My Year in Hong Kong: Work, New Flat & Friends, Questionable Racism and more..

Sorry for the delay in posting. I have been so busy rehearsing for a show that I am performing in this month in NYC. I will tell you more about the show in my next post so for now let me get back to the HK story…image

My mom had now left to go back to the states. I was officially on my own in Hong Kong. I started my new job with the Hong Kong Ballet, as a member of the Corp de Ballet. imageIncluding myself, I think there were about 12 new dancers. I was very nervous starting work. Everyone who knows me knows that I am initially very, very shy until I get to know a person and feel comfortable. Everyone appeared very nice and somewhat friendly. It started off well. Right away we started rehearsing the ballet Don Quixote, which would run at the end of August 2014. I was so excited to be cast in several roles and I felt like everything was going to be ok. I attended a welcome dinner at another company members home and I was trying to make friends and fit in. About 3 weeks after I moved to Hong Kong on Aug 2nd, I turned 20 years old. It was my birthday and another dancers birthday so several company members took us out to dinner and for drinks to celebrate. It was nice to have someone to celebrate my birthday with given I knew nobody in HK except for one friend who I went to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy with. She wasn’t there for long though because she was only home visiting her family. She danced in the USA at the time.

My beautiful friend & Bolshoi Alum Josephine

My beautiful friend & Bolshoi Alum Josephine

imageMy first month in HK was pretty much eat, sleep, and work. I would skype with my mom or text with friends. I went out a few times with my friend from the Bolshoi. My priority was to find a new place to live also. I had made a few friends on a social media app and they gave me some advice on finding a flat share by joining a few groups on social media, so I did. I had success right away. There was a room available in a fairly large, 3 bedroom apartment in a great location. It was a few steps from the MTR and in walking distance to work. It was a more local neighborhood in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon. It was ideal because I really wanted to experience HK local life. I was nervously excited because the two other roommates were girls I had hoped to connect with. One was from the USA and the other was from Russia and I thought we would get along given I lived in Russia for 2 years and speak some Russian. Finally, two girls my age that I might connect with here in HK. Not to stray away from the apartment topic however I have to say that I sometimes feel like someone was looking out for me from up above because at the time I was really sad and lonely.

imageWe had just finished Don Q, which I was so happy and proud to be a part of. I had thought I made a good impression with my cast mates but I guess I didn’t. After the final Don Q show with the HKB somebody had planned an end of show dinner/drinks event. I had no idea. I was leaving after the last show, so happy and ready to go home and talk to my mom or whomever. I was walking out of the building and ran into another company member. She said something like, hey are you coming tonight? Coming to what I said? She then went on to tell me briefly. I don’t remember my response. But I am sure it was something like… well I don’t know…but in my head I was thinking well no, since I wasn’t invited by the organizers. I was a little disappointed I wasn’t invited but what really hurt came later that night and the next day when pictures went up on FB and it appeared everyone was invited except me. Normally this wouldn’t bother me at all but I had nobody. I mean nobody and to see the other new dancers included just killed me. I had spoken to many people that day and thought I was making friends. Not one person mentioned it to me. I cried once again. I knew then that I had to take my mom’s advice and make friends outside of work.

So when I found the flat with the two girls from abroad I had really high hopes. I went to see it right away. The bedroom was small but the price was perfect. The other 2 bedrooms were a little bit larger so when someone moved out I could upgrade for a little more money if I wanted (which is what I did). It had a real kitchen, which I was happy about and it was furnished with a couch, dining table, big screen TV and wifi. I was a little nervous about meeting the landlord. The whole finding an apt. from a social media site seemed sketchy and honestly the whole apt. search in HK was very different from the American norm. In some cases you can move in the same day you find the apt. in HK. It is scary meeting a strange man but once I met him I felt fine. He was very nice and I didn’t get any sketchy vibes. I took the room. I couldn’t move in for a few weeks which, was perfect because I had to give notice in the current service apt. I was living in.

Lamma Island

 

 

 

During that month I just went to work, planned for my move and awaited my aunts arrival. She was coming to visit for 2 weeks. When my aunt finally arrived I was very happy for the most part. We did tourist things, we visited the beautiful Lamma Island, went to Ocean Park and the Zoo. She was here at the time I was moving so she helped me move into my new room. We had a nice time with the exception of an experience that pretty much, momentarily, broke me as a person.

