Travel

Zhongshan

We had one of the coolest experiences on the trip thus far this afternoon. After suffering through a terrible Chinese lunch (and later, a terrible Chinese dinner), we went to a toy factory. You can’t even imagine how excited these people were to host us.

First, they tried to find an American flag in the city. Obviously, there aren’t many Stars and Stripes floating around Communist China. So, when they couldn’t find one, they had one personally stitched up. It was flying over the building when we arrived, along with a huge “Welcome Georgetown University” banner. What a nice jesture. Then, after meeting the owner and all of the management, they set off about ten minutes worth of firecrackers to celebrate our arrival. Again, for the second day in a row, we felt way more important than we actually are.

The factory was an experience in itself. This factory, specifically, makes the Chick Fil-A cows, teenie Beanie Babies, the Coca Cola bears, and more. It was amazing to see all the labor that goes into these simple toys. The factory has 1000 employees, all of whom live in dormatories on site, who are sewing away almost all day long with each employee specializing in a small part of the toy (e.g. cutting the tags, stitching the seams, etc.). Honestly, it was yet another humbling moment on the trip. We really all are so blessed and lucky to live the lives that we do back in the U.S. Now obviously the factory wasn’t a sweat shop, but it certainly isn’t work that many Americans would put up with. Here, though, younger women and families travel hundreds of miles from rural China to get jobs like that, which pay US$320 per month for something like 264 hours a month. Quite the eye opener.

We’ve just been hanging around since then this evening. I think we’ve averaged only 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night over the last few nights, so we’re all beat. A quick note on Zhongshan- it’s completely different from what we saw in Beijing last month (wow, can’t believe that was over a month ago). There’s much more business, economy, and culture here. The city isn’t defined as much by drab buildings, choking smog, and Communist soldiers like the capital. I’m beginning to wonder if all the Eastern, coastal cities like this are also drastically different than West and Central China, where Beijing in located.

Thats all for now. Happy Father’s Day!
|

Macau

We spent the day yesterday in Macau, which is a Special Administrative Region of China just like Hong Kong. It was an interesting place- certainly a mix of the East and the West, like Hong Kong, but in a completely different way. While HK was formerly a British colony, Macau was a colony of the Portugese. So, there is a distinct Mediterranean feel to the place. Personally, the houses and apartments with gated porches over the busy streets reminded me of Rome.

Macau is sort of going through an identity crisis, though. On the one hand, there is a lot of great culture there. We saw St. Paul’s ruins, a beautiful Mexican-built Catholic church downtown, and historic government buildings. But, on the other, Macau is the gambling capital of the East. In fact, Macau’s revenue was higher than that of Vegas’ last year. Giant, glitzy casinos shoot up from the ground all over the city. Most of the tourism now comes from this industry.

Anyways, we ate a great lunch on top of a spinning, needle building like the one in Toronto. It’s the longest building-bungee jump spot in the world. Afterwards we met with some of the management and marketers at the MGM Grand, which opened here six months ago. They treated us like kings (I think they thought we were more important than we actually are) with all sorts of appetizers and a fancy reception.

Then that night we trekked to the Venetian Hotel and Casino, which was beautiful. The hotel is massive, with an Italian courtyard-styled shopping center surrounded by rivers with gondolas. The ceiling is painted like a realistic daytime sky so you feel like you’re in Venice. I lost net HK$200 at the Ventian and moved onto the MGM Grand Casino next, which was 15 minutes away. The MGM Grand is a quieter, smaller casino, but still very nice. We played roulette and black jack there and I ended the night up HK$250 overall. It was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to check out Vegas someday to compare...
|

Hong Kong

Man, time flies! It’s my second to last night here at the Horizon Suites in Hong Kong. I can’t believe how quickly the last few weeks have passed. The program isn’t over yet, though. We have a busy week ahead traveling in Mainland China.

