Whew

As this blog reflect, I’ve been busy. Crazy busy. The busy that started the term never ended. Well, I had a brief respite, but then mid-term happened with presentations due and it all got crazy busy again.

It’s hard to describe what I’ve been so busy doing (and I am aware that I’ve used the word ‘busy’ too often). The short answer is that I took on too much coursework. I figured that I’d be better off finishing the coursework requirement (i.e. the mandatory number of courses I’m supposed to take) early instead of pacing myself with one per semester, and so I took two, without realising that the Graduate School was going to pre-register us for another series of courses, which though not intense still require my physical presence in the classroom.

And I also have to act as a tutor for another course, which requires me to do a certain amount of prep. Hong Kong students are not vocal in the classroom, or at least not in my classroom (though I’ve heard this is a generic problem, and I’ve witnessed how even the most engaging teacher has a hard time getting a word out of students) and a tutorial is meant to be about ‘discussion’. Luckily, the students present for half the course, but then I still have to while away the other part. Next time around I’m going to give a little spiel on how they must talk or else, or make class participation a part of their grade. It’s seriously frustrating how they never raise any comments on other people’s work or even read the goddamn reading. It does not bode well for a future as a teacher, though I’ve heard that this is culture-specific.

Right now, we have to give everyone a pass because there is a huge political confrontation going on and at the start of the semester many students were out in the street protesting. Which I respect them for, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think right now they’re just getting away with not reading for class. Was this the case in India as well? These were undergrads. Somehow I feel that these students have so many more resources – hell, we never had tutorials as undergrads – and should be grateful and take advantage of them, but instead as I suppose is to be expected, they take them for granted. I’ve got some positive comments, but my general impression is one of apathy. Gah.

After the one drinks get-together, I’ve not done much socially with the other students. Though not sure they’re doing much socially with each other. Some have gone to the protest site together. One guy invited us all to a football game but I couldn’t go though I would have liked to. There was a dinner after a symposium that I skipped. In the end though, I’ve stopped caring because I’m too busy. Also, I realised I’m not the only isolated soul, and in some ways I’m more connected because I go into office fairly frequently and do the odd chit-chat.

I still have an ambiguous relationship with the foreign girl. I think she could be cool if she wasn’t so academically activist in her views, but more to the point if I didn’t get the sense she’s only friends with me when there’s no one more interesting to cast around for. Like the other day, she pretty much ditched me for a girl with cooler (green) coloured hair. I don’t know whether to be outraged or amused.

In between, the marriage hit a low and this combined with the general fatigue made me hit and all-time low. I decided I was properly depressed and just gave up – on the marriage, not the PhD. The studies were the one thing that was keeping me sane because I was too busy to over-contemplate the ruins of my relationship.

The birthday was coming up and I decided to just skip it. I wanted to wallow in my misery on my own.

Then suddenly the husband twigged that he had gone too far and decided to give me a break. I have to admit I’m still skeptical and on my guard, but at the moment things are looking hopeful. Though one never knows how long any such period will last until we descend into the warzone again. I’m not sure I can ever go back to the person I was in the relationship, but this respite shows me how draining constantly having someone on your back can be (now that I don’t.)

Part of the reconciliation was that I decided to have a very small birthday party at home. I had been wanting to invite the fiance of a friend home for ages so I called them and another couple. V went all out and cooked up a storm. My helper E commented this was the first time she had ever attended a birthday party for me, and it’s true. I’ve never really had people over. Benji instead of being his usual reticent self was a bit manic. Mimi ignored the guests because I suspect she’s afraid of one guy in particular simply because of the way he looks.

My most recent frustration is a class I’m taking on Kant. It’s a very small group, to the extent that it’s more like an interest group than a class, and therefore the discussions are really random and ad hoc. Which would be great, but either the comments are too detailed or just vague and what I want is like a clear eluciadation instead of rambling when we haven’t grasped essentials.

