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A Blog Reposted from a Blog: Looking Back From Goodbye Means Learning From It

I am reprinting an entry I made for an online workshop two months back. After I finished writing it, I realized that I wanted to post it on my personal blog, simply because I felt I had already written what I wanted to write, and could not muster the strength to run myself through the same emotional wringer again just so I could say my proper goodbye on my own blog. See, as a writer, I tend to jot down the first things that come to my head, at the speed it comes, and whenever I reread what I’ve written I realize I cannot again capture the same emotion once the moment has passed. This is true for most of the things I write, and particularly true for what I wrote in the entry below.

So — if I need to apologize for reprinting my own words in my own blog, here it is — I apologize. Just in case.

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The school year is over, and there has yet been another cohort that has passed me by. As a teacher who has done this over and over for the past sixteen years, the yearly ritual of packing and sorting tends to become a bit of a religion: if you are constant enough in your practice, you will definitely experience a deepening of insight.

I guess this feeling is magnified when you pack up because you are about to leave an institution for good, which is what I am doing right now. The melancholy that accompanies the thought of leaving these walls that I have populated for a good eleven years is something that borders tears, but as this is not a luxury I can afford right now (given the limited time I have for doing this task) I simply decide to ignore the sadness and focus on the good times and on the learning I have done over the years. This I can definitely do, and it is infinitely more uplifting.

I have at least three boxes full of things, student material, letters, graduation programs, curriculum handouts, readings and books that I have accumulated throughout the years. I guess if you could box up memory and laughter and frustration and sleepless nights I would be going home with twenty and not three. Thank God for the wonderful collecting bin that is our brain, and I don’t even have to hire more vehicles to cart them all off. Nevertheless these are the ones that provide me with much insight to remember and live by, even as I leave one school and begin anew in another:

(1) Trust your students. It’s scary to do this, especially because we have been brought up in that culture that dictates teachers to be the be-all and end-all of knowledge. But I have discovered that students trust teachers who trust them, because they know that they are part of the process called learning, something that their teacher is also still doing.

(2) Don’t stop learning. As they say, practice what you preach. How can you challenge your students if you yourself have stagnated in what you do and what you know? No one knows everything, thank God. That definitely refers to your students. And most especially, that refers to you as a teacher as well.

(3) Find joy in what you do. As I told my colleague once, I prefer to hire a teacher based on their heart than on their knowledge or skill. See, knowledge you can learn and skill you can acquire. But heart is something that you cannot pay the world to have, because if you are not passionate about teaching (and indeed, in whatever it is you do!) then you will find no joy in it. But if you are, there will always be something fulfilling, hilarious, amazing, and inspiring in your everyday, even if all you’re doing is checking papers.

(4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even if it sounds stupid to you. Believe me, our students think precisely the same thing! But without questions, there will be no answers to seek. And without that whole process, this world will simply be a limp, lifeless, unchanging landscape, worse than Mars. It would be a drab, boring place to be.

(5) Take that risk: your classroom is bigger than you think it is. The classroom is not the only place to learn. Even in my depressed country, there are museums, restaurants, movies, parks, factories, farms, and even homes where learning can be achieved. I bring my students out as much as I can and I am always humbled and surprised with what they come away with. It reminds me that knowledge and learning is everywhere, just like air, and is just as needed for this world to keep turning.

There are perhaps more wisdoms lodged in my brain, but unfortunately they will have to remain there for now. My boxes await, and I would like to leave before the dust settles, or at least before this school-provided Internet connection is closed upon me permanently. 

Goodbye for now, my dear old school. I have learned much from you, and I hope you have, in whatever small way, learned from me too. Godspeed.

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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Grace and Blessings

… and just like that, Lent is almost over. Tomorrow (or, for those who are attending the Vigil Masses, tonight), it’s officially Easter — actually the most important day in any Christian’s life, when we mere mortals were given the hope that one day we, too, will share in God’s kingdom and lodge in one of his many mansions.

Wow.

