Visiting the District Offices of my boss Mr. Sin

Tuesday July 23rd

On the 23rd I left work early with the three other interns in our office to get a tour of a few of our boss’s district offices. My boss, Mr. Sin, drove us to two of his district offices. It was surreal sitting in a car! I have been in taxis in Hong Kong but it is different being in someone’s personal car. I really enjoyed the drive because I got to see parts of Hong Kong from a different perspective. At one point we were driving on a raised part of the highway that was feet away from the skyscrapers!

At the two district offices Mr. Sin’s employees told us what their jobs entailed. For the most part they are focused on connecting with the communities in order for Mr. Sin to continue to stay elected. When individuals walk into their offices with questions or in need of assistance it is up to Mr. Sin’s employees to find the answer or solution. Some of the most common things they deal with have to do with public housing in Hong Kong, and students needing funding for college. Some of the other tasks that the employees handle are creating brochures to be distributed on the streets during rush hour, hanging posters, and updating Mr. Sin’s website.

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Over the course of the day the topic of public housing in Hong Kong kept coming up. Not knowing much about public housing I was intrigued. I definitely learned a lot! Here is what I discovered:

Public housing in Hong Kong is a set of mass housing programs through which the Government of Hong Kong provides affordable housing for lower-income residents. It is a major component of housing in Hong Kong, with nearly half of the population now residing in some form of public housing. The public housing policy dates back to 1953, when a fire in Shek Kip Mei destroyed thousands of shanty homes and prompted the government to begin constructing homes for the poor.

The Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society mainly build public housing. Rents and prices are significantly lower than those for private housing and are heavily subsidized by the government, with revenues partially recovered from sources such as rents and charges collected from car parks and shops within or near the residences.

Public housing estates are typically built in remote or less accessible parts of the territory, but urban expansion has left some older estates now deep within the inner city. They are found in every district of Hong Kong except in Wan Chai District. The vast majority of projects consist of high-rise buildings, and the recent buildings usually contain 40 or more stories. The typical size of a public housing apartment is 400 square feet and the typical size family that lives in it is 4 or more. Also the list of people waiting to get into public housing is enormous! At the end of March 2012, there were about 189,500 applications on the Waiting List for the HKHA’s public rental housing. The average waiting time for PRH for general applicants was about 2.6 years.

I was astonished by what I learned during my visit to Mr. Sin’s district offices. It was an enlightening day. I am so thankful for my living arrangements in the U.S.

If you’d like to learn more about Hong Kong’s public housing check this link: http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/factsheets/docs/housing.pdf

If you want to see some crazy photos that really capture Hong Kong’s public housing check this link featuring photos captured by German photographer Michael Wolf: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2306842/Stunning-images-Hong-Kong-living-cubicles-look-just-like-Borg-cubes.html

 

 

 

 

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Hong Kong Disneyland – July 21st

I was able to go to the magical Disneyland in Hong Kong on July 21st with my friends Lauren and Landon. It was wonderful to have a day in the land where dreams come true.

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Hong Kong Disneyland is located on reclaimed land in Penny’s Bay, Lantau Island. It is the first theme park located inside the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and is owned and managed by the Hong Kong International Theme Parks. The parks daily capacity is 34,000 visitors, which is the least of all the Disney parks. The park opened to visitors on 12 September 2005. The park didn’t attract as many visitors in its first year as it had hoped. Unfortunately, the numbers didn’t improve much until recently. The park made its first annual profit for the year-end in September 2012. Hong Kong Disneyland is the 14th most visited theme park in the world and consists of seven themed areas: Main Street, U.S.A., Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, and Toy Story Land.

We took a 45-minute MTR ride to get to the Disneyland line that took us to the park. When we boarded the train we noticed the windows were in the shape of Mickey Mouse as well as the hanging handles! These details really aided to the atmosphere leading up to our arrival at the park. One of the great things about Hong Kong Disneyland is that it is cheaper than Disneyworld in Orlando, FL. A single ticket cost me about $60 USD. Compare that to a 1-Day Ticket for the Magic Kingdom Park – $95 USD and the 1-Day Ticket for EPCOT, or Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios – $90 USD.  It can get pretty pricey going to Disneyworld, Orlando. If you get a 4-Day Theme Park Ticket it costs $297.24 USD including tax (As of July 29, 2013). So Disneyland Hong Kong was a steal!

Once we entered the park it felt very familiar. The park is very familiar to Disneyworld, Orlando. See the maps. The first one is Disneyworld, Orlando and the second is Hong Kong Disneyland.

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Since this was such a special Disney trip my friends and I decided to invest in some Mickey ears! I went for the classic Minnie Mouse ears that also had the words Disneyland Hong Kong 2013 stitched in the back. I have never purchased a hat or a pair of Disney’s infamous Mickey ears before so it was a special occasion.

We walked down Main Street U.S.A. after purchasing our hats/ears. At the end was Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, which reminded me of the castle at Disneyland, California. It was much smaller than the castle in Disneyworld, Orlando.  The size didn’t really matter though because it still was pretty and made me wish I was a real princess. Walking around the park we noticed that it wasn’t extremely crowded. Perhaps we thought that because we are all used to the packed Disneyland, California and Disneyworld, Orlando.

