Friday, December 5, 2008

Changing Minds

Steve Jobs
Commencement Address at Stanford University
12 June 2005, Palo Alto, CA

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Table Tennis

Turn on the sports channel in Hong Kong. You won’t see Baseball, Football (ours or theirs), Basketball or Hockey. Instead Table Tennis and Badminton take up the majority of the airwaves. Two days ago I was lucky enough to turn on the TV in the common room just in time to see the final game of the Chinese Table Tennis National Championship. Wang Hao, who is currently the World Champion, blew a giant lead in the final match to take silver. The match was a thriller!

I have been lucky enough to befriend some really good table tennis players. Christian, a German, is probably the best. But there are a couple local Hong Kong students and a Danish guy who are also really good.

Today we took a trip down to the local sports arena/complex. This place is really special. It only has table tennis and squash courts. Amazing! On top of that, today all the table tennis courts were filled up (about 20 courts)- many people training with a coach. We were lucky however, because apparently this happens often and they were able to bring some table tennis tables into two of the squash courts. It was Good Times! We played for about three hours, at which time I was too exhausted to play anymore.

Back to studying for final exams.



Guilin, China

My Desk



Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yangshuo & Guilin

The People’s Republic of China (PRC), or the ‘Mainland’ as we call it, is split into many provinces similar to America’s States. Hong Kong is different from these provinces, having recently been returned to the PRC from the British in 1997(HK was a British Colony for many years), and is considered a Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Last weekend, I left the safety of the SAR for the Guangxi Province where myself and five girls, my traveling companions comprised of three French, a German and an American, set out to explore the area surrounding a city called Guilin.

But my experience started much earlier than the day of our departure. After having decided to go on this trip to Guilin in the Guangxi Province, I still had to get my Chinese Tourist Visa, which in the past I had heard was a horrific trial. First, as an American, I have to pay HKD 1,020 where exchange students from other western countries might only have to pay HKD 240 (do remember, much of this cost is due to retaliation, as the US is not a cheap place to get into). I had also heard that a traveler needed to have a detailed itinerary of their travels if they wanted a visa, including purchased hotel rooms, something I wasn’t prepared to do at all.

It turned out that a detailed itinerary wasn’t necessary. In fact I found the security process quite laxest. The women at the window actually recommended to me a better visa, allowing me to visit the Mainland as many times as I would like in six months. Four days later, my passport was returned to me with no problem.

The border with the Mainland is only a forty-five-minute train ride from our school in Kowloon Tong. Upon Arrival, we quickly discovered an enormous difference: no one speaks English. It wouldn’t be so shocking if Hong Kong didn’t have such a large amount of English speakers. But in Shenzhen, the large city located just across the border from Hong Kong where our bus to Guilin would depart from, we found no one who could speak any English.

We arrived at our bus station in Shenzhen after several failed attempts at understanding the locals’ body language directions. The bus we would be taking over night was the nicest bus I had ever taken (in comparison with all the busses I had taken in South America). Instead of being seats, we actually laid down in beds and each person was separated by an aisle rather than having to sit next to someone. Some of the other Westerners traveling on the same bus complained a little about the lack of legroom. But I said nothing. I was in Heaven.

This is where the story takes a strange turn. Instead of the bus dropping us off at Guilin, the bus driver stopped at Yangshuo (about an hour short of Guilin) and kicked us off. When we pointed to the bus ticket that said Guilin (in Chinese characters) he said “Yup” and continued to point us off the bus. It turned out all right. The girls and I had planned on visiting Yangshuo, which is far more beautiful and cheaper than Guilin. A persistent Hostel owner named Mr. Li followed us around for about an hour before we gave in. We managed to get the price down to 10 Yuan a night (or USD 1.75). However we did commit ourselves in later negotiations to a three-day tour contract. Looking back, it was a great price, but I should have known never do tour packages as they always lead to very linear experiences.

