Shanghai and Tokyo (Better Late Than Never)

My final blog post…only about a month later than I had hoped…whoops! Nonetheless, here is my recap of my Tokyo trip, including an overnight stop in Shanghai, as well as my updates on life since arriving back in the US:

May 17 – I was traveling with Hedvig, a City U friend from Sweden, and her friend who was visiting for a couple weeks, Julia. We arrived in Shanghai at 4pm and took a cab to our hostel. Our other City U girlfriends had recommended it and we were thrilled to find it very clean and nice. After checking in, we got ready and headed to The Bund, which is the walkway along the water displaying the old vs. the new Shanghai skylines. Unfortunately, it was very foggy that afternoon, so after snapping a few awful pictures, we took a taxi to Xin Tian Di. It was a great, small, bright area of the city – a true hidden gem! We found a nice restaurant, Kabb, for dinner before continuing to explore the area. Later, we took cab to Taikang Road for small corridors of local merchandise. It almost seemed like a city within a city. While there, I bought a leather ring for $1US. After seeing all there was, we went back to The Bund for better pictures of the skyline. Thank goodness it had cleared up! For our nightcap, we went to Bar Rouge where I had a delicious ginger pineapple drink. Around midnight we returned back to our hostel for our early morning flight to Tokyo.

May 18 – We flew to Tokyo, arriving around 1pm. I had arranged for our group to stay in “capsules” for the first night and a hotel for the other two nights. If you have a chance, Google some pictures of capsule hostels. They are basically just bed pods in the wall that business men and women stay in for one night when they get stuck in the city. We ended up arriving at our hostel location, but had to walk around for 30 minutes until check in. We hit the streets for some lunch, but could not find anything since there was no English anywhere! Japan marked my seventh and last country I visited and yet I felt overwhelmed and experienced culture shock for the first time during my entire abroad experience. There were just so many things and colors to look at and with no English, I found it nearly impossible to find basic needs, like food. After an unsuccessful exploration attempt, it was back to our hostel to check in and get ready. We took the “JR Train” to Harijuku where we walked around, then to the nearby Yoyogi Park. Next we walked to Shibuya. Tokyo has multiple trains with maps in Japanese, of course! Trying to figure out how and how much money it required to get from point A to point B was difficult for our group. But, by midday on the second day, we had it pretty well down. Also important to note, Shinjuku (where our capsules were located) and Shibuya are the main areas of Tokyo and the areas we chose to spend the most time. After our 30 minute walk from Harijuku to Shibuya, we looked for Alcatraz ER, which is a typical Tokyo themed restaurant one of my friends from Semester at Sea had suggested. It took us forever to find it since it was tucked way (like most places in Tokyo), but we finally found it and enjoyed dinner and drinks in a small, jail cell while sitting on the floor. I really enjoyed the experience since it was so unique. After, we walked around Shibuya then back to Harijuku, but found it empty. So, we enjoyed crepe wrapped ice cream scoops with yummy toppings, then went back to our capsules.

May 19 – We enjoyed our first night in our capsules so much that we decided to cancel our hotel reservations and stay in the capsules all three nights! The next morning, we started our day at 9am at “Bill’s Restaurant,” which was located in Shibuya and founded by a famous chef from Australia. The meal was so fresh and delicious – it was nice to start our day with a more western style breakfast. Next, we went to Daikanyama – we were really starting to master the train system now! This area featured French vintage knick knacks organized on cute, little tables. After walking for a bit, we visited the touristy Tokyo Tower. We went up to two different levels and enjoyed the views each level offered. After, we went to Yoshinoya, a cheap Japanese restaurant chain frequented by business men and women who belly up to the bar on their lunch breaks. I enjoyed beef and rice with ginger and miso soup for $3US. It was a yummy, quick, and easy meal for cheap – it would be great if the US had something similar. Next, we headed to the Akihabara district. This is the gaming area and offers fun, bright colors, as well as video game stores, DVDs, and comic books. Then, we went to the Asakusa district for old, but touristy trinkets and to visit the Sensoji Temple, which also included a pagoda. It was a quick stop before heading back to Shibuya for research on what to do next at Starbucks. We decided to have sushi in the Ginza district. We stumbled upon this great, little sushi restaurant with cute, funny waiters. We bellied up to the bar and the food was delicious! It was fun to enjoy such a yummy meal with awesome girls – we enjoyed great conversation at dinner (and throughout the trip, of course). After dinner we went back to our capsules for another quick research session (we had to visit Starbucks or our capsules for wifi in order to do research). We decided to check out Golden Gai, which is a local secret featuring six streets composed of 200+ bars! It ended up being right behind our hostel, which was a nice surprise. The bars are small and usually have room for only 6-10 people. We decided to try two bars: Albatross, which is ranked the #1 bar online and Tomorrow, a bar we stumbled upon and decided to try. We had an incredible experience with the bartender and a local student at Tomorrow. It was the coolest thing being able to carry on a conversation with the bartender, who spoke only Japanese, and us, who were only speaking in English. We were able to figure out that the bar owners and the bartender are artists, so Hedvig and Julia took a picture to email to the bartender. Then, she will paint and mail the picture to them. We ended up staying at Tomorrow until 3am, but it was by far my most favorite experience of the trip!

