Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hong Kong (Again): Mini-Northwestern Reunion

Two weekends ago I had to go to Hong Kong again as required by my visa rules. I went a little earlier than I needed to because a friend of mine, Dara, from Northwestern was planning a trip through Asia and was going to stop in Hong Kong for awhile. Mr. Dara Dowlatshahi is now a PhD student at Stanford and he had just finished an important part of his PhD, so he was doing some celebrating. I figured I might as well meet up with him so I could hang out with some friends and also take care of the re-entry I needed for my visa. The people I normally meet up with from Northwestern in China weren't able to come for this weekend, so I ended up staying with Dara at his friend Peter Park's apartment. Peter and one of his roommates also went to Northwestern, so it appears that this weekend was slowly forming into some kind of a Northwestern reunion. I flew down to Hong Kong from Hangzhou on Friday and arrived in the downtown area in the early afternoon. Dara had already met up with Peter, so I met up with them at Peter's office building. Peter had to keep working, so Dara and I did a little wandering around on our own. We did a lot of catching up since it had been at least one or two years since we had last seen each other. We also caught some nice views of the city.
Bank of China Building
Hong Kong Night Street View
Once Peter and his roommate Ike finished work, we all met up for an excellent hot pot dinner. A hot pot dinner basically has one or two different kinds of boiling broths in which you cook thin slices of meat, meatballs, or vegetables at your table. After dinner we went out in Lan Kwai Fong and meet up with even more Northwestern people. It was pretty crazy, definitely the most people I had seen from Northwestern since I have been in China. One girl, Sherry, even worked at Deloitte in Chicago for two years before coming to China, just like me. Seems that it is truly a small world.
Dara and Wes
Peter, Amy, Dara, Wes, and Sherry (NU people)
The next day, we first went and got some dim sum for brunch. Then, a few of us went on a short hike call the "Dragon's Back". It is called that because the path goes up and down a few small peaks that look like the bones in a dragon's back. The weather was great, although it was really windy at some of the peaks. The views were amazing and you could see the ocean, islands, beaches, golf courses, high rises, and pretty much anything else. Truly a reminder that Hong Kong has something to suit nearly anyone's tastes.
Ocean and Island View Ike, Wes, Peter, and Dara Golf Anyone? Beach and Ocean
That night we went and saw two of the major tourist sites in town. First, we went to the Avenue of the Stars, which is similar to the Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Basically, it has a bunch of stars on the walkway for famous Actors and Actresses, such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Since the Avenue of the Stars is across the bay from Hong Kong island on the Kowloon side, there is also an amazing view of the Hong Kong skyline. At nighttime it is especially cool with all the buildings lit up.
Hong Kong Skyline
Bruce Lee Statue
After seeing the Avenue of the Stars, we went back to the Hong Kong side and took the tram up to the Peak. The Peak offers a great view of the Hong Kong skyline from above and is also great to see at night. It was very windy at the top and very cold at night, so we basically just took some pictures and a minute or two to soak in the view, then left. I tried a few different settings on my camera and took around 300 pictures, so here are two of the better takes.
Skyline View
Skyline View
So windy that even my hair was blown back
The next day, Sunday, unfortunately my time in Hong Kong was at an end. Everytime I go to Hong Kong I realize how much I like the city. It really has something to offer for everyone and I especially enjoy the ocean, the skyline, and the surrounding mountains. Although, it's pretty expensive compared to mainland China and most people there roll pretty deep. Most people make money in Hong Kong and spend it in China because their money goes a long way there. I'm making my money in China and spending it in Hong Kong. I think I'm doing it wrong... Here are some more pics of Hong Kong: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/HongKongNUReunion#

Monday, November 17, 2008

Flaming Age Restaurant Review

As promised, I am going to do more blog posts. Right now, I am trying to get a part-time job as a food critic for an expat group operating in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. I am not an experienced writer, but it seems that a lot of things coming my way right now are writing jobs. I think it would be awesome to be a food critic and to eat for free at some of the best restaurants in town. To apply for the job, I need to submit a restaurant review. I figured it would be interesting for everyone to see some of the kinds of food I have been eating here. so I am going to post the review on here. Let me know if the review is good or if it is a pompous pile of crap.
Flaming Age Restaurant

