Sunday, January 30, 2011

The preparations begin...

Accomplishments for today: laundry, graded some homeworks, read books, looked at PE prep books (they are expensive!), scanned some stuff, and rewrote notes for a class.

I need to start thinking about which PE prep books I might want to buy to bring with me to HK. If I were to work in the US, I would ask all my coworkers to borrow their study material. I'm sure I would come away with a good collection. The test is open book so it's to your advantage to bring as many books as you can carry! Actually there might be a limit but still. The Stanford Engineering Library has a pretty good collection of PE prep books. I can't scan all of them but it would be nice to see how useful they are before buying them. Books will definitely make my suitcases heavy. I can charge an extra piece of luggage to the company but that's still not a lot. I should make a packing list. I need to pack strategically so that I bring the stuff that are not on that the approved furniture list.

I checked out a bunch of books about the business and working culture in China. I had wanted to find things about Hong Kong but there doesn't seem to be very many. Maybe I'm just not looking at the right places (or in the right language!). There are plenty of stuff saying things like, "name cards should be printed both English and Chinese. They should be handed out with both hands." Okay, that's a cute little fact.

The other day, I found this column in the NY Times called the Corner Office. It consists of interviews of people in high level management who talk about their experiences, what it takes to get to where they are, what they expect out of people they work with, etc. It's really interesting. I read a few and generally agree with what they have to say (actually doing what they say is another story). But I noticed that what they valued seemed very American. I think the American workplace has a defined culture. It's different in different industries and settings, of course. But I think I have a general understanding of what is the norm, what is expected, and how to position myself for advancement. I don't think I can say the same about Hong Kong.

That's why I've been trying to find some books or articles about the business culture in HK. Instead, I found a lot of books about China. Now I know that they are not the same (China and HK). HK is more westernized but Chinese values are still there. So I figure if I can keep some of these Chinese business culture tips in mind, they would help me understand HK culture as well. Not sure if this is a good assumption to make or not. We'll see, I guess.

I finished reading China CEO. It's a pretty good read. I think the authors did a good job in selecting people from a variety of industries and synthesizing the information together. I had to read it fast because someone else put a hold on the book. The interviewees in the book is all upper level management and the book is definitely geared towards people/corporations who are interested in expanding their operations in China. One of the first things that the book talks about is the quality of the expat who will be successful in leading a big corporation in China. The one thing they found to be universal is that for China cannot be an upper-level manager's first expat assignment. All of the interviewees agreed that to be successful as a leader in China, you have to have previous overseas assignment, preferably in Asia, and especially in Hong Kong and Taiwan. So this got me thinking... Now that I am going to be an expat in HK, this would position me extremely well in the future for leadership/management positions in China. I would love the opportunity to start a team/office somewhere and be in charge of building up that team/office. Anyway, this might all be fantasy thinking. Can't think too much ahead of myself. Haven't graduated yet!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Signing the dotted line...

Still haven't sent the actual contract back to HR yet but will very soon. I sent in all the stuff for the work visa. The application is pretty simple. It took me a while to take a picture of myself that I was satisfied with. Good thing I decided to get a printer/scanner last quarter. It would be so frustrating to have to go to the library to scan all my stuff.

I started looking at furniture on I have no idea how their prices stack up with local businesses. They seem okay to me. I'm thinking that for big pieces of furniture, they're probably very competitive with other furniture stores. Their shipping rates are very good as well. So I can essentially go through the store, pick out all the stuff I want, pay for them, and have them all shipped to my apartment (that I have yet to find).

I don't think this whole thing has fully sunk in yet. One of my friends said to me the other day, "we'll miss you." And I didn't know how to respond. I mean, I think usually people say, "I'll miss you too." But I think I was in too much shock by that simple comment. Part of me can't comprehend moving overseas and living and working there for an indefinite amount of time. I don't even know how I'm supposed to feel about all this. Excited? I suppose since it's what I wanted. Nervous? Maybe.. but Hong Kong is a piece of cake next to Sierra Leone and Indonesia. Being able to speak Cantonese helps a lot.

