Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Picture Time!

I wanted to add in some more pictures from my experience living in Hong Kong and traveling to Mainland China, South Korea, and Thailand. Enjoy!! :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Year Later

It's been about a year since I've written in this blog and I felt the need to update it! I am including in this post the presentation that I gave at my church about my trip to Hong Kong.

Hi everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Rachel Todd. I just got back about a month ago from the most amazing trip of my life, living in Hong Kong for 6 months as an exchange student at Hong Kong Baptist University.

The experience was one that I will never forget and I definitely wouldn’t want to! Ever since my freshman year in high school, I’ve developed a strong affinity for Asia which came into full fruition in college when I decided to major in International Relations and Asian Studies with a concentration on Chinese Studies. I’ve been learning Mandarin Chinese for 2 years as well.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to say during this second hour, but I guess I will talk about several different aspects of my long and amazing journey abroad.

-I’ll talk a bit about each country I visited and their cultures, religious backgrounds and such, along with experiences I had in those countries – showing you some pictures along the way
-How the experience changed me as a person
-How I grew spiritually and my involvement in a church in HK

First off, I decided to go to Hong Kong to study abroad for several reasons. I had gotten a taste of China and that particular area in Asia last summer when I visited Beijing and Shanghai along with several smaller Chinese cities for 2 weeks. I already loved Asia before going on that trip, but I came out of it with a newfound ardent interest in China especially. My college, Rollins College, had an established program with Hong Kong Baptist University and no program yet in the Mainland of China. My Chinese professors at Rollins desperately tried to figure out how I could attend a university in Shanghai, but to no avail for there weren’t enough classes taught in English that I need for my major. So I decided to go to Hong Kong. Now, on a side note, there now is an established Rollins program in Shanghai starting this Fall of 2008, but it was not ready for me to attend and would not have been applicable for me because the classes offered in that program were ones that I had already taken at Rollins. So I went to Hong Kong, which truly was not a disappointment for me, as much as it was for my Chinese professors.

So, I’ll give you a background of Hong Kong to start off. HK is truly one of the most westernized areas in Asia. It is a former territory of Great Britain and was handed back over to China in 1997 due to treaty agreements. Great Britain had obtained Hong Kong after winning the First Opium War of the mid-1800s. Hong Kong is currently a Special Administrative Region of China until 2047, meaning that the region maintains complete autonomy until 2047. It has its own legal system, judicial system, etc. until 2047 when China will regain control. Due to its past connections with Great Britain for over a hundred years, you can imagine how westernized HK actually is. Many people can speak English, especially in the 40 and under crowd. There are signs everywhere written in both Chinese and English. So it wasn’t hard for me to get around at all. Hong Kong is very much of a metropolitan urban area with the most skyscrapers in the world concentrated in one place. Business and technological development flourish in HK. Public transportation is the norm for most people and I greatly enjoyed using the subway and bus systems. HK is a very small region and you can pretty much travel anywhere within 30 minutes on the subway or bus or taxi. There are several islands surrounding the mainland of HK that you take a ferry to which can take up to an hour to travel to.

My experiences in Hong Kong were interesting to say the least. I arrived there not knowing a single soul, I was the only one from my university going there this past semester and I was the third person from Rollins to ever go there at all. But I quickly made friends with a couple girls from various places around America and steadily got to know more and more exchange students throughout my time there. There were people from Estonia, England, France, Mexico, South Korea, Italy, Texas, you name it, they were there. That is one truly great thing about HK, it is one of the most diverse places on earth and attracts foreigners from all over the world. That was an extremely amazing experience for me to get to know people from all over and learn things about their cultures back home. It was amazing that we could all quickly become fast friends despite our obvious differences. So my first couple weeks in the country were full of expeditions and exploring around. Throughout my time there I pretty much saw everything you could see in HK, while leaving a bit for the next time I go there.

-Big Buddha
-so many malls
-Victoria Peak
-Chi Lin Nunnery
-Ladies Market
-Mong Kok
-Ned Kelly’s Pub
-Midlevels Escalator
-Cheung Chau Island
-Walled City Park
-Kowloon Park
-Stanley Market
-Repulse Bay
-Tsim Sha Tsui
-Burger King
-Symphony of Lights
-Chinese New Year
-Taco Loco
-Jackie Chan’s office
-Jumbo Floating Restaurant
-Jade Market
-open markets
-Pizza Hut
-movie theaters

During the semester we had a multitude of breaks and days off of school, so I visited several places. My first trip was for 2 weeks in Thailand with my friend Brittney from Texas. The first thing I will say about Thailand is that it is HOT! The whole time we were there it was over 100 degrees and we were sweating like pigs throughout each day, but we beared it because Thailand was one of the most culturally interesting and beautiful places I have ever been to. We flew into Bangkok, the capitol, for a couple days and checked out all the temples and sites there. Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country as well as a monarchy, and so everywhere you looked there was either a Buddhist temple (wat) or a monument with many photographs of the King and Queen of Thailand. So the major site in Bangkok is definitely the Grand Palace which was the former residence of the King. I was wearing a tank top and shorts and they made me wear a sari and short sleeved shirt to enter the grounds for religious and cultural reasons. It was a gorgeous palace with everything made in gold and with the most ornate decorations I’ve ever seen.

