Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Twinge of Homesickness/Political Rant

I've now been away from home for a bit over a month, and while overall I've certainly enjoyed the vast majority of my time, I'm sort of beginning to dislike some of the blaring cultural differences here. For example, when you're walking down the street, its very common to have someone just step right in front of you and walk at an unbelievably slow rate, mainly because Asians just walk really really slowly and without much direction. Really annoying when you're in a hurry, and frankly, even when you're not. Additionally, I've developed a bit of a cough, which I'm pretty sure is due to a combination of lack of sleep and pitiful air quality. Tonight there was a thick mist-fog sort of thing, which was not water, but pollution. Pretty gross, it just makes you feel dirty. I've also met as of late a good number of snobby Eurotrash liberals, who have made it very clear that my fiscal conservatism is morally wrong and that they vehemently disagree and don't want to hear anything about what I have to say. People like that don't deserve to have opinions on things, and I can only hope their time in HK is marred by illness. Sadly several of these people are from California, and are doing a horrendous job of representing the US, not even from a political standpoint, but from a general attitude standpoint. To think they (liberal idealists) preach open-mindedness in general, but can't seem to bear hearing about other people's views. I'm also getting a bit fed up with ISU's incompetence regarding my two internship opportunities. I've emailed people regarding them both, and haven't heard back. Considering the fact that if I get the one in The Hague, I'll be leaving here for there in just over 3 months, I'd really enjoy knowing somewhat soon if I'll be doing that one. If I get the one in Jo'Burg, I'll be returning home for a bit beforehand, so I'd like to know if I'll be doing that or not. If nothing else, I may be going to Singapore next weekend with Elliott and Ben, we found R/T airfare for like $115US. We'd be leaving here Thursday evening after class and getting back Monday morning at 11:35, just in time for 2:00pm class. While there, we'll likely spend Friday in Singapore then head north into Malaysia. Should be a decent weekend. The weekend after is Chinese New Year, so God knows where we'll be going for that. Last couple of days have been good. Yesterday was mine, Elliott, and Ben's day off, so we took the ferry to Lantau Island to see the Giant Buddha Statue (, and the surrounding temples. We also took a very long cable-car ride back down to the MTR station which took us back to HK. Last night we went to the horse races over at Happy Valley, it was also pretty cool. We had a group of about 20 kids, it was a good time. Today was classes more or less all day. After my last class, which I have with Elliott, we went to dinner with Marije from Amsterdam, at the university food court. This weekend is likely going to involve a good deal of schoolwork, as I have a few economic hw assignments due next week. Had an excellent Economic History of China lecture today. I was actually running a few minutes late, but when I got into the elevator the professor was also in there, so we had a good conversation about his teaching philosophies for the course and the fact that he was teaching econ as more of a social science than as a math class. He's definitely a pretty brilliant professor, from what I've seen. Also, high table dinner was Monday. It was something right out of Hogwarts, let me tell you. There were 4 very long tables of about 70 people each, then a "high table" of the Guest of Honor (a very distinguished HK medical doctor) and his entourage. We sang the hall song (also Potter-esque) and had a surprisingly decent meal. It was a good time, the group I was assigned to sit near was pretty hilarious, so that was alright. That lasted a good few hours, and afterwards everyone kind of mingled around and hung out for awhile admiring each others suits. Again, a pretty good time. That's about it for now, will likely post something early next week regarding this coming weekend. Should be finding out about the South Africa internship fairly soon, that could be decent.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Macau, Finnish People, Shark Fin, Pig Stomach, and "The Netherlands???"

