Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why is it so cold?

It's cold and rainy outside. I've just rearranged the furniture in my apartment a little bit and it seems like I have so much more room now! I've turned the closet 90 degrees so that it's along the same wall as my sofa. I only saw one dead cockroach behind all the furniture, what a bonus. There are some miscellaneous boxes and other things that no longer have a place to sit though. Still getting used to this new arrangement but I think it will work out. The only downside to this is that I don't think I can open my sofa into a bed anymore. Oh wells, not expecting any visitors any time soon. Excited about this new arrangement because it looks like I have a much bigger space in the middle of the room.

Yesterday, a friend of mine came through HK on his way back to the US from Thailand. I met him at the MTR station and after dropping off his stuff, we tried to go to Tim Ho Wan again but it was closed. It's actually closed for all 3 days. Most of the hawker stands and regular stores were closed as well. There were some vendors using the empty space to spread their goods out though. Can't blame people for trying to make some extra money. Anyway, we went to Kung Fu dim sum instead. This place opened not too long ago. Their prices are more expensive than Tim Ho Wan and we ordered too much food. Or more than enough anyway. The food is not too bad. I think they could have done better with the regular stuff but they also seem to have special things that they do pretty well. We had this rice roll that came in a clay pot that was boiled with lotus root and pork in a red-ish sauce that might have contained pig's blood. I couldn't actually read the entire description, only the part with "pig" and "rice roll". Their menu is very colorful with pictures and English so it's pretty friendly in that aspect.

We then took the MTR and a very expensive bus ($27!) up to see the Big Buddha. It was freezing up there! It might have actually been somewhere around 0 degrees C. It was so foggy and misty that we couldn't see the Buddha until we got up close. It was difficult to take pictures as we had to wait for the fog to roll in and out. We ate hot tofu fa this time and then tried to walk the Wisdom Path. But it was getting dark and at some point, the street lights disappeared. So we walked pretty quickly, saw the beginning of the Wisdom Path and then turned back. It was really quiet and scary to be walking around there as it was getting dark.

We took the bus back down and went to the Island in hopes of catching the light show. We made it to the piers on time but couldn't find a good viewing spot. That probably wasn't the right place because we couldn't hear the music. We did see some stuff and I think that was enough. We then took the Mid Levels escalators for a bit and walked around LKF. It was so quiet. I couldn't find that dumpling place I went to before and we ended up eating some greasy stuff at this kebab place. We were both pretty tired and headed back after that. I've never seen HK so quiet before.

--- Just realized I haven't written about the hike on Sunday. Will do that after I finish this one ---

I saw him off to take the bus to the airport this morning (Tuesday). After that I moped around a bit, napped, and then went to watch a movie. I decided on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because the showing at 11am was cheap. The theater was still pretty full though and I had to sit near the front again. And just my luck, I was sitting next to this really fat American who nearly could not fit into the seat. I had to move my drink to the other side because he looked like he needed more elbow room. The movie was okay. I mean, I read the book but it still took a while for me to remember the entire plot.

Then I went to the gym to use the showers and sauna. This whole sauna thing is really relaxing. Only need to go 30 more times to make each of my visits cheaper than the one time fee! I had a afternoon tea set at one of the restaurants in the mall that had really nice couches and windows. I feel like a lot of restaurants and places here don't have enough windows. I really want a nice cafe to sit in and read next to a window. But there aren't a lot of those around here. Actually the Pacific Coffee in the Innocenter is not bad in terms of window space but it's so close to work that I don't think I would go there just to chill.

I had thought about going to watch the fireworks but it is very cold, wet, and foggy out. So I went to do some grocery shopping and went back to the apartment instead. I read and napped the rest of the afternoon.  Not sure what I want to do tomorrow (Wednesday), last day of the long weekend. Part of me just wants to hang out at home and read. I downloaded some interesting books lately. Since it so cold, it would be nice to just snuggle up with a blanket and some hot chocolate. I'll still have to go out to buy milk though.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lunar New Year holiday

It's the first day of the Lunar New Year over here and I'm still snuggled up in bed. It suddenly dropped from 60F to about 40F in the span of one night. It's also been misty and rainy. I'm not sure how many people are out on the streets because it seems really quiet outside. Not as quiet as when the Signal 8 typhoon was passing by but still.