We went on many of the rides in the park. The first ride was the anticipated Space Mountain. When we arrived at the line we were told the ride was shut down and that we could wait for it to open if we wanted. Not really knowing what to expect we waiting. Luckily we didn’t need to wait long and we were quickly at the front of the line! We hopped right onto the ride and were all pleasantly surprised by how fun it was. It was similar to the Space Mountain in Orlando but this one was newer, therefore it was a smoother ride. It also wasn’t as fast as the Space Mountain in Orlando. It didn’t matter though because my friends and I screamed the whole time and had a blast! We even came back later in the evening to ride it again and had a five minute wait to get on it!

After Space Mountain we went over to Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, and Toy Story Land. In Grizzly Gulch the main ride is the Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Coaster. The area around the ride was Western themed. Waiting in line took 45-minutes, which was the longest wait of the day. I really enjoyed the ride because it had similar elements of rides back in Disneyworld, Orlando. At one point the coaster goes backwards into a mineshaft and then the coaster blasts off when the dynamite explodes. It reminded me of Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando.

The next ride we rode was Mystic Manor, the most recent addition to the park. Basically the ride was Hong Kong’s version of the Haunted Mansion ride in the states. It was a cute ride! It was here waiting in line that we saw the craziness of people cutting to get ahead in line. My friend Lauren speaks Mandarin and she could tell that the aggressive women sneakily cutting everyone in line were from Mainland China. It just bewildered us that people could be so rude regardless of where they come from or their cultural customs. (Unfortunately, my friends and I have noticed that many Mainland Chinese people are more aggressive and vocal than other Asian people in Hong Kong. I have been told that in Mainland China there aren’t as many rules and regulations that guide the etiquette of the culture.)

Out of all the lands Toy Story Land was the most anticipated. It definitely did not disappoint us! The whole area had oversized toys that made up the various rides and buildings. For example, there was a spinning swing ride that is pretty standard at carnivals but this one had a twist. This ride, called Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, was themed with the green toy soldiers from Toy Story. So it looked like you were riding flying through the air in a military green parachute. Another genius designed ride was the RC Racer. The ride is Andy’s toy car racing along a 27-meter high U shaped coaster. It was thrilling!

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After exploring Toy Story Land we ran into the jackpot of Disney characters! We stood in line for every meet and greet with the characters. Fortunately for us the lines were really short! We got photos taken with Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, and my personal favorite Winnie the Pooh and Tigger! (I have a ton of Winnie the Pooh movies. I loved them as a little girl.) It was a real treat to have photos taken with so many iconic Disney characters!

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The last ride we went on at Hong Kong Disneyland was “It’s a Small World” (Of course!). This ride is always a personal favorite of mine ever since I learned about its origin. My first international trip abroad without close friends or family was through the organizational People to People International (P2PI) during the summer of 2008. I was blessed to see 6 countries in Europe in just a few weeks.

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During the program to Europe I learned that President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded P2PI in 1956. In September of 1956 he called a White House conference of 100 top American leaders, who joined in creating the People to People initiative, focused on creating cultural exchange programs. Participants in this conference included Joyce Hall, comedian Bob Hope, and Walt Disney, who became one of the founding directors of People to People and later drew inspiration from the initiative to create the “It’s a Small World” attraction in 1964.

Every time I ride “It’s a Small World” I reflect on all of my travels that I have been blessed to have over the years. The ride is a wonderful connection to People to People for me. Being a participant in a few of P2PI programs changed my life. I am in debt to the organization for giving me the opportunity to see the world in a new perspective. I don’t believe I would have the same appreciation for different cultures and people if it weren’t for P2P. If you want to learn more about People to People here are two links to the organization: http://www.ptpi.org/   http://www.peopletopeople.com/

After riding “It’s a Small World” we watched the fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. It really was a spectacular show that featured songs like “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin. As per usual the fireworks show and music made my eyes tear up because it reminds me of my childhood and the many memories I have visiting my Grandparents in Orlando as a little girl. As the fireworks lit up the sky I remembered my loving Grandma Gromek who never failed to send me a new Disney movie for my birthday. She will forever be in my heart and when I visit Disney I think of her. (I also think of my wonderful Grandpa who lives with my parents and I and continues to love and support me!)

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Overall, my trip to Hong Kong Disneyland was fabulous! I am so happy I decided to go and that I had wonderful friends who were willing to go as well! We had such a great time and made lasting memories.

Macau – long overdue blog post

July 19th – 21st

I had the opportunity to spend some time in Macau a little while ago! It was very easy for us to go to Macau because it lies on the western side of the Pearl River Delta across from Hong Kong to the east. Macau is one of the two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China, the other being Hong Kong. The territory’s economy is heavily dependent on gambling and tourism, which is why it is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of Asia”.

A former Portuguese colony, Macau was controlled by Portugal from the mid-16th century until 1999, when it was the last remaining European colony in Asia. In December of 1999 Macau was transferred back to China. Under the policy of “one country, two systems” (just like Hong Kong), the People’s Republic of China’s Central People’s Government is responsible for the territory’s defense and foreign affairs, while Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, and immigration policy.

(Fun fact: According to The World Factbook, Macau has the second highest life expectancy in the world. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html )

 

Friday 

My friends and I left for Macau right after work on Friday. We were all wearing our nice business clothes as we arrived at the ferry terminal so we could take the 45-minute ferry ride to Macau. As we approached the shoreline of Macau I saw many bright lights and signs for casinos. It became apparent very quickly that this city was full of nightlife!

