Thursday, September 29, 2011

Graduate Induction

I just finished attending my company's Induction Camp for graduate engineers. The company runs a camp for all the fresh graduates that they hire in each region. I suppose they hope that people would stay at their first job for a while, especially if they are treated well. Now that I'm in the East Asia region, I attended the East Asia Induction. This consists of mainly graduates from the HK office, followed by the Mainland China offices, and a few from India and I think, Taiwan. There weren't any from Japan this year. Singapore is another large office in the Asia region but they are part of the Austra-Asia region. Something to do with how the company expanded. 

The camp started last Friday. We were shuttled to a youth camp in Shatin for Friday night and Saturday. We had Sunday off and then Monday - Wednesday consisted of an engineering project in the InnoCenter (very close to the office). And due to the typhoon today (Thursday), I'm only really working one day this week, Friday. 

Friday started off with some really lame speeches. The theme this year was resilience. Other than a lot of speeches and presentation about resiliency, risk, vulnerability, I didn't see how it all connected with the activities. They really need to work on this. I mean, if you're going to have a theme, then it's got to make sense. Otherwise, scrap the theme. Anyway, there were a lot of us, 150+ graduates. We were broken up into 10 teams and then 2 subteams.

After lunch, we got on buses that took us to the youth camp. This camp was designed by the company as a charity thing and so we use the space every year for the induction camp. We checked into our rooms and then started the "night challenge", which is basically an urban orienteering event. I think this even could use work as well but it was fun. We were sent off to Wanchai and Sham Shui Po. It gave both the locals and non-locals a chance to see some historical stuff around Hong Kong. Some teams took the challenge way too seriously though, tried to go to a ton of checkpoints, and got fast food for dinner. Our team agreed to take it easy and just strolled leisurely about until we got tired. We took our time eating dinner and basically gave up about an hour before the deadline. We even had time to chill in Festival Walk before being the first team to show up at the pick up point. We got extra points for being the only team to show up on time, which gave us enough points to tie for first place. We lost the tiebreaker but the tiebreaker was really difficult. I still don't think I get it. It had to do with using the Chinese measuring system.

Saturday consisted of physical activities at the camp. We had rock climbing and then a ropes course in the morning. I don't know why they tried to squeeze it all in the morning instead of splitting it up into a morning and afternoon session. Anyway, it was all going well until the very last part of the ropes course. They divided the teams such that each team was supposed to do two courses, one that involved teamwork and the other one being a personal challenge. The personal challenge is actually very personal. You get two hooks and have to hook yourself to the safety ropes. One of our team members was completing this course when he slipped. He was saved by the ropes, of course. But then he couldn't get back up onto the net that he's supposed to climb across. He was tired and then lost his glasses. It was very alarming and amusing at the same time. We really couldn't help him and he was stuck up there for probably around 20 minutes. He ended up being saved by two instructors somehow tying another rope to him and then lowering him down.

We had some low-key stuff in the afternoon and then another team exercise before leaving. The team exercise consisted of crossing a lawn area with wood blocks. Each team got a total number of blocks equaled to the number of team members minus two. So we had to work out how the entire team was going to cross the "ocean" using the blocks. We weren't allowed to talk once the game started and we were in the "ocean". I think that "no talking" was the key that allowed it all to work out. Our team was made up of mostly Cantonese speakers and of course they (we) dominated the conversation. They tried to speak English in the beginning but it just wasn't efficient. Once we found out we couldn't talk during the game, this forced us to get everyone on the same page. And we were forced to stick to the plan once the game began. We managed to complete the task. But during the wrap up, someone pointed out that if all the teams had combined resources, we could have just walked over very easily. I wonder why the guy didn't try to make it happen.. I think I was too busy trying to translate to think of such things. Usually these borderline cheating things reveal themselves to me. My team had some very vocal people. So if I had suggested it to them, we could have been able to round up all the teams to make it happen. Wasted opportunity... 

