"The most important thing I've learned is this: The fact that we all believe in different things is nowhere near as important as the fact that we all believe."

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hong Kong!

Bruno, one of the backpackers I met in Singpore surprised us all when he showed up on Thursday night in Macau. We got everyone back together for a meal and some good times. I couldn't believe it! I've met so many amazing people along this journey.

On Friday afternoon after classes, we met up in Macau to accompany Bruno on a little sightseeing. It was a blast! We ate this chocolate ice cream thing that tasted more like chocolate ice but it was good. We also went to the lighthouse again and the ruins of St. Paul. Then we met up with some friends for a night out.


Saturday morning Bruno and I took the ferry to Hong Kong. We stayed in Kowloon, the island across the bay from Hong Kong. Although our hostel was a little scary and pretty dirty, the island of Kowloon held spectacular views of the Hong Kong skyline! Shown here is a little video I made while we were there: video

During the first day in Hong Kong, we toured an art museum with Chinese caligraphy, artifacts, pottery, paintings, etc. We also ate pasta (a long-awaited treat) and saw the outdoor lights and laser show along the skyline. Although the laser show was pretty tacky, the sight itself was indescribable.

On Sunday we left to see the world's largest outdoor Buddha and a Monastery. We also ended up visiting the small fishing village of Tai O. It was unusually cold for this time of year, and to our surprise, the Buddha was over an hour and a half trip away! The bus ride up the mountain held great views of the countryside, but I ended up sleeping through half of it :) It was also extremely rainy and misty. Despite the weather, I was really impressed with the Buddha. It was quite worth seeing. She was SOOO big. I mean, much larger than I was imagining. The monasteries were also quite beautiful and lavishly decorated.


My visit to Tai O was probably one of my favorite things about the trip. The place was so peaceful and beautiful. You wondered how people could still live so simply. I bought a pearl and silver necklace for US $5!



We didn't have too much time after our long journey home so we simply walked along the Avenue of the Stars talking. It's Hong Kong's equivalent to Hollywood Boulevard. We saw Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee's star. It was really nice.


Bruno booked another three nights in Hong Kong and I left on the ferry late Sunday night. The whole three days had been quite the whirlwind. I was on saying goodbye before I realized he was leaving. In life, there are certain people who fleetingly touch our lives in deep and profound ways--unexplainable to the outside world. In my life, Bruno is one of those people.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Singapore Trip!

Following orientation week, I booked a last-minute trip to Singapore for four days with a few other foreign exchange students. It was so amazing! I found the airline tickets online for only about $170 USD and booked my first hostel with my friends Steven and Natalie. Shown here is a picture of Steven and I before takeoff. (Planes are still exciting to me because I'm still not used to riding them!)

When we arrived it was so hot--and it was winter there!! It was approximately 93 degrees Fahrenheit every day! Singapore actually only consists of a city even though it's its own country. The city is attached to Malaysia by a couple of bridges, however. In case you didn't know, Singapore is actually known as the strictest city in the world. Bringing chewing gum into the country is considered drug trafficking and results in hefty fines! Anyways, since I can't describe everything from the trip, here are some picture to show you the fun I had.


video

In Singapore, my group met up with two different backpackers: Boris from Boston and Bruno from Mexico. It was incredible how a group of strangers can truly feel like family after only a couple of days. I asked them both a lot of questions about their travels. Both of them had given up great job opportunities to travel the world. It really inspired me. I've wanted to travel the world since I was 12, but I had never before considered buying a backpack and just going! To the horror of all the people back home already worried about me, it's something I'm seriously considering doing in the future.


Just to highlight a few key points... while in Singapore, I visited the beach, much of the city, the mall (Orchard Road), the Night Safari, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, and a place dedicated to Chinese mythology. My favorite part about Singapore was the diversity you find there. There was a "little" India, "little" China, and even an Arab section of the city! When you ride the (very clean) metro, there are people from India, China, the Philippines, Australia, South America, Africa, North America... you name it, they have it! It was the most international place I have ever been, and everyone seemed to respect everyone else (as far as I could tell).




I really can't put into words how amazing this trip was and how much it meant to me. When it was all over, I almost felt I had lived an entirely different life in just four days!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Orientation Week Pt 3


Friday, the last day of orientation was my favorite day. We visited the ruins of St. Paul, shown on the left of this page. We also visited A-Ma Temple, a Portuguese Wine Museum, and Hac-Sa Beach. My favorite part of the entire week was definitely A-Ma Temple. It is the oldest temple in Macau, built to honor the sea goddess Matsu. According to folktale, when they Portuguese arrived, they pointed to the temple asking what the island was called. The locals thought the Portuguese were referring to the temple instead of the entire island, and therefore answered "Matsu" which was later changed into "Macao" by the Portuguese.


Inside the temple there were many chimes in the trees with wishes written in Chinese on them. There was also many small statues with pots of incense sticks lit in front of them to honor ancestors. Since Chinese New Year will be here very soon, there were lots of people visiting the temple in honor of the holidays. Shown are the circular incense coils that covered the ceiling of the temple. They are supposed to represent someone's life. As a person grows older, they become more focused on their goals and become wiser. (Hence, the coiling inwards). The red pieces of paper are wishes. I was under the (very wrong) impression that honoring ancestors and traditions was a thing of the past in modern-day China. However, many young people still come to the temple before deciding important life decisions--like who to marry or where to live. There was without a doubt an overwhelming sense of peace about the place and many students took part in having their fortunes read by a monk.