May 20 – We checked out of our capsules at 10am and went to the fish market. We wandered around only briefly because we were a little late and most of the fishermen were packing up their seafood. Next, we had a sushi lunch composed of the freshest sushi in the world – the clams were even still alive (you could see them moving through the glass) and were served that way! Afterwards, we wandered the small shops at the fish market and I bought a Japanese tea bowl. Later, we went to the Meiji Shrine, which featured a beautiful tree lined walkway and Shrine to pay tribute to Emperor Meiji and his Empress. Since it was close, we walked to Harijuku and got candy before eating at Jangara Ramen, a highly suggested ramen restaurant. It was not my favorite meal of the trip, but ramen is something you have to try in Japan! Then, we walked around the area more before resting at Starbucks for an hour to recharge. After a coffee, we were ready for KiddyLand, a fun shopping mall with many floors of children’s toys. Next, we wanted to do “Purika,” a past time of Japanese teens during which they and their friends go into a Photo Booth, take pictures, then edit the pictures to have fun backgrounds and doodles. It was really cool to do with Hedvig and Julia! We then headed back to Shinjuku for dinner at a ramen place near our hostel. It featured machines as the ordering system. After dinner, we returned to our capsule building for karaoke on the fifth floor. We sang for an hour together and had a blast! How cool is it to say we did karaoke in Tokyo?! Later we headed back to our capsules to shower and get ready for bed. Since I had an early flight the next morning, I went straight to the airport and pulled an all-nighter there before beginning my 6am voyage back to the US. I stopped over in Seoul, South Korea, before finally landing back in the US!

I have been home for just under a month now and have already done so much! I visited Nashville, Tennessee and Appleton, Wisconsin, including a stop in Chicago to move my things into my apartment on the way. Tomorrow I head to Chicago to begin my second internship with PwC! It is bittersweet to be back on this side of the world. It has been great to see my family, friends, and finally spend time with my boyfriend, but I do miss my girlfriends in HK and the life we had together. Reflecting back on the experiences we had and the things we did and saw – there is no way I was cool enough to do those things! I learned so much about myself and others and feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to study abroad, especially in HK! I would highly encourage anyone to live on their own abroad and would hope that they would embrace their experiences as much as I feel I have. I cannot wait to see what my future holds, but I hope it one day includes another trip or living experience in HK!

Thailand (Bangkok, Koh Kood, Koh Chang)

And so my world tour continues…after returning from Beijing and completing my final week of school, it was off to Thailand for the Stinson Family (Dad, Anna and I)! Here are the series of events that unfolded during our time there:

Day 1 (Thursday, April 17): I finished my Japanese Way of Tea course with a much harder than expected quiz (always a joy), then headed to the airport. Dad, Anna and I got bumped up to First Class with lay down beds :) We landed in Bangkok late that evening, but were determined to experience all that the city had to offer. So, we headed out to a rooftop bar called “Red Sky” for a drink before returning to bed. The bar offered a nice view, but I felt Bangkok lacked a true skyline since it is so spread out. We stayed at the Four Seasons, which was okay, but we later found out it was right in the heart of the protests. This made sense because we all were getting a sketchy vibe from the area. On our way back from Red Sky, we think we drove right through the protests…we were all glad to be leaving the next morning.

Day 2: We were up early to head to a second, different airport in Bangkok for our flight to Koh Kood. Since we were flying to an exclusive resort, Soneva Kiri, on the island, we were treated like royalty at the airport. We even recevied 30-minute foot massages for $8US in the private lounge. We were surprised to still not have boarding passes in our hands even after passing through security. But, it all made sense when we were bussed out to our small 8 person plane. We flew for about an hour and a half to the resort’s private airport and were met by Amy, our “Friday,” which is the term the resort uses for butler. We then enjoyed lunch and drinks poolside at the main bar while we waited for our room. When it was finally ready we were blown away with how beautiful it was! We had our own private pool, outdoor showers and bathtubs, and great bedrooms featuring the ever important bug nets. Once we settled in, we laid by our pool for a few hours before heading to “The View” restaurant for dinner. The restaurant featured fresh, ever-changing cuisine with gorgeous views of the water. It was truly something special.

