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.



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.