Thursday, May 19, 2011


It's interesting how much can change in one semester.
I have grown up so much since arriving in Hong Kong.

I'm definetly a more independent girl, who has learned to take care of herself. I'm no longer as innocent as I was before. I started growing out of that "phase" after my 21st birthday party. For some reason, I always tried to see the good in people (this is what made me so innocent). I wanted to be nice to everyone and I would never say what was on my mind in order to avoid any hard feelings or conflict...

But what is the point of caring about someone who doesn't care about you?
What's the point of waiting for someone when he/she would never wait for you?
What is the point of defending someone when he/she would never stand up for you?
What is the point of spending money on someone, if they won't spend the same amount on you?

There is no point.

The semester ended yesterday, and finals have officially begun. Within 2 weeks, most of my fellow exchange-mates will be heading back to their home countries or continuing their travels.
We will all be going out seperate ways.

HKUST Exchange Spring 2011

I know that I will leave Hong Kong as a different person. This is true for everyone who came on exchange. They grew a little more.
Maybe they learned to study better, drink alcohol, love someone, or just be open-minded...

But there are also those selected few that change... they change too much.
You hardly remember what they were like before they changed, and you don't understand what happened.
You don't know them anymore.

Change can be good. Change can be bad.
However, change is inevitable.

I just don't know how to deal with it, and I'm sure many people are questioning the same thing...

Just a thought,

Monday, May 2, 2011

FLASHBACK #4: Super Sweet 21

Following my plane ride back from Taiwan, I spent the evening catching up on homework. The next day would be my birthday (March 14th), and I wanted the day off :)

I woke up, and I have to be honest... I didn't remember it was my birthday instantly.
Not until I checked my email, and saw the date, did it finally come back to me.
... I guess this is what happens when you get old.

So I was officially 21 years old!
Too bad it doesn't mean that much in Hong Kong (since the drinking age is "looking" 18).

The morning started off slow, with  Marketing and Sociology in the morning. 
Everyone I ran into or talked to on the phone was acting very distant.
I knew something was going on...

Around the end of my sociology class, I got a phone call from Jens asking me to be ready to leave my dorm at 4pm... no other details... he just hung up. I had 3 hours to wait.

I suspected something special was going to happen, so I decided to call Rita (my Irish girl pal) to borrow her straightener. SHE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS ONE THAT WORKS WITH THE OUTLETS ON CAMPUS! What a lucky gal :)

I spent the afternoon straightening my hair, getting ready, and responding to the 12093812093 Facebook comments I was receiving (A SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL OF YOU)!

At around 4:05pm, Jens called me sounding a bit stressed... He told me to meet him at the ground floor of my dorm. According to him, we were late!

I rushed down to the ground floor, where he was waiting for me carrying a small pot of flowers and chocolates. My jaw dropped and I ran over to give him a big hug! He told me to hurry and put them up in my room. He had ordered a taxi to pick us up and take us to the next location.

When I returned, Jens was standing outside with a picnic basket and a backpack full or roses. I was speechless! However, I didn't have too much time to appreciate it because Jens informed me that the taxi he had ordered wasn't coming! There had been a mix-up, and we had to walk to the atrium and catch a taxi there. No big deal :) 

Walking to the Atrium to Catch a Taxi

En Route
 The first stop of my birthday extravaganza was at Lion Rock Park for a picnic.
Take a look:

Walking Around the Park

Our spot

Setting up


So it had been a tradition of mine to always go to Outback on my birthday and eat Cheese-fries with my family. However, I knew this tradition wouldn't happen this year since the nearest Outback to campus was far-far-away!
Jens knew about this tradition, and it turned out that at the bottom of his picnic basket, he had hidden a box of Cheese-fries! He had gone into the city to buy them earlier that afternoon...

Outback Cheese-Fries = A++

Trying to Open the Wine!

Setting up for the Sunset


 After watching the sunset, Jens got up from our picnic area and began packing up. He said he had made a reservation to go eat at a restaurant in the city. I wasn't hungry, since I had eaten so much fruit and french fries. YIKES! Regardless, we left the park and caught a Taxi. Jens was covering my eyes most of the way, so I had no idea where we were going!
The taxi ended up dropping us off on a busy city street. I was trying to read street signs and figure out what district we were in but this was the only one I could find:
Me: Where are we?
Jens: Look at the sign.

