The Final Countdown

Since my last blog, I embarked on most of my final adventures during my time at CUHK.

On Thursday, April 4 (a school holiday), a few friends and I crossed Hong Kong/China border into the Chinese city Shenzhen. The border is only about a 30 minute MTR ride from CUHK. Shenzhen is quite a large city, which was recently constructed in 1979; before it was simply a small village. When we entered Shenzhen, we could definitely tell we were no longer in Hong Kong. Hardly anybody spoke English, the smell of the city was not quite pleasant, and there were no high rise buildings to be seen. Our aim for the day was to go to the 24-hour spa called Queen Spa, which has free bus shuttles from the mall across from the Shenzhen MTR station. Finding the bus shuttles was quite a mission given that, as I mentioned, essentially no one spoke English. The spa was nice. That said, by the end of the day, we were ready to go back to Hong Kong. Getting around Shenzhen and figuring things out throughout the day was pretty challenging and somewhat tiring! It was really interesting to see that the Hong Kong and Chinese cultures are so different even when such a small distance separates them.

On Sunday, April 7, I went to Sai Wan Beach in the Sai Kung area. Another group of exchange students had gone there a few weeks before and told us it was a must-do because the beach was nice and there is an area to cliff jump. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, it was such a fun day! We hiked to the cliff jumping area, which was really difficult to find! The directions were very vague, and we found ourselves scaling rocks. When we finally got to the cliff jumping site, we ate our hard-earned lunch and then one by one we climbed to the top of the waterfall. I was the first to jump off, and I didn’t realize until I got to the top how high I was! When I landed in the water, the water was soooo cold. However, that didn’t stop anyone else from going or from me going two more times. I have to say, this was actually one of my favorite day trips I have done in Hong Kong.

Sai Kung Beach:

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Sai Wan Cliff Jumping:

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The following week was cram time for me in terms of submitting papers, studying for quizzes, and working on projects. Since I realized I was going to finish everything with some spare time on my hands, I decided to jump on a trip to Singapore/Malaysia my two good friends here had already booked for that weekend! Another person decided to go last minute, so we met up with our friends in Singapore a day late Thursday, May 11, at night.

On May 12, we visited Sentosa Island and Marina Bay Sands (pictures below). Marina Bay Sands was opened in 2010 and is quite a spectacular sight. Although it was recently established, it is already recognized as one of Singapore’s landmarks. We went to the Skypark (the top of the building) to see the view of Singapore from above, which was awesome. I was surprised by the modern and futuristic look of Singapore. Being there, I almost felt like I was back in America!  That night, we went out to Boat Quay and it was a lot of fun to experience the nightlife.

Sentosa Island:

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View from Skypark, Marina Bay Sands:

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Marina Bay Sands:

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The next day at 7:30AM, we bused from Singapore to Malaysia. Our hostel in Malaysia was in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and has been the most amazing hostel I have stayed in – it was so nice! There was a restaurant and bar, in which there were 3 TVs: one was playing the movie “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” on HBO, another Tiger Woods playing golf on ESPN, and the last was Discovery Channel. I was so surprised; I haven’t watched American cable TV since I left San Francisco in January! That afternoon we walked around our hostel’s area (which was a great location) and ate dinner in the old part of Little India in Kuala Lumpur.

First afternoon in Kulala Lumpure, Malaysia:

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On May 14, we signed up for a tour through our hostel that took us to the “7 Wonders of Kuala Lumpur.” Pictures below!

The National Mosque:

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Thean Hou Temple (largest Buddhist temple in Kuala Lumpur):

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The National Monument:

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The National Palace:

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Batu Caves:

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Mallay Village:

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Then that night, we signed up for another small tour that took us an hour outside of the capital to a more rural area. Monkeys were everywhere!! (Shown below.) Then we had a seafood dinner along a river, and a boat cruise in that river to firefly watch. On the way back to the hostel, our tour guide stopped at the the famous Petronas Twin Towers, the landmark of Kuala Lumpur, for us to take pictures.