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My Aunt and I at Ocean Park

We were at the mall, it was very crowded. We were just walking, minding our business in the mall and suddenly a male voice passing me yelled something. You could tell by the tone and voice whatever he was saying in Chinese was clearly not nice. I never actually saw his face because like I said I was minding my business, trying to assimilate to the environment. Then it happened… he spit on me. I was like “what the…” It was so crowded we couldn’t tell which man actually did it. I was mortified, hurt, disgusted, etc… In 20 years (now 21) I had never experienced anything like this. I have to assume it was racism especially given someone else yelled at us to go home on the first night we arrived in HK. Based on the mans tone and spit what else could it be? I highly doubt it was some random guy just spitting in a clean, beautiful mall. I still cannot believe it to this day. I am a biracial female. I was warned before moving to Russia that I could experience ignorance and racism and to stay vigilant. I lived in Russia for two years, went site seeing, to the mall, restaurants, theatre, etc.. and never once did anyone comment to my face or in public or physically harm me in anyway. I never really felt unsafe. Everyone for the most part was very kind and friendly in Russia. imageSo when I moved to HK I never thought I would experience this behavior. I didn’t tell anyone about this initially. I don’t want to be that girl that blames her skin color for how she is treated because I truly want to believe that in this day and age people are more open minded and accepting of diversity. My hope is that people will like me for me, because I am kind, hardworking and respectful. When I went to Russia with the scholarship from the Russian American Foundation and United States Dept. of Edu, National Security Language Initiative for Youth my essay talked about how we each need to learn about one another, learn about each other’s cultures, religions, traditions in order to really learn to accept someone. Once we stop assuming and once we learn the facts and understand each other’s differences we can then learn to respect each other. We will appreciate each other and what we all have to offer society. This is my goal in life, to travel and experience different cultures and show people that just because my skin color is different that doesn’t mean I am a bad person. I was so excited to have a job in HK but also to have the imageamazing cultural experiences HK has to offer however this wasn’t the experience I had expected. Obviously I am overly hopeful but I will always stay positive. Anyway after the incident I broke down to my mom again. I felt broken. I didn’t tell anyone at work or anyone whom I wasn’t really close with. My mom reminds me again, as she always does, that I need to stay strong and that I can’t let one person’s immature actions define my opinion of everyone and she is right. I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I had to stay strong and make the most of my experiences in HK. I can’t blame an entire population of people based on one man’s ignorant actions, so after a good cry I just let it go and moved on, but it is something I will never forget.

My beautiful roommates USA & Russia

My beautiful roommates USA & Russia

 

My aunt went home and I settled into my new apartment. I connected with my new roommates, who became my friends. I started having a real life. We would go out hiking or shopping or for dinner and drinks. Hiking Day w/new roomiesWe met other students, etc and I started making more friends. We had some good laughs and some difficult moments, as it is hard living with others sometimes, but we all worked it out. It was so nice to have someone, not in the dance field, to come home to and talk to about your day and vice versa. The hard part about living in HK is that most people my age are either study abroad or interns. They are only there for 6 months or so. Both of my roommates were interns so they would be leaving around the end December. My roommates were now my best friends in HK and I would have to start all over making new friends once they left. It was a good 3 month run with them though and I was finally smiling again.

Between October to December we rehearsed at work for upcoming shows and I went on my first company tour to the United States. It was so nice to be back on American soil and to perform in my country. I also witnessed history in the making as the Umbrella Movement aka Occupy Hong Kong took place from the end of September to December. I will tell you more about this and my performance experiences in one of my next posts. image

As always, thanks for your support and feedback.

Nicole ❤

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My year in Hong Kong: The Move

In July 2014 I moved to Hong Kong to start my career as a professional ballet artist with the Hong Kong Ballet. It was a great achievement for me. I was so proud of myself for not giving up on ballet and honored to be part of a ballet company.

Arrival at HK Intl. Airport

Arrival at HK Intl. Airport

My mom and I traveled from NY to Hong Kong. Thank god she came with me because my first week in HK was quite the experience. We arrived in HK and you could feel the humidity right away. We took a taxi to the Bay Bridge Hotel, which the company set us up in. It was a very nice hotel but very far away from everything. It was around 9 pm and we were very hungry after our 17 plus hour journey. I remember it like it was yesterday. We asked the front desk if there was a restaurant or some place in walking distance where we could get dinner. He told us that we would need to take the hotel shuttle to the closest town to get food. This is when we learned that we would have to take this shuttle everyday while at this hotel. It is the only way to get to the MTR, which is the main public transportation system in HK. You could take a taxi but it would be more costly. They also have buses in HK but at this point and at the advice of others we chose to use the MTR as our main means of transportation. Anyway we took the shuttle to the local town. The shuttle dropped us off at the bus stop on the main road. Now keep in mind its after 9 pm at night. We were like now where do we go? We followed a few others on this maze like, side walk. It led us to the local neighborhood which was very much bustling like any night in NYC. We both took a deep breath and said phew… this is doable. We just had to pay attention so that we could find our way back.

