Finally taking the leap

So everyone here has pretty well gone on or is going on a trip. I admit, part of me has been a little afraid to take the leap and going to Manila. A couple of the other guys here were going and the trip was damn cheap. If I don’t go now, it will be Christmas by the time I go and I need that time to do rewrites if necessary. At the rate I’m going, that might very well be a possibility. So no more travel for me, except the odd weekend trip to Lamma, until Christmas. Need to go to Beijing and Shanghai at least.

Will write when I get back from Manila! Another stamp in the passport!

The Story So Far

At the University, I have decided to only take four courses instead of five. Two in computing, one in engineering and one in Japanese is enough. The levels of study here are more intense and they creep up on you pretty quick. In the beginning it looked pretty easy and then all of a sudden, BOOM! You have formulae, quizzes, assignments and projects coming out everywhere. One of the observations I’ve made here is that no one wants to speak up in class. They talk when they shouldn’t and don’t talk when they are supposed to. They don’t volunteer information and are not very clear in giving instructions. They just assume you know the rest. They also do everything in groups. I’ve been fortunate enough to only have one group so far. I’ve heard horror stories from other classmates.

I’ve moved into my new room and the new roommate. Part of the difficulty when I arrived was dealing with the old one. We didn’t get along and I began planning how I could avoid her. Without a pleasant living environment, it makes studying more difficult and sleeping a trouble. Now that I am settled in the new crib, I can concentrate on other things.

Haven’t been training as much as I do at home. That had to be modified since I don’t have a formal class, a regular place to train nor people to train with every day. I still train, but for a little longer, more forms than basics and just try and remember what I can. Be more aware of what my body is doing and what it is capable of. I have started taking archery lessons and did my first tai chi class last week. It’s different than what I’m used to for sure. It’s like learning everything from scratch, but I still see some similarities. Going with Cheryl today to buy some of the weapons that I am missing so much at home. I think once I have at least a bo and a bokken that I will be better balanced. It’s rather frustrating when you go in search of a store and you walk around the area for more than an hour and can’t find it, even with it written in the local language. Thankfully, Cheryl has the business card and we’ll meet up tonight.

Went to Lamma yesterday to visit Cheryl for Thanksgiving. Think I’ve found my vacation spot and Erin agrees. Went there around 4 in the afternoon. As soon as I stepped off the ferry, I felt relief, like I could breathe. I now understand why Cheryl lives here. Erin and I walk around for a short time and decide we have to eat some seafood by the shore. We sit for a while and do just that before taking a walk to the beach. What a sight. We take some pictures, walk in the water, then sit on some rocks and have a beer. Erin’s birthday is in a couple of weeks and she says that this is what she wants to do. It happens to be a long weekend…lucky us. I’m in! Hell, I need a vacation! Then I need to start thinking about what to do for Halloween!

Happy thanksgiving everyone.

Tai Choon

A few weeks ago, we experienced a level 1 typhoon. There was a beautiful wind going and it was the first time I didn’t have to use the air conditioning in my room. Erin, Daniel and I go outside so Erin could get some air. It is now raining in full force and the wind is going very strong. We go down to the ground level and play in the wind and rain. How refreshing and energizing it was! Of course, at 2 am, there aren’t many people around to witness this act of insanity (the security guards gave us some funny looks). I start up a kata, Sanchin. Even though my breathing was quite loud, I could barely hear myself over the noise of the storm. The wind blows my wet hair into may face like a whip. Within a minute, we are all thoroughly soaked. I say this would be a great time for tai chi and my two friends agree.

We go to the second floor courtyard of the residence and go through iron thread, 18 postures of awareness and the basic set. At one point, a security guard comes out and tells us it is dangerous to be outside in this weather because of potential falling objects. We promise to return inside shortly after we finish another set. What a rush! My compatriots agree. This was Erin’s first time doing tai chi and Daniel’s second. I practically had to yell to give them instruction and I was less than 5 feet away from them.

This is not the first time that I’ve done the arts in crazy weather. I am reminded of Hawaii when I did weapons katas on the shore of the ocean while a rain storm raged on. This was much more than that. Calm within the storm. Hawaii was more of a fighting back. This was an exercise of internalization and taking the energy in and using it to power myself. Absorption instead of countering and fighting. Nothing like it on this planet.


Finally having a chance to sit outside without dying of heat. There is at least a bit of a breeze. Have school all day today, so it will hopefully be productive.

Starting to come to the realization that these courses aren’t going to be as easy as I first thought. The engineering course (Corporate Networking) promised not to have too much algebra and formulas to remember. The last few classes have been all that. Though today, he looked at me, knowing that I have a business background more than an engineering background and promised to lay off the formulae for a while and focus more on theory. Gives me a chance to catch up.

The database course is working more like a computing course (which it is) but makes it difficult for translation from business. I am now really seeing the difference between business and computers! It’s almost like relearning how to do ERD’s which I used to do really well. Not good.

Then there is the other computing course in networking. I think I’ll do well in that one as long as I keep on top of it. Lastly, (yes, I dropped the Putonghua/Mandarin) the Japanese for Business. He’s moving way too quickly. I asked him the first day if I would have problems with this course, and he said that I would probably do better in some ways because of my English. But I’ve never learned a symbol language before, so I am at a disadvantage. Need to do some studying on those this weekend.

Lastly, was planning to go to Beijing next weekend, then thought we had a presentation and then put it on hold. Then realized, no we didn’t have it until the following weekend. Something is telling me that I should stay close to home, so I think this time since I’ve now made alternate arrangements for that weekend, I will heed that gut feeling. I will have much time to travel, so why not enjoy it close to home. I need some time to myself (since my roommate will be done) and I’ll go hang out with Cheryl for a couple of days on Lamma. I like that plan and I’m sticking to it.

Had a great email from a friend yesterday. Almost brought me to tears. I’m reminded of when he was away in a far off land (more than once) and we support each other when we are far from home (wherever that is at a given point). He’s returned the favour to me and made me remember why I’m here. Yes, I’m here to learn, but also to experience. I won’t try to cram everything in to one small time or space, but I will do the things I was sent here to do.

It’s been a while…

Okay, so I haven’t been keeping up my journal as well as I promised. So what’s been going on? A lot of shopping, but haven’t really bought much. Food has been really good in most cases and have avoided problems that most face when in a new land. One thing I’ve found rather interesting is that I haven’t taken as many pictures as I usually do when in a new place. At least, I haven’t taken as many GOOD ones as I usually do. Will try and remedy that soon.

I finally got to do some training tonight. Not like I haven’t had the opportunity in recent weeks, but it becomes easier when there is someone to train with. It gives the push we all sometimes need.

There has been some…libations with good people. They just need someone to guide them down the path, no matter how slippery the slope nor how dark the alley be. 😉 Who better? The Leftenant of the Samurai Drinking Team? I even have my own T-Shirt for the Hong Kong Drinking Team. Have even found a team to train with so that I don’t fall out of practice! I’m just kidding. Taken an early night tonight as I have a long day of school tomorrow. Don’t worry, studying will be in order. I promise.

Planning on going to Beijing next week, though with the flights the way they are, think I might have to hold off for a while longer. Something’s telling me I shouldn’t go, so maybe I should stay a little closer to home and enjoy what I have here. As I walked home this evening, I took a route from the park which took me along the All-star walk. This is of course right on the harbour overlooking Hong Kong Island. A wonderful sight at night. There was a nice breeze for once, since it’s been extremely humid. I paused a the height of the overpass to look at the scene in front of me. And then it hit me again…but now with a sense of reality: “I’m in Hong Kong. I’m really here.” It’s one of those moments where you do a circular look at yourself in that proverbial mirror and ask “Who am I? Is that me that I’m looking at? Is it me standing here and thinking this?” The answer is yes. And since I am in the land of them…Hong Kong is the proverbial pearl in my oyster. Here I go!

The First Week

So much for writing every day, but as you can imagine, it has been busy. My stay at the Mandarin Oriental has definitely spoiled me. To summarize my trip so far, the first day was eventful and have already gone through some of my first evening. The next day I checked into the Emperor Hotel and then toured around the city for a bit. Checked out the University where I will be studying (PolyU) and then walked along HK’s answer to the walk of fame. Saw the stars for Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and more. Here’s the statue they have dedicated in Bruce Lee’s honour:

Then took the ferry across the harbour to go back to the Mandarin, got my bags, and went back to the Emporer. I’d left a message for Sensei Dixon upon his arrival that I had checked into the hotel. I took a little nap and then went to check my email. They still hadn’t checked in, so I just stayed in my room for a little while. Around midnight, I received a message that Mr. Dixon did not know who I was. This sounded like a cruel joke and when I went to the desk to enquire, they had sent it to the wrong Mr. Dixon. I left yet another message for the right Mr. Dixon to meet him for breakfast, which I did.

There was a tour going to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha. Sensei Dixon stayed at the hotel to catch up on his emails since I helped him get it back online. I went with the rest of the crew to the Island and had a blast. Here’s one of the photos I did take:

Unfortunately, my camera died. So this will explain why I haven’t had many pictures to post lately. Don’t worry, I’ll make up for it. I bought a camera two days ago and picked it up today.

So, I’ve played tourguide a little to my compatriot from Ryerson, Erin and my new roommate from Montreal, Lily. Between the three of us, we make up the entire Canadian contingent in the exchange program here at PolyU. When they were listing the countries in the orientation yesterday, they forgot about us. So I put up my hand and told them they didn’t say Canada. When all those from Canada stood up, there was us, and then one guy way at the back. He only counts as half because he’s from Vancouver, but studying in the US.

Sensei Dixon and the crew came into town last night before flying out this morning. What a night that was! Cheryl, Sensei Dixon and Doug Root all went to dinner at the floating restaurant, Jumbo at Top Deck. Really nice buffet and the bottomless Carlsberg. You can imagine where that got us. Right…the next bar. The Feather Boa. Members only with a short list of wonderful drinks, including a strawberry daquiri with chocolate powder around the rim. We are there for a while, then onto the next bar in Lan Kwai Fung. Had a few there and then home. They headed for the hotel and I for the residence. Now I won’t see him for months. My training will not suffer thankfully.

Now time for bed. After all, I have Tai Chi at 10 am at Kowloon Park! Ciao for now.

Still Alive…

Okay, so it’s been an interesting few days. I just got the internet working in my room, so my laptop is happy to get back on the grid. So am I because now I can make my next report to you all!

Sunday started out as any day should; with the best of intentions. But so far, I feel way way behind. It has really been frustrating.

When I check in, I am told there is no wireless in my dorm room. But then they say internet. Ok. Need to buy a LAN cable. Ok. But when I plug it in and configure it as it tells me to, no go. And I know it can’t be the settings because it doesn’t even detect a LAN connection! I call the front desk. “I’m sorry. There is no one here that can help you tonight. Someone will be available tomorrow. Please call then.” There is a computer room on the second floor that has wireless connections, so I go to investigate. Room is under construction and it has moved to the study hall. Have to use their computers instead of my own, so I can’t send stuff out, etc. At least I get to check my email.

I need to apparently use “foamless” detergent for the laundry machines. So I go to the local grocers and ask for this. They have no idea what I am asking for. When I go back to the desk and tell them, they actually write it out in Cantonese for me and give me a different place to go. I will be trying that today.

The hallway is unbelievably hot. The AC is paid by the hour in the room through my ID card. I figure get a little settled in and unpack before heading down to add money to my card. A hour or more later I’m dying of heat. Luckily, I have a cold beer that Cheryl bought while we were still at the hotel. So I search around for my lighter, because of course, I don’t have a bottle opener yet. I originally brought the lighter to light other people’s cigarettes and it has a Canadian flag. So far, it’s opened two bottles of beer.

I go to put money on my card at least for the air conditioning (since I can’t do my laundry yet) and it won’t accept the bill. I have to go back to the front desk and ask why. It’s an old form of bill that the machine won’t accept. They give me a new one and suggest that I try that. It finally works and I get AC in my room. Yippee! It’s probably about a $1 per day by the time you work it all out, but still, it’s a pain!

It’s been pretty frustrating so far to say the least. Then, when I get to the hotel again to meet up with the crew, I have problems with the cab driver. Turns out what we hear as “fifteen” is “fifty”. Duh. So drinks are well in order. End up meeting the group finally. Cheryl gave me the best advice…Just breathe. So the group heads to Temple Street. We stop in this little cafe and have a nice dinner (I will have to go back there!). Then we do the Temple Street Night Market. I had seen some bed sheets a day or so before at the Women’s Market, and figured that I could probably find them at Temple Street. No go. I have to rush back to the residence and buy them there. Not so expensive that I couldn’t ditch them for something nicer later. But still no pillow.

The trip does get better, but think I might make different entries for different days. So much for Day 1.

First Day in Hong Kong

This says it all. But of course, you know me too well to stop there. So here’s the update for my first day.

When Mom and I got to Buffalo it was after 1 am. Found a hotel and crashed. Only got about 4 hours of sleep before we had to get up and go to the airport. Funny thing about the hotel manager’s name: Rashmikant, dad’s full name. Found that amusing.

Arrived 3 hours prior to departure even though the first part of the journey was a domestic flight. I was supposed to fly at 9:50 to Chicago, but made the 8 am flight instead. Arrived in Chicago before I was supposed to leave Buffalo. Then had 4 hours to spend. Nice walk around O’Hare before the 15 hour flight. Ended up sitting beside two really nice people. One guy, Jesse who is in HK for two weeks then heading up to Mainland China to teach English for a year.

Got on the Airport express that took me a few minutes from the hotel, but once I tried going with all of my luggage, decided that it was better if I take a taxi. That took another 30 minutes with the traffic in rush hour, but it was air conditioned and didn’t really cost much. Arrived at the hotel and they did everything to the nines! The woman at the desk upgrades my room so that I have one facing the harbour. She then escorts me up to the room and shows me how to use everything and guides me around everything available in the room then completes the booking. Talk about service! I can’t wait to see what it looks like in the morning. Wish I could stay here every day! woohoo! And look what’s right outside my door:

So I take a bath, freshen up with my Hermes products (wow) and sort myself out. Figure I might go to find the hotel that the crew is staying at. Find that it is more than just a stroll and advisable for tomorrow. Since my battery charger doesn’t work or I’ve already fried it, I have to buy batteries because none of mine are charged. What do they suggest? 7-11. Apparently that is the place to go. So I start wandering around the hotel and hit a dead end. I can’t cross the street for all the barracades. A guy comes up to me looking like he’s in the same predicament and starts talking to me. I keep my wits about me since I’m not used to strangers talking to me, especially when I still look like a freakin’ tourist. But things turn out pretty well. Neil works for an investment bank out of Boston (no, not state street) and works out of Tokyo. Also happens to be staying at the Mandarin (and no, I did not give him my room number, nor me his). He guides me to the ex-pat area of the town, Lan Kwai Fung. We sit down to dinner at a Thai place and have a couple of beers and a nice dinner. He then pays for it all. He figures that he’s the one with the expense account and for the amount of food, it could just as easily have been one person. Damn decent. We then start a conversation with a young British woman, Kat, who is working in mainland China and came back into Hong Kong to renew her visa. After dinner, Neil takes off because he has an early morning. I invite Kat for a night cap and we finish off the evening at a bar with a shot of Tequila to toast my friend Pierre’s birthday. We finish walking around the block and she heads to the ferry, and I head back to the hotel.

I have to tell you that an evening such as this is not typical for me, being as social as I am. I usually end up walking around the block having a sandwich for dinner and then turning in. Had I not followed Neil, it would have lead to that. I still have much to learn.

And here I am writing my blog for the day, taking full advantage of everything this room has to offer. The two of them said I would be up late and guess what? They were right. And I thought I had the jet lag beat. Damn! I’ll write a few postcards, finish watching my movie and then hit the hay. And I am sleeping in tomorrow if it kills me!

Thanks again go out to everyone who made this evening possible. It really is worth it and started my trip off with a bang.

Two weeks to go until “Musha Shugyo” – Travelling for Improvement

Well, it’s only two weeks or so before I leave for Hong Kong. I’ll be gone for five months. Unbelievable. I have so much left to do it’s incredible. Starting to get my shit together though. Scanning in the stuff I need or no longer need hard copies of. Keeps my room a little clearer. 😉 Here’s hoping I get it all done in time.