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We took a bus to our hotel, which was the Sheraton. To keep the cost down Lauren and I split a room and so did the boys. We had an amazing view out our window of the many pools the hotel has. Once we were all settled in we all prepared to go out and explore the city. We had been told about a nice club around the corner from our hotel called Cubic so we got dressed up and headed over. As we walked through the hotel I saw many lavished decorations like blown glass chandeliers and glowing fountains. There were also many high-end retails stores like Armani Exchange, Chanel, Fendi, and Gucci.

Across the street was the City of Dreams Macau, which is a spectacular hotel that is also home to a Hard Rock Café, Club Cubic and a few shows like The House of Dancing Water. Since we were all a bit hungry and craving some American food we decided to stop at the Hard Rock Café before going to the club. At the Hard Rock we split nachos and chicken strips. We were also blessed with a live band performing while we ate. They did a lot of covers including Sweet Home Alabama so naturally we sang along. As we headed out I quickly stopped at the Hard Rock store to pick up a pin to add to my collection! I purchased a beautiful gold colored guitar with a green dragon on it. Cubic was right around the corner from the Hard Rock which was extremely convenient. When we arrived at the club they asked for our passports, which we didn’t have with us. (We didn’t want to lose them or have them stolen!) We thought they weren’t going to let us in but after pointing out our birthdays on our licenses they agreed to let us in. At first we were all pretty impressed with Club Cubic. It is the largest and most prestigious nightclub in Macau. It is approximately 30,000 square feet across two levels of live entertainment space. We made our way to the front of the club and had fun dancing for a while but eventually we got tired of the same clubhouse music. The songs didn’t have words so we couldn’t sing along and it was really crowded! We needed sleep for Saturday so we headed back to our hotel.

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Saturday 

If our weekends up to this point weren’t crazy enough we started our Saturday morning on top of the Macau Tower! The tower is 1,109 feet tall from ground level to the highest point. It is the 10th tallest building in the world. At 764 feet high there is a platform that wraps around the entire tower. This platform is where the Skywalk and Bungee Jump is! The four of us decided to do the Skywalk. My friend Landon chose to do the Skywalk and the Bungee Jump! The Skywalk includes walking around on the 1.8meter platform in a harness. There are no handrails, which makes the Skywalk even more nerve racking! A guide took us around the Skywalk and instructed us to do various poses that included hanging our feet of the edge, running and swinging on the platform, and leaning over the edge. I have been on many tall buildings including the Stratosphere in Vegas, the Empire State building, and the Eiffel Tower but none of those buildings had anything like the Skywalk on the Macau Tower! Spending 20 minutes overlooking Macau with a harness and thick rope being the only thing keeping me from falling over the edge was exhilarating! Once we finished our Skywalk adventure we watched Landon get ready to bungee jump! The Macau Tower boasts the Guinness World Record for the highest commercial bungy jump in the world!!! We watched a live video of the bungy jump platform from inside the tower. As we saw Landon prepare to jump my stomach had butterflies! I was nervous and excited for him. For a minute I almost wanted to do the bungy jump as well because it looked really fun. (I mean really how often do you get the chance to do the highest commercial bungy jump!?) In the end I decided not to jump. If you want to watch the video of my friend Landon bungy jumping check out this Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10201791212810237

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After our time at the Macau Tower we ate lunch. Located at Avenida da Praia Grande, center of Macau, Solmar Restaurant founded in 1961 was originally an exclusive club for political and business elites. Later on, their dishes became so popular that upon public request they opened up their business and became one of Macau’s well-known old brand Portuguese restaurants. I ordered Portuguese chicken and drank sangria. It was an extremely satisfying meal! From lunch we then walked the streets of Macau. I was pleasantly surprised by Macau. The old architecture of the city was beautiful and reminded me of Europe. It was very eident that Macau was a Portuguese colony. The locals were all Chinese but many of them spoke Portuguese as well as English and Cantonese. The street signs were in all three languages!

The first beautiful architectural landmark we stumbled across was St. Domingo’s Church! I was so excited to see this church because I attend Dominican University in Chicago, which was founded by Dominican Sisters. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Dominican shield so far away from my university.

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Located right at the heart of Senado Square of Macau, St. Domingo’s Church was constructed by the Spanish Dominican friars who worshipped St. Domingo and Lady Fatima in the mid 17th century. It was refurbished in 1828 and expanded to the large scale that is represents today. If you want to learn more about the Dominicans in Macau check out this link: http://www.dominicansmacau.org/?p=850

From St. Domingo’s Church we went and saw the Ruins of St. Paul. The Ruins of St. Paul’s refer to the façade of what were originally the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640 and the ruins of St. Paul’s College, which stood adjacent to the Church. Both were destroyed by fire in 1835. As a whole, the old Church of Mater Dei, St. Paul’s College and Mount Fortress were all Jesuit constructions and formed what can be perceived as the Macao’s “acropolis”. Now to put my art history classes to the test – The façade of the Ruins of St. Paul’s measures 23 meters across and 25.5 meters high and is divided into five levels. Following the classical concept of divine ascension, the orders on the façade on each horizontal level evolve from Ionic, Corinthian and Composite, from the base upward. The upper levels gradually narrow into a triangular pediment at the top, which symbolizes the ultimate state of divine ascension – the Holy Spirit. Nowadays, the façade of the Ruins of St. Paul’s functions symbolically as an altar to the city. The baroque/mannerist design of this granite façade is unique in China.

