Seoul and am half Korean
Other: Just because I'm fascinated by languages

So for those of you who are (or aren't) wondering why I'd be studying anything else besides Cantonese, there you are.

Pimsleur's Cantonese 1

This is the 3rd time that I've listened to this series. The first two times were quite awhile ago so I'm thinking that listening to it again now would be even more beneficial. As a lot of people will tell you, the vocab learned in this series is very minimal, but for me, the important thing is getting into the rhythm of using tones. Will I learn Cantonese with this set? No. But it is good preparation. Besides, it is a good way to kill time on the MTR.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Motivation for Learning Cantonese

Last Sunday, I met a buddy of mine who I went to school with. He, his girlfriend, and I went to Shang Wan for dinner at this chinese restaurant he knew. Great food, as usual, but the real fun was in the ordering. He was Japanese so he could read the characters, but could not pronounce them. Furthermore, he spoke a little Mandarin, which is like speaking Inuit at a Baton Rouge cajun bbq. After miming and a round of pictionary, we finally got our food, but my buddy was frustrated, the waitress was pissed, and me and his girlfriend could barely control our laughter. But the best part of the night was when he tried to order some tea. He points to the teapot which was filled with hot water only and said what what we think is 'I want tea' (in Mandarin). She picks up the pot and pours hot water into his glass of beer. This was definitely one of the funniest dinners I've ever been to. Moral of the story? Learn Cantonese or you will get hot water in your beer.

Saturday Fun

Last Saturday was a bunch of firsts. I went to my first HK bbq. Lots of fun. V picked me up on his motorcycle and drove along the highway. The view was fantastic and reminded me of a HK version of Highway 1 along Cali's coast. When we got there, I realized that my image of a beach bbq was slightly different than everyone else's. It was an asphalt square with beach umbrellas and portable charcoal pits. You use a prong to skewer the meat and there you go. Good stuff. Another guy brought his pet parrot which was fun to play with...until it bit me.

Afterwards we headed to the gym with some of V's other friends for badminton and squash. I just moved in so all my stuff didn't arrive yet so all I had were slippers. I decided to play barefoot. Of course this was met with, 'Are you out of you mind?' They offered to find me a pair of sneakers, but the idea of putting on a stranger's shoes is not all that appealing to me. Anyways, I found that I really really enjoyed squash. Hopfully, I'll get to play often here. It was V's birthday so we went to a Thai restaurant in TST. It was in this pedestrian only sidestreet with a bunch of restaurants with outdoor seating that was obviously an expat hangout. It was very nice and reminded me of Beihai park in Beijing....only without the lake. The food? fantastic. I've been eating so much here that i'm starting to worry about my weight after only one week.

Next was karaoke. The facilities were great, but the selection was a bit weak for me since I couldn't sing, let alone speak, Cantonese. It also looks like my friends are not big drinkers because it was a dry karaoke. I don't know about the rest of HK, but my friends take karaoke very seriously and let me assure you; sober karaoke is NOT easy. Especially when we were in their for about 5 hours. The cool thing is that I learned a couple of drinking games. Ironic, isn't it? I got back at about 3:30am. It was a good day.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shopping for Books

Yesterday, I went out to TST and HK Island to look for some books for learning Cantonese. Everyone told me that I could get by quite easily with only English, but having trouble talking to a taxi driver and not knowing the names of the foods you want to eat convinced me otherwise. I went to Swindon's and Page One in TST and to Dymocks on the island. Dymocks had the best collection and the highest prices. Here is what I got:

A Cantonese Book, by Betty Hung
No Sweat Cantonese, by Amy Leung
Interesting Cantonese, by Susanna Ng

I'll try to give them a review after trying them out, but my learning style has always been to buy a lot of books for a lot of money and then not opening them.


My second day (actually, it was still technically my first since I arrived so late/early), was mostly logistics. I had to open a bank account, shop for a phone, get a computer, etc. After opening my account, I discovered that they had something that I really missed in the states. The debit card! They system is called EPS and I used it to fix the problem at the hotel. Finally, things were going my way. When I got back, there was a message from V. He is a manager at the local HK branch of my old company in Japan. I met him a few years ago on a business trip and we hit it off right away. Great guy. He invited me to dinner that night with his wife, A , who taught me how to lose to her at mah jong a few years ago. I met up with him at TST and said he'd loan me his phone while I was here. See? I told you he was a great guy. Anyways, he helped me pick up a rechargable sim card and then headed out for dinner. His place and my place is very close so we headed back, picked up his wife, and went to the restaurant. It was a place in the local shopping mall that specializes in Shanghai cuisine.....and it was one of the best meals I ever had. Ready? Here we go. We had dumplings in sauce, cold chicken noodles with peanut sauce, Shanghai crab with vinegar, shark fin soup, crab dumplings, shrimp fried in duck egg sauce, warm noodles in peanut sauce, something from the ocean in oyster sauce, fried ice cream, sesame pastries, ginger tea, jasmine tea, and a very delicious plum wine. We ate so much food so I'm sure I missed a couple of dishes above, but it was heaven. I was actually full after the Shanghai crab, but everything looked so delicious, it would have been a sin not to try them all. In the end, I ate so much that it hurt...but it was a good hurt.

Anyways, V and A invited me out this wknd to an all day birthday party for V including a beach barbecue, tennis, dinner (already salivating), and karaoke. Life is good when you have good friends.

Day 1

I gotta arrival was a lot less smooth than I thought it would be. I finally land at about 11ish, grab a taxi, showed him the address to my serviced apartment, and proceeded to drive in circles. In all fairness, the taxi driver was a really nice guy and I'm sure he wasn't just running up his meter. Turns out that in Hong Kong, all the streets have English and Chinese names that don't always mean the same thing. For example, Elm Street in Chinese doesn't necessarily mean Elm or have anything to do with trees. I only had the English address. I would have given him the Chinese address if I could have found it on the hotel's webpage. Anyways, after a few misses, I give him the number and he calls them up for directions. We finally arrive around 12:30 at night.

At the apartments, it was a whole new mess. I was coming from Japan and I had my first months rental fee in yen. It turns out that they do not accept yen payment. This was confusing to me since when I made the reservation I told them I was coming from Japan. They had my address in Japan. They had my phone number in Japan. Wouldn't it be logical to expect payment in yen? I guess not.

Basically, I had three options: Hong Kong Dollars, US Dollars, or credit card. I didn't have the first two and my credit card limit is embarrassingly low. His advice? Grab a cab, drive 30 minutes away to a currency exchange center that may or may not be open, drive back another 30 minutes with a bag full of bills, all in the dead of night. Since that was not going to happen, I asked him to call the manager at home. No answer. How about the assisstant manager? No answer. He asks me to wait a minute with each my attempt to be reasonable, i waited an unreasonably long time. Long story short, we finally check online for the exchange rate between HKD and yen and I gave him that amount to hold with the promise I would change it to HKDs the next day. I didn't get into my room until 3:30am.

I'm a reasonable guy and seldom, if ever, get angry. The fellow behind the counter obviously felt bad for me, but he had to follow the rules of the establishment. Nevertheless, I was ready to kill someone. Welcome to Hong Kong.