Jens seemed a little nervous, and we began walking up the road. 
(I found out later that he was killing time... you will see why later)

We passed by a McDonald's and he stopped and said "WE"RE HERE!"
I was about to cry...
A McDonald's, Really? Really?!

Thank goodness he was joking :) Haha.
After walking for a bit, Jens grabbed my hand and led me back to the place we had been dropped off by the taxi. It turns out that the restaurant had been right there and things still needed to get ready...
Ready for what? 
Take a look:

Two tables full of my closest exchange pals were ready to go at the restaurant!
I couldn't believe it. I almost started crying! I felt so thankful :)

Nancy and Mikey-Mai Ordering for Our Table
Peking Duck = A-

Caroline and Honza Ordering

Malte (Germany)  was Ready to Start Eating

The Other Table

From Left: Brian, Jason, Miguel, and Jonathan


Miguel and I :)

From Left: Deniz (Turkey), Jeremy, Audrie, John Dang

Brian and I

From Left: Jens, Malte, and Nancy
Grabbing Some Food!


Seeing what the Other Table was Eating

Caroline and Honza Sharing Noodles

Rita with her Veggie Dish

 After thinking that things couldn't get any better... They did.

"Happy Birthday to You..."

Me: OMG! That's a Red Velvet Cake!
 Red velvet is my favorite type of cake!
It turns out that Jens had done research on a Bakery in Hong Kong that would bake me one for my birthday. Miguel, Jen's room-mate and my good pal, had been left in charge of going into the city and placing the order for it. This is when I found out the Jens and Mikey-Mai had been the master-minds behind my entire birthday party (Jens being the head in command, of course)!

If you remember, I had an entry earlier about planning Mikey-Mai's birthday party with Jens! I found it very sweet that they had taken the role of my birthday planners 
(especially since they had both been in Taiwan with me)! 
Sneaky... Sneaky... Sneaky...


My Cake = A+

Beginning to Cut the Cake


I let Jens Take Over Cutting the Slices...

Everyone Gets a Slice!

Group Pictures With the Cake :)

Silly Group Picture :)

Everyone Digging into Some Cake

After leaving the restaurant, we decided to go out for a drink together. Since it was a Monday night, I didn't want to keep everyone out too late... especially with midterms just around the corner!
I found out that Jens had chosen the restaurant we had eaten at because it was in TST (Tsim Sha Tsui), which is a popular place to go out and have a drink. The restaurant was conveniently located  on a street with many pubs and bars. I chose to go to a Mexican bar and everyone tagged along...

Me, Honza and Caroline Walking to the Bar

Hey, What Are you Ordering?

Dos Equis, Please.

Having a Laugh with Caroline

Everyone was Having a Drink

Other Side of the Table
By the time we had finished a round of drinks, it was midnight and everyone was ready to get back to campus. I made sure to hug each and every one of them before they got on the MTR home :)
See you!
I continued the evening with Honza, Caroline, and Jens at another bar and decided to call it a night a couple of hours later.

It was an unforgettable birthday.

So Thankful,

Sunday, May 1, 2011

FLASHBACK #3: Taiwan 101

Following an intense backpacking adventure in Singapore and Malaysia, I decided to take it easy for my second trip. Where did I decide to go?
Taipei, Taiwan

Our stay lasted from March 10th to the 13th.
It was a great city with a completely different atmosphere than Hong Kong. I couldn't resist taking pictures, so I hope that they will help show you what I did during my stay while also giving you some tips on what is popular to see/do there.
Check it out:


We arrived in Taipei at around 7PM.
It wasn't too complicated to find our way through the airport, or to the hotel.
We got situated very quickly and were ready to start exploring :)

Very Nice Addition to the Immigration Desk

$1 Bus Ride to Our Hotel

MRT Token
Now you are probably wondering where I was headed at such a late hour (9PM)...
It turns out that the thing to do during the evenings, in Taipei, is to go the local night market and grab a snack. This sounded like a pretty fun opportunity, so we decided to start off the evening at the Shilin Night Market!

TIP #1: Shilin Night Market is one of the most famous night markets in Taipei, making it a long-time favorite among residents and tourists, locals and foreigners. Since it's such a huge market, almost any product imaginable, not to mention any kind of food, can be found there. The products are pretty cheap. In fact, the deals are so good that they draw huge crowds even on weekdays. On weekends and holidays, however, the market becomes a large ocean of people!

Lucky for us, it was late, so the market was empty.
Basically, NO LINES OR CROWDS :)

Shilin Night Market

Our 1st Food Stall

Dinner = A-

Dessert: Shaved Ice with Fresh Fruit
Grade: F
TIP #2: DO NOT EAT THE SHAVED ICE! The water used at markets to make the ice may not be sanitary. Jens and I made the mistake to eat the dessert above and felt sick the rest of the evening and the next day. Consider yourself warned.

So Many More Stalls...

Dumplings Stall: B+


After dealing with my minor case of food poisoning, I made my way to the city center to see the famous Taipei 101.

TIP #3: Taipei 101 is the 2nd tallest building in the world! 101 stories above the ground and 5 stories below, the 508 meter tall building is considered an engineering feet that was built to put Taipei on top.

Check it out:


A Helpful Sign

It Was Very Foggy/Rainy, But We Found It!

A Picture, Please!
Cool Picture :)
Besides going to see Taipei 101 and eating at night markets, another popular thing to do in Taiwan is SHOP! It is actually the place most Hong Kong teens go to for "back-to-school" shopping. I had to look into it further, so I decided to go to a few famous shopping hot-spots that our hotel receptionist recommended.

FIRST STOP: Zhongxiao Dunhua
This is a nice place to go for small local boutiques with one-of-a-kind pieces. There are a lot small streets, so make sure you make time to pass through all of them. It is a bit more expensive than other districts, but the products are well worth it. 
Zhongxiao Dunhua's Busy  MRT Station
TIP #4: Don't expect to try on the clothes, ladies and gentleman. I went into so many boutiques who refused to let me try on the skirts, blouses, and shirts I was planning on buying. This is true in most shopping areas of Taiwan. They have a "One Size Fits All" mentality. Shoes are the same issue. They make certain shoe styles in one specific size. For example, you may be interested in a nice ballerina flat, but it may turn out that they only make it for a size 6 foot. Just so you know, the size 9.5 shoes are not as cute... BOO HISS!

TIP #5: Taiwan fashion means a lot of make-up! These girls love everything from crazy lipstick to thick eyeliner. It is also a big trend to have those contact lenses that make your pupils look huge. I was trying to give them a proper name and finally decided on one: Doll eyes. It turns out that it is currently "in style" to look like a doll: The vintage dresses with puffy skirts and flowers. The bows in the hair. The long eye lashes...
You get the picture. 

However, I entered one store that let me try on the clothing (FINALLY) and when I walked into the dressing room, I was greeted with a gauze mask and the following sign: 

HAHAHAHA! Moral of the story, Taiwanese girls wear A LOT of make-up.

TIP #6: THIS IS THE PLACE YOU WANT TO GO! It specifically targets the teen and young adults, and it  is pretty trendy. It is also dirt cheap. There are many winding roads around the area, so going through the entire district may be difficult to do in one night. You may need the entire day! IT IS WORTH IT.


Shopping Heaven :)
After a few hours of shopping, we decided to change locations and do a little more sight seeing. The next stop was Lungshan Temple followed by another night market, nicknamed Snake Alley, across the street.

Lanterns Outside Lungshan Temple
TIP #7Lungshan (Dragon Mountain) Temple is a famous old temple in Taiwan. It is devoted to worshiping Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy, and other divine spirits. There is a popular legend associated with its construction: It is said that someone left a charm or lantern of Guanyin hanging on a tree. It began giving off an unnatural light and granting wishes to those bringing requests; local residents consequently decided to build a temple to mark the sacred place... it has been a popular site for locals and tourists ever since. Make sure to go in the DAY TIME! Not at night, as pictured below...

... Seeing if it was Open

View of a Lovely Light Lantern Display
(Picture Taken Through the Gate Bars)

It Wasn't Open :(
Since the temple was not open, we made our way across the street to 
Huashi Night Market AKA Snake Alley.

TIP #8: Several types of Asian style eateries are present in Snake Alley. However, this place is most known for its snake shops. Out in the market, visitors can taste snake soup or sip some snake blood. You will find several shops having a variety of live snakes on display. You can choose among these snakes and the cook will prepare a dish for you. Another popular attraction are the snake charmers. They make snakes dance and then cut them, so that the blood which comes out can be served with liquor.

Snake Alley!

Making our Way Through the Market
Unfortunately, we arrived too late, and a lot of the shops had closed. However, the snake shops and restaurants with snakes were still open. It was VERY uncomfortable. At one shop, there was a wall full of aquarium tanks filled with mice (instead of fish and water). A teenage boy was grabbing a few at random and putting them in a box... Let's just say that there way a large python nearby and he looked hungry.
My stomach was turning, so I decided to leave.

At the MRT station, Jens and I noticed a lighted area with the following sign on the floor. There were camera's in this area and a police man nearby. It felt very safe on the way home...
Security at Taipei MRT Stations = A+


Day 3 in Taipei was going to be a busy one! Jens and I had a lot planned and only 24 hours to do it...
Take a look at how we did it:

FIRST STOP: Hot Springs in Xin Beitou

TIP #9: If you want to get away from the busy city streets, take the MRT to Beitou and see a more natural side of Taipei. The area surrounding Beitou, supplied naturally by the geothermal energy of the nearby [and still active] Yang Ming Shan volcano became an obvious location for some serious relaxation. Chillin' in a hot spring is not only DIRT CHEAP, but it has become one of the favorite past times of most locals.

Beitou District

Headed for the Hot Springs
Millennium Hot Springs
Entrance Fee: $40 Taiwan Dollars (UNDER $2 US DOLLARS!)
Nature Walk

Following the Stream that Fills the Hot Springs

Hot Spring
Chillin' Out.
Jens and I didn't have time to jump in and enjoy the perfect 60-degree-Celsius water, since we were expecting to meet the rest of the group at the Flora Expo at 12:30pm.... It was 12:10pm by the time we left Beitou.

The Good News is: we arrive on time.
The Bad News is: Our friends didn't!

It turns out that we hadn't planned out a proper meeting spot for our group to meet! That would have helped so much, since the Expo was filled with hundreds of people. It would have been impossible to find them (especially since we had no cell phones). Regardless, Jens and I decided to go into the Expo.

TIP #10: The 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo is the first international certified standard exposition that Taiwan has ever had. The Expo is conducted in parks and riverside areas full of flower beds. The planning and structure of all exposition grounds have been "incorporated along the concept of a modern city life with an adventurous approach." The Expo's goal is to show how people crave for green space in a world where green trees and natural habitats are decreasing. LIVE GREEN!

As we made our way to buy our tickets, a young boy around my age came up to us and asked (in a rough Asian accent) if we wanted to join his group. At first, Jens and I were confused about what he was asking. It turned out that you could buy group ticket packages (which were cheaper than purchasing the individual tickets). This smart boy had established a group of 10 people made up of students, old women, backpackers, and couples. The group ticket he wanted to buy was for 12 people... Jens and I would be the last 2 people.
We accepted the invitation and tagged along as he got the tickets. However, our group only lasted until we got through the entrance, because everyone went their separate ways.

Our Temporary "Group"
There were a lot of flowers to see, but again, Jens and I wanted to continue our day of sight-seeing.
After grabbing some lunch at the Expo's food court (C+), we made a quick loop around the park.
Take a look at what we had a chance to see:

Only for a Limited Time!
Crazy Drinking Fountains
The Lines were so Long..



More Flowers

Watering the Flowers

Expo Map


Flower Wall

Pink Flora Expo Character

All the Flora Expo Characters

THIRD STOP: National Palace Museum

Following an MRT transfer and 15 minute bus ride, we arrived at the National Palace Museum. It was my FAVORITE venue to visit in Taipei.

TIP #11: This museum was originally established as the Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City. However, During the Chinese Civil War, the Nationalist Government ordered the museum to be moved (with its most valuable pieces) to prevent it from falling in the hands of the Japanese. The National Palace Museum now houses over 677,687 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest in the world. The collection encompasses over 8,000 years of Chinese history from the Neolithic age to the late Qing Dynasty. Story cut short, GO VISIT THIS PLACE!

National Palace Museum Map


Sweet :)

West Building
Entrance Walkway

Main Building

I'm sorry! I just couldn't resist going back and maneuvering my way through all of the shops.
Check out what happened during our second visit to our favorite shopping district:

Big Bubbles!

Late Night Snack
TIP #12: There are sometimes small buildings on streets that are actually multi-level shopping malls on the inside. CONCENTRATE ON THESE PLACES! There is so much variety! I went completely crazy after entering one, and shopped like crazy. Even Jens bought some stuff! The style is very hip and fun... and all for very cheap prices :)


Following a few hours of successful shopping, Jens and I grabbed a cheese-steak around the corner. It wasn't a Philadelphia cheese-steak, but it sure hit the spot.

Cheese-steaks = A-
Following dinner, the shops were closing in Ximen, so we decided to move on to our next stop.

FINAL STOP: Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

TIP #13: In April, 1975, Taipei mourned the passing of President Chiang Kai-shek. A few months afterwards, in response to suggestions from the people, the funeral committee members decided to build the CKS Memorial Hall in Taipei, in order to commemorate the memory of the respected leader. The structure is framed on the north and south by the National Theater and National Concert Hall.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE IS NO LIGHTING IN THE AREA! You have to see it during the day, otherwise you will be left out in the dark... like us.

Lonely MRT Station

The streets were so dark, so we couldn't find our way. My pictures didn't even come out very well. 
However, here is what we would have wanted to see.

We headed back to the hotel and had a chat with the rest of our group. After hearing about how they had looked for us at the Flora Expo a little after we had left, we decided to end our adventures in Taiwan by going to the top of Taipei 101 the next morning.

I was still a little sad about not seeing the CKS Memorial Hall, so I made plans to wake up a bit earlier and take a taxi to go take a picture of it in the morning. Jens told me he would tag along as well.


... too bad I OVERSLEPT! 
By the time I had woken up, it was time to rush to Taipei 101!

Back Again With Better Weather



The elevator in Taipei 101 is also said to be one of the fastest in the world.
 Traveling to the 89th floor [observatory] in 37 seconds, the elevator travels at a speed of 37.7 mph!

Don't believe me?
Take a look for yourself:

 Jason (without his suitcase from the Malaysia/Singapore trip)!

Hey Ya'll!
From Left: Jens, Jason, Kuljit, Mikey-Mai, Brian's Arm

Awesome Views!
From Left: Jason, Amil (Sweden), Me, Jens

Anita (left) and Michelle (right) Writing Messages on their
Postcards to Family and Friends

Sending my Postcard :)

Cafe and Bar on the 89th Floor


Going up to the 91st Floor
Following a lot of pictures, it was time to go to the airport. We took the stairs to the 88th floor and hopped on the elevator that would take us back to ground level. By the time we got on the ground, the group wanted to continue taking pictures... what can I say? We are on exchange!

Jason Posing With Jens and I's Suitcases
Going Down Memory Lane of the Singapore/Malaysia Trip

Brian and Anita Getting Great Angle Shots of Taipei 101

Group Picture.
Jens and I were ready to go to the airport, since we had booked an earlier flight than everyone else. However, to make the cab cost cheaper, Jason and Michelle decided to tag along and be at the airport a little early. THEY ARE AWESOME :) The rest of the gang promised to take their stuff to the airport when they left in half an hour.

We spent the cab ride practicing Cantonese and talking about our favorite places in Taipei.
Although I didn't get a chance to see CKS Memorial Hall, I did get to see one last historical building on the way to the airport that was connected to CKS:
Passing by the Grand Hotel
TIP #14: The Grand Hotel was basically a hotel that Chiang Kai-shek built to accommodate foreign ambassadors due to the lack of five star hotels in Taipei. The main building (what is pictured above) is the world's tallest Chinese classical building. 

Pretty cool, right?

A few minutes after passing by The Grand Hotel, we arrived at the airport and were headed home.
It was a short flight (1 hour and 30 minutes), and before we knew it, we were all back in Hong Kong.
It's always nice to be home.
Arriving Back in HK!
In conclusion, I hope all of the tips I covered in this entry helped you learn a little bit about Taiwan, while also prepping you for any future travel plans you may have ;)

I definitely plan on returning to Taipei!
Specifically for getting my picture at CKS Memorial Hall... and shopping, of course.

Until next time...