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were Skill Days, which consisted of a conceptual design for a project. Sadly, the background location for the project is the Central Police Station, the project that I've been working on since joining the HK office. The actual project is, of course, very different. I think the point of having a local (real) project as the background setting is so that the teams can do a site visit. Of course, no one actually did the site visit, which I thought was very sad. My team managed to scrape together a decent project proposal. We ended up being the only ones to propose a long tunnel excavation to make it happen. But I think it's the most technically feasible scheme. At one point, I wasn't sure we were going to do a PowerPoint so I started making a model with paper. I basically folded three pieces of paper together to make a model of our centerpiece and then all of a sudden, people started chipping in. HR provided a lot of cookies and other snacks for us to eat at any point so I scavenged among them to get boxes. Once I brought the boxes back, I started wrapping one of them in white paper. I didn't really have a plan of how much of the project site to model but everyone started picking up boxes and making things. People started coloring them, making other pieces, and in the end, we got a huge 3D model:

They made me do the introduction for the presentation, which I totally knew was going to happen. I mean, the people on my team were all able to speak English pretty well, unlike some other groups... Anyway, our first question from the panel was how our centerpiece (the green thing sticking up) would fare in a typhoon. Our structural engineer was trying to make stuff up on the spot when the rest of us remembered that the thing can move up and down. So we pushed it down and got immediate applause from the panel. I'm happy to claim that I made that part of the model. =)

In the end, we had a lot of fun. the whole skill days project was interesting. I'm not sure what the team dynamics were like in other groups. Ours was interesting though. For the skill days, we had 13 people on the team. We had 1 Indian, 4 Mainlanders, and the rest are from the HK office. Whenever we have group meetings, we would start with English, and then after a minute, it was pretty clear that the only people who were speaking up were Cantonese speakers anyway so we switch to Cantonese. There would be translation services at some points but it was difficult to get everyone to speak one common language. It was better when we decided on a direction and split up into smaller groups. My subgroup ended up using Mandarin for the most part (I say "most" because I had to use a lot of English to make it work). 

I would also like to comment on the power of socializing with people outside of "working hours", namely during lunch. Because our teams were so big, during the camp days, we mostly worked in subgroups. I got to know the people in my subgroup pretty well but didn't really know the people in the other subgroup. When we came together for the skill day project, there was a clear divide at first. I saw that the other subgroup had 3 HK people who were clearly got along very well and already had their own sub-team going. I ended up going to lunch on Monday with them and I felt like the four of us bonded during that lunch. It's not that we spilled our life stories or anything. But I definitely felt that we established trust and crossed a lot of borders during that one short hour. The three of them were working on one part of the project while I was working on another part. Before lunch, there wasn't much communication between the two teams. After lunch, I felt like there was much more interaction. I think some people in other teams also went drinking at bars after we were released for the day. It's always these informal interactions that seems to form the stronger bonds.

 I hope we keep in touch. I'll definitely see the HK people around the office. Hopefully I'll see the other folks as well. The company definitely managed to hire some very sharp graduates. 

Typhoon lockdown

Had an unexpected day off from work! Today was a typhoon signal number 8. There are 10 levels total, with 1 being the weakest and 10 being the strongest. When it gets up to 8, then all businesses basically shut down. This is the first one of the year. Level 8 doesn't actually mean the typhoon is hitting HK, it just has to do with the wind speeds. Last night, the warnings got up to No. 3 and I totally wasn't expecting a No. 8. But then I woke up and saw that one of my former coworkers had a facebook status about the famous "HK wall/force field" being ineffective. I was expecting one of my coworkers to call me but none of them did. Thought they would care more, but I guess not!

Anyway, I didn't end up doing much. I mostly read a lot, took care of a couple of small things, cleaned a bit, and moped around the house until I couldn't take it anymore. I went outside for lunch and most things were closed. I went to the mall nearby and luckily, some places were opened in the food court. The rain wasn't too bad actually. The rain and wind were intermittent. It seemed like the storm was very uneven and moving very fast. There were a few times when it rained so much that I couldn't see the street across from me though. I came back after lunch to see if the No. 8 was still up. At some point, I figured that even if it got lowered, I wouldn't be going back to work, so I went out again. This time, I went to TST, hoping to find a good spot to sit down, read, and watch the waves. Nearly all of Habour City (big mall in TST) was closed. The Starbucks was open and I ordered a mint mocha and a chocolate dome. The chocolate dome was not very good. It consists of mousse, a bit of cake, some rice crispy things, and sugary covering. Definitely did not have as much chocolate as I thought it would. Mint mocha was very good though.

I was happily reading from my Kobo when it ran out of juice. That thing needs a better battery indicator! I feel like this always happens. Either it runs out of battery or the book expires. How disappointing. I went for a walk around the mall and then went out to one of the piers. The clouds were moving very fast, the air was super humid, and the water was very choppy. There were other people there as well but at some point, a security guard came to herd us away.

Back to work tomorrow...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More September happenings

Wow, a lot has happened over the past couple of weeks and haven't had the time to blog about it all. I can't believe September is almost over. I've been working for 5 months now! I still remember seeing my blog post count for August (4 posts only) and thinking that it's really sad. September is up to 7 posts so far and this is still below standards for me.

