Friday, May 29, 2009

Hoppy Palace #5 - Teaching Babies to Read

For the past few weeks I've been teaching hour long phonics lessons to 4 and 5 year olds at the Hoppy Palace Reading Centre. This is a picture of a friend's child, not one of my students, but she is exactly the age & vitality of the children I've been dealing with these past few weeks. And I've actually been enjoying it!

Isn't she beautiful? They all are!

Right now though, my stomach is churning because in a few short hours I will have the first of the Baby Phonics "trial" classes... one group of two year olds and a second group of one year olds, all coming with either a parent or a "helper" for a full HOUR of English phonics & reading lessons.

Much to the consternation of my family members, I have been practicing today's key songs all morning, including one of my personal favorites, "Elephants have Wrinkles".

The center piece of the class is flashing word and picture cards in front of the children, while making siren noises. I am just grateful that video recordings are strictly "verboten", so none of you will ever get to see me doing that.

I have been inquiring of the Lord just what "the Plan" is, having me, with all my experience in Sunday School, Confirmation, and Adult Education, involved in this kind of teaching, which I actually know very little about. Maybe there will be some doors opening for sharing something of God's love for these children & their parents, their domestic helpers (aka maids & servants)who often are the ones bringing these wealthier children to class, or maybe I can be a grace in the lives of my co-workers or even my boss here at the Hoppy Palace.

But right now there aren't just butterflies to contend with -- it feels like caterpillars are having field competitions in my stomach!

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.
-- Psalm 123:2
Kyrie eleison!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Night on the Town

16 Better a little with the fear of the LORD
than great wealth with turmoil.

17 Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.

--Proverbs 15:16-17

Here we are with our friend at a favorite little "jaulauh" (restaurant) in Tai Wai. Yes, we are sitting outdoors, it's right by the road, the plastic chairs a challenge for the more mature bottoms of the family...but the food is exquisite. We eschewed some of the more outrageous items on the menu:

--crisp deep fried pig intestines

-- minced mud carp

--deboned ducks web with xo sauce

--spiced chicken ginger feet

--pepper salt frogs

--fried cuttlefish balls

--fishes brain congee

We opted, instead, for some of the relatively safe options such as sweet & sour chicken, fresh squid, and vegetables. If our friend looks slightly disgruntled in the picture, it's because she tried in vain to order a couple of vegetarian dishes, only to find rich layers of pork fat between the eggplant and tofu dishes she had ordered.

Do note our increasingly improving use of chopsticks!!!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Undulating Compost Bin

"O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures...
creeping things innumerable,
living things both great and small.
" -- Psalm 104:24f

(this photo is not my hand! go to the blacksoldierflyblog for more info on these critters)

Well friends, as a good USA Midwesterner, of the first things I did upon arriving in Hong Kong four months ago was to establish a compost bin. Since we are blessed with one of the very few private yards in the city, (I'm talking maybe just dozens of homes with actual yards in this city of 7 million) I thought that composting was the least we could do, to be good stewards of this bit of God's creation.

Just this week I noticed some curious activity going on in the compost bin. We have been invaded by maggots! After much concern, thorough research and some anxious moments, I discovered the following article. Warning, this is not for the faint of heart. If you really are not interested in the fine art of composting, please do not follow any further.

with much wonder at "Mother Nature", and the Great God who created us all,


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The god of money

Yesterday I found out that these little altars we pass everywhere in the alleys of Hong Kong are not actually something in honor of the ancestors (which I had thought they were!) but quite a few of them are specifically in honor of the "money god". Or at least that's what our Sino-religious -studies -just-accepted-an-offer-to-teach-at- Yale-scholar friend told us. "Yup," she said, peering down to look at the inscription on one of the little red-light lit niches in the quaint, ramshackle town of Tai Wai (within walking distance of our home in Shatin). "This is in honor of the money god, hoping good fortune and money will come to this little shop."

I felt quite superior for all of about 5 seconds and then thought, well at least these folks are being honest about it. Whereas I have been having trouble getting to sleep, worrying about our house that hasn't sold yet and what should the fair listing price be.

The chief topic of my conversations with God lately have been much more about what He's doing to get my house sold than about, say, better ways to serve the poor and the lost of this world.

I awakened extra early just this morning... was it to worship up at the seminary for Morning Prayer? Was it to see my son off to school? Nope, usually I sleep through anything like that. I got up early in order to .... call the U.S.A. & talk to our realtor about the sale of the house.

And guess what's been the desktop picture on my computer for these last five months... yup, there's that big colorful picture of the house that we're still hoping to make a little bit of money on...

I may not be offering oranges and electric lights to the god of money, but he is certainly getting my thoughts and my time.

