Tuesday, May 30, 2006

fire drills

Some new, non-cat-related material came to me (or should I say "rang" to me) today when we had a fire drill at school. I think it was my first fire drill in years -- probably since college, in fact. I've got to say that fire drills haven't really been something that I've missed very much... especially since during my junior year of college they happened quite frequently, and were always of the middle-of-the-night variety. Actually, I guess that they technically weren't fire drills, they were alarms caused by real fires. Or at least real smoke... which was usually a result of popcorn or pizza forgotten in the microwave or oven, respectively, billowing up to a smoke detector somewhere in the dorm.

Well, back to today's fire drill. When the alarm went off and the lights started flashing, the chaos and pandamonium that you might expect in such a situation was noticeably lacking. I looked around the staff room to see other teachers looking slightly perplexed, but still smiling. The overwhelming response from teachers was, "I don't remember getting a memo about this one." But then, of course, the fact that it was not a planned fire drill left the possibility that the alarms could be the result of a real fire! I resisted the urge to panic, and remembered the slogan posted in all elevators across Hong Kong: "In case of fire, do not use the lift." Though I never use the elevator to go down the one floor from the staff room to the playground, today it suddenly became a huge decision, and something I felt the need to remind myself of repeatedly. Do not use the lift. Do not use the lift. In case of fire... I very purposefully walked past the elevator lobby and down the stairs, joining the hundreds of ecstatic, lined-up students who had the priviledge of missing the last 10 minutes of class.

Now that I've got you on the edge of your seat asking, "Was there a fire?!" "Were there any casualties?" "Heroic rescues?" I'll put your fears at rest by informing you that the fire alarm was triggered by one of my prized pupils, Bruce, "accidentally" putting his elbow into one of those glass-covered alarm buttons. Way to go, Bruce. Thanks for giving me some much-needed material!

Monday, May 29, 2006

mon petit chat

Yes, this kitten really is growing on me (not literally, though in the photo below he could pass for a tumor -- the type with teeth and hair, of course).

He's been eating a lot, and is a lot more energetic and playful now than when I first brought him home.


And in an effort not to completely overlook the other cats in my life, here are a couple other choice shots:

MT very skillfully grooming his tail.

Jock in his favorite hot-weather sleeping position.

Right when I think I've gotten past the cat-obsessed reputation/stigma that I've had for so many years, I go and do two cat posts in a row. I will make a concerted effort to find some new material for my next update...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

new kitten

Here's my latest kitten. He has no official name yet, so I've been calling him generic kitten names like "Baby Cute Kitten Thing." I found him a couple of days ago while I was on a walk. I actually found him with his mother -- a wild stray cat -- who looked really sick. Her eyes looked so bad that I think she was virtually blind. I decided it was in the kitten's best interst not to grow up a stray, and since his mother looked so sick, I wondered if she would be around much longer to look after him. I guess I say all of this to justify the fact that I took a kitten from its mother -- something I wouldn't usually do. Anyway, when I approached the two cats, the mother quickly ran away, leaving the kitten there alone. He looked up at me and hissed at me. Since he was so small, the hissing didn't do much to deter me. In fact, it gave me my first view of his face, which is so incredibly cute! I grabbed him up immediately. I think he must be part persian, because his fur is very long, and he has enormous eyes. I don't think it will be very difficult to find a home for this cat. But since he's still so small (we bottle-fed him the first day -- yes, we actually had kitten formula and kitten-sized bottles on hand for such an occasion), I think I'll keep him for another couple weeks at least.

And thanks to Salome for being such an excellent hand model!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bei bei, Jing jing, Huan huan, Ying ying, Ni ni

This will be a marathon post, so prepare thyself!

Here a couple of students and I posing with stuffed midget-sized Beijing 2008 mascots. From left to right: Bei bei the whale, Jing jing the panda, James, Ying ying the Olympic torch, me, Jing jing the goat, Hugo, and Ni ni the swallow. Yes, that's a grand total of 5 mascots for the next Olympic games. And, very cleverly, when read together in the correct order (Beijing huanying ni), their names mean "Beijing welcomes you." Brilliant!

We arrived in Beijing around noon on Monday, and after a quick lunch, went straight to the Forbidden City. All those figures with blue tracksuit pants and T-shirts that you can see are my students. 31 twelve to fourteen-year-olds + 3 teachers = good times

Here's one of the 10 students that I was personally responsible for. As a teacher, I usually try my best not to have favorites... but I just had to make an exception with Lvin. Lvin is a really friendly kid, and on the trip he soon became best friends with our tour guide. Throughout the week, the tour guide kept refering to him as "my favorite fat kid," which I found slightly offensive, yet secretly amusing. He was my favorite too, but mainly because of his name.
Dinner on the first night was delicious -- we even got Peking duck!
Here's my very excited student, Jessica, using one of the tortilla-like wrappers for the Peking duck to wrap other food. Yes, that is a wedge of watermelon in there.

