Sunday, November 27, 2011

Epic adventures

Truly epic weekend! The highlights are bowling and hot pot on Friday, followed by a 30km hike on Saturday. Our long awaited, much discussed, team gathering happened on Friday. Our group has been talking about having a team gathering for the 20+ people in our team. One of the girls who is now working on site organizes a lot of these team events, finally got around to planning everything out.

The bowling lanes were booked for 2 hours, from 6:30-8:30pm. Of course, it was expected that we would all be late so she booked 2 lanes for the first hour and 3 lanes for the next hour. Once we got everything going, we split ourselves up into the available lanes and played until time was up. I think everyone participated so it was a lot of fun. There was a lot of cheering, jokes, and laughter.

Some former members of the team showed up for the hot pot part. This was the worst preparatory dinner possible for my upcoming hike. We ate a  lot of seafood and other random things. We kind of split ourselves up into a "kids" table and an "adults" table. The "kids" table wasn't full but we ordered and ate a ton of food. The other table didn't seem to eat as much. It was nice to see everyone having fun and chatting.

After this massive dinner, I went on a 30km hike with some other graduate engineers in our company. Our company sponsors the Inner Challenge, a annual charity hiking event. The charity and organizer is Breakthrough Village, which is a non-profit that puts on events for young people. Teams have to raise a certain amount of money in order to participate in the hike. There's a 8km, 15km, and 30km event. I think all of our corporate teams participated in the 30km event. We had at least 5 teams that I know of participate. Each team consists of 4 members. There were a lot of people participating. There were 100+ teams total, mainly high school and university students.

Our team consisted of all first year geotech graduates. Other teams were a mix of people from different disciplines. Our team was lucky in that the organizer is also from geotech and we have a strong support team from last year's participants. Three guys from last year's group helped us out by buying us congee and other food and driving to meet us at the check points. One of the guys from last year's group really likes hiking and did a 100km hike the weekend before. He somehow was still full of energy and helped us out by walking with us part of the way. I'm not sure I know any other team with someone like that as support.

The hike started at 2pm. I met my team at the Breakthrough Village, which is at the base of Ma On Shan, a bit past noon. We dropped off our stuff with our support team and took a lot of photos with the Arup banner and the Breakthrough mascot (a match). The hike started off pretty easy with a walk along the river. We set a fast pace and was trying to get to the front of the pack. Unfortunately, we didn't managed to get far enough and got into a human traffic jam at the first difficult part of the hike. This first part was truly epic. We had to "hike" along a river bed of rocks. Imagine a stream with running water and lots of big rocks. I thought we just had to hop across and be done with that bit of the hike. It turns out, we had to hike along the stream for a pretty long while before coming back up to the trails. It took us nearly an hour to get through that bit of the hike. It was a big energy drain to be jumping and climbing around big boulders and rocks.

Our supporting member met us at the end of this part. He helped take some of our bags to that point so that we didn't have to carry it while hopping across rocks. I think we were all surprised at the length and the physical demand on this early part of the hike. There were 14 checkpoints total and 3 major ones that were popular spots for supporting teams to wait for their teams. We blasted through the first part and got to the first major checkpoint before our supporting team arrived. So we actually waited around for longer than we wanted to. We had only completed less than 1/5th of the entire hike but one of our team members was already having cramps and had been falling behind. He didn't expect the hike to be so harsh. I honestly wouldn't have either if I hadn't gone on the practice hike. Good thing I had been working out at the gym lately. The other two guys were fine. One of them is very fit and exercises a lot. The other guy is a geologist and runs up mountains for a living.

By the time we started the next part of the hike, the sun was already setting. This next part consisted of going up Ma On Shan (Horse Saddle Mountain). The elevation view of the hike is located here and the contour map here. The huge 450m climb is the Ma On Shan part. I've done this part of the hike on the practice hike but it was definitely different in the dark. I don't mind the uphill part so much. I mean, you need a lot of strength and endurance but it's fine if you're able to keep going. I really hated the downhill part. The impact on my feet and knees felt really painful. Our team member whose legs had already cramped up had trouble keeping up with our pace. Luckily, our supporting member was there to push him along and help carry his bag. I think we all got a bit impatient at the end though, trying to get to the next major check point to get refreshments from our support team.