Also, everyone in the group is firmly in the Enlightenment humanistic traditions, when I’m in the postmodern poststructuralist era whereby the very notion of sex is up for question, and apparently this is a radical idea to some people. Which I know it is, but this is a philosophy department for God’s sake. I made the mistake of unbiting my tongue and airing some views and was firmly corrected by professor in charge. Gulp.

My most recent gripe is organising my schedule around a presentation for the class, only for the class to be cancelled the afternoon of the presentation, and then rescheduled to a most inconvenient time. I’m still seething. Argh!

Notes on a protest

umbrella

I’ve been wanting to go down and support the protesters fighting for a reasonable democratic framework for Hong Kong all of this week. However, life was too crazy, and I just couldn’t. I also was hesitant to go alone and didn’t know who to go with. Though some of my fellow PhD students were apparently involved, I felt too shy to ask to join them.

Yesterday, V agreed to go with me to Causeway Bay, where traffic has been blocked outside the popular mall Sogo. We walked down the street lined with little posters with slogans and messages stuck on the road dividers and groups of students camped out on the road. Right outside the mall, a makeshift Democracy Classroom had been set up and an old man was speaking on a microphone while a crowd listened and occasionally applauded. On the bus-stop behind him, the Ikea toy Lufsig that has come to represent the current Chief Executive of Hong Kong CY Leung had been strung up. A TV reporter and her cameraman paced the street looking for people to interview. As they interviewed one young man, V and I got into an argument about whether Obama had been in charge when Occupy Wall Street protesters were violently evicted.

We didn’t stay long, tiring out quickly, and marveling at the young people and their staying power. On surrounding streets, shoppers continued to go their way, though the streets were not as crowded as before. The absence of traffic had made a difference to the air quality and it was cooler than normal. It felt nice to just walk the streets, the streets felt more our own.

The next morning, I headed down to Admiralty where the main protest is on in front of the Government headquarters. I tried to contact a fellow student who seems to be there every day if her FB feed is to be believed, but I didn’t hear from her so I went myself. I nervously exited at Admiralty MTR watched by MTR staff and walked down deserted streets following random people until I came ot barricades. I wasn’t sure which way to go to reach the protest site. In fact, I reached Central and turned back, all in the course of 10 minutes. Then, I found myself on Connaught Raod which had been blocked off. I ducked into the protest area and walked the stretch of a highway. It was weird just hiking up the highway to where a cluster of people were leaning over.

At the bottom, protesters were in a stand-off with police. Some semi-heated negotiations were going on. I spotted a guy who looked like a friend and headed down there. Turned out there are at least two other people who have the same bizarre hairstyle he does. I was literally a two meters away from the police line, staring the cops in the face through the gaps of the boys on the front line. A British policeman started talking to the crowd in Cantonese. A few boys in the crowd jeered. He went off. The barricades stayed in place. The police had seemingly agreed not to remove them or the protesters had agreed not to push them away and the line of protesters with arms linked dispersed to applause.

Little conversations among people broke out in Cantonese. I sat on the wall and watched. There was a little breeze and it was very peaceful. I was struck by how quiet it was. People were just sitting and observing or having quiet conversations. Noone was shouting or arguing loudly. At one point, a TV crew started interviewing someone and a guy went around hushing those talking loudly and they listened. The boys who had spoken to the TV crew appeared to be crying. A girl walked by crying and a boy broke away from his gang and gave her tissue. When he walked back to his friends, they were smirking. Young people will be young people even in the midst of making history.

It started raining and I shared my umbrella with the shy young guy next to me. I stayed about an hour and then I left. My friend later messaged and said she’ll be going this evening. I may or may not join her.

Hong Kong rises

I could not not mention what’s going on in Hong Kong.

For months students and a certain group of academics and citizens have been threatening to stage mass protests if the government does not heed the calls for genuine universal suffrage. Universal suffrage was promised to Hong Kong during the handover to China and now the time is come and surprise surprise China isn’t super keen on letting Hong Kong freely choose its leader so it came up with the ridiculous framework which is like when we were in school and had to vote for monitors and  the teachers would say here are your two candidates, both awful suck ups. We hated that in school and you can imagine how the idea of adult Hongkongers being asked to do the same went down. Especially since there is a lack of faith in the current appointees and a fear that China is swallowing up Hong Kong.