And I mean the “wow” in many ways. Wow, that we could live in Heaven because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Wow, that Lent is almost over, all forty days of it. Wow, that, like spring, everything shoots up out of the ground again and the world begins its usual turn. All of that, I think, deserves a wow.

So … yes. Wow.

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As for me, I tried my hardest to keep to my promise of abstaining from soda and wheat products. I must confess (as I knew from the outset) that it wasn’t as easy as giving up coffee, but I did what I could. I did break my promise a couple of times — five, in total — but for most times it was because there was nothing else that I could eat and it was either that or starve. My body being what it is, I could not deprive myself for too long because my hands would start shaking and I would start feeling lightheaded if I did. Of course, that is not an excuse, because I could have stocked up on the things that I was allowed to eat, after all. Nonetheless, I am happy that I was able to make a teeny-tiny sacrifice for the Lord during this season of Lent.

An upside to my abstinence is that I have lost some of the weight that I had acquired while sitting around doing nothing. I believe I have lost anywhere from five to eight pounds (I wasn’t keeping close tabs in the beginning, mainly because stepping on the scale was depressing, so I’m not sure of how much, exactly) and a couple of inches. Nasty inches these are, really, when you acquire them in the latter part of your thirties, like I have, and staying off wheat has helped keep them at bay. Foolishly enough, I’ve known all this for two years now, but I keep going back to the habit, anyway. That’s the darned problem when you’re a pasta-lover like me.

Anyways, that being so, I think I will try and stay as free from wheat as I can. Soda is something that I can live virtually without, but wheat is much harder because, believe it or not, there are very few gluten-free items here in this country whose staple food is rice. Wait — let me revise that slightly — there are very few good gluten-free items in this country. Many of those that do exist are either too expensive, hard-to-acquire, or, as is the case most of the time, taste nothing like food. And I kid you not! You’re actually better off eating cardboard, as it has better taste and a more interesting texture. Cheaper, too.

Granted, there are some pretty good alternatives now as opposed to about two years back, but these are still far and few between. Regular stores still don’t carry them, and not even Starbucks has the option of using almond or hazelnut milk as opposed to soy, skim, and full cream. Maybe they will someday, and when that time comes, you can be sure that I’d be writing about it in my blog.

But for the moment, I am savoring the idea that tomorrow, I would be able to eat one of the Krispy Kreme donuts that my ever-thoughtful husband bought after his bike ride this morning. It’s a happy thought, not comparable to the thrill of an Easter egg hunt, of course, but an excitement all on its own.

Thank you, Lord, for your blessings, great and small.

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“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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A Commentary on YouTube

Having a lot of time on my hands I have spent a lot (actually, sometimes I think too much) time browsing YouTube, and it never ceases to amaze me. I’ve come to think of it as the online equivalent to being in the biggest grocery in the world: you come in with a specific thing in mind, then find that there are many permutations of the same item, so you start looking closely at them all to find the best bargain. Before you know it, you’d already whiled away a good part of your time — and to top it all off, you’re now slightly dazed and confused, trying to remember what it was that you were looking for in the first place.

One example of this would be a relatively obscure song, Somebody That I Used to Know by a Belgian-Australian singer who prefers to be known as Gotye. His original song, featuring Kimbra, a Kiwi singer, is quirky enough to be interesting in itself, as you can see below:

 

Despite its status of being a relative unknown, this song, believe it or not, has spawned at least two more versions — at least those worth seeing — the first by yet another relatively unknown group called Walk Off the Earth, made interesting by the unique way they defined the term sharing, and the second by the a capella group Pentatonix, winners of the NBC show Sing Off, who together create sounds that you would not believe only come from five mouths:

 

 

Now, imagine, if you will, a very popular song, such as Someone Like You by Grammy winner and chart-topper Adele. How many versions do you think it would it spawn? Let me count the ways …

 

 

 

 

 

… and those do not even include the ones being sung by four-year-olds, by groups, or by people whose versions could only be explained by a bout of either madness or alcoholism.

