The Hong Kong Post by Debbie Alvarez

So.  Ever get so fed up with your professional situation that you decide you’re going to take complete charge? Up and move across the ocean to another continent? Provide your family with a lifetime opportunity to experience life in a different manner?

I did.

I read magazine articles and books on taking the reins back on your life. I figured, why shouldn’t I? I deserve to experience choice without frustration and anger in my career.

For the past few years I’ve advocated. Innovated. Bent over backwards. Worked four jobs in one position. Felt that I provided my school district with the best value to their dollar. The budget was stretched beyond normal constraints. Then came the cuts. They were drastic. Emotionally draining. Still creating a reverberating impact on children, community members, staff, and more.

I became a self-advocate, took control of my fate instead of waiting to see what my school district would do with me. I took a leave of absence and moved to Asia. Our family is now in Hong Kong.

I didn’t expect to have such a huge learning curve.  I knew it would be hard. Finding a new home and purchasing all new furniture. Navigating a new place without a car and instead hopping on trams, buses, MTR lines (subway sort-of), and taxis (with drivers who often do NOT understand you, thank goodness for iPhone apps that help translate most of the time.)

I also didn’t expect to have such a challenging time understanding those who did speak English. I sit and try my best, but still words fly by me and I understand half of them. After being in one school for 12 years, I forgot how it is to be the new person. The one who has to prove herself. I was so spoiled in my last community with colleagues, families, and children who had complete trust in my professional abilities as an educator. I knew I had an impact. Now, I’m slowly building up trust.

I am lucky to work with so many new colleagues who are patient and caring. Almost all of them have experienced this huge transition so they can empathize and accommodate needs. It is nice to begin anticipating work again instead of feeling overwhelmed each morning. I am lucky to work with a fantastic, open-minded library assistant who is as excited as me when we get a new box of books, when we discover a new online source, when we can provide book recommendations to children…

I appreciate that when I moved here, several communities have welcomed us. One is the local teacher librarian organization called ALESS. Already, I’m excited to go to meetings where there are interesting agenda items in discussion and professional development as well.

I also appreciate how the world has now opened up for us in a way I wouldn’t have imagined experiencing: travel! Our first adventure out of Hong Kong is to travel to Thailand, cannot wait! Here in Hong Kong there’s unlimited opportunities for exploration, we’re trying to enjoy something new each week.

I know, I know. Nerdy book club. Book Reflection Portion:

I’ve been visiting numerous public libraries and bookstores around Hong Kong. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on the book purchasing options available. Some things are so familiar here in Hong Kong in comparison to Oregon/US. But on the other hand often here in Hong Kong there is the huge influence of Australian and New Zealand authors in addition to authors from United Kingdom. I feel like as a reader I’m barely scratching the surface of the books in my library that I normally read and am aware of. I only recognize 20% of the books in my school’s fiction and picture book collection. I knew 95% of my last book collection. I am plugging away at making friends with all the books in the collection. I honestly have never felt so behind on new book releases.


I had a difficult time thinking about which aspect of life changes I wanted to focus on for moving to Hong Kong. I’ve shared a weekly reflection on my blog but thought it wasn’t specifically a Nerdy Book Club material… I decided in the end to focus on the difference in bookstores. Here’s my American take on Hong Kong Bookstores:


  • The books are coming from all over the world, not just from across the United States. It is lovely to have such a broad range of book selections! Then again, sometimes because there is a broad range, you find yourself with more of the top bookselling books and not so many independent publishers/authors.


  • In almost every bookstore I’ve been in, books are completely wrapped up in plastic. If they are not wrapped in plastic, they look bent up and thumbed through.


  • I miss seeing a celebration of children’s picture books on wall and shelf display in the bookstores. The only picture book display that I saw was of a Mr. Men book collection taking over an entire wall and then additionally they were on display on two shelves. This puzzled me. Cute beginning readers, but why so much room without displaying other books?


  • Often the picture books are all shelved smashed together on a small shelf. Sometimes favorite authors like Julia Donaldson have a featured shelf but it is quite small. Since space is such a commodity here, I understand but don’t agree with this approach.


  • I miss supporting independent bookstores. I have one place to visit soon that is an independent bookstore, cannot wait!


  • It was amusing to find an adult book in the children’s non-fiction section, perhaps because the person putting books on the shelves doesn’t discern the difference. –It was Earth by John Stewart/The Daily Show… Then I found the most fantastic book Wonder by R.J. Palacio on the Young Adult shelf. I paused on other book locations/shelving as well.


  • Bookstores here are not designed to relax and browse, more for shopping and leaving.


  • Book costs are quite high. It makes sense (mostly) since if you’re in a mall buying a book, you’re helping pay for the cost of the bookstore space in addition to the shipping cost.


  • My husband misses the attached coffee shops and browsing opportunities we had in the past.


  • I miss the celebration of children’s books and wince at the abundance of toys and games instead. (I know, in American bookstores, there are loads of toys and games too, just not completely taking over half the shelves!)


For more on Hong Kong life, teacher librarian resources, book reviews, author interviews, and random sharing, Debbie Alvarez blogs as The Styling Librarian at: and is on Twitter @stylinlibrarian.