So last week, students went on strike. They were accused of just wanting to miss class so they roped in teachers who did mass open air classes. And they staged this huge rally. And then they refused to leave the space before the government headquarters, which is supposed to be public space but was hastily cordoned off for fear of this very thing.

Then the Occupy Central peeps, who had been expected to launch their protest, on Saturday night announced the launch of their civil disobedience movement which is essentially to occupy and block major roads in the business district. And voila, Hong Kong has entered a stage of civil disobedience, the demand being that the government reconsider its election framework.

The government instead of waiting it out decided to nip the thing in the bud, and brought in riot police who tear gassed the crowds and then even more people sitting at home were enraged and it’s turned into a massive thing, more massive than the protest organisers had expected. It is also largely peaceful. People are using umbrellas to defend themselves against pepper spray. There are elderly people there and students and construction workers. They are recycling their waste and there has been no looting.

On Monday morning, I got a flood of emails from students who explained why they wouldn’t be coming to class. I was touched by their passion. Maybe they want to skip class, but I don’t think so. Also, Hong Kong kids are not used to sitting out there in the sun, but there they are.

The stakes have been raised and I wonder how it will all end. I am proud of Hong Kongers for risking a lot for what they believe in and for doing so in a largely peaceful manner. For now the Government has backed down. But it’s a tense situation and anything could trigger events that would be harder to control.

Firsts

1. I led my first tutorial sessions and gave my first ever presentation using Powerpoint today. It was okay. It was a super short presentation, and I’m sure the students can do fancier. However, the students and their reticence will I think be my undoing. They will sit and stare into the distance to avoid saying a word. I was reduced to calling on people which I assume they hate. But I had to kill the time somehow. In the end, let them go 10 minutes early. Undergrad students in India are much more voluble I think. I do feel for teachers here. And I think students here would be happier just sitting in a lecture where they could listen or drift mentally at will.

2. I have been chatting with a couple of mothers at Benji’s school. Both the mothers I struck up a conversation with are much wealthier than I am. Their problems are so first world, I struggle to keep a straight face. Primary among their grumbles is inability to find a driver. In this city with it’s amazing public transport system, they have chosen to live off the beaten track in some elite conclave where you will struggle to get around without a car (though it’s not impossible) and then they can’t drive themselves but have to ferry the kids to schools that are not near home. Alas! I who live above an MTR station and probably pay one-tenth the rent they do cannot help mentally smirking.

Then one of the mums asked me if I knew where she could go swimming. Honestly, I have no idea because a lot of the upper middle-class estates have their own pools, so I suggested the government one but she did not seem keen, then I suggested the beach and she said she had been and it wasn’t fantastic. Erm. Apparently, it is not like beaches in England. See this is what I mean by moving but wanting exactly the same thing as you had back home. Granted, they probably moved because of job and not out of sheer excitement to be in Hong Kong but now that you’re here, why not experience it for what it is. And the beaches this part of town are lovely. They are secluded, and have basic facilities but that is part of the appeal.

Then she said, do you know any clubs. The one near where they live has a long waiting list. It would be great if they could just join a club and go there on the weekends to chill. Ok then. I cannot imagine why one would want to seclude oneself in a club instead of exploring a new city.

I have been thinking about inviting these kids over for play dates, but I wonder if our house will be too small and humble and simply brand Benji as ‘the poor kid’. Which is hilarious in the context of Hong Kong but this is the problem of affluent schools and your child gravitating towards the English-speaking kids. Ouff.

3. Had my first spat with a person in our apartment complex. The estate has a little area for urban farming, at the ridiculous expensive rate of $400 per month for 2 sq ft of land, I kid you not. However, people in Hong Kong are so divorced from nature that this has proved to be a popular activity. Only the people who do the farming are ferocious about protecting their produce, which I discovered the hard way. Was looking over the farm with the kids and pointed out a pea pod overhanging onto the path to Benji. I made the mistake of touching it, but very carefully and I didn’t let Benji who can be rough do so. I heard someone saying something in Cantonese in the background, and then this woman storms up to me, shouts in Cantonese and goes away. From her ranting, I guessed she did not take kindly to me touching her pea. Later, a security person actually comes and tells me that someone complained that we were ‘destroying their plants’. OMG. I told him to please show me the destroyed property. He slunk away. But this is the problem with this city – everything has to be fetishized and over-protected, even getting back to nature. Argh!