This fact is amazing to me especially when I think how many of us were cajoled (read: threatened) by our parents and various aunts and uncles to sing or dance for them when we were young, and how many of us would shy away from the idea of having to perform in front of a judging crowd. I’ve seen this happen a lot of times not just among our family, but also in my students and in my colleagues — and I completely understand why. After all, how many amongst us would willingly step up to the limelight and receive the proverbial pie in the face if things go wrong?

But there is something in posting a video of yourself that encourages the emergence of dormant talent out of many people in a way that good-natured cajoling does not: it is the fact that, when you do put yourself out on the line, you do not have to necessarily hear your audience’s claps or catcalls, whichever there may be. You can, after all, post a video of yourself and disable the comments to it, and voila! you have made yourself known, but you don’t have to suffer the attendant humiliation that you fear. It is now up to people to either rage or rave about you as they will, to ignore you completely or repost you on their blogs, like I just did.

So now the performer in all of us can slowly, if not secretly, come to the fore — without having to wince in advance, anticipating the rotten tomatoes and cream pies that we would receive. We can now sing, dance, beat box, or act (thanks to all the video-capturing technologies available to even the most retiring of people) to our heart’s content, and imagine how much better the world is now that we have let our talents come through.

For this, thank you, YouTube!

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sacrifice

It’s strange what a vacation does to your sense of time.

Just a bit ago — or so it seemed — Christmas had just finished, the gifts given, the acquired loot stashed accordingly. Amazingly enough, I’d allowed myself to be distracted by day-to-day things (you’d be amazed with what can fill up your time when there’s nothing to fill it up with), ran around without my head, and, when I finally slowed down to get my bearings — voila! — it’s Lent again.

Amazing.

So … anyway.

Lent being the time of contemplation and sacrifice, I am once more thinking of what I can give up for this season. Last year I gave up coffee (surprisingly easy during that time, by God’s grace), something that I promptly took up again right after, but achieved the purpose of offering up a little bit of self-denial which, of course, is a paltry thing compared to the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice.

What I am therefore giving up this year — for a full forty days — are two things: (1) soda of all kinds, and (2) wheat products of all kinds. Yup, you heard it right — me, the cake-and-banoffee-pie lover will be giving up all sorts of pastry, bread, and pasta for the next forty days. On the other hand, soda drinking is a sad habit I’d picked up again for the past six months and although (I am hoping) it would not be as hard a wrench as giving up wheat, it’s still going to be a sacrifice especially when you’re eating the driest meals and the day feels as sluggish as pumpkin soup …

Why, you ask, are you writing about this? Believe it or not, it’s not me trying to get anyone else into doing something similar. It’s actually a personal thing: I am making a promise to God, but I also need others who can be God’s voice to remind me of my promise. There will be times when I would be forgetful or that I would be tempted, and having those who can slap me on the wrist physically would be a solid reminder of what I had steeled myself to do. Without that, I may fail in my resolve despite my good intentions.

So here we go: it begins. A blessed Ash Wednesday to everyone!

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Pork Chops with Caramelized Apple Sauce

Pork chops have never been this good.

My hubby and I aren’t big pork fans, but I accidentally “invented” this when we were in Hong Kong and I was desperate to get rid of several overstaying ingredients in the fridge. To both my husband’s and my surprise (and gratitude), we liked it a lot … so much so that I cooked it again today, with similar results!

I think putting apples with pork chops is actually quite common, but I call this “my” version because I didn’t consult any recipe for anything. For starters, I basically threw things together and I wasn’t really measuring ingredients — which means getting this right is a challenge for your estimation skills (or, as Rachel Ray used to say, your “eyeballing” abilities). Better yet, adjust to your taste, as everyone has their own concept of yummy.

To those who may actually have the same recipe — I apologize; I promise I was not trying to steal yours. It just so happened we have similar ideas.

So, without further ado, here goes: “my” Pork Chops with Caramelized Apple Sauce (serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 pieces pork chops, skin off

1/2 cup flour

Salt, pepper, and all the herbs that go well with pork, such as sage, thyme, rosemary

Canola or any other vegetable oil

1/3 Fuji apple

Butter

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 cup apple juice

Procedure:

(1) Begin with the pork chops. Put enough oil in the pan to fry your pork slices. Estimate such that they would not end up swimming in oil, nor standing bare, otherwise you’ll end up with soggy or burnt versions.