Day 3: We woke up early and headed to breakfast. It was the best breakfast selection we had seen in a while – wheat grass shots, fresh fruits, eggs benedict to die for, nutella crepes, and the obviously necessary meat and cheese room that stayed open until 11am. After that, the chocolate room and 60 ice cream flavor station stayed open for complimentary treats all day – you better believe we hit that hard! After eating our weight in deliciousness, we went to our pool to sizzle in the heat (temperatures were 90-100 degrees). Later in the afternoon we all went to the spa for massages. The spa was gorgeous as it was nestled in the trees, almost like a collection of jungle huts. The massage was great and we all were ready for another yummy dinner. We went to the main bar and each had a few too many cocktails, but at least we slept well that night :)

Day 4: Another lovely breakfast to start the day followed by pool time in the afternoon. With the heat too much to handle, I headed to the spa for a second massage, while Dad and Anna hit the gym. It was Sunday so the resort featured dinner on the beach. It was beautiful with candles lighting the way, a buffet of every kind of food imaginable, and the water nearly washing over your feet during dinner. With so many options, I had to try it all – I took around 8 plates of food…whoops :) After dinner, we returned to our room to sleep.

Day 5: This marked our last full day at Soneva Kiri and we were determined to go out with a bang. First, we had breakfast in a tree pod. We were hoisted up into the jungle like trees with a view overlooking the water. Our waiter even zip lined to deliver our food to us – it was so cool! Next, we took an hour long boat ride to Koh Chang, then a 30 min car ride to ride elephants on the island. We each had our own elephant and we rode them for about an hour, even into the water. They walk much slower and were bumpier than I expected. They also have hair on their skin, which I did not know. But, they are such gentle creatures and it was a great life experience getting to ride them in Thailand. Later that afternoon we returned to Koh Kood to spend more time at the pool before taking another short boat ride to a restaurant called “The Benz.” It featured a set menu of nine courses with traditional Thai food. It was delicious, but very spicy! We took a few cocktails, as well, before returning home to sleep.

Day 6: We enjoyed our final breakfast before flying back to Bangkok. This time, we stayed at The Penninsula, which was much nicer than the Four Seasons and was right on the water. We enjoyed lunch upon arriving, then arranged a private tour of the city. We visited the Grand Palace and the reclining gold Buddha before taking a boat ride through the canals back to our hotel. The temples in Thailand are the most beautiful I have ever seen. Their colors are so saturated and the detail is impeccable. Our guide was helpful as she explained some of the city’s history. The boat ride was also eye-opening because we got to see the homes of people living on the water – their homes were falling apart, the wood was rotting, and some homes were even build on trash piles. Riding in the small boat through the waters of Thailand, I felt luckier than ever. I am so blessed to live the way I do and to have all the opportunities and experiences that I do. After arriving back at our hotel, we enjoyed dinner in the lobby before our flight back to the US the next morning at 6am. We were lucky to have lay down beds for both flights, including being on the second level of the plane on our flight to Tokyo. We arrived in Detroit in the afternoon and I returned to my house in Birmingham with Mom and Fisher. It felt good to be back in the US. I did notice some immediate cultural differences (obviously), but I thought it would be much harder to adjust to my life back at home. I missed HK and my girls, but my semester abroad suddenly felt like a distant dream.

Once back in the US, my travels continued…I visited East Lansing for a night to see my boyfriend, Kyle, and we went to his fraternity’s date party. We had such a blast and were so excited to finally be reunited after nearly 4 months apart! It was easily our most fun date party yet! Then, I returned home for a night to unpack and repack before flying to New York City for the weekend for my cousin, Brooke’s, wedding. She looked beautiful and it was great to see the rest of the family. It is hard to believe we have all grown up so fast and she is already getting married. After a nice weekend, we returned back to Detroit for another night of unpacking and repacking before heading back up to East Lansing to spend three more days with Kyle. It was his finals week so we laid low, studied, relaxed together, and went for a jog (such a mistake to go for a jog together – the kid just blows me out of the water athletically even after challenging me to a three week workout challenge. I trained hard, running 30 minutes three times per week and I was the only one of us to complete the challenge, yet he still annihilates me on our jog). Yesterday, I returned back to Birmingham for yet another unpack/repack session. As I write this, I am sitting in seat 5A waiting for my flight to Tokyo, then on to HK to take off. I am excited to get back to HK to see all my friends, but it was so nice to be home. It is a lot tougher to leave than I thought, but that is probably because I am returning for finals…yuck! Wish me luck, I will certainly need it! Over and out from Detroit!