Kant not

In a very strange turn of events, I had never had to make a PowerPoint presentation in my career in the past, even though in my last job, I technically worked in a marketing department. Weirdly, PowerPoint presentations are ubiquitous in academia. I’ve always had an aversion to them because I associated them with people who did business management degrees – I considered that their sole skill and contribution to the workforce – but it seems that I can run but I can’t hide from the PPT.

All along, I had been meaning to ask V to give me a crashcourse, since he’s supposedly very good at this, and he did mention that it was super easy. We had our first class where a girl did a presentation and my God, it was awesome. I don’t think I could be half as good.

But I decided to get cracking. So on Friday, I opened up the software and started playing with it, and it really is quite simple. And I found, I quite like it also. It’s like a visual way of presenting notes. Hell, I should make PPTs for myself.

I also had my first Kant class. I’ve signed up for this course where we’ll essentially be reading Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. It’s a very small group, almost like a reading group and we go through the text at a snail’s pace. The teacher is a great Kant scholar and although Kant is not directly related to my topic, I feel like these Enlightenment philosophers are the ones I don’t have a strong hold on. I come to them backward, from the post-structuralist critique of the Enlightenment and I feel like a bit of a fraud not having read them firsthand. In fact, I wish I had done philosophy 101 type courses because this is a huge missing link in my education and it’s not easy to teach oneself these concepts.

Anyway, the problem with post-structuralism is that it’s difficult to unsee one’s knowledge.

The class seems to be people with folks who are still very much in the enlightenment tradition though, and I suspect so is this professor. Like Kant says ‘oh freedom must exist because if it doesn’t we can’t have morality, and then if freedom exists so must God and immortality” (I’m paraphrasing, and if I’ve misunderstood please correct me) and everyone is going nod nod nod and I’m going whaaaat? I hope I can keep a straight face and not piss off the prof. I suspect I did a little bit. But at least I bit my tongue when people were going on and on about how you can’t have absolute freedom because then it will degenerate into hedonism. Ouff!

Friday

I went out for drinks with some other PhD students.

It wasn’t really planned, or at least I had no idea of the plan. Friday is one of my heaviest coursework days and in between I met a friend for a very nice lunch. At some point, I nipped into office and another of the newbie students asked me if I knew of the plan. I didn’t, and asked him to keep me posted. I was ambivalent about joining a plan I hadn’t really been included in to start with (probably due to my lack of presence during the planning stage) and left it up to him to text me details, which he did. I was knackered by the time I got done with my last class at 6 pm, but decided to go.

Glad I did because it seems like a very laid back and sweet bunch. I liked that local, Mainland and foreign students were doing dinner and drinks together. There were two students from another university and I realised one of them was a transgender person. I must have stared a bit when the realisation hit me – because it did after a whole 45 minutes of sharing a table – though I hope not too much. Thereafter, I went back to treating her as the only other girl in the group.

The other foreign student, the loopy girl I had written about earlier, came later. I’m increasingly not sure I like her. There’s a slight I’m too intellectual for all of this attitude to her. “So where have you been, I haven’t seen you,” she asked me with a smirk. And I must have sounded defensive because she said, “I rarely come into office either.” Okay then. She also was very condescending to another guy who I can tell they’ve decided is not the sharpest tool. But he’s sweet and I see no reason to diss him, so early at any rate. The girl is falling into the category of people from the Western world who cannot quite believe that the world is not the same the world over. Being in Hong Kong is a good experience of living Otherness, but I find a lot of white people especially are bemused that Hong Kong is not more Western in its functioning and then put it down to being lesser. And that annoys me, because aren’t we all supposed to be critiquing that?

