Days 22 – 30: Final Week

Our departure from Macau marked the beginning of our final week together in Hong Kong. It was time to check off the remaining items on our “must-do” list and finish up our social media campaign.

Our final Sunday together was spent working on our projects until we felt the urge to get out of the hotel and do something touristy. We’d visited the Temple Street Night Market on a previous occasion, but only spent around 30 minutes there before meeting up with some other UT students in a different area. I left wishing I had more time to shop, explore, and try some of the many cheap street foods available. Eager to try a famous Temple Street spicy crab, Miranda, Christy, Kayla, and Stephanie joined me in returning to the area.

The Temple Street Night Market is rated by Time Magazine as the #5 thing to do in Hong Kong and is described as looking “like every B-movie director’s dream of Chinatown.” It’s only open from about 4pm to midnight, but it comes alive each night with locals, tourists, and pushy peddlers that maintain the rows of stalls crammed with paintings, t-shirts, trinkets, handbags, souvenirs, and electronics.

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Stalls at Temple Street Night Market

Aggressive bargaining is not the only thing to do on Temple Street; open-air restaurants and stands serve snacks, local dishes, and lots of fresh seafood. Over a dozen venues keep varieties of fish and crustaceans alive by pumping water into clusters of plastic tubs. The majority of our group had their minds set on trying a spicy crab, so we took a seat at a restaurant ingenuously named “Temple Street Spicy Crab.” I was looking forward to having the dish until I was told the market price for the smallest crab was $300HKD (nearly $40USD). I certainly wasn’t THAT eager to try the crab, especially considering I was sitting at a dirty picnic table in the street that had a roll of toilet paper on it for napkins. For the record, I didn’t mind the divey-ness of the place – that’s part of the experience. I was just looking forward to the inexpensive food that Temple Street is known for and opted for a beef noodle dish. I was pretty sure the cups of water on our table had been there from the previous guests, so I decided to order a canned drink. The options were soda or beer. I don’t drink soda or beer, but I ordered a Korean beer called Blue Girl because I liked the name. The beer at the night market is among the cheapest in Hong Kong – my 650ml (~22oz) beer was $18HKD (about $2USD).

Kayla enjoyed the spicy crab and had no regrets parting with the $300HKD. We finished up our dinner and beers and set off to explore the street, people-watch, and haggle for fun.

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Varieties of fish and crustaceans – some swimming, some not.

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Temple Street Meat.

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Our roll of “napkins” next to my Blue Girl beer in the foreground, Christy & Stephanie enjoying dinner, and Kayla’s spicy crab to the right.

On Monday we had our final class lecture and visited the Hong Kong offices of Fleishman Hillard, an award-winning global PR and marketing agency. The firm’s Managing Director, Rachel Catanach, spoke to us about some of Fleishman Hillard’s campaigns and the inner workings of the agency. After her presentation, we were given time to ask her questions and have a discussion.

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Rachel Catanach, Managing Director of the Fleishman Hillard Hong Kong Office, speaking to our group.

The next two days were spent working on our main project for class – a campaign for the Korean skincare company, Dewytree. Our class was separated into four groups and asked to come up with a social media strategy for Dewytree’s entry into the U.S. market. The owner of Dewytree was asked to be there for the presentations, but had a prior engagement in Paris that week. On Thursday, we presented our campaigns to the class and professor, and our ideas were forwarded to the owner.

Later that evening, we had a farewell dinner with the directors of the program, our professor, and a guest speaker. Our past group dinners were all Dim Sum and a few of us were dreading another meal of it. In Cantonese, “Dim Sum” is actually known as going to drink tea, meaning that Dim Sum is not supposed to be a full meal, only a snack served with the tea. However, our group dinners had been just that – a dinner… of Dim Sum.

We walked into our reserved room at Golden City Banquet and our eyes fixated on the Lazy Susan (traditionally used in Dim Sum) in the center of the table. The room had a really cool view overlooking a busy street, so a few of us began looking for restaurants to eat after our tea time. We gave each other a forced smile as we found our seats at the table, and a server came by to pour us a cup of hot tea.

The guest speaker, Tommy Cheng, gave us a very frank and somewhat abashing speech about how to be successful in advertising and marketing. After about 45 minutes, I had noticed several of my classmates blushing, but we agreed it was motivating and refreshing to hear someone speak with such honesty about the industry.

Once the class ran out of questions for Mr. Cheng, it was time to eat. I was happily surprised to see our first dish was not Dim Sum. It was a platter of deliciously roasted pork accompanied with crispy pork skin and jellyfish… yes, jellyfish. Apparently jellyfish is considered a delicacy in most Asian countries. There are several methods to curing jellyfish that are as much an art form as a science and traditional methods can take more than a month. I had never tried jellyfish before, but I was curious and gave it a shot. The texture is very strange – almost like chewing on a rubber band – but I liked it! The weirdness of it was enticing, and I hope to try it again somewhere in the States.