Beijing

This past weekend my Dad, Step-Mom and I did mainland China. They first arrived in Shanghai and had fabulous things to say about it (bummer I won’t get there before my semester ends), then we met up Friday night in Beijing! I arrived late so we ordered room service, relaxed and caught up. The next morning we were up early and ready to hit the city!

Day 1: First, we visited The Great Wall and took a cable car up to the top. After walking around and talking countless pictures for about an hour, we rode toboggans down – so much fun! We learned there are seven entrances to The Great Wall, but the one we visited was the only one that lets you toboggan down to the bottom (Michelle Obama recently did this, too). Next, we ate lunch at a restaurant called “Schoolhouse,” which had great, fresh food. We stopped at a jade market on our way to our next stop. There, we learned about these family balls and bracelets that are are carved out of jade and passed down from generation to generation. We bought eight bracelets and I plan to give them to my HK friends before we all leave for our home countries. Next, we headed to the Summer Palace, which is where the Emperor would spend his summer months. It is a huge complex with very beautiful buildings of so much color. Finally, we went back to our hotel for drinks and dinner before climbing into bed before 9pm.

Day 2: Up and out by 8am to see Tian’anmen Square and The Forbidden City. The Square is huge and features extinguishers all over to put out the fires of people who try to commit suicide. There are also guards all over, especially near the entrance to The Forbidden City. Our guide told us that there are undercover police, who listen to what the guides are telling their visitors. If they talk about certain topics, they will be cuffed and taken away on the spot. This is where I finally realized and truly felt the effects of communism…a chilling reality. Once inside The Forbidden City, which is massive, our guide shared with us many interesting facts about the history of the Emperors and their concubines. I would love to read a book or watch a documentary on all the things she shared with us. Next, we ate a typical Chinese lunch at a place who’s name translates to “Large Bowl.” I loved all the dishes we got: Beijing roast duck, fried rice, pork buns, baby cabbage, and mixed vegetables that you roll up like a taco. It was so great to try all of their traditional foods. Finally, we visited a silk shop and the Temple of Heaven before catching our flight home to HK. The Temple of Heaven is where the people in power would sacrifice animals in hopes of a good harvest. Throughout our entire trip, one major theme was that every single thing had meaning and a reason for its being there. It was so interesting to hear about all of these ideas!

Now, we are back in HK until Thursday for my final week of school before heading to Thailand, then the US! So much fun lies ahead, but time is flying by, as usual! When I return to HK from the US, I will only have two weeks to take my finals before heading home for the summer…?!

Excitement Back in the US

The past two weeks have been fairly quiet in HK. The girls and I have gone out a few times, but everyone has been so busy, myself included. We only have two weeks of classes left and with such a heavy focus on group projects here, the end of the semester is proving to be the busiest. I do have a few pieces of exciting news to report: First, I was elected President of Women In Business for the 2014-2015 school year! WIB is an organization that I am apart of back at IU  and it has been a dream of mine to lead it since freshman year. I received the news via email earlier this week and am already hitting the ground running, placing our members in their positions for next year. Next, I got my belly button pierced…yeah yeah, it’s very weird and Kyle hates it more than anything, but I was feeling rebellious. Also, I am sorry to my parents, who are probably finding out that I did this via blog post…I am sure it will be coming out in a few weeks. But, if this is the most rebellious thing I do in life, I think you did a pretty good job raising me. Finally, I am coming home in just under 3 weeks! My cousin, Brooke, is getting married in NYC so I will be coming back to the good ole USA for a week! I am so excited to get home to see my family, a few friends, and Kyle, but it is also hard to leave HK, even for just a week. It will be nice to be home and get reacquainted with my life back there, then come back to HK for 2 weeks. I feel like it will truly make me appreciate this semester and all that HK has to offer.

Looking ahead to next week, I am excited to meet my Dad and Step-Mom is Beijing for the weekend! We have lots planned for our trip and it will be great to see them!

SB 2014 (Self-Proclaimed Edition)

After 8 weeks of classes and 9 weeks total in HK, we needed a break and an adventure! So, the girls and I booked a weekend getaway to Taipei, Taiwan with Lindsey and I continuing onto Panglao, The Philippines for the rest of the week. Hedvig (Sweden), Lindsey (US), Neila (Sweden), Virginie (Canada) and I booked our tickets and hostel and were ready to go to Taiwan Friday-Monday! We booked it all somewhat impulsively so we only had time for minimal research, leaving much to discover about the city. Here is what our adventures consisted of:

Night 1: Virginie arrived in Taipei this afternoon and checked us into our shared thee-bed hostel. Lindsey and I arrived around 10pm and visited one of Taipei’s famous Night Market’s just feet from our hostel. We enjoyed delicious food, had fun catching up and shared what we hope to accomplish over the next few days in Taipei.
Day 2: We woke up early to pack in a lot during our day. First, a visit to the previous night’s Night Market that had transformed into a Morning Market of yummy fruits and vegetables. Then, we headed to Longshan Temple to see its beautiful architecture and hanging yellow lanterns. After a quick visit, we found ourselves wandering the surrounding streets and visiting various shops. Some of the girls bought little trinkets and beads from their families. Next up, a visit to a street of fortune tellers! While Virginie and Lindsey got chair massages, I got my fortune told. The women asked my first name, my birthday, whether I was born in the morning or afternoon, my boyfriend’s first name and his birthday (which was oddly enough that day). Then, the women opened a small bird cage and a tiny white bird hopped out and chose three cards for love and three for career. Here are some of the things they shared with me: I shouldn’t fight with my boyfriend because he is my prince charming and the one I will end up with; we will get married when I’m 27 and have two kids (1 girl and 1 boy); he and I will be rich; he will be a gentleman; after graduation I will have many enemies but my boss will love me and I will have an international career; I will also have a life full of love, money and a career; houses are good for me to invest in; I am very clever and should listen to my mother and treat her well; my colors are pink, gold and orange; I should focus on my digestive system and not drink Coke or coffee; I will work after marriage until I retire; when I am old I will travel a lot; and age 59-60 will be a low point in my life so I should focus on my health. I thought it was very interesting listening to what the women had to say – let’s see if it all comes true! In the late afternoon, finally the two other girls arrived so we decided to visit the Beitou public hot springs for a dip in the healing waters. They felt good, but it was a little weird with so many people around. Finally, we headed for a second, larger Night Market for dinner and to show the girls that had just arrived what Taipei was all about – good food.
Day 3: The five of us woke up early again and went to the Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101, a building that was once the tallest in the world. We went to Starbucks because it meant we would be able to enjoy the view without paying the building’s entrance fee :) After enjoying our breakfast, we took a bus ride to a national park to see cherry blossom trees. It was a bit of a let down, but still beautiful and fun to wander around. Then, we took a train and cab to Pingxi. It is a gorgeous area outside of Taipei where people go each year for the Lantern Festival. Unfortunately, the festival was about a month ago, but we still could release lanterns! We bought one to share with four different colored sides: white for future, blue for career, purple for study, and pink for attraction. We each took turns writing our wishes on each side, then we let it fly once it got dark. Afterwards we bought small lantern key chains. Mine represented “happiness and dreams come true.” Next, we began our long hour and a half voyage home and visited a third Night Market for dinner. It wasn’t as good as the other two so we headed back to the Night Market near our hostel before celebrating Hedvig’s 22nd birthday with a small cake.
Day 4: Virginie headed back to HK early, while Neila and Hedvig left later in the evening. Lindsey and I left at around 8am for our flight to The Philippines. It took us two flights and a short cab ride to finally arrive. The second airport was only large enough for one plane and the cab ride from there seemed a bit sketchy. Lindsey and I took turns exchanging, “Is this really it?!” glances, but we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Amarela Resorts! We got in around 6pm and explored the resort before taking a night swim and enjoying a delicious meal, including fresh fruits that we were so badly craving. Finally, we fell asleep to the movie, Supersize Me.
Day 5: We both had a great nights sleep and awoke feeling refreshed! We finally were able to enjoy a western breakfast before heading to the beach and pool. The beaches of Panglao are phenomenal! The white sand and warm, blue water are breathtaking and truly picture perfect! After a long day in the sun, we enjoyed dinner and massages (2 per person for the week were included in our resort package :)) Finally, we fell asleep to a romantic comedy and looked forward to another day in paradise.
Day 6: Another wonderful day of breakfast, the pool, the beach, a light snack of fruit and Ube (a traditional purple yam found in The Philippines that I became addicted to), a night swim, dinner, and the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha to fall asleep to.
Day 7: We decided we should explore the island a bit! So, for about $45US per person, we had a private car take us around Panglao and Bohol. We first visited the Tarsier Conservatory, which feature the cutest little furry creatures with huge eyes. Next we drove through the man made forest of mahogany trees before stopping at the Chocolate Hills, which feature 1000+ hills that stretch for miles. Then, we visited the Butterfly Conservatory for a nature lesson and cool pictures. Then came our favorite parts: zip lining across the Loboc River, then a boat cruise on the river for lunch. The zip lining was spectacular! We went across and back on our stomachs so we could see everything and it was beautiful from that high up! Finally, we visited two of Bohol’s oldest churches, which were destroyed in the earthquake, and a significant sculpture, but Lindsey and I had no idea what it meant (something about blood brothers)?! We returned home for a beach walk, afternoon visit to the pool, dinner, and the movie, The Family Stone.
Day 8: A rough day…NOT! Again, we had breakfast, laid by the pool and beach, enjoyed a romantic dinner together, had our second massages, and fell asleep to the movie, Chicago.
Day 9: Our last day ): We woke up extra early to enjoy our last bit of sun! We had breakfast, laid by the pool, and had lunch before departing for the airport. Again, we had a funny experience at the tiny airport which featured a live band for entertainment. Unfortunately, the airport was only able to manually check us in so we couldn’t check in for our second flight. With only a one hour layover, we had a fun time claiming our bags, getting through security and checking in again before our flight to HK took off…Finally we arrived back at City U around 11pm. It was tough to be home after all of our fun adventures, but we had an exciting Sunday to look forward to!

