Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dos and Don'ts

I recall seeing a commercial on a local television station, not long after I moved to Hong Kong, in which Jackie Chan sat in a grade school classroom surrounded by children.  “Wild birds are not pets,” he kindly admonished.  In the midst of a bird flu scare, government bodies urged citizens to refrain from handling birds and their feces.  (As if we needed encouragement to avoid the latter.)  “Of course,” laughed Jackie Chan as he picked up an origami creation, “paper cranes are excluded.”  The children giggled.

Runner-up on my list of favorite public service announcements featured Jackie and Arnold Schwarzenegger on hot-rod motorcycles, racing down the highway, exclaiming, “Piracy is a crime.  When you make illegal copies of movies, we all lose.”  They pop a wheelie and zoom off into the sunset.

And then my television jack broke and I spent the next four years watching DVDs and broadband cable channels. 

Fast-forward to the August 2012 Olympics.  I had the television jack repaired so that I could access local TV stations, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time watching the Games.  I find local advertising—whether printed or televised—a bit juvenile and unrefined.  Where American commercials are determined to entertain and amuse with the highest quality filmmaking, Hong Kong commercials employ a cartoonish figure or dancing actor singing a cheesy song about the product.  A teenager in a garage with a video camera and computer could generate an equally stimulating ad.

But what shocked me was the overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of Public Service Announcements on local television.  Furthermore, the range of topics and issues addressed in these ads was wide and varied.  Two weeks of sporadic Olympics-watching—and dutiful note taking—and this is the list I ended up with:

  • Bicycle safety: “Safe cycling is always most important.”
  • Food safety: “Be careful of food temperatures; do not leave food sitting out, as it may spoil.”
  • Something about a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education
  • “Be prepared before taking part in water activities” (check the weather forecast, drink plenty of water, wear safety gear).
  • Communication with your employer is important in case of a typhoon; communicate before such a situation takes place, to prevent disputes
  • “Be careful who you authorize to make investments on your behalf.”
  • “We must take proper care of trees so we can live in harmony with the trees.”
  • Beware of heatstroke.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  • “Window Inspection Scheme”—helps to insure the safety of windows (so you don’t fall out the window, and the window doesn’t fall on an unsuspecting person below).
  • “China, our Motherland, and Hong Kong are one family under the Basic Law”; China’s military protects us.
  • “No matter how busy you are, try to exercise every day.”
  • “Breastfeeding: the first step to lifelong health.”
  • “Verify suspicious emails” to avoid getting scammed.
  • In case of fire, leave your flat and take with you a mobile phone (to call for help), a towel (to cover your nose and mouth) and your door keys (so you can return afterwards).
  • “Mutual respect, communication and understanding leads to social harmony” (emphasizes getting along with people of different races, cultures and backgrounds).
  • “Adopt reasonable employment terms.” (Treat employees properly.)
  • “Stand firm.  Knock Drugs Out.”
  • “Vote for a clean election.  Vote for a better Hong Kong.”
  • Please pay attention to tropical cyclone warnings.
  • “Support the Indoor Air Quality Programme for Better Living.”
  • “Check data usage; enjoy mobile internet.”
  • There’s a new lift and elevator ordinance, which will help with “strengthening regulatory control and enhancing public safety.”
  • Let’s move toward a “barrier-free world and equality for all” (regarding persons with disabilities).
  • [Two testimonies from people who lost weight.]  “Keep a healthy weight.  If they can do it, so can you!”
  • “Hong Kong is our home.  Cast your vote.”
  • “Quit now.  Call the smoking cessation hotline.”
  • Something about government subsidy for replacing old buses and trucks
  • Always arrange travel insurance before your trip.
  • “If you drink, don’t drive.”
  • “Sleep and wake early, eat vegetables and drink water, start your exercise journey, don’t worry and be happy, make this a healthier city.”
  • Something about government outbound travel service
  • “Join hands to maintain the cleanliness of public swimming pools.”
  • Energy saving begins with us.
  • If trapped in a lift: stay calm.  “Stand still, crouch down, sit down, stay calm.”
  • “Safety first.  Don’t carry out unauthorized building works.”
  • Something about the transport subsidy scheme
  • “Invest carefully.  Signing means responsibility.”
  • Enhance building efficiency.
  • Construction industry council.  Join tunneling work.
  • Contact the Communications Authority if you have problems with internet broadband or television content.
  • “Be cautious when purchasing columbarium niches” (a place to store your ashes).