For the next couple of days, the girls and I saw and did many things. A bike trip around Yangshuo and some surrounding areas gave us a great view of the stunning landscapes (Really, if you haven’t looked up Guilin or Yangshuo on Google images yet, you should do that now). For about USD 20 the girls and I visited a cave that took us about an hour and a half to get through. The cave had rooms that in some places were three stories high. I had never seen such a beautiful cave. At the bottom of the cave, before we began the climb back up, there was a large pool of mud that the girls and I were able to swim in.

Did I mention the food was spectacular? I have never had such good Chinese food. Really! I ate so much good food and for so cheap. The girls and I would order about eight plates of food, sharing them all with each other. The price per person would then be about Twenty-five Yuan (or USD 4).

On our last day before leaving for home, I began to get frustrated. Not at the trip so much but at trying to make decisions and negotiate with five girls. In comparison with how I am use to traveling, decisions took so long and we would spend much of our time waiting for members of our group (including me on occasion). It wasn’t there fault so much as it was my own. I should have realized that I needed some time alone and then took it.

But now it’s back to school. Finals begin in one week and many seem to be very difficult.

I hope everyone had an amazing Thanksgiving. I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season!








Monday, November 24, 2008

Much of my time

Group projects are an interesting thing. I used to think that the differences in writing styles were different among my classmates at my home university. But with my newfound perspective, homogeneous is how I would describe my home university. The combination of the cultural differences, geographically dispersed academic requirements and non-native English writers has turned the role of synthesizer into a full time position. I find this less annoying than I do interesting. However in the past couple weeks much of my time has been consumed by school and countless group projects. I have had time for little else.

My internship search has becoming dire. Looking back, there is much I would have done differently, but that is hardly the point now. So in short, I’m still vigorously searching. All help is welcome.

An interesting dynamic: I have changed my ticket from 20th January 2009(in order to match my student visa, so HK customs would let me in the country) to 20th August 2009. WOW. As of now, I have no place to stay (31 December they kick me out of the school dorms), no visa (I need a work visa to stay in HK), no money (or not enough to last me until August 09). Scared? Yeah, but also some excitement. What’s life without a bit of adversity?

A change of perspective

The US Presidential Election certainly didn’t disappoint. Regardless of our denomination, it’s hard to placate the significance. But more important to my writing, having been outside of the country during the election, I gained an interesting perspective that is difficult to put into words.

The day of the election I woke up and began watched Bloomberg TV (A business news channel and one of the few channels in English). They had dedicated a large amount of time to the reactions of different governments around the world and what the presidential election will mean to relations in the future.

I was shocked. I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard of or even cared about the election of officials of another country. Sure I know a couple political leaders, but I don’t remember watching their election process or counting the blue and red states in their country.

In the weeks prior I was asked many times by my fellow exchange students which candidate I would be voting for. A couple of my professors couldn’t resist the same question. And yet I couldn’t think of an international election I was interested in, much less having questions for my fellow exchange students and professors.

I attribute this dichotomy, not to my lack of interest in global politics, but rather to the sheer importance of US leadership around the globe. Certainly I have long known my countries importance to the world, but to the exacting degree – to a higher level of realization and consciousness – to which I know it now, I had not.


Again, when a perspective is gained, when the fog begins to lift and your horizon expands, even to the slightest degree, it is an astonishing experience, difficult to put into words.

My health and the Venetian

2 Ex-rays
1 Blood test
1 EKG
1 Gastroscopy
1 Tred-mill test
2 Sets of antibiotics
And yet, I’m still not exactly sure what’s wrong with me. The cardiologist and I concluded, based on my tests, there is nothing wrong with my esophagus, heart and lungs, which is enough to feel comfortably sure I’m not going to die (sarcasm). Amazing how the process of elimination can be so comforting. We agreed upon some skeletal/muscular problem. Although I’m not sure why it has persisted so long.

Regardless, much of the pain has dispersed. I’ve been feeling much better though not 100%. Many of my normal activities have resumed. Two weekends ago I had the chance to visit Macau (or Macao) with about twenty other HKBU students.

We stayed at The Venetian. Apparently Asia’s largest Hotel/Casino/Building, it truly was a beautiful place. The twenty of us rented a really nice room and because we split the price, it was only about HKD 175 (USD 22). But with twenty people in the room, my highly prized sleep suffered immensely.

