Changed plans

Facebook kindly reminded me of the World Cup last year, and it got me wondering what I was doing during the previous World Cup, the one in 2014. I remember where I was because I entered our office betting pool. It was the first time I had entered a World Cup betting pool, and everyone in the office was obsessed, so I couldn’t help but be swept in all the craziness as well. That was five years ago, and we were still living in Australia. We have moved to Asia since then, and no way in my wildest dreams would I have imagined my life would be in HK five years later. 2014 feels way more than just five years ago. So now I wonder where the next five years will take us and whether it will be as crazy as the last five… I don’t take any hometown for granted anymore, and so now I just make the most of my time in the city. I remember when our Aussie friends left SG last year, how our time together in the city country abruptly came to an end. You just never know when what you take for granted today will be taken away from you, so I try and make the most of each day. Who knows what tomorrow will bring…

Anyhoo… I just went off contemplating life for a second there πŸ˜† But it was nice to pause and reflect on the last five years. Overall they were great years, and I hope I enjoy the next five just as much 🀞

The protest in HK continued today. And because of the potential unrest that could happen whenever such things are organised, N’s karate teacher decided to cancel today’s class. Even though class is not within the protest route, students still have to come from various places, and public transport will probably be heavily affected. And coupled with potential unrest, their teacher decided to just cancel today’s class.

So we watched Adam Sandler’s new movie instead, Murder Mystery πŸ˜† It actually wasn’t too bad! There were a few annoying bits, particularly in the beginning, but soon after that, the movie got going and kept us entertained. Sure it’s not going to win any awards, but it’s a fun movie, and if you just watch it with no expectations of being blown away by anything and just go in for the ride, then you may actually enjoy it too. Maybe. Hopefully 😊

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Our first trip to Shenzhen

This post is about our experience of going to Shenzhen from Hong Kong. Firstly, the two posts from ausbt.com.au that I’ve provided links to in this post were the most helpful for me when preparing for our day trip today. I’ll outline some more things that we encountered today that weren’t mentioned in these two posts, probably because they’ve been more recent changes, but everything else is, by and large, still valid.

How to travel by train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen

Firstly, coming from HK, this still seems to be the most common route to take if you need a visa on arrival in Shenzhen. But do note that if you’ve already organised your visa to China beforehand, you can now also catch the high speed rail, which takes something like 15 minutes from West Kowloon station in HK to Futian station in Shenzhen. This is wayyy better than the normal train that supposedly takes 45 minutes or something. But yes, it is also more expensive. But the trains are newer, and you are guaranteed a seat, unlike the regular trains. So it is better to book your tickets for these beforehand, as you may not get a seat otherwise at the time you wish to go.

How to get a Shenzhen visa on arrival when visiting from Hong Kong

We went today, the Saturday during the Easter long weekend, and there were a bajillion foreigners at the visa office. The above article said that their wait was something like 10-30 minutes, ours was more like two hours. We got there at around 10am, and we probably left at around 12-12:30pm. It was crazy busy. At one point, there were no seats and people were just standing around inside and outside the office. So if you’re going during a long weekend like we did, I highly recommend that you get there as early as possible, perhaps when the visa office opens!

The steps they have at the visa office goes something like this:

  1. Take your photo in one of the photo booths
  2. Fill out a visa application form
  3. Take a queue ticket from the ticket machine
  4. Wait for your number to be called

They now have photo booths just outside the visa office, so the first queue you have to face is this one. But don’t do the steps as they suggest: I suggest first taking a number from the ticket booth, as the ausbt article recommends. You still have to wait, so you may as well cut down that wait time by doing a few other steps beforehand. Do note, though, that they say that if you miss your number, you’ll have to queue up again with a new number, so bear this in mind and assess whether or not this is the right thing for you to do, depending on the number of people ahead of you on the day.

Also note that the rules change all the time. We ran into a few of N’s workmates at the visa office – it was one big office reunion πŸ˜‚ One of his colleague’s visa applications was actually rejected, and he had to basically turn around and head back to HK. He was constantly checking to see what the latest rules were with his passport, and he was getting conflicting information, so do bear this in mind too if your passport is from one of these countries where the rules constantly seem to be changing. You do run the risk of not being able to get a visa on arrival, so it may be safer to just apply for your visa beforehand. He knew the risk he was taking, but I was still disappointed for him.

You can also pay by credit card for your visa. The cost of the visa does vary, but a lot of countries seem to be at the Β₯168 price point. You can pay by credit card (Visa, MasterCard or Amex), as well as by UnionPay or just with cash. I wasn’t expecting to be able to pay by credit card, so that was handy too.

And then after you get your visa, you head down to immigration. What seems to be new now are the fingerprint machines near the arrival slips. You need to do this first, so you’re in the “system”, I suppose, before you head over to join the immigration queue. Note that the arrival slip and the departure slip are attached, so you can fill both sections out now if you want, to save you time later when you depart. But it’s not necessary, entirely up to you.