Beijing traffic was pretty bad, especially at rush hour. Our tour bus was enroute to Tiananmen square in this picture.
A shot of Tiananmen gate. We were all waiting for the PLA soldiers to march out and lower the flag in Tiananmen square.
Soldiers marching out to lower the flag at sunset. I wonder how many sunsets can actually be seen in Beijing. As you can see from this picture, the air isn't exactly pristine.

After the flag ceremony, we walked through an underground walkway to get back to our bus. Suddenly, in marched a few dozen soldiers. I unintentionally had my flash turned off for this picture, but I like the effect and the feeling of movement that it has.
On Wednesday we visited quite a famous local school. The school seemed to have a pretty nice campus, and in some ways it was even quite high-tech (see the billboard in the previous post). But there was one part of their campus that I just couldn't understand. This is a shot of the courtyard that can be viewed from the school's underground library. You'd be right if you wondered how they can grow palm trees at such a high latitude. They can't. No less than all of the foliage in this picture is fake.

After the school visit, we went to see an acrobatics show which was pretty crazy. At times it was quite painful to watch because of the unnatural contortions that some of the acrobats had to assume for extended periods of time. No pictures of that... just a nice picture of students stimulating the mainland economy after the show. I scream, you scream, we all scream for mashed snow cream!

On Thursday morning, students had a 3-hour Mandarin class, so my friend and colleague, Carmen, and I took the opportunity to head out to some old hutongs ("alleys") for some sight-seeing and shopping. Here I am in front of an old building that is now a cafe.
Surprisingly, the hutongs were a pretty hip place. There were artsy little coffee shops and boutiques everywhere. We decided to get some coffee at a cafe that doubled as a photo gallery (note the photograph of the male nude hanging from the ceiling -- impressionable individuals, look away!). The coffee wasn't very good, but the ambiance was nice and homey.

This is Carmen posing with my fake Y50 note. I obtained it last summer from Brian, who received it as change from a street vendor in Beijing. I had kept it with the rest of my Chinese money and had forgotten that it was fake. Well, at the first store I tried to use it at, I was quickly reminded that it was in fact not genuine. Unfortunately, it is no longer the only fake Chinese money in my possession. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the lady who switched my real Y100 note for a fake at the Summer Palace! She had a whole routine down for cheating people. Actually quite genius, when I think about it now. I didn't have Y10, which was the price of what I wanted to buy, so I gave her Y100. She told me she could make change, but gave me two notes that weren't even Chinese money! I thought I was clever in exposing them as fake RMB. She then said that she had no other change, so I borrowed Y10 from another teacher who was there, gave it to her, and she gave me back what I thought was my Y100. I was a little suspicious that maybe she'd switched my bill, but wasn't sure that it was fake until later, when I compared it to a real one. Oh well, one more lesson learned.
On a more positive note, here's my favorite northern Chinese dish -- di san xian, or as I once saw it translated so memorably, "three shreds on earth"-- which I was lucky enough to get to eat twice while in Beijing!! It's the best combination of eggplant, green pepper, potato (and of course a lot of oil) imagineable!

On Friday we went to the Summer Palace and the Great Wall before heading to the airport to fly home. Here's our whole group in front of the Great Wall. There's a big basketball on the banner because our group traveled to Beijing under the guise of being a sports trip. This wasn't completely false, because the students did play basketball on two different afternoons. I got some playing time in as well, which was fun... especially because most of the boys I played against are still shorter than me!

Me and three Form 1 girls that I hung out with a lot during the trip. Out of the 31 students, that went to Beijing, only 5 were girls. I'm assuming that's mainly because of the basketball "focus" of the trip.
Here are students and teachers enjoying some ice-cream after hiking up and down the Great Wall.
To finish the Beijing story, we arrived at the airport to find that our flight was delayed. We ended up landing in HK just after midnight (about an hour later than planned). I was very happy to hand over my student-related responsibilities to the group of parents that were waiting for us so eagerly in the arrival hall. One of the fathers looked especially pleased to see his son back safe and sound. I said, "You must be happy to have him back." He replied, "You look exhausted!" Somehow that conversation made a lot of sense to me at the time.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

what's your sign?

Here's a collection of funny (and thought-provoking) signs from my recent trip to Beijing.

I didn't use this particular restroom in the Forbidden City, but maybe I should have. It was possibly the first and last 4-star toilet I'll ever come across.