Last week was the end of my T3 course. I'm glad it's ended because it was getting kind of stressful to have to leave work at 5:30pm. Having to leave work at a certain hour makes me not motivated to start on new stuff. I stayed pretty late to finish up the calculations and reports for two submissions scheduled to go out on Friday. I really didn't think we were going to be ready but we managed to push the out. Friday was an interesting day where I didn't really do much. We went to GEO in the morning and my phone started ringing as soon as I sat down. As I was talking to one guy, another guy on the same team tried to call me, and yet another guy messaged me using the company messenger thing. I had some stressful moments where I managed to finish off the necessary calculations. We went out for lunch and came back at nearly 2pm, which I thought was not so great for what I was trying to get done. Anyway, at some point, I went up to the print room and basically the entire structures team that I was working with were running about checking drawings, folding drawings, and getting things ready to go out.

I left promptly at 5:30pm on Friday for HKU again. The several of us going together were pretty prepared. The exam was open notes and we managed to bring all the right notes. We finished in about an hour and some of us went for sashimi at a Japanese place that one of the guys claimed to have the best sushi in HK. I really like sashimi, especially the salmon ones. They're available everywhere in HK. It's on the expensive side but the prices are not too crazy.

On Saturday, I made plans to meet up with a friend to go to the flower market (aka. new year market) in Victoria Park. I dropped off my laundry at my usual laundry place. Because it was the 28th day of the month before the new year, they were extremely busy. I also went to the Bank of China to check on my credit card status. Apparently I was supposed to go to the branch to pick up the card. And here I was waiting for it to come in the mail. How was I supposed to know?? Unfortunately I couldn't pick it up because there was an order to send it back to HQ the day before. So I missed it by a day. They seriously need to get their communication act together. The guy even tried to blame me for forgetting to come pick it up. Really don't like it when people try to make up excuses for you. I was totally going to let it go and not say anything about not being notified.

The flower market was huge. It was loaded with all sorts of useless stuff like angry bird hand warmers and tons and tons of flowers of all kinds. It was overwhelming. My friend picked up two pots of really nice looking flowers. We had lunch in Central where I used up another Groupon deal. I am going to be more picky about these Groupon deals because using them is such a hassle.

I cleaned the house the rest of the day. It was such an effort even though my place is so small. I don't think I managed to clean all of it but I did do a lot of dusting, threw out junk, and organized my desk and sofa. I went to the gym in TST and used the treadmill and sauna. I think the TST one is just more quiet than the Mongkok one. The gym staff didn't have anything to do. I went to iSquare afterwards to satisfy my need for a juicy burger. I walked by a Japanese restaurant that had discounts for diners after 9:30pm. I was there at 9pm and didn't really want to wait around. Clearly, I need better planning next time.

Terminal 21 in Bangkok

Really cool mall where each floor is themed a different city. Very well done decorations. Not cheesy at all.

Some pictures from Thailand

Hotel in Pattaya:


Bangkok from the river: 

Sunday, January 15, 2012


It's been raining these past few days, even though it's the dry season. Just one more full week and then it's Chinese New Year. We get 3 days of holiday so we basically get a 5 day weekend. I don't have any plans yet. I'll probably stay around Hong Kong and explore more stuff in the city. Go hiking and such.

Last week I had 3 days of classes and left promptly at around 5:30pm. I feel like I could have gotten much more done if I had stayed later. I'm used to working late now and leaving early (on time) feels like I'm not being productive enough. Kind of sad to think about. But there are so many phone calls and such during the day that it makes it hard to concentrate. But it's nice to have an excuse to leave the office.

We got our Chinese New Year bonus on Friday, along with our regular paycheck. I also got a good chunk of money from overtime and reimbursements. So the paycheck was huge. My bank account has money again.

Ran a 10K race today in Sai Kung. It was the Community Chest Corporate Challenge. So everyone who participated was part of a company team. We all had company names printed on the t-shirts, which made it easy to find coworkers. There was a half marathon/marathon race at the same location and they started half an hour earlier than we did. I got there kind of early was confused for a while. I did see some coworkers but didn't end up running with anyone. The course was way more hilly than I had anticipated. The first half had so many uphills that I definitely had a negative split. I think I did the last 1km in about 5 minutes because it was all downhill. It was also very foggy. People who wore glasses must have had a hard time seeing. I didn't stick around for the awards ceremony because it was cold and rainy. I think this was a popular weekend for road races because next weekend is CNY and in a couple more weeks is the Standard Chartered HK races, which are a big deal.

I met up with a friend from undergrad today. She was back visiting family. We walked around a local mall for a bit and just chatted. She says she's not used to coming home and living in such a small space anymore. She commented that I seem very happy working here. The job occupies pretty much all my time nowadays and I'm glad I enjoy it.