Sunday: We celebrated Virginie’s 23rd birthday at a chic hotel on the island! From 1:30-5pm we enjoyed all you could eat food and drinks in a cabana. We all dressed up for the St. Tropez theme and had a blast sipping champagne and taking pictures all afternoon. I had hoped to be much more productive today, but with only 8 weeks left, I have to enjoy every second in HK :)

I am so lucky to be able to do such great things on this side of the world! There is so much to look forward to still, including my Dad and Step-Mom coming in 3 weeks – we’re off to Beijing for a weekend, then HK for the week, then Thailand! I can’t wait for all that’s to come :)

A Spot Of Tea

This afternoon the girls and I went to the W Hotel for their afternoon tea buffet. It was delicious! For about $40USD you can enjoy tea and all you can eat small bites and desserts while overlooking the beautiful HK skyline for 2 hours. Afternoon tea has been at the top of our list of things to do for a while now and it definitely exceeded our expectations! Up next, we hope to go to Ozone, The Ritz Carlton’s bar and the highest bar in the world.

This past week was fairly quiet since everyone had presentations and midterms. I started off the week with a presentation in Team Leadership and Management. My team presented on the poor practices of Foxconn and I think we did well. On Thursday, I encountered my first exam at City U, a quiz in Japanese Way of Tea. I studied hard and was definitely prepared, but the professors made it unnecessarily hard. They said we would have one easy quiz and one hard quiz…I guess they threw us the hard one first…at least it’s over and is only worth 15% of my grade. On Friday we all headed out to a delicious dinner at 85 South, which was recommended by “Sassy Hong Kong,” a blog we rely on for survival advice in HK. It featured traditional American Southern food in a cool, hole-in-the-wall location. They had great music, a fun crowd, and chill atmosphere. It was obviously a go-to place for ex-pats. After dinner we walked to Soho, another fun area for ex-pats, but a little more pricey. The girls and I found a sports bar with happy hour until 9pm so we snuck in 2 quick rounds of drinks before it ended. They threw us some fast balls with the drinks and we were chatting and laughing all night about our love life, how we met, our high school experiences, etc. It was a blast! I’ve truly enjoyed meeting so many people from all over the world that are so similar to me. I continue to feel lucky to be here and we are already getting sad that our time in HK is half over. None of us can imagine leaving each other and heading back to our home countries. But, at least we still have some fun times ahead and many more memories to make! Like, next week Lindsey, the other girl from IU, and I head to Taiwan and The Philippines for 10 days for a self-proclaimed Spring Break! It’s a hard life I live here in HK, can’t ya tell?!

Do We Get An “I Survived Macau” Shirt?

Wow, last night was crazy! Have you even seen the Hangover movies? If so, that pretty much describes the events that unfolded last night…

