Nei Hou (Hello)
I’ve waited a couple of weeks now to start this blog because #1 there wasn’t much to talk about and #2 I was interrupted by Typhoon Hato. We spent about a week in Macau completing internal paperwork before the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong invited us over for what was supposed to be a 4 day meeting that turned into 7. I’m forever grateful that they did because the very next day a level 10 typhoon thrashed through Macau, leaving floods and stealing power in its wake. We were more safe in Hong Kong, but the damage was not unlike some of Florida’s nasty hurricanes I’ve lived through (e.g. Frances and Wilma). At the same time, Hurricane Harvey was blasting through Texas. Four days later, another typhoon blew through Hong Kong that kept me up all night. Tomorrow, another typhoon is due to strike our area while Hurricane Irma looms over the Atlantic. If there’s one thing that’s painfully apparent, it’s that we are suffering the effects of global warming. Not in the fact that hurricanes and typhoons exist in cycles, but that those cycles are getting harder and harder to predict. We shouldn’t experience storms one after another after a 10 year hiatus.
But other than that, I’ll try to cover some updates regarding my teaching, living, and personal life to give you a sense of what I’ve been up to.
I thought I would be prepared for teaching in Macau given my teaching experience in the States. What I’m beginning to realize, however, is that it’s a much bigger challenge than I anticipated. I took for granted being able to communicate with my students and having them understand me, which is kind of the most important part about teaching. Still, I’m up for the challenge and will push myself to become a better teacher because that is my goal. What I’m referring to is the language barrier and my American idea of how a classroom works. #1, I have to speak S L O W L Y and S I M P L Y to communicate with my students. #2, I either have to be content with a non-participatory classroom or I have to encourage student participation somehow. I’m not sure yet because, on the one hand, non-participation is what most Chinese students are used to and I’m not going to be the foreigner who comes into their classroom thinking her way is best. On the other hand, perhaps diversity is a good thing and conducting my lessons in an American way would demonstrate that.
Tossing another wrench into the mix, I don’t actually have my own classroom, instead, I co-teach. I am an ETA in every sense of the word. The 5 of us have permanent classroom assignments, but we also collaborate to host campus-wide events throughout the semester. Our permanent classes require varying levels of engagement, depending on the instructor. For example, one colleague has been asked to help out for only 5 weeks during the semester while another must hold tutorials every week. I, personally, have two courses that I help out with, one from the School of Languages and Translation and the other from the School of Health Sciences. I also help out weekly with the Debate Club, Writing Clinic, and an IELTS Prep Course.
Because of the typhoon, we’ve only had one real week so I can’t say how well my classes have been yet. What I do know, however, is that there are varying levels of English from very low to very basic, some interest in coursework, and general respect between teacher and student if it is shown. The students I have met so far are nice and work hard to improve their English. They believe the ETAs have something to offer having just come from the States, and because we’re younger.
The relationship between myself and the other instructors at MPI was shocking at first, but I think I’ve gotten used to it. In the States, work is work and your personal life is your personal life. In Macau, those boundaries seem to blur and I’ve already been invited to two meals and a movie with one of the professors I work with and communicate via social media apps with another. This “closeness” between colleagues was something I had to get used to because my society thinks that it’s very inappropriate. Here, though, I think it’s considered rude to refuse an invitation.
I’m a very lucky girl to explore both Macau and Hong Kong within weeks of arriving. The first day, I was shocked and had little confidence I’d be able to survive. But now, with lots of rest and the support of my colleagues, everything is okay.
The weather is beautiful. It’s physically and mentally pleasing to me because I despise the cold and that’s one thing you won’t find here – not even in most buildings! I love that I’m by the sea and that I can get to Hong Kong by a 40 minute ferry. Macau has long since been an international hot spot for port trade but now its sole economy is based on the gaming industry (i.e. casinos). 1/5 people in Macau work in the gaming industry and locals can even attend MPI’s GTRC (Gaming Teaching and Research Center) for free because it’s sponsored by the government. Everywhere you look, there are casinos – or malls – for you to spend (but mostly lose) your money in.
Since Macau was released by Portugal in 1999, there remains a heavy Portuguese influence in language, architecture, and food. The same goes for Hong Kong, but released by the UK in 1997. There, you can find most things in English, but a lesser chance in Macau. Besides the countries that “owned” them beforehand, Macau and Hong Kong are still very much Chinese. They are united by the Canton Province which distinguishes them from Mainland China where they speak a different language and use a different government. The complexities and nuances of those differences are many, but on a broad scale, I’m just glad I finally fit in. Nobody stares at me on the street anymore because I look like them. I look around and everybody has dark hair and is about my height. It’s something I’ve never experienced in my life and it makes me very happy not to be a spectacle for once.
The public transport is great. In Hong Kong you can take the MTR (subway) as far North as the border with Mainland China and as far East as the New Territories. Everybody goes bonkers for the MTR and I finally got to experience why. It’s truly the most efficient subway in the world – modeled after The Tube – and you’ll never get lost. In Macau, we don’t have a subway, but we have a bus system that is very inexpensive and also easy to get around. One of our favorite things to do is to go to Taipa, or, the southern island of Macau on one of the free casino shuttle busses. The fun thing about Taipa is that it’s a whole new world to explore, less touched, and complete with beaches.