And that’s it! Ordeal over! 🀣

Shenzhen metro

This is actually pretty easy to understand, as it is very similar to Hong Kong’s MTR system. You can buy single journey tickets, but we decided to buy the Shenzhen metro card, which is similar to HK’s octopus card, as it’s just so much easier to get around with it. Note, though, that the machine to buy these metro cards are all in Chinese, there is no English option 😱 But we still managed to fumble our way through it (my limited Chinese might have helped!), and we paid the Β₯100 for each of our cards.

Then we realised that we don’t have any value on them, so we had to go up to the customer service counter to add value on to them. Now this staff member is completely rushed off her feet, fielding numerous questions from random people. This happens all the time in HK too, and it happened a bit in SG, so I’m used to it now: people butt in and ask customer service people questions, even while the staff member is already serving someone else. I used to think this was extremely rude, but over time, I’ve come to realise that it’s just the done thing, and no one pays any attention to it. Staff must just learn to multi-task. It’s insane.

Each metro station that we went to (all four of them πŸ˜‚) had a security check area before you enter the paid area of the subway platform, with the conveyor belts and all, like at airports. I wasn’t expecting that at all. It must be a real pain to have to go through that process during rush hour on a weekday – for all parties involved!

General comments

We didn’t explore much of Shenzhen today, unfortunately, as the rain was torrential. We only got to go to Leyuan Road and KK Mall. But from this limited experience, we came across very little English. It’s tough going, but for a day trip, you put it down to the adventure of being in a foreign land πŸ˜†

I was also warned that Google Maps won’t work in China (and anything Google or Facebook related). Well it still did work for me, but my location wasn’t as accurate as it normally would be, even in densely populated HK. People have suggested this map app instead, but it’s all in Chinese, so it’s much harder to use.

Overall, I think we sorted out the practical stuff today, which was really the main objective of the trip, as we knew the rain would probably make it hard for us to do much else. But we didn’t expect it to be so torrential! Despite not doing much touristy stuff, though, I still think we had a successful day πŸ‘ I’d like to go back again and do the touristy things that we didn’t get to do today because of the rain. Maybe we’ll apply for a visa beforehand next time πŸ˜„

The fun of learning a language

I felt a bit better today, but not quite well enough to go to the gym, so I stayed home tonight and worked on my Chinese. I realised by reading other people’s posts on the Facebook type feed on the HelloTalk app, the language exchange app, that you can post both text and voice messages in the one post. I’ve been writing both Chinese and English in my posts, so people know what I actually wanted to say in Chinese, in case my Chinese translation doesn’t make any sense (which has happened a number of times before!), and also so English learners can get a bit more English practice. But now I’ve also included the audio version of both the Chinese and English, so everyone gets some speaking and listening practice as well 😊 And a few people have actually commented back – reading the English component of my post! 😊 It makes me happy that other people are actually practising their English speaking and reading through my post, which is exactly why I posted the English in the first place πŸ‘πŸ‘ And then a few people commented back with voice recordings of them saying the Chinese half of my post, to help me hear how a native speaker would say it. Sooo good! I’m going to have to continue doing this! I like how we’re all helping one another, which is exactly the point of the app 😊 I think I prefer this app to Tandem, the other language app that I’ve been using. I feel like more people use Tandem as a dating app, which is a shame, as it detracts from the real use of the app, and so puts off true language learners. I still think I should try changing my photo to a random celebrity or stock photo, and see if that will make a difference to the type of people who say hi! πŸ˜†

Someone also mentioned that she thought my Chinese was really good, and she was quite surprised to hear that I only know a limited number of words and sentence structures. I said that I think that I’ve just learnt to express myself as best I can with the limited number of words that I do know. It’d be nice to expand my knowledge of the language and not be constrained as much as I currently am! πŸ˜†

I’ve also been working on my listening, watching a Chinese sitcom on YouTube called Home With Kids. I think I’ve mentioned this sitcom before? Although “watching” isn’t quite the right word… Maybe “studying” is better! First I watch the episode once through, listening purely to what is being said and trying to get the gist of the story based on what’s happening on screen. And then I watch it a second time, pausing constantly to read the Chinese subtitles, and looking up any words that I don’t know. And then I watch it a third time, again just listening, and not paying attention to the subtitles, but this time, I now have a few new words under my belt. I still don’t hear everything, but the third time around is definitely better than the first time! It’s tough going, trying to listen to native speakers. At the moment, first time around, I barely pick up 10% of what’s being said. This perhaps doubles to 20% the third time around. And also, there are no English subtitles available, so I’m having to get the gist of the dialogue based on my knowledge of the language alone. Craaazy! πŸ€ͺ But in a way I think that’s good, as I “stay” in Chinese more, if that makes sense.

Ah the fun of learning a language as an adult! πŸ˜†

So motivating!