Monkeytime:

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Petronas Towers:

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By the time we got back to the hostel that night, it was time for us to leave for our 12:30AM overnight bus back to Singapore. When we arrived in Singapore on Monday, May 15, we walked around Singapore’s Chinatown and Arab Street. After, we stopped at another one of Singapore’s landmarks: the Merlion. The character comes from merging of two names: the traditional name of the country “Temasek” during which it existed as fishing village and the new name “Sinapura” meaning lion city. After taking pictures of the Merlion, we departed for the airport and returned back to Hong Kong. It was a great trip, and I am so glad I was able to join last minute!!!

The Merlion:

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From Monday, May 15, night to Thursday, May 18, I was either in class or the library. Once again, I was working on final projects and studying for quizzes. Also, my laptop broke, so the library was actually a second home :/

Today is Friday, May 19, and tonight is our end of the year exchange student’s dinner and party at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui East. Tomorrow I am grabbing an end of the semester lunch with my roommate. And, next week, I will be studying for my final exams the following Monday and Tuesday.

I honestly cannot believe that my time at CUHK is coming to an end. I have been here for almost four months; it feels like it has only been a month and a half or so! It has been the most amazing experience living in Hong Kong, traveling to other Asian countries, and meeting people from all over the world. It’s definitely going to be bittersweet leaving. On one hand I would love to stay longer, and on the other I am excited to see friends and family again.

It’s funny looking back because I had absolutely no idea where I wanted to study abroad, and I ended up applying to CUHK to study abroad late. Now, I cannot imagine having studied abroad anywhere else. Hong Kong was the perfect place for me to go to. I am so grateful everything worked out the way it did!

After the semester ends for me on April 30, I will leave Thursday, May 2, for mainland China with two other exchange students to visit Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing. When we are in Shanghai, I will be able to meet up with Sam Kunz on the CMS soccer team studying abroad there! For the rest of May, we will visit Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. My dad is then coming back to Hong Kong, and we are going to the Philippines together. I will be back in California on June 10. While I have to pinch myself that the past four months have happened, I have to pinch myself for what is to come in May! I am so excited, and I feel so lucky!!

Well, it’s about time for me to begin getting ready for our final dinner and party! The final countdown to the end of the semester begins.

A Day in the Life at CUHK

With one month left at CUHK, I thought it would be cool to start this blog with “A Day in the Life at CUHK.” I carried a camera with me around campus on Tuesday, March 26.

My day started, as it always doess, on the 13th floor of Ho Tim Hall in SHHO College. This is my dorm’s website: http://www.shho.cuhk.edu.hk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26&Itemid=130&lang=en

Now, living on the 13th floor has its pros and cons. By being so high up, I have a beautiful view from our common room.

The 13th Floor Common Room:

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At the same time though, with only one elevator, I have to plan getting to class on time around the elevator. If the elevator is on the ground floor when I press down, it can be about a 7-10 minute trek to ground floor. I have to wait for it to come up, and it stops on at least 6 other floors to drop people off. Then, on the way down, the elevator stops again at about 6 floors to pick people up.

The Unpredictable Elevator:

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On March 26, I got to the elevator at 8:45AM and only had to wait 3-5 minutes to get down. I took the elevator to the lower ground floor where our cafeteria is.

SHHO Cafeteria:

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On Tuesday’s, I only have one class and it is “The Reformation Era,” which is another 15 minute walk of both downhill and uphill (shown below). The class is from 9:30-11:15AM.

Long Walk to Class:

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Classroom: 

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In “The Reformation Era,” I am the only exchange student. The class is actually for graduate students, so it is composed of older local students. My teacher is from Switzerland. However, he speaks very good Cantonese and Mandarin, and he often speaks in both these languages during class. Luckily, he will either repeat in English afterwards, or the translator will update me about what is going on. I would say about ¼ of the class is spoken in Cantonese and ¾ in English. That said, this is the only class that has a language barrier. My other classes are all spoken in English.

After class, I walked to one of CUHK’s libraries to print out my Global Entrepreneurship professor’s PowerPoints because the next day I had my midterm (which half of it was open-book!)