Staying in Macau for a day was a refreshing experience. In comparison to Hong Kong, which has torn down most if their colonial buildings, Macau has retained most of theirs. The streets wind down from the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Small stores selling interesting snacks and trinkets occupy the first floor of Portuguese inspired building that line the sides of the narrow streets. We were hardly alone. Cramming the streets were endless swarms of Asian tourists. Who knows where from.

After visiting Macau tower and taking in the amazing view of the surrounding islands, my good friend Alexandra and I returned to the colonial district. Once there, we met with a friend of a friend, Patrick, who I had never met prior, but was recommended to by Starr Thibodo, another friend of mine who is currently studying in England. Patrick, who is originally from Southern California and is now working in Macau, treated Alexandra and I to an amazing Portuguese dinner. My mouth waters every time I think of the duck, beefsteak and seafood we were so graciously treated to. It didn’t help that our meal was set in a small quiet colonial style building – insuring I was on my best behavior and used my best manners. The food was great and our conversation interesting. It was a grand end to an exhausting and fun weekend.





Cobra!

The cages were empty when we first arrived at the restaurant. The sign out front, in big bold Chinese characters, looked something similar to the letters my roommate had written down on a small piece of paper for me. There were handwritten English words written just above the Chinese characters, no larger than a size twelve font. “Snake Soup” it read. We had found our whole-in-the-hall.

There were five of us; two French and three Americans, none of whom could speak Cantonese. But that didn’t stop the owners from knowing exactly what we wanted. Shortly after our arrival a box came from the back that emptied ten cobra snakes into the cage just in front of us. After all, our snake soup could have been chicken for all we knew.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Big Buddha

Turns out, all the white people have been hiding in a neighborhood called Soho.

Just south of MTR (Subway) station; Central, on Hong Kong Island, Soho is an interesting restaurant district, and here, all the westerns are hiding. Fitting then, that my first meeting with the HK US Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) would be at a nice little Vietnamese Restaurant smack in the middle of Soho.

And please, you must excuse my ignorance, as I thought for sure, AmCham would be comprised of mainly Americans. How foolish. The opposite was true. Out of about thirty people I was introduced to only five or so other Americans. The rest were made up of Europeans and Asians.

Ultimately I really enjoyed my night. When I first arrived at about 6:45pm, I was miserably sweaty from a long walk complemented by both the HK humidity and a long sleeve shirt with tie. In retrospect, I think a trip to the restroom to catch my breath and dry my brow would have been in good taste. However, I forgot and was pulled directly into conversation with a young lady, who I came to find out, worked with Kelly Services (American recruiting company). I felt so awkward. I was dripping sweat and breathing hard as I tried to conduct myself professionally. We exchanged business cards and pleasantries and then off I was to meet the next stranger.

Remember folks! Always use two hands to give and receive a business card. If you know this and practice this, then you know of course how annoying it can be. All night long I was constantly putting down and picking up my drink. When introduced to someone new I would go scrambling to find a table so I could set my drink down. I’m sure the more experienced have learned how to integrate the two handed business card transfer into a normal conversation, but I managed to make it an event every time.

Though I don’t know if an internship or network will materialize from this experience, having the chance to express myself in a professional environment, in professional dress and in a professional manner was invaluable. I do feel empowered from the experience and still have plenty of opportunities to find a suitable internship.

The results from my ex-ray returned negative… Good right? Well the pain in my chest continued so I returned to the Doctor. We decided that a Gastroscopy was necessary. This was just a week ago. The test concluded that parts of my esophagus and stomach were soar and red from the acid reflux. However, the pain I’m having doesn’t seem proportional to the small amount of redness found and I’m beginning to think the problem has to do with my posture and sleeping situation. Recently, I added another small mattress to my bed in hopes I will sleep a bit easier. Hopefully a positive change in my health will occur.

Hong Kong, believe it or not, is home to the world’s “tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha”. Located on Lantau Island (same island as the airport), it took Christian (the German table tennis maestro) and I forty minutes by subway to arrive at the Island where we took a cable car across the island to where the Big Buddha is located. The cable car might have been the most exciting part of the whole trip. The ride gives you an amazing view of the airport and surrounding area.

