IMBO: Hannah, welcome to I Must Be Off! and congratulations again on your winning entry in the I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest! Tell us a bit more about where you live now.
Thompson-Yates: CWB is the busiest part of Hong Kong Island so it's pretty manic. There is a 24-hour Chinese restaurant on the ground floor of my building, a Cantonese theater just opposite and a 5 star hotel just around the corner with an incredible rooftop bar- my flat is never ever quiet and never ever dark!
IMBO: Wow, I hope you're not a light sleeper. I would go crazy there. But maybe you get a lot of writing done in the wee hours? When did you start writing?
Thompson-Yates: I have always loved writing but it is since I started traveling that it has become such a regular and important part of what I do. There are just so, so many things to say about Asia and I love the idea of people reading about places and maybe wanting to see for themselves. Teaching in Hong Kong is an experience in itself, and the gateway to the rest of East Asia.
IMBO: You write for iGap Travel Guide. What is that?
Thompson-Yates: The iGap Travel Guide is a great resource for so many different travel needs.The magazine brings to life destinations you may never even have heard of and really goes to town with reviews, recommendations and advice. They feature different countries, but also different ideas so it's a good place to start if you've got that travel itch but aren't too sure how to scratch it yet. I write for their Asia editions.
IMBO: What brought you to Hong Kong?
Thompson-Yates: The funny thing is I never really decided on Hong Kong. It just sort of happened. I wanted to teach English and I knew I wasn't done with Asia after my backpacking stint. I applied to lots of different schools and one in HK was just right. It turned out to be a much bigger move than I ever imagined! Learning Cantonese is very, very difficult! HK is such an incredibly international city that you can survive just fine without it...which makes us foreigners very lazy. I traveled around mainland China for 6 weeks last summer and that was a completely different story. Knowing some Mandarin was essential, especially in the more rural parts of the country. The best way to learn was to try and chat to local people -- great for 24-hour train journeys!
IMBO: Any funny stories from that time?
Thompson-Yates: I have so many funny stories from backpacking around China. Every single day was an adventure and even doing the simplest of things, like trying to buy a bus ticket or use the internet, turned out to be mammoth tasks in an already hilarious day. You could spend the day just people-watching, without actually even doing anything, and be completely baffled and amazed. Beijing and Xian were great for the sights- The Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors are incredible, but my favourite memories are of getting up at 6am and queuing up with market vendors, street-cleaners, taxi-drivers and school kids to buy the most amazing bread in the hutong, buying gigantic ice-creams from the backalleys of The Muslim Quarter and playing Chinese Chess with 80 year old men in Chengdu parks. We were once followed all the way down the street by some college students who were trying to pluck up the courage to use their English and invite us to a BBQ. We had just finished eating a huge dinner, but couldn't say no. We spent the night barbecuing every kind of food imaginable on a tiny side street, drinking beers and being interrogated by our new friends. Every time we told them something tasted good, a boy would whizz away on his motorbike and then come back armed with hundreds more of that particular vegetable. I have never been so full.
Half way through our trip, we had to renew our tourist visas. After spending the best part of an hour wandering around Leshan in scorching July temperatures, only to stroll past the exact same noodle shop about three times, we asked a local policeman if he could point us in the direction of the Visa Office. Everyone else we'd asked had giggled and taken photos of our sweaty and exasperated faces, unable to understand what on earth we were saying, but the policeman called for back up and soon we were being frog-marched to their van by a group of uniformed men. They pulled up outside the pretty scary looking government buildings, used a mega-phone to announce that we had arrived and waited until the staff came running down the stone steps to help. We had our visas the very next day.
Yunnan Province, in the south, is breath-taking. Celebrating the end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike, wrapped in blankets and overlooking the mountains in Walnut Garden village, was so surreal. I saw a side of China that I had no idea existed.
IMBO: Oh my Lord. The megaphones. Priceless. These are the sorts of travel memories one dreams of! And what's it like to live there now? What's teaching English in China like?
Thompson-Yates: I love teaching. My students provide me with endless amounts of entertainment and I learn so much from them every day. Students here work incredibly, incredibly hard and are under a huge amount of pressure to do well academically. This year I am teaching mainly teenagers and adults, whereas last year I had students as young as three years old....and all of them study far more than I ever did! The model of education is very different to western methods and it has been interesting learning so much about it through my work. Many of my students are hoping to study at universities in the UK, which is always exciting! I can't wait to hear what they think of English fish and chips!
IMBO: I'm sure they'll love it. Before we go, Hannah, I always ask the author for an expat author recommendation. Is there another travel writer--an expat--whom you'd recommend to my readers?
Thompson-Yates: Shannon Young, an American writer living in Hong Kong, recently published The Olympics Beat: A Spectator's Memoir of Beijing and is editing a collection of non-fiction and memoir by expatriate women living in Asia. Her blog, A Kindle in Hong Kong, always makes me smile. I also love Paullina Simons- The Bronze Horseman trilogy is an all time favourite.
IMBO: Thank you, Hannah! And thank you for taking time out to chat.
Thompson-Yates: No problem at all! It was great chatting to you and I look forward to reading more on IMBO! Thanks!
Read Hannah Thompson-Yates winning essay HERE.
I must be off,
Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.