There's been a recent influx of people into the team and it has made the team dynamics more interesting. One of the 2nd year grad engineers rotated to the structures group and the guy replacing him is Korean. So more non-Chinese speaking people in the team. There's also a girl who is in between site supervision assignments and is back at the office. She's very good so we're all glad she's back to help out.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Updates (field trips and friends)

Man, it's only Monday and I'm wishing for the weekend already! Very short week (only 2 days of work) after getting back from Thailand. Got right back into the action as soon as I managed to turn on my computer. But these days I am taking the T3 course so I have an excuse to leave early on certain days.

I went on a site visit to the High Island Reservoir with the HKIE Geotech division. They have site visits and field trips pretty often. This one was free but you had to get pick by a lottery. I was lucky. I've been wanting to go to see the hexgonal columns. I wasn't all that interested in the reservoir actually. But we had people from WSD (Water Supplies Department) come and talk about the reservoir. So it wasn't too bad. We also got to see the very cool rocks (tall columns of rocks that are hexgonal prisms). They were formed by former volcanic activity.

On Sunday, I met up with Annie and Will (A+W) who I saw in Bangkok. They are back in HK for another day or so and then flying back to the US. We met up with another mutual friend and had dim sum. Then we took a ferry to Lamma Island. I nearly got sick on the ferry ride. It was pretty rocky. Luckily, we got on the fast boat and it only took 25 minutes. I think I would have thrown up if it had been longer. Anyway, Lamma Island is interesting in that no cars are allowed and no buildings are allowed to be built over 5 stories. There are a lot of little shops all along the main street selling handicrafts and other interesting things. We spent quite a while walking through the town center. We then walked to another pier via a well maintained and used trail. I think everyone enjoyed the greenery and the easy hike. It felt very refreshing to be out in open space. I fell asleep on the ferry ride back even before the boat pulled out of the harbor. It was a good thing too because once we got between Kowloon and HK Island, the waters got really rough.

We took the tram for a bit and got dinner. I'm definitely going back to HK Island and taking the tram around for fun. It's so cheap! Only $2.30 a ride and you can go as far as you want. Great way to explore the Island. We had a lot of food for dinner. We hung out some more and then had dessert. It was a pretty chill and fun day.

This week, another friend of mine is in town! So many friends visiting. She's only here during the week so we might not get to hang out as much. But another excuse to leave work early!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


After our “laziest day ever,” we got up the next morning (Jan 3rd), had more breakfast at the hotel, and started on a journey to Bangkok. Okay, it wasn't that much of a journey. But it involved us getting on one of these pickup trucks that have been outfitted with benches. This German guy who was already on the truck told us what to do. Pretty much everyone on the truck was going to the bus terminal so finding the stop was not a problem. A couple of foreigners on the truck didn't pay and refused to pay when the driver came running after them. I felt like I should have just gotten out a 20 Baht note (<$1 USD) and gave it to the driver. It's seriously small change to us but it means half a meal or more to the driver. It's so sad that people do this.

The bus ride took less than 2 hours due to the lack of traffic. Mahalia and I talked a lot on the bus. Hopefully we didn't annoy the other passengers too much. After getting to Bangkok at around 11am, we got on the skytrain (BTS) and found the stop that our next hotel is in. It was super easy to find the hotel because there were signs pointing to the place. This is probably the first time I am staying at a hotel with its name printed on the official exit signs.

The hotel was amazing, to say the least. Both of us went to the check-in counter even though the booking was only for one person. The lady asked me if I wanted a smoking or non-smoking room and it turned out that the only non-smoking rooms left had twin beds. Couldn't be more prefect. The hotel is also party a serviced apartment so it was furnished with basic utensils, microwave, hot water heater, lots of closet space, etc. There were also very large windows covering an entire wall of the room. I really like having a place with lots of sunlight. Not a bad view of the night scenery either. Anyway, all the furniture matched very well and most of the closets and such are built in. I think the whole space was around 300-350 sq. ft. I think I'm definitely going to upgrade myself to such a space after my current contract ends.

Mahalia left to meet up with Oat to pay visits to some people. I hung out at the hotel for a bit trying to decide what I wanted to do. I walked around the pool area and nearly gave up on the city thing in order to make use of the nice facilities. It's too bad that I didn't bring running shorts. Otherwise, I would have used the gym as well. Anyway, I took the subway to one end and was planning to walk through Chinatown to get to the old part of the city. On my map, there is a shopping street marked inside Chinatown so I thought that would be a good choice. Unfortunately, after visiting a temple, I could not find the shopping street and ended up wandering around this very quiet part of town with mostly hardware shops. I saw some foreigners from time to time but the local people thought I was local as well. Anyway, I finally found the street after much circling but by then I was too tired and sweaty. I went back to the hotel to shower and rest instead. 