On Saturday we head to Macau, a small, formerly-Portugese island off the coast of China. It currently stands as the Asian Las Vegas. During the day we’ll do a cultural tour of the city and then hear a presentation at the MGM Grand, where I’m sure we’ll spend the rest of the night (and pay off the trip, perhaps?). We then head to Zhongshan to visit a toy factory on Sunday. On Monday we visit the Zhongshan government officials and then head to Guangzhou in the evning, where we take tours of both a piano factory and Colgate’s largest China factory the next day. We spend the next few days in Shenzhen, which includes a visit to Wal-Mart on Wednesday, a jewelry factory and the supplier for Philips Electronics Thursday, and a city tour Friday. Then, we head back to Hong Kong by bus where we have our final dinner at a fancy restaurant that I’m eagerly awaiting. And finally, I fly out of Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific at 9:45 AM on Saturday! I land at JFK at 1:15 PM and will hopefully hop on a standby Jet Blue flight since my actual flight isn’t until 4:30 PM. Then it’s home at last!
|

Philippines

So I just returned from the Philippines this evening after a long day of travel. I must say that Puerto Galera was one of the nicest places that I have ever seen- picture the Caribbean years before anyone discovered it and it became a tourist hub. Also, the people were some of the friendliest I've ever met. Countless people, from our transportation people to our waitress, went out of their way to make sure that we were headed in the right direction, weren't getting ripped off by anybody, and were enjoying our time in the Philippines.

We stayed in the town of Puerto Galera on the island of Mindoro, which is about 5 hours outside of the capital city Manila. We slept in a hostel in the city overnight and caught an early jeepney (unfortunately I didn't get a picture of one, but they're like extended Jeeps that are used for transportation there) for a 3 hour ride towards the town of Batangas. From there we took a wooden boat for about an hour and a half through the beautiful islands and cliffs of the Philippines and landed at White Beach. We walked over to the beach next door, which we learned from tripadvisor.com (one of my new favorite websites) was much quieter.

We found a hotel that had been recommended online and rented a thatch hut on the beach for 1000 pesos a night (about $22 USD) that had two small twin beds, a fan, a single lightbuld hanging from the ceiling, and a bathroom with all sorts of critters, including a lizard that seemed to like the shower head (thus, we didn't shower the whole time we were there- eek). Talk about living on the edge! It was an experience, though, and it was definitely a great place to stay. There, we did exactly what I had wanted to do: pretty much nothing. Saturday we laid around on the beach and enjoyed the scenery and the weather (a nice break from ever-rainy Hong Kong). Sunday I slept in til 10:30, which is the latest I've slept this whole trip I believe, and then rented a boat to take us snorkeling off Coral Gardens, which was beautiful. I had never snorkeled off real coral before. After more laying around the beach for the afternoon we ate dinner at our favorite pizza place next door, Tutti Frutti, and packed up to head out the next morning.

Turns out we missed our boat this morning, so a local generously offered to drive us to the boat's next stop about 15 minutes away for a few dollars to cover his gas. Seeing the farms and the life away from the beach was worth missing the boat! And it just goes to show again how great the people were there. Also, Hong Kong likes to claim that it's the city where East meets West and English is spoken widely. But, this just isn't true. Here we were, on a small, far-away island, probably the only Americans for miles and miles, and everyone on the island spoke perfect English. That was a blessing in itself seeing that we were cell-phone and computer-less in case of emergency.

So, the Philippines was great. If you're ever in the neighborhood, stop by! Thanks to one of my high school teachers, Mr. Navarette, who is originally from the Philippines and gave us pointers on where to go. And finally,
check out the pictures (though they don't do the place justice).
|

Bangkok Excursion

On Friday evening myself and twenty-five others hopped on a 3 hour or so Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Thailand. We hopped in cabs (all brightly colored Toyota Corollas) from the airport and traveled to the Ramada Inn, which wasn't too far away. Tired from the week and the travel, we all crashed that night and went right to sleep.

The next morning we got up early for our first and only full day in the city. We quickly learned the ways of the city when a man walked up to us and offered to arrange a tuk-tuk (small motorcycle-like cabs that you can see in the photos) to take us to some of the sites. Of course right when we hopped in the tuk-tuks he demanded payment for his flagging down of the drivers. We got out and walked away.

We eventually haggled for about ten painful minutes to get a few tuk-tuks to take us down to the river where we were supposed to hop on a riverboat tour. Upon arrival, we were told that the tour would cost 500 baht per person (about $15 USD). We knew that was an absolute rip off, so we walked away here too. Of course the own came back out offering us 300 baht, but we knew that too was an unfair price. As we walked away, the hotel concierge appeared seemingly out of nowhere, very concerned that we were walking away from this place. "Where are you going!?" he exclaimed. He was clearly making a cut from what he thought to be ignorant American tourists. What kind of hotel has a concierge that is in it for personal gain? That was just the beginning of our experiences with the kickbacks and corruption in Thailand.