I have to say that I am not too confident about the functionality of my Cantonese in the workplace. It will take a while for me to be able to express myself clearly in Cantonese. The good thing is that I'll be working in Hong Kong where I can always fall back on English. I hope I don't use it as a crutch though. I think it would be extremely advantageous for me to be able to function in the business setting equally well in both languages. I definitely need to work on public speaking (even in English). And right now, the thought of making a presentation in Cantonese gives me the chills.

Another thing is reading Chinese. I think I know a lot of the basics and can decipher most things. But it takes me a long time. Too long. I can't be staring at a menu forever. I've also gotten used to the being able to read fast and effortlessly in English. Slowing down to read Chinese characters takes conscious effort. My eyes keep looking around for English. I doubt I will have to do a whole lot of writing in Chinese. So I think I will focus more on reading for now. Maybe I should subscribe myself to a Chinese newspaper or magazine so that I can force myself to read. The internet is too easy. Google translate is just one click away!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Update to previous post

Turns out, it's not one year of experience to the exam date but the filing date. So in order to fulfill the qualifying experience portion of the PE exam eligibility requirement, you need to have at least one year's worth of work experience on the day that you file things. In other words, your references can only vouch for the work that you have already done, not for any future work (unless the work is within 30 days of the final filing date). This means, I can't be qualified to take the April exam. The final filing date for the October exams are in early July. So as long as I start work sometime in June, I should be fine. So I can afford to wait a little bit longer to leave. Anyway, still need to pick a start date before getting back to people.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I think I should change the title of this blog to something along the lines of "Life of an Expat - An Asian American's Experiences of Working in Asia." But that title wouldn't be appropriate for all these previous posts... Oh wells. I don't want to start a new blog.

So nothing's official yet but I have pretty much decided that I will be going to work in Hong Kong and which offer I am accepting. I think I have pretty much made up my mind on the big decisions. Now I need to deal with the details. I think it was really good to visit in person and see both the city and the companies.

I was also surprised at how fast my Cantonese got up to speed. Hong Kong is relatively easy in the sense that a lot of people speak English so it's okay if you need to introduce some English words into your sentences. The Mainland is usually not as forgiving. But I definitely started thinking in Cantonese again. Well, I really don't know if "thinking" happens in a spoken language. I guess "conversations with myself" started happening in Cantonese. So I think after about two weeks at work, I will not need to fall back on English as much and people will not know that I have spent most of my life in the US unless I start speaking English in full sentences. Not sure if this is good or bad but I can probably use it to my advantage. Anyway, the first two weeks will be hard, just like going anywhere else.

The next big decision is the start date. Originally, I had this idea of doing some traveling (particularly in Asia) before starting work. April and May would provide the ideal time for me to do this and I can start working in June, after the graduation ceremony. But now my parents seem to be opposed to this idea of me traveling since I have already decided to go to all the way to Hong Kong. I really don't want to be bumming around the house for two months not doing very much other than meeting up with friends every once in a while. Instead, I could start working in April and then be able to take the California PE exam next April (2012). If I started working in June, I would have to wait until October 2012 to take the exam. This option would mean flying back for graduation. So here are the options:

  1. Spend late March - early April at home. Traveling for the rest of April and May. Come back in time for graduation (June 12th), pack everything, head off to Hong Kong, start working on June 20th.
  2. Spend 3 weeks at home. Start work on April 11 so that I can take the PE exam April 13, 2012. Take a couple of days of vacation and fly back for graduation in June.
  3. Spend late March - early June at home. Start work after graduation on June 20th.
Option 3 is not that appealing to me since my family will be working or going to school. I'll just be sitting at home all day unless I can find something really interesting to do. It would not make any sense for me to do another engineering internship. I already have a real job lined up and can start earlier (option 2). Although if anyone has any really interesting ideas, I would not be opposed to considering them.

