I dare you!

Apparently there is an inverse relationship between my time abroad and frequency of blog posts.  Nonetheless, there’s likely to only be a few more of these so read on while it’s hot off the (word)press.

First thing’s first, I unfortunately owe you a few pictures from Halloween the other weekend as promised..

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The MTR subway train was a happening place to be on the way to LKF for some festivities.  (Disclaimer-No locals were physically harmed during the capturing of photographs)

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We even met some locals who were really diggin’ the costumes and my gopro.  If you notice some slightly glazed eyes, maybe a simple math equation could help explain: Halloween+Hong Kong+semester abroad+21years old+1 German=The same look you might have too.  No? Sorry, never was the best math student!

Anyways, after the Halloween shenanigans it was time to take advantage of another awesome opportunity: “Hong Kong Startup Weekend.” It’s basically an organization that brings together business people, developers, and front end designers for one lofty purpose.  To pitch ideas, form teams and launch a viable business in just 52 hours.  Ready, set, go.

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My only goal really was to show up as a dry sponge and learn as much as I could while meeting some smart, driven people.  In all, 29 ideas were initially pitched Friday evening and by Sunday night there were 16 new business created with initial prototypes. Most of the concepts centered around mobile apps or web based services.  There were some pretty interesting ideas and even one app that lets people create “instagram inspired” profiles for their pets and helps give you a way to get in touch with “the cute girl you saw walking her chihuahua.” Due to the insanely over excited local who presented the working alpha version, it had to be the crowd favorite based on laughs.

I linked up with a few friends who came along from my school, a local web developer and a new friend, Ben, from Santa Cruz who pitched the initial idea.  I think my mind is still processing everything learned during the challenge, so I’ll spare you most of the details.

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Basically our idea centered around the college student market (since we can relate) and is a mobile app that helps solve one of the biggest problems college students have: buying inexpensive “experienced” items for their dorms/houses and getting rid of that stuff quickly while making a few bucks in the process. We learned to be flexible, as the business plan changed many times throughout the weekend when chatting it over with mentors.  Even with the ups and downs, we were able to see a few of the most important aspects to consider when launching an idea and had some fun in the process.

Wednesday night offered a pleasant break from the school grind and a chance to develop my palette in something other than noodles and dumplings.  Dressed to the nines, a heard of us exchange students made our way to the W Hotel for some wine and cheese connoisseuring.  Though I claim little knowledge in either department, our French friends gave their nod of approval with mouths full of fancy cheeses and smiling purple tinted teeth.  It all suited me just fine, especially with a $35 all you eat and drink price tag!

Moreover, the reoccurring theme I find has not been about the quality of the food but that of the people you get to enjoy it with.

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Tasty food and delicious wine never hurts though!  Especially with such a classy, fun group.

Speaking of good food, I was able to catch up with some new friends who have lived in Hong Kong for 18 years.  Apart from their valuable insight to the investment banking industry and China in general, they were amazing hosts and great company to share an exquisite dinner with.  New York Steaks (I’ve had withdrawals since being here) were on the menu and for those who know me well, I’m sure you can imagine just how big I was grinning after each savory bite.

Based on how much I’ve talked about food you might be wondering how the scale is tipping these days. Well, I haven’t weighed myself recently and though I’m far from needing new jeans I should probably give the ladies out there a message-if you are expecting a washboard stomach when I walk off the plane in December, I wouldn’t bet on it.  It’s the truth, you are likely to gain a few pounds when studying abroad and that’s okay.  Anyone who goes with the intention of staying on a diet or slim as a stick is shorting themselves in more ways than one.  My advice? Eat your heart out and don’t sweat the love handles sweetie.  Especially if it’s the product of trying new and interesting foods.  Okay, maybe some beer and wine too.  Let’s face it, you’ll have the rest of college and life for that matter to worry about staying in peak physical beach body shape.

The weekend was more or less low key as most of my good buddies had taken off to Taiwan. Since I’m trying to line up a job or internship for the coming summer before leaving, I opted to stick around and work on that.  In a coincidental turn of events, I was able to interview with a tech startup based out of New York.  One of the founders is from Hong Kong and they just happen to have an office 3 minutes from my campus that I wasn’t initially aware of when shooting them a cold email.  Nothing is official but the company has a strong team and big vision, so it should be exciting to see how things unfold.

That night called for some tasty local street dumplings and baozi (soft bread things for lack of better adjectives) at a nearby market with my friend, Stewart from South Carolina.  He can speak Mandarin pretty well so it was fun trying to join his conversation with a few local food stand owners, even if my vocabulary is probably less than that of a small Chinese toddler. I’m working on it..

The next morning, we went to church on campus which is all in Cantonese.  Even though the translator over our ear buds was having a difficult time, it was definitely a unique experience and something that I’d never think to do at home.  After church, it was time to break out the GoPro again but this time for some windsurfing action.  With the super Typhoon wreaking havoc in the Philippines not far away, we were able to snag a few of the strong gusts in Sai Kung.  It was my first time giving the action sport a try and hopefully will not be my last.  Thanks to a small amount of sailing experience at my cousins lake house over the years, I was able to figure out the trick well enough to at least cruise in a straight line.  Tacking or jibing (fancy for turning) on the other hand, was a different story.

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This was a common view while trying to get up time after time. Persistence is key, they say.  Image

Still, the fun times and laughs called for at least a single thumbs up (it’ll be double once I’m backflipping..or at least turning).

It’s funny that with less than 25 days of school ahead, life just seems to be getting settled down here.  I think this hit me most when the other day a student asked me for directions to somewhere on campus. I was able to point him in the right way and not think anything of it as he thanked me and jumped on the bus.  Walking off though, I couldn’t help but slip a small grin.  After all I realized, that student was me just weeks ago.

I believe this is just a small testament to what’s possible if we push our comfort zones.  When I showed up here, you would’ve seen a complete deer in the headlights.  Now, Hong Kong practically feels like home in many ways.  I’m sure plenty of you have experienced this sensation before and I guess it’s just a reminder on how even the craziest of places we might think to live in can after a short time, feel quite normal.

Won’t be a whole lot to report on over the next couple weeks with mainly group projects and finals coming up.  However, plans are underway for a 3 week Southeast Asia backpacking trip leading up to Christmas.   If you’re feeling adventurous, consider this your unofficial invite!

You’ve been double dog dared,

Tommy

Crash. Burn. Stink Eye.

Apologize for the tardy update! Lots to catch up about, including a great trip to Beijing this past weekend (minus a stolen iphone and missing my return flight..double oops) so hope you enjoy a few of the stories and pictures.

Last week was a crunch with three midterms in two days so nothing real exciting to report about there.  I’m definitely beginning to learn the value of putting consistent work in rather than a few days or nights of cramming..what a concept. The Chinese courses are going pretty well and it continues to be a fun challenge learning the new characters and expanding my vocabulary, something that would come in handy over the weekend!

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With plenty of seat time in the library, it was also nice to break out for an evening and get the body moving with arguably the most fun sport I’ve ever tried my hand at.

I kind of stumbled into a university rugby practice several weeks ago and have been loving the intense, fast pace of the game.