Orientation Week Pt 2


The rest of the week consisted of class time and sight-seeing tours. I particularly enjoyed the tours. Our first tour on Wednesday was a cable car up to a light house and the Macau Tower. As you can see, the view from the lighthouse was spectacular! You could see all of Macau! I've uploaded a few of my favorite pictures. Being somewhere so different has definitely inspired me to take photos more creatively.



One thing that I've learned to love is the way the Chinese eat a meal. A lot of dishes are ordered, and then one by one, the dishes are brought to the table for everyone to share. I could sense the anxiety on all the Westerners' faces when the waiter/waitress would only bring one or two dishes at a time. You could not help but think, this will never be enough! But as time goes by, more and more dishes come, and everyone eventually becomes full. "Going out to eat" is truly a social event that takes at least an hour or two to complete! I really like the companionship that goes along with sharing all of the dishes, however. I feel like it's Thanksgiving or Easter again when I pass dishes along and get my drink refilled by the person sitting beside me.


The days following, all the foreign exchange students learned about the gambling history of Macau from someone who teaches a professional course on the subject. It was interesting to learn about how Macau became the gambling city it is today and how companies from America were granted special rights in order to build the Venetian, MGM Grand, and The Wynn. I visited my first casino--something I wouldn't be allowed to do in America! It was more elaborate than I could have ever pictured it in my head. Shown is a picture of me inside the Grand Lisboa--which has actually been voted one of the most interesting buildings in the world.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Orientation Week Pt 1


Orientation week was really one of the best weeks of my life! There are about 50 or so exchange students from around the world studying here. There are only six students from the United States, but there are a lot of Europeans--especially French exchange students. Each night, we would eat a different type of cuisine together as part of our orientation.

The first day was mainly a tour and information session. Grace is the director over the exchange students and was also leading our mini lessons on culture and language. Sitting in a classroom for three hours straight was somehow made fun by Grace's quirky sense of humor! She'd tell us stories about all the trouble the previous exchange students caused and how every year, our pranks get bigger. She'd often get calls in the middle of the night to come down to the police station! Unlike the United States, Macau is much more open about the parties that take place there. You're allowed to drink and gamble at the age of 18 (like you are in most of the world), and a little bit of social drinking is to be expected. This was a little shocking to me because, in all honesty, I'm not one to party. But it's also an important part of their culture I figure is worth mentioning.

The first night of orientation we went to a "traditional Chinese" restaurant. We were served duck tongue, snake, frog legs, and meal worms! The restaurant allowed you to watch the killing of the snakes and frogs! I didn't look. I'm actually a vegetarian and was perfectly happy with some egg rice and vegetables.

Arrival

On Friday, the 15th 2010 I flew from Newark, NJ to Hong Kong. I was traveling alongside three other Susquehanna students: Aaron, Alex, and Amanda along with our professor, Dr. Jacobson, and her entire family. I was surprised to learn that instead of flying over the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, we were going to fly over the North Pole! I was hoping to get a picture of Santa Claus, but seeing as I wasn't even close to the window I resorted to watching movies. It was cool because there were TV's in front of you and you could choose from hundreds of movies and music. I watched Little Miss Sunshine, The Time Traveler's Wife, and Post Grad just to name a few. I quickly learned that the food on airplanes is indeed pretty terrible since I had never been on a long flight before. All in all, the 16 hour flight went fairly fast because I was able to sleep for about five of those hours.

When we finally arrived in Hong Kong it was already about 10pm and we had missed the last ferry that would accept our checked luggage directly. Fortunately, there were later ferries that traveled to Macau but it meant keeping ALL of our luggage with us! We hauled hundreds of pounds of luggage from the airport to a train to a taxi to a ferry and into another taxi before finally arriving at the University of Macau! From there it was a long string of arguments and frustrations before finally signing into our dorm room around 2am. Let's just say that was a very long day.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Introduction

My name is Kristen and I'm currently a freshman at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. I'm studying abroad at the University of Macau in Macau, China for five months. I've been here approximately 2 weeks. Exchange students arrive 2 weeks before classes start for orientation and course enrollment. My first week here was orientation week which consisted of sightseeing, parties, eating out, and information classes about culture and language. Before detailing my orientation experience, I must first explain a few things about where I'm living.

Macau is actually a series of 3 islands in the southern part of China across the bay from Hong Kong. Macau, the first island, is full of many casinos. It is the first island you pass through when arriving from Hong Kong. Taipa, the second island, is the island the University is on along with a few casinos and many residencies. The third island, Coloane, is unlike the first two. It has many small houses, parks, and even a golf course! It is really quaint without any high buildings or traffic. Macau was actually owned by Portugal until 1999. When Macau was handed over to the Chinese government, an agreement was signed that Macau was to remain independent, or a Special Administrative Region (SAR) for the next 50 years. Therefore, Macau is much more liberal than mainland China. There are very few rules here. The people living in Macau can do things like gamble and surf the internet freely without any problems. From Macau's rich past, there is a vibrant mix of Portuguese and Chinese architecture, cuisine, and culture throughout the islands.