We eventually walked into the hotel lobby of a very expensive hotel in Bangkok that was nearby and pretended to be guests. We arranged a boat tour with their obviously less-crooked concierge for the 300 baht that was twice as long as the original one and went down a more favored route.

The boat ride itself was an incredible experience. We boarded these long, narrow wooden skiffs that were powered by what looked like 350 block Chevy engines exposed on the outside. The engines had a stick with a propeller attached to it that was used to navigate that shallow, polluted waters. Traveling down the main river we passed huge, rusted tankers rotting away on the shores and saw old ones in the process of being rehabilitated. We then turned into the "Thai villages" which were an astounding, though sad sight to see. The houses were shacks constructed of thin, rotting wood with tin roofs perched above the water by thin, also rotting wooden stilts. You could see right through all of the houses and view their dilapidated conditions. Many houses had rotted away and simply slipped into the river. Its a shame, looking back, that my pictures don't adequately capture the scene, as it was much more desperate than the images portray. The houses were flowered with hanging laundry and Thai flags and often had animals wandering on their decks or on the shores (Bangkok is filled with skinny, stray dogs and cats). Despite their situations, the residents always smiled and waved at us as we passed their houses. I was trying to think of what they think when they see us, wealthy Westerners "touring" their often-miserable situations. It was a humbling thought and moment. Regardless, they always seemed friendly. Perhaps that's why Thailand is nicknamed "Land of Smiles".

After running into an awesome Komodo dragon in the river (see pictures) we stopped for a half hour at a wild animal farm (another kickback, I'm sure) where a bunch of the kids with me saw a snake show and got a chance to have a monkey climb all over their shoulders. I didn't go in, but I hear there were tons of different exotic animals. PETA would have thrown a fit if they had seen the conditions, I'm told. Apparently there was a beautiful tiger kept in a tiny cage and other animals kept in similar conditions. Some of the pictures that my friends took are pretty hilarious, with huge snakes wrapped around some of the clearly-petrified girls.

We next stopped at the Temple of Dawn (another random 20 baht "docking fee") to see the impressive Buddhist structure. It was intricately designed with tens of thousands of small, colorful tiles and had some of the steepest steps I have ever seen. I tried to capture the steepness in the pictures, but it didn't totally work. I'm glad I made it to this temple as a 20 year old and not older. At the top incense was burning and a few Thai people were praying. The top offered a commanding view of the action on the river and the surrounding terrain.

We then landed at our final destination near the Royal Palace. We paid another docking fee and walked through a food market where at least 100 vendors were selling various foods on small stoves in the market. We saw all sorts of food that you wouldn't see back home. There was octopus, exotic fruits, chicken feet, etc. Once we made it through the market we were once again bombarded by thieves who would do anything to steal money from you. Thankfully, we had been warned beforehand not to be fooled by their ridiculous claims. A favorite of theirs is to claim that the palace is closed to foreigners until 3:30 (when the palace actually closes), so you should hop in a tuk-tuk of their friend and see some of the other sites (for a ridiculous fee). Then, you have people who try to tell you that you won't be allowed into the palace because you're wearing shorts (it was 95 degrees that day), so once again you should either abandon your trip or buy clothes from them. Of course they don't want you to know that the palace rents long pants for free to visitors not dressed appropriately. Two crooks even had the audacity to approach me right in front of a military guard at the gates of the palace. They were wearing jackets that said "Royal Palace Security" and told us that only Thai residents could enter the palace at the moment. One guy was even offended that I was apparently paying more attention to his partner in crime than he, and scolded me. All this right in front of the palace and a soldier. You can tell the Thai government is
really worried about all this corruption (not). I'm sure someone in the travel board is getting kickbacks from these thieves.

Once you enter the palace, there are finally signs posted on computer paper taped up with Scotch tape that warn you about the posers outside the gates. Gee, thanks for the advance warning. Anyways, once you enter the palace and rent the long pants, you really see its beauty. The grounds are perfectly manicured with flowers and trees. But the palace and temples themselves are the most impressive.
They are covered in brilliant gold and colored glass and have a royal aura to them. We removed our shoes to enter a few of the temples and view even more intricate Buddha monuments and statues inside (we also had to sit on the ground and make sure not to point our toes towards the Buddha. Also, no pictures). The entrance to the fee was a costly 250 baht ($10ish) and turned out to be one of our largest expenses, but we later realized that this was a good thing, as it priced the hawkers out of the palace and kept it peaceful. After seeing all the impressive buildings, statues, and a military march, we moved onto our next adventure.