While it was all very laidback and friendly, there was some discussion of conferences and I know this is something we’re supposed to do and I should be raring to go, but I feel totally not up to it at the moment, and also maybe the sheer idea of travel and hanging out in a group while travelling doesn’t galvanize me the way it does them.

Later a whole bunch of them added me on Facebook which was very sweet but I felt myself wondering if my wall is intellectual enough (hint: it’s not). While others are posting activist type things, I have baby pictures. The being-a-mother is one of those things that is a good talking to point to start with but I know it could get me dismissed from the serious business of academia very quickly. The girl for example posted a list of books as part of that tag that is going around with a introduction on how she has been forced to and it’s impossible to choose and then listing 10 very serious academic and intelluctual books, then sighing about how she’s compelled to choose fiction and listing very obscure and intellectual fiction books.

Don’t know whether to laugh, cry or put them all on limited profile (which I can’t figure out how to do anymore) but there’s a part of me that insists on being defiant.

Good day

Today was the kind of day I imagined having when I started the PhD.

I played with Mimi for a bit in the morning and took Benji to school. I connected with a couple of mothers there. Both are wealthy and live in the same area. They spoke of needing a driver. Why not just live somewhere more convenient in this city of convenience, I wondered. I felt a bit smug about my humble abode which is so easy to get to. We decided to meet for coffee which will not happen as soon as I think because unlike them I am not just waiting around for the next school pick-up.

Came home and took Mimi down for a swim. I had been conflicted about whether to do that or just buckle down and study but I’m glad I did. I got some exercise in, though going swimming with a two-year-old requires one to plead for a bit of swimming as opposed to splashing in the baby pool.

Came back, checked email for a bit during which time Mimi queried why I had to do anything of the sort and then ditched me for Tita J and her playdough. Then collected Benji from school. He convinced me to buy something from the bakery which is becoming a habit I need to break.

Had a huge much-needed nap in the afternoon. Then spent an hour with the kids, and packed them off to play just as they were getting restless and attempting to bang on my computer. Got some solid reading in – Simone de Beauvoir, Michele le Doeuf and bell hooks. I am tempted to post some quotations but too lazy.

The difference a nap makes is tremendous. I was able to engage with the kids when they came up instead of constantly feeling like I needed to sleep.

Once they went to bed, back to reading. I know this kind of ideal day is not going to be incessantly possible because I am probably going to have a class on Thursday by the end of the month. But it was nice to have one.

One week down

V had a freakout about the amount of time I’m spending reading. I had heard about the ‘missing spouse’ syndrome from a few people but had not paid serious attention. V of course was clueless as to what having a spouse doing a PhD would entail, and I myself didn’t have a clue. I figured if I put in 9 hours of work, I could switch those to PhD and manage, only now I would have a say which hours those were exactly. But the first week was crazy and I struggled not to panic myself.

In the midst of it, getting a lecture from V on neglecting the children pissed me off. After all, I had barely got a handle on things myself. And they were hardly neglected except that the time I did spend with them, he didn’t witness. The main person who was getting neglected was him, and while I regretted that I do recall how absent he was when he started his job in Hong Kong. Only that was nine years ago and he has amnesia. He has since apologised but the whole episode left a bad taste in my mouth.

That was on Sunday. On Monday, I attended the class I’m sitting in.One of my irrational fears is landing up in the wrong classroom while the class is going on elsewhere, and this fear proved to be well-grounded because I was indeed in the wrong classroom and couldn’t get the wifi to work so I could check where the actual class was. Luckily, I had skipped dropping Benji to kindergarten so I was early and could step out and ask a likely looking passerby if they were headed to that class which they were.

The class turned out to be a tad pointless, if I’m honest, but at least it got me to university – and then headed to my office to work on the article I’m writing. People have chosen their desks at random and I’m pleased with mine although it’s a bit small. Another anxiety is that because there is nothing to indicate it’s indeed my desk someone else would grab it, and I determined to bring some stuff to pin up just to mark my territory (as everyone else seems to have done, it’s astonishing how quickly they ‘made it home’ despite being absent in person.)