The huge Olympic count-down clock in Tiananmen Square.
It seemed like there was Olympics stuff everywhere in Beijing, even in 2001 when I was studying there. Well, now that the Olympics is only 2 years away, you'd be hard-pressed to walk a block in the city without being bombarded with Beijing Olympics 2008 slogans. We visited a secondary school in Beijing, and they'd actually worked the Olympics into their curriculum. I noticed a list of the day's classes written on a blackboard in one classroom, and was surprised to see "Olympic" as the final subject, after English and Politics. This is a sign board right outside of that school. In case you find the picture difficult to read, the message is written below:

Excercise an hour a day. Work in good health.
Taste the joys of the happy life all your life.
Affection with the Olympic Games.
Accompanied with civilization and courtesy.

I found this sign on a railing around a statue in the Summer Palace.

The infamous speaking cellphone.

A little known fact that smoking is prohibited on the Great Wall. I say "little known", because I came so close to getting a shot of a guy smoking right in front of this sign... would have been funny, but not exactly unusual in China.

After descending from the heights of the Great Wall, many in our group enjoyed a serving of refreshing mashed snow cream.
Stay tuned for some non-sign pictures very soon!

Monday, May 22, 2006

my mother and her grandchildren

I hope to post some photos of my recent school trip to Beijing soon... but before I do that:
In honor of Mother's Day (a little belated, I know), here are a few photos of my mom and her grandchildren.
First, here she is with her beloved grandcat, MT. You might be wondering why I put this picture first... no reason really, except for the potential shock value. And though I love MT as if he were my own child, he's technically my brother's (in case you were wondering how he holds the title of "grandcat"). And here are some pictures courtesy of Amy and Aaron's website (http://spaces.msn.com/sonnichsens/).
My mom with Olivia and Anna.

Gabe and Olivia checking out their new sister.

Olivia and Anna. As you can imagine, she's ecstatic to have a little sister.
Gabe holding Anna.

The three Sonnichsen children. I love my nieces and nephew!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Anna Irene Sonnichsen

Here are a couple shots of my beautiful new niece, Anna. I know I'm partial as her aunt and all, but isn't she ridiculously cute? Look at that smile! She's already gorgeous at just a few hours old!

And here's a great picture of Anna and her mom, Amy. My mom says Anna looks a lot like Amy did as a baby... I guess I can sort of see it, going from baby pictures of course, since, as her younger sister, I have no memories of Amy as a baby. Just thought I'd clarify...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Beautiful Lantau

I've been eager to post some pictures from my recent trips to Lantau Island before too much time passes and I completely forget. The past two weekends I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the wonders of Sunset Peak (HK's 3rd tallest mountain) and the stone cabins that rest in its saddle. I went up the first weekend with the Bakers, Tozers, Drew and Ryan. Here's a photo of us (excluding myself) on the way up. It was such a clear day, clearer than I've seen it in a long time. I think that's HK island that you can see in the distance.

We stayed in my old favorite, Cabin #2. In honor of #2 (and because I was the self-proclaimed tyrant of the trip) I forced everyone to form a giant "2" with their bodies. I really wanted a number sign too, but was afraid of pushing my luck and having a rebellion on my hands.

This is all of us on the roof. I love the roof on Cabin #2! It's probably my favorite spot in the world... and on a clear day like the one we had, the view was absolutely breathtaking. BTW, I think this could very well be the best picture EVER.

I had such a great time up on the mountain that I wanted to go up the following weekend. This time I went with my ECC care group. The weather wasn't quite as good, and sadly, Cabin #2 wasn't available, but we had a great time anyway. I have Susan to thank for the pictures below... I haven't downloaded mine yet, and for some reason, didn't take very many anyway.

Here we are in front of one of the cabins we rented, #16, the cabin managed by the Aufrances. On a funny note, sitting in the front row in the picture are our care group's 3 Michelles... and it wasn't even planned. :)

Five of us girls spent the night on the mountain. We'd rented 2 cabins, so we decided to sleep in the larger one, #18. Here we are before bed, snacking and playing games (2 of my favorite Lantau past times!).

Soon after the above picture was taken, I discovered a leech inching across the door of our cabin. Of course, seeing a leech threw all of us into a panic. We quickly checked our feet and legs to make sure we were free of blood-suckers. We thought everyone was fine, and then suddenly we heard a scream from the bathroom... one of our party, Ruth (center), had discovered what she believed to be a leech on her toe. I confirmed its identity, tried to pull it off, but failed. Finally Jen was able to pull it off with a tissue. Yuck. Thankfully it hadn't been attached for very long. Foolishly, we tried to flush it down the toilet (I'd failed to consider the fact that they can swim...), and soon found it climbing along the toilet bowl. Thankfully, some bleach found in the kitchen soon put an end to our leech problem for good.

The next morning we had reasonably clear weather, and we were able to see most of the other cabins, as well as the airport below.