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Though I’m a far cry from hanging with experienced players, it’s been awesome to have the team practice aspect since I’m not on the lacrosse field this semester.   And let’s be honest, I wouldn’t usually have much of a size advantage on the field back home.  Here, it’s tough not to crack a satisfying smile when bull dozing the 110LB “soaking wet” local student.    They’re tough kids though and it’s all high fives when giving each other a hand off the ground.

Once exams wrapped up late Thursday night, we had an early flight to catch the next morning.

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Once we arrived in Beijing it became apparent how different this was from Hong Kong.  For starters, very few people speak more than a couple words of English but more on the differences later.

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We spent our first afternoon at the Forbidden Palace.  We had another good sized group this trip and even though it can complicate small things like deciding where to eat, all the laughs definitely make up for it.

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The massive, wide spread layout of the entire palace definitely stood out most.  We also found a guide who could speak English and he gave us some interesting facts about the history of the place.

Another big difference between HK and Beijing was how serious everything here was. I’m sure there are cultural implications behind this that go beyond my understanding but the most obvious one was the overall body language of the people.

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This guy was pretty good at his job.  I’m guessing a whole lot better than I’d be at it..Image

After about two months practice, I’m feeling pretty good about my form on this signature Chinese picture pose.

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Another group shot from a temple overlooking the Forbidden City. We got lucky with the air pollution because apparently there are times when you can barely see more than a couple hundred yards.

That evening we thought it’d be fun to check out a night market with local street food.  Needless to say there were some interesting items that require….well….more of an iron stomach than I have.

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That would be cockroaches in the front, silk worms in the back and scorpions on the right.  There was everything else though from baby sharks to dog, cat, entire squids, sheep stomach, and many more. All fried of course.  Oh, and there was some delicious looking spider.  Snake too, which I gave a try.  My German friend Sebastian tried each of the pictured above.  Fortunately for him, Montezuma did not have his revenge.

Saturday we woke up early for a 3 hour drive to the Great Wall.  There were spots much closer, but also much more crowded with tourists.  Going to the furthest point we could allowed us to escape most of the crowds and breathe some needed fresh air.

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If only pictures could do it justice..this sight in person is probably the most mind blowing thing I’ve ever laid eyes on.  When you think how old it is, how they built it, and how many people died (about 1 per every 3ft I’m told), it just shatters everything you think to be humanly possible.

Here’s a few more scenic shots of me trying to be artsy fartsy.

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Stairway to Heaven

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One of the many locals who hikes up water bottles and snacks to sell to hikers.

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Window of Wonder

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We hiked as far as they’d let us go before entering another province. After climbing to the top of a tower, the scene definitely called for a double thumbs up moment.

After the Great Wall, we went out for dinner at a famous Beijing “Peking Duck” restaurant called Da Dong.  Needless to say, it was a feast with plate after plate of delicious local food.  I would show you pictures but apparently I thought a taxi driver needed my iphone more than I did that evening.

Instead of feeling like an idiot , I prefer to think of the loss as an unintentional act of kindness. After all, selling that phone might just help feed his family for half a year.  Smart phones seem to be more of a distraction these days than they are a tool, so maybe another month or two without one will be a nice change of pace.

Anyways, we spent our final day checking out a place called Summer’s Palace.  It’s basically the size of a town with a big lake in the middle and really nice temples all around it for the Emperor to enjoy way back when.  The pollution was really bad which is unfortunate because it’s easy to see how this would’ve been one of the most spectacular places in the world several hundred years ago.

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It’s safe to say that we could draw attention just about anywhere we went as a group.

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A view of the entire palace grounds from the highest temple.

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Apparently the Chinese don’t frown upon “peeing in the pool?”  I’m actually glad they don’t run these signs through a spell check, they crack me up every time.

That evening I split off and went to a place called Silk Market which sold just about every knock off product you could imagine.  Buying things can take at least 30 minutes when having to bargain like my mom taught me (thanks mom).  Maybe I could’ve done better but considering the sellers didn’t have a grin on their faces as I walked out, I think it went okay.  Making my flight however, was a different story.  Even with sprinting through the subways and airport, I had missed checkin by 10 minutes.  Luckily, they were able to bump me to the next flight just a few hours later.

Last story-Ever see a one liner going better in your head only to have it crash and burn in reality? While going through security my bag was pulled for inspection.  Oh joy.  Good thing I didn’t grab a brick from the Wall like I wanted to.  When the security agent went to open my backpack he broke the zipper.  He was a bit awkward about the situation so I didn’t want to act surprised or make a scene. Instead, I gave a casual shrug and just said “Made in China” followed by a hesitant half grin.  Crash. Burn. Stink eyed.

Overall, the trip to Beijing was culturally eye opening.  There is such a noticeable difference in the look of the people, the way they carry themselves and just the general vibes you get compared to Hong Kong.  Everything is serious, straight forward and “politically correct.”  It’s apparent there is a vastly stronger influence of the government in everything  from the style of buildings, endless security cameras and even my passport having to be scanned to use the free airport Wifi.  With that being said, the cultural richness and jaw dropping sights make it a unique place to experience.

This post also marks the half way point of my semester abroad.  When people say that it goes by fast, it really goes by fast.  At this pace I won’t be surprised if I blink my eyes and see the inside of a classroom at Chapman.

Tonight is Halloween and surprisingly they do celebrate it here in Hong Kong.  “What would that be like” you probably aren’t asking yourself.  Well don’t worry, the GoPro will be strapped on my chest bringing you all the crazy costume snapshots in my next post.

Stay tuned and 万圣节快乐!

TD

Trapped in a Cage

I’d like to say you’re about to get a thrilling update from some amazing trip I had over the weekend but…that’s not for another couple weeks.  Instead, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the past week or so and also bring some light to a subject which I’m guessing will be as shocking for you as it was for me.  

School continues to heat up and I’ve finally come to the realization that there’s no more skating by.  With a new perspective of my competition come graduation, it’s obvious that I need to step up to the plate.  It’s not an easy challenge but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one feeling the strain of midterms..Image

Okay okay, I too would probably look like this after cramming 20 hours of quantum mechanics into my brain..

Moving on!  

Wednesday night I had the chance to see an authentic Chinese Opera on campus.  I’m not going to lie and say this is something I would usually jump at.  However, us college students are really good at finding any “justifiable” reason to procrastinate.  You know, the same reason that lead to you washing those 8 day old dishes in the sink with crusted spaghetti sauce instead of writing that paper. For me, “this is a valuable cultural experience that I should really check out” kept me sleeping well at night.  

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The Opera was…well….interesting.  Kind of like the way you might try to politely describe a new food you just tried, and could barely keep down.  Alright, fine. It honestly wasn’t that horrible.  In fact, there was even some pretty impressive ninja flipping moves around stage by one of the performers.  The stories seemed to be about “doing the right thing” and were told well with engaging plots.  The only reason we gave it a hard time, other than a few Chinese notes sung so high the chandeliers started shaking, is because there was this music playing the entire two hours..and by music, I mean the sound of a child incessantly banging on a metal pot for two hours.  Advil please. 