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Roasted pork topped with crispy pork skin and served with jellyfish.

Once the next platter of food was served, I was sure we were not having Dim Sum. By the end of the night, we had a feast of more than 20 different traditional Chinese dishes – all cooked perfectly. It was by far the best meal I had in Hong Kong.

With our bellies full, we were ready to celebrate our completed coursework. We headed to the Ozone Bar at the Hong Kong Ritz-Carlton. Located on the 118th floor of the International Commerce Center, Ozone Bar has the distinction of being the highest bar in the world. The decor is chic and modern and the place is full of very wealthy, snobby young people from all over the world. The bar has a dress code for men, and I certainly felt out of place as I chose to be comfortable for our farewell dinner. I walked into the bar and was greeted by the doorman who didn’t say anything, but instead gave me a slow, judgmental scan starting with my casual sundress and ending with a long pause on my trusty sandals. I gave him a sarcastic “am I good to go?” look with my eyebrows raised before proceeding.

When we found a seat, the uncomfortable stare down became completely worth it: the bar is incredible! It has an open roof that creates a subtle breeze and allows you to see the clouds close-up. And the views from the floor-to-ceiling, wrap-around windows on the 118th floor? Absolutely breathtaking! It was so beautiful I actually became overwhelmed with sadness, because I couldn’t share the experience with my husband and family. That may sound cheesy, but I highly recommend only seeing this place with your loved ones and closest friends if you have the opportunity.

QUICK TIP: A popular tourist attraction called the Sky 100 Observation Deck is located in the same building as the Ozone Bar. Visitors pay entrance fees ranging from $168-$500HKD (~$20-65USD) to see the views from the 100th floor (18 floors below the bar). So instead of going to Sky 100, save your money, get back in the elevator, go 18 floors higher to the Ozone Bar, and then use your money to buy a cocktail and enjoy the free views from there. You won’t regret it.

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Miranda, Kayla, Amy, & Christy at Ozone Bar.

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Amazing view from our table at the Ozone Bar. We were in the clouds!

We only had one drink at the Ozone Bar, because that was all we could afford. From there, we headed to Lan Kwai Fong, an area of Hong Kong that is similar to Austin’s 6th Street (except for the important fact that LKF allows open containers). The small area is packed with more than 100 restaurants, bars, and clubs and is the go-to area in Hong Kong for nightlife. Most of my classmates had been to LKF on several occasions but it was my first time to check it out. We walked into a few bars and then went to what my classmates referred to as “Club 7.” With no open container laws, the 7-Eleven in LKF sells more liquor than most bars. The small convenient store is packed with people who buy their drinks at a cheaper price than the bars and enjoy it in the street before going into the clubs. LKF was definitely a cool place to see, but I’m not much of a club-goer. I ended up going back to the hotel around 11:15pm.

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Outside “Club 7” in Lan Kwai Fong.

From what I heard, everyone else in the group made it back to the hotel very late. Besides myself and 3 others, Friday was everyone’s last full day. It was spent recuperating from the night before and preparing for flights home. I had lunch and dinner at some restaurants nearby and took a long walk with Stacie around the area of our hotel. The entire day seemed float by in a surreal haze – this was it. Our long-awaited trip was over and we hadn’t had time to really soak in what we had experienced.

My flight didn’t leave until 7am Sunday morning, so I said my goodbyes to everyone who left on Saturday morning. Our hotel was only booked until noon, so I finished packing and enjoyed the last few hours in the hotel before checking out. I didn’t have any set plans for the day, and because my flight left so early the next morning, I didn’t even book myself a new hotel (I would’ve had to be up around 3am to make it to my flight on time). I asked the concierge to hold my luggage for the day, and thought I’d walk around Hong Kong and see the last sites I’d missed. Luckily, Amy and her dad let me tag along and kept me company for the day.

Our first stop was the Chi Lin Nunnery, a large Buddhist temple with beautiful gardens. It was really hot that day and we didn’t stay long, but it was definitely worth the visit.

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Beautiful pagoda in the gardens of the Chi Lin Nunnery.

We had a casual lunch and headed to the Hong Kong Park. Similar to New York City’s Central Park, Hong Kong Park is a much needed stretch of greenery hidden among the city’s skyscrapers. We strolled through the park and went into a stamp museum and a tea museum that are located there. Finally, we went to the Wan Chai area so I could pick up a few more gifts and then went back to the hotel to pick up our bags. It was around 6:30pm when I said my goodbyes to Amy and took a bus to the airport.

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Day 20: A Night in Macau

In lieu of a lecture on Friday, our class took a field trip to Macau. We were asked to be at the ferry station at 6:45am, so I woke very early that morning to pack an overnight bag and catch the tram to the Macau Ferry Terminal. I’d never taken a ferry before, but I thought we’d be riding on a slow-moving, open-air type of boat carrying cargo and vehicles in addition to human passengers. Perhaps most ferries are like the one I imagined; however, our ferry was much, much different.

