Monday, November 27, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Last week I was in Bangkok for training. It involved all new managers in the Far East, so participating countries included China (various offices: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong), Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia, and of course, Thailand.
I actually had gone to the same training last year in Florida, and unfortunately, was kind of critical on the management of this training in the Far East. It's interesting to see the big culture difference between the way it was run and in the participants in general. For example, as part of the training, we all did the Myers-Brigg assessment to understand our preferences. In Asia, the number of introverts far outnumbered the extroverts! The difference between what we would see in North America was interesting... it was interesting to see how the exercises were run because it took a long time before anyone dared to take the step of leadership. Interesting observations. =p
So, my own personal objective for attending the course was to better know the coworkers in my group; five of us went in the Capital Markets Centre (CMC) from Hong Kong, and there was one other CMC manager from Shanghai. It was a lot of fun... the six of us girls hung out all week, and stuck together during classes... kind of causing trouble because many things taught were not relevant to us (as we're not in audit.)
I have had enough thai food for a while now. =p We probably had Tom Yum Kung soup at least 4 times, green curry at least 3 times, fishcakes at least 3 times... also, the food made me sick. On one of the days, my body awakened me at maybe 5 or 6 because I felt nauseous... and ended up throwing up a number of times in the morning. Anyway, it wasn't food poisoning because the reaction was probably 11-12 hours after we had dinner the evening before... so *hopefully*, it was just the general acidity level of the food (I think) that I was not used to it. Anyway, thankfully, I recovered very quickly and by the evening next day, I was eating normally again. But, I haven't been feeling great in Hong Kong this week so will actually go to a doctor... Anyway, I'm generally okay. Just taking some antacids when I don't feel great.
We had some spare time so went around on a couple of the evenings and on the Friday and Saturday. No, we did not go see the transvestites. =p But the society is so open to them that many are in normal employment positions like at the 7/11. We did a lot of shopping, and my friend went crazy at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is like the Ladies' Market in Hong Kong, but maybe 100 times bigger. (A HUGE flea market.) And hotter! According to a Hong Kong travel book, spending 20 minutes in each section is like going to the sauna for 20 minutes. Yuck. =p
One evening, we went to the Siam Tower, which I think is a government building + hotel. At the top is a great view of the city with very nice bars. One of the bars was unique in that there are no chairs and tables, just sofabeds. So, this is the 6 crazy girls on the sofa bed!
We have, from left to right, Alva (top), Ina ("eena", bottom), Chinchin, Shirley, Aida, and me.
Alva and Ina are from HK and went to school at the University of Toronto, Chinchin is from Jakarta and went to school in the US (Indiana), Shirley is from Singapore and now in Shanghai, Aida is Taiwanese and went to school in Wisconsin.
Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.
Monday, November 20, 2006
OK, I hardly ever ate McDonald's in Toronto, especially for dinner for staying late at the office (can you imagine?? =p I always had terrible reactions to people who wanted McDonalds.) But.. I really wanted to try the "Fan"tastic burger, which, cleverly, is a burger with the buns made out of rice... and Rice in cantonese is kind of pronounced "fan". So, here is the "Fan"tastic burger and the combo meal that I had. (Yes, that is the official name from McDonald's!)
Yes, corn is an alternative to fries!
Now that I got that out of my system... no more McDonald's... until the new product comes out!
Oh, I forgot... in Bangkok, I had to try the taro pie (highly recommended by my coworker!). It's not available in Hong Kong. It's not bad...! =p
OK, no more McDonald's!
Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Looking forward to this week to meet other people in the firm, spend some time with my coworkers, observe how things work here in the Far East (training is for all new managers in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing...)
Be back in a week!
Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
It is already November, Hallowe'en is passed for a week now... which means that it's time for Christmas decorations to go up!! That's the case everywhere, I'm sure, but they sure are fast here. Major sets have been put up at various spots around the International Finance Centre (IFC) [where my office is located.] Decorations on banisters... larger displays throughout the IFC Mall... fast movers!
I remember Christmas being HUGE two years ago... and I'm sure it will always be huge. What I did not realize, is that Hallowe'en was also HUGE. The amount (and size) of Hallowe'en decorations in Hong Kong were quite incredible. I attach some pictures below:
The big, furry spiders were EVERYWHERE! EVERYWHERE!! Every single Pacific Coffee coffee shop (pic #1)! Sogo (large Japanese department store)! Lan Kwai Fong, HUGE strung up above the street! Even the small lobby to the botanical garden in Hong Kong Park!! (The 2nd and 3rd pics were taken there --- the security guard did give me a weird look as I stepped into the lobby because you're not supposed to take pictures... but it's not like I was taking pictures of plants. And *then*, as I walked up the main staircase and looked up and saw picture #3, where they created the entire web to put the spiders up top, I burst out laughing, and took another picture... hahaha)
Anyway, I do think these spiders are quite ugly... was quite disturbing at Pacific Coffee where one was located right above the milk and sugar. Yuck. =p sadly, it does appear that Hallowe'en is another big event to promote sales no matter where... not really sure how the big spiders fit into that though... but i guess that's just me. =p
Monday, November 06, 2006
It was intersting to go on this trip and do the reading for my course, which was a book that discusses the question, "what is a true missionary encounter with western culture?"