Tom Petty wrote a song a few years ago on his album “Highway Companion” entitled “Big Weekend”. In this song, he talks about “crossing every border with nothing to declare”, “going to hit the bars”, and “jokes in your language not coming out the same”. This past weekend involved all of the following, and then some. Friday afternoon after classes I headed to U-Hall to hang out with the guys over there. What happened there can only be described as once-in-a-lifetime. We hung out there for a bit, and as we were leaving for LKF, we passed by a bit of an alcove near the door of U-Hall. Inside, from what we could see, was some huge religious ceremony with about 50 people, with incense, offerings, and roast pig. We walked in, and found ourselves in a once-a-year ceremony. Essentially the people here (most of which were students) were praying to their ancestors, leaving out fruit for the dead, and roasting 3 enormous pigs. We were invited in (and were the only Westerners). We all decided to partake in the ceremony, which included lighting incense sticks and bowing to their shrine. We also had to write our names on some sort of banner, and while everyone else had written theirs in Chinese, we all wrote ours in English. Perhaps a bit sacrilegious, but eh, cultural immersion can get sketchy like that sometimes. We then sat down among these 50 or so Chinese and ate some roast pork and some wonderful cake (which was actually kind of like a bit firmer version of jell-o) that was prepared by a woman who has worked at U-Hall for over 50 years. We ended up staying for about an hour and a half, it was definitely one of the highlights of HK so far. After that we went out to LKF and sort of mulled around for about 4 hours, before deciding (at Henry’s recommendation) to hit up the “3:00am Dim Sum place. For those who aren’t familiar with this (which included myself about 48 hours ago), Dim Sum is somewhat similar to Latin tapas, basically a bunch of people get together and order relatively small portions of like 30 different things. The reason this place in particular is called the 3:00am Dim Sum place is because they don’t open until 3:00am, and close at noon. We didn’t know how to get there, so we got a cab and said “3:00am Dim Sum place”. The guy knew exactly what we were talking about, and took us right there. The place defined hole-in-the-wall. It was maybe 500 sqft. of eating space, and was absolutely jam packed with Chinese people. We got a big table (9 of us) in the corner, and ate one of the most glorious meals of my life. Absolutely incredible, we all had a bit of everything for about $4US. Got back and went to bed, given that I’d need to be up at 8:00 for Macau.

Saturday morning we went to Macau. It was a real good group, myself, Elliott, Lexx, Oliver, Cindy, and Rob. We got there and walked around the town for awhile before heading to the ruins of the Cathedral there, which was destroyed by an earthquake a few centuries ago. Took some good pictures there before heading up to an observation deck sort of thing, which offered some awesome views of Macau. We then headed back into town, before going to the most spectacular building I’ve ever seen (and if I may toot my own horn, I’ve seen a good deal of spectacular buildings), the Venetian Macau. With 3,000 rooms, a mall, an enormous casino, and countless other amenities, the Venetian is truly the pinnacle of the casino world, a city within itself (kind of written like an advertisement, that was). Anyway, upon arriving at this Mecca of the gambling world, I was a bit disappointed that I was able to exercise the self-control to not sit down at a poker table, however given the negligent amount of sleep I’d had it would have just been a terrible idea. After prying my eyes away from that glorious sight, we went upstairs to the food court for dinner. After dinner we went over to the Gran Lisboa, where we were planning on just catching the bus back to the ferry. However, the girls had to use the bathroom, and on their way there they encountered some absolutely spectacular artwork that had been carved out of ivory, jade, etc. We spent a good 15 minutes looking at all these magnificent carvings, which was one of the highlights of the day. After that we headed back to HK. After I got back to the dorm, I called up Ben to see what he was up to, and he said they were at a housewarming party being thrown by Henna and her boyfriend, Ville. I headed over there and was met outside by Raphael, who showed me upstairs. It was a decent little apartment, although given the crowd it was a bit warm. I was “initiated” into the party, if you will, by having a drink of some sort of Finnish (Henna and Ville are both from Finland) liquorice-liquer. Not bad, but eh. As the party continued we decided at 3:00, we’d head to the 3:00 Dim Sum place again. This time we went with Oliver, Cindy, Ben, Alan, Henna, and Ville. So we did. I ate very little (bit sick of it by that time), but did have the nerve to try pig stomach. It was actually pretty decent. It did, however, get me sick a few hours later, I think.

Sunday I got up and hung out for awhile, then headed to U-Hall to meet Divyan, Henry, and Raphael to go to Mong Kok (Kowloon side) for a bit of shopping and sightseeing. We headed over there and had lunch (which included shark fin), before heading out to shop a bit. Raphael bought some pretty awesome shoes, and Divyan bought an F.C. Barcelona hoodie, but other than that we didn’t really buy anything. We walked around for a good few hours before heading back to HK Island. Should be an easy enough week, I’ve got an assignment due in Theory of International Trade that could be quite easy.