Lastly, a report about culture wouldn’t be complete without food! There’s so much food here I don’t even know if I’ll have enough time to try all of it. You can get anything from Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, American, Indian, whatever, you name it! The thing I will miss most is how inexpensive it is to go out to eat. An average meal can cost you less than $5 USD and a “fancy” meal might cost you $12 USD. When going out to eat, we discovered that servers don’t wait on you. Instead, you signal them by raising your hand to place your order. Then, they give you the check right away to indicate your order has been placed. Of course, actual Chinese food is way different from American Chinese food. You won’t find fried chicken doused in sweet and sour sauce, but you might find pigeon, beef knuckles, squid, and pig intestine. All of it’s pretty good if you’re not afraid to try!
I live in my own dorm room on campus across the hall from Stephanie. Dylan, Esther, and Mark live in a different building about a 5 minute walk away. I have a beautiful view of the sea from my room on the 16th floor. The common kitchen uses induction stoves, a type of heating that uses magnets instead of coils. It seems to be a lot safer and heats things more quickly. My location is very convenient because it’s already on campus and a few minutes walk away from multiple bus stops and grocery stores. The gym is right downstairs along with the canteen (dining hall) which I regularly go to because I’m lazy and don’t always like to cook for myself! I do, however, love making breakfast for myself and generally have something light for dinner.
I couldn’t have asked for a better cohort because I think we work really well together. When I’m at a loss for words, they always have something to say. I see parts of myself in all of them and it makes me really happy to relate to even the tiniest details of their lives. I feel like each of our personalities contributes to a single, powerful unit. 5 is also a good number because we can split off into pairs to go explore. We’re still looking for things to do here, but Facebook makes it easy as well as having Hong Kong within arm’s reach.
I keep good contact with home, and I’m always touched by the efforts my friends and family put forth to communicate with me. They regularly text, write, and call me so it feels like I’m never alone.
Overall, Macau is the change I was looking for. At once, I feel challenged by my new surroundings and new ways of looking at things, but also peaceful in that I’m not experiencing the same old things in America. During my short time in Macau, I feel validated in a lot of personal traits I couldn’t seem to articulate or explain the importance behind:
- For example, I hold politeness and manners in very high regard and this is something that is innate here. When we were in Hong Kong and had our schedule disrupted because of the typhoon, our colleague, Pauline, explained that it would be very rude to show up to another university unannounced. It’s also rude for the U.S. Consulate to visit Macau without being invited first. Invitations and etiquette are a must.
- On our walking tour of Hong Kong, our guide, Paul, explained that over 50% of Hong Kong people are atheist. Still, those people will sometimes pray to the Anglican God in church or Chinese Gods in temple whenever necessary, e.g. during exams! He described it as being very “practical,” and this is something I largely identify with.
- In the same vein, romantic relationships here are based more on rationale than they are emotion. In the States, it is common to see 18-year-olds get married before they finish college or have a job (irresponsible, if you ask me). Here, you should own an apartment and a vehicle before even thinking about getting into a relationship! I love that way of thinking. I’m a realistic person and I don’t believe relationships survive based purely on emotion or, in other words, things that change.
I think those traits can be traced to a communal way of thinking, something America is very far from. America is all about the individual, all about what is considered “mine.” That’s the goal, isn’t it? Take, take, take. But here, I’ve experienced the kindness of sharing and giving. It was a simple moment in a restaurant in Hong Kong: I came in alone to eat a bowl of noodles after a long walk. The hostess led me to a table that was already occupied and instructed me to sit. I looked at her, shocked, and had to confirm, “Here?” And she said “Hai,” yes. I sat down with this random stranger and looked around to realize that this was normal. After my seat mate left, another stranger replaced her and smiled at me. This moment made me realize that nothing is mine by definition – not my table, not my dining experience, not my noodles – but rather, a part of a collective. It struck me that my way of thinking is not the only way of thinking, and I feel humbled to have experienced this.
Lastly, I suppose I should explain the title of this blog. On the first day here, Esther taught us that “m-goi” means “thank you.” I was very shy to say anything in Chinese because I was afraid I would say it wrong or people wouldn’t understand me. Later, we learned that “m-goi” can also mean “excuse me” or “please.” Essentially, it’s the universal word. Finally, I started to use “m-goi” in the crowded streets and, to my surprise, people actually moved out of the way! I used “m-goi” to get someone’s attention and they actually turned and helped! I said “m-goi” to someone who picked something up for me and he said “m-sai,” no worries. It made me so happy to be able to communicate with people, even in the slightest. Otherwise, you can see me doing a lot of hand gestures and sporting a helpless look on my face! I totally understand how hard it is to learn a new language and it only further impresses me that so many students know even a tiny bit of English in addition to their native language.
Fun fact: There are more non-native speakers (NNS) of English than there are native speakers (NS) of English.