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Great Wall

Great Wall

Although this is my last month in Hong Kong, I am going out with a bang and not a whimper!!  Classes ended on April 29th, but my final exam isn’t until May 13th.  So I decided to use some of the time between those dates to take one last trip outside Hong Kong and I chose to visit Beijing, China.

Beijing is the cultural center of China and so there was a lot to see and do there.  I signed up with Tour Beijing to take two one day tours.  On one day I visited the Ming Tombs, a complex of tombs set up by the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Di, and I visited the Great Wall of China at Badaling.  The most impressive aspect of the wall was not its height or its width, but rather its length.  It went on and on as far as the eye could see.

Great Wall under repair

Great Wall under repair

At the entrance to this section of the wall, we could hike up the wall which straddled a ridge on a mountain.  The hike was strenuous, but the view was spectacular.   At one point, I suddenly realized why the wall was built in such a remote, inaccessible area.  By building the wall along the ridge of a string of mountains, the wall would not have to be very high because the ridge itself provided height and a view to repel enemies trying to scale the ridge.

On another day, I was able to visit the Forbidden City, so named because commoners were not allowed into the city, and the empress, concubines, and eunuchs were not allowed to leave the city. It was an amazingly large and beautiful complex.  In addition, I saw the Temple of Heaven

Forbidden City Back Entrance: Empress, Concubines, Eunichs

Forbidden City Back Entrance: Empress, Concubines, Eunichs

where the emperor came three times a year to offer sacrifices to the Gods, and I saw the Summer Palace, which was built by the last empress of China as a summer escape from the Forbidden City.  The last empress had an inordinate amount of power for a woman at that time because her husband, the emperor, died young, and the son was too young to make decisions for the country.


On a final day, I walked around Tiananmen Square and visited two different museums that gave a modern history of China from the Chinese perspective, which unfortunately amounted to propaganda instead of a thoughtful and balanced account of

Heaven & Earth Theatre Chinese Acrobatic Show

Heaven & Earth Theatre Chinese Acrobatic Show

their modern history.  At the end of the day, I was fortunate enough to attend a Chinese acrobatic show at the The Heaven and Earth Theatre.  It was spectacular and fun and marked a nice cap for my visit to Beijing.

April 2011

Hong Kong Wetlands Park

Hong Kong Wetlands Park

April’s weather was quite nice in Hong Kong, and I used it to my full advantage to explore the city.  Mai Po Marsh is the largest wetland area in Hong Kong, and it is located only a few kilometers from where I am living.  Part of the marshland has been turned into a park and so it made it easy to explore the different ecosystems within the marsh, which included freshwater streams flowing into the marsh, the lake, the transitional zone where the lake is turning into marsh, and the mangrove swamps.

Fiddler Crab

Fiddler Crab

The highlight of my visit was seeing fiddler crabs digging into the mud.  Fiddler crabs are so named because they have one claw that is gigantic compared with the size of their body.  This claw is used to attract mates and fend off competitors.

Derek and Devin

Derek and Devin

Also, a friend of mine from the US visited me during this month and so together we were able to visit quite a few places I had not yet seen.  One of my favorites was Cheung Chau Island located about 45 minutes south of Hong Kong Island, which is noted for its traditional fishing village.  The waitress made it a point to show us the fish swimming in the tank before we sat down to order our meal, so we knew that our food was quite fresh!  In addition, we hiked to a cave that was a hideout for pirates back in the 1800s and before.  We had fun exploring the depths of the cave and used my friend’s cigarette lighter to light up the cave around us.

Florence, Anki, Kyra, and Millie

Florence, Anki, Kyra, and Millie

Finally, the students in my class were required to do a service learning project where the goal was to educate the other students at Lingnan University about AIDS.  The class was divided into three groups of four students and each group was required to put together a display that they would staff on a different day of the week.  Each group was quite creative in their work.  One group put together a message board on which students could write encouraging notes that would be delivered to people with AIDS at a local AIDS organization.  Another group emphasized prevention and handed out free condoms, and a third group took a survey of students’ current knowledge about AIDS, educating these students in the process.