Although seeing Big Buddha was nice, the chance to get out and away from the continuous noise and traffic in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island was a highlight for me. Even though crowded with international tourists, the nature around Big Buddha was still impressive. From on top of the altar where the bronze giant sits ever so still, you can see a row of small mountains stretching the horizon into the sea. When the mountains give way to smaller islands, the whole picture is pleasantly blurred by what I had made believe was beautiful low-lying clouds, but that I knew was really smog, sent from the mainland with love.

Not very interesting but still important; I did well on my mid-terms. My mandarin was the only subject I could have done better on, but that was expected.


Sincerely,

Kevin





Sunday, October 5, 2008

China & I Celebrate

I turned 24 years old/young on September 13th. Old because compared to my school mates here I’m about three years older than the average, and young, because let’s face it, I can still be such a child some times :)

It turns out I wasn’t alone. My friend Tony from England shares the same birthday. On top of the joint birthday party, the thirteenth fell on a Saturday, right in the middle of the Mid Autumn Festival, which the Chinese celebrate in great numbers. For our birthdays, Tony and I, and a bunch of our friends, made a stop at the Red Lily for some great Chinese food before visiting Hong Kong Island where a park was decorated with bright lanterns in celebration of the Mid Autumn Festival. The scene made for some great pictures, and looking back, in my mind, east met west under a night sky dominated by sky scrappers and golden lanterns.

But the night was destined to end early. My cough, which I had been nursing for some time, gained strength as the night continued. I left my friends at the MTR (Subway); I went home, and they celebrated for me.

Unfortunately, I have been ill for the past three weeks. I have been experiencing a sharp chest pain limiting my breath and stamina likely caused by some sort of acid reflux or frequent and intense heartburn. I have visited the Doctor on occasion, but the pain has persisted. I get my x-rays back tomorrow. Hopefully that will give some indication of my illness.

Classes are so interesting! Not just the curriculum, which can be boring on occasion. What is interesting are the interactions between the different nationalities.

In every one of my classes there is at least one group project – the school is absolutely in love with group work. It’s obvious the school wants the international students to mingle with the local students and give the school an international reputation. But more interesting, within the groups, I am amazed at how often I have become the de-facto leader! My age, sex and experience withstanding, it is shocking how fast I am assumed leader.

Before leaving for Hong Kong I was having a conversation with Shaun Nath, a friend of mine who had studied in Hong Kong the year prior. Among other things, we talked about this exact phenomenon. He told me that I shouldn’t bother trying to get out of it, the Chinese are simply less assertive than Americans. I can’t disagree.

More interesting still is my experiences in groups with other international students. In one class, I lazily signed up for a group with four other international students, attempting to stay out of any leadership position. After visiting the restroom, I returned to find my name next to the “Group Leader” title – Thanks team! In any other situation, I would have thought my teammates simply didn’t want to do the work. But in general, I am getting the feeling, east or west, the US produces more assertive individuals (not right or wrong, not good or bad). It’s a stereotype we can’t get away from. (As always, there’s a chance my observations are all in my head)

But it wasn’t just me celebrating these past few weeks. No, no, China celebrated with me. National Day in China, on October 1st, is a celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Other than having the day off from classes, I was privileged to watch one of the most amazing fireworks shows. During the twenty-minute show I repeatedly predicted what I thought was the finale, as well as pointed out the amazing reflection along the countless sky scrappers that line the shores of Victoria Harbor. It seems fitting that the land that created gunpowder, and in effect, fireworks, should have such an amazing display.

My internship search is progressing. I will be attending a ‘meet and greet’ put on by the Hong Kong US Chamber of Commerce: AmCham. I hope to develop some business cards and see if I can’t meet some interesting professionals in my field. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. Should be interesting.

I trust everyone is doing well. Feel free to email me letting me know how you’re doing. Always interested.