Option 2 still gives me 3 weeks at home. That should be enough time to get everything in order before heading off to HK. And I would get my license sooner (assuming that I pass the exam). I would have to fly back for graduation, which is a hassle but it would be nice to be able to move more stuff over. I would also be starting before any of the other graduate engineers or summer interns come. Not entirely certain it's a good thing but I would get first pick on desk availability. If I want to go with this option, I need to act on some things NOW so that my work visa would be ready by April 11th. It would not be ideal to start any later because I would not have a full year's worth of experience by the next PE exam date.

So, comments and opinions will be welcomed. Maybe I should create poll so that people can vote. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Conclusion of whirlwind trip to HK

I went to a KFC today. I was walking around town looking for some place to eat lunch. There's no lack of places but I had a sudden craving for KFC. I haven't been to one in the US in forever. Anyway, really need to learn to read Chinese. Or at least read it faster. It was difficult to figure out the menus posted in front on some of the places...

Went to a job site this morning. The guy came to get me in a car so I ended up getting a tour of Hong Kong as well since we had to drive all the way to HK Island. You definitely see a lot of more the city this way. I wish I had a bus map of the city and could take the bus around. It's definitely a nice way to see different neighbors. Most of the MTR is underground and you're stuck somewhere in the middle with no opportunities to look outside anyhow. Anyway, we went to an excavation for an apartment complex. It was very interesting. Definitely going to try to go visit sites as much as I can. I think it would be interesting to go see the site when the structural engineering part is happening as well.

I think I got a much better idea of the two companies and what I would be doing at each one. I wish I can recount all the details here but that's probably not appropriate. Anyway, never thought this decision would be so difficult. I really hope I'll make the "right" one. I seem to always make things difficult for myself. I've always thought that I would do a bunch of internships (which I did) and just pick one of them to stay long term. Whose idea was it to move all the way to Hong Kong anyway??

I walked around town for a while this afternoon. Visited Kowloon park where they have some very interesting ways of showing pollution in the city. They definitely used space creatively to make their point. One of the exhibits was about duplicate bus routes (bus routes that overlap each other). There was a maze made with bushes and different color signs that represent bus stops. You can choose to follow one of the bus signs and it will lead you around the maze. The middle of the max has an explanation about the release of CO2 and particulate pollution. The signs serve as both bus stops and type of pollutant.

I think I can get used to living in Hong Kong. Definitely need to learn more Chinese. There are plenty of people here who can't read either but it just makes life easier. Knowing Cantonese is so useful. I also need to figure out what the local brands are so that I don't have to spend exorbitant amounts of money on foreign brands. And where to get cheap stuff. There are mega malls filled with international brands, middle class malls with more local stuff, and then there are place with more affordable stuff. This last category can be split into many different levels (I think) and I need to figure out what those are. This applies to everything: food, clothes, household items, etc.

The biggest expense will be rent. Rent in HK is not cheap. I think it will be much better if I can find a roommate to share an apartment with. Cragislist is not popular with the locals but it might still work out. Transportation can be a big expense as well. The MTR charges by stop. The smaller stops are more affordable but it does get expensive when you want to travel longer distances. Local buses are cheaper but express ones are comparable to the MTR. Bus rates are fixed. Something to think about when looking for housing.

I hope the jetlag won't be too bad when I get back. It hasn't been very bad this trip, mostly because I was forced to do things like walk around the city. I was most tired in the late afternoon. But once I get past a certain hour at night, it's not too bad. I might be sitting around in class and in my apartment a lot when I get back so that might not be so good for the readjustment.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I only go to 7-Eleven in foreign countries

7-Eleven was the first store I went to once I arrived. I needed something to drink and got a bottle of ice tea. I think it was cheaper than just water. I slept most of the flight. I slept very well in the beginning due to the anti-motion-sickness medicine and woke up for food. It’s kind of ridiculous though. By the time they served us, it was 2am. The flight took off at midnight. They served the vegetarians and people with special needs first. I just felt that they were really slow. We even got a printed menu, which I thought was overkill. The only choice we really had was chicken or fish. Everything else is the same so why bother with the menu??