I swear I've never had such good congee in my life as the one we had on the side of the road. Our support team got us duck eggs and pork congee, tofu fa, bananas and sports drinks. The guys were really awesome. They were actually supporting two teams. The other team was slightly behind us the entire way.

We all felt recharged after that second rest stop and made up some lost time in this next part. I was starting to feel really tired since it was getting close to midnight. I really thought we could finish the entire thing within 10 to 11 hours. But it actually took us close to 14 hours. I won't go into a play-by-play of the entire hike since this post is getting really long. I will post some pictures later.

The event is called Inner Challenge because it's not a race. It's supposed to be a team bonding and mental and physical challenge for all the participants. Hiking in the middle of the night is definitely a new challenge. At the last part, I felt so tired that it took a lot of effort to stay focused on the trail. The trails were also not easy. Most of it was not a nice dirt trail but consisted of large boulders, rocks, random paths through the forest, and other small trails. I think it would have been better if we hadn't taken so long because hiking for 14 hours is definitely an exhausting activity. We were the 20th team (out of 56) to finish. I think a lot of teams must've had a lot of members drop out or entire teams dropped out on the way. It's quite a challenging activity and could be very harsh for people who aren't prepared.

One of the guys on our support team has a car and drove us all home afterwards. I think I got back at around 5 or 6am. I showered and passed our until 11am. I got some dim sum and pineapple juice and ate while calling home. After this, I passed out again until around 4pm. I treated myself to a burger and frozen yogurt. I also went to the sauna at my gym in hopes that this will help me be less sore tomorrow. I feel pretty stiff but not as bad as after a half-marathon.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Health and beauty weekend

I think I can really get used to this sauna and massage thing. Well, my massage session will end soon but I can always to go my gym for the sauna.

I went to the office on Saturday but didn't end up doing any actual work. I went to print out and bind some building codes and other guidelines that I always use. I think I'm getting to the point where I can read these codes and know what's important. At first, it just seemed like there is an endless amount and I didn't know what was what. I talked to X about the CA PE exam and she told me that we need to know the California Building Code for it. I didn't know there was one... But I'm guessing it's should be similar to ASCE stuff except with heavier emphasis on seismic. Maybe more stringent guidelines. I should really spend some time figuring out what I'm supposed to know for this exam because it seems like there's a lot of material in the exam that I won't be learning on the job. I think for the actual geotech part, I will be fine. But things like seismic, surveying, and other civil engineering topics, I won't have much exposure.

I went to the gym afterwards and was walking all over Langhram Place (the mall next door) for a decent dinner option. Things were either too pricey or I had already tried it. I ended up to going to Honeymoon desserts and had dessert for dinner. That place is really good. I need to go hang out in a different mall after my workouts. There were also a lot of people at the food court level because of a Hello Kitty Christmas display. I couldn't really see what it was because there were just too many people all trying to pose with the displays. I swear this city is crazy about Hello Kitty. Can a city have an official cartoon character?! I think I'm going to start taking pictures of Hello Kittys whenever I see them. Should be an interesting collection.

I started Sunday with a hike. I saw a reservoir while taking the bus to Shatin one day and decided to go hiking around it today. A lot of people got off at that stop as well. Hiking is actually pretty popular here. There were a lot of other people on the trail. It wasn't crowded but I definitely ran into a lot of families and groups on the way. While it is good to see other people out and about, some people are very obnoxious. The reservoir is not very big, only 1.4km for the entire loop. So if you shout, other people can hear you from across the reservoir. There was a lady who kept whooping and telling people to hurry up. There are also people who carry their own radios and blast them. One old guy actually had the FM radio going and was receiving mainly static. I don't know what he was trying to listen to.

 Can you spot the monkey?? There were a lot of monkeys. And a lot of signs telling you not to feed them.