For the rest of the day we haggled and sometimes fought for tuk-tuks around the city to various Buddha statues and sites. At one time a few of the tuk-tuks passed a huge protest (10,000 people according to the papers the next day) against the military that I was bummed to miss. Oh yea, I forgot to mention that the day before we left the Wall Street Journal reported that a military coup was imminent that weekend, as the military was angry that a member of the democratically elected government insulted the King, whom the military serves. Also, the people were protesting the military's attempt to amend the constitution to give greater power to itself, angering the democratically-minded people. So, like they did a few years ago, there were calls in the military to overthrow the "troublesome" democratic government. The day we left the newspapers announced that a deal had been reached after the democratic government apologized for insulting the king and the leader stepped down. I don't think the issue regarding the constitution has been solved yet, though. Now wouldn't that have been excited to see a coup!

After that we had Thai dinner (much better than Catonese Chinese food- sorry Clem) and again crashed at the hotel for the night.

The next morning my room and a few others accidentally slept in, so the groups were smaller. We only had the early afternoon since we had to leave for the airport by 3, so we bargained for a cab to take us to the summer market. Now, the cabs are all fitted with meters. But, of course, the drivers refuse to use the meters. Originally we caught a cab at the hotel with the help of a bellboy who demanded a meter. We hopped in and took off. After about 5 minutes, the driver turned around and said "no meter, 250 baht". He eventually backed off to 150 baht, but this was still ridiculous and we refused. So, he kicked us out of the cab on the side of the road. After haggling with three more taxis, we got one who would take us there for 100 baht. Victory!

The summer market was a huge fairground that was filled with hundreds of vendors selling rip-off clothing and other products like pottery, toys, pets, etc. Seeing all the clothing was pretty funny, though it reminds us of how serious the intellectual property rights issue is in Asia. Most of the clothes were of obviously low quality and had Ralph Lauren or Lacoste logos sloppily ironed or stitched onto them. But, they were only $1 or $2 US dollars. It was funny (disturbing?) to see that a ton of stores sold US Military clothing. There was no shortage of US Marines, Navy, SEALS, etc. clothes for sale. I didn't buy anything because I'm trying to save space in my suitcase for the way home, but looking back it might have been cool to own a $1 Polo shirt!

Finally, we found a cab driver that would use the meter (imagine that!) to take us to the airport that afternoon and we departed Bangkok at 6 that night.

Do I regret trip? No way. It was cheap and an incredible experience to see such a different culture and country, regardless of how frustrating the haggling and corruption was. Would I go back? Ehh, I've probably had enough of Thailand for the next 15 years or so. The country is becoming a hotspot of foreign direct investment, though, with hundreds of factories popping up every year as China slowly becomes more expensive. It will be interesting to see the development that this new industry brings to this country in the coming years.

Alright we're off to meet with Intercontinental Hotels in a few minutes. I'll try to get back on later tonight to write about more interesting experiences we've had this week with our new professors. Good night (US time)!
|

More

Our first weekend has come to an end and I'm trying to get back into school-mode for class early tomorrow morning. Since my last post we've had a number of new speakers and explored the city a bit more.

On Friday morning we got up and went to class like it was a normal school day to see a young MBA student teach us about Feng Shui, which is the Chinese way of organizing your home and office that hoity toity Americans do these days. It was interesting, though I don't buy any of it. Apparently you're doomed if you position yourself across from a 90 degree angle at any time. I'll pass on losing sleep over my 90 degree angles. Then directly after that we had a presentation on living and working in Hong Kong, where the speaker pretty much told us that Hong Kong workers work the longest hours, have their dollars stretched the thinnest, produce the fewest children, inhale the most pollution, and are constantly threatened by an incompetent government and China. I'll pass on that as well :). After heading back to the hotel to do some research for our term projects we went to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which would have been a lot more interesting had the presenter known how to do a proper Powerpoint presentation. Instead she dragged on for almost two hours in a stifling hot room and lost most of our focus. The subject is interesting, though. In the 1970s and 1980s Hong Kong used to be a city totally ruled by corruption. It was a place where to receive any sort of medical or police help you had to pay someone off and a place where all business deals were greased. Through strict enforcement and education by the ICAC, though, Hong Kong has now become remarkably un-corrupt. It was ranked the 2nd least corrupt city in Asia last year, behind Singapore. After that, we moved out of downtown on our way to one of the best experiences of the trip so far...