Once I arrived, I got a train ticket for the airport express and got a local sim card. They were both fairly easy tasks. I managed to meet up with my uncle and he took me to his house. We dropped off my stuff and he showed me how to get to his store. From there, I spent the rest of the day with some friends of a friend.

I met with three people in total today, all young graduate engineers. They all had interesting perspectives. Very nice people who took the time to show me around and such. I met up with two people for lunch. We settled on Cantonese after going through Mandarin along the way. They took me around the Victoria Bay area while we talked about their jobs. They’re both geotech engineers in their second year. They were working on site this morning. They seem to like what they’re doing. Their work hours don’t seem extremely demanding. The on-site engineers seems to work about 9-5 on weekdays and half days on Saturdays once every two weeks. The engineers at the office work a bit more but nothing crazy.

I hung out with them for a while before heading off to meet with another friend of a friend. This guy is working in the civil group and was still working at 4:30pm when I met with him. We went to his office and chatted there for a while. He went back to work after our chat. He says it’s not usually this busy but he has two things that needs to get out by next Friday. We walked around the office a little bit and there were a number of people at the office, much more than you would expect at 5pm on Saturday. He’s not as enthusiastic with his job but had some interesting things to say as well.

I’ve been trying to make mental notes of cost of living around here. I should actually write them down when I get the chance. It’s pretty comparable to the US. Except maybe for eating out. It’s slightly less expensive but people do it more often. And I guess the cost of produce and goods vary widely depending on where you are, what you buy, and where you buy things.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hong Kong for the weekend

Yes, I am on my way to Hong Kong. Sitting at the SFO airport right now, waiting to board. Free wi-fi here. Very nice. This was sort of a sudden decision. I booked the flight early Tuesday morning. A coworker of mine had suggested that I go to HK to visit, check things out, and see if I can say to myself, "I can live here." I didn't think I would have the time and resources so I didn't think much about it. And then earlier this week, my parents asked a relative of ours for advice and she suggested the same thing. Now that I'm not waiting on anyone else to give me stuff, the ball is really in my court. So I decided to make this trip. It took a while to find flights. There were all sorts of mysterious flights that showed up on search engines that I wasn't able to book. I finally found really late Monday night but decided that I was too tired to think properly. I woke up at 6am Tuesday morning and the first thing I thought was, I have to book the flight. So I did.

Hopefully this will really help me make the choice for my first job. I really don't want to drag this on forever. I feel like I'm thinking about this every 10 minutes and can't focus at all. Good thing my classes this quarter aren't very demanding. At least, not yet.

Anyway, wish me luck. People have been telling me that I have good choices and that I can't go wrong. So I guess I just need to decide on something. I think I've solicited advice from everyone I know now. I never imagined it to be such a tough choice.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Week 1 - Classes and Life Decisions

Super unproductive today. Did a bit of work but didn't managed to finish the entire assignment. Baked bread though. I felt like I spent the whole day eating, watching anime, and napping. I went running in the morning and was sore afterwards. Sore after running 3 miles, seriously...

This concludes week 1 of my last quarter at Stanford. The weeks will go by fast. This has got to be the longest time I've spent shopping around for classes ever. I've pretty much decided on my classes now. I will be taking:

  • Earthquake Hazard and Risk Assessment Analysis
  • Infrastructure Project Delivery
  • Mechanics of Finite Element Analysis
  • Financial Literacy (seminar)

And sitting in on:

  • The Vietnamese Experience in America
  • A Chinese class (maybe)
I actually went to a couple of linguistics classes as well but I don't think they are going to work out. I went to a phonology class which I think could be useful if I learned the stuff. I think it would make me a lot more aware of the way people speak, the differences, and reasons why. But it seems like a very work intensive class and it's not something that I can do easily. Doesn't seem like the best use of my resources. The other linguistics class is a joint class between linguistics, anthropology, and education. It's called the Race, Ethnicity, and Linguistics in Education. It's a very interesting class but it's definitely a grad level class. The other students are all doing research and seem very focused on a topic. So I'm not sure I can keep up with them. It would be interesting to sit in on though but there are already too many people in the class.

