Sunday, September 29, 2013

Back at the office

Another 4 day work week coming up. We get Tuesday off for National Day. People in the Mainland get the entire week off. I feel like we should get Monday off too. But hopefully it will be pretty chill with people taking vacation and all. At the moment, our team has a lot of people but really don't know what will happen when people finish their secondment assignments or go to site.

People don't seem to be working as much as I did last year. Whenever I'm in the office on the weekends, no one else seems to be in from our team. For example, I didn't see anyone yesterday even though we're supposed to be rushing out another set of tender drawings... Or maybe I was just working way, way too much last year. I was basically there 24/7, pushing out tender drawings and submissions on a daily basis. Nowadays, our team can afford to have someone sit there and do only coordination work for Stubbs Rd. He's doesn't have to take up an actual submission. And there's a graduate just playing around with old models and waiting for the new layout plan and structural loads to come through from the client. Last year, I was doing coordination, making tender drawings, putting together submissions for Stubbs Rd and still had to look after two other projects. Basically I was doing 3, 4 people's worth of work...

Anyway, I've talked to my boss about rotating to the structures group. Not sure when this will happen but I think it will be good for me to learn structural design. I guess the downside is that I will have to give up working on my current projects again. I like to be fully involved in the projects that I do. Otherwise, you just end up helping out with small stuff instead of being able to look at the whole picture. And I'm a big picture person. I can't do anything without knowing all the details and background. I think it would be beneficial for me to learn the basics of structural design and the structural way of thinking about an engineering problem.

I'm also brushing up on finite element analysis. What I learned in school was very theoretical. I think there needs to be a link between what I learn in school and what I am doing now, which is heavily relying on a commercial program for my analyses. Most of the people at the office didn't have as a theoretical background on finite element as I did. It's just not taught in undergraduate studies and even for MS courses, it's really hard to connect academia with practice. I'm hoping to make some notes or a presentation so that people can at least have an understanding before diving into hardcore continuum mechanics modeling.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Another typhoon

We have another typhoon coming! This one is supposed to be the strongest typhoon this year and it's heading straight for Hong Kong. It's actually the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane right now but it is supposed to get weaker as it comes closer. The projection is that it will be the closest on Sunday. We're likely to get at least a T8 warning, which will hopefully last until Monday. The weather has been pretty extreme this summer.

It's been pretty chill since getting back to the office. The first day couple of days I left at a decent time since I had dinner plans. I went to another former coworker's wedding banquet last Thursday night. He invited a lot of former coworkers and it was nice to see everyone. I continued to eat a lot of food both that night and Friday night at a hot pot with some other coworkers. I went grocery shopping in the Wan Chai area on Saturday and made some falafel on Sunday. I did some fried and some baked. The fried ones are definitely better. You definitely need to use a lot of spices because otherwise the falafel are just a mush of chickpeas.

Last week was a 4 day work week because Friday is a public holiday for the mid-autumn festival. I managed to come back to make dinner on Monday. Tuesday was more busy because I was helping out with another project. We went to a project dinner on Wednesday night hosted by the contractor. The food wasn't that great but it was really nice to see everyone again. We had two tables of people and the contractor had a good amount of their own people there. There was a lot of jokes and fun small talk at our table. I do miss the people at site because the contractor's people are pretty fun.

Paris conference and fun

Now back to the Paris part of the trip. This part was very busy so I'm not sure I could've blogged even if I had a keyboard. I flew to Paris on Thursday night and got there Friday morning. After unsuccessful attempts at both getting more money out of the ATM with my SFC account (card expired) and breaking up my €100 bill, I found out I could just use my credit card to buy the train ticket into Paris. The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the subway was that the sun was very low and always glaring in my face. I guess I used to HK where the sun just goes straight up and does not hang out near the horizon. 

Friday. I did a lot of walking. I was partly following an itinerary from TripAdvisor on walking around the Latin District. I ended up walking a lot more than that and was exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel. The hotel we stayed at was very basic but we each got individual rooms with all the standard amenities. I was wondering if it would be more like a hostel but it was not bad. I met up with the other girl who was sponsored by HKIE and we went for dinner nearby. She has been working for a few years and just finished a MEng at MIT. She's very cool and we got along very well.