Before dusk we took the famous Victoria's Peak tram up a steep mountain to a position that gave us an unbelievable bird's eye view of the city. Atop the peak there is a huge shopping mall full of restaurants (even restaurants that have American license plates!) where we ate and shopped for souvenirs a bit. After dusk fell we went to a clear viewing site and just relaxed in the beautiful weather, took pictures, and admired the view of the dark city lit by millions of colored florescent lights. Check out the pictures under the "my pictures" tab to see what I'm talking about. On the train ride home we also ran into a creepy, drunk, self-important British professor from a university here in Hong Kong who thought we were crazy for not wanting his business card. All he could talk about was how he came here to "chase some skirt" and hasn't left for 20 years. I'm now convinced that all the older, white men in this part of the world are perverts. Anyways, we went home after that and just crashed.

On Saturday morning we woke up early to get a Tai Chi lesson from the same guy who taught us about Feng Shui. Every morning you can see hundreds of Honkies, ranging from young to elderly, doing Tai Chi along the waterfront behind our hotel. I was amazed the other day to find out that the average lifespan for a Hong Kong woman is 85.4 years! The book I was reading attributed this partly to exercises like Tai Chi that a huge portion of the population takes part in every day. After Tai Chi I went back to my room and took a glorious four hour nap.

Waking up motivated, I decided to do a little exploring on my own. I walked out of the hotel door and stumbled into the shuttle that takes guests to Tsim Tsa Tsui, which is a busy downtown area. With no particular destination in mind, I hopped aboard. I then wandered down towards the water front (no surprise there) and found that a harbor-tour ferry was leaving in eight minutes! I quickly bought a ticket and hopped aboard the Star Ferry. After the boat made a quick trip across the harbor and then back to port, I realized that I had of course hopped on the wrong boat. Doh! Well, the tour cost HK$50, so there was no way I was putting that ticket to waste. So, I hung around for another 45 minutes until the next ferry took off. The later ride was just before dusk. It was a nice ride through a crowded Victoria Harbor, though I wish the boat had gone a little deeper into the harbor. I then hopped off at around 7 PM and faced my next debacle: how to get home.

I then saw a bunch of people running towards a bus at the bus station across the street. I saw the bus that everyone was madly running to said something in Chinese (which might as well have been Jibberish to me) and ended in the word "Estate". Remembering that there was a bus stop ending in the word "Estate" near my hotel, I got caught up in the craze and bolted for the bus. I sat down and immediately said to myself, "Well, that was dumb". Sure enough, it was. The bus took me about an hour into suburban Hong Kong, far from anywhere I had ever been before. I ended up just completing the loop after realizing I was totally lost and ended up right back where I started two hours later. I then took the MTR (HK's version of the T or Metro) back to the hotel, which is what I should have done in the first place. Oh well, it was an adventure. That night we went out to a festival in Long Kwai Fong, which was pretty fun.

This morning myself and a few others ventured out to go to mass in Hong Kong. We ended up at St. Benedict's in Sha Tin. The mass was pretty similar to mass back home, since we picked the one that was in English (though the priest didn't speak very good English. I think he was from Italy). Here they don't shake hands for peace (they bow slightly) and they dip the Bread in the Wine during communion. I'm guessing these are a result of the SARS scare a few years ago. I'm also pretty sure that I accidentally donated my room key to the collection basket with the change in my pocket. Not looking forward to that HK$200 fine! After mass we went to Pizza Hut in the mall across the street. It's funny that in Hong Kong Pizza Hut is positioned as a luxurious place to eat. We had to wait almost half an hour for a table (a table with a table cloth and fancy chairs). The decor is all new and the menu is much, much larger than that in the U.S. But, there was a bit of a language barrier when ordered, so my order of a sausage deep-dish pizza with marinara sauce somehow arrived as as deep-dish pizza with Thousand Island sauce (yes, Thousand Island dressing) with sausage, chicken, pineapple, and mushroom toppings. Surprisingly it didn't taste that bad. It was also funny that they had a pizza called the Adventurous American, which included sausage, pepperoni, and corn. Apparently they think Americans like corn on their pizza.

When we got back from lunch we went to my first horse race! We caught the last three races of the day. It was pretty cool. There were probably about 10,000 people in the stadium on one side of the huge racing track. I won HK$125 on the first race when my pick, horse #1, came in first. Great start! Of course, I lost the next two races. But, I ended the day up $25. Not too shabby for my first horse race!