Additional news, got an email the other night (or day in Illinois I guess) from Dr. Varner inviting me to apply for a paid internship in The Hague, The Netherlands. €700 per month salary for a 10 week internship. Certainly not great, but not bad either, and they’d be paying for airfare and accommodation. I hate to be so optimistic, but I think I’m the forerunner, as Dr. Varner approached me regarding this internship several months ago before she let other students know about it, so that’d be pretty decent. It would, however, force me to put the SA internship on hold, but given the absolutely massive difference in cost (SA airfare would run about $2,000 and I wouldn’t be paid, Netherlands would be like $700 and I’d be paid roughly $3,000 during the 10 weeks), it seems that The Netherlands is a better option. Also, it sounds like more rigorous work and more prestige in the job, which is better for a resume I guess.

Fact (s) of the day: Macau is the most densely populated independently governed area in the world, with roughly 50,000 people per sq. mile. 0.6% of Macau’s residents speak Portuguese at home. Not all Australians like vegemite.

Sleep update: I still haven’t slept through an entire night since arriving in HK

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Solution to lack of sleep, The Island Shangri-La, and Finding a Fellow Speaker of La Lingua Bella

So for those of you who read my scathing post yesterday regarding the fact that I haven’t slept through night since literally Christmas, there is hope for me still! Yesterday afternoon, it somehow became painfully obvious what the solution was, a doppio espresso from Starbucks! I went into Starbucks and, while waiting for my coffee, I ran into Bettina, an Austrian girl who was in my class that started in about 40 minutes. We decided to grab a table outside and talk about one of my favorite topics of conversation, travel. We’d been to a few of the same places, and overall it was a decently interesting conversation. After the espresso I felt absolutely magnificent, and walked into my 2:00 class ready to pay close attention and take good notes. It was a good thing I did, as once again, my Economic History of China class proved to be phenomenally interesting. We talked about the improvements in society in general during the Song dynasty, particularly their economic reforms and practices. Definitely made my day. After that class ended at 3:55, I had to more or less dead out sprint across campus to make it to the Meng Wah Complex (from the Knowles Building) by 4:00. I had Elliott save me a seat in our next class, Multinational Corporations, which was a marathon lecture going from 4:00-7:00pm. Given that participation is worth 20% of the grade in that class, I decided to sing like a canary at every opportunity, doing my best to sound like I know what I’m talking about. It went well for the most part. We were also able to form our group for that class for the rest of the semester, Elliott and I drafted Wilson, a local living on our floor of Lee Hysan, and Sofia, a Greek-Italian-Australian who lives just down the road from us. Another interesting story regarding this class today: I was explaining to Elliott how the doppio espresso saved my life today, and naturally I pronounced it in correct Italian. Sofia, who was sitting next to Elliott, overheard my pronunciation, and as it turns out, she speaks fluent Italian. Didn’t really see that coming. While in Multinational Corporations I got a text from Uncle Fred inviting me to dinner at the Island Shangri-La Hotel in Central. That’s certainly not an invitation you pass up, especially when you consider that the Shangri-La won the 2006 award for “Asia’s Best Hotel”. Upon arriving, the first car in the valet parking spot that I saw was a brand new, midnight blue Rolls Royce. Good start to the night. I was the first to arrive, and joining me were Uncle Fred, Uncle Chanwa, a few of their business associates, and Loic, a Frenchman living in Causeway Bay, HK. Loic is some sort of manager at a number of factories up in the mainland, and he invited me to come up and take a tour of the one in Shenzen in the next couple of weeks. Certainly another invitation that I wasn’t going to pass up, so I guess I’ll be touring a factory up in the mainland this semester. The dinner was absolutely wonderful, with several courses including Peking Duck, sweet and sour pork, hot and sour soup, etc. After dinner I said my goodbyes to Uncle Fred and his associates, who are all leaving for the States Saturday. Loic and I exchanged numbers, and he said he’d be happy to arrange for my mainland visa to be provided. Uncle Chanwa was nice enough to drive me back to Lee Hysan, and after returning I decided to go hang out in Victoria Park with Divian, Henry, and Rafael. I headed over there around 11, and we more or less just hung out talking (oddly enough, about the structures of romance languages vs. English vs. Mandarin/Cantonese). I got back fairly early and tried to go to bed around 1:30 or so, but I once again couldn’t sleep. Tossed around till about 3:30, finally got to bed, woke up at about 9:00am. Currently I’m just hanging out till my 2:00pm class, or until Elliott gets up, as we’ll likely go grab some lunch. Playing online poker for the first time in awhile is also nice, and I’ve finally found the time to do that this morning. I am certain, however, that it will be another Starbucks doppio espresso day today. Apologies for the poor flow and pace of this blog today, it was actually a bit of a struggle to write for the first time in awhile.