We saw the tallest standing Buddha at Wat Inthara Wihan and visited Wat Pho which had a reclining Buddha which was 151 ft long. We checked out the shopping centers and night markets near our hotel and ate delicious food from outdoor vendors. We took tuktuks everywhere we went, which are motorized rickshaws, and we took a river taxi once which was pretty fun. We also visited the Rose Garden where we saw a Thai cultural show. We traveled by train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya which was the former capital of Thailand until the mid 1700s when it was ransacked and destroyed by Burmese troops. The temple ruins in Ayutthaya were breathtakingly beautiful. Some of my favorites were Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mahathat with the Buddha head inside banyan tree roots, and the Bang Pa-In Palace. It was in Ayutthaya that I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I got to take care of an elephant for an entire day! It was at this place called Elephantstay and for about 100 USD, we got to have our own elephant for the day, feed it several times, wash and scrub it, ride it into a river several times where it bathed and cooled off from the hot sun, learn elephant commands, and pretty much have an amazing day with elephants! There were baby elephants and older elephants, some of which were staying there because they had been abused in the past or were condemned to die because of causing injury to people. But now, all of the elephants were very human-friendly. My elephant was about 80 years old and named Loonsahp and she was as sweet as can be!

We then traveled back to Bangkok by train and caught a flight down to Phuket where we stayed for the night before traveling by ferry to Koh Phi Phi Island which was one of the places hit hardest by the tsunami back in 2004. Koh Phi Phi was one of the most gorgeous places I had ever been to and is probably on one of those travel lists of the most beautiful places in the world. The ferry ride was 2 hours long where I got more sunburned than I have ever been before, but it was all worth it when we saw the breathtaking sight of Koh Phi Phi.

The water is the most gorgeous shade of blue, the foliage on the islands is the greenest green, and the beaches had amazingly soft sand. We were there for 6 blissful days where we stayed in a little bungalow on a hill and were 5 minutes from the shore. The food was amazing and the beach was great. A couple people from HKBU joined us there and we shared many good times relaxing on the beach. I did go snorkeling once which is an accomplishment for me as I am deathly afraid of sharks and sea creatures.

Afterwards we traveled by ferry back to Phuket for the night and then flew back to Bangkok and then Hong Kong.

I also went into the Mainland China on a couple short trips. First I visited Shenzhen where a group of friends and I went to get massages at this spa over there. It was very cheap and very nice! The experience was very relaxing and I loved being in the mainland to practice my Mandarin, as Hong Kongers speak Cantonese and English and I only used Mandarin in rare circumstances. Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy more of Shenzhen, but I can say that it is a major urban area in China. I also went into the mainland for about 5 days to Guangzhou which is a major urban city in southern China. This trip was great because I went with my friend Lynn who is Chinese and from there and I got to stay with her family.

-Qingming Festival
-Lin Village
-Urban city
-Family dinners and gatherings
-No English

My third big trip that I took was to South Korea for a week with my friend Kevin who is Korean but lives in HK. He helped me with my Mandarin because he was fluent in it and he invited me to visit Korea with him because I had expressed a large interest in visiting there. So, while the rest of my friends went to Beijing which I had already been to, I went to South Korea. It was amazing, we stayed in Seoul for a few days with his sister. I truly loved the city and got to see beautiful parks and historic sites and shopping and a soprano performance by his sister. We then went to Jeju Island.

-Mix of Hawaii, Europe, beaches, hills, fields of flowers, mountains, lava tubes
-Family time

-renewed interest in Asia

-part of KIBC (Impact Groups, Café Mosaic) – international, two services
-independence in my spirituality
-peer comfort and growth
-learned a lot about other cultures and other people’s religions
-saw several Chinese saved

Monday, June 2, 2008

It's Almost Over Now

Hong Kong has truly opened up my eyes to new possibilities. Around every corner is the chance to experience something different, whether it be a gorgeous temple with peaceful gardens or a bustling market with cute shoes sold next to whole fish or even a beautiful mountain overlooking the urban city below, Hong Kong has everything you could ever want. Not only is the city unlike anything else, but its people are unique as well. Hong Kong is so diverse in cultures and is full of people from around the world, but I still find it disarming to be in Asia, right on the border of Mainland China, and be surrounded by Europeans, Americans, Africans, and more. It is unlike any other place in the entire world.

