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JUST ARRIVED IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY? - SEIZE THE INITIATIVE

You've just arrived in a foreign country. You've been posted for two or three years. What should you do?

The first thing you should do is but yourself a really good camera. And the second thing you should do is draw up a list.

Sit down with a glass of wine and a pen and think of all the things that lured you to this place. What made you say yes to this posting? What prompted you to say agree to the move? Besides the job, was it the lure of travel? The ability to learn a new language, the opportunity to appreciate a different way of life? Write a list of all the things that you want to do and then keep adding to it. When you see something interesting in a newspaper or magazine clip it out and stick it in your notebook.

We moved to Hong Kong and my list grew weekly. Initially I had things on it like visit different countries though the region, learn Cantonese, see the Great Wall of China but the longer that I was there the more variety I had on my list.

If I look back now I can see how different interests prompted new adventures.

One of my goals was to get fit - so I learnt about tai chi, did a couple of classes of fan dancing and sword dancing and then fell in love dragon boating. I became the captain of a dragon boat team, bought a share in a boat and paddled in local races across Hong Kong. In the off season I maintained my fitness by paddling an outrigger canoe, and then paddled from Hong Kong to Macau and back. Our team was met by Immigration at Hac Sa beach and it was an amazing experience paddling out of Hong Kong into the South China Sea and then back, past all the huge cargo ships laden with containers, past Pokfulam, past Aberdeen Harbour through to Deepwater bay.

My next goal was to run. As a particularly hopeless runner I set my target on doing the Hong Kong mountain races and ran across the Hong Kong countryside in pouring monsoon race. I started off doing a ten-kilometre race through the tunnels of Hong Kong in the early morning along with about ten thousand other people and finally managed to run the fifteen kilometres mountain races, my feet laden with red clay and my body slick with mud.

My next challenge was local cuisine. I decided to learn to appreciate congee. So I roped in a couple of friends and we toured the dai pai dongs of the city trying different varieties of congee - my favourite? Fish with ginger and sliced shallots. A friend introduced me to turnips cake, fungus soup and fried oesophagus. I toured the markets, ate salted eggs, hundred year old eggs and dried Chinese sausages. I experimented with fresh tofu, ate taufu fa with hot ginger syrup, toured the wildlife markets in Guangzhou, became a restaurant critic and learned how to make Indian parati in the streets of Lan Kwai Fong.

Jumping into sea

Cultural pursuits were next on my list. I learnt Mahjong, bought an abacus, took classes in Chinese herbal medicine, joined a group that did historical walks though Hong Kong and visited Zhuhai on furniture expeditions. I toured the cargo terminals, dressed up in jockey clothes in the Hong Kong Jockey Club and appeared in the Apple Daily newspaper. I did a stint as a model, inspected factories in China, taught English at primary school and interviewed politicians.

I organised a clean up day for a local beach, danced on the bar in Wan Chai and sang karaoke. I learned how to bargain, I ate rat and I drank snake wine. I learned how to string pearls.

Looking back, most of these things weren't on my original list - they probably won't be on yours either - but they made my time overseas challenging, exciting and memorable.

Carpe diem.

Amanda O has been an expatriate most of her life and can't imagine living any other way.

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Posted 06Apr05