Aptly named “TurboJET,” our transportation to the western side of the Pearl River Delta was like a massive speedboat/yacht hybrid. They’re manufactured by Boeing and propelled by twin Rolls Royce Allison 501 KF turbines that can reach speeds of up to 52 knots, or nearly 60mph. That’s incredibly fast for a boat capable of carrying over 300 passengers! When we reached full speed, it felt like we were in an airplane gliding on the water.

The ride to Macau was only about an hour, but a ferry attendant offered us a menu with different types of ramen and soft drinks. I didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast before boarding the ferry (and I don’t like passing up an opportunity to eat), so I ordered a bowl of the instant noodles. I filled out my immigration card and squeezed in a short nap before we docked in Macau around 8:30am.

Our program directors arranged a spacious tour bus to pick us up from the station and take us sightseeing. Our first stop was a quick photo op at the iconic, 65-foot tall Kun Iam statue located on the outer harbor waterfront. In Chinese Buddhism, Kun Iam is the goddess of mercy and is believed to bring wealth and plays a role in protecting children.

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At the Kun Iam statue in Macau -me, Vincent, Benita, Christy, Stephanie, Miranda, Kayla, Emily, Adit, Amy, Jesse, and Stacie

Our next stop was a 30-minute visit to the A-Ma temple. Built in 1488, the temple is dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen.

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Entrance of A-Ma Temple.

Asking a group of college students to be anywhere at 6:45am is not a very good idea. After our visit to the temple, we took an hour-long sightseeing drive through Macau; but all 12 of us were asleep, leaving only the professor and our guides to enjoy the tour. I awoke as the bus pulled over to let us out at the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The cathedral was built between 1620 and 1627 by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland, but was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835. All that’s left is the impressive stone façade and crypts of the Jesuits who maintained the cathedral. 

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Stone façade at the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

The guided tour ended with a nice Portuguese lunch. Our “cultural excursion” was over and it was officially the weekend. Instead of returning back to Hong Kong, we reserved rooms at the Sheraton on Cotai Strip (Macau’s equivalent of Las Vegas Boulevard). The combination of wanting to save money AND stay in a nice place resulted in 6 girls sharing one suite. It was a little crowded, but we ordered some roll-away beds and made it work!

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Sheraton Macau on Cotai Strip (white building in the middle)

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Our hotel room for the night.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy the thrill of gambling and was very excited to check out the casinos in the “Monte Carlo of the Orient.” I was especially looking forward to going to the Venetian (even though it’s modeled after the Venetian in Vegas), because it’s the largest casino in the world. If you know me well, you shouldn’t be surprised to read that my one night in Macau involved eating a huge dinner at the Sheraton buffet and going to bed by 10:30pm. Lame, yes, but I had a game plan: enjoy a good night’s rest and wake up early to spend the day in the Venetian. That’s precisely what I did.

I had around 6 hours to explore the Venetian before I needed to be at the ferry station to catch the TurboJET back to Hong Kong. The 10,500,000-square-foot building is beautifully decorated with a special attention to detail, and 6 hours is simply not enough time to see everything. I spent the first two hours walking around with a couple of classmates before venturing off on my own to enjoy the Venetian buffet for lunch. Even though my waitress made fun of me, I enjoyed one of everything and stayed there until the lunch buffet closed.

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Inside the World’s Largest Casino – Venetian Macau

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So many people!!!

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The Buffet at the Venetian Macau

Happy and full, I was ready to do a little gambling. I couldn’t find any Texas Hold’em tables in the sea of baccarat tables, so I decided to play a little roulette. I keep it simple and like to only bet on the colors in roulette, but I have somewhat of a system in doing so: I find a couple of tables right next to each other and patiently watch the monitors of the previous numbers. When one color hits more than 4 times in a row, I usually step in and bet on the other color. The minimum bet at the table for red or black was $200HKD (~$25USD), so that’s what I bet. I alternated between the 2 tables, watching the monitors for nearly an hour and only betting 3 times. I won the 3 bets I placed, doubling my money each time. The hardest part of gambling is walking away, but I needed to meet up with the group to catch the ferry. I cashed out my $600HKD winnings and felt content with my one night in Macau.

Day 17: Off to the Races

Horse racing is incredibly popular here in Hong Kong. During the racing season (September through July), there are nearly 700 races at the two racetracks: Sha Tin and Happy Valley. If you can’t make it to the tracks, there are more than 100 off-course betting branches sprinkled throughout the city that make it convenient to place bets.

Races alternate between the two tracks, and this Wednesday they were located at Happy Valley. Surrounded by a wall of skyscrapers, the historic course in Happy Valley is the only racecourse in the world located in the heart of a metropolitan city. Wednesday evening races attract an average of 18,000 people.