What does this mean?  What is the significance of the fact that over fifty-percent of television ads consists of PSAs?  Does the government consider members of the general public to be idiots and dunces, unable to think for themselves?  Will a cheesy ad actually influence a demanding and ill-mannered boss to begin treating her employees with respect and understanding by “adopting reasonable employment terms”?  In a culture that honors the family and reveres the wisdom of parents and grandparents, the government is certainly stepping into this role by throwing plenty of common-sense teachings at us.  (After all, aren’t the concepts of eating plenty of vegetables and drinking enough water tenets to be taught in the home?)  And why are the government agencies and public organizations being so bossy anyway?  Do I really need a reminder to refrain from handling bird droppings?

Well, I need to wrap this up and get to bed early, so I can wake early to eat a healthy breakfast.  Don’t worry—I’ll keep my mobile phone and apartment keys nearby, in case of fire.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

and add some ice, please

I’m convinced I live in a society of perpetually dehydrated humans.

A traditional dim sum lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, and we are given wee cups and saucers for hot tea.  Delicious jasmine tea, boiling hot.  The second it reaches a less-than-scalding temperature, I throw it back like a shot glass and reach across the lazy susan for another round.  Gracious hosts around me continually refill my cup, and I bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Honey, just plant that tea pot right here in front of me.  Thanks.”

A Western-style local restaurant that offers set meals, drink included.  “Drink” means one cup of beverage, sans refills, and typically arrives after the meal.  The small- or medium-sized glass contains little or no ice, and could be consumed in four gulps.  Yet I will ration it carefully throughout the meal (after I have convinced the waiter that—yes—I really do, in fact, desire the beverage with the food).  Supplementary sips from my own water bottle are necessary to complete the meal.

I attend community choir rehearsals, an event to which we are encouraged to bring water.  Fellow altos surreptitiously pull out tiny vessels for wetting their throats—cute little pink or yellow bottles no larger than a saltshaker, a suitable size for stowing in carry-on luggage on an airplane.  Local bottling companies actually sell water in diminutive bottles that hold 280 ml (9.4 fluid ounces).  Five swallows and that liquid is gone.  I, on the other hand, drag out my blue 32-oz Nalgene and try not to dribble water down my chin as I chug half the bottle.

And I’m still thirsty. 

I drink a lot of water.  Also, I perspire a lot.  A lot.  I’m an over-achiever in that respect.  I don’t glisten; I drip and pour.  The air laden with humidity turns to moisture the second it hits my skin.  Last week a lady told me that I sweat so much because I drink too much.  “Sweetie,” I wanted to say to her, “I think you have it backwards.  I’m drinking this much to replenish the sweat!”

This is the same woman who walked into my office yesterday, and, seeing my large—and empty—Tervis tumbler (the only beverage container I’ve found that almost doesn’t cause puddles of condensation in this humid climate), exclaimed dramatically, “Wah!  So big!” 

I didn’t know what to say.  Shall I tell her about USA gas stations’ Big Gulps?  Or Sonic’s Route 44?  McAllister’s huge glasses of amazing iced tea with free refills?  The sixteen various-sized water bottles I own?  (I’m not exaggerating.  I just walked into my kitchen and counted them.  And I got a refill of water while I was in the vicinity of the refrigerator/ice trays.)

How do Hongkongers stay hydrated, anyway?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympics 2012

There’s nothing like the Olympics to make me wish I lived in the United States.  Unfortunately, I’m not referring to my patriotism or nationalism.  I’m thinking of the American television coverage of the Games.

I’m aware of NBC’s controversial airing of various events in delayed broadcasts, in order to accommodate time zone differences and garner large prime-time audiences.  But I firmly state that televising events in real time is equally unpleasant, if not more so.  Here’s how it works in Hong Kong:

At 4:30pm each afternoon, Olympic coverage begins on one network station.  The focus is usually on such  sport oddities as archery, shooting, fencing or wrestling.  Occasionally a sudden switch occurs, in which we are presented with the last few minutes of some other race or close contest.  Yet without a proper context (what event is it, who is in the lead, who are the contenders, what is at stake), it’s a schizophrenic feeling.  Furthermore, due to a network dispute, the Games play on two different channels; every four hours, we have to change channels, though they both feature the same set of commentators and basic structure.

