Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Left work at a decent time!

Finally got the submission that I've been working on since getting back out! Still felt like it was really rushed though. I really feel that it could be much better with more time to think things through and try things out. These days our submissions are so rushed that I'm afraid to try anything. Once you go down one road, you have to stick with it because there's no time to turn back. Anyway, I felt like we did silly things the first time around so I took a bit more time this time around to fix things up. There are still things that I'm not too comfortable with but those are minor.

With this thing out of the way, I can go back to doing more coordination work. Went to a coordination meeting on Monday and felt like I really don't know how to coordinate with architects or people external to the company. It's so much harder. With internal people, in the end, you're one company and people won't deliberately blame you for something. But when you have people from all over, you don't necessarily know what people's intentions and motivations are so you need to be careful with covering your own back. Anyhow, just need to figure out how to play this game.

The company's annual dinner is this Saturday. Should be fun to see everyone and have a nice dinner. It's unfortunate that the Annual Dinner conflicts with the Inner Challenge. Very low participation in the Inner Challenge this year. Hopefully the participation will go back up next  year. I feel like we had a good tradition with high participation from the geotech team going. Going to Shenzhen on Sunday with a friend. Should be a fun weekend.

It's almost Christmas! I've booked flights to Taiwan with some friends. They want to go cycling down the length of the the island but that's too intense for me. It sounds like it might be cold and raining. I don't want to take too many days off either so I think I'll just be going to Taipei and Hualien with them where they will start on this long bike ride.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

10k, loans, taxes, work

Another week! I just finished running a 10K at Disneyland. It was the popular UNICEF one this time. Last year, I ran a less popular one at Disneyland with Apple Daily. This one was way more popular. The place was really packed. And then it started raining really hard so everyone crowded into the very few tents they had set up. I really thought the rain would let up after a while but it just kept raining. I was totally soaked after the first 5 minutes. My feet were miraculously dry-ish. I really don't like having wet socks. So uncomfortable. Anyway, I met up with a former coworker afterwards. Could not find him at the start. There were so many people that reception was really bad. Couldn't get reception until I walked towards the MTR station. We had dim sum afterwards.

Last week was mellow with me working full time on getting a submission out. I think I've got the hardest parts done already. I'm planning on finishing it up tonight (Sunday) and resting on Monday. I feel like I will be too sore to get myself to work anyway. Also feeling a bit out of it after running in that rain.

Last Wednesday, we had a team dinner for the CPS project. We "won" $3,000 HKD for being nominated for some design award. We went out to a really good Chinese place in Sheung Wan. The $3k totally does not cover our two tables of food but the food was really delicious. I really wish I had the stomach to eat more of it. Anyway, it was good to see everyone. The team is pretty much breaking up after this year with all the design work ending. It was a good project team overall.

I've managed to pay off the last of my student loans this month. I took a good amount of cash back when I went home in October. There are HSBC ATMs here that let you take out foreign currency right from your account, no fees. I was looking at my overall finances when I got back here to see how much I spent on that trip and how much money I can dedicate to paying off the loan when I discovered that I had enough in my HK accounts to pay it off completely. The loan is a fixed rate so I have been paying a lot of interest. My HK money is split into two accounts. One is for daily use and the other is to help me save up an emergency fund. I have a goal for the emergency fund and only keep track of the percentage instead of the actual amount. When I got back, I discovered that I had saved quite a bit due to the large amount of overtime hours I have been working. So I quickly transferred money back (which actually doesn't cost very much) and will be able to pay off that loan in full this month.

In other news, I also filed HK taxes. It was really easy except it still took me a while because I wanted to use their electronic thing. I had to get a password mailed to me twice because I managed to lock myself out the first time. Also took me a while to figure out how much I should be paying for the serviced apartment that my company put me in that first month. Turns out, I don't have to do any math because the online thing calculates it automatically. There is some kind of tax relief for last year (2011/2012) so the estimated amount of taxes I owe is very low, about 1% of my last year's salary. The predicted amount I have to pay in advance for next year (2012/2013) is also pretty small. The way they do it here is that you pay an adjustment for the past year and an advance for the next year. It's usually a shock the first time you pay taxes because you're paying the full amount for the previous and next year. But this tax relief thing is great.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Back at the office

Getting back into the swing of things at the office. Things are busy as always. The Simply Life restaurant still hasn't opened yet at the mall, which is disappointing. Coworkers are happy to see me back. We still haven't moved yet. Most of the new furniture are have arrived and people seem to be making good use of the empty spaces for reviewing and amending drawings and such.

Met up with a former coworker from SF who is now working in Indonesia yesterday. She seems to be doing well. She went back to Indonesia to help with her family's company, which is a specialist foundations contractor. And since the construction industry is booming in Indonesia, things are going well for contractors like her. She still thinks highly of Arup as a company and suggested that we can work together. I wish I were in a position to make that happen. I don't think Arup has a very big presence in Indonesia and would definitely need people with local connections. I would feel much better with someone like her as our contractor. We ate at the Tim Ho Wan in HK Station because they did the in-town check-in there. We walked around the IFC a bit and just chatted until it was time for them to get going to the airport.