HK MTR

HK MTR

The first thing we noticed was the MTR station, it looked very nice and clean, in fact the MTR stations all across HK are just amazingly clean, like almost spotless! To this day I do not know how they stay so clean with the huge crowds of commuters. The MTR can pretty much take you anywhere. Convenient is an understatement. The cars are so nice and cool especially after being out in the HK humidity. I appreciate the HK MTR system even more now that I am back in NYC and riding the hot, dirty, dingy, NYC subways. Bravo to the whomever developed and maintains the HK MTR!

Anyway back to the story… We were looking for food. Right away we noticed the street vendors and a few common HK street foods… fish balls and egg waffles. We had learned about popular HK street foods from watching You Tube videos before going to HK. There was no way we were going to try a fish ball but we were very open to trying an egg waffle or I believe the name in Cantonese is gai daan tsai. We were like… ok well if we cannot find anything else we would come back and try the waffles. We continued to walk around. Amazed at what we saw. It was so different. We took a few pictures and we were feeling comfortable in the local area even though we clearly did not fit in. Then it happened, a sketchy Asian man, in passing, yelled at us and not in a nice way to “go home”. I immediately freaked out and I remember I was like mom lets go back to the hotel. She was like no just ignore him. She always says not everyone is going to like you and you can’t run and hide from ignorant people. I now know she was freaking out a bit inside to however she was staying calm for me. Anyway then we turned the corner and there it was… like of beam of shining light in the sky, the golden M. Yes, that’s right, McDonalds lol! Of course my mom and I are always open to trying new foods but after a long flight, jet lag, humidity, nerves, etc… we were so happy to finally see something familiar. We went in and ordered. We sat down and I will never forget the look on my moms face when she opened her chicken sandwich. She was like this isn’t chicken lol. It was chicken obviously just not like the chicken sandwiches in the USA. She took a bite and the expression on her face from the taste…that’s when the laughter began. Even a young local boy sitting near us saw and was laughing. It was great! She laughed to, she was a good sport. She only ended up eating a few fries I think. My chicken fingers were fine. We ended up going back to get the egg waffles and another pancake type snack and we loved them. This was similar in taste to a pancake or waffle in the USA. We didn’t want to miss the last shuttle back to the hotel so we decided to go back and continue the exploration the following day.

View from the Bay Bridge Hotel on the South China Sea

View from the Bay Bridge Hotel on the South China Sea

I had a week in HK before I had to start work. So I spent that week with my mom looking for an apartment and being a tourist. We jumped right in and learned how to use the MTR, which was not difficult at all. The positive experiences during my first week in HK included visiting Victoria’s Peak, the Big Buddha, LKF, Causeway Bay, and Wan Chai (HK’s red light district). We also found the theater where I would report to work, and more. I will talk more about some of these beautiful sites at a later time.

Another view from the Bay Bridge Hotel on the South China Sea

Another view from the Bay Bridge on the S. China Sea

The horrible experiences during my first week in HK… Although I use the maybe to harsh word horrible I can laugh about it now. I had an apartment all set up prior to going to HK but then plans had changed and I thought I was going to have a roommate so I gave up the apartment and I was looking for an apartment for 2. The other person wasn’t arriving until a few days before work started and my mom and I were having no luck finding an apartment suitable for two, which was affordable and without having to commit to it long term lease or living so far away from work. We eventually found two small service apartments available in the same Causeway Bay building. By this time my mom was fed up with the process. She was annoyed because she didn’t want me rushing into anything until I learned more about the neighborhoods and talked to people. She wasn’t thrilled with me moving in with a girl I didn’t know very well either. Let me be honest she was very mad at this point because I had a nice apartment that I gave up and moving to a foreign country was stressful enough, but trying to find a flat that was acceptable, in a week, and not just for me but for a girl she didn’t even know was even harder. We only had about 9 days to do this because my mom had to get back to NYC for work and she couldn’t afford to put me up in a hotel for two months. Although after the experience we had she might have considered it. She must have said to me a hundred times, Nicole we are on a strict budget, Nicole are you sure this girl is on the same page as you with regards to taking your time, finding something suitable, etc… She made it clear we were not wealthy Americans and we are on a strict budget. As some of you already no, my mom is a single parent and my father never supported me physically or financially. Since I wasn’t getting paid until the end of August she alone had to pay for all my living expenses from mid July until the end of August. This included everything from food, transportation, flat deposits, rent etc..I said yes. Once I received my first paycheck I had to start supporting myself gradually. So anyway at this point the service apartment was the best option as it was a month to month lease, fully furnished and it would give us time to find a nice apartment. The service apartment was tiny but it was sufficient or so I thought. For 8000 HKD (approx $1000 USD today) it had a large TV, free internet, little fridge, desk, tiny closet, tiny bathroom. It was in an ideal location in Causeway Bay right near everything someone would need. It was totally fine as a temporary place to live for a clueless 19 year old starting her first job. That isn’t the horrible part though…