This ended up to be a good choice as M+O wanted to come back to the hotel as well to rest. So I let them in and we got a chance to rest and such before meeting Oat's high school friends for dinner. Dinner was really good. The food was very tasty. Again, would not have been able to find such a restaurant on my own. We sat around after finishing to talk about some logistics for M+O+friends' upcoming hiking trip into the dense jungle. 

My last day in Bangkok consisted of mostly wandering around. We checked out of the hotel and went to meet up with one of my Stanford friends (A+W) who was also in Bangkok for vacation. We managed to all meet up as soon as we got off the tuk tuk. The plan was to explore the Grand Palace but M had already been and they were charging 400 Baht per foreigner. Thai people can go free. I think I could have passed for a Thai person but in the end, we decided to do a ferry tour of the river instead. We rode the express boat service south and ended up at the main pier and wandered around that area for a while. After being in HK for a few months, I find it really weird to be in places where there are not a lot of people. Bangkok seems so quiet compared to HK!

After wandering around a neighborhood with lots of street food and not eating anything, we decided to go to a park. It was super hot though so we just sat around and chatted. I really wanted to try the street food but our stomachs haven't been feeling very well since going to Pattaya. I think we all got food poisoning to various degrees. M and I just had slight diarrhea, which I didn't think was very bad. But I wanted it to get out of my system so I decided to just drink water and not eat anything all day. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

M and I parted ways with A+W after eating ice cream at the park. A+W will be in Hong Kong this weekend so I will see them again. M and I went back to the Terminal 21 mall and tried to get her an iPhone case. But these things don't seem as popular as in HK and they were selling for US prices. So we ended up not getting an iPhone case. We got back to the hotel and the driver to take us to the airport had already arrived. The traffic wasn't bad and we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. M called O's dad to pick her up from the airport and we parted ways.

It was a good trip overall. I think I managed to do the least amount of sightseeing possible but did a lot of relaxing, which is good. I've been feeling like I need a break from work since it's such an intense environment all the time. It was good to just relax and not have to stress out about anything.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011: Highlights, Milestones, Reflections

2011 has been another eventful year. I think the highlights are graduating from Stanford with a Masters (being done with school for an unknown amount of time) and moving to Hong Kong to start my first real job. This time last year, I was still trying to decide which job to take. I remembered starting 2011 with some serious discussions with friends, family, and mentors. I believe it was MLK weekend that I flew to Hong Kong to check out the city and see the people at my potential job.

After deciding where to go for my first job, I finished my final quarter at Stanford. I was a TA for the first time. It was interesting to be on the other side. I made friends with the construction management students through taking one of their group project classes. I was skeptical and didn't really want to do any group projects but my classmates and the professor turned out to be interesting people.

My last week at Stanford was filled with trying to meet up with various people. Packing took forever as usual and it rained on the day I moved out. I had a lot of help though, both during packing and moving. I then spent a few weeks at home organizing, scanning stuff, and repacking. I flew to Boston and stayed with Yalu and Mike for a few days. I met up with some friends in the area (or just happened to be in the area) and did a lot of clothes shopping (no taxes on clothes!).

I arrived in Hong Kong on Easter weekend after not sleeping very much on the long flight over. I was lucky that Joanna was also visiting Hong Kong/China at the moment and we met up on my first day there. We got a chance to do some touristy stuff and explored HK together. She stayed with me until my first day at work.

I remembered my first month of work as being hot, humid, exhausting, confusing, bewildering... What a learning experience! I'm so glad that my coworkers managed to put up with me, helped me along, and brought me into their circle. I felt really lost at first, didn't know the customs and norms, and felt like I couldn't express myself at all. But I really felt like my team created a safe harbor for me and put up with all my mistakes. I'm just starting to branch out and have gotten to know more people in the office.

I managed to find my first apartment ever with the help of a family friend. Managed to buy furniture, a lot of which are way too big for the small apartment. You would think that furnishing a completely unfurnished place would give you a chance to make things match and such. But I suppose I'm not that skilled. I think I went to home furnishing stores every weekend for the first 2 or 3 months. Now that I'm settled in, I have a better sense of what I actually need and what is just consuming space. So now I'm going to start to get rid of stuff that I don't actually use to have more space in the apartment. Space is such a premium in HK.