The book analyzes western society as follows - the scientific method has completely taken over the public realm, as evidenced through education. [Consider the hoopla experienced in Philadelphia when "intelligent design" was discussed.] This public sphere consists of the pure facts... what we can observe. Christianity, ever since the separation from the state in the 1800's, has been relegated to the private sphere, the sphere which discusses values and purpose. The problem with Christianity in particular, is that its advocated truths completely conflict with those facts of the private sphere.
However, other eastern religions, do not seemto be so radically conflicting. In fact, they can coexist within the constraints of the observable public sphere... Eastern mythology does not speak of purpose... reincarnation only happens as part of its due course.
This concept was evidenced very clearly to me in China. The strong spirituality of the inner countryside was very scary for me. Although I have seen many temples in different places, perhaps it is because the northwest region of Yunnan is very near Tibet (similar in terrain and obviously, the Jong peoples), which is similar to the strong spirituality of Thai buddhism (I realize I am extremely ignorant of the specifics of buddhism...) I was greatly affected by the spirituality of the land. Quite scary to me. It also really saddened me to see many people, including many on my tour, to pay respects when entering a temple.
I had a discussion with a friend once... when we were going around Hong Kong and visited [Wong Tai Sin] temple in Kowloon... she bowed when entering a room with an idol, and I asked if she believed in it. She said no, but explained it akin to entering someone's home... you say "hi" (or in Chinese culture, you "call" the respective name of the relative). Such a polytheistic acknowledgement was very interesting to me. In North America, it is more atheistic.
History of China
I have always been fascinated by the rich history of China, indeed, the history is so long. Unfortunately, I am not that familiar with the recent history (say, after 1911 when the Communist party started to form). And more unfortunately, a number of the places we visited were during this time period, relating to the grassroots of modern China.
During the debriefing session, it was eye-opening to me to hear about the strong support for the current government. I realize I have a negative attitude towards it, likely from reading of Jan Wong, in terms my disapproval of their religious non-freedoms, and of many, many extant negative sterotypes. It is undeniable, however, to remark on the economic success of the country (consider the ICBC IPO last week, haha, too bad E&Y is the "reporting accountants"), and to remark on the evidenced social developments. Even something like promoting education within a small region of Zhaojue to provide the very poor Yi youth with practical skills to make a living... the gradual opening up of the western regions... the government is clearly taking strides. And even as I mentioned about recycling, the Chinese government has moved much faster than Hong Kong in this respect. Hearing about the government's recent efforts in cracking down on corruption is also encouraging. Obviously, all governments have their strengths and faults, for, governments are only made up of very-broken people not dissimilar from any of us. But, I'll leave my thought as "eye-opening", as I realize it will take some time to not take anything with a grain of salt, but a truly negative stereotype is also unfair, and that I now realize.
So, I will just leave this off with some preliminary thoughts... something to observe in the near future... how will the Chinese people react to economic successes? I go back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as, historically, it was arguable as to whether physical and security needs were met. Now that they are, how will they progress towards self-actualization? Something, arguably, that western culture has been grappling with. The observable shift from the industrial age to a society that weeks for work-life balance, of health and well-being... of purpose?
Friday, November 03, 2006
Although the trip was boring at times (in effect, I went on a trip with a lot of "aunties" and "uncles"...) it was a good time of reflection. There was nothing to do in the evening so I actually went to bed early sometimes! (I roomed with my aunt.) I also was able to complete my reading for my course. As this trip was organized by that NPO, they had a debriefing session on the last day. It was interesting to hear different perspectives and reflections of other people. Many of my reflections which were echoed, even if not necessarily from the same world-viewpoint.
This is quite a nice city. It's a relatively smaller city, similar to Chengdu where I went last year. Although traffic in China will inevitably be crazy for the near-term, it was still good to see that it wasn't *CRAZY*, in a way reflecting the general level of education of the public... in terms of following rules and whatnot. I was also very very impressed that every single garbage can had a dual bin, one for garbage and one for recyclables. Maybe the policies of Yunnan province were generally like that... the cities in general were very ecologically conscious.