Three of my close girlfriends and I decided to get a suite in Macau, the Las Vegas of this side of the world, with roughly 30 other students from schools across Hong Kong. We stayed in a super nice room complete with a beautiful view of Macau and, of course, a hot tub in the middle of the room…obviously necessary. Macau is a short ferry ride away from Hong Kong and you don’t need  a visa, so it’s an easy overnight trip. The girls and our close guy friends from Sweden and Germany left City U around 4pm for the ferry. We headed to the terminal, arriving there by 5pm, but learned the next boat wouldn’t leave until 6pm. We were determined to get there faster to enjoy that hot tub! So, we took a short taxi ride to the next port only to learn that ferry didn’t leave until 6:45pm. As a result, we ended up starting the drinking a little earlier than expected in a McDonald’s – always classy, but they had frozen cokes so I was more than okay with the wait. Finally, we hopped on the hour-long ferry ride and made it to our hotel, The Banyan Tree, by 8:15pm. The two girls hosting us weren’t ready for us quite yet, so the girls and I took over one of the many hotel’s bathroom and began getting ready. We literally transformed and it was funny to come out of the bathroom later and see the guy’s faces – “Wow! What’d you do in that 30 minutes?! How’d that happen?” were the looks they were giving us. We finally headed up to the room and were excited to learn that we were the first ones to arrive. We were like little kids in Disney World, eager to check out every inch of the suite. As people started arriving, the party got going. It was so much fun to meet other students from around Hong Kong, many of which don’t attend City U with us. We spent hours listening to music, dancing, drinking, and talking with everyone. Then, around 1am we decided to head to Club Cubic, easily one of the best clubs I have ever been to! The music was incredible and we all took over the area right in front of the stage while we danced all night. Finally at 6am we headed back. But, of course we had to hit the casino on our way. I played one round in the slot machines and turned $10HK into $35HK (roughly a solid $4 win..booyah!) After Phillip and Clara lost $50HK on a quick game of roulette, we went back to the suite only to find it in shambles – water everywhere, bottles everywhere, doors off the jams, people sleeping wherever they could (if they had even made their way back yet), and the list goes on. The after-math was truly something to be proud of, so we did what anyone would do, we put on our swim suits and finally enjoyed the hot tub :) By 8am we were all getting hungry and restaurants were finally starting to open. So, we threw on some clothes and headed for McDonald’s…again…I’m slowly learning that people from all over the world truly worship McD’s (I, for one, do not particularly enjoy it, but hey, gotta go with the flow). We enjoyed delightful Egg McMuffins, then back to the suite to collect our things. Check-out was at noon and my friends and I were on a mission to be no where near that suite when that time came. So, we headed to the pool lounge chairs with all of our bags to finally get some shut-eye. We slept for about two hours before being woken up by the hotel staff telling us we shouldn’t be there, but they’ll let us sleep for a few more hours before we had to leave. Fine by us – we were just desperate to get some rest after our night. Around 11:30am I decided it was time to make the voyage home. The adventure back to City U was nothing short of hilarious with Lindsey looking more like a homeless person than a tourist. She featured pajama boxer shorts, a long sleeve shirt, a blanket that doubled as a cacoon, and massive sunglasses to hide the effects of last night. Clara was rocking an outfit that resembled last night’s attire and Maureen was sporting some great temple pants from Thailand and her usual black Vans. I somehow managed to throw on a sundress to give off the illusion that my life was together (it clearly wasn’t). We took the bus to the ferry port, the hour long ferry, and the MTR home. Finally, we arrived in our beds around 3pm. All of us were exhausted! Now, I’m awake and reflecting on the events of truly one of the best nights of my life. Macau was good to us – it chewed us up and spit us out, but it was everything we hoped it would be and more!

Back In the Swing of Things

After an incredible Lunar New Year break, the girls and I were in hibernation mode back in HK. We were all sightly depressed to be back in school, but also HK had suddenly turned into the arctic – it was freezing! So, we had endless movie nights and pretty much refused to leave the residence, unless it was for food. This week, it’s finally starting to warm up again and we’ve started to get back into the swing of things. Yesterday marked the first day we’d seen sun in about 10 days. So, we took advantage of it! Clara and I headed to Victoria Peak to take the Peak Tram up to the top of Hong Kong. It featured beautiful views of the city and offered many opportunities for pictures. After, we met the girls in Soho – an upscale area of HK Island and a favorite among ex-pats. We had a fancy dinner together with delicious Vietnamese food and reminisced on the moment we all met. We all are already dreading the day we have to say goodbye and leave HK. We are also looking at booking some trips together soon, which is exciting! The Philippines, Taiwan and Beijing await!

“Happy Water” (Vietnam)

This past week marked my fourth week abroad and City University’s Lunar New Year break. To celebrate the holiday, my family decided to meet me in Vientam for 9 days! It was an action-packed adventure as we traveled all over the country. We began in Ha Long Bay on a “junk,” otherwise known as a boat typically found in Asia. We spent one night sailing through the beautiful bay. Next, we headed for Hanoi, a busy city in northern Vietnam. We wandered the city filled with french-inspired architecture before boarding our over-night train car to Sapa. This area of Vietnam features many villages of tribal people. We hiked and biked through the gorgeous hills and rice paddies. We then traveled back to Hanoi for additional site seeing, including a ricksha ride around the city and a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show. On the sixth day, we flew to Da Nang, a more touristy area located along the coastline. My family and I had some custom suits made and biked around the area learning how to make traditional Vietnamese dishes. This trip was unlike any other – we directly interacted with the people of each area, learning their respective cultures, and we saw so much of the country in such a short amount of time. I am so lucky to have been able to go on my first adventure with my family. Now it’s back to school in Hong Kong, but I am sure I will be headed off on a second adventure soon with my new friends!