Of course, local Hong Kong coverage will focus on Olympic sports in which Hong Kong citizens are competing, which are few.  Secondary focus is on events in which China competes—specifically, events in which China is likely to medal.  Never in my life have I suffered through so many hours of badminton and ping pong… er, table tennis.  The former doesn’t even employ a ball, and the latter is simply dull.  Admittedly, “table tennis” sounds like a legitimate sporting event, while “ping pong” implies a fun game to play in the basement on a Friday night.  Interestingly, it seems that Olympic table tennis players have to chase their own ping pong balls.  That’s the worst part of the game in my opinion—trying to catch that weightless ball as it bounces erratically under the table or across the floor.

I continue to watch these dreadful events because I’m addicted to the Olympics.  I love the cross-cultural competition, the coming together of people from all over the world, the sense of team spirit and camaraderie among athletes, hearing various national anthems, watching enthusiastic fans, and seeing the different reactions to wins and losses.  In other words, the “internationalness” (a made-up term that I really like).  Why else would I continue to sit in front of the television during a judo tournament?  (A sport in which maniacal men or women strike at each other without actually punching or hitting, but by grabbing the lapels of the bathrobe of the opponent.  I have yet to understand how a point is scored or a match is won.  The women’s judo more closely resembles a catfight with lots of yelling, disheveled clothing and mussed up hair.)

The “good” events do not air until after midnight or 1:00am.  In the past two weeks, I’ve seen few track and field events and only two or three swimming competitions, thanks to my desire to sleep at night.  I did pull two all-nighters this week—both on evenings before I had a day off from work—managing to stay awake until the day’s events ended around 5:00am.

NBC coverage in the USA often inserts personal information about competitors in between the events.  The underprivileged athlete from Africa who runs for the love of running; the South American woman who wins the first medal for her country; the diving duo who come out of nowhere to take silver; the athlete who sets a new world record; the underdog.  On local coverage in Hong Kong, we don’t see these Hallmark-moments in which an individual is featured in a short film, spotlighting the struggles and heartache she has experienced on her way to the Games.  No back-stories or histories of specific competitors, featuring the families that scrimped and saved so Junior could have lessons and hire a coach.  Sometimes I miss these snippets of humanity.

Commercial breaks are inserted with little regard to what is taking place on screen.  A commentator may be mid-sentence when the cheesy Olympic title screen appears [see picture above] and transitions us to an advertisement.  We may see a shampoo commercial featuring Michael Phelps (whose voiceover makes it appear that he speaks Chinese); a tired ad for a camera, a financial services company or real estate; or one of the dozens and dozens of public service announcements.  And we never hear the “Olympic theme song”—the rousing, trumpet-filled John Williams bit that plays at every commercial break on NBC.  Perhaps it’s a copyright issue.

The commentators, for the most part, do their job well; which is to say, they actually explain the sport, the rules, and offer opinions on what has taken place.  Once in awhile, I hear a commentator mutter, “I’m not sure what happened there… um… Anyway, the score is…” One obnoxious American basketball commentator focuses less on the game, and rather enjoys making remarks on hairstyles, shoe choices, and fan behavior.  My favorite commentators are the lively British, whose accents grow stronger when they get excited: “Oh my goodness me!  What a spec-TAC-ular performance!  Just BRIL-liant!” 

I’m grateful for the English coverage.  In fact, on Hong Kong television the Olympics are covered in Cantonese, with the option of switching to English audio.  The primary commentators—more like emcees that help transition between events—are Chinese, and sit at a newscast desk in matching suits.  In the background, behind glass, are the English-speaking commentators.  When the event broadcast pauses and the emcees are shown, we see the Chinese speakers, while hearing the English speakers.  Occasionally, the English commentators are interrupted by a collective wave from the Chinese commentators—the camera pans out to show the English speakers, and they stop mid-sentence to acknowledge the Chinese wavers.  Odd.  But typical Hong Kong.

I’ve got a lot of complaints about local coverage of this historic event.  Nevertheless, on this final day of the 2012 Games, Olympic withdrawal is setting in.  Four more years until I see another judo match featuring bathrobe-clad contenders.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

a severe typhoon

An unpleasant occurrence, known as Severe Typhoon Vicente, interrupted life in Hong Kong last week. With winds hovering around 118 km/h (73 mph) and torrential rains, the tropical-storm-turned-hurricane began its arrival on Monday, intensifying unexpectedly and almost catching the city by surprise.