火红年代餐馆(huǒhóng niándài cānguǎn)

From a distance, Flaming Age Restaurant appears to be a standard Chinese restaurant. Passersby would probably pay no special attention to the restaurant, but within the walls are some dishes that will set your tongue on fire. Flaming Age Restaurant is a Hunan restaurant and is visibly proud of its heritage, with many pictures of Mao Zedong from throughout his lifetime hanging on the walls, being that Mao hails from Hunan province. Flaming Age Restaurant has an extensive menu, but it seems that all the restaurant patrons were getting the marquee dish, which is 湘西土匪鸡 (xiāng xī tǔfěi jī), or West Hunan Bandit Chicken. West Hunan Bandit Chicken is a dish of small, lightly breaded piece of chicken with garlic, chives, and several kinds of peppers, which make it a very spicy dish. Despite having asked the server for a less spicy version, it still required substantial amount of tea and beer to extinguish the spiciness. Nevertheless, the spiciness provided and excellent flavor and it is a very delicious dish.
West Hunan Bandit Chicken
The other dish ordered was 豆豉茄子煲 (dòuchǐ qiézi bāo), or roughly Stewed Eggplant and Fermented Soybeans. This dish mostly consists of eggplant with some garlic, peppers, and fermented soy beans covered in a mildly spicy sauce. Despite the awkward English translated name, this is one of the better vegetables dishes.
Stewed Eggplant and Fermented Soybean
Flaming Age Restaurant offers a great selection of Hunan dishes at reasonable prices. The waitstaff was friendly and the restaurant's decor is simple, but tidy. For someone with a taste for spicy Hunan food, Flaming Age Restaurant provides an excellent experience.