Anyway, there are actually a series of reservoirs supplying water to the Kowloon area. There are link paths between them and I took one to get to another reservoir farther north. It was a cool day out so I felt that I had enough water, snacks, and energy to keep going. I ended up walking around that reservoir for only a little bit before attacking another family trail. I swear the category of "family trail" is very deceiving. You would think it's a walk in the park. But no, it was mostly uphill with many steps and small paths around the side of the mountain. I guess that's why it said 1km, approximately 30 minutes. I was like, there's no way 1km would taken 30 minutes. Should have known better. The end of that trail deposited me at a big road but I wasn't exactly sure where I was. I just knew that I was about 3km from where I had gotten off the bus. So I figured I was closer to the next town (neighborhood) than going back. I wandered around a bit and just  went the opposite way of other people. This was a good choice because it took me to a street with bus stops. I successfully found a bus going back to my neighborhood and took it back. I really love the public transit system here. I knew that there had to be a bus that will take me to the right place, even though I didn't even know where I was.

I showered and at lunch at KFC. Have to replenish those fat and calories lost! I walked around a bit and then went to get a haircut. My hair was getting really long. The guy definitely cut off more than 2 inches though. I think in about a month or two, I have to find some time to go get it straightened again. It's getting curly again. It's such a long process. Getting a hair cut beforehand is part of that process. I want to minimize the time I'm sitting there so I need shorter hair. Then I have to wait for my hair to grow out a bit more because after the actual hair straightening, which takes 4-5 hours, I need to get another haircut in another few days to get rid of all the split ends caused by the extreme heat.

I had another massage. This is the 4th out of my 6 paid sessions. They keep trying to sell me another package but they're not very appealing, price wise. The facilities are not bad though. They have nice showers, a sauna, a hair products. But there are better deals on Groupon! For example, their package deals, even with all the "discounts" are still $300+ (HKD) per session. Groupon deals are usually $100-ish a session. Anyway, I'm putting these massages down as a "health" expense. My masseuse says my back and legs are very hard. I should make a bigger effort to get out to MegaBox to make use of the swimming pool there.

I bought another pair of shoes after dinner. hehe. But some sales people here are way too aggressive. They will literally follow you around, chatter like crazy, and push for a sale. I mean, it gets to the point where I don't even want to ask  for the item in my size because they'll just keep pushing that or another product until I buy something. It's difficult to get yourself out! Maybe I need to learn to not be so polite about things. When my coworkers get phone calls trying to sell them stuff, they just say, "I don't need it. Thanks." and hang up. The salesman on the other end is still talking! I guess that's just the way things work here. It's much better at bigger department stores though. The employees don't seem to care as much.

Very busy week coming up: hard core work on submission, seminar on Thursday, bowling and hot pot on Friday  30 km hike on Saturday!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November updates

Only the second post for November! This is not acceptable. I've been really busy this week. Took a taxi home three days in a row. But let's do things in chronological order.

The day after my hiking practice, I went with a friend from work to watch Tower Heist. It was a pretty good movie. It had action, suspense, and humor. It wasn't really a comedy as in there wasn't a joke and punchline every other minute. The ending got very exaggerated but it was definitely a good movie. The setting is NYC, same as the last movie I saw. There were a few "American" references that I wasn't sure an international audience would appreciate.

Anyway, interesting things about going to the movies in HK. The regular popcorn served is the caramel one. I haven't tasted butter popcorn in theaters yet and not sure if they have them. My theory is that butter (dairy product) is more expensive than sugar... Also, aside from having assigned seats, movies start on time. As in, the previews are played before the advertised time for the movie showing. Both times I've been to the movies here, I got into the theater just as the actual movie started playing. I remarked during one lunchtime to my coworkers that there doesn't seem to be previews. They were like, of course there is!

Last weekend was interesting. I went into the office on Saturday for a few hours. I arrived before noon in order to make an attempt to open another bank account. I chose the Bank of China because it offers a credit card that you can use in the Mainland without charges. I thought I had brought everything I needed but apparently a receipt for my rent does not qualify as proof of address. I had to go print out a bank statement. Anyway, I left my application as it was and went back to finish it this morning. Customer service is lacking here. They didn't really bother to explain things. But I guess it's good that they didn't try to sell me a bunch of stuff. Their online interface is very simple and you get to chose what you see right after you log in. Waiting for my ATM card to come in the mail now. Let's see if this credit card gets approved.

