Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekend trip to Zhongshan

Back from a trip to my hometown in China. I pretty much stopped working at 5:30pm on Friday and left for the bus station. I bought one of the last tickets on the 6:30pm bus. I thought I managed to go through the lines at customs pretty fast but I think I was one of the last people on the bus. I really don't like traveling at night. Everything seems more confusing. On the way back, I made it through customs and was at the bus stop before the bus even arrived.

The rest of the bus ride went by pretty fast. I slept for part of the way. My mom and uncle picked me up at the bus station and took me back to my grandparent's house. My dad was drunk on the couch after a night out with his friends. We gave up any plans that involved him the next morning. haha. Saturday morning, my mom, brother, and I went to eat breakfast and then walked around town. We went back to our old house, visited my uncle's store, visited my mom's old house, and bought some snacks for me to bring back to share at the office.

The whole family converged at my grandparents house in the afternoon and we all went for a big family dinner. I guess it's really rare these days to have everyone present at a dinner. I know that my family hasn't gone back together in about 10 years. We've always gone back separately. I guess I can visit more often now, now that I live much closer. But I really don't know what I would do other than chat with my grandparents and uncle and aunt. I don't really have anyone to meet up. Maybe friends from a long time ago that I haven't really kept in touch with?

We all met up from dim sum on Sunday morning again. I guess it's not uncommon that people move away from home for school, work, etc. But these days, it seems like people can move really far away. I don't know if it ever occurred to my parents that once they immigrated away from their homeland that their kids will grow up not really knowing their homeland. Our family has lived in that city for so many generations and years that it seems like we should have more stake and claim to the place. But whenever I go back, I don't know my way around and there's not that much holding me there. This time was definitely better because I have much more confidence in my Cantonese skills. All the other times, I felt like I was just being dragged around by my parents. I feel like there are things in that city, like our empty condo, waiting for me. I wonder if I ever will go back and claim them.

I've also been reading Please Look After Mom. It's a book about a family in Korea where all the grown up kids have moved away from their village and are living in the city, namely Seoul. Their elderly mom came to visit them in Seoul and went missing. The story is told from several different perspectives. I haven't finished the book yet but it's mostly been about how the children and husband realize how much central the mom was to the family. She took care of them and raised them even thought their family was always short on money. Some of the book is written in the 2nd person perspective. I'm not sure I've ever read a book in using the 2nd person perspective. It's very interesting and very appropriate for this book. Waiting to see how it ends. I hope it's a happy ending. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Parents in China

I can't believe that my whole family of four managed to fit into my tiny apartment of ~120 sq. ft, along with lots of luggage. It was definitely a challenge. They called me before getting on a taxi and I left the office about 15 minutes after their call. I managed to get back to my apartment right when they got off the taxi. It was perfect timing. Actually, I was hoping to get there a bit before so I can clean up some more. Oh wells.

We went out to dinner with one of my dad's friends. The little place had pretty good food. I swear it was just like the place I went with my coworkers that one time were working really late. Even one of the waiters looked familiar. Maybe it's run by the same people? Anyway, Victor and I left a bit earlier and walked around the shops near my place. Most of the stores were closed by that time though. We got a milk tea and some candy.

Showering took a long time, like I predicted. They're not used to the small bathroom so it took a while for them to figure out what to do. It was actually pretty good once we arranged everything for sleeping. Both my bed and the sofa bed are pretty spacious.

In the morning, we took a taxi to the mall next to my workplace. My parents were worried that we wouldn't have time so we should get to where I work first and eat later. I didn't see any difference in eating first and then going. Anyway, my dad wanted to go to the dim sum place but it wasn't opened yet. Actually there weren't very many places opened and I was about to settle for DeliFrance when we saw that a couple of the places in the food court was opened. So we had a pretty cheap breakfast. Only HK$90 for all of us (~$12 USD). The food wasn't very good though, I have to say.