Hong Kong employs a number of “signals,” which alert the public to weather conditions and wind speeds. Taken directly from the Hong Kong Observatory website, thus:

The Observatory has operated a numbered tropical cyclone warning signal system (TCWS) since 1917 to alert the public of the wind conditions in Hong Kong. The current TCWS consists of the No. 1, 3, 8, 9, and 10 signals… Prior to 1973, the signals consisted of the No. 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, of which the No. 5, 6, 7, and 8 all warned about gale or storm force winds, i.e. wind strength of 63-117 km/h (34-63 knots), coming from wind directions of NW, SW, NE, SE respectively. In order to strengthen the public understanding that all these four signals warned about the same wind strength, these signals were replaced by 8NW, 8SW, 8NE and 8SE respectively in 1973. The Observatory wishes to clarify that the No. 5 signal in the past was the same as the No.8 NW signal today.

As with most information issued from the local Observatory, I find this largely unhelpful; confusing at best. Essentially, we understand the meanings of signals No. 1 (just watch out, although nothing is really happening), No. 3 (well, this could turn into something, but you don’t need to take action yet), No. 8 (most businesses and companies shut down, so—yes!—let’s leave work a bit early) and No. 10 (stay home and watch the useless weather reports, keeping away from windows and glass).

Why we cannot employ a more straightforward approach—something like signals 1, 2, 3, 4—I’ll never know. My dad claims that it was likely invented by the British, the same brilliant folks who created the tennis scoring system of Love 15, 30, 40, game.

Our friend Vicente brought such high wind and heavy rain that the Signal No. 10 was hoisted during the early hours of Tuesday morning for the first time in 13 years. At one point, gusts on one of the outer islands reached 255 km/h (158 mph). Hundreds of flights were disrupted at the HK International Airport, and some unfortunate commuters found themselves stuck overnight in one of the train stations. Over 1,000 trees fell or were uprooted by the winds, several falling on buses and cars. About 130 people were injured, though, amazingly, no fatalities occurred.

In one curious incident, hundreds of bags of tiny plastic pellets (made of polypropylene, used for manufacturing) washed up on a local beach. Assumed to have blown off a container ship in the storm, these potentially toxic bits are creating an environmental hazard to sea life.

Apart from minor window leaks in my flat, I survived the Severe Typhoon. Many trees around the neighborhood, however, did not. As I emerged from my building later, I was surprised to see multiple saplings along the sidewalks bent at odd angles. (I would not have guessed that there was enough foliage on these baby trees to be grasped by the gusts.) When I neared our church, I found extensive damage to every tree on the block—including two that were completely uprooted, and a large decades-old tree that was partially destroyed (photos below). Hampered by continual heavy rains, I suspect it will take weeks to complete the cleanup around the city.

Meanwhile, apart from Tuesday when all activities were postponed or cancelled, we held a Vacation Bible School program at church all week—the theme of which was “Operation Overboard.” It was a week for swim masks and snorkels…inside and outside.

Friday, June 1, 2012

hardhat not required

I am not a construction expert. My skills and training lie in the field of fine arts rather than bulldozing and dump-trucking. Nevertheless. I can quickly spot a few potential problems with the above scenario:
  1. The guy is smoking a cigarette while operating heavy gasoline-powered machinery. A little sketchy.
  2. He’s not wearing a hardhat or protective equipment of any kind. Risky, in my opinion.
  3. This heavy machinery is perched precariously on top of the very pile of rubble that is being transferred; the guy is literally digging a hole underneath himself. Downright foolish.
  4. It’s not obvious from the angle of this photo, but the pedestrian walkway is situated inches from the backhoe. I know this because I paused next to the rubble mound and raised my eyebrows at the backhoe driver’s co-worker—who stood by, bare-chested and smoking, observing the work—silently asking if it was safe to pass by. The co-worker whistled at the driver, who swung the backhoe a few feet over and waited for me to move along the sidewalk. I resisted the urge to stretch out my arm and touch the heavy machinery, simply to demonstrate its close proximity; I feared that a minor poke from my index finger might topple the backhoe from the shifting pile of concrete and dirt. And none of us were wearing hardhats.

I walk through this passageway to work each day.