China Update

It's been awhile since I've written a post on the old blog. I've been a bit busier lately, but I also am just a bit lazy sometimes. A lot of things have been changing, but some things have stayed the same. I'm still looking for a full-time position in the clean tech or renewable energy industry, but have taken a few part-time jobs to either make money or to get involved in clean tech, even if it is only a marginal role. Teaching English is by far the most common position for foreigners, at least in Hangzhou, and there are plenty of positions available. I had several people offer me some part-time roles, but avoided teaching for a long time. However, I finally decided to get a few hours a week, at least to pay for some of my living expenses and also to meet some Chinese people. The first teaching position I got was at a company. A friend of mine asked if I wanted to teach English, but I figured that it was most likely at a school or teaching someone one-on-one. However, I found out that it was at a company called Webex, which is owned by Cisco Systems, a large American Information Technology company. It was pretty coincidental that it was an American company that specializes in an area that is similar to my own background. The Hangzhou office of Webex has around 300 people and is almost idential in appearance to most IT departments I saw during my days at Deloitte. At Webex, I teach some small conversational classes with younger employees, as well as have one-on-one conversation sessions with the Hangzhou office manager. I especially enjoy meeting with the office manager. His English is already pretty good, but he wants someone to discuss higher-level topics with in English. He's a very frank, smart guy who doesn't mind telling the situation in China whether it is good or bad. We normally talk about economics and politics and it is very interesting to get the Chinese opinion on some of these issues. I have learned a lot through these sessions and would probably do them for free, but since they're offering to pay me money, I might as well take it right? My second English teaching job is at Web International School, which has a name suspiciously close to Webex, but I can assure that I do work at two different places. My roommate helped me get a part-time position at this school because he works there. Web is mainly for older people, so we get a lot of businessmen or adults looking to learn something new. At Web, I do pretty much the same thing as at Webex, which is teach English corners. Basically, an English corner is conversational practice about a specific topic for one hour. I normally just choose a topic I'm already familiar with so I don't have to do any preparation. I've done corners about the NBA, movies, the US election, and, by request, even about American Weddings, which bothered me because I had to research the topic. By far the most popular class I've done was one devoted to American slang, by which I mean more idioms such as "ballpark figure" or "take a rain check". I'm considering having an advanced slang class where I discuss ebonics, but that might be too difficult. After my initial hesitation to teach English, I am really glad that I am teaching because I enjoy it a lot more than I thought. At times it can be difficult, but mostly the Chinese students are very eager to learn and ask a lot of questions, so it makes my job easy. It has also improved my public speaking skills by having to basically give impromptu speeches for one hour at a time. However, as a former consultant, I'm considering making some decks (Powerpoint presentations) to more clearly illustrate the concepts I am trying to teach. What can I say, it's the only way I know how to work. My third part-time job is writing some business cases for this corporate responsibility group in Shanghai. They normally write about clean tech topics, so it's right up my alley. Basically, I just choose a topic from a list they have and write a 5-10 page business case about it. For example, the first case I have started on is about the Rural Energy Development Program, which is a program in China that allows businesses to get subsidies if they develop clean energy sources, e.g. wind farms, solar farms, or micro-hydro power, in rural areas in China. I haven't done too much work for this yet, but if I get anything published to their website, I will share the link on this blog. So, with my part-time jobs and my personal Chinese tutoring and study, my days are getting a lot busier, hence the lack of blog posts. I would have to say that my schedule is getting scarily close to a normal work week and that I am pretty upset at this fact. Despite the part-time jobs, I have to admit that things haven't been going as quickly as I would have hoped on the full-time job search front. My initial approach to the job search seems to have been somewhat ineffective. I had mostly been applying to jobs on websites or through email and I think that it is very difficult to get quality contacts or people reading your resume through that method. After several months of this method, I realized I needed to try something new. It reminds me of an Einstein quote: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Just because I had stopped shaving my beard and had let my fingernails grow long doesn't mean I was becoming crazy, but a change is always good. My new approach focuses on meeting people in-person. This sounds eerily like "networking", a practice I previously abhorred and sometimes associated with brown-nosing, but I have realized that it isn't all that bad if it connects two people who have similar interests and can help each other. My opinion of networking will probably change back after I have found a job, though. I figured that the best way to meet people interested in clean tech would be to attend some forums about the topic. There are several forums or conferences these days in clean tech as it is a growing field here in China and the government puts a lot of emphasis in this area. Last weekend, there was an expo in Hangzhou called the "2008 China International Sustainable Economy Industrialization Expo" in the typically verbose Chinese fashion. Basically, the expo provided an opportunity for companies to show businesses, governments, and the public their products or services for sustainable development. As such, there were a lot of clean tech companies.
Hangzhou World Trade Center and Sustainability Expo
On Saturday, I attended a forum at the expo on renewable energy, where business leaders and government officials spoke about current technologies and solutions. They had interpreters for English and Chinese, so depending on what language the speaker was using, you could put on a headset and tune in to a channel with English. It was pretty cool and I felt pretty important with my headset on, making sure to squint with extreme concentration to prove that I was paying attention to the speaker.
Speaker at Renewable Energy Forum
Notice the Headphones on Whitey
After the speeches, I was able to talk to a few of the speakers and "network". The process bore fruit and I got some of their business cards. One of the guys was the president of an American solar company and another one was a high-up economic minister from Austria. I'm not sure if either will lead to a job, but both of them mentioned they might have something when I said I was searching for a job in China. Even though things are still a little uncertain about jobs here, attending the forum rekindled my interest in staying here in China and pursuing a job in clean tech or renewable energy. It seems there are a lot of opportunities, I just need to find a way to get involved. As nerdy as it sounds, learning more about clean technology and its market possibilities is very exciting and interesting to me. Then again, I believe I high-fived my friend Ross when we got our 32-bit Full-Adder working at 4 am the night before it was due in our VLSI class (did this happen Ross or am I imagining it?), so I don't have a good track record in not being nerdy. There is another conference I am going to be involved with in Shanghai in early December, so I will have another chance to meet people then, if I haven't already found a job. Anyway, I will hopefully post more on the blog now. I think in the future I am going to shift more to topical posts, since I will probably be doing less traveling now that it is winter time. Hopefully, I can come up with some interesting and funny cultural observations about China or different things going on here. Besides, people were probably getting tired of my posts that followed the formula: "I went to x, and it was pretty sweet. After that, I went to y, and it was pretty sweet, too. Below are pictures of aforementioned sweet things."