Affairs have been unfolding very quickly since my midnight arrival at Hong Kong International on the 1st of June. Within the first few days I visited the island of Lantau where I just barely missed the boat races but toured the traditional fishing village of Tai-O. On the winding, hill-aceous ride up to the village (which felt very much like a Six Flags rollercoaster), the scenic bus ride revealed tropical beaches across the island and lush mountains illustrating HK’s true range of landscape. Though we were headed up to the muggy village, a colleague and I were tempted to stop at one of the many beachfronts for a cool dip in the ocean. Arriving at Tai-O so late in the afternoon we missed the morning festivities of dragon boat racing, but many of the boats were still docked. I had my first taste of deep fried fish balls and snacked on yummy shumai (a foreshadowing of the great foodie moments to come during this entire trip!) before I excused myself from the group and caught up with a friend from the States living in Shenzhen across the bay in mainland China. He and his girlfriend came all the way out to meet me in Tai-O, then at dusk we headed back to Tshim Sha Tsui for a sparkling wine toast atop the swank Sky Lounge of Sheraton Hong Kong on Nathan Road before a fresh sushi dinner and the night Star Ferry boat ride back to Hong Kong Island.
The next day, my group of New School colleagues and I were off to the island of Macau to do some official business and sightseeing. We met our HK liaison, the vivacious Vivian, and took a choppy ferry ride across to the island. The influences of the Portuguese really make for a distinct city layout in terms of architecture and the linguistics of signage. After grabbing lunch at a hole in the wall in the middle of town with the most delicious Chinese fried chicken wings (I had offered one to a colleague but was so happy when she declined! Those things were de-li-cious!), we meandered through the market on our way to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, a 16th century cathedral and Macau’s most famous landmark. I closed out our daytrip by losing about $50 USD at the Grand Lisboa Hotel & Casino, but enjoyed a Johnny Walker on the rocks with a splash of ginger ale while the showgirls, who appeared to be from Eastern Europe, entertained gamblers and onlookers in the vibeless casino (it ain’t Vegas!). Back to Hong Kong pretty late, a small group of us found another tasty neighborhood hole in the wall where I had seaweed/pork dumpling/noodle soup. The owner, who spoke little to no English, was incredibly sweet, and when I returned a week later with another colleague who speaks a bit of Mandarin, I was told that the owner smiled and said, “Oh my friend!” before seating us for dinner.
A hilarious few moments both in Macau and Lantua were when various Asian women, primarily from the Philippines or other Asian countries, asked to take a picture OF me! When this happens, I’ve adopted a policy of friendly laughter before I introduce myself, ask their name and suggest we take a photo TOGETHER as opposed to of me. In Lantau there must have been at least eight women to come up to me, two at a time, asking for a photo… What can one do, but smile and say, Cheeese!! The women in Macau were even more excited to approach me, though I forget where they were from.
Over the next couple of days I did some local sightseeing around Wanchai and then to Kowloon at the notorious Chungking Mansions, which I understand to be the intersection of commerce and professional social activity for many African, Indian and Arab traders living in HK. A couple of colleagues and I were ready for a really hectic time in Chungking after hearing stories that run the gamut of safety issues to finding the best Indian food in HK. But, and perhaps it was the time of day we visited, it turned out to be a fairly tamed, dare I say underwhelming fieldtrip for us. We took elevators to different floors and did some exploring, but the most interesting moment came when we met the owner of a wholesale DVD and knickknack store, an Indian woman who’s been in her little corner of the Mansions with her husband for 37 years. She said she’s grown accustomed to university students passing by to interview her, and as an engaging conversationalist she also reminded us that whatever we needed, she could basically provide at her store… except for a lighter, which I needed at the moment for my incense!
The evening before the trip to Chunking Mansions was the 25th Anniversary of the June 4th Candlelight Vigil memorializing the brutal events of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. It was actually my first time attending an event of such grave importance, and I look forward to similar deeper cross-cultural experiences as the weeks unfold. Next month we anticipate participating in the July 1st Protest which demands democracy, universal suffrage, rights of minorities, protection of freedom of speech, and a variety of other political concerns across HK. So stay tuned for that….
I rounded out my first week by attending the New.Now.Next Conference, otherwise known as the N3Con hosted by the Asian American Journalists Association. The weekend conference was held at the University of Hong Kong with a kickoff event Friday at the Kee Club, an event that ended with a vinyl party where I walked away with a handful of rare records!
In its fourth year, N3Con included panel discussions all day Saturday and Sunday by industry leaders and a wide range of professionals proving to be an enriching time, as well as an excellent networking opportunity. Highlights of conference include a talk with photojournalist Jeff Widener, who captured the iconic image of Tank Man back in 6/4/89’s Tiananmen Square, and the panel on Women Leaders in Journalism that covered, among other things, balancing career and family life and leveraging time off for family when being considered for a position. However, the discussions of greatest value to my professional journey were during the panels: Being A Freelance Success, an informative talk with long term freelancers led by Glenn Van Zutphen; Landing A Job in the Digital Age led by AP’s Paul Cheung who is also AAJA’s National President, Seattle Times Sharon Pian Chan and NextMedia’s Jason Gatewood with key interview strategies; then, Google for Pros with Google’s Joyce Hau and LinkedIn For Pros by Head of Communications, Deepa Sapatnekar, with the most practical tips on how to maximize Google for research as journalists and LinkedIn for professional networking. Business Writing Can Be Fun and Your Career, Your Hands both led by Bloomberg’s Angie Lau proved to leave the biggest impression on my motivations moving forward as a writer; I was grateful to share during these discussions and even receive a book from strategic consultant Jane Horan, founder of the Horan Group. I realized this weekend that there is so much work for me to do moving forward as a professional writer, but this two-day conference has helped me clarify the direction in which I’d like to continue moving once I complete my MA in the Graduate Program of International Affairs.
Needless to say, my first week in Hong Kong certainly set the bar for a most productive two months while completing my International Field Program… Here’s to MORE opportunity!