Anyway, I want to continue to with my previous thread of posts about the Mid-Autumn festival fun-ness. The day after the holiday, Wednesday, the friend I was hanging out with (A) was leaving in the afternoon and two other friends (M&A) were arriving in HK that day. So we got A's stuff out of my apartment in the morning. All four of us managed to meet up at Festival Walk for a tiny bit, took a picture, and I went with M&A back to my apartment. My apartment is seriously very small. Somehow it's managed to accommodate a lot of guest. I guess a lot of my friends are travelers and don't really mind. You know they are people who enjoy traveling when they say things like, "oh wells, I guess now I can say I got stuck in traffic in HK. I'm sure it was somewhere on my to-do list!" 

I had a really busy week following the holiday so I didn't really do much with M&A. They went to a lot of places and met up with people by themselves though. I joined them for desert and Temple Street shops Friday and Saturday night. They only stayed until Sunday morning and I had originally planned to hang out with them on Saturday. But it turned out they wanted to go to Macau, which I wasn't too fond of doing. They had this crazy plan of going all over the place, which I didn't approve of. I'm all for going to lots of places but the plan has to make sense, e.g. (a) sticking to the same geographic region and (b) move in a big loop, no crisscrossing. Anyway, it turned out that I had to work that Saturday. 

I managed to go to the gym and then meet up with them afterwards for more souvenir shopping in Temple Street and then visiting the bar on top of the ICC. The bar was on the top floor and had a outdoor bit to it. It was a nice setting but the music was too loud. I really don't understand why bars are always blast their music so loudly. I can't even hear myself think. We ended up staying too long and had to take a taxi back. I don't really like staying at a bar too late and have to take a taxi back. It's so meaningless to sit around in a dark room and having to make such an effort to talk. Anyhow, I slept really late the next day and then spent the day cleaning and such.

I really want to spend this weekend outdoors, chilling somewhere with nature and just read. But there's a typhoon coming by so the outdoor thing will probably not work out. I did buy some Groupon deals for massages so that's in the works for this weekend. My back feels super stiff from sitting around all the time. Just also noticed that next Wednesday is a holiday. Looking forward to that as well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mid-Autumn Festival, Part 2

More on the Mid-Autumn Festival edition of HK exploration. In HK, they have these weird mid-week holidays, most of which are traditional Chinese holidays. We got Tuesday off for the mid-autumn festival because they expect people to stay out late on Monday night (I suppose). So on Tuesday, A and I went to HKUST, which is one of the universities in HK that focuses on tech. Their civil engineering department is famous for being really tough.

Their campus is really nice though. It's right on the bay.

Student housing have great views of the bay. It was really, really quiet when we were there. Most local students live at home so all we saw were international students. There weren't many of them around. They were probably all out on the beach. We had dim sum at one of the cafeterias and walked around the campus a bit.

Then we headed to Clear Water Bay. The bus stop looked like this. I really like this picture. Reminds me of California with shrubs on rolling hills and wide roads. It's really nice to get out of the city once in a while. It feels really refreshing.

Clear Water Bay is really nice. The water at the beach is actually clear, unlike the one in Mui Wo. I wish I had brought my swim suit along. There were a lot of people though. Very crowded. There were also big rocks on the other side of the beach and we climbed those

After that, we went back to HKUST, ate some more food, and then took the bus to Sai Kung. I've heard a lot about this place from people who like to go hiking and camping. Unfortunately, we got stuck in traffic due to an accident on the highway. It took us forever to get there! It turns out Sai Kung consists of a small town with a very active pier. There were boats that will take you out to the neighboring islands where there are a lot of interesting geological formations to be found. I will definitely come back for more hiking. 

Really cool cakes at a pastry shop:

We found out that there's a minibus that goes to Mongkok. I'm not sure if it's entirely due to the accident but the line for the bus was extremely long. Each minibus only takes 16 people. We tried to wait it out by walking around and even eating dinner there. But in the end, we ended up taking a regular bus. I was really tired and fell asleep the entire way. We walked around a mall before heading back on the MTR.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

HK Adventures: Mid-Autumn Festival Version

Been a while since I've written about what I've been up to. I've been spending a lot of time at work these days but recently some friends came to visit so I took the chance to go explore some more of Hong Kong.

The first week of the month, a friend of a friend, W, from Stanford came to HK to start her second job. She graduated from Stanford undergrad the same year as me and then went to Boston to work for the last two years. Now she's out here working for another company. We have some mutual friends from Stanford so we met up at Sham Shui Po and had dim sum. There's a pretty good dim sum place near where I live. I totally forgot about it when my parents were here. Oh wells, next time.