Interesting fact of the day: I got my bill for my dorm yesterday. I’m paying like $700US or so for a semester of beachfront property. To those who don’t plan to study abroad, shame on you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sleeping (Or Trying To) In the City That Never Sleeps

I hate cliches a lot. One of my most hated cliches is the "city that never sleeps" idea, an idea that has been used to describe countless cities. It seems that anyone who lives in a city of over like 500,000 people feels like their city is a city that never sleeps, and while I'm pretty sure New York was the original namesake of this terrible saying, it has become so bastardized that now its fair game for anyone. However, after having lived in HK for 2 weeks, I've basically found out that this is the city that never sleeps, if there ever was one. Consequently, sleep is extremely hard to come by. After sleeping on trains in Japan for 10 days (and therefore not really sleeping well at all), I've found myself longing for that luxury, for it's much harder to sleep here than on those Japanese Shinkansens. The mattress I'm sleeping on was built for someone who's about 5'10", which, while tolerable, is not particularly comfortable. The real problem, however, is that my hallmates play sports and PS3 in the hallways until about 4:00am, very loudly. While I understand that this is just the way they act, and wouldn't ever ask them to stop because I'm the foreign one and they're just doing their thing, it makes sleeping impossible. Last night I went to bed at 11:00pm, hoping to get a good night's sleep given how tired I was. Didn't fall asleep till 1:00am or so, then was woken up at 3:30am, then 6:30am by some very loud noises from the street below outside my window. In my travels I've had to deal with this before, principally in Istanbul where my hotel room window looked out onto a busy city street, and there was a mosque right next door that had the morning call to prayer at something like 5:00am, but given the fact that that was a very short trip, I was able to cope fairly easily. This, however, has really been taking a toll on me, as I've found myself zoning out in class a lot, and just overall being tired all the time. There's also starting to be a mental factor in it all, in that I'm now expecting to not get a good night sleep, so therefore I inherently don't. Should be an interesting next few months, good thing I can't drive here, I might just fall asleep at the wheel sometime.

Class this afternoon from 2:00pm-7:00pm, should be a blast

The Most Overdue Blog Post Yet

So its been awhile since I posted anything, it was a busy few days and at the moment at least, things don't appear to be on the verge of getting less busy. I've been settling into my floor pretty well, I've now met most of the kids living around me, and a few of them are in some of my classes, so I'll be seeing them fairly often. That's enough of an intro though, here's the journal as it was written:

It’s been a busy few days. Friday we got a good group together to go have lunch with Uncle Chanwa’s son, Bobby (he goes to school in Boston, but was home for winter break). He brought a few friends, as did I, so it was a nice meeting of cultures. We ate at a Japanese place near campus that, in addition to being quite good, was also really cheap (about $4.25US for miso soup, dumpling ramen, tea, and some sushi). Friday night we went over to University Hall, then went down to Lan Kwai Fong. It was a late one. Saturday morning I woke to Elliott tapping me on the arm at 8:30 saying time to go on the tour of HK. The tour itself wasn’t great, we went to a bird market, a nice observation deck of sorts that looked out onto the bay, a few temples, and a wetlands area that was more or less some ponds and tall grass. If nothing else, you can’t beat an 8 hour, full day tour for $20US approximately. We also made friends with the tour bus driver, Mr. Wong. He’s never Wong, he’s always Wight, that Mr. Wong. After the tour we headed to the Freshness Burger. After that I headed back to Lee Hysan to shower up, then went back over to U-Hall around 8:00 to watch the Manchester United match which was starting at 11:00. We hung out on the patio with some people until the match, at which time Ben and I headed downstairs to watch it on the bigscreen. We were unable to find the match on TV, unfortunately, so we ended up getting a crappy live-feed via Ben’s computer. I ended up having to leave at halftime, as the security guard said that at midnight all guests must either check in and stay the night or leave. Watched the 2nd half on my laptop back at Lee Hysan. Sunday was a bit of a slow paced day, Elliott and I went into Central for him to get his octopus card, then we called up Ben to see what he was up to. He came over to Lee Hysan and we all took a long walk down to the sea, where we found the “Cyberport”. It is, more or less, a relatively high-class shopping mall located right on the South China Sea, with a large dog park/sports area. It was pretty cool, there were some nice views, but it wasn’t quite as spectacular as its name might suggest. We headed back to Lee Hysan around 5:00pm, and just sort of hung out for the rest of the day. Monday I got up and mulled around for a bit before heading to class at 2:00. Before class I had lunch with Elliott and our friend Roald from the Netherlands. After class Elliott and I went and bought a good amount of fruit just for a change of pace. We decided that Monday night we’d get a few people together and go see the light show down in Kowloon. Essentially, all of the skyscrapers on the Hong Kong skyline have crazy patterns of lights on them that are constantly changing, timed to music. It was about 15 minutes long, and it was absolutely spectacular. The HK skyline is definitely the most impressive I’ve ever seen, and this was my first time standing a good distance away and just staring back, it was beautiful. We took the Star Ferry back to the island, which was only about 7 minutes or so. Tuesday was brutal, I was at the university from 9:00am until 6:00pm. I had class from 9:30-11:30. After that, I met up with Elliott and we got some lunch. I then had class from 3:00-3:50, Economic History of Hong Kong. It was hands down the most interesting lecture I’ve had since I’ve been here, we discussed estimates of the GDPs of various regions of the world dating back to about 1750, and some of the charts we were looking at were pretty awesome. After that I went to my first lesson of Mandarin (or Putonghua, to be more correct, I’ve been told it’s basically Mandarin but I certainly wouldn’t know). It was a pretty mentally taxing 2 hours, but I was able to understand a decent bit after about 45 minutes, and by the end of the class I seemed to have some grasp of the structure of the language. I also seemed to be the only student who wasn’t translating the sentences from Mandarin to English word for word, as opposed to the general idea of the entire sentence, which led to a decent understanding of what was going on. I guess I got that ability from studying other languages, perhaps, I have no idea. Tuesday we went out to a “black and white” party in Wan Chai. The party’s theme was to only wear black and white, so I wore a white collared shirt, black shoes, a bright red Manchester United tie, and my purple LSU pajama pants. It was a bit of a late one, but I don’t have classes Wednesday, so no problems there. Additionally, Tuesday night I was forced to miss the Manchester City-Manchester United match, which was starting promptly at 4:00am local time. I just didn't have it in me to stay up until 6:00am. Perhaps I was better for it, as they lost 2-1 (with both City goals coming from that scumbag Tevez!), but the 2nd leg of the Carling Cup match at Old Trafford should be all the more interesting because of it. I woke up Wednesday and Elliott and I headed over to University Hall to just hang out on the balcony with Ben, Rafael (perhaps misspelled), Divian, and Henry. We also made some plans for Chinese New Year, and it appears that the only really cheap airfare will be taking us to the Philippines, so that could be interesting. The airfare is roughly $150US round trip, so you really can’t beat that. Friday night we’re having a floor dinner at a Japanese restaurant, should be pretty cool. I’m hoping that most of the conversation is in English, but I’m certainly not holding my breath on that, nor would I put money on the fact that it will be. This weekend we’re planning on going out Friday with some of Cindy’s friends who are here from New Zealand, then getting up early Saturday morning and taking the ferry to Macau. Monday is the first high-table dinner of the semester, formal dress required, and we’re all going as a floor. Should be pretty cool. Uncle Fred is returning from the mainland tomorrow, so I’ll likely do lunch or dinner with him and Uncle Chanwa tomorrow or Friday. Other than that, I’m also getting the itch to return to Italy this summer after the semester is over, only for a short while (probably 2-3 weeks or so). That would only be an option if the airfare is quite cheap (which at the moment it is, I could fly HK-Rome for about $450 and from Rome-Chicago for about $500). Given the fact that I’d already be paying at least $700 for a one way back to Chicago from HK, it would certainly be worth looking in to. If anyone asks, I need to brush up on my Italian before heading back to ISU and Italian 116.01.