March 2011

Devin on Pearl River Night Cruise

Devin on Pearl River Night Cruise

This was an exciting month for travel.  I visited Guangzhou, China in early March, which was my first foray into mainland China.  The two hour train ride from Hong Kong gave me a sense that there is not much open land left because we passed through developed cities through most of the trip.  Guangzhou, one of China’s largest cities, was a city of contrasts.  There were very wealthy people driving around in their BMWs and Mercedes while others were riding bicycles and some people were begging in the streets.  The biggest difference from the US is that the beggars were usually elderly people while in the US they are younger and so it was a little heartbreaking to see the older people having no other means of supporting themselves in the twilight of their lives.  While in Guangzhou, I visited a museum housing the 2nd Nanyue King, which was built right on the his tomb discovered back in the 1980s while digging in a new construction site.  The tomb itself was extensive and built into a hillside while there were numerous artifacts extracted from the tomb on display in the museum:  weapons, pottery, jewelry, etc….   I also took a river boat cruise on the Pearl River at night and enjoyed the lighted bridges and buildings along the way.  The Pearl River is China’s 3rd largest river and drains all of South China.  I was warned that Guangzhou is a dangerous city, but I did not experience any negative events and enjoyed my three day stay in the city.

Towards the end of March, I decided to travel to Phuket, Thailand for four days.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and it rained every day I was there, meaning that it poured rain.  There was an unusually strong cold front that moved through the area and brought to worst flooding to Southern Thailand in a long time.  Fortunately, the rain stopped for one afternoon, so I got to play in the ocean a bit, which was quite fun.  I enjoyed lots of good food, which was the highlight of the trip.  I tried everything from Pad Thai, to noodle dishes, to beef in garlic and shrimp in basil sauce, and a Thai barbeque.  It was all quite good.  I was able to visit an aquarium on the south side of Phuket Island, which was a good way to enjoy an indoor activity in the rain.  In addition to the brightly colored tropical fish present in the waters off of the Andaman Sea, there was video showing the 2004 tsunami in many different places around the island.  It gave me a better sense of how widespread the damage was and an appreciation for how things have been rebuilt and returned to normal.

Yes, and in the mean time I am teaching my AIDS class here at Lingnan U in Hong Kong.  It has been an interesting experience in seeing the differences between the students here and at Whittier College.  The Lingnan students that remained in my class have done quite well for the most part even though the class is taught in English and that English is their second and sometimes third language, which is impressive.   I also realized early on that the university system in Hong Kong is based on the British system and as a result, students are not evaluated very often.  Students told me that they usually have one mid-term, one final exam, and one project in the class.  They were a little shocked because I gave three mid-term exams, a final, a project, and a bunch of homework assignments.  There was some grumbling which I did not expect.  The highlight of the course so far is that the students were required to do a service learning project in which three different groups of students in the class had to make an AIDS educational display for the other Lingnan students.   The displays were creative and well done.  In addition to information on AIDS, one group had a board where Lingnan students could post messages of encouragement for those with HIV/AIDS at AIDS Concerned, a local AIDS support group.  Another group passed out condoms and another group conducted a survey to find out how much Lingnan students knew about AIDS.   It was a successful project.

I am continuing to enjoy my stay in Hong Kong!!

 

Kata Beach in Phuket, Thailand
Kata Beach in Phuket, Thailand
Devin Along the Pearl River
Devin Along the Pearl River
AIDS Class Lingnan University
AIDS Class Lingnan University

February 2011

New Years Parade

New Years Parade

Kung Hei Faat Choi!  Happy New Year!  Chinese New Year started on February 3 this year and by tradition, it lasts for 15 days.  Officially there are three public holiday days (Feb. 3, 4, and 5) and Lingnan U gave the students one week off, which was their version of spring break after only two and a half weeks in the spring semester!  But who’s complaining?!!

I took the time to hike in some of the local mountains and I was treated to some great views of the area around Tuen Mun where Lingnan U is located.  Tuen Mun is sometimes considered the suburb of skyscrapers and that was certainly evident from views along the trail.  There are 40 floor apartment buildings everywhere which densely pack people into a small space.  So any green space is much appreciated.  In fact, Hong Kong’s land consists mostly of mountains with very little flat land for easy development, and some of the flat land that does exist is reclaimed land from the harbor or ocean.  In a lot of ways, Hong Kong reminds me more of San Francisco than New York.

I also saw the Chinese New Year’s parade in an area of the city known as Tsim Sha Tsui.  The parade is held at night because the floats are lit with multicolored bright lights that announce the sponsor or country of origin.  In fact this parade is international and featured entries from Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Mainland China, Great Britain, The Czech Republic, The United States, Malaysia, and Peru.  While there was the occasional dragon and a traditional dance troupe, the parade seemed much more modernized when compared to the one I’ve seen in Chinatown in Los Angeles, which remains quite traditional in comparison.