We walked around the neighborhood for a little bit afterwards and then she went off to look for apartments. I tried to tell her that it's not necessary to look so soon but I think she's still on the US schedule of apartment searching. Anyway, I went to work that day. That Sunday, I got some mint seeds and started a mint plant at the office. It hasn't sprouted yet but hopefully there will be something happening soon.

I went to the gym with a friend from work. We've been meaning to do this for a while now and finally found a time that works for both of us. We got there with the intention of joining a class but I think we got the schedule wrong because we caught the last of the class instead of the beginning. We headed for the treadmill and I went to warm up on the elliptical for 5 minutes before joining her. In that short amount of time, she got targeted by a couple of the personal trainers at the gym. They had her working out for an hour or so and then started selling their services. I think she signed up for something in the end. This is one of the very annoying things about HK - people are always trying to sell you stuff. We went for dinner afterwards and then got coffee chendol.

The next week was another busy week at work. I had thought about going back to China for the moon festival but it didn't seem like work was getting any less busy and a friend of mine, A, from Stanford was visiting for the weekend. He arrived on the 10th, Saturday afternoon. I got W to come along and the three of us went sightseeing. I took them to the Big Buddha and let them go on the cable cars themselves. I went shopping in the outlet mall next to the MTR station. I didn't think the prices were that great but there were a lot of sales going on. I wasn't looking for anything in particular so I didn't end up buying anything.

After they got back from the cable cars, we took the bus to Mui Wo and walked along the beach for a bit. Then we got dinner at a seafood place and then took the ferry back to Central. W went to meet up with some other friends so A and I just walked around Central for a little bit and headed back to Kowloon.

The next day, A met up with another friend of his and the three of us had dim sum at the Sham Shui Po place again.

After that, we went to take the Peak Tram. We took our time walking around the mall around the Peak and found out about the moon festival celebration in Causeway Bay. It started at 7:30pm and it would take us more than half an hour on the bus to get there. I managed to convince the guys to do the 3K hike around the Peak in less time than advertised. I think I exhausted them but the view was really nice. It wasn't very hot out either so it was a very nice walk. We got on the bus with a couple of dumb American guys who were trying to flirt with two girls. I was going to die listening to their conversation.

Anyway, we found a huge lantern fish at Victoria Park and it is now my Facebook profile picture.

We then tried to go see the fire dragon dance but there was wayy too much people. The street was packed. So we gave up and headed to TST for the HK Light Show. We caught the end of the light show, which was good enough for A. By the time we finished with the light show, we were all really hungry so we ate dinner at one of the expensive malls. We had Singaporean food that was really good. The owner is supposed to be a Stanford grad. I need to make more friends in the right type of industries...We got dessert at the mango place where A managed to drop his share of the mochi. It was really funny and we laughed for 5 straight minutes.

I went to work on Monday and had a really stressful morning getting drawings printed and signed by four people. Can't believe it's so hard to get four sets of signatures. My boss felt sorry for me and helped me call a secretary and things went pretty fast after that. Since it was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a lot of people left work early. The office was pretty empty by 6pm. I met up with A and we had dinner at Mongkok. There weren't a lot of people out and all the restaurants were lacking customers. We had food at a small place and felt like the waitresses all wanted to leave as soon as we were finished. I decided to go to the restaurant because they were advertising fried mantou:

Even the Ladies Market was not very crowded. I wanted to buy a purse but the lady wasn't in so we moved on.

Then we went to Langhram Place and went up all the way up to the top. This mall has a very small footprint but is very tall. There are over 60 boutique shops that sell very cute stuff. There were statues of the western zodiac on display and A took pictures of all of them as we made our way down. We also played air hockey at one of the arcades.

 Being eaten by the fishies:

 The pictures are courtesy of A, who likes to take pictures of funny things.

Sunday happenings

This was the first Sunday in a while where I stuck around the neighborhood. Got up at 11am this morning due to getting back late the night before. I had thought about going into the office but ended up having too many errands to run.

By the time I finished chatting with Y and family, it was nearly 2pm. I dropped off a lot of laundry and went to pay rent. I've been here for 4.5 months now! I think I have a pretty good idea at this point of how much I make and how much I use each month. I think I can definitely make enough in overtime pay to pay rent every month. It's not very difficult given the current workload.

