Archive for June, 2010
China has truly been too good to us. Although trips to China by Ball State students will continue for years to come, I can’t imagine any future trips being as good as the first.
What has really made this six week excursion great has been the people. Not only did we get to see each city we traveled to, through our own eyes, but we got to talk to and spend time with people who live in those places and are a part of the everyday life. These relationships provided a priceless perspective on a foreign culture.
From an academic stand point I know that I could not have gotten the same journalistic experience I have gotten over the past month and half in any classroom at home. Being in China has taught me a lot about the way news media work and also turned me onto international journalism. Since being able to visit China Daily in Beijing and ESPN International in Hong Kong, I am seriously interested in seeking out international internships or even working as a journalist overseas after graduation.
As we spent our last night in the Hong Kong airport, the only thing I could think about is how lucky I am to have been a part of such incredible adventure. My outlook on the world, my own country and myself have all be changed by our experiences. I wouldn’t take back any part, good or bad.
Saturday night we went out with our new Hong Kong friends to celebrate Dominic’s 23rd birthday. First on the list from our night of debauchery was dinner. Our friends took us to a restaurant in the Causeway Bay area that seemed like all the others we had been to in Hong Kong but this one was a little different.
Yes the food was good, and yes the service was great, but what made this stand apart from the rest came by surprise during the end of the meal. After we had eaten and had been disappointed to find out that there was no Happy Birthday singing in restaurants in Hong Kong, the waitress brought out something that looked along the lines of the famous dumplings. They seemed to be made of the same type of batter but turned out to be a very traditional birthday dessert. Although they looked like dumplings they tasted much different, and in my opinion a lot better. It was a weird, or should I say different, combination of sweet outer batter with a meat middle. Different, but a good different.
After dinner with our Hong Kong friends, we went to a bar in the Lan Kwai Fong area just to kill some time. It was a bar with a Russian theme and an ice bar that got down to -22ºC (-7.6ºF ) as pictured above. The bar provided optional fur coats so no one would freeze to death.
Third on the list was the trip to the night club Billon. According to our friends it is popular spot in Hong Kong, and by the amount of people there, I would have to agree. I think maybe we all spent a little too much money, but I’m pretty sure I can speak for all of us that it was a night well worth it. And hopefully Dominic got a birthday celebration that he will never forget.
It started innocently enough. Suzy went to Delta’s website to check on our seat assignments for the flight home. What she discovered is giving us our latest challenge! Our flight home has been delayed, and not just by a few hours. Our 9:15am flight to Detroit is now scheduled to leave at 11:59pm! Yes, that’s nearly 15 hours late! That means we will arrive in Detroit in the middle of the night. Needless to say, we’ll miss our connecting flights to Indy. We’re still working on the details of what happens next. But we’ll have details soon, I hope!
This story took an interesting twist during the day on Sunday. As we tried to determine our flight options, we contacted Delta in the U.S. since the Hong Kong office is closed on Sundays. Suzy and I told the customer service agent about the situation, and that it was important that if we have to be rebooked, that all of us are on the same flights. His response was “What would you like me to do?” That was puzzling. It seemed quite obvious to me. Make sure all seven of us are on the same flight. So I explained that this was a school group and that, as a faculty member, it is important that I can track all student travel. The agent then asked if they were minors. I said it depends what you consider a minor. All are over 18 but some are under 21. The agent’s response included the phrases “so what’s your problem” and “they’re not going to get kidnapped.” Needless to say, that did not go over well. I asked to speak to his manager. But that never happened. After waiting on hold for 10 minutes, we lost the connection.
We called back and spoke to a great rep who took good care of us… at least we thought she did. After some tinkering, she gave us great advice about options and recommendations for flights from Detroit to Indy. We were back in business, at least until I went to check my reservation online. The Delta website couldn’t find my reservation anymore. So I called again and spoke to another very helpful agent. She did some typing and determined that my reservation had been deleted! Oops! Somehow,the last agent must have done it. But no harm done. She reinstated it.
But I buried the lead. It was actually good that this all happened!!! All of it! As I was speaking to this agent, she agreed to manually move everyone to the same flight from Detroit to Indy. That accomplished the original goal – to keep everyone together. She went through each person, but Sarah’s reservation wouldn’t come up, no matter what she tried. After some research, she discovered why. Sarah was booked on the wrong day! Her ticket was for Saturday, not Monday! So technically, she missed her flight. And Delta couldn’t do anything about it, since Delta didn’t book it. After we finished our conversation, I sent a frantic email to Marsha, our travel agent in Muncie. Thank goodness she checks her email on the weekend. She was able to repair the reservation, and all was well. Too bad she can’t make Delta run on time.