On a quick side note, there’s a common occurrence I’ve been witnessing during my time in the gym here. Maybe this is a new trend, but how often do you look over after squeezing out one final crunch and see a guy running..in flip flops!!Image

Seriously, I don’t know if I should cringe, laugh or be impressed.  Anyways, if you’re thinking about being a personal trainer I can promise you there would be plenty of people here to impart your wisdom on.  

Later in the week I had to make one final visit to the dentist office to wrap up the root canal and crown procedure. Afterwards, I took a few hours to explore some areas of downtown I hadn’t seen before.  Even though HK is a great place to travel from, afternoons like these make you realize how much there is to see without having to get on a plane.  

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Saturday night we got a big group together and went to a nice French restaurant in Central.  Good meals like this are a nice change of pace compared to cafeteria dinners.  Maybe I’d be a bit more enthusiastic to eat on campus if a good French Pinot Noir was listed on the menu in between “Bony bits of meat that slightly resemble chicken” and “you think you know what this dish is but get ready for a surprise.”  Either way, when you have good company like this it doesn’t matter what you’re eating. Thanks to a bit of leverage in numbers, the best part of the meal was arguably the free drink we talked the manager into. Never hurts to ask.

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Getting to that shocker I mentioned..The other weekend I checked out a local church with some new friends from South Carolina.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised.  A younger crowd, some english accents, upbeat music and a great message about “honoring your family” brought me back again last night. Image

In a very casual setting, two of the lead pastors took a conversational approach to the rich/poor gap dynamics here in HK and addressed a phenomenon known as “Cage Dwellers.”  Before I get to that, here’s a few stats that might surprise you. Image

“Over 40 US Billionaires and over 200 US millionaires.”  This means Hong Kong has one of the highest wealth density’s in the world.  At the same time, 20% of the population is classified as living below the poverty line (less than $2 US per day).  With housing prices here that can make New York look like a bargain, it puts these people in a very difficult position.

What is a cage dweller?  It’s someone who lives in a “space” of 6 feet in length by 2.5 feet in width as demonstrated by yours truly below.  It really is a feeling of being trapped in a cage.   

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Right now there are over 100,000 people living in these “cages” around HK. SoCo (Society for Community Organization) recently came out with photos that give us a look at these living situations.  Below, an unemployed man eats his dinner in a 28sq foot space.

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What’s interesting is that the government essentially allows this to happen.  If you own an apartment in HK, say 1000sq feet (typical) you can get a license to “sub-divide” that space 8 or 9 times as long as there is 1 toilet provided for every 8 people. The health, mental and physical consequences aren’t pretty.  Depression, rampant bed bugs, no privacy, poor ventilation, the list goes on..

The Government actually has free public house for these often single and unemployed people.  However, only 2,000 units are available for these people.  With 100,000 people in the pool..it’s literally a “lottery for life.” One quote that struck me in the service was, “the poorest person in the world is the one without a dream..the poor do not have the ability to dream.”

Anyways, it’s just something that had an effect on me and if you’d like to learn more just google soco.org.hk.  It’d definitely a cause where even a few dollars can help get these people into healthier living spaces and give them some renewed hope. 

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To finish on a lighter note, sometimes stopping for a brief moment to appreciate where we are in life can make you feel pretty fortunate. A pleasant evening view from campus sure does it for me.

This just in-local students knocked on my door and told me about an open track competition next week..$130 to the person who runs the fastest 400m lap.  And all of a sudden, lacing up my running shoes doesn’t sound so bad!

Time to summon my inner Usain Bolt..oh, and Einstein too. 

Tommy

Root Canal and Rally

Ever had surgery in a foreign country?

Well neither had I but apparently it was something I needed to check off the list..Short story made shorter, I started experiencing some tooth pain while in China but nothing major.  Figuring I should at least get it checked out, I went in for a dentist appointment the day after getting back.  Before I knew it, the words “You need a root canal” slapped me across the face. “Well that’s just peachy” I might’ve said to myself in stronger words.

With a flight to Vietnam the next day, the doctor advised I get it done before hand to avoid further problems.  Conveniently, there was an opening to get it taken care of that same evening.  So, a few hours later I was on the table with needles and drills being put to work in my mouth. Image

The whole ordeal was surprisingly easy, though a far cry from inexpensive unfortunately.  Luckily, my chompers would be good to go for trying some new food on the next adventure..time to rally!

With the next Tuesday being a national holiday here in HK, it opened up the chance to take another long weekend trip.  The destination: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam aka Saigon.  We’d arrive Thursday night and head back Tuesday morning. Image

Smaller group this weekend, just 4 of us from school. That’s Raheel, Johan and Jens (L to R).

I was put in touch with a local who was nice enough to be our “guide” for the weekend.  She helped translate, showed us some awesome local spots and helped us be there as travelers looking to experience the culture, not just sight seeing tourists.  Having someone like her really makes a trip like this exponentially better.  The first night she took us to a great restaurant and we got to experience our first traditional Vietnamese cuisine.  Image 

That’s her next to Jens, her Brother Alex along with his friend at the end of the table.

The food was arguably one of the best parts of Vietnam.  This includes 3 types of noodles (Northern, Central and Southern Vietnam) along with dumplings, good meat, fresh spring rolls, shrimp, squid, iced milk coffee, and of course Pho.  

The next day was spent exploring the city with Angie’s Brother who works for KPMG in HCM.  Here’s a few shots from the day’s activities..

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So something that was different and pretty funny is that all of the tables and chairs in local restaurants are sized for…well, much smaller people than us “Westerners.” Image

A not so happy looking fish head..can’t really blame him though.Image

Bucket O’ squids.

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And some more headless fish..good looking Salmon though.Image

Another good meal..here we were served a bowl of noodles with vegetables and meat.  Add 2-3 spoon fulls of some kind of soup broth from a container, a few extra peppers for a kick and you’ve got some happy taste buds.Image

We then made our way to the Vietnam War Museum..Jens and Johan thought a taxi bike seemed better than walking.Image

 

I’d be lying if I didn’t say this part of the day didn’t have a big impact on me.   It basically put on display with nothing held back, all of the atrocities that were committed in the war by US soldiers against the Vietnamese.  We hear about these things in school growing up or have a general idea that the war was messy. To see individual stories though, graphic pictures, mind blowing statistics, it was a bit shocking.  It was also difficult to see how one sided of a picture it painted because war is usually a gruesome ordeal, that includes both sides..I’m still glad we were able to see it though, even if some of the pictures were pretty graphic (warning).  Also had to show some Air Force Pride for my Brother!ImageImageImage

 

There was plenty more along these lines..but I didn’t make this blog to be a mood kill! So let’s switch gears to something well, a bit more funny..

Because we were now millionaires, yes that’s right.  For around $100USD you get to be a millionaire in Vietnamese Dong Dollars.  What did we do with all of those $100,000 bills the first night? You guessed right, throw them in the air as you lay on the bed and watch it rain Dong.  You can imagine a group of sarcastic guys like us over the weekend..I mean, you look at the bill after eating in a hole in the wall lunch spot and “DEAR LORD! $275,000!?”  An amusing city at the least, for a bunch of sarcastic guys like us. 