I went to the gym Saturday night but there's too much people there on Saturday nights. There are also too many personal trainers roaming about. They make me nervous. Could start selling me their service at any time. They roam in packs. As I was heading to the shower, I saw that the sauna was on and decided to give it a try. I started sweating intensely after about 5 minutes. I had dinner nearby and by the time I got back, I was extremely sleepy and went to bed early. I felt really sleepy the next morning as well. I felt like the sauna gave me some extra doses of melatonin.

I made a trip out to the Breakthrough Village, the host of our 30km hike on Sunday for the briefing. There were a lot more other participants than I had expected. Many of them seemed to be high school students. We felt old as we saw at the back of the auditorium wondering why we're singing songs instead of learning about useful stuff. I headed to TST after that and I had my third lympathic massage. Again, I felt extremely sleepy afterwards. I guess it's good to get more sleep on the weekends.

This week, I went from never having gone to the Buildings Department (BD) to going there every single day. All the civil engineering projects here have to be submitted to a government body for extra checking and approval. It's an interesting process. We had submitted our drawings for some trial (test) piles and had been communicating with the BD officer to address his concerns. It's apparently common to get a lot of comments and have extra conditions imposed on your submission during the approval process. This whole process takes up a lot of time and effort. But it's very interesting because you must know your own submission and project very well in order to answer questions. I'm beginning to see more and more of the entire design process here in HK. My team definitely wants me to be more independent and be able to do more of the non-analysis parts of projects.

Next week will be another long week as we are trying to push out another submission. But Thursday evening will be another geotechnical team workshop. This time it will be by the slope team. And Friday night, our team is having a team gathering. We're going bowling and then hot pot. Should be fun.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hiking practice!

Really tired after a 15km hike today! In my last post, I mentioned that I signed up for a 30km hike. Today, a few of us did a practice hike with one of the guys who did it last year. The guy leading the hike is also in the geotech group. And it turns out that he's super fit and hikes really fast. Good thing I've been exercising somewhat lately because otherwise I would not have been able to keep up. 

The hike is mostly on trails but the trails are not easy. We started off on a concrete road and then turned into this really small trail and at some point, we totally went off any marked trails in order to cross this big hill. We got lost at this point trying to find the right trail and climbed all over the side of this mountain. Lessons learned from the first two hours of the hike: wear hiking shoes (which I did), wear long pants (which I did not). After crossing a stream, we found the first BBQ area where our support teams can meet us. Now I see how important it is to have a support team. There's no way we could carry all the food and water we want to carry. I've always got the feeling that our geotech team is very close in terms of things that need teamwork. We're always watching out for each other. Let's see if this holds true for our support team!

We went up one part of the Maclehose trail, which is one of the trails that are really well kept in HK. Things were very nicely marked at this point. But it was still a tough trail since there were a lot of rocks and other loose things on the ground. We saw people paragliding. There were a lot of other people on the trail as well. I didn't find the ascend to be particularly bad. One of the guys had a really hard time though because his legs kept cramping up. I found the descend to be more difficult because it was very hard on the knees and a lot more of the trail consisted of rocks and dirt. I went through nearly 2L of water on this part of the hike. It took us 6 hours but that was including getting lost and all. So we're looking at about 10-12 hours of hiking on the actual day. 

I finally understand how hiking can help with running. If the hike was this intense, with a lot of uphills, then it can be a really good workout for the leg muscles. I feel like running on flat land builds the lung capacity more than muscles. Anyway, I need to start training for that half marathon because I saw that they charged me. Actually, I think after the 30km hike, I might be mentally ready for a full marathon. A marathon is over in 4-5 hours but this hike will last at least twice as long!

Not going into the office this weekend. No one from my team is going into the office. Weekends should be time for recharging anyway.