Hong Kong has many different sections or areas. The major ones are Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, the New Territories, and Lantau Island. My school was in Kowloon Tong, known for its major shopping center called Festival Walk and its close proximity to Jackie Chan's office/studio (which was extremely cool and is part of the picture from the last post). I'm really glad that I was in Kowloon Tong because it was more suburban than Hong Kong Island, which is where all of the major businesses and skyscrapers are, and was in a good location for shopping, eating, entertainment, and activities. We had a beautiful park right next to campus with several basketball courts, a soccer field, running track, and playground. Festival Walk was an amazing mall, kind of like Mall of Millenia, but with about 8 stories, an ice skating rink, movie theatre, huge eating area, several restaurants, really nice stores, and a grocery store on the first floor. It even connected to the MTR (subway station) and another nearby college, City University.

The MTR was maybe one of my favorite things about Hong Kong, which might sound silly to some, but coming from Florida where there is no public transportation like the subway, the MTR was a big change. Not only was it convenient and close by, but it could take you to literally anywhere in Hong Kong. I never had to worry about not having a car at all! Plus, it wasn't dirty like the subways in New York or Chicago. Hong Kong also has an extensive bus system, which was really cool. There are minibuses and bigger buses, double decker buses, and even a tram system. I remember one of my first experiences riding a minibus, I was forced to yell out that I wanted to go to my dorm in Cantonese, "Sohksei mgoi!", or else the driver wouldn't stop. But I did it and the driver understood and that was a pretty affirming moment, silly as that sounds hha. Oh and in the first picture, Brittney and I are on the longest outdoor escalator in the world. Yes, Hong Kong Island is home to the Mid-levels Escalator, which is 800 meters long and takes 20 minutes to ride from start to finish!

Well I'll update about others areas in Hong Kong as well as the countries I visited over the semester in my next post!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

After a "brief" hiatus..

In the span of 4 1/2 months, I have written three blog entries, with this being the fourth. This is terribly, terribly sad, but can be attributed to several things: the sudden spike in schoolwork and exams that hit me full-force near the middle of the semester, the many trips that I went on, and the fact that I was out enjoying this lovely city whenever I could. (I am also one of the world's biggest procrastinators, shh). However, I must say that Saturday is my LAST day of working on schoolwork until August! So with that, I will be writing the longest journal entries of my life and informing all of you readers (who may have abandoned this effort, but please come back! :P) of my terrific time here in Hong Kong. Not only will you learn of what it was like to be in Thailand, South Korea, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou, but you will also learn everything there is to know about one of the best places to be in the entire world, Hong Kong!!

So please trust me on this one, I WILL be back very soon and won't make you wait any longer!! And I also added a link to my photo site in the upper right-hand corner where all of my photos from the semester are stored!


P.S. -- Please keep the people of China, especially Sichuan Province, in your prayers as they are going through this awful experience after one of the most devastating earthquakes in the country's history. They are in desperate need for prayer and any help that they can receive. A good website where you can send financial donations is:

Monday, March 10, 2008

From the Other Side

Neih hou (hello)!

Considering it's been over a month since I last updated, I have a lot to tell of my recent activities in Hong Kong! I promise to update in a much more consistent manner from now on! I left the last post with a mention of my church, Kowloon International Baptist Church (KIBC). I must say that this has been a place where I've found some of my closest friends here in Hong Kong. We are a mix of nationalities, from American to Chinese to Liberian to German and more. It's amazing to be around so many people of different cultures and backgrounds, I can not imagine a more diverse place in the world than Hong Kong. It has been a huge blessing to find KIBC and have such close connections there. Every week I attend the contemporary Sunday worship service along with Bible study, Tuesday nights are my book group nights where we are reading and discussing "Praise Habit" by David Crowder, and on Wednesday night we have Cafe Mosaic where people from all over the world gather to chat about life over coffee and snacks. Along with KIBC, I've also been attending a Chinese Culture Class led by students at HKBU. We discuss different areas of China, traditions, religion, politics, history, and more. That has been a great experience and has shown me the excitement that many of the students at HKBU have toward fostering international relationships and teaching others about their homeland of China.

Now on to classes. I'm taking 4 academic classes at HKBU, along with 2 classes through Rollins. Urban Development in China has been an interesting course so far because I've been learning all about the development of China's cities and migration processes. Traditional Chinese Society is a class that has introduced me to many aspects of traditional Chinese people and culture. I've already made a presentation in that class on women in traditional China. I'm taking Computer-Aided Statistics which has proven to be more daunting than I thought, but I share the class with 3 other exchange students so we try to survive together. And then I am also taking Intro to Cantonese because I want to form a foundation of the language in case I decide to live here after graduating :) I can honestly say that I like learning Mandarin a lot more than Cantonese, but the class is still really fun and it's always interesting to learn as many languages as possible. I've already used words I've learned several times, such as in taxis and when paying for things at the store! Then I am also continuing my studies in Mandarin through email with Wei Laoshi back at Rollins and continuing my Honors thesis preparation as well. Classes have their positives and negatives here. Compared to Rollins, we have much less work to do at HKBU. I have about one paper per class and only one class required a presentation. I also only had one midterm for Statistics. But, the downside to this is that our final exams count for at least 60% of our grade!! It doesn't help that I am planning on visiting the mainland before exam time, so I will have to study hard on the airplane rides and any moment I have to relax! But it is wonderful to have so much free time without much homework for the majority of the semester. It gives me a lot of time to explore the city :)

Next post I will update about all of the amazing places I have visited! I will also be going to Thailand soon for Easter break!! Until then,

Joih gin (goodbye)!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Three Weeks Later

First of all, I have to say, I did not plan on waiting 3 weeks to update this blog! But, as you will read, I have been doing and experiencing a lot of new and exciting things here in Hong Kong! From everything I have done and everything I have learned, I must say that I love it here and will find it very hard to leave in 4 1/2 months. I can already sense that this will be an amazing journey. Now, to start from the beginning...

I arrived in Hong Kong on January 7th after a long, grueling 21-hour flight! It wouldn't have been so unbearable if I could have only seen the movie screen...but oh well, what could I do. Once I arrived at HKG (Hong Kong International Airport), I subsequently got lost and somehow found myself taking multiple escalators, moving sidewalks, and even some kind of subway by myself in search of immigration. I finally found it thank goodness, despite the fact that the only white person I saw along the way would only care to tell me not to stop near the top of the escalator instead of helping to point me in the right direction. I finally reached my group who had been patiently waiting for me and we set off toward HKBU!

Upon arrival at HKBU, I met my roommate, Jenny, who ended up being from mainland China which is exactly what I wanted so that I could practice my Mandarin. She's an interesting girl from Fujian Province. I think that we definitely do have cultural differences, but it has been good to learn about those differences and ways to deal with them over these past 3 weeks. She has been nice for the most part and taken me shopping for necessities, which I desperately needed.

The first week was full of orientation meetings, some interesting and some not-so-much, but my favorite day was on Friday when we went on a tour around Hong Kong for about 6 hours or so. Everything I saw was pretty amazing to say the least. We first went to the Wong Tai Sin Temple where many people were gathered worshiping their ancestors and offering food and burning incense. I got to shake a can full of sticks to get my fortune, but I ended up not finding out what my fortune was because I didn't want to pay for it! We then went to the Jade Market which was full of stands where vendors sold multiple items made of jade and the like, from jewelry to chess boards to statues and more. I definitely want to go back when I am in a shopping mood! Next we visited Victoria Peak which is one of the most famous places in HK and also known for having the most expensive residences. We took a bus to the top and lo and behold there was a mall :P From that mall there is a viewing spot where you can see a beautiful view of Hong Kong Island, the skyscraper central of the world. From there we visited Aberdeen which is home to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a very famous place known for its delicious dim sum. The food was amazing and so was the company. After we were bussed over to Repulse Bay, one of the beaches here in HK. Though this beach can't be compared to the beauty of some of Florida's beaches, it was pretty nice. It is refreshing to see a familiar sight in this foreign place I will be living. We then went to Stanley Market which was full of small stores selling clothes and shoes and accessories. The typical Chinatown if you will. I will definitely be going back there soon.

The remaining two weeks have been full of exploring and meeting new people. I will update soon on what I've been doing, but I must be off to a worship service at KIBC (Kowloon International Baptist Church) which I've been attending! More to come soon, but let me leave you with some pictures of my time here in HK :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Three Days To Go!

Hi! :) This is the first post in my Hong Kong journal! I am so excited and looking forward to studying in Hong Kong for 5 months, but I must admit it hasn't truly hit me yet that I will be away from home for that length of time. The longest I have been away is 2 weeks this past summer in China, not counting living at college which is 25 minutes away from home. I go to Rollins College and am in my third year as an International Relations major and Asian Studies minor. Going to Hong Kong is a dream come true and is perfect for my study path! I will be attending Hong Kong Baptist University taking around three or four Asian Studies courses as well as continuing my Mandarin studies and my Honors Thesis research through Independent Studies with Rollins. I also want to say that if it wasn't for the Freeman-Asia Awards Program that gave me a significant scholarship, this semester abroad wouldn't have been possible. Thank you Freeman-Asia!!

I have absolutely no idea what to expect once I step off the plane, but I know that I will have the most incredible experience. This truly is an opportunity of a lifetime!