I then headed to mid-autumn festival lunch with former colleagues, which was a really sweet gathering. New girl who has replaced me seemed a tad distant – maybe she was afraid I’m going to keep popping up which I’m not. Got home and spent some time with the kids before working on my article some more.

The next day was the mid-autumn festival and we went to Ocean Park. It was all fine and dandy until we got home and the kids refused to nap and then proceeded to meltdown from there. Let me just say that at one point I was hugging two screaming naked children. Why they were both naked is a long story I’m not going to tell.

Today was how I would like my life to be. Dropped Benji to school, where he is doing really well I’m happy to report. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the elusive shortcut lift again and Benji went: “But Tita (our helper) always knows where to go.” Hmph. I have a perfectly good route but it’s through a bus interchange and V doesn’t want the helpers cutting through that so E has been using the lift route he discovered except I haven’t been able to find it. We were just on time, and I tried not to feel guilty about being just-on-timem as opposed to early as E always is, again.

Paid a visit to the library and logged into my email where I was relieved to discover that my e-learning account at the other uni has been sorted so I don’t need to scrimmage to find every reading myself for the first couple of weeks as it was looking like I’d have to do. Instead they’ve all been uploaded onto the system I can now access, hurrah! So I just browsed and found more than a few books I’d like to read for my topic.

I’ve swallowed my vanity and switched from my green leather tote to a sporty green backpack because I don’t think one shoulder can bear the weight of a laptop and a pile of books. Ugly as it is, carrying the weight on both shoulders really makes a wealth of difference. Had a sandwich in a cafe while reading one of the books and loving my life. Headed to my office to finished of my artilce and then went for yoga class after a two-week hiatus. I did not die but I did not excel.

The good thing about this schedule is that I don’t have a carry a change of clothes. I can just head home after yoga and take a shower and nap. Except renovation work in house above prevented sleep, gah. Emerged from bedroom in time for kids waking from thier nap and spent a nice hour or so with them, till they went off downstairs to play…and here I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First days

Thursday I hoped to write my article, but I spent it writing a post. Then raced off to long overdue session with shrink. On the way back, I bought and consumed an entire Subway footlong. And it was delicious.

I was torn between taking a nap and working on the article that was due the next day. I plumped for the nap but it didn’t work, so I got up and starting transcribing an interview.

Twenty minutes later I raced out of the house to the uni. For one, I needed to collect the key to the research students’ shared room that I scandalously hadn’t yet, because of the crazy. Also, both the courses I wanted to take were in limbo. The first one was at another university under a special government scheme and though the course was supposed to start the next day, I hadn’t heard back from that uni. Consulted a friend who is one year senior and she advised me to contact the professor teaching the course directly – I did, and happily she was supportive of me joining the course even if not formally registered for the time being, but the sense I got was that eventually, I needed to be registered. The other course was listed on the system but with no timetable. When I contacted the department, they told me there was no such course and when I insisted, they checked around and asked me to contact the professor directly. I did and he responded by asking me to meet him.

So I raced to his office, but it turned out in the intervening period he had sent me an email asking me to come in an hour, so I went to the department got my key, magnanimously helped out other clueless student (she is loopy with an underlying competitive nature, I think) find a bank and then back to the professor to discuss the mysterious course. In the midst of the discussion, I committed to sitting in on another of his courses (which sounds exactly what I need though not at my level) but wiggled out of tutoring that course as he seemed to be hinting at, and finally, after much deviations, he said I could attend the course I wanted to – which turns out to be a group of five people reading closely one work by Emmanuel Kant.

Fine by me, becuase though not exactly related to my topic – and as pointed out by my supervisor later, Kant was a horrible misogynist – it is the missing piece in my education. I came to phislosophy backward, through the post-structuralist critique of humanism, but it would be useful to see for myself the very material they were critiquing even as I buy that critique.