Afterwards, I took the ferry to Discovery Bay on impulse. That was a bad idea because I felt sick as soon as the ferry started moving. Luckily, the ride was only 30 minutes and I managed to coax myself to sleep. Discovery Bay is a very interesting neighborhood with mostly (almost all?) expats. The demography is very different from the rest of HK! It's very quite there with a large plaza area. They even have their own beach. There are only golf carts on the roads and seems like a very good place for families. Kids ride around on bikes and it's much less crowded than the rest of HK. I think I can afford one of the older apartments there if I had someone to share it with. It would also be a decent amount of space. But it's too far out. There is a bus connection to Tung Chung and the airport but would probably have to take the ferry a lot to get to anywhere else.

Running a 10K next weekend. Totally out of shape.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

HK bound again

Leaving for the airport in about half an hour. Can't believe it's been a month already. Just want to write a little bit now in case I get really busy once I am back in HK. This has been a good break from HK. I think this is the longest time I've been away, nearly 1.5 years, without being back. Already planning the next time though.

I'll be back again in about 6 months, late April to mid-May-ish for Yalu and Mike's wedding. The current plan is that I would visit family first and then fly to Boston. I guess how long I will be back would also depend on if I passed all of the PE exam. I'm pretty sure I passed the national exam but the CA specific ones were really difficult. So more than likely, I would have to take them again.... It's such a drag to be studying for an exam. I feel like I haven't done that in ages and that I have better things to do with my time. Anyway, there's always that slim chance that I don't have to, in which case I would be really happy. I also feel like I would have done better if I had been working in the States because everyone has taken the tests before or is studying for them. It's so much better to be able to talk to people who understand what's going on. Anyway, I will find out results in December or so.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Road Trip!

It's November! The month of October has been an interesting one. I worked remotely, took the PE exam, and went on a road trip with friends. Just got back from Seattle where our trip ended. Driving up there took the entire week and flying back only took 2 hours. It was a really fun trip. I feel kind of weird writing about this trip in the past tense because my friends are still over there continuing the trip until Sunday. Anyway, a short recap of what we did on the trip.

Monday. Woke up really early and was on the road before sunrise. We were surrounded by fog and mist for most of the morning but met little resistance. We drove past the rolling brown hills and found the redwoods and sequoias as we headed up north. The first highlight of the day was driving through a tree in Leggit. It's one of 3 drive-through trees. I've seen a ton of pictures of these trees in AAA magazines growing up and it was cool to actually do it. The air out there was very clean and fresh. We stopped for lunch at a American/southern food place that had interesting physics stuff, a nice view, good food, and really big portions. We ate leftovers from that stop for a while afterwards. We did some scenic drives and a really short hike and got to our first hotel in Crescent City. The whole city seems to be in its off season. We ran up to a lighthouse around dusk and saw the shoreline. We were all still full from lunch so we decided to get snacks and food from Safeway instead of going out to a restaurant again.

Tuesday. We left California for Oregon and started out to Crater Lake. We got reports of the closure of Rim Drive, which goes around the lake, due to snow. We got to the visitor center and got recommendations for two trails, one flat, easy stroll along the lake and another that summits at a peak that involved trails with a lot of snow. Of course, we chose the one with the peak. It was cold, windy, and wet on the trail but we got good views of the lake and surrounding area. After this exhausting hike, we warmed up in Rim Village and then realized that the drive to Eugene was going to be twice as long as planned due to the closure of Rim Drive. We made it Eugene, had southern food again, and collapsed in our hotel room.

Wednesday. We were really lucky the first two days with sunshine and no rain. It started raining on Wednesday as we headed towards Portland. We stopped in Tillamook and toured their cheese factory which had a viewing area of their packaging room and free samples. Unfortunately we missed out on the beef jerky factory that was right next door. We had a change in our diet for the first time and got Mexican food at a really authentic Mexican place. We started sharing food after that first big meal and cleaned out our meals instead of trying to figure out what to do with leftovers. After two attempts to find the rocks that were characteristic of the Oregon coast in the beach town of Canon Beach, we finally drove up the Ecola State Park and found a scenic lookout. It was a nice spot that would have made a really picturesque picnic spot had it not been freezing cold and extremely windy. I really should have tried jumping to see if I could fly for a second or two. We got to Portland before it got dark and browsed through Powell's Bookstore and REI before heading to a microbrewery for dinner. Powell's Bookstore reminded me of all those hours spent at Barnes and Nobles when it still existed in Oakland. We picked up another friend from the airport and now have a full car.

Thursday. We were tired of trampling through the rain and cold and decided to tour Portland instead of running out to Mt St. Helen. We hit a cute little brunch place, walked through Washington Park, went tea tasting, got ice cream, and met up with more people for dinner. This was a pretty chill day. It ended up being a pretty dry day until the evening.

Friday. We got up early again and drove up the Seattle where we executed a pretty well planned day. Our first stop was Pike Place Market where we saw people tossing fish, got in line at the first Starbucks, picked up some smoked salmon, and had lunch at a seafood place right in the market. We then went on an underground tour of Seattle where we learned about the old city center and walked through some of the underground. All the civil engineers in our group got worried about the seismic and tsunami risk for Seattle because these underground structures did not seem up to date with the current seismic standards. After wandering the undergrounds, we went up the Space Needle and got a 360 deg view of the Seattle area. We were lucky again that it didn't start raining until after we got off the Space Needle. We drove out to The Center of the Universe and met up with one of my friends for dinner at a Caribbean place. My friend drove me out to the airport and I took a short flight back to the Bay Area.

Time to plan our next trip, guys!