I gave my passport to a secretary at work to help me apply for a Mainland visa. Good thing my parents were still around because I got them to help me fill out parts of the form. I have to say, between filling out forms, submitting my timesheet, answering calls from family, I didn't do a whole lot in the morning. My parents came back to the mall at around noon to eat at the dim sum place. They left after eating lunch. I'll see them again next weekend when I go to China. I forgot to get them to write down my grandparents' address for me. Oopse. Oh wells, my HK phone card should still work in the Mainland.

I really hope next weekend is not a busy one at work. Our supervisor will be out on vacation. Another guy on the team is going to Singapore on a secret mission... Wishing him the best of luck. I'm definitely going to China for the entire weekend. So hopefully we can all just have a relaxing weekend.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Food, tunnels, work, and more work

Made it to another weekend! This past week was a really long one. Monday and Tuesday were brutal, staying at work so late that I had to take a taxi back. I get to claim it back but I really rather pay for my own bus fare than stay so late.

Went on a site visit to a tunnel excavation today. The tunnel is for a high speed rail link between here and Guangzhou. They're excavating by drill and blast, which means they put in a large amount of explosives and clear out bits and bits of the tunnel at a time. We walked into the tunnel and poke around at the end, where they are installing more explosives. It was pretty cool actually. One of my coworkers commented that this is the cleanest tunnel he's ever been in. There weren't large puddles of water or mud. There was water flowing out but not too much. It was pretty cool overall. But I think I need a few years of rock mechanics and geology to really appreciate it all. I always get lost when geologists start talking.

I tagged along with one of my coworkers and a bunch of his former coworkers for lunch. I really wish my Chinese is better, specifically in the area of small talk. I find that I can do pretty well when there is a definite topic or when someone is asking me a question. But it's really hard for me to follow a conversation that is constantly drifting to different topics, like in situations where there are a lot of people. I would have been able to get to know them so much better if I could contribute to their conversation.

I was in the office for a few hours trying to figure things out for my project. I didn't make too much progress and got unmotivated at around 6pm. So I went on a hunt for a Vietnamese sandwich. I saw found two places on openrice (HK's version of yelp). One of them was in Central, so that was not an option. The other is in Kowloon but out of the way. I decided to go anyway and found the place. The tiny little shop sells 3 things, a big French sandwich, small French sandwich, and garlic bread. I got a big one, which is like 2 feet long. There is only one choice for filling, which I was disappointed about. It took me a while to get back to my place. The bread was crunchy and the spread was not bad. But I didn't think the rest of it was very good. It was $46 HKD (about $6) for a big sandwich. I didn't think I would be able to finish it but the bread is actually small. I ate the entire thing for dinner. Definitely would not be paying this price in the US. Now I guess I have to go check out the one in Central and see if that's any good. There has to be Vietnamese people in HK... right??

I also had a sudden urge to go back to that Thai restaurant just for their Thai tea. It was sooo good. But I really don't like to go over to HK Island unnecessarily. But I still have to go to Ikea to return a pot. So maybe tomorrow, I can go to Ikea, food adventuring, do laundry, go buy groceries, clean up my place, and watch a movie. Very tempted to go see Harry Potter. But I just want to watch a movie or do something that is considered "entertainment."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Balancing act

After writing about eating healthy, I thought I should confess that I ate McDonald's twice in four days. This is due to the project that talked about in one of my previous posts. We basically worked non-stop Monday and Tuesday to get it all done. We were there way too late, had to take taxis back. I basically got back, showered, and went to sleep. Today (Wednesday), was the first time that I got to eat the pasta that I made on Sunday again.

My parents are coming next week! I don't know how we're all going to fit into my little place. I guess we'll have to make it work. They're only here for one night so I hope it will be okay. I'll have to do some cleaning and organizing to make room. I might have to work this weekend too though...