Sincerely,

Kevin







Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two Weeks in Hong Kong

It has been two weeks since I arrived in Hong Kong. It was late on a Tuesday night when I exited customs to see Sam, an American from Virginia, and short girl from HKBU acting as a school ambassador who was picking Sam and I up from the airport. The taxi ride from the HK international airport to my school in Kowloon Tong takes about a half hour. It gave me some time to get to know Sam and my new HK local friend. It also gave me a chance to appreciate some amazing views of the city.

When the sun goes down, the city shares a scary resemblance with The Emerald City of Ozz. I was very lucky to find out when arriving at my school that my dorm room would be on the 9th floor, facing Hong Kong Island (where most of the beautiful sky scrappers are). I still use the view from my window to remind myself where I am.

I wish I had more adventures to share with you. Much of my time has been spent settling in. The exchange student group is very diverse. There are close to two hundred exchange students comprised of students from 28 different countries. The majority of which are from France, Germany, and the US. I have made friends with many. Just a few of which are Christian, a German who is an exceptional ping pong player (yes, I purchased an inexpensive paddle and am getting quite good) Tristan, a West Virginian who at only nineteen years old is well traveled and worldly, Julie, a beautiful French girl who continuously intrigues me with interesting perspectives, and Karen, a Canadian who though she wont admit it, is in love with ‘The OC’. But truly, I have made so many great friends already. I’m ashamed, for time sake, I must leave them out.

My roommate is a HK local named Sam (his English name). He is a bit quiet, but then again, I would be to if I was attempting to communicate in Cantonese. It was just today that I came back to the room and found him hanging out with a couple friends. Prior to this I was unaware that he had friends. He seemed quite the conversationalist with his HK friends and I was excited that my roommate was more exciting than I had first perceived.

Classes started last week. I have three marketing courses, one management course, and Mandarin. My marketing and management courses are quite similar to those I have taken at my home university. Mandarin is just hard.

Of all the things that are different, and there are many, the food is the hardest thing to get used to. When chicken comes with rice, you must pick out the bones and peel off the skin in order to get to the meat. Careful when you get a salted egg, it’s salty enough to ruin your entire meal. Most the time I give myself about a 50 % chance to get a meal that I like. Normally, unless I’m up for rolling the dice, I just stick with something I’ve had before.

There are many things that I look forward to working on. I was able to get my entrepreneurial idea into the senior experience projects at my home university. A student team selected the project this past week and they will begin working on it shortly (Thanks Tracy & George for your help). I will also begin searching for a suitable internship. I plan to create a database of marketing agencies here in Hong Kong and begin identifying which agencies are best suited for my abilities and goals. All help is welcome!

Thank you everyone for your continued support. I look forward to hearing from you concerning your lives and accomplishments. It’s hard to believe that it was just last December that I ended my trip to South America in Buenos Aires. However, I must say, when I put on my backpack two weeks ago, a smile came across my face. I knew exactly why. I’m where I need to be, at least in this part of my life. There are many things that this trip is and there are many things that I plan to accomplish. But I enjoy saying in plain – I am exploring, that my curiosity and philosophies compel me to this. This is going to be an amazing year.

Sincerely,

Kevin Burns

video





Saturday, August 16, 2008



To My Friends And Family:


My name is Kevin Burns. I am a senior at CSU San Marcos studying Global Business Management. At twenty-three years old I have had the great opportunity to do many things that I believe instrumental to my life. With your help I plan to continue my education in Hong Kong at Hong Kong Baptist University and the surrounding area.


For the past three years I have proven a commitment to my aspirations – taking a two-month trip to Europe and a five-month trip to South America. I had the chance to stand at the gates of Auschwitz. The gates bear the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei”, meaning ‘work makes one free’. The irony is life changing. Amongst a crowd of thousands, I watched the final game of the 2006 World Cup from the English Gardens in Munich, taking every liberty to cheers a liter of beer with my new German friends. I felt old and civilized while I watched my first Opera at the beautiful Vienna State Opera, the first opera built in Vienna. I volunteered my time at an organic farm in Ecuador – helping to educate local farmers about the destructive practices of mono-cropping and deforestation, both dreadfully real along the Ecuadorian coast. By pure chance I found myself working as a bar tender in the heart of La Paz, allowing me two weeks to discover the intricacies of the Bolivian capital city. South American culture became more profound and rich after having multiple opportunities to stay with South American families in Ecuador and Bolivia.