Maybe it's time for a dethronement.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
-- Jesus, according to Luke 16:13

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I have a Cantonese test tonight... first test I've taken in about 25 years...

Included will be numbers up to 99. If you'd like to hear the sounds I'll be tested on, check out this really nice free online Chinese site:

Cantonese numbers one to ten

We started out as a class of 11 and are now down to nine. The sad part is, the worst two students dropped out which leaves... yes, me, at the bottom of the heap.

wish me luck.

"As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words." --Ecclesiastes 5:3

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Confusions, Conundrums, Cultural challenges... (Hoppy Palace #4)

(photos: scenes from the Kowloon Tong mall which seemed to illustrate my current life's confusions ...)

The new center of the "Hoppy Palace" opened this week and I had to conduct a series of "trial classes" which were, truly, a trial.
During these sessions we teachers each take 6-8 children and assess their English skills and assign workbooks.

The "orange" workbooks are bright yellow, but when I asked our principal if we couldn't just call them the "yellow" books, she said, "Oh no, these are the orange books. See, it says 'orange' right here." And she helpfully pointed to the word "orange" printed at the top of the book list.

At least half of the two dozen different "orange" books are labeled "Book 1". So somehow I have to figure out the difference between Book 1 Elementary, Book 1 Basic, Enrichment Book 1, and Level 2 Book 1.... not to mention Intermediate Book 1, Advanced Book 1, and Advanced Book 1 Level 2.

Then there are the "Book 1's" in the additional colors of blue (which are white), pink, green and purple.

I spent hours at home trying to figure out the system, and could not. For the first time since moving to Hong Kong, I was in tears, wondering how on earth I could be to be fair to each child.

So yesterday I had 8 children delivered to my minuscule "classroom" which consists of two plastic tables and six wobbly plastic kiddie chairs (one of them already occupied by yours truly, so you can see where we had a problem from the get-go). They were mostly preschoolers and kindergartners, so my first order of business was to launch into cheery story-telling mode, which was not enough to keep two of the tiniest from bursting into tears, and a third little one from escaping down the hallway.

I was grateful for our three front office staff who came in, spoke in soothing Cantonese, and got the little people quieted down enough so that I could do my individual assessments: Four kids with no apparent English skills whatsoever: Easy, Book 1. Two kids who knew all their English alphabet and most of the animal names... ummm Book 1 Elementary, perhaps? And the big ten year old who looked properly disgusted to be in the same room with the rest of us? Maybe I'd better see what those white, um, blue books are all about...

Uh-oh, without any name tags, I managed to mix up Ling Ho Wing and Leung Hau Wing... quick get two new assessment forms.

Afterwards, dozens of anxious parents want to know my opinion of their progeny.

"He/she is a wonderful, beautiful, smart child," I say, "very eager to participate and I think he/she will learn very quickly."

I believe that, I really do.

"Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth." -- Luke 3:5 (taken totally out of context, but I'm still claiming the promise)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Daily Commute in Hong Kong

This is what our commutes often look like. We're always sad when we arrive just as the doors of the train close!
Our son takes the metro each day as part of his 1.25 hour trip (one way)to school. We take the metro for our 50 minute trip to church on Sundays. I have been taking the metro 30 minutes to my phonics-teaching job, but this week the Hoppy Palace opens up a center closer to our home, so I can walk to work! Then I only have to dodge the people on the streets...

I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

(from the Old Wise Man of Ecclesiastes 9:11)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Prison Visit in Hong Kong #3

I know, I know, more than a little scary, this picture. But this is what they made us wear for our prison visit today. Well, not the sunglasses, but the mask. Charming, isn't it?

This is still Hong Kong, and threats of flu are taken very, very seriously.

But we still managed to have a great time. Today I initiated religious joke telling. My church group (who don't know me very well yet) warned me it wasn't going to work because "jokes don't translate well" but I fearlessly plowed ahead with an old St. Peter gem and I would just like to say I got a very respectable response. Yes it could be that they all felt sorry for me, but they laughed loudly and then we got volunteers among the inmates who promised to prepare to tell some good (clean!) jokes in the coming months. I suspect the occasions for laughter aren't overwhelming in the prison system.

Our topic today was prayer, and at the end of the session I asked everyone to share a specific prayer request with a partner. I asked my prayer partner (I'll call him "Alan") to -- yes I'll shamelessly admit it -- pray for the sale of our house back in Wisconsin... and Alan in turn asked me to pray for... somebody he'd read about in the newspaper who needed a rare kind of bone marrow transplant... and had the same blood type as he, Alan had. So his specific prayer was that he would be able to donate blood marrow for this guy.