Now we're all just laying around. I'm going to go for a run, do some reading, and head to bed early so I'm not too tired this week. Anyone have any book suggestions for me? I just finished John McCain's
Faith of My Fathers. I highly recommend it to anyone. After reading it, I don't know how anyone could not vote for him, regardless of some political disagreements (of which I have quite a few).

Happy Memorial Day to all back home! Enjoy the long weekend.

Pictures from the first week of Hong Kong will be up later tonight, so check those out too.
|

Update

So we just finished our first week of classes here at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Aside from classes we had two speakers/site visits this week. On Tuesday we met with the General Director of InvestHK, a government entity that seeks to attract financial and capital investment in Hong Kong. From the board room of a beautiful skyscraper looking out over Hong Kong's harbor the director spoke to us about the intertwined history of China and Hong Kong and how Hong Kong has evolved as a world-class business center for Western companies. We also learned that Hong Kong's fierce rival for investment is Singapore, which the director claims offers similar, but not quite as good investment opportunities with better marketing and advertising. The meeting lasted about an hour and after that we ventured to Stanley Market.

The trip to Stanley Market was probably the best part of the evening. We trekked for over half an hour on the city double-decker bus through the Repulse Bay community, which is situated on a high mountain overlooking the city and bay. Skyscrapers tower in a seemingly perilous manner surrounded by dense trees and forest, looking like they'll blow over with the slightest blow of wind from a typhoon. There are also a lot of imperial-looking mansions overlooking the bay, complete with Rolls Royces parked in the driveways (Hong Kong has the highest Rolls Royce per capita in the world, interestingly). The Stanley Market reminded me of the Mexican markets from Tiajuana where shopkeepers sell cheap goods mainly aimed at tourists (though I did find a pretty sweet pair of foul-weather rain pants that I'll use for work this summer). The market was pretty dead, though, because of the rainy weather. We then all ate dinner at a wharf that was just a tourist trap full of expensive Western restaurants (though I thoroughly enjoyed my BBQ ribs and fries, even if it cost me over 20 bucks).

After class on Wednesday we took a bus to the Hong Kong Jockey Club where we heard Susan Tang, the PR Director, discuss the history of the prestigious club and its role with the horse events for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which are being held in Hong Kong. The Club is an intriguing place. It was created to combat illegal gambling a few decades ago and currently exists as the only legalized method of gambling in Hong Kong. Interestingly, it is a not-for-profit organization that donates hundreds of millions of (HK) dollars back into the community each year for various athletic, health, and environmental projects. It also supplies 8.5% of all of Hong Kong's tax revenues- a gigantic percent for one organization. The group prides itself on its spotless reputation and its intense pursuit of fair horse racing, from all sorts of drug testing to intense camera monitoring of races. It has helped to fund the stadium that the Olympic horse races will take place in later this summer. The horse races that we were supposed to see after the meeting had been cancelled earlier in the week because of the 3 day morning period set by the government for the Chinese earthquake victims. Unfortunately, we had to attend the meeting with a bunch of University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business MBA students who, yes, are just as obnoxious and arrogant as you would expect them to be. Yuck.

We then went back to Tsim Tsa Sui to see the waterfront at night, which is incredibly lit up by thousands of different colored lights and signs. We ate dinner at a British pub. I think all non-Chinese food here is expensive. I guess its wisely targeted at desperate Americans like myself who will do almost anything for meat, dairy, fully-cooked, bone-free food. I paid HK$120 (about $15) for a huge BBQ (if you can't tell already...I really like BBQ) bacon cheeseburger. I think I threw the waiters for a loop when I asked for American instead of Swiss cheese. It must not be called American cheese outside of the good 'ol USA. I don't know what I got on the burger, but it sure wasn't American.

Today we just had class in the morning with a new professor, Professor Lau. He's pretty hilarious and class should be okay for the remainder of the trip. It was really the first day without any other speaking/travel activities planned, so most of us have just been laying around and resting this afternoon.

We have Tai Chi tomorrow morning and then I'm sure we'll find some tourist things to do over the weekend. We still have to see the Giant Buddha and I've heard the islands off the coast of HK are really nice. And we're in the process of planning a weekend trip to Phuket, Thailand for an upcoming weekend.

Hope all is well back home in the USA and that everyone is having a good summer. Send me an email (dee7@georgetown.edu) to let me know how home is!
|

Hong Kong

So today marks our second full day in Hong Kong. We started class bright and early this morning at 8 AM with strategic management. The Chinese University of Hong Kong is about 45 minutes away from our hotel and we get there by either the hotel bus or a public bus.