Not only was it worth some good laughs, the advantageous currency conversion for US Dollars also let us stay a few nights in a beautiful spot.  We hired a driver Saturday morning who took us about 6 hours away to a place called Ke Ga.  There’s not much there other than small, rural villages, dirt roads, and oh, a couple nice beach resorts.  Our “tour guide” Angie, was able to find a great deal for us so it worked out pretty well.  A nice benefit of her working for a booking company.

During our stay, which was raining maybe half the time, we explored the beach, cruised around the countryside on vespas, and had some amazing local food..whatever it was.

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Crumby spot..

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Jens just hanging with a massive jelly fish we found on the beach.  We weren’t as keen on swimming after seeing this..Image

Local fisherman “saucer” style boats along the shore.Image

First night’s dinner.  Some squid, clams, beef, fish, lots of prawns, and can’t forget the robes too. Can’t say that mine was as white as it was before dinner..Image

Heading to the National park the next day for some hiking and to see some Buddha statues. Image

Road side Dragon Fruit anyone? Definitely the most vibrant fruit I’ve ever seen, or tasted..Image

A sweaty, bush whacking, stair master of a hike to the top..by the trail conditions, we made a brilliant conclusion that indeed..most people are lazy and just take the gondola up instead.  I guess it saves them a few scratches and mosquito bites.ImageImage

But as with most hikes we’ve done so far, the view’s always worth it.  Image

Buddha must’ve been sleepy when we showed up.. this was at the highest point on the mountain.Image

 

Massive would be an understatement for this statue.  We snapped this picture just as the heavens opened up it’s flood gates of rain.  With a fast run, we were able to catch a gondola car back down the mountain.ImageImageImage

Once the rain stopped and roads were good, we headed back and stopped for lunch.  There are lots of these little huts on the side of the road where families live in the back and run their restaurant business in the front. With Angie translating, we found out that there is a program (tourist related most likely) that pays them just enough money to incentivize living and running their business for people passing by. The food was awesome and the best was probably the handmade spring rolls which the lady showed us how to roll in rice paper.  She had the moves. 

After lunch we rode just a bit down the coast from our hotel to a lighthouse.  You can pay people to take you across the water to it, but with sunlight just about out we had to settle with a view from the beach rocks.  Not so bad but apparently you can climb to the top of the lighthouse..I guess we’ll have to save that for another time.Image

When you’re over the standard photo pose..

Overall, Vietnam made a huge fan out of me.  The people were so pleasant and kind, the food A+, and the general vibe that HCM has just makes it a unique place to be.  Definitely will make plans to explore Hanoi and the Northern areas come Dec.

The next morning was the best weather yet. Just in time for us to leave but not before I was able to squeeze an early run along the beach in. 

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It’s little moments like these that have a nice way of saying, “hey, you’re really lucky to be here..now get back to class.”

So that’s the main focus.  Waking up in new places every weekend since I arrived has given me some amazing experiences that have helped me to grow as a person and learn new things.  However, school here is no joke and with so many students around me taking their studies extremely seriously, you can’t help but feel the pressure to compete.  

With midterms several weeks out it’s time to trade the travel stamps for the text books and get after it.  As long as tests go well, my passport shouldn’t be too difficult to dig up again. 

To Be Continued,

TD

Dog meat, anyone?

Cheap toys, cheap clothes, cheap everything right?  Well, apparently not.  Turns out that China has much more to offer than the “Made in..” tags we see everyday, including the one you’re probably wearing right now or the phone you’re reading this with.

Last weekend’s travel experience brought 8 friends and myself to Guilin and nearby Yangshuo for some bamboo boating, rock climbing, zip lining, vespa riding, snail eating, rice field hiking and typhoon escaping fun.

That’s the short version.  If you’d like a few more details, keep scrolling for some pictures and to hear about the dog meat..

Late Thursday night, jumped on a plane from Shenzhen, China (just across the border from HK) to Guilin maybe an hour and a half away.  We’d later find out commuting by train isn’t quite as speedy…After making it to our sleeping accommodations, we had an early wake up call.  Could be worse I suppose..

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If the hostile wasn’t that great, the rooftop view definitely made up for it.

For the day, we had organized to take bamboo boats down the Li River.  Or so we thought..it took a couple hours to finally lock down enough boats for our group but again, with scenic landscape like this you can’t really complain.Image

9 people might not be the easiest number to travel with, especially in a country completely foreign to several Dutch, a couple of Germans, and two Americans.  Lucky for us though, we had someone who can not only speak perfect Mandarin and English for translating, but also put up with a bunch of knucklehead guys! Without Stella and her background of Chinese Culture, we would’ve been royally up a creek without paddles, pants or a boat.  She was that helpful and we were extremely grateful to have her guiding the way.  Not to mention ordering some new foods off the Chinese menus for us..

Eventually, we secured three boats and took off. 

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After cruising down stream for an hour, we decided to pull over to a local village for lunch on the river bank.  Maybe have some club sandwiches, chicken quesadillas, lemonade…oh wait, TIC (This Is China)..rural China.  That means a few things on the menu that you wouldn’t see in the States.

Since the menu was written in Chinese, Stella went ahead and worked her magic by ordering for all us guys.  Pretty basic really, just some chicken, fish, beef, frog, veggies and dog?  Yes, they did serve dog and no, we did not try it..but, the food was fresh.  So fresh in fact, that the chicken we saw running around when we showed up would be the same one being served for lunch just 20 minutes later.  And hey, open kitchens back home are great right?  Get to see the chef’s doing their thing, whipping up your meal.  So why not have it here?  Well, if you are so inclined (which we were) then you could basically watch the whole process..

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CRRRAAAACKKKK

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plucking the feathers and cleaning out the insides, close enough to watch from the table. How convenient..

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Looks tasty right, “especially that chicken foot” you’re undoubtedly thinking.  Well, great minds think alike I suppose.Image

Not too much meat, but worth a few nibbles..

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Good food, great spot, and even better people to enjoy it all with.

Add a little snooze on the boat ride back up the river and you’ve had yourself a quality afternoon.ImageImage

Day 2:

We heard Yangshuo is pretty famous for it’s rock climbing.  So, we found a guide shop and set up an all day adventure of climbing, zip lining and repelling starting at 9am. 

It’s been awhile since I climbed, but thanks to my big brother for getting me into the sport when I was younger, I was able to give a try at some good routes.  The rest of the group didn’t have much climbing experience for the most part but it was awesome to see everyone push their limits so quickly and surprise themselves.  

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One of the climbing walls-everything from about a 5.6 to a 5.10B (Beginner to healthy intermediate)

 

 

 

 

 

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A nice place to rest the hands for a minute before swinging back out

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard crawling up like a spider

 

 

 

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Don’t look down..

 

 

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Obligatory group photo..then a quick scenic lunch before zip liningImage

 

That cave above Sebastion’s head would be were we hike to

 

 

 

 

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Make fun of the safari hat if you will..it won’t hurt my feelings.

The location was unbelievable and the guides told us years ago hundreds of village people would hide in this cave during war

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Our guide, Yuen, also told us how the villagers used to construct walls within the cave to hold livestock.  These days, there are insanely difficult climbing lines up the walls and into the ceiling.  