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From the St. Paul Ruins we went to the Monte Fort. Built in 1616, it originally belonged to St. Paul’s Church and was used to defend the church from the pirates. It later became solely a military fort. The canons that once defended the fort still remain and from the top of the fort we had an excellent view of the city!

After exploring the fort we decided to hit one more spot before heading back to Hong Kong. We caught a taxi and were on our way to the Macau lighthouse. The Guia Fortress which includes the Guia chapel and Lighthouse was unfortunately closed when we arrived at 6pm. We missed getting in by a half and hour. We did get another nice view of the city from the lighthouse location!

Even though I didn’t actually go into the Guia Fortress here are some facts about it! – The fortress was built between 1622 and 1638. Inside the fortress stands Guia Chapel, originally established by Clarist nuns, who resided at the site before establishing the Convent of St. Clare. The chapel’s elaborate frescoes depict representations of both western and Chinese themes, displaying motifs of religious and mythological inspiration that are a perfect example of Macau’s multicultural dimension. Guia Lighthouse, dating from 1865, which also stands within the perimeter, is the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast. Guia Fortress, along with the chapel and lighthouse are symbols of Macau’s maritime, military and missionary past.

Our final adventure in Macau was getting back to the ferry to head home to Hong Kong. Hailing a taxi in NYC is easier than hailing one in Macau! All the taxis go to the hotels and casinos and usually pass by people on the sidewalks that aren’t at those locations. We ended up walking a good distance (about 30 minutes down a hill with no sidewalk) from the Guia Fortress before we were able to jump in a taxi. Thankfully we mad it in time to the 7pm ferry and we cruised back to Hong Kong!

Inspiring Seminar

I had the pleasure of sitting in a wonderful seminar this evening. Mr. Thompson, the Chairman and Founder of the Crown Worldwide Group of Companies, shared the story of building his business from the ground up. I was captivated by his motivation to build his own business. I was also immensely impressed with his commitment to corporate social responsibility! I hope I can work for a company someday that successfully integrates social responsibility into the heart of their businesses like Crown Worldwide.

If you want to learn more about Crown Worldwide and their commitment to social responsibility check out these links:

– http://www.crownworldwide.com/en-us/worldwide_basicpage/jim-thompson

– http://www.crownworldmobility.com/en-us/article/crown-worldwide-speaks-at-un

7 Weeks! Yea, I have been here awhile. [More cultural observations]

  • The toilet seats are always up in the women’s bathrooms. This is really weird for me to get used to because usually that only happens if a man has used the toilet. I always have to be aware of the toilet seat position when I go to the bathroom.
  • Customer service is very different here. When eating out at a restaurant I must wave the waiter over to order my meal. When they bring my food they do not always bring out everyone’s food at once. So I end up waiting a little while for my friends to get their food before I eat. The waiters/waitresses do not come and check on the table and if you want the check you have to wave someone over and ask.
  • Pretty much everyone takes public transportation here. If you drive a car you are pretty fancy with money. Hong Kong people partake in conspicuous consumption. They buy many material items to show that they have money. I hardly ever see someone dressed sloppy or casual.
  • Getting a taxi home late at night is not that easy. Usually taxis line up in a certain area near the bars and clubs. Since my friends and I do not speak Cantonese it can take a while to finally hail a taxi that knows where we want to go/is willing to deal with Americans. (Even if we show the taxi drivers the address in Cantonese they often deny us a ride.) In Macau it was even harder to hail a taxi. We would hail an empty taxi and they would just pass us by. We soon realized that taxis only go to pick up people at hotels and casinos unless you call them. Seems silly to pass someone by who wants a ride but it makes sense to go where the money is, which is the hotels and casinos.
  • In parts of Asia Caucasian people are stared at a bit. On many occasions my friends and I would have people come up and ask to have a photo with us. This happened to me in Mainland China and Macau. It made me feel like a celebrity. In Macau two young Asian girls came giggling up to me and said I was beautiful and asked to take a photo with me.  I definitely didn’t feel beautiful as sweat was dripping down my face from hiking to the top of the hill and my hair was thrown u in a messy bun. After reflecting on these occurrences I have come to the conclusion that many Asians idea of beauty is Caucasian. According to a CNN article published on June 26, 2013 “one in five South Korean women from 19 to 49 have undergone cosmetic surgery.” Compared to one in twenty in the United States. The two most popular procedures are: nose jobs and eyelid lifts which are specially designed to make these features look more Caucasian. Having big, “innocent” eyes with a crease in the lid is the ideal look after the surgery. Even though the compliments and getting photographed with Asian girls is flattering I am just feeding into the oppressive system. To read more about it check this link: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/25/health/asian-beauty
  • I remember reading about beauty ideal during the Victorian era when I was in high school. Back then it was the “in thing” to have fair skin. It meant you came from money and didn’t work. Women wore long gloves and carried umbrellas everywhere while outdoors. In Asia the fair skin trend is still very much a part of the culture. Not only does everyone carry umbrellas to stay out of the sun and “protect” their skin, I also have seen women wearing long silky gloves and covered from head to toe in clothes. If that wasn’t interesting enough the beauty stores also sell whitening cream here. Yes, people whiten their skin. Women and young girls want to be as pale as possible. According to some research I did doctors are complaining about women’s vitamin D deficiency. Many of the cosmetic products contain mercury and other harmful ingredients but that rarely stops women from wanting to be fair and “beautiful”.
  • If you want to see a movie in a theater here you must reserve your seat. I think this is actually a great idea because in American many because won’t fill up the whole row of seats because they want a gap (a few seats) in between the person next to them. Americans like their personal space. Things are definitely different here in Asia.
  • Personal space is a luxury here. As you may know Asia is the world’s largest and most populous continent. Even though Asia has a lot of land many people live in the major metropolitan cities where all the jobs are. For example, Hong Kong only has less that 25% of its land developed. The majority of Hong Kong is parks and nature reserves. So when I walk around the city of Hong Kong (Hong Kong Island) I am constantly bumping into people. There is no apologizing when someone pushes, cuts and shoves me to make sure they get to their destination. On the MTR I feel like a sardine. People will want to get onto an MTR train so badly that they will pack the train car full and when I mean full I mean that I am literally touching people’s bodies and smelling their armpits. I have seen the MTR doors almost squash people multiple times because the train is bursting with so many people. It amazes and scares me everyday.
  • I am really glad I did all my clothes shopping in the U.S. before I came here because many stores don’t have my size. When my friend and I go shopping to the Asian stores we can’t really try any of the clothes on. A typical store will sell the sizes 0,1, and 2. It is a new feeling for me to not be the average size. I guess it is a blessing in disguise that they don’t carry my size because I would be tempted to go shopping all the time on my way home from work. (My MTR station exit is in a mall!)
  • I am convinced that Asians don’t really scream on roller coasters. When my friends and I went to Disneyland Hong Kong this past weekend we were definitely the loudest people screaming.
  • When people go out to eat they usually share dishes. It is a cultural thing as well as a great way to save money!
  • Punctuality is a big thing. A group of us were three minutes late to a Chinese cake making class and we were scolded by one of the participants. He asked if we had trouble rolling out of bed when we really just had trouble finding the street the bakery was on. 