Once we arrived in Hong Kong we settled into the Horizon Hotel and Suites, which is an extended-stay hotel. The rooms are pretty awesome- two bedrooms, a kitchen, and living room that overlooks the huge pool and ocean. After unpacking we went to a nearby mall in search of food. Matt and I gave up on finding a decent restaurant, so ended up grocery shopping and bought some white bread (their loaves are tiny), Skippy peanut butter, and Smuckers strawberry jelly. Grape jelly is nowhere to be seen in any grocery store here. I'll have to find out why. Since then, I've been averaging at least 2 PB&J's a day. Who would've thought PB&J could be so good?

The next morning we settled in and most people got SIM cards or new phones. After that we took the hotel shuttle to the downtown harbor area, which was amazing. The pictures I'll post soon will do a better job explaining it than I can, but it's pretty much a zoo with unlimited shops and neon signs hanging over and across all the streets. First myself and a bunch of other guys stopped at a McDonald's, which also never tasted so good. For some reason "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" was playing while we were eating our food, which was pretty humorous. We walked down to the water front and saw a cruise ship that had just arrived and looked across the bay to the business hub of the city. Almost every square inch of the city is covered by incredibly high skyscrapers. In the business section across the bay the names and logos of American companies are emblazoned across the tops of all the towers. It sort of looks like a big Lego city. We then took the bus home and went to our first official Hong Kong meeting with the program director and two professors who went over the class materials and schedules.

After that we went out that night to Long Fai Kwan (no idea how to spell that), which is the nightlife part of the city. It's chock full of all sorts of bars and restaurants from every culture you can imagine. It's definitely where I'll be going if I'm craving non-Asian food other than McDonald's. There's Irish pubs (I'll eventually make my way to the Dublin Jack, a pub that Mrs. O' recommended to me), Mexican restaurants, Jamaican bars, and everything else. My other roommate David turned out to know the owner of one of the restaurants, so the whole group of us was treated to much appreciated free food and drink. It's crazy that people even have connections like that all the way across the world.

And that brings me to today, where we just had a tour of CUHK, our first class, and a computer lab session. We're all unwinding now and getting ready to go out to dinner around the corner later on.

Hong Kong couldn't be more different from Beijing. It was a British colony until 1997 and currently exists as a "Special Administrative Region" of China, which pretty much means that China owns it, but doesn't control much of what goes on there. That is pretty apparent from seeing daily life. Honkies (Hong Kong residents- not sure if that's derogatory, but thats what people say) elect their leaders democratically and aren't censored in their speech like their Chinese neighbors are. They also speak Cantonese (and English, mostly) instead of Mandarin.

One of the things that I first noticed upon arrival is that there is religion here, much unlike the mainland where religion is shunned and even forbidden. We've all heard about the persecution of the underground Catholic churches there I'm sure. But, there's a Mormon church right outside of our hotel and we passed a second one in the city earlier. There are a good few churches and people wear crosses and crucifixes around their necks, which is totally different than what we experienced in Beijing a few days ago.

The fact that there isn't a one-child limit here is noticeable as well. Kids are far more visible than they were in Beijing, where the population all seemed to be aged around 60 and there was no sight of children. There, the minivan ads showed mom, dad, one child, and two sets of grandparents in the back seat. The ads look funny, as if it was back home in the U.S. that minivan or Chevy Suburban would be filled with five young kids. I'm sure they cherish the ability to have children here and are thankful that the Communists aren't determining their families like they do in China.

Also, being a million times more capitalistic, business is everywhere here. You see it in varied levels of wealth and poverty- the cars, the hotels, the workers. You see it in the huge buildings and the bustling city. Hong Kong is routinely voted the freest economic country in the world (even after the U.S., which was #5 I believe).

Well those are some of my first experiences and impressions of Hong Kong. There will be more analytic stuff some other time. But, for now, I'm off to be daring and try some Chinese food!

|

Hello from Asia!

We're in the middle of our first full day in Hong Kong today after three days in Beijing, China. It's been an eye-opening cultural experience thus far and I look forward to the remaining five weeks.

We landed around 8 PM in Beijing in the incredible new airport and first decided to venture out to get a late dinner. We stumbled upon a "Korean Barbeque" restaurant. We sat down at a table with a grill in the middle and after being handed menus, realized that the waiters didn't speak a single word of English, not even "hello". We were in for an adventure. The menu was just pages full of pictures of raw meats including chicken hearts, dog (they didn't mention what breed), cow brain, etc. We ended up getting chicken and beef (at least thats what the menu said it was) and never ended up with the water we ordered.