After checking out the cave, it was time to get harnessed up and zip line and zip line across the canyon crack.Image

And then a fun repel down the cliff..then, rinse and repeat!

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With obvious risk involved with such activities you must think we had to sign our lives away..that’s funny though, because I don’t remember even seeing a pen or paper..There’s an element of trust between the people here that is much different than the US.  Our guides were patient, informative, helpful and most importantly..safety professionals.  

I really enjoyed getting to know one of the guides Yang, who shared his background and why he loves doing what he does. 

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Meeting passionate people like this who have that “spark of life” in their eyes, has been one of the most enriching and refreshing things about traveling thus far.

Feel free to go back to facebook or checking emails if you’re bored by this point..but you’re going to miss hearing about our Thai massage later that evening!

After such a back breaking difficult couple of days, we felt a massage was well deserved.  We found a nice looking spot and bargained the price down (benefit of a big group).  “This’ll probably be like going to a Massage Envy back home” right?  Wrong again Alice.  There were 3 of us in each room with 3 lovely, short masseuses.  Well, I might have felt a few extra pounds as mine got onto my back and pulled my legs over like a scorprion..but at least she had strong hands.

 

 

 

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The 30minute foot massage after wasn’t too bad either as you might be able to tell..especially when the entire 90minute massage experience only cost about $20 US.  Maybe I should see if my Mom wants to fly one of them out for a full-time position..

Day 3:

Sights from a scooter..

 

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And…..photobombed by the little asian school girl.  She must think being safe looks weird. Gotta protect the nogin kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The little kids by the bridge encourage us that it was stable enough…how assuring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Made it back just as the sun was setting.  This day was unique in the way that we were able to experience the rural countryside in a new way.  The scenes, people, and places we saw while exploring were amazing.  It’s tough to do justice here..but having an open rode with a view like this just can’t get any better.

Day 4: 

We were supposed to catch a flight back to HK that Sunday night.  However, thanks to Typhoon Usagi our flights were cancelled and we were “unfortunately” stranded another day.  That meant catching a ride 3 hours north to some famous rice fields in Long Ji.  

Had a nice hike up in sideways rain but the view was worth it.  Plus we got to ride the gondola down..

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What’s with the hat?  You gotta know the commies are watching Americans in China, so this was my attempt at blending in..an old village man grinned quite curiously when seeing someone like myself wearing the red star. 

 

 

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After the excursion, we headed back to Guilin to catch a 9pm train.  That’s right, since we couldn’t find any reasonable flights back we got to take a nice train ride..all 17 hours of it.  It went by surprisingly fast though and we even had spacious beds to catch some shut eye in..

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Three beds high on each wall, with plenty of them sleeping 2 members of a family.  Cozy.

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There’s something special about getting to stare out a window and watch the countryside go by.  Two words summed up what I saw: Beautiful and Poor. Here’s just a few shots..ImageImageImageImage

 

Overall it was a weekend full of fantastic scenery, tons of authentic adventurous Chinese food eating and little Asian babies looking at me as if I were from outer space..

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Time to buckle down on classes for a few days and make some strides in my Mandarin classes.  Need to work fast though, after all there’s another flight to catch this weekend!

TD

And then I jumped off a tower?

Checked off a few “firsts” this past week so an update is probably in order!  

I made my way to the famous Hong Kong Jockey Club Wednesday night with some friends to watch a few races. Seeing a horse track in a sea of sky scrappers is really a mind blowing sight! I’ve been to horse races before, which usually seem to be in more open, rural areas.  Well..not in HK.  

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I had to bet at least once..so what’s the best way to pick your horse?  The one with the best name of course!  Apparently, I picked wrong..no worries though, it was only a loss of $20HKD-about $3US, which would turn out to be recouped a few times over later that weekend. So overall it was well worth the entertainment and I’m sure we’ll be back for another “Happy Wednesday” race night as they call it.

The next few days were spent studying relentlessly.  Well, maybe not like most of the locals or mainland students who glue their faces to books for hours until the drool on their cheeks wakes them up..(true story). As difficult as it might be to realize, I am here for school and it’s probably best to realize that now then a few nights before finals.  

To fill everyone in, it looks like my classes for the semester are:

Marketing Management, Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management, Global Entrepreneurship and two classes of Mandarin.  I was a bit hesitant on the Investments class, as the easy road would be to take 12 credits and have more fun, but with the theme of my time abroad being “to push the limits of my comfort zone,” it really only left one choice.  I figured it wasn’t right to just apply that mindset to new experiences, but in school also.  Plus, it’s a subject that I find interesting for the most part and who knows, maybe I’ll learn a few things that will help me from going broke while I’m here!

Speaking of going broke..a group of us guys decided to take a trip to Macao over the weekend.  For those who don’t know, it’s basically Las vegas on steroids.  I heard it was at least worth a visit, so we booked the biggest suite we could find in the Venetian and split it 13 ways.  Not exactly spacious at that point but hey, we had a nice room for only $50 a person.  Though not surprisingly so, it would mean a firm nights sleep on the luxurious carpet..a bed would’ve been nice however, I don’t think there would’ve been much of a chance in battling the Sweeds for it.  Based on their size, I’m guessing they eat plenty of Wheaties.  

Here’s a picture of us before going downstairs to win “big money!” Or so we all thought..

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 Anyone that’s ever told me they’ve been to Macao has said they lost money in the casinos.  Well, this proved true for everyone in our group……..except me!  Winner, Winner, Rice dinner.  I didn’t go crazy but at least managed to double my money and pay for the day’s big activity a few hours earlier….

You might’ve guessed it…Bungee Jumping! Macao happens to have the highest bungee jump in the world (so they say) at 233m/764 feet. It’s a perfectly good, well built tower with an amazing view.  

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So why jump off it?  That’s a great question and one that I can’t answer with any other reason than..Why not!?  I was with two friends who were also willing (or crazy) enough to make the giant leap.  Here we are at the top of the tower..62 stories up.

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For those who are worried by the thought of this (mom..) it just so happens to also be one of the safest bungee jumps you can do.  See, I’m at least wearing a harness!Image

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I knew it would be high but seriously.  It.was.really.high.up. You don’t exactly gain a full appreciation for it this until you are looking over the edge..funny how that works.

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If that isn’t enough, here’s another view down from the edge of the platform…

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Right before the jump..Image

Then it’s 5-4-3-2-1 BUNGEEEEEE!!

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Went for the classic swan dive technique..maybe the Chinese Olympic divers should take note?

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If you were wondering if I’m still alive, you can sleep well tonight..I made it down in one piece, thumbs up and all smiles of course! Image

Almost as crazy as the view down, is the view back up to where you jump from.

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Would I do it again you might ask? Well, the jump company sure would like me to..after all, they give you a coupon for a 3rd of the first jump’s price to come back!  No plans to yet but let’s just say I didn’t throw the discount card in the trash on my way out…

For those who are also thinking, “that Tommy is only cares about catching adrenaline rushes with his GoPro over there in Asia..” Well, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.  However, I realize that’s not even close to the most important aspect about being here.  