I’d never been to a horse race, but I enjoy the thrill of gambling and wanted to give it a try. Besides, I’d recently purchased a large hat that should only be worn to a beach or a horse race (although I’d later find out that people in Hong Kong don’t wear hats to the races, and I was the ONLY one with a giant hat on).

Eight of my classmates also wanted to go to the races, so we took a bus to the Happy Valley Racetrack at 6:15pm. The bus ride was about 30 minutes, but our excitement intensified when we approached the Causeway Bay area and could see the floodlights radiating from the track.

The entry fee starts out at only $10HKD and there’s an option to use an Octopus Card to pay. The minimum entry fee only gives you access to the track level, but that’s where all the action really is. There’s a lot of food and beer stands, games, live music, and a great deal of mingling in this area.

We arrived just in time to scope out the track and place our bets for the first race. I had a strategy: bet on the horse with the best name.

I found a racing guide and scanned over the horses’ impressive names:

Rainbow Seeker

Mount Victory

Mega Castle

High Return

What a Heart

Lord Dragon

but my eyes stopped on #3 in the first race…

REALLY THE BEST.

How could I NOT choose a horse named “Really the Best”? I immediately went to the information desk to get a short lesson on horse betting. I learned how to fill out the slip, and bet that Really the Best would place among the top 3 positions in his race. The minimum bet was $10HKD, but I was feeling pretty good, so I bet $50 (about $7USD) and received a printed receipt.

I was too excited to have a seat in the stands, so I walked right up to the fence and watched from there. About 10 minutes before the race began, the horses were led out to the track to gallop around aimlessly and warm up. I was within a few feet of the massive animals and could see their muscles bulging with every step. When my horse pranced by, I gripped my ticket in one hand, giddily pointed at it with the other, and yelled, “Go, number three!” The jockey, Tommy Berry, gave me a thumbs up and made me feel even more confident of my bet.

At the fence of the track where I cheered on Really the Best.

At the fence of the track where I cheered on Really the Best.

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Jockey Tommy Berry with Really the Best.

After the warm-up, the horses were led into the starting gates. Before I could adjust my camera settings, the loud bell sounded and they were off! The thunder of the horses’ hooves and loud roars of the crowd were exhilarating, but the greatest thrill was cheering on Really The Best as he came around the track towards the finishing post. The race was over in just 1 minute and 41 seconds and Really the Best finished in first place!

I was overwhelmed with excitement and did a happy dance with my classmate, Benita, who had also bet on Really the Best (her favorite number is 3).  We made a beeline for the payout window to collect our winnings, but were too early and told to wait until the results were official.

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The horses racing out of the starting gate.

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My winning ticket and stats for Really the Best.

Instead of waiting at the payout window like a voracious animal, I decided to buy a celebratory beer. I rarely drink, but there was a stand offering a new frozen beer from Japan called Kirin Ichiban that looked refreshing. There was a lot of hype for the new beer, and several Japanese models wearing yukatas were applying temporary tattoos to a line of happy patrons. It looked promising, but I was a little disappointed to find that only the foam on top was frozen. Despite this, I still enjoyed my victory beer while I watched a few more races from the stands with my classmates.

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Miranda and me with Kirin Ichibans

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View of Happy Valley from the stands.

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Enjoying our frozen beers from the stands (notice the Kirin Ichiban temporary tattoo on Kayla’s forearm)

After a couple of hours, I returned to the payout window to casually collect my winnings. On the way, the ground was littered with torn up betting slips – small reminders that there’s a downside to gambling and I was on the other side.

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Classmates (and a few extras) at Happy Valley Racetrack

Days 13-14: We Totally Redeemed Ourselves

Reluctant to spend another day in the rain (refer to day 12), our entire Saturday slipped away indoors. I rested and watched a lot of HMC – the sole English television station that plays random American movies with Chinese subtitles. Newer releases such as The Hangover, The King’s Speech, and The Hurt Locker are shown; but oddly, these often air between older movies like the 1984 Razzie-nominated Streets of Fire, and Sliver (a movie from 1993 featuring the lesser-known Baldwin brother, William). There’s not a television guide, so the upcoming movie is a surprise until about 15 minutes before it airs. It’s not bad though; I find the unpredictability to be refreshing and entertaining.

The weather on Sunday was an improvement from the previous two days, but there were intermittent rain showers. Despite this, we were determined to get out of the hotel and experience more sites on our must-see list. I realized that we could check off at least 4 attractions in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST), a very nice shopping area of Hong Kong with museums and incredible views of Victoria Harbour.

Stacie, Christy, and I took the MTR to the TST area around 11:00am. We began with an early lunch at a restaurant called Hong Kong Day in the Harbour City Mall. I splurged and ordered the most expensive thing on the menu: soft-shell crab served over a bed of angel hair pasta with bacon, asparagus, and cream sauce. The description sounded delicious, but the dish was completely unseasoned and thoroughly mediocre. Towards the end of the meal, I realized we must’ve been eating at the Chinese equivalent of Chili’s and felt somewhat duped by the “fancy” menu descriptions.