I now realise that academics, while intimidating are also incredibly chatty people who will just go off on tangents (kind of like yours truly) which is lovely, except when you have a meeting scheduled right when they’re yammering on about some obscure point. So after getting that professor’s okay to me joining his course-of-sorts, I had to literally run across campus, in the process of which my sandal came apart, to meet supervisor. I was 20 minutes late for the meeting.

I reserve judgement on supervisor, but so far she is friendly and supportive. When I told her about not hearing back about the course in the other university, she picked up the phone to call them and harangue them herself (but alas got a voice recording). She then ordered people in Grad School to give me copies of email to other university so I could then throw that in face of other uni. Having got her approval to my course plan, and her strict exhortation that I could not exceed the three-year funding period for the PhD (which is really an insanely short period of time), I went on my way.

Stopped off to my old office where I was welcomed with bread pudding and much-needed tape for my shoe. Then with a bag of stuff I had left there, I headed home. Managed to actually complete article because V – despite cold – entertained the kids up to bedtime.

Friday morning, I ambitiously decided to drop Benji to kindergarten. I think Benji would really prefer the helper to take him because I was late and hurried him along. But I’m glad I went because the principal stopped me and mentioned what an angel he is and so helpful (which V cynically puts down to her being a saleswoman. I don’t deny this, but I also don’t discount that what she’s saying might be true.)

Unfortunately, this mean I was 15 minutes late for the Love and Philosophy class I’m sitting in on. Again, a race to the uni becuase I was late and the queue for the bus was too late. Was a good thing I finished the article because class turned out to be two hours long, and after submitting a couple of forms to the department, I raced off the other uni to negotiate with them about my class there.

I underestimated how huge that uni is and decided to navigate the way to the grad school on foot. Not sure any other way was possible, but it was insanely hot and literally like hiking except in unsuitable clothes, shoes and bag. Was worth it thought because I was sweetly informed that I had been enrolled and they were going to send me an email that afternoon – right, after the first three-hour class was over, I guess. Heh.

I’ve realised that just taking a course involves much more effort than just signing up. One has to wrangle and negotiate and rush from pillar to post, even pitch oneself as a worthy candidate. Just for the privilege of earning three credits, and of course, learning.

Anyhoo, at least my struggle had a happy ending. I had arranged to meet with former boss for lunch and then realised I had no idea how to get to that building because of vastness of uni. Luckily met very sweet foreign student who literally walked me to building I needed to be at in the blistering heat. Lunch was pleasant and I’ve never enjoyed a Coke that much. I now know why students are so skinny – just all the running to and from classes.

The class was just what I needed. If the morning course was philosophy lite, this one was heavy duty and after this first lecture, we’re expected to make presentations ourselves of the remaining readings, which seems to be pretty much like a teacher copping out of teaching under the guise of us ‘learning from each other’ but whatever. I am being forced to read the very texts I need to read, and okay, some of the texts will be mediated by someone else, no matter how inexpertly. All the students seem really smart, and unfortunately the one doing the photocopying is a bit standoffish.

Spent the morning trying to decipher Lacan et al while watching the kids the playground. This is what they mean by ‘how can you manage a PhD and kids’? By using every spare minute, I guess, even if it is reading Lacan to the soundtrack of Mickey Mouse.

 

At last

I can breathe.

The transition from work to studentship was crazier than I expected. I had tried to distance myself from projects I handed over, but had kept one big project to work on over the summer, which ended up being more last minute than I expected. I realised there was a bit that everyone had forgotten about and I felt the need to do it last minute.

It didn’t help that I had taken on a couple of freelance articles to write and though I intended to put them on a backburner, they just kept nagging me and driving me crazy.

So yeah, I was scrambling like a crazy person right till my last day, which I then spent wiping down my desk in preparation of the new girl. Who seems really awesome, though she was overwhelmed with what the work entailed. Which came as a surprise to me, because I thought it was a breeze. Then again my boss and colleague when I joined were very clued in.

My colleagues threw me a farewell lunch that week, the date of which I had cluelessly messed up so I was totally disoriented, not helped by having to wake up multiple times at night for a coughing child.