With that in mind, we actually had the opportunity to visit a different side of Macao..one much different than the glitzy casinos and big high rises.  Apparently, Macao was originally owned by the Portuguese many years ago until they became their own territory.  This was clear when seeing a language other than chinese written on some of the old ruins of a fort and temple we explored.

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Learning about the history of places like this is always so fascinating and it’s definitely one of my favorite parts about traveling around Asia.  

 

 

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Just sittin’ on a cannon.  Image

Believe that’s the Virgin Marry with sweet baby Jesus in her arms?

Surprisingly though, when walking through the streets looking for a taxi back to the hotel, we came across something very out of place…Image

A Ferrari?? It wasn’t a shock in the sense I’m a stranger to seeing them but the fact that it was parked in clearly, a poor part of town.  The surrounding buildings were rundown enough to make you wonder how and why it was there.  I’ve heard that the wealth gap here is one of the biggest in the world, and this was definitely a clear example…Even still, after getting to drive one similar to this over summer, I can’t say that the idea of taking it for a spin wasn’t going through my mind!

Between the bungee jump, actually winning a bit of money, seeing some history and enjoying time spent with some great guys..it was another successful weekend.

Up next looks to be Guilin, China as I was approved for the travel visa after sitting in the consulate for 3 hours yesterday.  I was even denied from the first lady I spoke with due to not having proof of plane ticket confirmations. Not one to take no for an answer..I waited a few more minutes until another window was available.  After a friendly “Ni Hao” and smile to the younger gal, she wrote me the approval without bringing up a thing..score! 

The days seem to be getting busier and busier as the semester keeps flying by.  With so many ways to invest time, it’s a continuous balance act between enjoying fun experiences and making sure my priorities are getting handled first and foremost aka school.  

This challenge continues to give me daily opportunities to learn more about new places, people and cultures while also pushing my time management skills to a higher level.  Killing two birds with one grain of rice?  Okay enough corny jokes..but in all seriousness, being here has helped me realize something pretty special..

At home it’s easier to get complacent with life..at times I might lose a sense of gratitude for each day’s opportunities and the urgency to make the most of them.  Maybe you have felt similarly when perhaps without even meaning to, you find yourself in a state of mind that reflects an attitude of “I have all semester/year to do this or that.” I know for me, it has happened one too many times.  

Here, there’s no escaping that the days are numbered.  In turn this has encouraged me to savor the limited time and to be as proactive as possible.  I’m not saying I do this perfectly by any means but it makes me think, what if we actually woke up each morning and lived as if we were counting down the days we had left. Would that change our actions? Help us hurdle those things we think are “too difficult?”  

After all, we only get one shot at “today.” How are you going to make it count?

Some Chinese food for thought..as I jump into my cozy park bench of a bed.

Thanks for checking in.

TD 

 

 

A Sandy Sunrise in Sai Kung

Hard to believe another week has already gone by!  It’s been full of more new and exciting things so here’s a quick catch up..

I began my first class last Tuesday which was a Marketing Management course.  Seems pretty interesting and the professor noted how she has been doing a study on the most influential company brands in Hong Kong for the past seven years.  Branding is definitely an area of business I’ve already found to be of interest so I’m looking forward to seeing how people use it effectively here in HK.  

I also began my Mandarin classes…yeah.  Definitely going to be a challenge.  It is so extremely different from English, in fact so much so that it’s difficult to find the slightest similarities.  For example, what would you say if I told you that a Banana in fact was not a banana, that it actually is a shoe.  Not the best analogy but point being, the things I’m already are learning contradict everything you’ve ever known to be true.  This is because they use something called “Pinyin” which is the ‘English version” of Chinese symbols to help with dictation.  Problem is, a letter such as “J” would be pronounced as “tce.”  The vast foreign nature of the language is pretty intriguing though and I even learned my first phrase! It is He Pui Juo (missing the tone marks of course” and it means “to drink beer.”  I thought it’d be useful to know before going out to dinner that evening..either way, it’s a start!

I’m still working on getting my other classes locked in, including a course in Global Entrepreneurship.  The system here is a bit inefficient but I’m sure everything will get worked out.  Now, onto the more exciting things..unless all you would like to hear is how hard I’m studying? Well, in case you don’t here’s what the weekend had in store!

On Friday a few friends and I decided to go see some new places.  On the list was a place called 10,000 Buddha’s and another temple I can’t pronounce.  Here’s a few of us in the MTR (subway) station on the way out..Image

There were definitely some interesting sights and even a few very big hills to run up..the camelback is becoming very useful.Image

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Because I was curious as usual, I asked some local why they were praying to this big, angry looking warrior idol.  They politely told me people pray to this statue for wealth and success.  I hope that works out for them!  Anyways, the incense smelled nice and I was glad for the new things learned about something far different than what I might find at home.

After the temple, we wanted to go find a nice view at sunset for a few pictures.   My buddy Jens, flipped through his HK guide book (in Dutch)  and found a lead.  We jumped on the MTR and after getting some help, were on our way in a taxi to Mt. Ma on Shan.  We showed up maybe 10 minutes before sunset.  An older man was in the parking lot of this public park area with a trail head and spoke enough English to say we could make it just up the hill for maybe a descent view but that we would not have close to enough time to make it all the way up..well, for those who know me might say I never turn down a challenge.  I buckled up my pack and put it in gear up the trail.  After all, day light was burnin!

I made it up to one descent spot for a picture..Image

But I knew it had to better higher up..so I kept running.  The old man was right about making it up under sunlight, but this view just when it began to get dark was well worth the extra sweat and leg burn.  

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Thanks to my headlamp and the other guys using their phone lights, we were able to get back down the trail safely.  A taxi wouldn’t pick us up, apparently too far, which meant we had plenty of time for stories while making the walk all the way back to the MTR. We also stopped for a much needed dinner at a local place recommended by a guy I asked on the street.  Not sure if we made it to the right one, since all the signs were in Chinese but nonetheless we ended up having a great meal and a few well deserved cold beers after a long day exploring.  

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Let’s just say I slept very well that night..which is good because as it turns out, I was about to go for quite the adventure!  It just didn’t involve sleeping apparently..

Beach Trip to Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung.

If you have no idea where that is, which is probably the case..then check it out on google maps. Exotic and beautiful are two obvious adjectives.  We ended up going as a group of maybe 35 exchange students from CUHK.  However, there were maybe 40 more, mainly French, from Hong Kong University who met up with us on the way.  From my school, we took about a 45 min MTR ride, hour double decker bus trip, 30 minute speed boat cruise and then maybe an hour hike into the beach we’d be camping on that night.

I took my GoPro camera with me and caught some great shots which I’m putting into a video, but here are a few pictures for now.

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Dinner after a long day of traveling, hiking, cliff jumping, more hiking and setting up camp

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On the bus!

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Just after getting dropped off at the beach

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The beautiful waterfall and swimming pool we hiked into

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And maybe did one or two jumps off..sorry mom.

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On the way to the beach where we’d stay the night, just down in the background

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Swedes, Irish, Dutch, English, Canadian, American, German, French and American…we’re from everywhere!