Saturday. The start of the Young Geotechnical Engineers Conference. We managed to get to the university where the conference was held not too late. The university has a very nice campus. One of the buildings even had a green roof. There were around 150 participants from all over. It was really cool to meet people from different backgrounds. There were 3 parallel sessions for the most part and I was really impressed that some of these people managed to publish and present in English even though it is probably their 3rd or 4th language. The Q&A got a bit tough sometimes though. The organizers managed to get the funding to put the papers in a book. It's really nice and encouraging that this is an opportunity to publish a piece of research that may not be readily accepted by other journals or conferences. Definitely aiming for the next round. Some of the presenters from industry didn't have very impressive projects though. This really made me realize the scale of things we are doing in HK. Other countries are just staring to do things like testing for soil nails when there has been 50 years of extensive experience in HK. That night we were treated to a very nice gala dinner at a very old restaurant.

Sunday. More presentations followed by a closing ceremony. I think I would like to get more involved in these professional societies in the near future. After a few mishaps, we finally managed to meet up with my coworkers at a restaurant near their hotel and the next conference venue. When I got out of the metro station at Porte Mailot, I realized this is the neighborhood that Yalu stayed at during her summer in Paris! I had always wondered what that big structure next to the hotel contained. I got even more familiar with the Metro 1 line this time around.

Monday. I got to the conference a bit after it started. Good thing I made one of my coworkers come get me. I wanted to drop off stuff and change but when we walked back to the conference I was really amazed by the size of the audience. We were told during the young engineers conference that the main conference was going to have 1500 participants. It was really amazing to see that number in actual size. No way I could have found anyone in that mess. The first two days were plenary lectures featuring big names in academia and industry. There were no Q&A due to the large size of the audience. 

We were given pretty nice stuff at the conference. We each got a shoulder bag filled with flyers from all the sponsors, a 4 day Paris metro ticket, bottle of champagne, notebook, USB with the proceedings, etc. My boss ordered the hard copy of the proceedings which he immediately regretted because it came in a box of 4 volumes. We managed to ship this (by boat) back to HK. We had to do them separately due to weight limit for this rate. Hopefully all the volumes make it. The only thing that was lacking at the conference was food. The coffee breaks always ran out of snacks and they only served finger food instead of real meals. You would also think that at such a big conference with exhibits (sponsors had booths to show off their stuff), they would have coffee and drinks lying around all the time. But nope, things were promptly stowed away after the coffee breaks. 

Tuesday. So on Tuesday we decided that we really need to get our own lunch. Luckily there were a lot of really nice restaurants nearby. I think we went a bit crazy in eating at nice places these few days. Every meal was a really nice one. Some people were really into mussels and oysters. I don't really like shellfish so I just ate more of the other stuff. We had all kinds of meat at every meal. 

My coworkers also went crazy with shopping for luxury brand items like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. I think we went shopping every night as they had orders from friends and family to buy different things. They claim that it is a lot cheaper, especially with the tax refund. It really amazes me how people are willing to spend an entire month (more than a month?) of their salary on a wallet. 

Wednesday was when the parallel sessions started. The organizers had different types of sessions, labelled discussion, workshop, and symposium. But there was no explanation in the program about the differences of these things. And I'm not sure the speakers even knew! I think it's really important to make sure your participants understand the rules of the game. How else are we to participate? Anyway, the discussion sessions were the most traditional in that they consisted of presentations and Q&A. But they were really quick, 10 minutes total. I think the workshops were meant to be more discussions among the audience. One of the workshops I went to had short slides, basically summaries from the presenters and a lot of discussion from the audience. But in other workshops, the presenters just used up all the time and there was no Q&A. It was strange. 

Due to the growing realization that we are spending too much money on food and that we needed to get rid of the 3 bottles of champagne, we decided to cut back on eating out on Wednesday night. Instead, we went to a Monoprix and bought a bunch of stuff like, bread, cold cuts, salmon, cheese, and fruit. We had a pretty nice meal back at the hotel. We even got to see the Eiffel Tower glow with its own light show from the hotel window.