Next up on the agenda: trying a macaron from the pricey Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier shop. It was my first time to taste a macaron, and despite how pretty and colorful they are, I’ve always imagined they would have a chalky texture. I tried the crème brûlée flavor, Stacie tried the vanilla, and Christy went for praline. I was happy to find the chalky texture was more light and airy than expected, but it may have just been subdued by the overly-sweetened interior. It was overpriced and underwhelming –  a fitting way to top off the meal from Chinese Chili’s.

Macaroons at Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier

Macarons at Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier

We left the Harbour City Mall to check out some of the museums and attractions nearby. On the way, a man approached us and whispered, “Chanel? Gucci? Prada?” He was holding a business card and wanted to show us his counterfeit merchandise. We were forewarned of these vendors before we arrived in Hong Kong, but my curiosity took over and I convinced Stacie and Christy to join me in the shopping excursion.

The man led us into in an office building where he showed identification to a petite female security guard and waved us into the elevator. The doors opened on the sixth floor revealing a long, stark white hallway illuminated by fluorescent bulbs. We shot each other nervous glances but continued to follow the man. Half way down the hall we stopped at a door where he began knocking in Morse code. As the door opened, a cloud of cigarette smoke billowed out into the hallway. A family of six Europeans were on their way out and wished us “happy shopping,” before leaving us alone in the small room. As the smoke dissipated, I was able to see the contents of the room: one rack of cheongsams (Mandarin-style dresses) and a man sitting at a desk with three chairs.

We had a seat and were given five Hello Kitty themed photo albums filled with pictures of counterfeit designer purses. Each photo album was organized by designer and the individual photos were labeled with an identification number in the top corner.  I asked to see three different bags, so the man made a quick phone call to have the bags brought to us. They appeared within three minutes and were placed in front of me for inspection. Only one of the three looked and felt of quality, so I asked the price. $280USD! I made a counter offer for a generous $100USD and he emphatically told us to get out…

We made it safely back to the street and decided to take a stroll down the Avenue of Stars (Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame). I only recognized three names, but I was really excited to see the popular statue of Bruce Lee located at the end of the promenade. I waited in line for nearly 15 minutes to take this gem:

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Bruce Lee statue on the Avenue of Stars

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Jackie Chan’s handprints on the Avenue of Stars

The Avenue of Stars is located directly behind the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Space Museum, so we decided to check those out, too. The museums offered a discount for students, making our entry fee only $5HKD (less than $1USD). The art museum was a nice, calming change of pace. It’s spread over four floors, but the exhibits on each floor are fairly small. We spent a little over an hour there before we headed to the space museum where we bought tickets for a short educational film called “Space Junk 3D.”  The movie was in Cantonese, but there were headphones available to listen in English. Unfortunately, the combination of watching a 3D space movie in a planetarium and the English dubbing made me a little motion sick, so I closed my eyes and just listened.

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Space Junk 3D!

After the movie, we sat outside at the waterfront of Victoria Harbour and waited about an hour for the Symphony of Lights to begin. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d read reviews online that the nightly show is something to see. At 8pm, music began to play and 45 buildings around the harbor flashed interactive lights to the beat of the music. The electric bill for the show must be astronomical, but it was a really cool experience!

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Symphony of Lights

NIght View of Victoria Harbour

Night View of Victoria Harbour

We finally made our way back to the hotel after the 15-minute light show. Any guilt I had felt about spending the entire day indoors on Saturday had been replaced with the foot aches and exhaustion of a long, fun, and eventful day. We had totally redeemed ourselves.

Day 12: Rainy Visit to the Tian Tan Buddha

Our group took advantage of the free time on our project workday to sightsee instead of researching. We finally made it to my second most anticipated spot – the Tian Tan Buddha in Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. The Buddha is 112 ft tall, and was the world’s tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha prior to 2007.

The commute to Ngong Ping was about two hours. 10 of us took two taxis to the Hong Kong MTR station where we rode to Tung Chung, the final destination on the yellow line. From there, visitors have the option of taking a bus or the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Cars. We decided to pay the extra money -$130HKD – to take a standard cable car, but opted out of the premium, glass-bottom cable cars that are proudly marketed as the “Crystal Cabins.” Despite having a fear of heights, I felt confident the views from over 1,900 feet in the air would be worth it. But at one point, our cable car passed through some low clouds, adding an eerie, heaven-like white glow to the daunting ride. During the 25 minute, 3.5 mile journey, only two of us had small panic attacks.

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View from the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Cars

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Rainy day view from the cable car.