The other day, the rest of the group and I made a little side trip to Macau. Macau is a Portuguese settlement that is now part of The People’s Republic of China. It is a 60 minute ferry ride across the South China Sea to Macau. Ask anyone and they will tell you that I am up for just about any type of fun, but in Macau I was just another stick in the mud. I gambled a little at first, but after losing HK$240 (USD $30), somehow I thought the casinos were getting the better end of the deal no matter how many free drinks and free plays they threw at me. Even though I had only lost USD $30 it still made me sick to my stomach. I didn’t like the thought of losing MY money for no good reason. Some will argue and justify it as entertainment, but to me it all sounds like a foolish game. What made me even sicker was the hundreds of people throwing their money away as well. I just couldn’t see the sense in it, so instead, I spent the rest of my time in Macau relaxing in the bars or watching others throw their money away.
We sat down for dinner and the food just kept on coming. We started with Chinese meatballs and the best dumplings we’ve had since being here. Thomas kept translating what his mom was saying and she kept telling us that there was still more on its way. She wasn’t lying. She soon brought out spring rolls and sweet and sour fish. Everything was delicious! Then we had a sort of Chinese burrito. I’m not sure exactly what you would call it. First, you put some sugared seaweed on top of a pancake. Then you add a delicious mixture of tofu, chicken, vegetables, and more. Then you add sweet peanuts and chili sauce. Finally, you roll it all together and enjoy! Some of us, I won’t mention any names, had a tough time keeping their food together. Our stomachs were packed at this point, but Thomas’ mom said that dessert was on its way. Who doesn’t have room for dessert?
Dessert consisted of sweet dumpling soup with flowers and fruit. We have had this soup before, but this version was tastier. Thomas told us that it is a Chinese tradition to make sure that your guests do not leave hungry. Our stomachs were definitely satisfied. After dinner, we had Oolong tea, which Thomas said is good for digestion. It was a nice change to have dinner at a home. We all miss that.
Then, Thomas took us around Mong Kok, which is a happening place. It reminds me a lot of NYC, with all of its flashy lights, packed sidewalks, and street performers. It was a perfect way to end a perfect evening!
On another note, today is Dom’s birthday; so make sure to wish him a very happy one!
Every newspaper you open has feature sections on it. Am I talking about the Detroit Tigers season so far? Nope, it’s the World Cup, and it’s everywhere you look! At least outside of the United States, here in Hong Kong.
The game is simple, 22 players, 11 on each team, try to kick a ball into a net repeatedly over the course of 90 minutes. The entire world, subtract the U.S.A., goes absolutely crazy for this game. Coverage in the newspapers, on TV, and around the town has really painted the picture of just how big of an event this thing is. Our hotel lobby even has a score breakdown poster for it. Everywhere you go, any time of day, the matches are on TV, live. Whether it’s on a huge screen in a shopping district, or on the LCDs down in the subway, people are always standing and watching.
People here in China complain about the World Cup. They love it; don’t get me wrong. But their team failed to qualify. In a country of more than 1.3 billion people, the Chinese complain how they can’t recruit 11 players to field a decent team, yet somehow North Korea was able to do it. Regardless, China is full of fans. They range from rooting for the Germans, to the Spanish, even to the U.S.A.
During our time at CCTV we watched as the crew sat up the huge studio for the special World Cup show. Simply turning on the TV at any time of the day, one can witness World Cup news. Would you ever get this in the United States? I don’t think so. Granted, this year’s World Cup started while I was over here.
The coolest part of being here in Hong Kong for the cup is seeing the huge amount of foreign fans from all parts of the world. Dominic and I went down to the local pub, actually a street full of sports bars, to watch the latest U.S.A. game. Walking into an American 60′s-themed bar we looked up at the screen confused as the U.S. was not displayed. “Your game’s on over there,” a women shouts pointing across the street. Inside the bar across the way was pandemonium. In one section was the England v. Slovenia game, another the
U.S. v. Algeria game. England supports rallied behind their team cheering them on to victory. On the other side of the pub, people of all backgrounds were watchingthe Americans play. We meet some other students studying here in Hong Kong, a businessman from the east coast, and someone from Ohio! Cheering loudly, the place got tense as the U.S. entered overtime 0-0. Soon the U.S. scored a goal in the 91st minute to win it, the place went absolutely nuts. People emptied from pubs up and down the street, horns going off, high fives everywhere. Chats of U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A. went up and down the block. This was by far a great experience for a U.S.A. fan, one that I hope the entire nation will share with us, soon.