Buddhism & Hiking

My friends and I truly live for the weekends here in Hong Kong. Each weekend we pack in as many things to see and do as we possibly can. We try to make the most of the time we have outside of the 40hour workweek. This weekend was no exception. Besides the sweltering heat this past weekend was incredible! It was one of my favorite weekends so far in Hong Kong. Friday, after a rough day of work I went out to have fun dancing with a few friends. Saturday morning and afternoon I went to a fishing village, the Po Lin Monastery and saw the Big Buddha (The outing was put together by our program, Dream Careers). At night I went and saw the movie Monsters University in 3D with friends. Sunday, I trekked 12km (7.4miles) on the Tai Long Wan Trail!

 

Saturday

I had been looking forward to July 13th since I first realized we were going to the Po Lin Monastery and seeing Big Buddha on that day. Wherever I travel I always make a point of visiting religious buildings. Usually, I visit cathedrals and churches but in Asia there are mostly temples and monasteries, which I find equally as beautiful!

Before we went to the Monastery and saw Big Buddha we went to the Tai O fishing village. Tai O is located in the western coast of Lantau Island. It is a quaint and picturesque village, with traditional stilt houses predominant of the old southern Chinese fishing villages. Tai O is one of the few remaining places you can still see the traditional houses in Hong Kong.

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When we arrived we immediately took a 20minute boat ride so we could try and see white/pink Chinese dolphins. The dolphins are a big deal in Hong Kong! They are a treasure of Hong Kong’s natural heritage. Unfortunately, the population is dwindling faster than ever because of the heavy pollution and construction work in the waters they inhabit. It was very special to be able to see a few of the beautiful creatures off the island coast. I have only really seen dolphins at Sea World so it was wonderful to see them in their natural habitat.

After the boat ride we walked around the village. At one time Tai O was a very important trading and fishing port. That is a thing of the past because the younger generations have moved out of the village. Everywhere I walked I saw elderly people still making a living the traditional way at the lively market. Apparently, the market remains one of the favorite places for locals to buy their fresh and dried seafood and shrimp paste, which is famous. I wasn’t brave enough to try any of the seafood but it sure was interesting to look at! I saw fish balls, squid, abalone, etc. I also saw dried fish including shark jaws! I really appreciated seeing how the people lived in the village especially since I am mostly in an urban environment while I am in Hong Kong.

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From Tai O we headed over to the Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha. The monastery used to be a remote place hidden by the lush mountain scenery. It made it to the world map when the Tain Tan Buddha statue (Big Buddha) was built in 1993. The Buddha is 34 meters high (111.5 feet) and faces north towards Beijing. It took 12 years to complete (It was finished on December 29th, the day of the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha) and cost 60 million HKD. The statue was formed out of 202 separate pieces of bronze.

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Fortunately the tour bus dropped us off at the top of the Big Buddha so we did not have to walk up the 268 stairs to get to the top.  Inside the Buddha is a three-story museum that tells the history of Buddha. There were many beautiful paintings and artifacts to tell the story. There is even a relic of Gautama Buddha, consisting of some of his alleged cremated remains. On the ground floor I saw various small Buddha statues surrounded by notes and flowers. It was explained to us that the area was called the Hall of Remembrance.

Inside the Buddha was a gift shop that included many high quality items. I promised my boyfriend, Matt that I would buy him Buddhist prayer bead bracelet so I went to the shop to pick out the perfect one. I found one that was made of a dark wood and had silver inlaid characters on each bead. I asked the cashier what the characters meant and she said they symbolized good fortune. So I bought Matt the bracelet and I also got one with smaller beads for myself. I have grown to appreciate Buddhism because of my boyfriend and I thought it was fitting that I also get a bracelet.