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Me (pre-panic attack) & Amy in the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car

Upon reaching the Island, I was slightly disappointed to see a tourist village equipped with Subway, Starbucks, and plenty of gift shops. Something about the Westernization of the small village detracted from the enlightenment I was promised in my welcome brochure.

I was looking forward to eating at the popular Vegetarian restaurant near the Buddha, but our group chose to eat at a standing-room only Taiwanese restaurant to get out of the rain. After the quick lunch, we bounced around from gift shop to gift shop hoping the rain would ease up. The downpour never stopped, but we eventually decided to make the best of our trip and ventured out in the rain to begin the journey to the Buddha statue. Our small umbrellas were not keeping us completely dry, so several of us doubled-up on protection from the rain and invested in cheap, plastic raincoats.

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Kayla & Emily making the most of our soggy day. Photo: Courtesy of Emily Bradford.

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At the bottom step of the Tian Tan Buddha.

The climb to the top where Buddha sits on a lotus throne is more than 240 steps. Once you reach the top, the views of Ngong Ping are spectacular and the giant Buddha seems even more serene and dignified. It is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These offerings symbolize charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana.

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View of the giant Buddha from the upper platform.

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View from the front of the upper platform.

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Three of the six Devas that surround the Buddha.

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Kayla, Emily, & me on the steps of the Tian Tan Buddha

Access to the outside of the Buddha is free of charge, but we paid an admission fee to go inside where we had access to the three floors beneath the statue: The Hall of UniverseThe Hall of Benevolent Merit, and The Hall of Remembrance. One of the most renowned features inside is a relic of Gautama Buddha consisting of some of his cremated remains. Only visitors who purchase an offering for the Buddha are allowed to see the relic.

We spent a few hours in Ngong Ping before beginning the soggy two-hour trip back to the hotel. Six of us ended our day with dinner at a dumpling restaurant across from our hotel.

Day 10: Dragon Boat Festival and Dim Sum with the Hong Kong Texas Exes

Wednesday was the Duanwu Festival, a national holiday here in China and a few other Asian countries. We had the day off of class to observe the holiday and attend some dragon boat races together. At 9:30am, our group grew to over 40 people when we met with the Hong Kong Texas Exes and other study abroad students from UT. We made our way to the Shing Mun River in the Sha Tin area where we watched races for about an hour. Besides eating zongzi and drinking realgar wine, the dragon boat races are the main focus of the Duanwu festival. Thousands of people attend the races throughout the city to watch or participate in the events.

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Dragon Boat Race

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Races on the Shing Mun River

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The perils of dragon boat racing. Photo: Courtesy of Kayla Marvin.

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Child watching the races

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Amy, me, Kayla, & Vincent at the Dragon Boat Races

We enjoyed the races, but we were ready to leave when it was time for lunch. We walked about a mile to a Dim Sum restaurant where The Hong Kong Texas Exes made a reservation for us. One of the Texas Exes, who is originally from Hong Kong, explained that the focus of Dim Sum is actually the tea they serve with the meal, not the food itself. Despite this fact, my focus was certainly on the “different” meats being served and trying to find something familiar. I tried BBQ chicken feet and roasted pigeon for the first time… and probably the last. The dishes were surprisingly tolerable and even somewhat tasty, but I’d never order them for myself. For those that are curious like I was, pigeon tastes like chicken. A very, very dark piece of chicken.

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Lunch with the Hong Kong Texas Exes.

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Dim Sum

Me and the President of the Hong Kong Texas Exes, Victor Nip.

Me and the President of the Hong Kong Texas Exes, Victor Nip.

On the way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon several Hong Kong police officers. A few of us took advantage of the photo op:

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Hong Kong Police

Day 6-7: Shek O Beach BBQ & a Lazy Sunday

Our program director invited us to a BBQ on the beach on Saturday. Our group met up with a few other study abroad students at 10:15am to catch a bus to Shek O beach. Translating to “rocky bay,” Shek O beach is a peninsula located on the southern coast of Hong Kong Island facing the South China Sea. There’s one public bus that takes people on a sinuous 30-minute drive that’ll make you feel like you’re a passenger in one of those racing video games. Luckily, this bus does have seat belts, and if you sit at the front of the upper-level, there’s railing to grip on to.

When we arrived at the beach (a little motion sick), we made our way to a covered BBQ area that we reserved for five hours. Cold drinks and raw meats were immediately brought over to our area. We were given skewers to roast the assortment of meats over two small BBQ pits. It was fun and exciting at first, but that faded away when we began to realize that most of the meats took more than an hour to cook. Our arms were getting tired of holding the skewers and the heat from the flames was parching, so Benita made a contraption to balance the rods over the flame. I didn’t have much to eat, but I enjoyed talking with new company and the views of the beautiful beach.

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Our BBQ area at Shek O Beach

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BBQ at Shek O Beach

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BBQ at Shek O Beach

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Enjoying the fruits of my labor. 1 chicken wing – 90 minutes of roasting.