The next day we met up with our tour guide Sunny (thanks to our concierge Storm) who was to guide us around the city for the day in a tour bus. We first went to the Ming and Qing Tombs where 13 emperors are buried. A few of them were destroyed by the government during Mao's Cultural Revolution, so we only saw one. When entering the tombs we crossed the "barrier of life". When we re-entered the "real world" girls had to step over the step in the arch with their right foot first, while guys had to step over with their left foot. While doing this we were supposed to scream some Mandarin phrase signifying that we were leaving the world of the dead and re-entering to life. Then we traveled to a jade factory where we watched how they cut, polish, and figure different jade items and then were served lunch at a restaurant in the same building. Next, we were bused to the Great Wall of China, which was pretty impressive. It was in a really cool mountainous section of Beijing and snaked around the mountains as far as one could see. Finally, we toured a silk factory and saw the silk construction process from worm to bed sheet. All this, including transportation, entrance fees to the sites, and a full lunch, for $28 USD. We finished off the night at a Hot Pot restaurant, which was quite the experience. There everyone sits around a table where a huge soup-ish pot sits on a burner in the middle. The waiters bring out various raw meats, sauces, and vegetables that are all thrown into this pot and brought to a boil. The noodles in the pot begin small and thick and are stretched out by a waiter who dances around and whips the noodles around herself until they are stretched out and more like spaghetti. Everyone then scoops their share out of the pot and eats it with chop sticks. That night we went to a Karaoke place recommended by Sunny that was like nothing I've ever seen before. We all agreed that it would be a big hit in the U.S. We rented a private room complete with stage, TV, couches, neon lights, bar, etc. for something like $45 USD from 9 PM to 6 AM. It was a lot of fun. We left around 1:30 or 2, figuring that the $3 each wasn't too much of a burden to leave and get some sleep.

On the second day we were on our own without a tour guide, though the concierge Storm was always there to help us (he actually followed us around the city to places he thought we would encounter trouble). We first took the public bus to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen square was full of police, pollution, and cameras. There were cameras everywhere you looked, watching your every move. I have a feeling that if you made any sort of public demonstration you would be hauled off in an instant. The pollution was noticeable everywhere in Beijing, but especially in Tiananmen, as the buildings were all clouded and difficult to see. Most of us were coughing by the second day. The entrance to the Forbidden City, which served as one of the emperors former palace, was plastered with a huge picture of Mao and surrounded by Communist soldiers (dressed differently than the regular Chinese police that were everywhere), many of whom had red armbands around their right arms, eerily similar to pictures we've all seen of Hilter's guards in Germany. The architecture of the palace was very different, but intricate. The grounds weren't as nicely kept as the palaces in Europe, which was one of the things I noticed most while there. We then ate a quick lunch, which, for me, meant a stop at a pizza joint. I couldn't resist. After leaving the palace we entered the Zoo and quickly saw the Panda bears before hopping on a miserable boat ride where we were screamed at by a tour guide (not literally screamed at, she was just telling her story) on a speakerphone. They then ripped us off on a 30 won fee for entrance to the summer palace. We arrived at the Summer Palace of the emperor at 5:05, 5 minutes too late and 30 won poorer. Nevertheless, the palace, perched high on a hilltop, was a sight to be seen. We then took a cab to a Peking Duck restaurant, which we were told was a fancy Chinese restaurant. There was a stage in front of all the tables where kung-fu people and porecelin-doll-faced women sang and danced and performed traditional Chinese song and dance. The food was not that great and included a full chicken laid out on a plate in body form including the head. Needless to say, the whole chicken was pretty much there when we left.

We packed up that night and passed out from tiredness. The next morning we slept in a little and boarded a bus taxi from our hotel at noon and got to the Beijing Airport at around 1 PM for our 3 PM China Air flight to Hong Kong and arrived around 6 PM.

There's more to come...but I have to run to our first meeting with the program coordinator. I'll finish later. Good morning to the US, I guess. And good luck to all the B.C. High Class of '08 guys graduating today. I wish I could be there.
|

The South

Reasons why I like the South:

-There's good country music playing at every restaurant.
-Unabashed faith and values.
-Funky accents.
-I saw a guy with a mullet tonight.

thats all for now...
|