Going on a site visit on Saturday with one of the professional societies. The guys from work are going too, of course. I see them way too much. I really hope that if (when) we hire someone, that person is a good fit. Very important to have a team that works well together. Otherwise, we would just all be miserable. My coworkers were saying that someone's first two weeks at a new job (especially for new grads) is very unstable. They might quit very suddenly because they don't like the job. It seems very fast to me but I guess it fits with the culture here of doing things and making decisions at an extremely fast pace. It's also most likely due to the fact that most grads join a training scheme and then they are stuck with a company for a couple of years. My own application for this training scheme has STILL not been sorted out yet, unfortunately. Some things are still very slow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pasta sauce and fresh juices

I made pasta sauce again today! Everything went a lot faster this time around since I knew what I was doing. I think you need to use a lot of tomatoes if you want a sauce that looks orange. I blended my sauce with some store bought stuff. It was really good. The whole wheat pasta I got from Ikea tastes very grainy. I wonder if I can get fresh pasta around here.

I also chopped up some carrots and apples for juicing. I made juice with carrots, apples, and oranges after coming back from dinner. I had dinner at a hot pot place with expats from work. Very fattening and oily stuff. I felt the need to detox. I also made soup with the leftover stuff that couldn't be juiced. It's not as smooth and creamy looking as the carrot soup I've made before. I think there's just too much fiber in this one. And I can't put milk in it since I put oranges in it. Oh wells, I think it's still pretty good. I need to get some black pepper though.

I figure I should try to eat healthy (i.e. lots of veggies and fruit) for breakfast and dinner. Lunch is usually rice with meat. A lot of times, that would be roasted meat. I feel sluggish after lunch every day.Wish there was a gym at the mall next to the office. That would be so convenient.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Long weekend -> Long week

The start of this week was pretty chill for me. Right now the project that I have been babysitting doesn't have too much going on. The guy I'm working with is also very nonchalant about it. So I did a bunch of calculations that we will share with the structural team next week. But then it got busy.

I started helping one of the other guys on the team with his project. All the civil engineering works here have to be approved by various government authorities. His particular project is with the Housing Department and it's the first time that they are adopting this particular type of foundation system. He went before the review board and came back with a ton of revisions to do. Apparently, it's pretty common for the engineers in the government to ask questions and point out deficiencies in your calculations. It's just that this time, the deficiencies turn out to be pretty big. We started looking at their comments and it turned out the source of it is actually the structural calculations, which were performed by their own engineers. We think that some graduate engineer did the calculations and it didn't get checked. Everything that could possibly be wrong with it, is basically wrong. This has tremendous effects on our geotechnical calculations. The guy who's in charge of this project on our team passed some work off to me and was swamped by calls all of Thursday and Friday. His phone was literally off the hook. He would alternate between picking up his office phone and his own phone. It rang so much that it was ridiculous.

Anyway, it was pretty apparent that we had to help him out on the weekend. So we all came in today (Saturday) and worked on fixing the project. Needless to say, I'm learning a ton. There's actually a lot of discussions in our group. We're very open to speculating, asking questions, clarifying ideas, etc. I'm starting to be able to keep up and contribute. Everyone on the team thinks pretty fast and has good suggestions. So sometimes it's hard to even keep up with all the hypotheses and quick changes to test out these hypotheses.

The deadline for the re-submission of this thing is Tuesday. So... might have to go in tomorrow (Sunday) and will definitely be staying late on Monday. I'll remember to bring some good snacks with me. I'll try to spend some time cutting up some fruit and making fruit juices.

Also, here's an interesting article about China vs. US and an even more insightful response to it:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

End of long weekend

Didn't make it to the beach on Sunday. It was a really nice (extremely hot) day out though. It would have been perfect for sunburning on the beach. I got up early (6:30am) to go running. By the time I got to Shatin, it was 7:30am and already too hot for me. I'm wondering if I should join a gym for the summer so that I can exercise without feeling like I'm drowning in my own sweat. I'll need to investigate this.