I think I've mostly settled in on a routine that basically consists of working on the weekdays and then catching up with people on the weekends (local and internationally). Work is intense and takes up all my time on weekdays. But even though work has basically taken over my life, I've managed to do a few things outside of work. These include:
  • joining a gym
  • going to MIT and Stanford club events
  • running a 10K in Disneyland
  • surviving a Signal No. 8 typhoon (it wasn't bad at all)
  • 30km hike in the Ma On Shan area
  • meeting up with various friends who are in the area

This last one has been interesting. A lot of people have come through Asia since I got here. Let's see, there was
  • Joanna, visitng family in China
  • Andre, doing research at CityU
  • Parents, visiting me and family in China
  • Xiaoyu, visiting friends and family in China and HK
  • Deborah, visiting family in HK
  • Andrew, interned in Taiwan and needed to leave to extend visa
  • Megan, interned in China and was on her way to Germany
  • Alex, traveling Asia with Megan
  • Wenqi, starting a job in HK
  • Anne, visiting family in China and HK
  • Mahalia and Oat, I met up with them in Thailand

All in all, 2011 has been a year of massive changes and life lessons. Time goes by unimaginably fast that it's important to grab onto every little moment. In the end, it's the little things that we will remember.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Laziest Day Ever

I think we were lazier today than when we went on that cruise. I got woken up at 3am by my phone to tell me that it has successfully recharged itself. Mahalia went running in the morning while I slept in and watched TV. I watched some CNN, which is something I haven't done in a long time. Then we headed down for breakfast and were overwhelmed by the choices. There was a huge spread. The fruit came in huge chunks. Then we got out books and sat in the lounge chairs in the garden to read and nap. It was very peaceful and I finished The Prince and the Pauper. Doing a lot of reading these days.

Then I had an internet session. There is only internet in public areas and not in our room. Which is a bit annoying but at least there is internet. Although I suppose it would be even more relaxing if there wasn't internet... Anyway, then we hopped in the pools for a bit and didn't really swim too much. There was one pool with a lot of kids playing so it wasn't a good idea to do any lap swimming. The other pool was in the shade due to the tall hotel building so the water was cold. Then we went out for a lunch adventure. We ate at this little family restaurant where we ordered through pointing and made use of Mahalia's Thai language skills. We mostly got what we wanted so lunch was a success. We passed by a Tescos (Walmart-like place that originates from the UK) on the way to the hotel and I suggested that we go and check it out. Turns out, the whole complex is a small mall with some restaurants and little shops. I got a couple of food items as souvenirs for coworkers.

We did some wandering around and then got back to the hotel and just sat around the room chatting. Then we did some reading again. Towards sunset, we went and took some pictures of the hotel and wandered up tower. There are two parts to the hotel, the low rise (which is where we're staying) and the tower. There was a nice view of the city and some newspapers and tourist guide books. So we looked at those for a while and then wandered out in search of dinner. We had dinner at a Korean place and ordered way too much food. We came back to the hotel and I took my third shower of the day. I feel like I get sticky every time I walk outside. And... that's it for the day. It was very relaxing. I still wish I had more time to write though.

Tomorrow, we're heading to Bangkok! The bus terminal is not far from where we are staying in Pattaya. Buses leave every 30 minutes and takes 2 hours to get to the capital. My hotel in Bangkok is on the tourist map that Mahalia got for me at the airport. So we're all set. Seems like there will be lots to do in Bangkok so I should go rest up for a more adventurous day!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In Thailand!

Happy New Year everyone! I can't believe how fast this year has gone by. A reflection post is coming up. But I will write about Thailand first.

This is my first time in Thailand and I am currently in Pattaya, a beach town with lots of Russian people. I guess it's very cold and dark in Russia right now so there is a mass exodus. I left Hong Kong on Saturday morning, the 31st and arrived in Bangkok early afternoon. I was picked up by Mahalia, Oat's little cousin, and Oat's dad. We drove to Oat's home and got a tour of the house and the garden. The family lives on a good size piece of land where they've built their own house and planted a lot of fruit trees. New Year's Eve was spent with lots of extended family and barbaqued seafood. We stayed up for the countdown and then promptly went to bed.

We got up the next morning and prepared for the drive to Pattaya, where a family friend booked a hotel for me. We spent a couple of hours driving, ate lunch, and found a nice beach to hang out in. Unfortunately, there are also a ton of beach resorts along this beach and the security didn't like it that we were using their chairs. After fighting more traffic, we made it to the hotel where Mahalia and I are staying for the next couple of nights.

The plan is to have a relaxing day on the 2nd and then head to Bangkok on the 3rd. I am meeting up with another friend on the morning of the 4th and then flying back to Hong Kong later that afternoon. Clearly, too short of a trip! I'm glad I am getting a chance to just relax, read, and write. Work is very draining. I really see why we need vacations once in a while.