I walked by a bakery on my way to pay rent and saw some really delicious looking egg tarts. I made a mental note to myself to stop by on my way back. But when I got there after paying rent, there were no more egg tarts. I was really sad and then I realized that this meant that the next batch was coming. So I waited around and indeed, there was a new batch fresh from the oven. They were $5 (HKD) for 3.

I had them for an afternoon snack and then proceeded to clean my apartment. My apartment was in desperate need of cleaning after having a lot of guests. After that, I went to the market to pick up some ingredients for pasta sauce.

Bell peppers from the market.

They went into this pasta sauce:


Friday, September 9, 2011

Random Photos

Some random photos that I've been meaning to post:

So cute!! Very tempted to buy it, but no room in the house for more pots.

Really small jar of peanut butter.

Breakfast: Bread with mozzarella, tomato, and home (office) grown basil. Japanese eggs with orange yolk (the color is not showing up very well in this picture). Cheese is sooo expensive here!

Ikea meatballs and pasta. I made the sauce with tomato, onions, peppers, and garlic.

Puppies: hehe

Friday, September 2, 2011

Insane workload

Wow, I can't believe it's September already. I only blogged 4 times in August. The other day, one of my coworkers asked me which month I thought was busier, July or August. We came to the consensus that August was definitely busier. This past week, in particular, was crazy. Let's start with last week though, when all the craziness started.

Last Monday (as in 2 weeks ago), I ran into a girl who also went to Stanford in the elevator going up to the office. She just graduated as well and we had met back in SF. I had another Stanford friend coming to visit on the same day so the three of us all ended up having lunch together. That was the fun part of last Monday, now onto the tragic part.

I've been working on a project where we are supporting the structural group with renovating works for some historical buildings. The guy on our team who had been working on the project left the company a month ago. He handed the project over to another guy on the team. And it just so happened that around that same time, the guy who had been supervising site activities also had to go to another site. It was difficult to find a replacement for him and we finally found one guy who had 1 yr and 11 months of experience to fulfill the requirement of having 2 years of experience. I mean, technically he didn't qualify but seriously, it's close enough.  The only small problem was that he's from England and doesn't speak Cantonese. But we threw him on site anyway and he had been there for a week when we found out that the position actually requires someone who has 2 years of experience AND at least 1 year of local experience. We found out about this Monday morning and the only way out was that we switched that guy with the design engineer (who I had been helping out). So this has really bad implications for me because I'm basically the only person left in the office doing design. The guy out on site brought a laptop with him and even came back to the office after being on site. But it's just not the same.

So basically, for the majority of the past two weeks, I've been doing a lot of design work/trying to appease other people. I still don't feel like I've had a proper briefing on this project though. I keep finding out "facts" that I don't know about. It's a lot easier when there's someone there telling me what I should be doing. It's not that I can't figure out how to make the necessary calculations, it's more like I don't know what I have to get done. The only other chartered engineer on our team helped me out a lot. I'm pretty sure he asked the question, "Lucy, did you THINK about this??!" at least ten times a day.

I went into the office both last Saturday and Sunday. I have to admit that I wasn't particularly efficient last Saturday since I hung out with a friend who came to visit for like 4 hours in between. I had thought she was leaving on Sunday and therefore we would have time for dinner. Anyway, we had a deadline for Tuesday so the three of us were in the office pretty late on Sunday. We the same dai pai dong we went to last time we worked late on a weekend for dinner. One of the guys suggested salt and pepper duck chin. The other guy was like, "by duck chin, you mean... a duck's chin??" and motioned to his own chin. The guy who suggested the dish gave him a look that was said, "what else could it be?!" Anyway, it turned out that that dish was no good but at least now we know!

This past Monday and Tuesday was definitely record breaking. We thought we had basically every for the project that we needed to submit on Tuesday ready. Again, the engineer responsible for this project was the one who got sent onto site. So he didn't make it back to the office until around 6pm. Once he got back, we went over the report and calculation with our supervisor who asked a bunch of questions. His main concern was that our methods of calculating things wasn't consistent with what we did previously. And we would definitely get questioned by the client. So he suggested a bunch of stuff and we worked until 1:30am that night.

The next day, we were all really tired and after sitting through a 3 hour workshop on excavation lateral support systems (held by our bosses), we talked about the calculations again. We finally agreed on an approach and started working on the calculations again. After finishing the calculations, it took us another 2 hours to get everything into the right format and uploading it for the client. The record breaking part was that we left at 2am. Definitely did not make it to the gym Wednesday morning.

The rest of the week was better though but we seem to be bidding for more projects. No clue how we can handle any more workload. Most likely will be in the office this weekend as well. I think my electricity bill this month will seriously be very small.