I went to Ikea again instead. This time, I decided to go to the one in Causeway Bay. I realized that even though it's farther and I'll spend a bit longer on the MTR, I would only need to transfer once instead of twice. I really don't like having to transfer at Kowloon Tong. First of all, it's the stop where work is. Second of all, you have to walk a bit to transfer. It's not easy to walk so much carrying a bunch of stuff from Ikea. It looks like I bought a sauce pan that I won't be needing though so I think I'll need to go return it at some point.

Before Ikea, I went to eat a late lunch. I walked by a place that I think is an apartment building with a theater and restaurants downstairs. I walked into the restaurant area because there was a sign for the Spaghetti House, which I have been wanting to try out. The first place I saw was a Padang Indonesia restaurant! It looked like a place for big groups though so I didn't go in but very exciting. It turns out that this bunch of restaurants are all very authentic. There's a Hokkaido rice pizza place, Taiwanese place, Thai place, etc. I settled for the Thai place because I wanted Thai tea. Really good choice because they had the best Thai tea ever! The cream and sugar came separately. The tea was a very deep red and smell really good. I was amazed. I wanted to sit there while drinking the tea. Unfortunately, the book I was reading on my Kobo expired. So upsetting...

After the Ikea trip, I went to buy groceries and a basil plant. Ended up with a three basil plants in a pot. They actually looked really nice after I trimmed off all the dead leaves and re-potted them with new soil. I gave two of them away and kept one for myself. Now I'm growing basil at the office.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Long weekend: Macau, hiking, etc.

Last long weekend until September! We had Friday (July 1st) off. The rest of the work week was pretty chill after our submission on Monday. We all stopped working by 6:30pm on Thursday and left by 7pm. I pushed the guys out the door. No need to stay if we're not doing much.

Some people from work were heading to Macau on Friday so I joined them. There were four of us total and we met up near the ferry terminal at 9:45am. By the time we got tickets and boarded the boat, it was 10:45 so we got there at noon. The boat ride was really bumpy. I got sick but luckily didn't eat very much for breakfast. I felt better after standing in the long line for customs. That line was ridiculous. I think we were there for an hour and a half.

We randomly got on a bus and got off at a touristy destination. It took us a while to find food because we wanted Portuguese instead of Chinese food. We headed away from the main touristy area but gave up and settled for a cafe near the main plaza. We walked around the historical district because none of us were interested in the casinos. I would like to go walk around in them just for the sake of seeing them. Maybe next time. We wanted to get back on the last boat possible but all the tickets were sold out. So we ended up leaving on the 8:30pm boat, which meant we were heading to the ferry terminal by 7pm.

I decided to go hiking on Saturday. I left the apartment at around noon and went to the office to fill out my reimbursement forms. I tried to do them at home but it was too difficult without a nice table, stapler, copier, etc. So I spent a bit of them there sorting everything out. By the time I got to Wan Chai, where I was hoping to find a hiking trail up the mountains, I was starving. I went to KFC again because it was the first thing I saw and I didn't want to be looking around for other food. I really like KFC here. They let you sit around and there's usually a bathroom available.

I couldn't find any website with a clear description of how to get to the trails from downtown. So I headed up a long flight of stairs that I saw while walking south. I think it would have been smarter to take a bus up and then walk down. But I found a trail eventually, behind some expensive looking serviced apartments.

It was good to get away from the city for a while. I didn't really stop to picnic anywhere even though I bought some snacks with me. I was afraid of getting bitten. I took the bus back down to the MTR station. I passed by the Wan Chai market on the way and peeked inside. It's so nice! Air conditioned and very clean, like the ones in Singapore.

I was pretty tired when I got back. Went to buy a few things and cooked dinner. I did some rearranging of my kitchen area and finally got hooks for the bar on the wall. Finally feeling comfortable using the kitchen area. All my appliances have a designated place now.

Thinking of going to the beach today to relax. Not sure if I'm going to make it though. I went running this morning and is exhausted from sweating too much. I even got up at 6:30am and it was still super hot. Not sure what to do about this. Maybe I should join a gym....