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View from the beach

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Shek O Beach

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The group at Shek O Beach

After the beach, the majority of the group went to an area called Lan Kwai Fong. Located in Central, Hong Kong, Lan Kwai Fong is comparable to 6th Street in Austin. Choosing to stay at the hotel and rest, I opted out of the trip. From the pictures and the stories I heard about that night, I’m not surprised Sunday ended up being a day of rest for the group.

It rained all day on Sunday so we cancelled our plans to go to Tian Tan. Amy, Christy, and I ventured out in the rain to have lunch at a small restaurant near our hotel. Losing track of time, we talked for more than three hours before going back to the hotel for the night.

Day 5: Class and Shopping in Causeway Bay

I started the day off with breakfast and the normal commute to class. Lecture covered the international marketing mix with a focus on standardization versus localization. Although the majority of lecture seemed like a review of other Advertising and Marketing courses I’ve taken, I did learn some fascinating things about Kit Kat’s successful product development and marketing in Japan.

I’ve only seen the normal milk chocolate flavored Kit Kat and the occasional white chocolate or peanut butter flavors in the U.S., but Nestle has introduced over 200 flavors in Japan since 2000. Peter Brabeck, CEO of Nestle, has stated that each of the product variations is a result of extensive market research on local tastes. I was surprised to see flavors like ginger ale, soy sauce, edamame, red bean sandwich, wasabi, sweet corn, and even potato! These flavors are released in limited production runs and are regionally specific. This marketing combination makes Kit Kat a perfect souvenir for travelers or a collectible for locals. I love this branding strategy and look forward to trying some of the different flavors if I go to Japan.

We received our first homework assignment at the end of class and then went to lunch. We split up into two groups and my group headed towards the shops and mall in Causeway Bay. This area has all of the major designer stores and the rent here is ranked as the second highest in the world after Fifth Avenue in New York. Our student budgets led us to the 5-story Forever 21 where I bought a couple of hats and hair accessories to hide my burned hair (refer to Day 3 post).

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Hong Kong’s Times Square

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Causeway Bay

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5-story Forever 21

Our group stopped for lunch at a modern Sushi restaurant called Sushi One. It had a cool bar with a sushi conveyor belt, but we were seated in a booth. We all ordered the same thing: a three course lunch of homemade chicken skin dumplings, California rolls, and beef over rice. Despite being in a nice area, the food was fairly inexpensive. Our meal was about $9USD per person including the small service charge. The abundance of delicious, inexpensive food is one of my favorite things about Hong Kong.

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Sushi One in Causeway Bay

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Lunch with Stacie, Christy, Miranda, Amy & Kayla at Sushi One in Causeway Bay

After lunch and shopping our group headed back to the hotel to complete our homework assignment and sleep!

Day 4: Visit to the U.S. Embassy and Victoria Peak

Thursday’s class lecture focused on the growth of international business and advertising. We discussed three major historical time periods effecting international advertising and the reasons firms choose to expand internationally. After completing a short in-class assignment, we went to lunch.

The majority of the group had already grown tired of Chinese food, so they went to KFC for lunch. Besides customers wearing plastic gloves while eating the fried chicken, they said it was pretty similar to the KFCs in the U.S.

Three other girls and I chose to eat lunch in a small Chinese restaurant near our classroom. I ordered a baked rice dish with sirloin that tasted oddly American – there were peas and corn mixed in a tomato-y sauce. One of my classmates eloquently described the dish as “Ketchup Rice.”

After lunch we had to hurry back to the hotel to freshen up for our visit to the U.S. Embassy. We changed clothes, grabbed our passports and made our way to the embassy at 2:15pm. I was among the first group to leave, so we had an hour to make our 3:15pm appointment.

We took the tram outside our hotel to the Wan Chai MTR station and rode to the Admiralty stop. From there, the walk to the embassy should’ve been around 15 minutes, but we quickly found the area was not very pedestrian friendly. Despite having a map, the busy roads and overpasses made it difficult to find the street we needed to get to. It was over 90 degrees with 85% humidity, and our group of 6 girls was getting sweaty, sticky, and catty. We attempted to hail taxis, but 5 different drivers couldn’t understand “embassy” or the street names we were saying. Fortunately, after asking more than 15 people for help, we were pointed in the right direction. The route was predominately uphill so we showed up about 15 minutes late, sweaty and flushed for our appointment with Economic Consul, Mark Lanning.

Mr. Lanning spoke about the economic affairs of Hong Kong for about 20 minutes before offering a Q&A session. It was really interesting, but the meeting was only about an hour long. I left wishing we could’ve spent more time there. They didn’t allow any electronics or pictures in the embassy and wouldn’t even let me take a picture from the outside; however, I managed to take these from across the street:

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U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong

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U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong

Across the street from the embassy, a small flower shop caught my eye. There were several pots of my wedding flower – orchids – lining the sidewalk outside the shop. The elderly owner was happy to speak with me and Amy about her business and told us it had been passed down in her family for over 100 years. She was also proud to share that her sons attend USC and Stanford grad schools.