(2) Mix the flour, salt, pepper and herbs in a sandwich bag (those that zip shut). Plunk the pork chops in, one at a time, and shake vigorously to coat each one thoroughly.

(3) Fry the pork chops until golden brown. Remove from the pan and place on an uncovered plate to let it breathe. Remove the oil from the pan.

(4) Start making your caramelized apple sauce. Cut the Fuji apples into thin slices. Combine the apple juice and the brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar completely.

(5) Melt the butter in the same pan you cooked the chops. Saute the apples in the butter, turning when the apples turn a nice golden color.

(6) Pour the apple juice and sugar mixture onto the apples. Boil vigorously until the apples are soft, at which point the liquid will be a bit thicker than when it started.

(7) Combine your pork and apples. Remove the apples from the pan, then do a second round of cooking on the chops by placing them in the boiling apple juice and sugar mixture, about two to three minutes per side. It is normal that whatever crust you may have successfully created when you fried the chops would start to fall off; just try to keep them in one piece. If not, it’s okay — you’ll get to eat all of it, anyway.

(8) Transfer the chops, along with the apple juice and sugar mixture, onto a plate. Spoon the caramelized apples on top of the chops, then drizzle the rest of the sauce.

(9) Enjoy with cooked white rice or mashed potatoes. Fantastic with boiled corn and steamed carrots as well!

Author’s Note: If you can find pork medallions — the kind of pork cut that’s thinner than a chop and ends up looking like round discs — they work even better with this recipe, because the pork ends up a bit crunchier. Yum.

 

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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2011: A Positive Look Back

Once again, my friends, it is the end of the year: that moment when we pause, look back, think of the past three hundred and sixty-five days (give or take a couple of hours), and either marvel or lament over it all. I, in particular, usually use these interesting in-between hours to draw my mental lists: to rue over the things that I had set out to do but failed, to smile at those that I accomplished, and create a whole new one for the next year.

But since one of my resolutions for 2012 is to become more of a positive-thinking person, I’ve decided to eschew my tradition of remembering both my accomplishments and failures. I’ve decided to list only those things that worked out for me this year, those that gave me great happiness and contentment throughout the year 2011, and to put the negatives behind me. This way, I hope to be looking forward and celebrating all year!

So, without further ado: my accomplishments for the year that has been, 2011:

Read more books. Yup, if there was anything I was able to do a lot of this year, it’s reading. I think I finished an average of about a book every four or five days, and I would have read more had it not been for that blasted Game of Thrones series, particularly Book Four (seriously, how many more main characters are there left by now?). The bulk of my readings were sci-fi (thank you, Kathy Reichs, Mira Grant, and the late Michael Crichton), but I enjoyed the occasional non-fic, as well. My poor shelf, I believe, is groaning under all the weight.

Just a few of my year's readings.

Got myself a Kindle. Despite the trauma (and cost) of my first attempt at getting a Kindle, I finally managed to get myself one, and boy — am I ever so glad I did. Now I can carry fifteen books at the same time and not have to bring a suitcase along to tote them all. Amazon is, of course, making me pay for the books I really like (using your free e-books is practically impossible because of the font size), so I trawl their website for free books as often as I can. Of course, you pay nothing for those, so you can’t expect much. But I have chanced upon some really good fledgeling authors, and those were the most fascinating surprises of all.

Have Kindle, will travel. Freebies like "Noon God" and "Sherlock Holmes" make trawling Amazon's website worthwhile.

Spent more time with my dog, Harry. With the exception of the past three months when we had to leave him behind, my hubby and I have exerted greater effort to spend more time with our fifteen-month-old Yorkie, Harry. We have actively tried to walk, bathe, and play with him more often. Given our busy schedules, this doesn’t always work out, so I’m glad Harry’s a patient bloke. A lesser pooch would have complained, but not so our Harry!