Thursday, I met up with my previous boss from SF who is back in London now. We had lunch together with the other HK people and just chatted in general. It was nice to see him and I'm glad I didn't miss him entirely. I was on the lookout for him the first two days and then realize I should just send an email. Apparently he didn't even participate in the first two days and just arrived on Wednesday. There were a lot less people at the second half so it was easier to find him.

We concluded the conference with another nice meal at a very cute restaurant we happened upon after shopping. 

Friday. We were all pretty lazy in getting out of bed. Due to the complexity of reservations for this trip, we found out at some point that breakfast was not included in the later reservations. We ended up eating at the hotel anyway due to convenience. We managed to get ourselves out to Provins, a nearby little town that is a UNESCO heritage site with many Medieval buildings. My coworkers did not really understand my lazy style of traveling, which included only finding out the most important pieces of information, like how to get back to Paris. They kept trying to make this one train that I knew would be impossible to make. Sometimes, it's a lot less stress if you just give up early and accept the fact that you will take a later train! Anyway, there was plenty to see at the train station. We even got an ice cream cone and souvenirs. The town was pretty small and there were tourist maps at some places with routes marked out. We managed to walk pretty much the entire thing and ate dinner at a kebab place before heading to the train station. I think my coworkers were expecting more of a tour from me but that would be too much work. 

Saturday. I had wanted to go on another daytrip but seeing the slow speed we tend to move at, we decided against this. My coworkers still wanted to shop so we had breakfast and then went shopping again. The other girl on this trip had to leave around noon so my boss and I kept walking to the Longchamp store to fulfill his orders. After this we really had no idea what to do for the next few hours so we decided to go up to Sared Ceour because it's about the only attraction neither of us have been to on this trip, even though we've both been there before. 

We managed to find a "short cut" up the hill that involved some long flights of stairs. We found a ton of tourists at the top and saw street performers making a fortune. We had another fixed price 3 course meal and walked back down where we passed some very cute shops and markets. We gave up trying to walk all the way back and ended up taking the metro where my boss was nearly robbed by a gang of girls. Luckily he said he felt it coming and moved out of the way quickly. When we got off, a bunch of police was waiting for the girls and arrested them right at the station! Maybe someone reported them right away or they stole a GPS phone?

I think living in HK has really made me not used to dirty spaces and street violence. I usually feel very safe in HK. Maybe it's the density of people. There are always enough "eyes on the street" to keep people from doing random things. There are targeted violence but that's very different. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Marseille (Part 2)

I've been back in HK for a while now but just hasn't gotten around to publishing these posts. I actually wrote them on the train ride from Marseille back to Paris.


After getting dehydrated on Sunday, I went back to the hotel and rested. Took the chance to Skype with Yalu and waited until the weather was cooler before heading back out. I took the tram to the Longchamp Palace. I think they were getting ready to close so I didn't see all of it. There was a choir there singing though and that was really nice. I headed back out to the port for dinner and decided I really wanted a burger. 

On Monday, I wanted to take a cruise out to see the calanques, which are these cliffs that are supposed to be really beautiful. But unfortunately, it was really windy that day and the lady at the sales desk warned me that I might get sick. I guess I could have taken the bus out to the university and hike there but I was kind of lazy in investigating this route. By the time I realized that this was feasible, it was much later in the day. After a lunch of a falafel wrap, I went to the Fort Jean. I found the fort to be very well kept. It was almost museum like with signs and explanations. The place was very clean and had really nice views of the harbor. There were a lot of passage ways and towers to explore. I just wish it wasn't so windy! I felt my bag being blown and it would have flown away if I hadn't held onto it. My bag even had bottles of water in it. 

The fort connected to the Museum of the Mediterranean by a pedestrian bridge. You end up at the rooftop terrace of the museum which had nice lounge chairs. The museum is a very nice structure. I think it's meant to be a history and culture museum but it had the looks of an art museum. The building is a box structure that has an outer walkway wrapped around it. You can get to all the floors from this walkway. The walkway is covered by the facade of the building which hangs from the main building. This outer facade is porous and lets in sunlight and wind. On top of the walkway, they've installed speakers that softly plays sounds of the Mediterranean, like the sea, people at markets, etc. So it's a really nice walk. I had a cappuccino at the ground floor and just chilled there for a while. Really wish they were more into coffee than espresso. 