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100+ year old flower shop across from the U.S. Embassy

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News article featuring the flower shop

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Orchids

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Flower shop

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Owner of the flower shop

On our way back to the MTR station, I realized we were close to the tram to Victoria Peak. Seeing the views at the top of the peak was first on my list of things to do here in Hong Kong, so 7 of us decided to go. The tram to the top was 14HKD each way and we were able to use our Octopus Card to pay.

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Entrance to the Victoria Peak Tram

While waiting for the tram to pick us up, we chatted with a group of well-mannered Mormon missionaries who were on the last day of their mission. It was fun to meet one missionary from Amarillo, Texas!

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Mormon missionaries in Hong Kong

With a max gradient of 48%, the ride to the top of the peak was VERY steep. The tram only traveled about 13 miles per hour, but the steepness made me feel like I was on a really slow roller coaster.

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Peak tram station

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Going to The Peak on the tram

The tram is owned and operated by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotel Group, so the whole experience felt very touristy – there’s a large shopping mall and restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe at the top. I tend to avoid such attractions, but the view from the top is absolutely breathtaking. It is a definite must do in Hong Kong and I plan on taking another trip to see the views at night.

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View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

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Victoria Peak

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Me, Stephanie, Emily, Kayla, Miranda, Amy, and Christy at The Peak

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Observation area at Victoria Peak

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View from The Peak

Day 3: First Day of Class and a Trip to Mongkok

I woke up around 6am to get ready for my first day of class. Despite knowing that my hair straightener was only compatible with a 120V outlet, my stubbornness and curiosity urged me to plug it in to the 220V outlet in my hotel room. After about 5 seconds, it was sparking and smoking. I thought, “Awesome, it’s ready much faster than normal and seems much hotter! I’ll unplug it and straighten my hair!” After running it through a section of my hair, I quickly realized that was not a good idea A REALLY BAD IDEA. If this were a smell-o-blog, this post would reek of burned hair. I’m lucky that the pieces I straightened didn’t fall out, but they’re very badly damaged and will probably have to be cut off soon.

After that fiasco, I headed down to the buffet for a quick breakfast. At 8:15am, our group met in the lobby of the hotel to take public transportation to our classroom with our guides.

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is efficient, safe, and extremely clean. The combination of strict “no food or drink” rules and hardworking cleaning crews keep the MTR ranked as one of the cleanest railways in the world despite having over 5 million trips made in an average weekday. The easy-to-navigate, color-coded system map and the Octopus Card (used to pay for fares) are very similar to Washington, D.C.’s metro map and SmarTrip Card. Also, all directions are in Chinese and English, making the entire system easy for tourists.

We were guided to the blue colored “Island Line” from Sheung Wan to Wan Chai. From there, we walked to the Hang Wai Commercial Building where a creative workspace called “Fill in the Blank” serves as our classroom. Commuting during rush hour with 12 people was a little stressful, but we made it without leaving anyone behind.

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Hang Wai Commercial Building

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Classroom

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Classroom

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Preparing for lecture

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Lecture in classroom

After class, everyone went to a store across the street to purchase cell phones. We each bought a phone for $199HKD (less than $30USD) and used the sim cards given to us in our welcome bags.

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Chinese cell phone

Before making our way back to the hotel, we explored the Wan Chai area and ate lunch together.

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Exploring the Wan Chai area

We were all ready for naps after lunch, so we hailed some cabs and went back to the hotel. Taxi fares are inexpensive here compared to the ones back home. 5 of us shared a cab and paid less than $1USD each!

Later that evening, I went to the Ladies’ Market in Mongkok. This is an area where a lot of clothing, shoes, and accessories are sold and designer brand replicas are abundant. Haggling skills can often save more than 50% of the original asking prices given to foreign-looking tourists like us. Our group of 5 enjoyed shopping and watching street performers. We also had a great dinner at a Japanese fusion cafe that was tucked behind the seemingly endless rows of merchandise booths.

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Mongkok

Ladies' Market in Mongkok

Ladies’ Market in Mongkok

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Benita, Kayla, me, & Christy in Mongkok

Japanese Fusion dinner with Vincent, Kayla, Christy, and Benita.

Japanese Fusion dinner with Vincent, Kayla, Christy, and Benita.

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Marinated boneless chicken breast, pork skewer, fried tofu, & steamed rice.

Street performer in Mongkok - tosses metal bowls up with his foot and catches them on his head.

Street performer in Mongkok – tosses metal bowls up with his foot and catches them on his head. (Look for the bowl floating above his head.)

We stayed in the Mongkok area for about 4 hours before going back to the hotel. I went straight to bed to re-energize for the next class day and prepare for our group’s visit to the United States Embassy.