I have closely observed a number of construction sites in Hong Kong, particularly throughout the past year as I walk—daily—past the sites of three separate building/renovation projects on my five-minute journey to work. Some general observations:

Bamboo scaffolding. This is a marvelous feat of engineering, ancient wisdom and guts. One brave soul leans out a 17th-floor window and affixes a metal bracket to the side of the building. With one leg on that bracket and one arm grasping the windowsill, another bracket is drilled into place. The safety harness that is loosely draped across his waist may or may not be attached to something on the other end. Next, two or three bamboo poles are laid across the brackets and another guy climbs out and begins to lash more poles together. Eventually several workers are hanging off of various windows and brackets as more bamboo are handed up and fastened together. After hours (or days), the result is a geometrical network of stout wicker stretching across buildings or entire blocks, stronger (supposedly) than modern-day metal scaffolding.

Large-scale bamboo scaffolding.

Covered buildings. To cut down on dust and debris from construction work, giant net-like tarps are arranged over buildings. Usually green or white in color, this drapery gives the appearance of a mysterious shroud or veil. I watched several workers drop a giant, white tulle-like net over a building in my neighborhood, and as it gracefully unfurled from ten stories above, I felt as if grand wedding preparations were underway.

The veiling.

Primitive tools. A beat-up wheelbarrow driven by a shirtless man. Two women shoveling heaps of broken concrete by hand. Workers carrying buckets of construction materials here and there. The process looks more like a do-it-yourself Saturday morning project in the backyard, rather than the assembly of a multi-billion dollar housing estate in a modern world city. But why change methodologies when, clearly, this approach is working just fine? (By mentioning women, I’m not simply attempting to be politically correct; there are large numbers of females working on most construction sites, according to my casual observation.)

This is only nine stories up... quite safe, really.

Lack of safety mechanisms in place. I know nothing of the laws or safety requirements at construction sites or workplaces in Hong Kong. Yet there are times when I believe I should be wearing a hardhat, simply because I’m walking so close to manual laborers and heavy machinery, or underneath rickety-looking scaffolding. I’ve watched a welder who wasn’t wearing safety goggles. A guy running a jackhammer while wearing canvas sneakers, sweatpants and a t-shirt. The safety harnesses dangling from a waistline, dragging on the ground behind the worker. I know men in the United States who won’t mow the lawn without sturdy work boots and protective eyewear. If OSHA came to Hong Kong, they would have to hire an army of employees to keep up with the inspections and violations.

And these are the evidences of progress. Of modernity, development and growth. Newer offices and workplaces. Additional schools and community centers. More spacious flats and nicer homes. A better life, for ourselves and our posterity.

Or so they say.

I prefer the undeveloped, construction-free areas of Hong Kong.

Monday, April 16, 2012

the walls are crying

We are entering the most humid time of year in Hong Kong. This means we are emerging from the “dry” months, in which relative humidity falls to 70-75% (average), and entering the “wet” months. At 85-95%, I start thinking it might as well rain because I’m already soaked anyway.

It’s so humid that…

  • bath towels are perpetually damp, laden with a sour smell
  • bread, left sitting out on the counter in its original wrapping, molds in two days or less
  • concrete walls wrinkle and bubble around the windows, thanks to moisture seeping in around the sills
  • books, papers and photos are often damp and/or molded, sometimes ruined
  • stores devote entire aisles to moisture-collecting items: electric dehumidifiers, containers of dehumidifying material meant to be placed in closets or cabinets to pull water from the air (large versions of those little non-edible desiccant packets we find inside bottles of medication)
  • new envelopes that have been sitting in a drawer are already sealed shut; same problem with postage stamps
  • mold grows on walls behind furniture (I’ve helped several friends move, and we were all shocked at what was growing behind wardrobes and bookshelves)
  • an acoustic piano or guitar should be purchased locally (not shipped from abroad), as the wood has been specifically treated to withstand damp conditions
  • I gave up on hand washing sweaters; if it takes over a week to dry, I’d rather pay a bit more and send it to the cleaners
  • some of the electric circuits in our church shut themselves off every few days or so, and I’m told this is because the breaker box is located in a humid hallway; (I’m not an electrician and, therefore, cannot verify this; also, the building and electric wiring is quite old)
  • when the weather suddenly warms up after a cool spell, moisture forms on concrete floors, walls and ceilings. It looks like someone has just come through with a mop or spray bottle; hence Chinese idioms such as, “the walls are crying”
  • preparation for baking includes hacking away at the sugar canister with a knife
  • a friend of mine purchased several pieces of high-quality wood furniture here and shipped them to a dry climate; the wood shrunk so much that doors and drawers were non-functional—seams between the legs and sides of a dresser came apart completely
  • my double-walled, "sweat-proof" plastic drinking cups have moisture trapped between the layers
  • it takes a herculean effort to keep on top of the mold growth in already-damp places such as bathroom tile, bathtubs, sinks, and the dish drainer
  • people say, “don’t take a deep breath outside or you’ll drown”
  • I recently ran an old pair of slippers through the washing machine; they took two weeks to dry
  • mold grows under the lid of my toilet seat (because I refuse to leave the lid up)
  • for most of the year, I walk around dripping with sweat, clothes drenched, hair wet and stringy, mopping my face with tissues; I probably look like a drowned rat.