I think this will be an interesting quarter. I am also TAing a class on Foundations Engineering. There are 20+ people in the class right now. I hope the homeworks are straight forward and easy so that they don't all come to office hours! It will be an interesting class since it's being taught by someone who is working in industry. Maybe I'll learn something too. I am also helping out with the Peru seminar. It's starting a bit slow. I'm not exactly sure what's going on actually. 

I woke up at 7am Friday morning to speak with a former coworker about my future job. I have two offers now and am in the process of choosing between them. It feels like a big decision. First, real job. I think I'm losing sleep over this. I wish it wasn't such a difficult choice. But I guess they're both what I wanted. I'm sure that 10 years down the road, this won't even matter at all. I'm glad I have this network of friends and mentors. I can't imagine what I would be doing without my mentors. I really hope that I will find great mentors at my future jobs.

Anyway, new resolution for this year. I want to read at least one geotechnical journal paper in depth per week. That would be 52 papers by the end of this year. That's actually not a whole lot considering how many papers are out there and many of the ones I will read will probably be on the similar topics. But I think it's really important to get used to reading technical papers and find out about the latest research. There are actually a lot of empirical formulas in the geotech industry so academic research is highly valued. Maybe I'll get a chance to publish a paper one day for a conference, book, or something. People are always looking to verify numerical results with field measurements. That's something that I can imagine myself doing, even at this stage. Build different finite element models using different constitutive laws and collect field data to see how well the predictions are. Maybe set up the monitoring program in such a way that it captures something that is the industry has been wanting verification on. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tea Making

This is a very interesting article about making tea the right way, written by George Orwell back in 1946:

I don't agree with all of his points. I certainly don't bother with boiling water since I have a water heater that keeps water warm. Although I am starting to suspect that it is no longer keeping the water hot enough. It's been through a lot, I guess.

I've become a big fan of tea the past quarter. I have a small collection going. But I think I need to stop collecting and start finishing the all the tea. Anyway, I will be experimenting with different ways of making better tea.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ready for more school

Back at Stanford. I've been spending this evening getting back into school mode. I cleared out my backpack and made a list of classes I want to go to for the next two days. Only 5 classes for Monday and 7 for Tuesday. hahaha. I hope my bike is still functional.

I went running shortly after I got back. It got dark and rainy towards the end of my run. I have to say, that really put a kick into my pace. I was running the Campus Drive loop and was past the halfway point so I couldn't turn back. I think I completed the loop much faster than if it had been a nice sunny day out. Once I figure out my schedule, I can figure out which days are my running days. Maybe I should do some swimming as well and take advantage of the nice pool here while I can.

Look forward to figuring out a good combination of classes for my last quarter.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolutions/Plans for the New Year: 2011 Edition

Here's the plan for 2011 in chronological order:

The first quarter. Live a balanced life for the last quarter at school. This will be the last time I'm going to school for a while. So I want to enjoy being a student. The term is so short that you don't really feel like you've been in school forever because your routines get broken up by midterms and project deadlines. Other than taking advantage of being a student, I want some time to do a couple of other "life" related things, namely cooking and running. I want to cook more again, bake some bread, use up my yeast, etc. And in order to eat all the food that I will be cooking, I will need to exercise more. The first quarter ends with finishing academic stuff at Stanford.

The second quarter. Travel, last chance to travel before I start working! Really hope I don't have to start working too early. Really have to negotiate for a good start date. I can't believe I've traveled to so many places and still don't have one of those big backpacking backpacks. Maybe I should get one first and then I'll have to put it to use! The graduation ceremony at Stanford will mark the end of the second quarter.

The second half. Settle into the work life. I really want to learn more geotech stuff. I feel like I'm ready to do design and analysis work. I've done enough internships in this field to know what I need to know. But since it's looking like I'm not going back to work for a place that I have previously interned, it will take some time for people to figure out what I'm capable of doing, earn trust, etc. Should prob start studying for the PE exam once I figure out what counts as qualifying experience.

Actual resolutions for the year:
  • run a full marathon
  • floss at least once a week
  • use lotion and toner at least once a week