I love these cabins and would really like to do more to make sure that they don't completely fall into disrepair, whether that means eventually managing one of them, or attending some work days. They were once used quite frequently by HK missionaries (most of them are still owned by mission organizations), but now it seems that fewer and fewer people are interested in such a rustic getaway. I'm glad that I have memories of what I consider to be the good old days of Lantau Mountain Camp, when the mess hall and swimming pool were still in use, and 10-15 families stayed on the mountain at one time...

But I guess in the 60-70 (?) years that they've been standing, the cabins have seen much change, but have remained through it all. I know there's still a future for the stone cabins of Sunset Peak! [Cue sappy music to signal end of emotional concluding paragraph(s)]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

not so secret...

I posted a link to this site on my old Xanga, so anyone going there looking for information about me will hopefully come visit this site. But I think that anyone who has ever visited my Xanga site probably gave up on it long ago as a source of current, even interesting information... so I have no idea if what I am typing right now will ever be read by another human being. Does that bother me? Not really.
I would very much like to post some pictures and stories from the trips I took to Lantau island over the past two weekends, but I'm really starting to drag (even though it's not even 9:30!), so I'll postpone the fun Lantau posting until tomorrow.
Goodnight, my almost definitely non-existent readers!

Monday, May 08, 2006

time to post a photo... or two

Well, since the whole reason I switched from Xanga was to be able to post pictures often and easily, I guess it's high time I started! If anyone read my cockroach story from yesterday (which is highly unlikely, since the existence of this site is still a huge secret) you'll understand why I'm posting this picture. Lil' M, besides being a wonderful cat, is always a huge support to me whenever a roach or any other unwanted insect is found. BTW, after being sprayed with Raid a number of times, the cockroach ran under the door to my parents room, where my dad was sleeping. I didn't want to wake him, so I just left him a note in the living room explaining what had happened. I knew that he wouldn't be phased by finding a dead cockroach in the morning. The man has actually been known to kill roaches with his bare hands. Yuck. So anyway, Lil' M, even if the Raid ended up doing your job, I salute you for being such a great cat!

This was taken a month or so ago. WHat a funny pose, eh? Right when I was waiting to post it, I caught him in another interesting pose. Check it out:

And yes, that is my shoe that his face is resting inside. Funny cat.

On a less mundane topic, I HAVE A NEW NIECE! Congratulations, Amy and Aaron! Anna Irene Sonnichsen was born this evening, weighing 6 lbs 8 ounces. If I had a picture of her, it would be on here for sure, but I do not yet have one in my posession. Hopefully I'll be able to show her off to everyone (?) soon. Right now my mom is in Beijing looking after Olivia and Gabe (my other niece and nephew respectively). I'm assuming the three of them will head over to the hospital tomorrow to check out their new grand daughter/sister. I'll be going to Beijing myself in a week, but unfortunately will not be able to visit family members, no matter how new. The Sonnichsens should all be back in Tianjin by that time, which is only a couple hours away, but I'll be in Beijing on official teacher business. I'll be seeing the sights and sitting in Mandarin classes with a group of students from my school, and I've been told that there will be no chance for me to escape. But thankfully I won't have to wait too much longer... the family of 5 (wow!) will be heading through HK next month on their way to the States.
Happy Birthday, Anna!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

switch from xanga...

It's been almost a year since I started my blog on xanga, and for all those months I cried over the fact that I couldn't post pictures... or at least, not easily. So I've finally dried my eyes and signed myself up for blogspot (or should I say "a blogspot"?). Hopefully being able to post pictures will motivate me to post more frequently (the operative word in this sentence being "hopefully"). Though I wouldn't dare claim a large readership, I have had a few potential readers complain about a lack of updates... so in the hopes of keeping the handful of people who are actually intersted in reading this satisfied, I'm starting over, turning over a new leaf, wiping the slate clean, [place your metaphor here]. But I think I'll see how things go before I announce the existence of this site to the world. Ooo, I have a secret blog!!
While writing that paragraph, something came to my attention... or should I say "flew" to my attention. A flying cockroach! Ughh... I can't stand cockroaches, and the flying variety are especially terrifying. Aaahh!!!! It just flew into my hair!! Actually, it didn't. Right now it's sitting on top of the picture rail in our living room. The first thing I did when I noticed it was to alert my sleeping cat to its presence. THis involved grabbing him, and shaking him in the direction of the cockroach until his keen feline predatory radar zeroed in on the target. MT (or Lil' M as I affectionately call him) is now showing extreme dedication as our official insect hunter, and is sitting on the floor staring straight up at his victim. Well, right now it looks like he might be getting bored... he might even be considering returning to his nap. I think it's about time to bring out the Raid. I don't want that thing getting into my room tonight and flying into... Ok, the thought is too terrible to type.