Library:

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View from Library:

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Typically after this class, I go on a 4 mile run along Pak Shek Kok Promenade. It is about a 5 minute jog from CUHK’s campus, and such a nice run along the water! However, because I had a midterm the next day, I stayed in and studied for most of the rest of the day.

Pak Shek Kok Promenade:

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There ya go! A day in the life at CUHK!

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Now for a few other updates from the last week and a half or so.

I ate an authentic Indian dinner at the Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, on Sunday, March 24. It is Hong Kong’s melting pot, where people from all over the world, especially South Asians, Nigerians, and Middle Eastern people, come to start businesses and live. The Mansions has five 17-story towers which includes apartments, cheap guesthouses, low-rent offices, restaurants, and stores.

Chungking Mansions:

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On Saturday, March 30, I went to Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok for dinner with a group of exchange students. This dim sum restaurant has a Michelin star and the best pork buns EVER. I had been there once before, but it was great coming back. We ate so much! That night, we also shopped along Fa Yuen Street Market. The next day we returned to Mongkok for more night market shopping at the Lady’s Market. I bought a fake Marc Jacobs coin purse,that looks quite authentic!

Fa Yuen Street Market:

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Now, I’m looking forward to Friday, April 5! A group of exchange students and I are going to Shenzhen, which is the city across the Hong Kong/China border, to check it out and go to a famous 24-hour spa called Queen Spa: http://www.queenspa.cn/en/queen_en.html. Supposed to be a must-do and quite cheap! From there, we are hopefully taking an overnight train to Yanshuo, China, until Monday morning – currently trying to find tickets and it’s a struggle!

If we make it to Yanshuo, that will be my last big trip until the end of the semester. It is so crazy to me to think that I have been in Hong Kong for over 3 months and have one month left. I feel like I have been here for 3 weeks! And looking back, I really have to pinch myself that it all actually happened.

I’m looking forward to making the best of this next month in Hong Kong and finishing up classes. Then, in the month of May, I have plans to travel to mainland China (Shanghai, Xian, and Bejing), Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, and possibly Laos!

A Weekend in Bali and More Hong Kong Escapades

Before leaving for Bali on Wednesday, March 13, I studied for my Written Oral Mandarin midterm that I had Monday, March 11. The weekend before this midterm I wrote over and over again Chinese characters meaning simple words such as “I,” “you,” “we,” “student,” “teacher,” and “restaurant.” By the end of Sunday, I probably had about 15 to 20 pages front and back with the same Chinese characters. To congratulate myself for the hard work and to take a break before my midterm, I got dinner Sunday night with a group of girls at Four Season Rice. The fried oysters were delicious, shown below!

Fried Oysters:

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After my midterm, most of my time was spent completing last minute work and preparing for Bali. Right after my 4:15PM class on Wednesday, I darted to the Hong Kong airport with my three travel buddies. After our five hour flight, we purchased Visas upon entry and were greeted by our driver for the trip named Parta. (We were able to arrange our amazing driver because when my friend and I were in Thailand, he was recommended to us by an older couple who had traveled to Bali over 10 times—it was fate that we visit Bali!)

The next day, Parta picked us up around 8:30AM and we watched the traditional Balinese Barong dance in the city where we were staying called Kuta. Following the hour dance, Parta drove us to the city of Ubud, where part of the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts was filmed. We saw several temples and walked through a couple markets in Ubud. During our time there, one interesting fact Parta told us was that pretty much all people in Bali have some sort of temple in their house to honor their ancestors and gods. Before leaving Ubud, we stopped at a monkey sanctuary, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me! There were monkeys EVERYWHERE and one of them sat on my lap! Although they were wild monkeys, they are used to visitors and workers at the monkey sanctuary had somewhat tamed the monkeys. Our day was concluded with a 2 hour massage.