I’ve realised that a lot of people on the language exchange apps reply with “I’m fine” to my question “How are you?”. When English speakers say they’re “fine”, they’re actually not fine, and are being all passive aggressive about it! πŸ˜‚ So the first time I heard this reply to my question in SG, I was taken aback, actually, and l was wondering if I had done something wrong to upset him. But he didn’t have a sour look on his face, he just had a friendly tone and expression, so it took me a second or two to realise that this was just a standard reply. And soon I heard “I’m fine” often enough that it just became one of those quirks of the use of the language around the world. It still gives me a bit of a mental jolt, to be honest, and I probably still have some sort of micro expression that would reveal this involuntary reaction of mine whenever I hear this response, but I’m getting used to it 😊

I discovered this Facebook feed type feature in the HelloTalk language app today. You basically post whatever you feel like, much like in FB, except in this app, if you post something in your target language, native speakers can correct what you’ve written. It’s so good! I can do a bit of social media sharing, and learn at the same time πŸ‘

I have also started watching this Taiwanese show called 2εˆ†δΉ‹δΈ€εΌΊ, Half and Half. N discovered this show when he first started flying to HK for work last year, and I might’ve mentioned it once or twice before in this blog. They have a panel of all these westerners talking about their life experience either in Taiwan or in their home country – entirely in Chinese 😲 So when N told me about this show, I was so in awe, and was so motivated to be able to speak Chinese as well as these guys. Back then, though, I couldn’t follow anything that these guys were saying, as they were just speaking so damn fast, and I couldn’t read Chinese subtitles that fast either. So at the time, all I was really doing was admiring these guys’ ability to speak Chinese so fluently 😊

Fast forward six months later and I can now get the gist of what they’re talking about, if it’s on a topic that’s pretty basic (like their favourite food or their home etc), and it helps if they have a prop to show what they’re talking about. And now the subtitles further enhances my understanding, as I can now read that little bit faster as well. The jumble of noise is now becoming that little bit clearer, and I am starting to hear the individual sounds. I can pick up a lot more individual words now than I did before, and I can hear whole phrases if I read the subtitles as well. So hopefully over time my listening will get better and better🀞

The progress is seriously so motivating!

Balance

I decided to go and have cake at Lady M today, and noticed that they had osmanthus tea on their menu. I had never even heard of this tea before we moved to HK, and now I see it everywhere. It’s in sooo many things here. The funny thing for me is that I actually find the Chinese word for osmanthus (ζ‘‚θŠ± guΓ¬ huā) even with tones easier to say than ‘osmanthus’! It’s such a tongue twister! So today, I ordered and said pretty much this: β€œCan I have the pistachio mille crepe and can I try the ζ‘‚θŠ±θŒΆ?” πŸ˜‚ She had to repeat the tea to make sure she got my order right, as I probably threw her off by mixing English and Chinese 🀣

The fun and enjoyable time I had at Lady M was then soon wiped out by a shite trading session πŸ˜” You’d think I’d learn by now, but no, I keep repeating the same damn mistakes over and over πŸ˜’

I took out my frustration at the gym and had a pretty good session there tonight. I did a few Jive kicks, which were a real killer, but definitely something that I need to do more often to help boost my stamina. I should end each gym session with one song’s worth of Jive kicks. And then work my way up to two songs, then three songs, then who knows how many songs! πŸ˜†

I’ve actually been so focussed on my goals lately that I have barely had the chance to go on the usual social media sites, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc. I should make an effort to log in more often, and get the latest on what’s happening in the lives of my family and friends. I tend to be all or nothing when it comes to my goals, but I think a more balanced approach would be better and more sustainable over the longer-term. But with my detailed schedule now and achieving a good momentum with my goals, I feel like all the progress is just feeding itself and I just want more of it! πŸ˜†

Decisions made today

N came home soon after I had fallen asleep last night, so his coming home woke me up. And then Kitty scratched again to get someone’s attention at about 2am (we left a door closed so she scratched at it to let us know that she wanted it open – argh!); and then again in the wee hours of the morning, this second time because she wanted food. So basically the whole fam woke me up a few times throughout the night πŸ˜” I am not having much luck getting a good night’s sleep at the moment!

I spent quite a fair bit of time on social media today. I don’t normally go on social media for that long, as I tend to prefer to unwind by watching Asian dramas now, after having discovered this whole new world that I never even knew existed πŸ˜† But today, I spent over 1.5 hours scrolling through my feed on Facebook 😲 I must’ve been feeling quite social today πŸ˜‚

Speaking of Asian dramas, I decided to abandon my current Korean drama, The Beauty Inside. It hasn’t really drawn me in, and the episode that I was watching today was particularly uninteresting, so I stopped it and decided to read instead. I have to look for a new drama now… It’s going to be hard, I reckon, after having just watched Sky Castle! πŸ˜† Maybe I’ll choose a Chinese drama, to work on my listening skills again… I’ll see what I can find…

I also finally decided to sign up to Scribd. It’s pretty good so far! Slowly building up my reading list in the app 😊 I’ve set a goal to read one fiction book and one non-fiction book each month, have I mentioned this already? I think Scribd will help me quite well with this goal πŸ‘