After visiting the Buddha we all went to eat an authentic vegetarian Buddhist lunch. Most of the dishes were pretty tasty. I ate lots of rice, buns, and spring rolls. Unfortunately, many of the dishes contained tofu, which I don’t care for. (My boyfriend would have loved it though!)

The monastery was across from the Big Buddha. I didn’t get to explore it, much which was disappointing. I did however stand in the center of the area that Buddhist monks go to pay their respects to the Big Buddha. Flags from all over the world surround the area. In the center you can hear your voice echo when you speak out loud. It is pretty wild. We couldn’t figure out how it was possible (I am not a super science genius.).

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Leaving the Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha was also an experience because we took a 360-degree cable car back down to our bus. The Ngong Ping Cable Car’s journey took us over beautiful grassland slopes of North Lantau Country Park. In the distance we could see the vast Chia Sea as well as a panorama of the Hong Kong International Airport. It was spectacular to be gliding in the air overlooking Hong Kong.

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When we arrived back at City University of Hong Kong (where we are staying this summer) a few of my friends and I decided to go see the movie Monsters University in 3D. It was a really cute movie and I recommend it.

Sunday

My day started at 7:00am Sunday because my friends and I wanted to leave for our hike by 8:00am. We had the route mapped out and knew what buses to take to get to our starting point. Before we could get onto the MTR we had to grab breakfast at Taste. I ended up buying a banana and a blueberry muffin to give me some energy. We also bought massive amounts of bottled water because we knew it would be a hot long day of hiking.

After taking the MTR and two buses we arrived at our destination around 10am. We immediately noticed a sign at the start of the trail that included a map of the area as well as a description of the trail.

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Description:

Tai Long Wan Hiking Trail lies in Sai Kung East Country Park. It is suitable for hikers with reasonable experience and who are fit. Along the way there is stunning mountain and seas scenery. The trail starts at Sai Wan Pavilion, along Sai Wan Road, where you can see High Island Reservoir. When you reach the small gap at Chui Tung Au, you meet the sea breeze and have views over the lovely bays of Sai Wan and Tai Long Wan. Down the path, at the bottom you reach Sai Wan village. Rest here and enjoy the beautiful Sai Wan beach. Several families still live in this remote village, but many of the houses are in poor repair.

The village still has an old church, built long ago by missionaries. There is also an old lime kiln site at the back of the village, near the beach side. Once villagers used these kilns to produce lime to supplement their fishing income. Beyond the village, go across a stony bridge. The stream that flows under the bridge is the lower course of Kap Man Hang. If you walk upstream you will reach the impressive Sze Dip Tam and Sheung Luk Stream.

The seascapes and coastal scenery between Sai Wan and Ham Tin Wan are delightful. When you reach Ham Tin Wan, there is another long beach to explore. West of Ham Tin village, there is a long steep slope from the village up to the gap at Tai Long Au – a good chance for hikers to test their own strength. Walking uphill to Tai Long Au, the rugged Sharp Peak is right ahead of you. Beyond the gap, continue downhill to reach the inshore village of Chek Keng. There are rocky beaches and mangroves by the coast. At low tide, mudskippers and fiddler crabs are seen everywhere. From Chek Keng overhanging trees shades the uphill path. Pass through Long Kill and To Kwa Peng, Wong Shek Pier and Wan Tsai Peninsula are ahead. Walk on for about 20 minutes and you come to Pak Tam Au, on Pak Tam Road.

Even though we had read about the hike online my friends and I were even more excited to hike the trail after reading the description. (FYI Tai Long Wan Trail is 12km (7.4miles) long! And I hiked the whole thing!) Our hike started off great! We were all surprised that the trail was paved with cement and bricks, which made it easier to hike. When we came across the first village we stopped to take photos of the beach and also to grab a bite to eat. I drank mango juice and ate pineapple vegetable rice. My lunch was supposed to have chicken in it. It wasn’t until after I had eaten some of my food that I realized I had Lauren’s dish which was exactly the same minus the chicken. It wasn’t a big deal though because it still filled my stomach and tasted good.

After lunch we continued our hike. We stopped many times to take in all the beautiful scenery and take photos. We also encountered many large spiders relaxing in their spider webs waiting for their next meal to get caught in their web. I was taking a photo of one of the spiders when my friend Andrew decided to say, “Be careful it is going to jump!” Before I even gave it a second thought I quickly lurched backwards scared out of my mind that it really was going to jump on me. I turned to look at Andrew and saw him laughing and realized he was just being a mean to me (Well he was teasing me).

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The second beach we arrived at on our hike was even more breathtaking than the first. As we came over the top of a mountain I could see the beach below us. The sand was white and pristine. The ocean was a beautiful blue that darkened in color as it stretched into the distance. I had never seen anything like it before. As we hiked down the mountain towards the beach we saw boats and yachts anchored off the beach’s shoreline. People were in the water swimming and throwing a football around. We walked on the hot sand towards the water but did not put our feet in because we hadn’t decided to stay and relax. We took a nice group shot on the beach and then we continued on our way.