Barong Dance:

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Ubud Market:

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Monkey Sanctuary:

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After our massage, we didn’t sleep much because we woke up at 1:30AM to go to Mount Batur Volcano, which was about 2 hours from our hotel. We hiked up the volcano from 3 to 5AM to catch the sunrise. When the sun rose, monkeys came out of the warm crater and tourists fed them food. The monkeys were very friendly! After watching the beautiful sunrise, Parta drove us to the largest Hindu temple in Bali called Besakih Temple. From there, he took us to a coffee plantation. Bali is famous for its coffee called Luwak Coffee. These coffee beans are eaten by the animal called an Asian Palm Civet and then excreted by them, a process that enhances the coffee’s flavor. I do have to say the coffee was quite delicious! After tasting many coffees and teas, we visited a water temple and then the Tegallalang Rice Terrace. The rice terrace was a spectacular sight!

Mount Batur Volcano:

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Besakih Temple:

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Asian Palm Civets and Coffee:

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Tegallalang Rice Terrace:

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The next day was our last full day and we visited Nusa Dua Beach, Dreamland Beach, and Jimbaran Beach. They were all beautiful beaches, and it was a relaxing day! Jimbaran is famous to have dinner at because there are many restaurants with tables lined up on the beach. So, we visited Jimbaran Beach to catch the sunset and have dinner.

Nusa Dua Beach:

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Dreamland Beach:

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Jimbaran Beach and the Sunset:

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Sunday was our final day in Bali. Parta picked us up early in the morning to see the temple called Tanah Lot in the city of Tabanan. This temple was built in the 15th century. Walking around this temple was another highlight of the trip for me because it was such a stunning view. The temple is carved out of rock along the ocean’s coast. While we were there, we saw an offering occurring at a smaller temple next to Tanah Lot. Leaving Tanah Lot marked the end of our Bali trip, which was truly amazing! I had never visited such a tropical, friendly, beautiful country—I would definitely go back!

Tanah Lot Temple:

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Since Bali, I have been in Hong Kong for a little less than a week. Yesterday I checked out a couple new parts of Hong Kong, and one I have already been to. Because it was such a beautiful day, I went to Hong Kong’s famous view at The Peak, which I had seen with my dad at night in January. Then, we took a 30 minute boat ride through Aberdeen, a floating village that houses fishermen and floating seafood restaurants. We concluded the night walking around an area called Causeway Bay, where the famous Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament is occurring this weekend. Hong Kong is more packed than normal this weekend because people from all over the world are visiting to attend The Sevens, which for rugby fans is comparable to the World Cup for soccer fans. While we were checking out a British restaurant, my friends and I were offered four free tickets (each costing about $100US)! It was crazy! Clearly, we were in the right place at the right time! We took the nearest cab and hurried to watch the rugby games, which we caught about 2 hours of.

The Peak:

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Aberdeen:

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The Hong Kong Sevens:

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Those are all the updates I have for now. More to come in two weeks!

Taiwan: Egg Tarts, Hot Springs, and Lanterns

As I write this blog post, I realize I have been abroad now for 2 months; it’s such a crazy thought! I am having an amazing time traveling throughout Asia and meeting so many great people.

From February 21-25, I traveled to Taiwan with a group of 9 other exchange students. We visited Taiwan because we wanted to participate in the famous Lantern Festival in the Pingxi District on Sunday. This celebration originated during the Han Dynasty during a time in which there was a lot of crime. Lanterns were lifted into the sky to convey the message of safety. Now, the Lantern Festival is an event that concludes the Chinese New Year celebrations. People write their goals and hope for the New Year and then light the lantern for it to rise in the sky.

Before going to the Lantern Festival, we stayed in Taichung for one night where one of our friends has a house. Her family treated us to a delicious Taiwanese lunch after arriving. Then that night we went to a night market, which had amazing street food and little shops selling clothing and jewelry.

The night market:

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Me eating an egg tart, delicious!

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The next day we took the Taiwan High Speed Rail to Taipei, which goes about 174 miles per hour! After settling into our hostel, we visited Taipei 101, which was ranked the tallest building in the world in 2004. Now, it is the third tallest building in the world! We went up 89 floors in a matter of 37 seconds. That afternoon, we also saw the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, recognizing Dr. Sun Yat-sen as the Republic of China’s National Father. Then that night we visited another night market, once again having delicious food.