Much of my traveling has been at the behest of my philosophies. Heavily influenced by authors such as Henry David Thoreau and Søren Kierkegaard, along with inspiration from my close friends and family, I developed a worldview that I believe right for my character. Einstein said it best, and I echo here, striving for great Truths and great things is not just a hobby for the authors of the past, rather, along with being my passion it is important to the definition of every generation. Every generation must define itself because every individual must define himself. If only this self-defining wisdom could be gathered from books alone. But wisdom and Truth are dead as long as they reside in plain text alone, void of action and the corresponding inherent understanding. Following my dreams, chasing adventures, and stopping on occasion to gain some perspective is where I hope to find my definition.


What a man can wrest from Truth by passionate striving is utterly infinitesimal. But the striving frees us from the bonds of the self and makes us comrades of those who are the best and the greatest.”

-Einstein

I have the opportunity to continue my education as an exchange student in Hong Kong during the fall of 2008. With your help, the semester abroad would represent my final semester of college, as I plan to graduate upon my return. Studying in Hong Kong would also give me a chance to develop my third language, Mandarin, and provide a means to explore the Asian culture, which I understand to be of extreme difference to the west and all that I have experienced of yet.


As a Global Business Management Major, I have the option to replace a traditional senior experience project with an international internship. By studying abroad in Hong Kong, I will be able to establish connections with surrounding businesses during the exchange program. This will allow me to actively search out the best internship possible, rather than being forced to take an internship that I am unfamiliar with. A better internship means learning relevant skills, and establishing a doorway into an industry that I am interested in.


I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

-Mark Twain


I believe throughout my education I have been able to see the forest through the trees. I am not just a student of business, but also a student of the world. My education is far more than just what I have learned in classrooms and textbooks. I have found the history, geography, architecture, cultures, perspectives, languages, physical and emotional hardships, to be the part of my education I have learned the most from. I hope to continue this educational experience in South East Asia. Upon finishing my exchange program and international internship, I plan to explore many other countries in South East Asia for the remainder of the year.


In the past I have juggled work and school in order to afford my education abroad. This has not been the case with my spring 2008 semester. I was unable to work during this semester due to the gravity of my workload at school, my participation in multiple student organizations, and my diligent search for a suitable internship over the summer. Though my hard work during the past semester has paid off, I have found myself lacking a significant amount of finances in order to afford my stay in South East Asia. I am asking for your financial help. I ask because I am genuinely in need of your help. But my asking is also the product of my desire to include others in my travels. I am truly of the opinion that there are people who believe in what I am doing and would be glad to contribute to my cause. I hope to keep in strict contact with friends, family, and all who are interested in my travels. If you would like to contribute or be part of my mailing list, please contact me at burns777@gmail.com. Or, you can visit kevinjamesburns.blogspot.com to learn more about me, and different ways to contribute to my trip.


Sincerely,


Kevin James Burns

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Introduction

Thank you for visiting my Blog!

I am hoping this Blog will allow me to keep my family, friends, and all who are interested in my travels updated about my upcoming adventure in Hong Kong. In conjunction with this Blog, I will continue a mailing list for those who would prefer that medium. (E-mail me your E-mail address at: burns777@gmail.com)


Below I have added my Curriculum Vitae: more or less an elongated Résumé. This should provide you with a good amount of information about what I have been doing for the past four years. In addition, I will be an intern at Gen-Probe working in the Marketing/Communications department this summer; starting June 17th. If I can provide more information about myself, please contact me.

I am still in need of financial help for my studies in Hong Kong. If you would like to contribute, see my first post entitled ‘Finances’ where I have included different means to contribute and detailed information about the cost of my eleven-month trip.

I look forward to your emails and hope that this trip will be just as educational as my past trips.


Sincerely,

Kevin James Burns


Photos from my trip to South America











Photos from my trip to Europe!