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We followed a trail behind the beach that wasn’t paved. It was very apparent that it was in fact a trail so we didn’t question our direction at all. Along the way we noticed large piles of manure. Within a few minutes of spotting the piles we ran into small heard of cattle grazing in an open field. My friends were pretty amused by this because they had never seen cattle so up close before. As we continued to follow the trail we came across another village that was on a beach. We got really excited because we saw the cool bridge we had seen online in photographs. Essentially the bridge is made out of wood nailed and tied together with rope. It was not the sturdiest thing to walk on but it made for some good photos. As we crossed the bridge we realized that the beach we were on was the same one we were just at! We walked all the way behind the beach through fields filled with cattle and manure when we could have just walked to the other end of the beach!

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After we got over our shock we decided to sit down and eat an ice cream bar and rehydrate a bit with Gatorade. We discussed whether we should stay at the beach for a while and go swimming but after looking at a map we saw there was one more area of water up ahead. So we figured it was another beach and decided to wait till then to lay out and go swimming. We didn’t want to be hiking in wet swimsuits/clothes. As soon as we were finished eating our ice cream and looking over the map we were back on the trail!

As we hiked up a huge mountain I had to stop multiple times to catch my breath and drink some water. (Lauren usually stopped with me.) On the other hand the guys, Landon and Andrew, didn’t need to stop as often. I mean they are definitely in better shape than I am. Still I was able to keep up during the whole hike, which I am really proud of. Once we reached the top of the mountain after the second beach we came across a couple. We asked them how much farther it was until the next beach. The man looked at us funny and said, “There is no beach.” Immediately Lauren and I gave Landon and Andrew glares because they convinced us that there was a third beach along the trail. So they were wrong. We were all a bit disappointed that there wasn’t another beach but as we came upon the third area of water we changed our tune.

The third area of water was a very peaceful place. For the most part the whole hike was peaceful but nothing compared to the water at the end. The water area was a part of the ocean but it was a secluded bay/channel so the water was still. The water reflected the lush green mountains all around us. Along the water there was a pier that the four of us decided to walk out on. We asked some fellow hikers to take our photo and then we sat on the pier for a while just listening to the water all around us. It was in those moments that I reflected on how far I have come. I thought of the past couple of weeks in Hong Kong and how much I have learned and grown. In those moments I was truly happy with my life and what I have accomplished so far.

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As we left our “concrete beach” (our nicknamed for it), we came across an abandoned village. It is possible that some people live in the area but it didn’t seem like it. Abandoned buildings are one of my favorite subjects to photograph so I really enjoyed exploring the village a bit.

After leaving the village we followed the trail until we reached the main road. We waited a few minutes for a double decker bus back to the city and as soon as we got on board it we all took naps. The hike wore us out!

Overall, hiking Tai Long Wan Trail was amazing! It is difficult for me to put into words all the amazing parts of the hike. I still can’t get over that I did it! I keep looking at my Facebook album of the hike to remind myself that I really did go on the hike. The beauty I saw on the hike is really there. So when I yearn to be in nature and I am stuck in a concrete jungle (like Hong Kong or Chicago) I can just look at my photographs and see the lush green mountains and the beautiful blue ocean.

I am an intern. I do work.

The past month has been a whirlwind full of amazing adventures with great new friends. Hong Kong is a beautiful city. I feel extremely blessed to be here for eight weeks this summer as an intern.

All my blog posts so far have been about my weekend excursions in Hong Kong. What I failed to mention is the work I have been doing at my internship! So this blog post is dedicated to sharing a glimpse of my internship at the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.

First of all I really love my boss. Mr. Chung-Kai Sin is a full time Legislative Councilor for the Democratic Party of Hong Kong. Here is a link to his biography on the Legislative Council’s website if you want to know more about him: http://www.legco.gov.hk/general/english/members/yr12-16/sck.htm

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One great thing about Mr. Sin is that he has two sons that are in college in the U.S. so he is sympathetic to my situation. He is very familiar with the U.S. education system. He knows that in a year I will be graduating and that this summer is all about learning as much as possible so I can be prepared for a career after college graduation. He has also been to Chicago and his eldest son will be working there this coming fall since he just graduated from Georgetown.

The first few days of work our boss (Mr. Sin) told us we could take it easy and just get used to the environment. I really appreciated this because it is a whole new world here. I work on the ninth floor of the building. I share a cubicle with another Dream Careers intern, Rachel, from Canada. Our office is very nice except for the freezing AC! When I walk to the bathroom I get to look outside the floor to ceiling windows that are around the exterior of our building. The Legislative Council is right on Victoria Harbor on Hong Kong Island so the view is pretty amazing!

Mr. Sin told me the first week that he would assign me tasks related to my major, which is corporate communications. At first I was really nervous about letting him down and not being experienced enough but over time I have gained confidence in my knowledge and expertise. He really gives me full reign over every task he has given me so far. It is a bit scary but I am learning a lot!

My first task for Mr. Sin was editing his CV (resume). He wants three different CVs that are focused on his experiences in IT, politics, and business. He wants a long and short CV for each of the three. So that is a total of six CVs. I still do not have them complete. It is an ongoing task. I have met with him various times to talk about the direction we want to take and he has given me examples of CVs that he likes. I am not an expert on CVs at all so this has been a challenge for me!

Another job I had a while back was researching about the Snowden situation. If you are unfamiliar with it here is a link to a website page that will tell you all about it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/edward-snowden I systematically complied information for Mr. Sin about Snowden because at the time Snowden was staying in Hong Kong. It was a pretty big deal around here and a lot of people took to the streets to protest. A majority of Hong Kong’s people support what Snowden did and wanted Snowden to stay in Hong Kong. It was such a pivotal moment in history and it is still crazy looking back knowing that I was a part of it. I even sit in front of the office of Councilor Albert Ho Chun-yan who happened to have dinner with Snowden before he left Hong Kong for Russia. The Councilor celebrated Snowden’s birthday with him and bought pizza for everyone there. What a small world.