Taipei 101:

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On Saturday, February 23, we went to a hot spring in Beitou, Taipei. As we were walking there, I was expecting a secluded hot spring getaway. And, when we finally found the location, it was swarmed by Taiwan locals. Here’s a picture below. It was hilarious! Beitou is a natural sulfur hot spring which can reach temperatures up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Later in the afternoon, we went to a coastal market area and ordered a huge dinner for 11 people costing only about $30US! The food in Taiwan was very cheap and also very good!

Beitou Hot Springs:

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Sunday, February 24, was our final full day in Taiwan, and it was the day we had been waiting for. We took 3 different trams to get to Pingxi, and it took about a total of 3 hours. And, every tram was PACKED full of people. There was absolutely no room to move! There was, once again, lots of great street food at the Pingxi Lantern Festival! During our time there, we made our own lantern and lifted it up into the sky. At night, there were hundreds of lanterns in the sky that were released about every 45 minutes and it was quite the view. Going to the Pingxi Lantern Festival was such an awesome experience!

Pingxi Lantern Festival:

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The next day we left our hostel at 5:30AM to get to the airport. One of our modes of transportation was a cab, and the cab a mini TV playing Taiwanese karaoke!! It was the funniest thing. When we made it back to Hong Kong, I jumped right back into the groove of things and went to my Oral Mandarin class.

So, Taiwan is my main update for the past 2 weeks. I’ve taken a few trips into different parts of Hong Kong here and there, such as into the cities Mong Kok, Wan Chai, and Central. Mong Kok is less developed than Central. We went to Mong Kok for dim sum and it was delicious! On our way we passed an outdoor market. Central is more developed and has much more British influence. It is where the business district is and where most expats live.

Now, I am studying for my Mandarin midterm in 2 days! In 5 days I will be off to Bali for 4 days!!!

Thailand Adventures

During the CUHK Chinese New Year break last week I traveled to Thailand for 8 days!! It was amazing!! Below is a photo essay of my travels, during which I visited Ayutthaya, Kanchaburi, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket:

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Tomorrow morning I am off to Taiwan for 4 days, during which I will go to the Lantern Festival!

Walking My Way through the History and Nature of HK!

A few updates from the last week and a half or so!

1. When I played for the CUHK women’s soccer team, we won 4-0!  I played in the center back, and I was definitely the tallest girl on the field. After the game, there was a big award ceremony because all the sports teams played on that Saturday against their rival Hong Kong University. So, I received a medal that says “Women’s Soccer Champions” in Cantonese. The coach also gave me a CUHK sports jacket! I will try to make some more practices during my time here.

Soccer

2. I participated in a study abroad planned event that took a group of students to Hong Kong’s Ping Shan Heritage trail. On the trail, we walked through a very old part of Hong Kong that has been inhabited by the Tang clan since the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Some of the historical sites we saw while on the hike were ancestral halls, ancient temples, and a walled village. Here are some pictures from the trail:

Tang Ancestral Hall (built in 1273):

AncestralHall

Yeung Hau Temple:

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Kun Ting Study Hall (built in 1870s):

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Shrine to Earth God (believed to guard villages):

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Hong Kong’s oldest pagoda, Tsui Shing Lau (alleged to be built in 1486):

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3. On Wednesday, January 30, I went to the horse races at Happy Valley on Hong Kong Island, which was a lot of fun!! There was a very international crew watching the horse races—for example, a British businessman living in Hong Kong took our picture while a Latin looking guy briefly talked to us. I didn’t bet money on any horses that time, but the next time I go back I will!

4. On Sunday, February 3, my friend from Scotland and I hiked Dragon’s Back in Shek O Country Park, which the Asian edition of Time magazine elected the Best Urban Hiking Trail! It was a really great hike with beautiful views of the water from high up, and it was also VERY windy! When we got to the end of the hike, we were at a beach called Big Wave Bay. My friend wanted to try surfing, and I just stuck to the boogie board. I’ve surfed before, and I know it’s not my thing. It was hilarious watching her try!