I went back to rest after this and decided to check out the beach in the afternoon. I only made it to the closest beach and that was a really dirty beach. I just dipped my feet in and the water was very cool. On the way back I finally found the bus that goes to the farther beaches and it was packed with people going back to the city. I supposed that's where I should've gone. But instead I walked around another nice park.

I had waffles and ice cream for dinner. I had this ice cream in Paris, in the Galleries Lafeyette, while waiting for my friends to finish shopping. The one I had there seemed to be a lot bigger than the ones people were getting here. They let you pick 3 flavors and shape it into a flower. Maybe it was because it was less busy at the one in Paris. I thought the two scoops I got here were small too. 

I went back to the hotel before sunset this time and spent the rest of the evening skyping briefly with another friend and then reading the rest of A Thousand Splendid Suns. It's a very moving book, especially at the end where everything collided. It made me realize I know nothing about the Middle East. Some of those Afghan restaurants that I ate at back in the States must be run by people escaping the conflicts described in this book. I got the book from the Salvation Army in HK and ended up giving the book away to a lady sitting on the bench next to me at the train station. I saw that she had a bunch of magazines, some of which are in English. I think she said that she can read English. 

I think I could have done something this morning, like go see one more sight or something. But I feel very lazy these days and just spent the time packing. I've been eyeing this buffet restaurant that has a huge selection of cheeses. In Paris, because there were always at least 3 of us and we always shared our meals, every meal felt like a buffet in that we got to try out so many different things. This buffet had a pretty good selection of meats and seafood. Their food was ok, wasn't all that great. But it was fun trying out different things and eating a lot of cheese! 

Anyway, on the train to the airport now. Only have €5+ in cash. Doubt I will need anything though. Maybe a snack. I got a thing of couscous and a bottle of Vitamin water. I've been drinking all kinds of flavored waters and trying different drinks out. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Marseille (Part 1)

I'm at the Marseille train station waiting for my train back to the Paris airport. This trip felt like it went on forever because of all the intensely packed days. I had two days of one conference, four days of another conference, and then two full days of chilling in Marseille.

Overall, I think Marseille is pretty nice. The Old Port area is really pretty with all the boats and nice view out to the Mediterranean. There are also all sorts of art pieces around since there was a cultural festival here earlier this year. But outside of the touristy parts, I thought the city was very quiet and not that clean. This is probably because I've living in HK for too long. The public transportation comes every 10 minutes and stops running at around 9pm. I got a 72 hour pass so I used a good share of it.

The BB Hotel I stayed at was not bad. It has all the standard stuff. Except I really wish I looked into hotels near the port more because that's where all the stuff is. It was kind of a pain to always be waiting for the bus. It was walkable to the port but the walk wasn't particularly nice and I wouldn't do it at night. This is a problem because most places don't serve dinner until 7 or 7:30pm and since the bus stops running at 9, dinner could be a problem. The first day I ended up having to take a really round about way to get back. Definitely used the pass enough times that day.

I arrived Saturday night from Paris and started exploring on Sunday. I didn't manage to get out of the hotel until nearly 11am and decided that the easiest way to get to the port was by metro. I had to make one transfer (there are only 2 lines). This is where I found out that the trains come only once every 10 minutes or so. It took me nearly half an hour to get to the port even though it wasn't far at all. The port was bustling with tourists. I walked around all the restaurants before deciding on a small place near one end. I had a fish filet that wasn't that great bit maybe that's because we've been having some really good food in Paris (more on that later).

I went up to the Notre Dame church which was on top of a hill. The view was really nice but it was windy and hot. I think I got a bit dehydrated here and went back down after exploring.

Some pictures from this first day:

Monday, September 9, 2013

In Marseille

Last full day of vacation. Hoping to have some time to blog tonight. Going to find some brunch.