I have also attended many Legislative Council meetings. The Council normally meets every Wednesday morning in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Complex to conduct its business while in session. Its business includes: tabling of subsidiary legislation and other papers; reports and addresses; statements; questions; bills; and motion debates. From time to time, the Chief Executive attends a special Council meeting to brief Members on policy issues and to answer questions from Members. All Council meetings are open to the public and are also televised. When I sit in on these meetings I am given a headset so I can listen to the English translation. They also have people translating the meeting in sign language. I think the U.S.A. needs to do this as well during their televised news broadcastings.

Besides researching information and sitting in on meetings I have also written a few speeches for Mr. Sin! The first speech he asked me to write was about Inland Revenue (Amendment) Bill 2013. Basically my boss wanted to challenge the government to create an independent oversight committee for the IRD (Inland Revenue Department). So I wrote a two-page speech. I researched about the IRD, current review committees, Hong Kong’s policies relating to exchange of information and taxes. It was a time consuming task but I felt so accomplished once I was finished! I even got to sit in on the council meeting and hear my speech be presented by my boss!  (FYI I wrote the speech in English and he presented it in English. Even though the council meetings are primarily conducted in Cantonese they also speak English.)

After writing that speech for Mr. Sin I was asked to work on his Facebook and his website. Mr. Sin currently has 4,999 friends on Facebook and the maximum limit is 5,000 so I needed to find a way to let him continue to add friends. After extensive Google searches I found out that the best thing to do was make a business page for my boss so that people could like the page instead of adding him as a friend. It was a tricky transition but I finally figured it out. I am currently still transferring data from his old personal profile with 4,999 friends to his new business profile.

The website I am working on is also an ongoing project. I was asked by a fellow employee of Mr. Sin to help him update Mr. Sin’s website. Turns out they (Mr. Sin and his employees) paid a company to create a website for him. They aren’t entirely happy with the outcome and asked me to help them enhance it. To be completely honest I am not a website developer/designer so this is a huge task. I told them that my experience with web design is limited (I have edited the website for my job at college but I had a manual to follow.).  I was given a training session about the website which helped me understand the inner workings of it. I now know how to edit and change around a few things and if I learn HTML then I will be set! So say a few prayers for me that I can update this website a bit for my co-workers. (I also think I need to learn web design in the future to be more marketable. It might make the difference of me getting a job someday since computers are so important.)

A big project that I am currently focusing all my attention on is a speech Mr. Sin is giving Wednesday (July 17, 2013) at the final Legislative Council meeting of the season. The speech is about a motion that another council member has made and the amendments that councilors added to the motion. My boss made one of the amendments. The motion is about following up the matter on Mr. Snowden’s disclosure of the U.S. Government’s hacking into the computer systems in Hong Kong. Basically the council members are urging the government to take a stand and ask the U.S. government for more answers as well as find ways to improve their own cyber security so Hong Kong can prevent being hacked further. The speech needs to be no more than 10 minutes and 2,000 words. It is a long speech and it is even more challenging to write than the first one. It is ironic that I am a U.S. citizen writing for a Hong Kong council member about this issue. I agree that Hong Kong needs to take action and enhance their information security I just have no idea how they can compete against the U.S. But I am totally rooting for Hong Kong to figure it out and strengthen their technology and give the U.S. a challenge.

Besides the tasks I have already mentioned, I have also written a short biography for Mr. Sin so it could be sent to the ISP Symposium in Macau on July 9th. He was presenting at the symposium and needed to have his biography for people to read about him.

So there you have it my extensive explanation of what my internship has entailed thus far. I am staying busy and working hard. I have come to realize that working in politics is not really my thing but that doesn’t mean that it is not an important aspect of my life. I am engaged in politics but would prefer to work for a grassroots organization working against social inequalities and for the common good of people around the world. I hope that after I graduate college I can dedicate a year to serving others. I would really like to work with refugees.

Being an intern at the Legislative Council working for Mr. Sin has taught me a lot about politics, communications, and myself. I am grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait to apply the skills that I have nurtured here to my career/jobs in the future. Right now my future is bright and full of exciting opportunities!

Peace,

Sarah

(On a side note I want to take the time to thank my amazing parents for encouraging me my whole life to take chances and push myself to obtain my goals. I love you both with every fiber of my being and I probably don’t say it nearly enough. As your only child I want to make you proud to call me your daughter and I hope I am doing a good job so far! I couldn’t have gotten to this point in my life without you both. You have taught me many valuable lessons in life but one that sticks out the most right now is the importance of being unique. Growing up I was always worried that I was too different, mostly because we raised alpacas on a farm in Michigan and none of my friends had the same pets. Over the years you both taught me that being unique was a great quality and that someday all my unique experiences would help me reach my goals and have a great future. I want to tell you that you were right – you usually are but as a child I couldn’t always see your wisdom. Please know that you inspire me every day to be the best I can be and to continuously see beyond the horizon line. I am unique because you have supported my unique goals and dreams. I couldn’t be happier with who I am today and that is all thanks to you. Thank you for being loving parents! See you in a few weeks when I come home! I miss you both very much!)

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