Fun fact of the day: from my experience here, Australians pronounce “h” differently than Americans. Rather than saying HKU as just aych kay you, they say haych kay you. Interesting life lessons learned here in HK.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Latest from HK

14 January, 2010

Last couple of days have been excellent. Got word the other day that I’d been nominated for the Outstanding Junior in International Business, as well as the International Business Service Award back at ISU, which was nice. Apparently its not easy to be nominated you need a faculty member to personally recommend you, so perhaps my endless efforts to network with all the profs is finally paying off. I also got an email from a Katie School professor that I’ve been in contact regarding an internship opportunity in South Africa that we’d previously thought was all but dead. However, there appears to be new hope for it, so I may be heading down to South Africa in mid-July to work with the world-renowned Dr. Gert Cruywagen, risk management specialist. It’d be pretty awesome to say the least, and I’ve been assured one of 2 spots in the internship should it in fact occur. Also got word that I’d made the Dean’s List for Fall of 2009, which was nice. Yesterday I didn’t have any class. Elliott and I went into Central to get some groceries and laundry detergent. After buying a bunch of bananas, oranges, fabric softener, and detergent, Elliott realized he needed to go to University for something. Therefore, we walked around University for a good 25 minutes with a bushel of bananas, some oranges, and laundry stuff. We ran into a few friends over there, and they got a kick out of it all. After that we headed back to Lee Hysan to do some laundry, during which time we discovered the roof of the building has a view of the bay, Victoria Peak, downtown Hong Kong, and a huge cemetery. Pretty amazing from 200 feet up. After laundry we called up Ben and went over to University Hall. It was an absolutely amazing building, it resembled a huge castle, with wide corridors, gothic architecture, and huge rooms. We went to McDonald’s for some dinner, then headed to 7/11 for a few Tsingtaos. We headed back and played some gin in the basement of University Hall (which is incredible, 2 ping pong tables, a snooker table, a big screen TV, etc.), and after awhile we ended up just heading up to the balcony to have a few drinks and listen to some decent English music. We ended up meeting a lot of people over at University Hall, including a couple of Canadians, a Czech, etc. Got back pretty late and went to bed. Today I had a lot of classes, none of which were too exciting. My multinational corporations class should be ok, its 3 hours straight from 4:00-7:00pm (or as the Hong Kongers say, 16:00-19:00), but there aren’t any tests, we’re only graded on participation, case studies, and presentations, so it should be a fairly easy A. After class we got some Carlsburg from Circle K and headed up to the roof of our building with this really sweet Australian girl Lex to watch the sun go down over the bay. It was pretty awesome, having a nice view of the bay, the skyline, and Victoria peak. After a couple of hours we decided to head downstairs for some dinner. We ate at the hospital across the street, which ended up being pretty good. After that we went to a “circus party”, which was essentially a party where you all dressed up as people in a circus. We didn’t dress up, and we got there a bit late (around 10:00pm) and they were all preparing to go out to Lan Kwai Fong (the bar district downtown). We decided to skip on that and head back to Lee Hysan for our floor meeting at midnight. We got back and started playing a bit of FIFA before the meeting, and Lex left to head home. Our floor meeting began promptly at midnight, and they went over some basic floor rules (no smoking, no leaving messes places, etc.). Also, the entire meeting was conducted in Cantonese, so I was assigned a personal translator, which was pretty cool. We then discussed where we should have our first hall dinner, which will take place next week. There’s no consensus just yet, but it sounds like it’ll be great. Also, when asked if we’d want to sit with locals or non-locals at a big formal dinner in a couple weeks, Elliott and I both promptly responded “locals”. Gotta soak up the culture while you can. We were also more or less initiated into the floor “group”, and we were instructed to now call everyone “brother” as opposed to “floormate”, “flatmate”, “roommate”, etc. It was all pretty cool, they definitely made me feel welcome. Tomorrow is lunch with Uncle Chanwa’s son, Bobby, then class at 2.

