Dec 13 - Home is Where?

Wow, I can't believe it's been 5 weeks since I left Hong Kong. I must admit that I am sooo happy to be back in Hong Kong. The past 5 weeks have been a bit draining because of training every day, flying on evenings and weekends, the constant cough and of course, my ailing knee. Traveling is not fun when you're sick and working. If it was just sick or just working, I would have been okay.

It makes me wonder where I consider my "home" is now, especially with Christmas and New Years coming up. I guess it's normal to be a bit more thoughtful near the end of the year.

But the idea of "home" has become a bit of a jigsaw puzzle for me. It's a combination of places, people and things. My current space is in Hong Kong, giving me a place to put all my stuff and live. My home in Toronto is nothing now but a virtual address where my bills get sent and subsequently redirected to my friend. I meet up with my friends and family on Facebook, Youtube and Skype. My work is in a virtual office built by email and remote desktop.

I think for me now, the concept of "home" is unnecessary. I can crave stability at times, but I really won't have a home for a while. For now this web of connections is what I have and take with me.


Dec 20 - Learning Cantonese Part 2 of 3

So as I'm getting better at Cantonese, I'm realizing that how people react to me is changing. This morning I was having dim sum at a local restaurant, and the waiter suddenly switched to Mandarin while speaking to me. And he started to speak very slowly, repeated himself a few times, and made more hand actions.

I've recorded my experience with how people react to my improving Cantonese. I think I'm at one of the worst points right now, where people realize I'm Chinese but I don't speak Cantonese well--around a level 5 or 6:

Cantonese Level Description What the Locals Think
0 You don't speak any Cantonese "He must be Japanese." They will bow slightly and smile.
1 You can say hello, goodbye and thank you "This Japanese guy is nice." They will smile and respond with corresponding niceties
2 You can introduce yourself and say where you are from. "Huh? He's not Japanese? He's Canadian?" They will switch to English.
3 You have learned how to haggle and shop in the street markets. "Ha! This Canadian thinks he can get a good deal! Good thing I started my price so high!" They will reduce their price by a meager amount.
4 You can start to tell people what you want. You make mistakes in tones when you speak. "Aww this Canadian sounds so cute. He's like a little child!" They will treat you very nicely and giggle politely when you make a mistake.
5 You are getting much better at the correct tones. You can start to speak in timelines--past, present, and future. "Hmm...why does this Chinese guy have a strange accent? He must be from the mainland." They switch to speaking to you in Mandarin.
6 Your sentences are getting more complex with conjunctions and abstract ideas. Your ability to speak and understand far outpaces your ability to read. "This Cantonese guy sounds dumb". They think you're Cantonese and dumb.
10 You have mastered Cantonese like a local. "He's one of us!"


Dec 25 - Merry Kissmyass!

I normally head back to see my family every Christmas. It's a tradition that I've come to appreciate more now that I missed it this year, being in Hong Kong. You know, I tried to get into the Xmas spirit. I sat in Sheung Wan glammed up with its Christmas tree and ornaments, listening to carolers beautifully singing all the traditional favourites. But I was sitting in shorts and a tshirt with a bare handful of other politely clapping people dressed in business wear. And Santa was a skinny Chinese guy dressed in his head-to-toe fur with beads of sweat on his forehead from the spring weather. It just felt...wrong.

I miss seeing the kids on Christmas morning. Running up and down the stairs, giggling, trying to figure out the best time to wake up their parents. When they finally can't contain their excitement, which takes about 3 minutes, they bust into their folk's room and jump on the bed until they groggily wake up. It's fun to watch the kids and it shoots me back into my own childhood when we kids did the exact same thing. I can feel the same excitement--it's both a memory and a reality.

And then they say to me in sweet voices "Merry Kissmyass." It is so funny. Obviously, we're not very religious.

Outside a thick snow is falling. Now this is really where sleighbells ring! After a fun day out in the snow, we all gather for family dinner. The kids go to the kids table, which is now generally in front of a Wii or Xbox or something. And the oldies, like me, drink homemade kahlua, eat a turkey feast, and talk and laugh. It's a time when we can catch up as friends and as family. We always have this one time of the year where we can come back together and forget our busy lives.

So that's what makes a good Christmas. The kids ravaging gifts in a cloud of torn giftwrap, a blanket of white snow muffling the bustling world, laughing over a great dinner and homemade kahlua with my family, and the sweet voices of the children wishing me "Merry Kissmyass".



Dec 26 - City of Dreams

This year Santa got me a trip to Macau so that I can play some craps....okay, I lie. I got the trip myself. I was getting that itch in my hands to toss a pair of dice across a table, possibly launching it over the edge, possibly hitting another gambler or the croupier. I'm not great at tossing the dice consistently.

I met up with a friend's friend. This era of Facebook has really changed how you interact with people, old and new. I'm getting a lot of these virtual introductions--I guess the best part is there's no awkwardness because you forget one person's name.

Yannick is a native Macanese so he was pretty good at getting us around. He also took me to a local restaurant buried in the narrow streets where I finally had good Macanese food. The couple of times I've been to Macau before, I didn't like the food. Unfortunately I don't think I could find the place again!

It was also my first time to the Cotai strip across the bridge from the main Macau area. A new crop of casinos is opening up here including the Venetian and the City of Dreams. The Venetian is a semi-replica of the one in Vegas--with its glamourous representation of the Italian city. The City of Dreams is a group of buildings run by Crown Entertainment--I don't think they're in Vegas. But their buildings were pretty cool with funky lights running up, down and across. Very neat at night.

We started at the City of Dreams, and the free show there called The Bubble. It was very cool with a full dome screen that was covered with fire, water and dragons for a full 10 minutes. My head was turning around and around trying to catch every side of the screen--it was FANTASTIC!

Then we found the craps table and I taught Yannick how to play. The dealers were much faster than when craps was in its infancy the last time I was here. But the visitors of Macau still have some learning to do about playing craps. Hardly anyone plays the pass line. And if they do, they don't put the odds down. Most people just put field or place bets down. And then when the dice gets to them, they put a pass line bet down so they can roll. Everyone was pretty quiet, except for me and Yannick shouting like Vegas rollers. But Macau has been good to me--I always seem to win here. I walked away with an extra 2300 HKD ($300) in my pocket.

I took my winnings and got us a couple of last second tickets to Zaia, the Cirque du Soleil show here. They are trying to transform the pure gambling history of Macau casinos to a more full entertainment location like Vegas. I can tell it's slow going--the Zaia show wasn't great and it was probably only 40% full at most.

But this city is going to get big--I can tell. It will be more grand and bigger than Vegas. They will have great shows and glamourous hotels. Fantastic food. It'll all be here one day. And then everyone will be shouting like mad dogs at the craps tables--and then for me, it will really become the city of dreams!




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