The highlight of that week was my visit to Macau located on an island on the other side of the Pearl River Delta.  Macau was a Portugese trading post and eventually a colony for many years, but now it’s considered the Las Vegas of Asia.  Gambling is legal here and brightly colored casinos with familiar names such as the Wynn and MGM along with unfamiliar ones such as the Lisboa light up an area of the city.  I was more interested in visiting the historical sites and so I saw the two forts that guarded the city at one point and walked amongst some of pastel colored buildings with their original Portugese architecture.  While the history museum was a disappointment because it lacked sufficient information on the political and economic history of Macau after the Portugese set up the trading post, the one day excursion was well worth the effort.

Finally, the food in Hong Kong is interesting if not different from what I am used to in the US.  I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Chinese food because I find that it can be a little bland in comparison to Thai food.  However, what I find here is that dishes are overwhelming made of either pork or seafood with some beef or chicken or tofu and no turkey.  Other than fish and shrimp, I am not a big seafood fan and I eat pork only occasionally, so adjusting to the diet here has meant eating lots of chicken for me and there is less variety in chicken dishes than I would have hoped, but I have found dishes that I like   I do love dim sum and Hong Kong is famous for its dim sum, so that has been yummy!!  I passed a restaurant once that featured on its menu dishes like “The Thousand Year Old Egg”, and “Stinky Beef”, and “Ox Intestines”.  I decide to keep walking.  :)

 

Tail Lam Shung Resevoir
Tail Lam Shung Resevoir
Ruins of Sao Paulo Church
Ruins of Sao Paulo Church
Devin at the Guia Hill Fort
Devin at the Guia Hill Fort

January 2011

Devin Imoto from "The Peak" right above central Hong Kong

Devin Imoto from "The Peak" right above central Hong Kong

 Seeing the mountains of Hong Kong’s islands as the plane landed filled my heart with excitement and joy to start this new adventure in a country and city that I had never visited prior to this time.  In fact this was my first time in Asia.

The first few days were filled with settling in and getting to know Lingnan University and the surrounding area.  Most people on campus spoke some English, which helped me communicate and get around, but I quickly discovered that many people in the neighborhood surrounding the university did not speak any English, making it a little frustrating at times just to order food.  So I decided I had to learn some Cantonese.  The biggest step was learning how to count in Cantonese because then I could just say the number of the meal off of the menu.

My living quarters are quite nice.  I have a 3 bedroom apartment on campus, which is quite large for Hong Kong standards.  I discovered that the average size of a public housing apartment is about 500 square feet for a family of 4-6 people.  I have at least 1000 square feet all to myself.  The kitchen has a nice refrigerator, microwave oven, and stove, but no conventional oven.  So I resorted to my skills using a wok to whip up different chicken and vegetable dishes with sauces such as chili garlic sauce and a black bean and garlic sauce.

The classrooms at Lingnan U are also quite nice.  Each classroom is media ready, which means I can go into a class and plug in my flash drive to show a power point presentation, or pop in a dvd to show a documentary, or go to the internet and show a short video clip from u tube.  However, I am a blackboard person too, and here there are only wipe boards and I quickly discovered how long it takes to erase a wipe board (too long!) and the erasers were not very effective.  I had to seek options.

Finally, I do not have a car here, but not a problem!  The mass transit system is absolutely wonderful, and it is very easy to use to get to many different places.   Like Whittier College, Lingnan U is outside the main part of the city, so I must take the metro to see many of the places that I wanted to see.  It takes about an hour to get from my front door into Central Hong Kong, just like from Whittier into parts of LA, except I don’t have to drive.  The trains come every few minutes and so they are convenient although they can be packed at times!

In January, I visited several museums (Sun Yat-Sen museum) and the Hong Kong history museum that gave me a good overview of how Hong Kong came to be.   It must have been my inferior schooling or lack of attention at some point, but I did not even know how Britain came to own Hong Kong until I went to these museums.  It’s called the opium wars and in essence Britain’s greed at the time.  I also learned about how Hong Kong suffered during World War II under the Japanese occupation and then it’s transformation into the modern city that it is today.  Finally, I went to one of the iconic tourist sites called “The Peak”.  I took the tram up to the top which was a spectacular ride seeing buildings looking like they were ready to tip over at the angle we were traveling.  While up there, there were spectacular views of the city and harbor, and I got to appreciate the skyline and harbor.

All in all, the first month was an exciting time to begin my exploration of Hong Kong!

 

Devin's Apartment
Devin’s Apartment

  

Central Hong Kong from "The Peak"
Central Hong Kong from “The Peak”

 

 

Welcome

Whittier/Lingnan

I am a Visiting Professor at Lingnan University in Hong Kong for the spring 2011 semester, teaching a course on AIDS that emphasizes the biological basis of the disease with its societal impact around the world.

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