We couldn’t move in until Saturday. We had to check out of the hotel by Sunday and work started Monday, so as you can see I was cutting it close. We moved some things into the flat on Saturday, we didn’t stay long. My mom just looked it over and everything looked fine. After that we left and headed out to shop. I was so excited and felt relieved that everything was falling into place at the last minute. It was just a box with a bathroom but I knew it wasn’t forever. The next day we went back and moved the rest of our things into our rooms. We didn’t stay there long, since I had to start work the following day and my mom was leaving in a few days so we went out and did some exploring if I remember correctly. Then we went home a little earlier that night to unpack, get settled and so I could go to sleep early for my first day of work. When we went back to the apartment my mom opened the fridge and there was a cockroach in it. We were both a little confused as to how a roach got into a tiny, cold fridge but she killed it. As we were unpacking we saw another roach on the floor and then another, and another and another. If you could see our faces… What the bleep!!! My mom was freaking out. I was was freaking out. It was like 11pm by this time. Was this really happening to us? My mom had the apt. door open and the lady who lived in the apt next door happened to come home and my mom was like is this building infested? The lady was shocked also. She swore she never saw anything like it. The management office was closed. I don’t remember if we checked with the other girl that night or not. I don’t think we did but I honestly cannot remember. My mom called a few hotels but they were booked. We had no place to go. The lady next door told her there was a 24 hour grocery store down the street were we could buy Raid. We went, bought raid, and my mom sprayed the room. She pretty much painted the walls and floors with Raid. My bright eyes and my excitement was gone, I cried like a baby. I told her or maybe begged her not to leave me in HK that night, to take us back to America. She was on the phone with my family back home and crying to. She was like how am I going to leave her here alone. Can you blame us both for having breakdowns that night though, between the jetlag, nerves and culture shock from what we where experiencing, well, I think a good cry was warranted. Anyway the Raid pretty much stopped the roaches from coming out of wherever they were coming from. There were only a few stragglers after that. I am surprised the Raid didn’t kill my mother and I as well given she used like two cans that night. After we both calmed down she reassured me that everything would be ok and had me lay down in the bed and get some sleep for my first day of work. I barely slept that night and she stayed up pretty much all night with the lights on to kill any roaches. Look neither my mom and I are diva’s by any means. We live in NY in a small apartment and we have seen huge monster roaches in NYC. This was on a whole different level though. When I say we killed a few dozen roaches I am not exaggerating. It was horrible and I know there are much worse circumstances to be in, however for me, the night before my first day of work, at that moment, nothing could be worse. The next day I got up and went to work. My mom waited for the office to open and I don’t know what my mom said to them or threatened. She is the nicest, sweetest person and will do anything for anyone but if you anger her well lets just say she has a mouth and knows how to use it. The management immediately checked the room where we left them plenty of dead roaches to clean up. They apologized and said they don’t know what happened. Apparently my room happened to be empty for awhile so they used that as an excuse. Anyway they had there staff move all my stuff to a much larger, more expensive room (12,000 HKD a month which in USD is approx. $1550.00) on another floor and said we could take as much time as needed to decide whether to stay of not and I could stay in this room for the same rent in which I was paying for the other room 8000 HKD for as long as I wanted. I came home from work that night and spent the night in the new room. I didn’t see any sign of roaches. My mom went out looking at apartments the next day but she didn’t see anything acceptable that didn’t require a 1 or 2 year lease. So since my mom had to go back to NY we decided I would just stay in that room until I found a place. Shortly after all this drama the girl who was going to be my roommate bailed on me… even though she knew my financial dilemma and originally said she would have no problem waiting until we started getting paid to move in together. She wanted to move rather quickly after what happened in my original room and I don’t blame her. Due to finances I couldn’t just up and move, especially with the high prices and deposits you needed to have at your disposal to move into an apartment. I am not sure if her new friends also influenced her because she pretty much gradually dumped me as a friend. So anyway we found our own places and honestly it worked out to be the better for me in the end.