I know his was an incredibly long-shot prayer... but I thought, well, that's what you call selfless. He wants to give his own blood to help a dying man. That sounds something Jesus would do!

And this reminds me that Jesus sometimes is crazily specific and literal when he says,

When I was in prison, you visited me. -- Jesus, quoted in Matthew 25:36

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hoppy Palace -- Part 3

I almost quit the Hoppy Kingdom last week, because frankly, I wasn't very hoppy.

A team of six little boys almost did me in.

Now, in general I like little boys. I've (nearly) raised three of my own without, as far as I can tell so far, too much damage to either myself or them.

But teaching six little boys phonics in a teeny tiny room with barely enough room to turn around -- this is another story.

And it's a different set of kids every hour & I'm still having enormous trouble telling them apart. Nor are the kids in groups based on their level, but they are in the group that fits the available time slots... which change from week to week. Each kid has between two and four different workbooks, and are supposed to finish a minimum of 2 pages in one book and 4 pages in the others so mathematically you can see where I am supposed to be able to direct them through a total of ... let's see now... 36 different pages in up to 24 different workbooks... within an hour's time -- make that thirty minutes as half an hour is supposed to be devoted to games and group "phonics blending" exercises... I am also discovering that they may or may not be in workbooks that are actually appropriate to their particular level. But that too is another story.

In this particular hour, three year old Chen keeps falling asleep and each time I manage to wake him up we have to start all over again with the instructions.

Poor little Marcus also three years old, can't write yet (unusual, it seems, for the progressive Chinese) and needs me to hold his hand when tracing letters of the alphabet.

Arthur and De, both around five years old, are fighting over the use of the pencil sharpener. This seems like a possibly dangerous situation.

Shan has raced ahead in his workbook and wants me to check his work.

Li has arrived in a part of his workbook where he is supposed to match words and pictures, but the pictures are so weird that even I have trouble deciphering which picture goes with which word.

"Teacher, I'm finished!" says Shan.

"Teacher, I need a new pencil", says Arthur.

Li just sits there, looking frustrated.

Marcus has started just scribbling over his entire workbook.

De doesn't know which page he should be on.

I'm thankful that Chen is asleep again; I don't need to worry about him !!

My teaching teacher calls out through the open door: "It's time for you to move on to the phonics blending exercises with them."

"I need to go to the bathroom" says Arthur. Or is that Li?

I also still need to write a personal "progress report" for each child, to hand them before they leave. "And don't write anything negative" I have been reminded several times. "Parents don't like that."

When the hour is over I go out to meet the parents. Each anxiously waits for my verdict on their son or daughter's progress. "Very hard workers" I say, and they beam. "Arthur, he not too lazy?" asks one Dad. "No, he's a hard worker and he really is learning his English words" I reply, thinking, "I am so sorry, I actually can't even remember which one is Arthur, and I'm going to quit this job."

But I have to hurry back because the next class is waiting. Three exquisite little girls, patiently waiting with folded arms for me to hand them their day's assignments.

Did I mention that I don't get paid for any of these "training hours"? Is this really what I should be doing at this point in my life?

But tomorrow (Friday) I think I will have the first class of my own... where I do get paid. And maybe I will start having some of the same kids so I actually can form some relationships.

Meanwhile, if any of you have any idea for phonics games that are good for six 2 to 8 year olds... including one that may be sleeping... please send me a note.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. --Psalm 62:8

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hongkong Wildlife 2

Today the monkeys arrived! We were warned by our neighbors that this was likely to happen as soon as our fruit trees ripened. Protocol is to chase the monkeys off, as they can carry disease and wreak havoc with the area dogs, plus they like to throw food and ahem, worse things at people. But before we chased 'em off, I did get these two snapshots, taken about three hours ago.

"All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken, the figs fall into the mouth of the eater ." -- Nahum 3:12 (I'm not sure I've ever actually quoted from the little Biblical book of Nahum before... but these monkeys were doing a great job of shaking those trees!)

Hongkong Wildlife I

Yesterday Wayne was walking home from the grocery store, thoroughly immersed in trying to figure out how to use his new cell phone, when suddenly a cobra rises up, about ten feet away, and spreads its hood. He soon slithered off (the cobra, not Wayne). That was yesterday and Wayne is still waiting for his heart rate to get back to normal.

He looked it up when he got home, and Wayne figures it was a Chinese cobra (kinda makes sense) -- highly venomous.

Many of us are familiar with the first part of the Biblical prophecy... the part about the snake is less familiar but becomes meaningful after an encounter like this one!

"'The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.' says the Lord." --Isaiah 65:25

We also found this fairly recent video of somebody else's encounter with a cobra in Hong Kong. Warning, this is not for the faint of heart: