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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Since Hong Kong

Whats UP! Long time no talk, it's been a while since I have written an entry, as I have been home in good old South Windsor, CT and my life has not been very exciting.
Since I have been home, the thing I have really done the most is GOLF.  Its been great I have been golfing a few times each week since I have been home.  I would say overall I am golfing much better than I was before Hong Kong, however I am still slicing badly and its literally killing me.  I can hit my irons well and semi-consistenly, however every time I hit my freaking driver I slice it into the next universe.  I am literally on the verge of snapping my driver, haha.  The problem is that my driving is ruining the rest of my game.  I can play my irons well enough and I can put very well, however my driving is just putting me at such a disadvantage that I am not improving my scores by much.  So I really want to learn how to get my drive going so I can start to improve my game a lot more.
The other main thing I have done since being home is selling my car.  I ended up selling my Jeep to my good friend Derek Healy's younger brother Nick.  I found out that without damage my car could possibly be sold anywhere from $7,500 to $9,500 US dollars.  I ended up walking away with $5,200 which I was very happy with as I sold it right away and easily with about $2,500 worth of damage on it. So that is good news so now I don't have to worry about selling it, and my Dad does not have to pay insurance on it.
Aside from that not much has been going on, I have golfed and caught up with my friends from school and Grandma and Grandpa and Michael twice.  Another fun time I had with my Mom, Lauren and Michael was the day last week when we went tubing down the Farmington River together, it was a ton of fun and a great time for us all to spend time together.
The newest update that I have going on is that I just secured a a flooring job to put in a three car garage for a family friend.  It is going to be a good job to finish before I head home and a good way to make some extra cash for Hong Kong.  Also it is going to come out great and look terrific for them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beijing Trip with Tara! (in a nutshell)

August 6, 2011-  Hey everyone it’s both Tara and Billy here, from  Beijing!  Tara started her journey about 30 hours ago in Boston.  From Boston, she flew into Newark and had a 2 hour layover, she took off for Beijing at 12:05 pm and landed in Beijing 1:00pm.  She tells me she wanted to kill herself at the 8 hour mark, because time was barely moving.  I took off from Hong Kong at 10:30 am and landed in Beijing at 1:30.  After making it through immigration and arriving at Baggage claim I saw Tara’s smiling face standing and waiting for me.  I was so happy to see her as I missed her so much!  I hugged her for 2 minutes straight before heading over to my baggage claim.  My bags came super quick; they were literally two of the first 10 on the belt.  Once we both had our luggage we walked through immigration and started our search for our translator/tour guide. 
We finally found him near the exit holding up a sign that said Ms. Tara Marcheterre.  His name is Abel, and he is very friendly and really the perfect personality to be a tour guide.  I actually thought he was gay, lol just because he was wearing a fedora and seemed a little flamboyant, however he ended up talking about his wife so I am really just an idiot.  He and our driver Mr. Yen took us to the Tour Beijing headquarters so we could pay the rest of our bill for the week.  We got to the office and met with Tony the manager, he talked to us about how our week would go, we paid him in American dollars and then headed with Abel and Mr. Yen to our hotel. 
After helping us check us in, Abel and Mr. Yen left us to ourselves for the rest of the day.  We got settled into our room and then went out for a walk to first find an ATM an then get some dinner.  One thing I noticed right away is that unlike Hong Kong, Beijing is not very English speaking friendly.  All the menu’s at the restaurants we looked at, except for one had no English on them, they would make up for it by putting a picture of the entrĂ©e.  After choosing a restaurant to dine, Tara took one look at the menu and said to me “why don’t you just order for us!” that made me laugh, haha.  So we ordered a bottle of the popular Beijing red wine called Great Wall and 4 other plates, fried rice, beef fried dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings, and veggies with mini shrimp.  We had a couple communication problems with our waitress during our meal, for example I tried ordering Tara a bottle of water and she brought us a cup of hot water, so I had to get up and go point to the bottle of water.  However she was a cute girl and she worked her butt off to serve us as best as she could.  From there we just walked back to the hotel and decided to crash for the night as Tara was wiped and we had to meet Abel in the Hotel lobby at 8:30 am to start our first full day in Beijing.

August 7, 2011-  Ni Hao!   Today we had a very busy day and saw many attractions.  We started out our day by having a buffet style breakfast in the hotel; that is very different from a modern Western breakfast.  Some of the things that you can find in this breakfast buffet are rice, noodles, dim sum, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, toast and even salad. 
After breakfast we met Abel and Mr. Yen in the lobby at 8:30 am.  From the hotel we headed to our first destination of the day, Tiananmen Square.  When we arrived at the square we got out and walked around slowly in aww as we saw how many people were there.  The place was absolutely packed; there were tons of locals and tours there. I noticed there were many guys walking around carrying large sticks with different color flags at the top.  I asked Abel why they were carrying them and he told me that it was for the tour groups that they were leading around.  He also told me that it is a law that if he is leading a large group tour he must carry one of those around with him.  After we took a couple pictures at the Square we walked across the main road via a under tunnel to the Forbidden City.  I don’t know what you know about the Forbidden City but the thing is massive, as in it would probably take a day or two to walk through the entire thing.  From the front entrance facing Tiananmen Square you can see on the front entrance a huge picture of Mao Zedong. Who was the founder of the People’s Republic of China.  However when you get up and close to the entrance you realize that the picture is actually a oil painting and not a picture at all, it is really incredible detail.  We walked through the Forbidden City and learned much from Abel.  One of the interesting things that we learned was that there are usually always multiple entrances to the ancient buildings; the middle stairways and entrances were always reserved for the Emperor and the Emperor alone.  The Empress was allowed to cross the middle entrance to the Forbidden City at one point in her lifetime and one time only and that was on their wedding day.  Also we learned the Emperor would only have one Empress but have many Concubines, and that Yellow is the royal color so the Emperor would often be clothed in yellow as well as the roofs of the palace would be painted yellow.  Another thing that we learned was when you commonly see two lion statues outside doors, even though they look exactly the same, one is a male and the other is a female.  The way to tell the difference is that the male under his front paw has a ball symbolizing power while the female has a baby lion, meaning nurturing and she takes care of the family.  Also we learned the difference in some of the dragon statues and what they mean.  For instance you may have seen a Chinese statue of a Dragon inside a turtle shell this is actually the eldest of the baby dragons, he always likes to carry heavy things so on his back he has the turtle shell and also will carry stones on top of his shell for building.  Also this eldest baby dragon and the stork both symbolize longevity.  One more of the things we learned was that on the doors in the Forbidden City there are rows of spikes that are 9 by 9 because the emperor believed 9 to be a power number as it the highest number in a group.  (I guess in terms of 1-9, then 10-19, 20-29 etc.)  So that was interesting and only a few of the many things that Abel taught us.  One part of the Forbidden City that both Tara and I liked was the imperial garden, it was very beautiful, and is only the place in the City with a lot of trees, because the fear that assassins could easily hide in trees.  In the Forbidden City the trees are either labeled with red signs or green signs, the red signs mean the trees are over 300 years old, green signs mean they are over 100 and younger than 300 yrs old.
From the Forbidden City we went and had a nice lunch, which Abel set up and ordered for us, we both enjoyed the pork dish best (which is weird for me b/c I don’t really like pork).  After lunch we went to see the Hutong’s (which means very narrow road) we road around this very tight neighborhood on a rickshaw or a man peddling a bike with a seat for two in the back.  During our rickshaw ride we were able to enter and tour a local home, the set up was very interesting where the boys of the family stayed on the right side as that was symbolizing power and importance and the females would stay on the left.
After our rickshaw tour of the Hutong’s, Abel led us to one of the many ancient towers left in Beijing, called the drum tower.  We had to walk up very very steep steps to reach the top, however it was very worthwhile because the birds eye view of the city was amazing.  Before we left the drum tower, Abel had a surprise for us, a drum performance, it was amazing and Tara and I were both so glad we were able to see it.  We actually videotaped some of it and will post in online when we get back in the states.  After the drum tower we took a drive home and went the long way so Abel could point out the area he lived and the street he lived on, he told us how he used to be a bar tender and how he knows about every store and bar around his home.  He and Mr. Yen dropped us off at the hotel so we could take a shower and get changed for the Kung Fu Show and dinner.  When we were ready we headed down stairs and met them in the lobby.  Tara was looking extra beautiful as she was wearing this long black dress, I noticed how much attention she was catching from the locals who stare at white girls bodies from a mile away and even turn back to look at them walk away, they also do this in Hong Kong, its unreal how obvious and rude it is, ah well.
The Kung Fu show was awesome, it was not just an exhibition of Kung Fu but also a story of a young Kung Fu master and his rise from childhood through the stages of being a monk and eventually mastering Kung Fu.  It is a must see show as all the actors are real Kung Fu disciples and very talented including the very young boys.    However there were points when both Tara and myself were falling asleep, just because of how tired we were from walking around all day.  From the Kung Fu show we headed to our first of two Peking Duck dinners this week.  It was delicious and even Tara loved it which surprised me as I thought she wouldn’t enjoy eating duck.  They actually come to your table and cut the duck up in front of you which is really neat and an art.  The way you eat the duck is also very interesting.
First you grab what they call a pancake, which is pretty much a soft taco but much thinner, then you take some duck and dip it in the special sauce and put it in the pancake.  Then you take some of the sliced cucumber and onions and pile those on and wrap it all up into a roll, then enjoy!  It is actually unreal good, the duck meat is spectacular and very tender, I even started improvising and adding some of the rice to the wrap/roll.  Along with the duck they gave us a plate of rice mixed with scrambled egg, peas and corn, some pork and veggie, some beef with carrots, soup, and then some watermelon for dessert.  One thing Tara and I both noticed is that they ordered us way too much food for every meal; we would have been fine with just the duck and rice.  So obviously there were a ton of leftovers that we felt terrible wasting but we have nowhere to take leftovers.  Also, Abel and Mr. Yen never ate with us at any of our meals, even though we invited them, so we felt kind of bad, we don’t want them to think we don’t want them around.  Anyway dinner was delicious and we saw a ton throughout the day, so it was very successful.  When they dropped us off Abel and Mr. Yen said they would be here at 8:00 am to pick us up for the Great Wall.  Even though it was only about 9 at that point we were exhausted and had an early start to another long day coming so we got to our room and crashed hard!

August 8, 2011-  Ni Hao! Today was a very exciting day for both Tara and I, as we got to hike on the Great Wall of China! It was an unreal experience that I have been anticipating since 6th grade in Mrs. Brazel’s class, when we learned about ancient China, Egypt and Rome.  The trip to the Great Wall was about 2 hours outside of the downtown City, along the way however there were many statues and other sites to see, and Abel explained each one to us.  We also saw many farmers selling peaches, plums, watermelon, and other fruits and nuts along the road.  Abel explained to us that the province we were in was a very large farm province.  The section of the Great Wall that we viewed was the Mutianyu section.  Abel told us that we chose the right section to view as it was his favorite as well, he also explained that it is less well known and far less busy than the Badaling section, which he said was walking shoulder to shoulder.  He said the reason for this is that the Mutianyu is not well known to even locals as it is more recently opened and more known to tour guides.  Another section that was usually available as well, however was currently closed, was the Simitai section.  Abel said the Chinese government has said that when it reopens it will be very modern with hotels and all sorts of attractions, so that is something to look for. 
Once we got to the place where we would start our ascent to the Great Wall, we were shocked to find that we would actually be taking a chair lift up the mountain to the Great Wall.  This was a little bit of a disappointment to me, because I thought we were going to go for a hike, which I thought would be some nice outdoor time.  However we took the chairlift up and the best part I think is when you first catch a glimpse of the Great Wall, because from that point you really can’t take your eyes off it.  You just start following it all across the tops of the mountains, and it is really something special.  Much of it is restored, however you can tell what is restoration and what is original as the original bricks are a faded yellow type color.  While on top of the Great wall looking over the side is a really neat site as you can see for miles and see how far it stretches, because all along the tops of the mountains you can make out little watchtowers.  Tara and I obviously took some amazing pictures, which we can’t wait to post when we get home, since once again social networks are not allowed here in China.  Also while up on top of the Wall, Abel gave us some history lessons and made the trip that much more interesting, he explained how you can tell what side is inside the Great Wall and what is the outside (The outside wall actually has a brick higher in most areas, also every now on then on the inside of the wall there are steps and doorways that lead to paths down the mountains, which the soldiers used to get supplies).  Also while up on top of one of the watchtowers I was sure to take a “Viva La Stool” picture, which I hope will make it up on Barstool Sports.
Now I don’t want to say it was the best part but, the way down the hill was definitely a great part of the day.  You see there are actually three ways to get from the Great Wall back down to the bottom of the mountain.  You can either walk, ride a chairlift back, or you can take a 1 person toboggan down on a slide.  We obviously chose the toboggan, and boy was it worth it, those things are so much fun!!! You control it by using the lever in between your legs, you pull back to slow down and push forward to speed up, I actually took a video of my ride down the mountain and will definitely be posting that soon as I am able to.  After the Great Wall we headed to lunch at a very nice establishment that was quite beautiful and peaceful inside as it had a garden in the middle and was very nicely decorated.  The food was great, so it was another success.
After lunch I asked Abel to ask Mr. Yen to stop the car at a roadside farmer so I could buy some fresh organic peaches.  He obliged and pulled over at a roadside stand that had a very nice selection of fruit.  I chose some really nice peaches and Tara picked out some Plums, the farmer was a friendly guy who was very entertaining as well.  He also had 4 very cute kittens at is stand that were very cute and made us laugh when one of them managed to climb up and stare eating the farmers lunch!
After we had our fruit we started another hour and a half drive to the Ming tombs.  This is a burial ground for 13 Emperors of China.  The road to the Tombs was a very long and windy one, as we were driving around the mountains the entire drive.  Abel explained that the Province where the tombs were located was known for it’s mining particularly Jade.  Because of the sheer size of the Ming Tomb area we only viewed one of the tombs on this visit.  It was humongous and belonged to the Third Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle.  He actually chose the spot for tombs as well and the entire area was built up to his specifications and met the Feng Shui specifications of balance (you learn quickly that making sure there is balance and meeting Feng Shui principles and having balance is very important in China).  His own tomb area was absolutely massive and was had multiple buildings and areas, just so he would be comfortable in the after life.  I think the most interesting thing of all was that at the back of his tomb area behind one of the buildings is a large hill area with many old trees on it labeled with red and greed tags.  It literally just looks like a woody hill, however it is actually where he is buried.  The hill is man made and underneath all the dirt is a maze of pathways and somewhere the great Emperor lies.  So that was something that was really surprising and interesting to learn. 
From the Ming tombs Abel and Mr. Yen took us to a Jade manufacturer, where we had a introduction to Jade and how it is mined.  It was another very interesting lesson as we learned how to tell the difference between real and fake Jade items, however before learning these techniques we were asked to view six items and try to find the two real ones.  I actually did it correctly on my first try and was complimented by our guide.  From there they took us to the Jade shop to see if there were any items that interested us, there were some very impressive items such as the family ball which is all cut from one piece of Jade, but is turned into separate pieces locked inside of each other.  However there was only item that interested me that I ended up purchasing, it was the youngest of the baby dragons, called Pi Xiu or (Pee show).  As I said it is the 9th and youngest baby dragon, he is used for good luck and is said to only crave the taste of gold and silver or money.  He is said if properly placed at the office (facing the door right side of desk) in terms of Feng Shui to go out and get money for his master and keep it from flowing away.  So I purchased myself a very colorful 100% Jade Pi Xiu dragon for my new desk in Hong Kong!
After we were all done viewing the Jade store, we started our ride back to our hotel.  However when we arrived in downtown Beijing, Abel told us that he had another surprise for us.  We pulled into a very large building that was very busy at the time.  We found out that we would be getting a lesson on Chinese medicine and a free foot massage!  This was perfect as we had done a ton of walking on the Great Wall.  The lesson on Chinese medicine was very interesting; we were even able to be examined by Chinese doctors who do a very different type of examination.  They take your age, look at your skin complexion, your nails and then take your pulse on each wrist with three fingers.  It is actually quite amazing how they do it, I had known that Tara’s lower back has been hurting her for sometime, and after examining her the doctor asked her if she had been having lower back pains!! Pretty amazing stuff! Anyway it was a very neat experience, that I am really glad we were able to try, plus the foot massage was incredible.  After we got back to the hotel we showered up and I took Tara to Hot Pot dinner at a restaurant right next to our hotel.  I had hot pot twice in Hong Kong so I wanted Tara to experience it.  She enjoyed it just like I did, however one of the soup bases we got was sooo spicy that at one point neither of us could eat anything, because our mouths were on fire.  After dinner we just walked back to the hotel and hit the hay, to get some rest for the next day.

August 9, 2011- Hi everyone, this is our fourth day in Hong Kong and it was another eventful day for us.  We started our day off with hotel breakfast at 8 and met Abel and Mr. Yen in the lobby at 8:30 am.  Our first destination was the Beijing Capital Museum.  It was a really interesting museum, it had 6 levels and like most museums each floor was a different topic.  We saw everything from how China has evolved through the years, to its different art works such as its ceramic pottery and its Jade showcases.  Some of the porcelain pottery that we saw was actually quite amazing as it is all one piece however it was an outside shell with an inner vase, really beautiful artwork.  Another one that was really neat to see was an ancient glass snuff bottle.  The bottle had an outside shell and an inside holder and the artist actually painted it from the outside in by using a very thin bamboo stick. 
After spending a couple hours at the Museum we went to lunch where once again Abel ordered us way too much food and we left full and satisfied.
From the restaurant we headed to the summer palace where the Emperors and their families would go to spend leisure time.  It was much nicer then the Forbidden City as it is all around a man made lake.  One of the Emperors Qianlong actually created the walkway in 1750 and it is a world record for the longest walk outdoor walkway, which he created for his mother, so she could enjoy the scenery during rain, thunderstorms and snow storms..  The walkway is 728 meters long from the Gate of Inviting the Moon to the Shizhang Pavilion.  It is really a quite beautiful walk as it is covered in paintings and illustrations and not to mention the scenery in the palace around it.  Another thing we did at the summer palace was take a motorized Dragon Boat across the man made lake which Tara really enjoyed.  Abel told us that the lake is still used to farm pearls today by some pearl farmers.
From the Summer Palace, Abel took us to a Pearl tour where we learned all about Pearls, from how they are farmed, to the different species and how to tell the difference from real to fake pearls.  So that was a really interesting crash course in which I learned that Oysters that are less than 12 years old do not produce pearls that are worth anything, and that while fresh water oysters produce multiple pearls, their saltwater cousins only produce 1 pearl each, this is why they are so much more valuable.  After our course on pearls we were left to look around their shop and browse and shop their store.
When we finally left the Pearl company we had another 1.5 hour drive back to the Northern end of the city where we got to see the 2008 Beijing Olympic Village.  We did not go inside any of the stadiums as Abel told us they look just like any other stadium and the real value was seeing them from the outside.  So we viewed the Birds Nest, which is the huge stadium that many of you probably remember seeing on TV, and we saw the water bubble where all the water events took place.  We also got to see the hotel where all the Olympic athletes from all over the world stayed, and ironically it is a 5 Star Hotel called “The 7 Star Hotel”.  However there is no rating above 5 stars for hotels, so we thought that was funny, the hotel itself was massive and very oddly shaped, we got some good pictures of it which you should be able to view.
Before going to dinner we decided to go to another tea ceremony at a different company then we had done on day two, this one was called Mr. Tea. It was very similar to the last one but just as enjoyable, because we were able to taste some new teas that we did not get to have the last time.  Abel told us how he is a tea master and his teapot at home has been passed down for generations and worth a lot.  He gave us some extra knowledge about tea that even our tea ceremony master did not know!  I suggested that he should start selling tea as a distributor to all these different tea companies, so he could make the big bucks based on his knowledge, he actually liked that idea a lot.  We did not buy anything from the tea shops since we both had already bought some tea at the last tea store.  From the tea ceremony we headed to dinner, which was the Peking duck again, however this time it was at a different restaurant and just as tasty as last time.  However this time Abel ordered us different side dishes, which were terrific as well.  (I honestly can’t say I have had a bad meal yet here!) After dinner our itinerary took us to the acrobatic show, which Tara was very excited for, I myself did not know what to expect.  When we got to the place where the show was Abel showed us our seats and asked us if we would mind if Mr. Yen would drop him off at home since his house was nearby and our hotel was far away.  We told him we did not mind, because Mr. Yen would be coming back to watch the show and drive us home.  The show was FANTASTIC! I mean it was really awesome and the talent that everyone in the show had was amazing.  I am not going to go through the entire thing but I will my favorite part was when about 15 of these ladies in the show all got onto 1 bicycle at the same time and were riding it around the stage.  If you are in Beijing at any time in your life, this is a must see show!  After the show we just met up with Mr. Yen and headed back to the hotel for the night.  It was a great day of sights that ended with a spectacular showing of talent from those young acrobats!

August 10, 2011-  Today was another busy day for us as we saw some more historical sights.  We started off our day by going to a Buddhist Temple up in the mountains on the outskirts of Beijing.  The temple was called the Jietai Temple, which is one of China’s most famous ancient Buddhist Temples.  Tara’s pronunciation of this temple is funny as she calls it the “Jedi Temple” straight out of Star Wars.  This was actually one of my favorite spots that we have seen on the trip, because I found it very peaceful.  It reminded me of the Buddhist Temple that we visited with Dream Careers in Hong Kong, except it was even better because there was no city surrounding it.  The view from the Temple was amazing as it was ascending the mountain and below was a valley filled with buildings and factories.    We had lunch in the valley at a place the driver for this other tour group we met new.  The other tour group was an Australian couple in their late 60’s by the name of Graham and Zandy.  They are really nice people and we have seen them throughout our entire trip as they have ended up at many of the same locations at the same time as us.  However Abel told us that it we could not have lunch together as the companies policy was that each private tour must have their own food.  I think it was to ensure that the customer is not getting screwed.  However we did have lunch with Abel and Mr. Yen for the first time on our trip.  We had quite a few dishes for lunch but the main one was a fish dish.  The fish was a very large freshwater fish that Abel did not know the English name of, but it was a very popular dish for the district we were in.  Before cooking it, they even brought it in so that we could inspect it to ensure it was fresh and up to par.  When it came out it was sizzling on the pan and they put a hot coal underneath it to keep it hot while it was at the table.  I thought it was absolutely delicious, and it satisfied my craving for fresh fish.  The only issue is that they cooked it without fileting it so, there were a lot of little bones to eat around. 
After lunch we went to two more locations before heading home.  The first was the site where the Peking man was discovered.  The 6,000 year old fossils and remains were first found by a Swiss Paleontologist.  The site was something I really enjoyed, as we were able to literally able to walk into caves that these ancient beings once occupied.  It was something that was quite memorable, and sort of surreal.  There were about 7 cave sites that we visited, and aside from human remains there were also saber tooth tiger, heyna, Wooly Rhino,  and other ancient animal remains found. 
From the fossil areas we made our way to the Marco Polo Bridge.  This is the oldest bridge in China and must be one of the oldest in the world.  On the bridge there are over 800 lion statues.  There is a thing section in the middle about 10 bricks wide that is still there and was part of the original walkway of the bridge.  This bridge is where Chinese forces met Japanese forces and today you can still see affects of the battle as there are bullet marks on the bridge.
From the bridge we headed back to the hotel and made plans with Graham and Zandy to have dinner together at 7:00 pm.    After showering up and taking a nap we met them in the hotel lobby and headed out to search for a restaurant to have dinner.  We found a nice Chinese restaurant and ordered a couple entrees, my favorite, which was some spicy sausage.  Through dinner and two bottles of red wine I got to know Graham really well while Tara got to know Zandy.  They even gave us an open invite to visit them in Australia at any time.  They were really nice people and I am really glad we got to meet them.

August 11, 2011-  Tara and I visited the Beijing Zoo today which is the national zoo of China.  All I have to say about it is that, it was the worst zoo I have ever been to in my entire life and Tara and I were both supremely disappointed.  The zoo was so dirty and for being the National Zoo of China was not even close to what we expected.  The Chinese people really don’t care about anything else in the world but themselves as not only do their factories pollute but they also litter without care.  There was trash everywhere in the zoo and no one except for Tara and I seemed to care.  It made me really angry to see how disgusting the zoo was.  I can’t believe that other countries or activist groups allow the Chinese people to treat the animals in the zoo the way they do.  Aside from trash all around the zoo, there was a ton of trash in the animal enclosures, which was as I said very angering and saddening.  I wonder what could posses people to throw garbage into animal enclosures and how this could be allowed.  Also why the heck the people who manage and operate the zoo allow all the garbage to go left and why the glass has so much build up that you can barely see into their areas.  Aside from garbage and dirt the enclosures were also very sad to see as many of the animals had only cement to walk on.  The aquarium was better as at least it was clean and people seemed to respect it.  The water show was about the only thing Tara and I enjoyed all day. Even though we could not understand a single thing that was said the sea lion and the dolphins that performed were awesome. 

August 12, 2011-  For our last full day together Tara and I decided to spend the day at the silk market.  The silk market is a six story building, each level has a different type of product that is sold.  This place is legit a woman’s dream, there are so many areas to shop.  Tara and I spent six freaking hours at this place and about two and a half of them were on the purse floor.  Tara ended up with 3 purses for herself one of which I bought here for her birthday.  We shopped and bargained all day, we both became bargaining pros as the most we spent on any item all day was about $55 American dollars.  It is a really popular tourist spot and the location where we saw the largest number of white people at once. The second location where we saw a lot of white people together was McDonalds.  By the end of the day I was very tired of shopping but I did enjoy the day with Tara.  I ended up with a rip off Bally briefcase and wallet, plus a pair of black dress shoes to wear to my new job.   We had dinner at an all you can eat buffet on the top floor and headed back to the hotel to start packing after we were done.

August 13, 2011-  On our last day in Beijing we woke up at 9 and went downstairs to get breakfast, and then got picked up by Abel and Mr. Yen.  We packed up the car and headed to the Temple of Heaven our last site to see in Beijing.  The Temple of Heaven was beautiful like many of the sites we saw in Beijing.  Tara enjoyed it a ton and said that it was her favorite place we had been to.  It was really neat, apparently it opens up very early in the morning and many locals go there to enjoy the park.  They also get together and sing and dance Karaoke style in the park.  We also saw a bunch of people playing a game that was really similar to hacky sack except instead of the hacky sack they used a weighted and feathered contraption.  Tara purchased one for the kids she babysits to play with.  From there we went to our final lunch in Beijing and ate the last Chinese meal that I want to eat for a while! Lol
After lunch Abel and Mr. Yen drove us to the airport and dropped us off at our terminal.  We thanked them and said goodbye and headed into the airport.  When we got inside it was about 2:15ish and our flight was not until 6:25 so not only were we not taking off for a while but, we could not even check into our flight until 3:30.  So we ended up just sitting down and alternating between chatting and playing  chess on my computer and The Price is Right on Tara’s computer.  At 3:30 we headed over to check in and were able to do so together.  We then went through the immigration departure process, which, I must say was the fastest in Beijing than any of the other airports I had been to.  When we finally got through immigration and customs we still had some time to kill so we decided to do some Duty Free shopping, where I ended up getting a 15 year old bottle of scotch for my Dad and Tara got some tasty candies for her Grandfather.  We both were somewhat hungry and new the plane food was going to be nasty so we decided to split a small Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza in the airport before taking off.  Before boarding the plane we actually had to do another customs like search where they look over you passport again and actually search your carry-ons right inside the gate bridge.  As we got settled into our seats and everyone else was doing the same, we saw quite a few very interesting and sketchy things go on around us.  This one idiot was making a big fuss about someone putting their baggage in the same compartment as his and he was saying he didn’t have enough room.  Then he ended up giving it away to someone he knew who was not on the plane yet, so he was like reserving it, even though hew as like 20 rows back.  He was a very annoying guy and I really wanted to hit him as he was constantly walking around on the flight and just acting weird.  Another odd thing that happened before we even took off, was this white kid literally puked a ton over himself and the space in front of him.  He said he had motion sickness but we hadn’t even moved yet.  The flight attendants were so disgusted and you could tell they were not happy to clean it up; they were wearing gloves and masks and making really funny faces.  However it was miserable as it really stunk after that even though the flight attendants sprayed something. 
The flight was really long and I barely slept at all so I ended up watching Hannah, Thor,  Source Code and 2 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Curb Your Enthusiasm each.  The meals were better than the way there which was good, we had chicken and potato, with salad, bread and cheese cake for our hot meal.  Then for a breakfast snack we had a banana and a really hard cinnamon bun, which neither of us ate.  Our last meal was some sliced fruit, which was the best of all three. 
After landing in Washington DC, Tara and I were able to spend some more time together as we waited in the very long US process of Immigration and then US customs, and then rechecking our bags.  I luckily did not get searched, not that it would have mattered I just did not want to put all my crap back together.  When this process was over, Tara and I finally had to part ways as our terminals were on the exact opposite ends.  She got lucky because her United Flight took off on time, mine ended up getting delayed from 10:02 till 12:15.  Apparently they realized that our airplane was missing a door latch and they could not get the part so we had to wait for a new airplane to take us to Bradley.  At least there was free WIFI to keep me busy, it was awesome to finally be able to go on Twitter and Facebook again. 
The flight was really short, thank god and after getting off of it in Bradley I got to see my families smiling faces, Mike, Mom and Dad had all come to pick me up.  We got my luggage then headed home where my Mom had Vinnies Pizza, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Mud Pie waiting for me! AWESOME
Even the drive home was made interesting though because on the highway in front of us this guy blew out his back left tire and refused to pull over for some reason.  He just kept driving on it, until he blew out his front left tire as well and his car started to fall apart.  He was swerving all over the place and made it very unsafe for anyone to pass him. On that note I was done with traveling for the day.  I was very relieved to get home and give my family their souvenirs and tell them about my trip, as well as devouring some delicious pizza!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Happy Birthday MOM!!! August 3, 2011

Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday Dear Mommaaa!
Happy Birthday to YOU! xoxoxo Love you Mom!

Today is a very special day, because today is the day that God decided to grace this world with my Mother, the wonderful woman who brought myself and my sister and brother into this world!!                                             (Mom I won't release your age don't worry ;) )  
My Mom has been through a million things in her life and I'm sure her absolute favorite had to be the day she first laid eyes on ME! haha
My Mom is a hell of woman, she is very passionate about things she believes in and would not think twice about helping others.  She is a terrific listener and person to talk to, which is why I believe she makes such a great social worker.  The older people absolutely love her because when she spends time with them it's not just as their social worker but as a friend, and almost like another family member.  My mom is one of those people who when they are determined to do things, they get it done. This could be ranging from going through boundaries to get an autograph and picture with her youngest sons favorite lacrosse player, to ensuring that the house is cleaned to her satisfaction.  IA great example of her putting her mind on something is when a few years ago out of nowhere she just decided she wanted to referee Women's Lacrosse.  She took the class, studied her butt off for the test and did it, and you know what she is great at it! She is so good that even after only reffing for a few years she is doing Women's College and Playoff games! Pretty impressive.
My Mom's Best Qualities:
-Her Huge SMILE
-Ability to listen
-Caring for others
-Her ability to Cook Well

My Fondest Memories with my Mom are:
-Driving to the Lacrosse National Championships Together
-Going for walks on the beach in Ft. Myers
-Her taking me to both my surgeries
-Her and my father meeting me at midfield on my College Lacrosse senior day

I love you Mom and I hope your Birthday is spectacular and I am sorry that I can not be there to celebrate with you, but I will be home soon and I will buy you lunch on your day off!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hong Kong Entry #15

Hello again everyone! This past week has been a wild ride for me as you can imagine, everything happening so fast.  On top of that I headed back to Macau this past weekend, this time with the entire dream careers crew.  We all left for Macau from City University via bus, to catch the 1:45 ferry.  However once again even though we were at the ferry station, immigration held us up. So some of us ended up making the 1:45 and the rest of us had to get on the 2:00, luckily they did not make us pay again.  When we got to Macau we took another bus to the hotel we would be staying at called the Landmark Hotel.

It was a pretty nice hotel, the rooms were very nice and the beds were very comfortable which was a great change from our City University wooden planks.  The only issue I had with the hotel is that aside from the lobby,s the hotel smelled very musky.  They must not have had dehumidifiers because the air was heavy, there was that musky smell and everything felt almost damp.  Regardless it was a good accommodation for the weekend, and Ross was my roommate so that was pretty cool.  After checking in to our rooms, myself and the guys all met down in the lobby so that we could make our way to the Hard Rock Hotel together. We had to head over there because Ignacio left his computer charger in the room the previous weekend and they had found it for him. When we got to the Hard Rock the first thing we did was head up to its McDonald's and pig out.  For some reason we all came to the conclusion that this particular McDonald's was one of, if not the best McDonald's we had ever eaten at. lol
We got the charger then headed back to the Landmark for a nice nap until it was time to get ready to go out for the night.  Ross and I took about a two hour nap and probably could have gone longer if we were not awoken by our hotel room phone.  On the other line was Ignacio who told us to get ready because everyone was going to be pre-gaming shortly.  I called the front desk for an iron and ironing board so that I could look as fresh as possible.  The shirt that I decided to wear that night was the last of my custom button downs that I have not yet worn.
This was a really fun night and much different, because everyone from Dream Careers HK minus the staff were in the same room pre-gaming. We had music going and flip cup so the energy from the very start of the night was terrific.  After pre-gaming in the hotel room as a group a bunch of us went over to the Wynn hotel and Casino to do a little gambling before heading to the club.  It was fun gambling as a large group as we were all crowding around the roulette and black jack tables cheering together for wins and sighing for losses.  It was probably the most fun I have ever had gambling and I really do not enjoy it that much.  To top it most of us won money and I came out even so overall we had good luck.
From the Wynn most of us headed back to the Hard Rock to go to Club Cubic.  I will tell you what, even though my last experience at Cubic was only okay, this time was amazing!  We danced all night as a huge group and just had soo much fun. The DJ was terrific and I heard after that they were promoting him as a top 100 DJ.  Regardless he did a good job and we had a blast.  The best part of the night was when security let us up on stage to dance and basically go crazy.  The funny thing about it however was that it was only the guys up on stage! Now usually as you all know its vice versus, but not that night! I think it was better having us up there as we brought a lot more energy and got the crowd going.  We did eventually bring some girls up but it was majority guys.  Some of the girls from our group took pictures and videos and as soon as those are available I will post them up here.
For the time being here is a video I found on YouTube of Splash and Club Cubic from last week. Can you find me in it?.... When the camera pans along the DJ booth at the 30 sec mark you can see Ignacio(pink shirt), and me with my hat backwards, then a few seconds later in the view from the DJ booth you see Ignacio hit the Beach ball and I am standing right next to him with my hat on forward! lol

At about 4 or 5 in the morning we left Cubic's and started on our way back to the Landmark Hotel, however before we left the Hard Rock we all stopped at the McDonald's to get some breakfast!
The next day there was a Dream Career brunch at 10am, however I did not make it, as I was exhausted, this was the case for many others as well. We had to check out by noon so we had no choice but to get up at 11:50 and pack up our stuff to head downstairs and checkout. After check out the rest of the day was a free day.  So the first thing we did was go looking for some lunch, however all the restaurants in the Casino's were ridiculously priced, and there wasn't anything except some shady Chinese places on the street so we ended up guessed it McDonald's again (that will be the last time I eat it for months, possibly years).  This time however it really was not that delicious as I could barely get it down.  From there a bunch of people went to go bungee jumping, and the cool thing about the bungee jumping place in Macau is that it is the highest in the world! I however did not do it, simply because it costs about $400 US and that is outrageous in my mind, especially when I already went skydiving for less than that.  Plus after skydiving bungee jumping just seems pointless. However the people that did it, got videos and pictures so that was cool.
At four we all headed to the ferry to depart Macau on a 5:15 ferry.  When I got back I checked my email, unpacked then met Ross, Alex, Chris, Jeremy and Sam downstairs to head to Dan Ryans to get a little dinner.  I got the seared Tuna salad and let me tell you..BOMB! You need to try this if you ever find yourself at Dan Ryans which is a franchise from Chicago I believe. From there it was an early bedtime as I was wiped from the craziness all weekend.
This week at work has been pretty unproductive for me as there is no point in starting any new projects since my last day is on Wednesday.  In fact the only real reason I have even gone is to speak and plan with Tucker about apartment searching.  Speaking of, we found a place that is pretty sweet and hopefully we will be moving in.  Unlike the other apartments we have looked at that are in Stanley, this one is actually in Causeway Bay, right were I will be working! This is perfect as I will be saving money since I can just walk to and from work everyday.  The place is a unreal deal that just fell in my lap luckily since I know Tucker.  The place is 3 bedrooms all of which can fit Queen size beds, completely furnished including TV's a washer and dryer, new kitchen, new bathroom, plenty of closet space, its awesome.  It totals around 1,200 square feet and is only costing us $26,000 HK, which for two people is a lot, but right now we are working on getting this other American who recently got a job here through the same headhunters as myself, on board.  The best part about the deal is that Tucker is very good friends with the family that owns the place, so we will not have to sign a contract or pay last months rent! Not to mention since it is already fully furnished we won't have to spend money buying furniture.  We are showing Sam (the american kid) the apartment tomorrow after work, pray that he loves it so that we can start to move in, because it would be a sick bachelor pad!
Yesterday for lunch the office took all of us interns out for Dim Sum to the same place they took us on our first day of work.  It was a goodbye and thank you lunch but also a welcoming lunch as a new intern started at Global Sage, his name is Daniel and is from Hong Kong and going to University in England.
I actually left work about 15 minutes early yesterday to beat the crowd on the trains because I needed to head over to Central to pick up the custom shirts I ordered from this new place I went with Ignacio and Mike P.  However I had to go by myself as Mike wanted to head back to City U and Ignacio had to stay late at the office.  When I got to the tailor I was very disappointed to find that one of the shirts he made me was the wrong material.  However he did not believe me because he wrote the wrong material ID number on the receipt.  He actually used the material that Ignacio wanted for a shirt and made me one as well.  This was really annoying to me because aside from not listening to me, when I had gone on friday for the fitting I thought that he had the wrong thing and Ignacio told me not to argue with him because he might get angry and do a crap job on our shirts.  So instead he made me the wrong shirt, I was furious now because aside from not having my friends there to back me up, I had paid this guy up front so he already had my money and I had no choice to take the shirt. I was also really disappointed  because I really wanted the one color that he did not make.  He told me "I give you good price and offered me $250 HK instead of $350 HK however that was ridiculous and I should have gotten my shirt free!" I finally got him down to $200 HK but was still very unhappy and kept trying to plead my case. The shirt that I did not want, was made from a material that I had incorporated into one of my other shirts (white shirt with this other material lining the inside cuffs, collar and underneath the buttons)  however he did that one and then made me a whole other shirt out of it.   I kept asking him why A) I would use that same material again and B) why I would want the same shirt as Ignacio.  However he is a stupid stubborn old China man and would not listen.  Not to mention he did not put my initials on any of the shirts like I asked, so I got to walk out of there with nothing and have to wait till Wednesday to get my shirts.
The rest of the night did get better though as I met up with Chris and Melissa in the train station and headed to the ICC building to go to "The Ozone" which is the highest bar in Asia (118 Floor) I believe.  It was actually supposed to be our Dream Career event however the only people who showed up were us three plus Amanda, Alexia, Michelle and Matt Pacheco. Its okay though we took a lot of pictures and had some drinks (only two b/c it was super expensive).  The bar was really cool as the lights changed colors every few minutes, not to mention the view was incredible.  So that was a nice end to the day, especially since I had never been there before.  It is definitely a really neat place, and somewhere that I recommend going at least once if you are ever in Hong Kong.
After that I went back watched the first episode of Season 4 of True Blood and then passed out!

Here are some pics I found online of Ozone.

ICC building where Ozone is located on the 118 floor

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hong Kong Entry #14

This past week was a very important week here in my Hong Kong stay, in fact you could even call it life changing.  On Tuesday I found out that EF Englishtown wanted to make an offer to me to work as a Social Media Specialist full-time!  Hearing this offer come out of the head hunters mouth over the fun actually made my heart skip a beat and I immediately had mixed feelings.  I became very excited, but extremely nervous at the same time.  It is definitely a terrific opportunity to do something very different than many young graduates back home, however it is very far away from many people I love back home.  It's been hard not seeing my family and Tara for two months, I can't imagine how a year would feel.
Another scary thing, is that it will be very hard without good friends.  Yes I have made many close friends during my team hear already, however in a week they are all going back home, because they have to go back to school.  So I will be fairly lonely with not as many friends.  I will still have Tucker, Stanley, Coco but that is about it when it comes to people that I have hung out with, and even they already have friends here so I don't always want to be the wheel for them to bring along.  So that will definitely be a challenge.  However luckily I am someone that welcomes challenges and has no problem working hard to succeed and achieve.  I will still keep in touch with people back home as much as I can, I already plan on joining a fantasy football league with many of my college friends, so that should be fun.
I had a couple long talks with my father and after them I have really concluded that working out here for a period will be something that most likely will be more rewarding then hurtful, it will give me a solid base of international experience working, versus a two month internship, which I believe future employers will look at and respect.  Also it gives me more time to explore another culture and see some things that I have not been able to.  I really feel that looking back at my life, this will be one of those things that I look at and say "Yeah I am really glad that I did that and had that experience."
So since accepting the job, I have been passing the news and super busy trying to get everything I need for the work VISA together, and of course trying to find a place to live.  Tucker also needs a place to live, so we have been looking together.  One area where we looked at multiple apartments was Stanley, which is on the other side of Hong Kong Island and right near the beach, and the famous Stanley Market.  We viewed 5 apartments on Friday and out of 5 we decided 2 of them were suitable for us.  One of the two that we liked cost $18,000 Honkie per month so $9,000 per person each month.  This would be about $1,156 US a month. YEAH I KNOW Ridiculous! However that is what real estate is like here in Hong Kong, because there is really no where else to build and it has such high demand.  However this apartment was in prime location as it is right above the bars in Stanley and right on the water.  You have a really amazing ocean view. However the layout of the apartment was a little weird and Tucker and I were not sure how much we liked it. The larger bedroom was connected to the living room area and instead of a regular door had one of those Japanese style sliding doors, so it was a little less privacy.  Also the kitchen was not its own room and was also a little odd setup.  Lastly only one room had a bed in it so we would have to buy another one.
The other option that we were contemplating was a tiny bit smaller but much cheaper.  It was only $12,500 Honkie per month so about $6,250 Honkie per person which would be about $803 US a month.  It's kind of odd because my friends back home who pay that or less for their apartments have much more space. O well they don't get all the tax breaks on items purchased that you do here.
Anyway before the Realtor showed us this place she asked us if we want to see a really really cheap apartment, and we said sure why not so we would have something to compare the other ones to.  However when she opened the door to the apartment it blew my expectations away.  I thought that this place was going to look like absolute garbage, however it was really nice. It was fully furnished and redone.  It had a flat screen TV and futon in the living room, a nice little two person table a totally redone kitchen and bathroom and two bedrooms.  However the problem with this place is that one of the bedrooms was pretty big with an armoire and a double bed.  The other room was a tiny little square that could barely fit a twin bed and nothing else.  Neither of us really wanted that tiny room but the rest of the apartment was really nice and it was really cheap so it was a tough decision.  So with these two in mind we told the Realtor we would think about it over the weekend and get back to her. She said okay, but did remind us that this time of the year is the busiest for real estate as many teachers come back to rent apartments for the school year so that we should act quickly if we could.
From there Tucker and I met up with his friend Meghan who is also interning here in Hong Kong and headed to Mr. Wongs to meet Stanley and large group of his friends who were eating there.  As I said last time I talked about Mr. Wongs it is a really fun environment to have dinner and is the best deal going. For $50 Honky you get all you can eat and all you can drink (beer).  Mr. Wong and his crew bring out an assortment of Chinese food which goes down real easy with the beer.  The other great part about Mr. Wongs is the environment, the reason is because most of the people who actually go there are foreigners.  They all show up to eat, drink, and meet people so everyone is in the same boat.  Mr. Wong makes meeting people easy as he puts the tables together to create one huge table to dine at.  It really is a little hidden gem of Hong Kong located in Yau Mau Tei and comes highly recommended if you can find your way there.

Here are some interesting videos about the unreasonable size and price of apartments in Hong Kong.