Monday, January 11, 2010

First Weekend in Hong Kong, Plus First Day of Classes

11 January, 2010
Today was the first day of classes in HK. This past weekend (my first in HK) was pretty incredible. During the day on Saturday Elliott and I went with my roommate, Nick, to get Elliott a cell-phone. A few days before, Uncles Fred and Chanwa had taken me to a bit of a seedy mall to get some passport photos done, so I suggested we try out that place for a phone. Lo-and-behold, Elliott found a phone there for HKD160, or about $20. He ended up buying that one, then we explored down near central a bit more before taking the wrong bus home, which led us to a wonderful and dirt cheap bakery. Got some decent stuff there for like 4USD, which was awesome. Saturday night was a party at a club, which was being promoted by the HKU International Students Association. We met loads of people from all over the place, including, but not limited to, Scotland, Finland, Holland, Sweden, England, Australia, New Zealand, France, Ecuador, Canada, etc. Elliott and I met a kid named Ben from Adelaide, Australia (originally born and raised in Manchester, England), who had a few too many drinks and passed out in the extremely loud and crowded club around 1:00am. We decided we’d best get him out of there before someone robbed him, so we carried him down into a cab, intending on bringing him back to the hall he lives in. However, he couldn’t remember where he lived, so after going to a “University Hall” and realizing it wasn’t the right place, we decided it’d be best to have him sleep on our common room couch back in Lee Hysan. However, the woman at the front desk here is a bit of a Nazi about drunks, so she wouldn’t let him in, citing the fact that it wasn’t a hotel. An ill-conceived bribe from me didn’t even do the trick, so we were forced to reconsider our options (this is about 2:30am). We were hanging out in the cul-de-sac thing outside our building, with many people getting back in cabs that had been out that night, so by about 3:00 we had a group of about 10 people just sort of hanging out outside Lee Hysan. We finally agreed that the best thing to do would be to take him across the street to Queen Mary’s Hospital and just leave him in the waiting room sleeping, as we’d heard this was a totally acceptable thing to do here. We left him there about 4:00am, and headed back to Lee Hysan for some sleep. We later found out, incredibly, that he’d woken up in time for his 8:00am ferry to Macau. Sunday there was a much smaller, more laid back get-together at a French Pétanque (a game similar to bocce ball) club. There were maybe 12-15 kids there, including few New Zealanders, some Frenchies, and a Canadian. We sort of just hung around there playing Pétanque for a few hours before heading back around 1:00am to get up for course registration Monday. This morning I got up around 9 to register for classes. I got all the classes I needed, which was real nice, giving me 12 hours of business/economics courses and perhaps Mandarin if I’m feeling ambitious. Elliott and I headed over to the campus around 11:30am to pay our “caution money” (essentially a security deposit on all the things in our dorm, totaling roughly 40USD). After that we paid for a weekend tour of Hong Kong offered by the university for Saturday. It was also quite cheap, a bit less than 20USD for a 9:30am-5:30pm tour of Hong Kong. After that I headed to my first class as a University of Hong Kong student, Theory of International Trade. Luckily, I already knew 2 people in the class, Jake from Michigan and Wei Pang from Australia. My first impression of the class was the fact that the professor didn’t seem to care at all that about half the kids were talking the entire time. There was something of a dull roar throughout the classroom for the whole two hours, and the professor just kept on talking. Additionally, I was a bit concerned by how much of our grade the final was, 46% of the semester grade. It was, however, a very interesting first class, we talked quite a bit about competitive advantage, and very general ideas behind trade in general, as well as some import and export ideas. It sounds like it should be a pretty easy class to get an A in. After class I took the bus back to Lee Hysan, where Elliott and I decided to get a group together to go to dinner. We got Jake from Michigan, as well as Ben (our friend who passed out Saturday), Oliver and his girlfriend Cindy (both New Zealanders), Alan from Australia, and Sofia (probably misspelled) from HK. We went out to a decent Indonesian restaurant near Causeway Bay, although the meal ended up being incredibly expensive (by HK standards, that is, it was really only about 18USD per person, but when meals at most places are about 4USD, it was quite a bit). After dinner we all went our separate ways, and when we got back to Hysan the local guys on our floor were playing some variation of FIFA. The controls were quite a bit different, but I was able to draw one of them 1-1 (losing on PKs) with AC Milan vs. Real Madrid. They definitely take it seriously here, but it was a lot of fun, and I got to bond with some of the locals. If nothing else, they were pretty impressed at my abilities, given that I’d never played this particular game before, and the controls were really different from FIFA. I’m writing this just after I finished the match, it’s 11:19pm here, and I’ll likely be going to bed soon, as I have class tomorrow at 9:30am.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Stuff from first days in Hong Kong