There was a very convenient store/restaurant on the beach that sold everything from kerosene to sweet and sour chicken.  But tents and beer we’re some of the most vital.  We had a fun game of beach futbol until it became dark then had dinner and scavenged for fire wood.  Few things in my life will ever top being under the stars while camping with good people in nature and making some great memories.   Which apparently included climbing a mountain at 3am..oh boy.

I’ll give the short version of the story, which is basically that I saw a very tall peak over looking the ocean from where we were and decided it would be awesome to be on top of it.  Simple as that.  Only problem is that it was coming up on midnight when this idea of mine really got me excited.  There were plenty of nay sayers but I decided to crash for an our or two and make it happen.  After all, how many times have you seen the sun come up over the South China Sea while on an exotic, remote island? Maybe you have, however I am so glad to have taken advantage of my opportunity because….well, the pictures say more than I can.  

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Made it up by about 5:15am, maybe 30 minutes before sunrise.

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Delicious.

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The beach to the far right down below is where we left at 3:30am..good thing for the head lamp, again!

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Two of the best guys I’ve met so far..and the only ones crazy enough to go on such a hike!

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A bit steep and rocky..tough to keep your eyes on the trail with a view like this!

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Finally off the trail at about 8am..one of the more rigorous trails I’ve hiked but a great challenge and definitely the best night hike I’ve ever done.  

This mountain we conquered is called Shark Peak because from the distance it looks a bit like a shark fin I suppose..

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Guess my aim was a bit off, long day maybe? It’s is the tallest one on the far right.  

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Best part of this beach…barely any people! Good luck finding that in CA..

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Post hike, sleep deprived, slightly dehydrated, maybe a bit delusional, but all smiles (minus Baptiste?) after one amazing adventure..memories like this are why I’m grateful to be studying abroad in Hong Kong! 

I continue to meet more and more amazing people, see gorgeous places and experience a vastly different culture.  However the one thing that remains constant is the overwhelming amount of all of those things that still lay ahead. 

It’s back to school this week, after all I am here to study right..Maybe I’ll have to post some pictures of books and studying so my parents don’t think I’ve forgotten about class. There will surely be more weekends just as adventurous and memorable as this, we are just trying to get some planned! Where to next…maybe Singapore, maybe Vietnam? Maybe we’ll go for Macau first..after all, there was something about a tower I had mentioned before..

Until The Next One!

TD

New adventures. New dorm. New goals.

As I sit down to write this update it’s pretty crazy to think I’ve only been here about a week.  Never in my life have I seen so many new things, tasted different foods, made new friends and even used so much public transportation just to name a few, in such a short period of time.  With classes beginning tomorrow, I’ll go ahead and recap a few things from the last several days and also share a few goals I have for the semester.

Wednesday was our first night leaving campus to go see some of the local spots. Thanks to a few students having already been here for a while, they took us to a real hole in the wall called Mr. Wong’s. There were easily over 80 of us exchange students who showed up which was probably about 60 more than what the place could hold.  I can’t say the cleanliness would pass a food and safety inspection in the US, or even come close for that matter..but it was well worth it.  Why?

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Because it was Wednesday. And that means you get as much food and cheap foreign beer as you can handle…for only $50! (about $6.45 US).  I can only imagine the flocks of people who would swarm a place like that at home.  It’s a true college student’s dream.   More than anything though, it was the first time we all got to be out in a group together and get to know more about each other.  I’m definitely realizing that making friends with people who know the area can make life not only more fun but also much easier!  I also think Mr. Wong can count on us being back for several more Wednesdays..

On Thursday we had an orientation gatherings throughout the day to learn more about the program, what to expect, a cantonese survival lesson and a load of other info.  In all, there are 29 different countries represented with close to 300 students in the exchange program.  It is also the University’s 50th anniversary.  It is known to be one of the top 3 schools in all of Asia and attracts many well regarded professors and public figures to expand the vision of “East meeting West.”  I feel extremely fortunate to be in a University that is so respected and sought after by some of Asia’s smartest people.  Let’s just hope I make it through the classes!

After the day’s activities, there was some time to go explore this totally jaw dropping city.  There are so many things that I could never do justice by trying to explain, so I will do my best but hopefully you get to visit and see for yourself one day! Two of my new buds, Emiel from Holland and Baptiste from France, decided it would be fun to go see the skyline we’ve heard so much about.  We stopped for dinner at some underground korean spot, and after experiencing a few “interesting” flavors we made it to something I can only describe as probably the most overwhelming, impressive view I’ve ever seen..

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This panorama hardly does the least bit of justice, but you can begin to get the idea of just how man sky scrappers and buildings there are along the bay…truly a sight that leaves you standing in pure awestruck.  

After running some errands around campus on Friday, it was time for our welcoming banquet dinner which was held at a restaurant in the city.  Most of us have probably experienced a 4 or 5 course meal at some point..most likely Italian. But have you ever sat down for a 10 course meal? Yeah.  Better make some room in places your own stomach didn’t know existed.   It was a total blast though and I especially enjoyed sitting next to a couple from Japan.  Our table might have been considered the “most spirited” out of the entire room but at least everyone else got to learn a few new chants and even watch us bargain with the manager for free bottles of wine.  Granted it took buying an undisclosed amount to have some leverage, but we at least used it to our benefit.   Here’s a pic after dinner with the lucky staff members who were nice enough to put up with us and even let us talk them into having a round of Japanese Sake with everyone.  It might be difficult to see…but the manager was thrilled!  (That we were finally leaving perhaps..)

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The night continued by making it to one of the most popular night life areas of Hong Kong, Lan Kwai Fong. We were able to get into a nice club thanks to a connection through someone at the University.  It was also nice to meet up with a friend from Chapman who happened to be around on business.  Awesome to see a familiar face half way around the world! Overall, the crowded streets full international people made for a unique experience that allows you to meet many interesting people in one place.  My favorite part of the night though? For those who know me well enough, you could probably guess that it was the dancing!    

The next morning we had to move out of our orientation hostiles and into our permanent ones for the semester.  I’d be lying if I said my room compared to a 4 Seasons or even Motel 6.  With that being said, I’m actually grateful for it since my only dorm experience was for one semester at Chapman.  Living in a house is nice, but I’ll have the rest of my life for that…hopefully with a mattress that offers just a bit more back support than this one though! 

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I now think that maybe I started to take my plush temperpedic for granted.. so I figure this is just a nice, solid (wood bed) way to build more of an appreciation for what I have at home.  We did find a deal at Ikea tho where you can buy any mattress, have it delivered, then picked up within 100 days for a full refund no questions asked.  Not a bad deal huh?  We were joking about buying the most pricey one available because well, after all it’s free!  We will see, think I’m okay as long as my back doesn’t give out when getting out of bed in the morning.  My roommate is from Korea and I’m excited to get to know him.  He’s dating a girl here after meeting her 3 days ago, so it seems like there will be plenty of cultural differences to learn about!

Today I went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art with a big group of new friends.  I took a picture or two but since the government is probably reading this right now, figure it’d be best not to post them since apparently no photos were allowed? Oops..there were many ancient pieces of art and pottery that were impressive at the least.  I hope my understanding of this vast culture grows so that one day I can have a better appreciation for the valuable pieces they have on display.  Here’s a picture taken from right outside the museum after our tour..lots of laughs with this group!