P.S. If you get some time, watch the U.S.A. play Ghana on Sunday the 27th at 2:30 PM our time, or 2:30 AM back home! Let’s go USA!
When you work for a large company like I did for many years, it’s easy to work with people that you don’t really know. However, I had quite a different experience during my years at CNN.com, at least where one colleague is concerned. For much of my time at CNN.com, I worked the evening shift. I would come into the office around noon or 1:00 p.m. and work until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. At that time, some of the operations of CNN.com would transfer over to our colleagues in another part of the world, namely Hong Kong. Many nights I would send an AIM to a gentleman named Kevin Drew. I was not aware at that time that Kevin had actually worked in the Atlanta offices of CNN.com at one time because when he was in the states I was actually working in another department and for a couple of years, for another company. I just knew Kevin as the person in charge in Hong Kong, and the person that I needed to make aware of what was happening on my side of the globe. For approximately two years Kevin and I shared what I like to refer to as an AIM relationship. So it was very exciting for me to visit the CNN Hong Kong offices and actually meet Kevin Drew face-to-face. The experience proves that knowing what a person looks like or how they dress or their mannerisms, is not a requirement for having great respect for a person as a professional and as a colleague. Putting a face with a name simply provided me with more context when I think back on what a pleasure it was to deal with someone so considerate and so professional in the way they handled themselves as a colleague.
The Ball State crew took a trip out of the country on Thursday, sort of. We went to Macau, about a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong. Like Hong Kong, Macau was returned to the central Chinese government about a decade ago. But before that time, Macau was part of Portugal. Getting there is an international adventure. We had to go through immigration and customs, again, as if we were leaving the country. Maccau has its own currency, even though Hong Kong dollars were accepted just about everywhere.
Even though it’s close to Hong Kong, the feel is a also bit different, thanks in part to its Portugese heritage. Many of the signs are in Chinese, Portugese and/or English. And then there was another sight that may be familiar to Americans, signs such as MGM Grand, Venetian, Sands, Hard Rock. Gambling is big business in Macau. So, of course, we had to visit. Others will probably discuss the wins and losses, but the biggest thing I noticed is the difference in gambling style. There were lots of slot machines. But it was not easy to find blackjack or poker tables. And there were baccarat tables everywhere! A worker at the Sands told us that is the most popular game in the East. And it sure looked that way.
It was a fun way to spend a day. And even though most of us lost a few bucks, we have another stamp in our passports to show for the visit.
Note: Due to limitations of our blog I can not display Chinese characters. I have placed a graphic at the end of the post to which you can refer to for the characters. Example: “A” in the post would be “A” in the graphic below. Thanks!
When you think of a beautiful language, French or Italian comes to mind. Flowing words, rolling r’s, and wonderful pronunciation all combine into a ocean of words. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Chinese. Crazy pictures, impossible sounds, and ridiculous combinations astound the mind into thinking quite the contrary of a language of love. Or is it?
The Chinese language is made up of more than 40,000 individual characters. A character is simply a single picture with a given meaning behind it. According to the Chinese government, an educated adult will know between 6,000 and 7,000 characters in his or her lifetime. Knowledge of 3,000 characters is generally required to read a Chinese newspaper.
During the cultural revolution of China in the 1950s, the government realized the need to simplify the language forgoing the traditional complex characters and settling on Mandarin in a simplified form. This is the language you will see and hear today.
In general when you see a character it has one single meaning. For example the character “A”(hao) means good. If you study the character closely enough you can see the outline of a women on the left side and a man on the right. When a man a women are together things are always good. Thus “A”means good individually. If we place a “B” (ni), meaning “you,” next to it and create “BA”(ni hao) we would be saying hello. By combining individual characters together words and phrases can be formed. Literally translated “BA” (ni hao) would mean “You Good,” but in Chinese it means “hello.” Simple enough? It gets better!