Finally got my internet working, so here's a few thoughts about the first few days in Hong Kong:

January 7, 2010
I arrived in HK last night around 8:00pm. I was originally supposed to arrive around 6:50pm, but my flight in Beijing was delayed about an hour and 15 minutes due to tons of snow there. Chanwa was at the airport waiting for me, but I had a brief moment of panic when I went to the previously arranged meeting place of the Arrival A Starbucks and did not find him there. I quickly calmed down, though, when an Asian man in a Boston College sweatshirt speaking perfect English came up to me from the other side of the hall and asked if I was Blaine. Good enough proof for me that this was indeed the legendary Uncle Chanwa. He drove us (in his beautiful Mercedes S500, I might add) to Uncle Fred’s hotel, The Conrad Hong Kong (an extension of the Hilton brand). We had a late dinner there (Uncle Fred had just arrived about an hour before me), with a view overlooking part of the HK financial district. After that we spent the better part of 40 minutes trying to find my dorm, Lee Hysan Hall. Upon arrival, I was thanking god that we had Chanwa, as the woman at the front desk was a rather severe Chinese woman who spoke not a word of English. Chanwa brilliantly came in with his fluent Cantonese and sorted everything out for me, and after filling out some paperwork I went up to my dorm, being told that I did not currently have a roommate. However, upon arrival I met my roommate who was said to not exist, a Malaysian named Nick. Nick is a freshman (will be a 4-year HKU student) majoring in computer science. His English is remarkably good, and he seems as though he’ll be a very nice roommate. I went to bed relatively early. This morning I woke up around 8am after a restless night of sleep, due to not having any blanket or pillow, and the fact that the room was freezing. Uncle Fred and Uncle Chanwa picked me up around noon, and we headed to Pacific Place mall for my suit fitting. After the suit fitting, we went upstairs to the Hotel Shangri-La for lunch. We called up Uncle Chanwa to come meet us there, and had a really nice lunch overlooking some nice parts of central Hong Kong. After lunch we headed to a department store to get some sheets/blankets/pillows for my bed. The store was enormous, and Chanwa said that it was mostly mainland Chinese that were causing the store to be jam-packed, going so far as to say that without the mainland Chinese, Hong Kong would be gone. After that we went to pick up some transcripts for Chanwa’s son at his old school. He is attempting to transfer from Boston College to either Penn or Stanford. After that we headed to get some passport pictures done for my student ID card, and had some much needed (especially in Uncle Fred’s case, as he was really jet lagged) Starbucks. From there we went to the Conrad, where Uncles Fred and Chanwa did some business. We then went for another suit fitting, where they take pieces of the suit and try them on you to make sure they fit well. It was a bit awkward, having several very small Chinese men poking and prodding and using pins to adjust sizes, but it was a very cool experience. After the suit fitting we went back upstairs to the Conrad, where Fred and Chanwa did a bit more business. We then left for dinner around 7:15, and went across the bay to the mainland, to a different hotel Shangri-La. We had a huge dinner with 2 of Fred’s business associates, Craig and Billy, as well as a Frenchman living in Hong Kong named Loic. The dinner consisted of some excellent Peking Duck. After dinner we headed back to Lee Hysan where they dropped me off, and I said my goodbyes to Uncle Fred for awhile, as he’s heading into mainland China for a couple of weeks before coming back to HK.