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5. I woke up at 5:30AM on Monday, February 4, to watch the Super Bowl live with other international students from CUHK. We arrived at a British Pub called Trafalgar in an area called Wan Chai at 7:15AM the kickoff at 7:30AM. It was quite the experience being at a bar that early watching the Super Bowl, while everyone at home enjoyed the game in their houses at night! Even though the 49ers didn’t win, it was a lot of fun!

6. My teacher for the “Reformation Era” occasionally likes to speak in Cantonese during class. Even more, in class this morning he played two 25 minute documentaries that were in Cantonese with Cantonese subtitles! Looks like most of my learning in this class will be based off of the handouts he gives us…

7. Leaving for THAILAND in 2 days!!!!!!!! All packed and ready to go!!!!

The HK Essentials: Sasa, Octopus Cards, and Starbucks

On Monday, January 14, I met my roommate! She arrived at the last possible moment at 1:30PM, with her first class starting at 2:30PM. Her name is Heidi, and she was born in Guangzhou, China, but now lives in Hong Kong. She is majoring in Computer Engineering. She is very nice, and her English is good. Most of the times she understands what I am saying, and when she doesn’t it’s really funny to hear what she thinks I’m talking about! Also, I found out the other day that she works for the Hong Kong police on the weekends!

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), where I am studying, is on a hill. Buildings are scattered everywhere. So, it was quite a mission getting to classes during the first week of school (January 14-18). On January 15, I walked straight uphill for about 20 minutes to a class to find out it was moved to the bottom of the campus, another 20 minutes the other way! By the end of the week, I finalized my classes for this semester: Oral Mandarin, Written Mandarin, The Reformation Era, Global Entrepreneurship, and Special Topics in International Asian Studies.

Also, on January 23, I attended the soccer practice for the CUHK women’s team! I will be playing in a game this Sunday. Unlike women’s soccer in the US which fields 11 players on each team, game’s here are 7 v. 7. I will keep you posted on how we do!

Looking back at the last couple weeks, there a few fun facts and pictures to note!

1. I live on the 13th floor, so our common room has an amazing view of Hong Kong! I took this picture from the communal kitchen.

HostelView

2. Sasa billboards are EVERYWHERE. Sasa is a beauty and health store, so if you need makeup, skincare, nailcare, fragrance, etc. you go there! In Chinese, the word means happy young girl. There are 240 stores all over Asia, and it’s the biggest cosmetic chain in Hong Kong. The owners rank on FORBES ASIA at number 35, having a net worth of about $1.09 billion! (http://www.forbes.com/global/2012/0116/hongkong-billionaires-12-sa-sa-kwoks-cosmetics.html)

Sasa

3. I never have to worry about finding a Starbucks, thank God! Starbucks is pretty much everywhere, and it is, in fact, a little nicer than the Starbucks in the US. There are a lot more food options, as shown below. If I need a good lunch or dinner, I could pick from alfredo broccoli & new potato casserole, meatball casserole, smoked salmon sandwich, broccoli cheese pie, a salad, and much more! At this point, I have just stuck to Starbucks coffee! Also, when you pay, you can use what’s called an Octopus card, also shown below. I find myself constantly putting money on this card because I can use it at Starbucks, 7-Eleven, the MTR transportation system, and all the stores on campus. Essentially, you can’t survive in Hong Kong without an Octopus card!

Sbucks1 Sbucks1a

Sbucks1c Sbucks6

Sbucks5 Sbucks2 Sbucks7

4. When you’re at a restaurant and ask for a glass of water, you have to make sure you say “cold” water. Otherwise, you end up with a hot cup of water!

5. Bathrooms hardly ever have paper towels – you have to use the hand drier!

6. A keyboard with Chinese characters looks like this:

Keyboard

5. I’m going to THAILAND from February 7-16 and TAIWAN from February 21-25 with a big group of other international students!!!!!!!!