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With the semester officially getting underway tomorrow, I wanted to lay out just a few of the goals I have.

1.) Embrace my Mandarin classes to gain an accelerated understanding of the language.   Achieve at least a B average for all my courses.

2.) Continue my Crossfit routine here in the school gym that I’ve been getting back into.  Also, to play tennis 1-2 times a week so I can try to beat my twin next year.

4.) Foster as many quality friendships as possible and finish the semester with at least two life long friends made.

5.) To explore every chance I can, jump at every opportunity to try something new (within good reason of course) and to leave knowing that my time was invested whole heartedly in learning and experiencing a new culture.

I’m not sure if my posts will be this long once classes are in full swing and I apologize for the long read.  It’s almost funny how easy and enjoyable it is to write about all of these new experiences.  If only school papers were the same way!

Thanks for following my journey so far though and there will surely be much much more to update you with in the coming weeks.  So stay tuned..who knows, there might be a video of bungee jumping the highest tower in the world!?

 

10 Cultural Differences..”BYOTP”

Been a busy couple days here getting my bearings and going through some orientation procedures.  I’ll go ahead and start off by observing some cultural differences I’ve noticed since arriving..

1.) There is no toilet paper in the bathrooms anywhere..apparently it’s a “BYOTP” policy.  Ok, lesson learned..

2.) Next, construction workers do not use metal scaffolding with nuts, bolts and planks of wood. Instead, they use bamboo sticks..sketchy? Who knows, maybe it works better!

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3.) There is no such thing as breakfast..as we might think of it in America. I’m trading french toast, scrambled eggs and even cereal for rice, chicken, or noodles in soup with squared slices of lunch meat ham and a fried egg thrown in.  I’m learning to change my mindset which is usually that I have to have some type of (American) breakfast food before moving on to the typical lunch and dinner meals. That’s my orientation roommate from mainland China, he’s showing me the ropes.. Image

4.) Also, drinks are totally different..”you want lemonade?” the server asks..”sure” I say, thinking of your classic soda machine minute maid or something…boy do I need to stop assuming things!  Instead, it’s a boiling hot lemon flavored water drink..oh, it’s also 95 degrees out with 80% humidity..mmmm refreshing.

5.) The food is silly cheap compared to what I’m used to. Even my most basic meal at Chapman (fuji grill obviously) is twice as expensive as any given lunch plate in one of the many school canteens (cafeterias).  Today, a lunch of rice with black pepper chicken (“sounds like panda express” you’re thinking..try again) was only about $2.50. Maybe I won’t run out of money this semester after all!

6.) People are generally much nicer and willing to go out of their way to help you.  Not sure if this is because I look like a totally lost American around this massive city like campus, but anytime I’m having trouble navigating, a local student asks to help before I can blink.  

7.) Never before have I experienced 4 or more accents all pitching in on one conversation.  It’s pretty wild to be talking with people from France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, and China all at the same time, each with their own unique accents. It makes for some misunderstanding and laughs but is very cool at the same time.

8.) People don’t hug..in America with at least my friends, it’s totally normal to greet people with a hug right?  Even though personal spaces here are practically zero, it seems that hugging crosses the line. Note taken..the awkward way lol 

9.) Procedures/public transportation are much more efficient here.  For example, there is something called an Octopus card.  With this card you can: pay for the MTR (public train), anything at a 7eleven/circle k, vending machines, school meals, and probably more things I still haven’t figured out.  It’s basically a city wide accepted debit card but even easier to use because all you have to do is scan it for less than a second and it deducts the amount from your balance. Think I went in the negative today…oops.

10.) When meeting people from all over the world, I’m realizing America is just one small country in a big world.  Even with the “‘MERICA!” pride I have, it’s cool to see that there are so many other ways of living than what I’m used to or would think is normal.  It’s a constant effort to make sure I’m not judging others from an ethnocentric point of view and to accept different things for what they are..just different.  

Overall, the beauty here continues to awe me and it’s totally head spinning to think how much there is to experience in this amazing city.  It’s only begun and I’m stoked to have the 16 weeks that I do to explore and grow!  

I’ll finish with this panorama I took with my iphone this evening at one of the campus hostiles…not much to complain about with a view like this!Image

Arriving in Hong Kong!

After close to 16 hours of traveling, I’ve finally made it to my destination.  The flight wasn’t too bad as I made friends with a nice guy next to me traveling on business.  It was my first time flying on a 747 and I was pretty taken back by the shear size! Image

I was encouraged by my seat mate to take advantage of every unique experience possible, learn the language, do well in school and to be adventurous when it comes to eating new things..good advice I thought!  Just not so sure about scorpion on a stick..on the plus side, the views were incredible when coming in for landing!  I had a strange yet comforting feeling that I was definitely in for a challenge but that I was really going to like it here.

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Anyways, I landed and it was pretty chaotic getting off the plane and through customs.  The realization that I was actually in Asia didn’t hit me until we landed and a little diagram on the tv screen in the plane popped up…”wow, I’m really far from home!” I thought to myself. 

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All good emotions though as I was in a hurry to meet up with another exchange student from London who I’d be sharing a cab with to the Chinese University of Hong Kong..where I’ll be studying.  After hanging around the wrong baggage claim conveyer (A different flight from San fran) I figured it out after asking a nice airport worker and got my bags.  I found Julien and we headed out to find a taxi that would give us a lift.  We walk out the doors and BAM! Humidity slap to the face!   Felt as if I walked into a piping steam room. But, must embrace it so..”Wow this is awesome, I love this humidity stuff.” We’ll see how long I can make that last..We then found our cab..Image

“These things look sketch” I couldn’t hep but say to Julien, who then agreed in his strong english accent.  Our driver didn’t speak a lick of english but there was a taxi coordinator who helped us tell him where we needed to go.  We loaded the bags, barely being held into the trunk with a bungee cord and then it happened.  My first cultural “I’m an idiot American” move.  Thinking that it might be helpufl to sit up front with the driver to help navigate, I walked around to the passenger side and opened the door.  All of a sudden the driver started getting a bit frantic and I thought, “man, he must really not like people sitting co-pilot.” Except, it wasn’t co-pilot because the drivers side is obviously on the right side..doh! Needless to say I got in the back seat and had a laugh with Julien.

After maybe 45 minutes of googley eyed starring out the window at the overwhelming sights of buildings and chinese road signs we made it to the orientation hostel check in. I handled some paperwork and got my room key, then met a few other kids.  One from iceland, two girls from finland, Colombia, and a few from CA actually. We went down stairs to the caff, and attempted to order some chicken and rice..the lady spoke no english so pointing did the trick.  We got the food and dove in.  With a few small bones in the rice and meat, I can’t say that it was like Panda expresses but that’s okay..the purple drank grape soda made up for it.Image

Overall, I’m sure it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment but it’s a challenge I feel fortunate to take on.  The people are all very nice so far and it’ll be awesome getting to know some locals as well as the other international kids starting with a campus tour in the am. 

Wǎn’ān-good night!

 

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