They say that long-term exposure to humidity is good for the complexion. I say a drowned rat with nice skin is still a drowned rat.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

music in the air

I am sitting in the living room of my flat, windows open, enjoying a quiet evening at home. Correction: enjoying an evening at home. Crowded living conditions, crammed neighborhoods, countless high-rise buildings, and seven million people squeezed onto 426 square miles of terra firma don’t contribute to a quiet existence. Add in the fact that many Asians prefer “fresh air” (open windows) to air conditioning or heating, and noise abounds.

Tonight, I hear a woman singing some kind of opera-type music—Western opera, I’m grateful to report. It’s actually quite lovely. An ethereal melody, almost haunting as it echoes among buildings, occasionally punctuated by a tenor voice with full vibrato. I am transported to starlit Venice, serenaded down the Grand Canal in a gondola.

Last Friday night, I spent an excruciating three hours suffering through a beginning trumpeter’s rudimentary exercises. Considering the length of practice, and the repetitive, yet extremely basic nature of his playing, I suspect the student was cramming for a lesson or class. (Note to beginning musicians: cramming doesn’t work for instrumental practice, as it may for a written exam.) Poor kid probably had seriously busted chops after the long evening.

Piano students thrive in Hong Kong, and it’s not uncommon to hear scales practiced late into the night, along with drifts of Bach, Chopin or Beethoven. At times, a specific measure or phrase is played over and over: an annoying prospect for some, but a comfort to the piano teacher—it’s a sign of quality practicing.

Brass instruments and piano music are always preferable over the beginner woodwind. Pity the neighborhood where a Grade 1 clarinetist or oboist resides. The squeaks and squawks of a reed instrument can make one cringe.

Stringed instruments—equally popular to the piano in this city—can also create the sensation of fingernails on the chalkboard when a student is learning fundamentals. I haven’t heard this in my building lately, so perhaps parents have the good sense to make the violin kid play behind closed doors and windows.

A few weeks ago, I thought I heard a woman humming in my kitchen. It turned out to be a domestic helper, quietly singing in her kitchen, whose windows open near mine. Two nights ago, I sat on my couch trying to determine what instrument I was hearing; I believe it was a plastic recorder played by a non-musician.

The sounds of music—mismatched timbres, wrong notes and poor intonation aside—are oddly soothing to me, perhaps because of years of studying music. Standing in a crowded High School band hall, surrounded by sixty other instrumentalists, each playing their own melodies and rhythms at once, create a unique atmosphere. Tonalities mix and pitches clash as one walks down the practice room hallway of the college music building. A pianist here, a vocalist there. Familiar tunes and new refrains conflict. Together, an entirely different kind of music is created.

That’s what I hear in my neighborhood. Sure, there are times I’d like to open my window and hear the silence of the night, punctuated gently by the song of crickets and the croaking of frogs (sounds of my childhood home backyard). But as a professional musician, who believes strongly in teaching music—both instrumental and vocal—to children and adults of all ages, I am grateful to know that my neighbors are hard at work, improving their musical skills. Making music should be an everyday part of our lives, which is, sadly, becoming an increasingly less common phenomenon as our cultures are overtaken by other forms of entertainment.

So when I open my bedroom window and hear “Three Blind Mice” breathily played on the penny whistle (or maybe it’s that plastic recorder), I smile to myself. Music is in the air.