So while in the new room I never saw anymore roaches. My mom had to leave to go home to NY and I had to now focus on my new job, finding a place to live and getting acquainted with Hong Kong which I will write about soon so stay tuned!

To be continued……

I truly believe that the best way for people to understand, respect and appreciate one another is to learn about each others cultural differences through experiences.

Here are some photos from my first few weeks in Hong Kong

Also updated this week: CV and Then & Now

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Grishko USA Rising Star May/June 2013

It was a honor to be selected as a Grishko USA Rising Star! Thank you Grishko!

Grishko Rising Star

Nicole Zadra

Nicole Zadra’s story shows what can be accomplished through a combination of perseverance, determination and creative problem-solving.

Nicole,18, was accepted last summer into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive, on a merit scholarship. Expecting to spend just a few weeks at the intensive in New York, instead, she was invited to apply for the National Security Language Initiative for Youth’s immersion program with the Bolshoi in Moscow. A program of the Russian American Foundation and funded by U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, NSLI-Y is a full-scholarship program based on what Nicole calls a “rigorous application process (including) high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, an essay and an interview.” She spent six weeks in Moscow living at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy where she took daily ballet and Russian language classes.

The summer program had been a dream come true, but there was more to come. Shortly after her return home to Irvington, New York, Nicole heard from the Bolshoi. “While I was in ballet classes in Moscow, the director of the academy and Irina Sirova, chair of the classical department, came and watched us,” she recalls. “I had heard there was a chance some of us could get invited to attend year round, so I worked very hard. A few days after I arrived home, I received an invitation – I was completely surprised. I cried immediately with happiness!” She was invited to join the second-year class in the Russian class (not the international class), so that if she continued through the third year she would graduate on stage in front of companies prospecting for dancers.

Nicole was honored and excited, but didn’t know how she would be able to afford the tuition and living expenses. Her mother, Erina, is a sole-supporting single mother, and although she had always been able to support Nicole’s training (most recently at Manhattan Youth Ballet in New York), she wasn’t going to be able to pay for her to live and study in Russia.

But Nicole wasn’t giving up. “I Googled how to raise money and found GoFundMe,” she says. “At first, I thought there was no way I’d do this because it is embarrassing to ask for help. (But) being invited was a dream come true and I decided I had to try to make this happen.”

She created her GoFundMe page and shared it with Misty Copeland, whom she has always admired. “She has really been the only face in ballet for me, growing up, that I identified with, because I am a biracial African American. Also, I was always told by friends and teachers how much I resembled her.”

Nicole was thrilled when Copeland responded and shared her story, which helped garner funding. “She is the real deal! She truly cares and gives back and I hope to not only be an amazing dancer like her but to also (support) young minority dancers who, like me, have the odds of being a professional ballerina stacked against them,” Nicole says.

Despite her gifts, Nicole herself had faced some negativity about her prospects in ballet, Erina says. “But ever since she was little, Nicole’s attitude was ‘I’m going to prove that one wrong!'” Erina says. “She’s a very hard worker and very determined, and you can tell when she dances how much she loves it.”

After Copeland had shared Nicole’s story, she received a major donation from Questlove from The Roots. “It was a blessing,” Erina says. Questlove tweeted about Nicole, bringing even more donations, which were enough to augment Erina’s resources so that Nicole could begin her studies in October.

For her part, Erina is “living very frugally, saving every penny” in order to keep Nicole in Moscow. “It’s a big sacrifice, but it’s worth it,” she says. She misses Nicole, her only child, but maintains contact through daily texting and frequent Face Time.

Now, Nicole is facing yet another challenge: returning to Russia after summer break for the culminating year of her training. Erina plans to get a second job, but “the only way I can return is if I raise a lot more money very quickly,” Nicole says.

Nicole has been featured in the Huffington Post and Ebony magazine, and she maintains her GoFundMe page and blog, in hopes of finding more funding or attracting a sponsor.

Nicole has worn Grishko pointe shoes for about four years. When she started dancing in New York, “Judy fitted me (at Grishko NYC) and I have been wearing Ulanovas ever since. She took the time to make sure that I found the right shoe,” she says.

Much like Copeland, Nicole dreams of someday passing on the gifts she has received. “After becoming a professional, I would like to teach ballet and share my Bolshoi training and cultural experience in Moscow with young ballerinas who might not ever have the opportunity. I want to be a role model and show young girls that dreams can come true if they work hard and never give up.”

Although she would love to dance with a Russian company, she knows that it’s unlikely for an American. “I would be grateful to dance with any company in the U.S. or internationally,” she says. “As long as I am dancing, I will be happy.”