For pictures of the trip, check out the “Pics on Pics on Pics” page.

PS The title refers to, you guessed it, alcohol! Our tour guide in Hanoi used the term often to describe his festivities during the new year!

Also, here’s a more detailed description of the week’s events:

Night 1: Upgraded to business class on the flight to Hanoi from HK…a nice start to the trip! Was finally reunited with my parents at our hotel. We grabbed dinner and I was hit on by the waiter – we exchanged facebooks?!

Day 1: Up early for the three hour car ride to Ha Long Bay. Along the way we stopped and learned how pearls are formed inside oysters. We boarded our “luxury junk” for the night. We visited caves in the bay and went kayaking. I also got a massage and facial :) The boat had the best food ever!

Day 2: Up at 6:30am for Tai Chi on top of the boat while it sailed through the bay…what a way to start the day! Got off the boat at 10:30am and drove 3 hours back to Hanoi for an afternoon walk around the city. We had dinner at a french cafe and boarded our private train car for our overnight trip to Sapa…sleeping on a train is a unique experience to say the least.

Day 3: Up at 5am in Sapa! Grabbed breakfast near the train station before driving to the hills of Sapa. We hiked 10 miles and were joined by three tribal women from one of the villages during our walk – forced, of course, to purchase things from them at the end. Sapa featured the most breath-taking views! Then, we had lunch at a local restaurant and went to our hotel for an afternoon of laying out and my second massage. I got horribly sunburned, of course, and we proceeded to walk around the town so I could show it off :)

Day 4: Finally a good night’s rest! We had breakfast before our 8 mile bike ride through the rice paddies of Sapa. We stopped to have lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant, which was so yummy! We then returned to our hotel and were driven to the border of China and Vietnam before boarding the over night train again back to Hanoi.

Day 5: Yahoo for being up at 4:30am and back in Hanoi! We had breakfast and got a quick nap in before another day of site seeing. At 9:45am we began with Ho Chi Minh’s moseleum, then a temple, and “Hanoi Hilton” (a prison during the Vietnam war). We then had lunch on the streets with our tour guide – 4 of us ate for $8 total and it was by far the best meal I ate throughout the entire trip! Then, we each had our own rickshas for a tour around the city, followed by a traditional water puppet show. After, we got cleaned up and went to an authentic dinner with noodles, fried dumplings, and Vietnamese pancakes.

Day 6: Up early to fly an hour to Da Nang. We arrived and were met by our second tour guy who took us to Hoi An. After checking in, we went immediately to the tailor to get our custom clothes made. I got: a tweed skirt and jacket, grey pants, and a black dress. Mom got: the same tweed jacket, three pairs of pants, and a long shirt. Fisher got: a navy suit and 4 shirts. After the tailor we toured 4 places, including a Chinese temple, the Japanese bridge, an incense factory, and a history and culture museum. We then walked around town and grabbed drinks at “Mango.” We sat upstairs and had cocktails and appetizers over looking the water. After, we went next door to “Congo” for dinner.

Day 7: Up early for a bike tour of the surrounding areas of Hoi An, including villages. We stopped for lunch at someone’s house and learned to make a traditional Vietnamese dish. We also wandered the herb gardens they had. They gave us more food to try and we continued on to an older women’s house. Once there, we made sesame pancakes. Then, back to the hotel for an afternoon by the pool and our second fitting with the tailor. I also got my nails and toes done and met my parents for dinner in town. After, we had our second fitting, then went to bed.

Day 8: I flew back to HK early in the morning, while my parents relaxed and flew to Cambodia later that afternoon. Incredible trip and sad to say bye to them!

Week 3

Another successful week here in HK! The girls at I hit up the usual: Billy Boozer’s on Monday, Tequila Jack’s on Tuesday, Happy Valley horse races and Wan Chai clubs on Wednesday, rooftop bars/clubs/sightseeing Thursday-Sunday. It was a fun week! Yesterday we “got a lay of the land” as Mom and Fisher say…we were total tourists and took a bus tour of Kowloon Island and Hong Kong Island. It was great to see so much! We also had already seen a lot of it or had plans to see most of the stops so at least we’re doing the right things. Today, we went to Hong Kong Park. We each picked out a cheese, along with some bread and grapes and had a small picnic there. It was a beautiful morning – so nice and sunny, but it got foggy this afternoon so we decided to head home. Tonight we’ll watch a movie and chill at the residences. Less than a week until I am in Vietnam!