The ever-patient, ever-energetic Harry!

Got more sunlight. That might sound mundane to you, but I am one of those people who work indoors most of the time, breathing airconditioned oxygen and never seeing the sun until I leave work and it’s about to set. Since I took a leave in September, I have been to more parks over the last three months than I have for the past ten years of my life. More parks meant more time under the sun; more time under the sun meant a happier, cheerier me.

Kowloon Park is just one of the hundreds, but it's the one we frequented most. It's gorgeous.

Got myself not just one, but two, Longchamps. If you’ve read my posts before, I mentioned late in 2010 that I had wanted a Longchamp, but that I had not been able to get one due to various reasons. I closed that post with a vow that I would, and voila! — I did. Not just one, mind you: I got myself two. With the proliferation of fakes, I decided to purchase only those with interesting and unique prints so as to make sure that they were made in the original French factory. The provenance of the first was a lucky chance with one of my hubby’s colleagues, while the second is a proud holdover from my Hong Kong stay. Will I buy any more in the future? You bet.

The short-handled blue one is called "Tree of Life", while the red long-handled one is the "Great Wall of China, Limited Asian Edition". They are equally fantastic.

Embraced new experiences. As I’ve mentioned previously in my other posts, I hate flying, I don’t really like Hong Kong, and I prefer the routine of work over vacations. But this year was really an eye-opener for me in terms of possibilities, and I found — much to my surprise — that I actually could be flexible if I wished. All those three things I mentioned were set ideas that were challenged over the past couple of months, and the results were interesting, to say the least: I still don’t love flying, but I’ve gotten a bit more used to it, which is better than the shaking wreck that I usually am when I’m forced to fly. I now love Hong Kong, and I happily admit that many of my preconceived notions about it were wrong. I still like the routine of work, but I’ve also realized the value of vacations and rest, something I would not have discovered had it not been forced on me. Looking back, therefore, I can legitimately say that I am a (marginally) different person than when the year 2011 started, and that I am proud of that fact.

My passport has never been so full. That, in itself, is an accomplishment.

On that note, do join me, my dear friends and random readers, in welcoming the new year, the year of the Water Dragon, 2012. May there be more interesting books, contented families, sunny days, abundantly happy shopping, and wonderful, blessed surprises for all of us!

God bless you all!

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Five Things I Still Don’t Like About Hong Kong

Okay.

First, a disclaimer: I now really like Hong Kong. There are a great many things that I love about it as I mentioned in my previous entry. But to hark back to my marriage metaphor, time spent with any one person (or place) exposes you to the not-so-great stuff as well. This is perfectly normal, but for some, it’s a deal breaker. I am not sure if my pet peeves regarding Hong Kong spoil the whole thing for me; perhaps it will take more living-in time to figure out whether these aspects mess everything up or whether they merely magnify the best things about it.

So here goes: the five things I still don’t like about Hong Kong:

(1) Their environment is hopelessly polluted. Despite their best efforts to lessen smog and plastic consumption, Hong Kong continues to rank third on the list of the most polluted cities in the world. This is particularly obvious during mornings when one happens to gaze across the Victoria Harbor and watch the sunrise: the sun doesn’t exactly rise. It pretty much appears from behind a haze of blue. True, the blue smog creates quite a beautiful effect on the mountains, making it blurry in the distance, almost like a monochromatic watercolor painting – light blue for the farthest mountains, slightly darker blue for the ones in front, a wee bit darker still for the nearest. The problem is, that exact same beauty is what you would be breathing in everyday, thereby accounting for the high incidence of allergic reactions in people. I fervently hope that the government’s attempts to find ways and means to solve this problem turns out to be as effective as the solutions they’d made before regarding other problems, because otherwise, the next fashion statement Hongkers would be promoting is the wearing of oxygen masks.