It is next to impossible to memorize each and every character. Fear not! The language is comprised of little over 200 radicals. Radicals are simple elements of each character that generally mean something. If we look at the word “C” (re) or hot, we can see the fire radical contained in it, or the four lines on the bottom of the character. Picture a fire lit beneath the character. You would now know that anytime you see the fire radial on a different word that it will mean something similar.
Finally, lets look at the character “D”(ren) or people. You can easily tell how the character looks very similar to a person. In fact the 2010 World Expo used this character in creating the mascot Haibao. The spoken word itself actually means treasure of the sea. If you can learn these simple meanings behind the characters your Chinese learning will be leaps ahead.
The most fascinating aspect of the language is the tones. You can say the exact same thing, but with different tones allowing you to create four different words. By simply inflecting your voice sharper, softer, null, or sharp then soft, you can create such tones. Let’s again use the word hao as an example. “A”(hao) means good and is low falling and high rising. “E”(hào) means very grand water. “F”(háo) means roar or cry. Finally you might have a just a neutral hao meaning something completely different.
During my first attempts to speak the language I was extremely careful to try to pronounce everything clear and slow. It didn’t work. Ironically however when I mumble through words at a lower voice level the translation comes across with success. It seems most natives speak this way, and yet it is all understandable.
At first, I thought that using pictures as a language would be extremely primitive. In a way it is, but it has developed over thousands of years into a beautiful art. Communication at the highest level accords here. Schools here teach choreography classes using ink and brush. In English every word has a meaning. In Chinese every character has a story.
Pixar’s “Up” came true for our group last night as the seven of us truly were among the clouds.
Our adventure started at 4 o’clock in our hotel lobby where we meet up with Thomas from Hong Kong Baptist University. Hopping on the MTR (the local subway system) we quickly dashed away into the Hong Kong underground. We emerged at a stop shortly down the line where Thomas lead us inside the strange world called a wet mart.
The closet thing I can think to describing this self perpetuating marketplace is a bustling train station. Fresh fish swim in open tanks while their counterparts lay on ice waiting for a buyer to fry up at home. Vendors sell every type of fruit imaginable while farmers uncage chickens for a paying customer. Thomas tells us this is their version of a local Wal-Mart, that residents in Hong Kong venture to one of the thousand of these markets scattered across the city every night to get food for the next day. While this market feeds the appetite of Hong Kong other locations fuel the culture.
Our next stop on the “tour” took us to the famous flower and bird streets of Hong Kong. In this wild market, birds of all types can be found. When a man emerges into retirement he typically purchases a bird of his liking. All over you can see these gentlemen walking around, playing checkers, and conversing, all with their birds in tiny cages. Right across the street is the Hong Kong flower market where flowers of all shapes and origins are put on the market. The Peak was just one more MTR ride away, or so we thought.
We emerged at an MTR near the harbor on the opposite side. Walking to the river front produced some spectacular views of the entire harbor. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Hong Kong, it was likely taken from this spot. Looking across the harbor it’s possible to see just about every name brand in
the corporate world. Each building lights up in their own light show in its bid to attract attention. At 8 PM the show starts. Titled, A Symphony of Lights, more than 44 buildings emit a synchronized laser light show illuminating the harbor and surrounding area. Truly a spectacle to witness should you ever land in Hong Kong. We soon found ourselves on a ferry going across the harbor to opposite side.
Debarking from the ferry though Victoria Harbor we landed in a high fashion shopping district. Overlooking the harbor, Victoria Peak emerges out of the land on Hong Kong Island giving breathtaking views from the summit. Winding roads and staircases make their way to the top viewing point creating a long hike up a 27% incline. Thankfully we took the tram.
Arriving in yet another shopping center we ascended 10 escalators finally emerging on the viewing platform of the the
peak. Walking outside we were immediately inundated by clouds surrounding our bodies. Glancing up at a light post we witnessed just how fast the visible mass of water droplets were moving across the summit of the peak. Slowing walking to the edge of the platform the reason to come to the top soon became apparent. A city unlike any other in the world appeared. Still lit up it was here where we could see the entire harbor. Boats of all shapes and sizes moved back and forth in the water transporting people, imports and exports. Viewable was the Two International Finance Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong, stood out to me as the building from the new Batman film, The Dark Knight.
Going back down the tram felt a little weird, I think we all wanted to stay up in the clouds a little bit longer.