The fact that I was leaving hit me the day before my last, when I was clearing out my desk. I was overwhelmed by sentimentality as I went through my old notebooks. It really had been the best job I ever worked – in terms of providing a good balance of stimulation, non-stress and really really nice and supportive colleagues. Yes, a lot of things got on my nerves towards the end, but I know a lot of that was impatience at knowing freedom was at hand.

Everyone was very sweet at the last moment, and though I had been angling to avoid the inevitable photo-taking, in the end, I just did it because I realise this is a way my colleagues show affection.

I had a very brief but much needed hiatus when the whole family took off to Lantau for a staycation. It was really bliss, just as it had been the last time. We all relaxed, we frequented beaches, we ate good food. I invited a couple of friends to join us for the day and we spent a good our bopping in the sea drinking beer, while the kids and helpers played in the sand. The kids really took to the friends which helped also. The friend’s fiance and V wanted to stay forever, the friend and I were like – no no, it’s city life for us. On an even more deserted beach the next day, I just lay in the sand soaking up the sun – something I’ve never done before – with Mimi slopping sand all over me.

The very next day the crazy began again. I dropped Benji to kindergarten, went across town for an interview in an art gallery, met a couple of friends for lunch, raced across town to the uni for registration, then headed home.

Tuesday was supposed to be peaceful, but I can’t remember where it went.

Yesterday was the most schizophrenic. Dropped Benji to kindergarten, headed to uni to attend two MPhil candidature presentations, had a welcome lunch at the new department, headed to the grad school for some admin work, raced back home and did an interview over the telephone, had a cup of tea and then raced across town for another interview. Got back at 9 pm. Basically had been on the go from 9 am to 9 pm, and switching between three different roles at least.

This is a far cry from when I would go into the office at 9 am and get work done at leisure till 6 pm when I shut down and came home.

The two student seminars were a stark reminder of how I had been coasting intellectually for five years. I had wondered a bit about academia in Hong Kong, but within 10 minutes of the presentation starting, I realised I was in a room with very smart people. I had to be switched on for the entire two hours, and even during the lunch after because the conversation is at an intellectual level and one doesn’t want to come across as the class doofus. Luckily, there’s another girl who seems to be claiming that spot, which i fine with me. It’s kind of odd being the clued in one when all along I’ve been feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing administratively.

Also, it’s so helps to not be starting out in a new city. People think that it’s a big deal that I’m a mum and doing a PhD but at the end of the day, I have a very organised house set up to go back to. Yes, it’s a bit disorienting working from home with the kids jumping around, but I can seclude myself if I want to.

On the other hand, I know not just the city but the university nad how it works and where things are. I can see that it’s hard for an absolute newbie because the system is unfamiliar and the grad school hasn’t really explained anything and you don’t want to be asking your supervisor idiotic questions. I am still a bit clueless and it’s like the blind leading the blind but at least I’m not the most clueless one and I don’t know why I find that reassuring.

You may have noticed Benji started school. It is so much better this time around that last time. It could be that he’s older, that he’s already been socialised into school. But the school itself helps – they let us right in there into the play area before school starts, everyone is friendly, the whole vibe is welcoming. And it’s expensive but with kids like mine, it helps. Benji still isn’t as chatty about school as I’d like him to be but he doesn’t fuss like he used to and he ocassionally mentions his teacher. So that decision seems to have worked out, fingers crossed.

The school is new and can be a little loopy. I called to ask about first day procedures and they told me that the kids just have to go in on their own from day one which I thought was strange but I asked around and some schools do it because Hong Kong kids start some sort of structured class at 2. Then they suddenly sent an email about an open day, so I decided to skip the first day and attend the open day since anyway I wouldn’t be able to go in with Benji on the first day. I had just one half day of leave left so I juggled it. Turns out at the open day, they say we can go in with the kids on the first day after all. Arrrgh! I had floated the idea of our helper going in with Benji but the school didn’t seem too keen. I asked V to go but he had a project implementation on that day. In the end, V arranged to work from home despite his project implementation and escorted Benji. It reminded me of this article.

Whew. But at least you’re all caught up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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