(2) They are not pet friendly. My husband and I are the proud pet parents of a two-year-old Yorkie named Harry, and initially we had wanted to bring him along for our stay in Hong Kong. And here we begin – issue number one. As it turns out, bringing a dog over to Hong Kong requires not just a pet passport but also a four-month quarantine for the pet. Since we were only supposed to stay a bit over three months, we decided it was going to be a useless move to stress Harry with the flight-and-quarantine thing only to bring him home right after. While we were there, however, we decided to sniff around (pardon the pun) for possible places for us to stay if he were with us, and bam! – issue number two. Apparently, there are very few places where lessors would allow you to have your pooch with you. Most of these places are either old buildings (and believe me, when I say old, I mean old), in Mid-Levels (which has no grassy place for a dog to romp in), in expensive expat areas like Stanley, or in far-flung places like Sai Kung or Discovery Bay. If you, by some lucky turn of events, find a place that’s actually near work or which is commuter-friendly, the effort does not quite end there. Issue number three – you will need to keep your pet as quiet as possible. Two complaints from neighbors and you’re out on the street with your little animal companion. All these restrictions make you not only hesitant to have a pet but makes you feel like a hunted being if you do happen to have one. I know how much value my own dog has added to my family and we love Harry greatly, so I was appalled to know that it would practically take heaven and earth before we could have him with us. Come on, Hong Kong – have a heart!

(3) I could never get used to their strong sense of self. This one I chalk up to my own high standards: as a teacher and as a person, I expect that my students not only care about themselves but also for others. It is therefore jarring to me to be living among people who don’t seem to practice this. I speak generally, of course: I speak of people who blatantly sit on seats specifically marked for the elderly, pregnant or disabled and do not get up even when one of the aforementioned make an appearance; of those who speak too loudly in public places, ignoring the fact that about a thousand people around them do not care to hear a broadcast of their personal lives; of those who rush along the streets even if they’re stepping on other people’s feet or poking them in the eyes with their umbrellas (yes, I know I mentioned that before. And yes, it’s one of my pet peeves). I admit that individuals like these exist everywhere, but unfortunately they do seem to exist in greater numbers in Hong Kong than in the other places I’ve been to. Sadly enough, I cannot think of any reason why that is so.

(4) The lifestyle is too nocturnal. I am a day person. It’s hard for me to imagine sleeping beyond nine every night or waking up beyond seven every morning; by the third day I would probably be sleepwalking or hallucinating if I tried. However, it’s hard to sleep early in Hong Kong because they have such a nocturnal lifestyle: their malls are open till late and people are still jogging or drinking or what-have-you for as long as there is light left (and believe me, you will never go without light in Hong Kong, whether electric or natural. Ever.). At one point, it got so that we couldn’t sleep in our darkened room because of all the lights flashing outside. Only when we realized that we should draw the curtains every night (stupid of us not to notice from the get-go, but yes, that’s the drawback when you live in a place that isn’t your own) did we actually get a decent night’s sleep at our preferred time. Even then, we noticed that we ourselves started sleeping later and later until – gasp – we actually began turning in at ten p.m.!

Imagine the havoc that wrought now that we’re back in our home country!

(5) Everything is commercialized. This is, of course, expected from a country whose main source of income is its reputation for being a shopping mecca. However, what I didn’t expect is the kind of lifestyle this sort of reputation spawns: practically everyone here walks around like some sort of advert. If you could stand on one corner and give yourself ten dollars every time the brands Apple, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Goyard, Marc Jacobs, Christian Louboutin, or Gucci make an appearance in any form, you’d come away rich – and we’re only talking about standing there for half the day. Although I appreciate the fact that people could parade these expensive brands everyday without any fear of being mugged, being surrounded by these also sucks you into the perpetual I-need-to-buy-something mindset, which is, if you ask me, a very material way of looking at life. Ironically, my own love for shopping was curbed here: being dipped, rolled and fried in shopping opportunities greatly dampened my enthusiasm for retail. After all, what’s the fun in shopping if you could do it everyday, everywhere, anytime?

Now that I think of it, maybe I should move this particular item to the entry on the things I love about Hong Kong … or better yet, move it to my husband’s list of the things he now loves about it!

 

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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