Minority peoples in China
Minority peoples is probably one of the distinguishing characteristics of Yunnan province. Out of China's 52(?) minority peoples, 26 (I think) are in Yunnan province alone. So, along our tour, we learned a lot about the dominant ones: Bai, Miao, Jong... Probably in conjunction with the surging tourism in Yunnan (more on that below), it was great to see the pride of each minority people as each tourguide aimed to share about his or her own peoples. It is encouraging to see government policy encouraging the promotion of the uniqueness of each minority. I also know that the government aims to promote development of minority peoples through the few programs I know from MSI.
An interesting thing, also, is that of our three tourguides, two of them were mixed between different minority groups (NaXi and Miao, Jong and Miao), which is an indicator of openness rather than prideful esotericism or of rivalries.
The prime example is LiJiang. Since the discovery of the town, tourism has taken over. [DaLi was more industrial to begin with, so had its own in sources of economy.] The tourguide mentioned that tourism funds about 80% of the economy, an increase from 20%. Just incredible. The Jong minority tourguide for Shangri-La used to be a teacher... and then changed to the tourguide profession as it was more lucrative.
A thriving economy is always a good sign in terms of funding towards social development. At the same time, when it comes to such rapid economic growth, it is inevitable that there will be increasing income gaps between the "have's" and "have not's"...
Drove to Shangri-La - cold and far place, populated mainly by the Jong [i.e., Tibetan] peoples... up to 3800m of height... toured yet another historic town. Got an amusing chance to practise my broken, broken French which i have not yet spoken since high school. Was kicking myself because I couldn't remember the word for "cow" until near the end of the conversation... [ahh...vache! so sad...] Was pretty funny translating between Mandarin [the French lady actually looked up various pinyin], Cantonese [didn't know what she was referring to.. had to ask parents], and French, of course, in my head everything is in English...
Drove to the National Park - This is the first national park that china preserved. It was really nice... high in the mountains (>4000m) that it was quite scary for those who were not as physically fit (otherwise may get altitude sickness). I was pretty scared for my dad as he has high blood pressure... thankfully, everyone made it through, especially as everyone knew each other to support. Good thing we also got small oxygen tanks just in case (35 RMB for about 10 minutes, supposedly). I have shared this before, but the toilets here were GREAT. They are so clean and did not smell... and seem to be pretty hygienic (think Chicago airport toilets which have a plastic covering over the seat and is replaced for each person). This was a different system but similar concept. Seriously, was so impressed!! Definitely many times better than the ones at Yosemite, which I remember my travelling buddy saying "ho chau ah... ho chau ah..." (it smells.. it smells). hahahhaa.
Fly back to Kunming to visit another cultural/historical exhibit and other places (silk factory, pu er tea place). I did buy something afterall (my parents went crazy...) ... but something useful! A silk blanket... since I'll need a blanket after all!
Flew back to Hong Kong... was very happy to be... "home"?
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Drove from DaLi to LiJiang and area - Another historic area, discovered after 1996 when a 7.0-earthquake shook the area, and then was protected by Unesco as a world heritage site.
The historic town itself very pretty, apparently well-positioned and designed when it was originally designed by the then-"urban" planners. A lot of [bai] peoples are there. Now, LiJiang is transformed into a bustling tourism environment. Tourists get a kick out of the "bar street" where it is a line of bars and every night, the local minority peoples sing "dueling songs". The minority groups are all known for their local vocal music... so singing is a very big thing. Saw a local show to introduce colours and costumes of the minority peoples, not too bad.
Went to visit a park in order to catch a glimpse of the "jade dragon snowy mountain". This mountain is mysterious because it is snow-capped, yet, because it is so high, the clouds always cover it... the tourguide indicated that out of the year, you can only see the snow a third of the time. Unfortunately, it was raining and cold when we went... didn't see the snow. [Of course, seeing snow-capped mountains is a BIG deal for people from Hong Kong...]
Went to a popular beautiful park by the city. A lot of locals go there for a morning exercise or walk.
We met this old 87 year old woman doing exercises. They are in good shape!!
It's been a couple of weeks since I've visited China, so, finally, here are some of my experiences. I went with my parents and my aunt. We joined this tour with my mom's old childhood friend, who went on this trip with a large not-for-profit organization that she was involved with. [My mom was also very involved with it back in the day.] The organization actually had an objective to promote cultural exchanges, so we visited a lot of cultural and historic memorials. Also, everyone on the tour pretty much knew everyone else (except for my family), which probably made for a generally better tour than otherwise.
Rundown of the tour:
Fly to Kunming from Hong Kong, toured a historic event memorial, had dinner, and stayed for the night. It was much cooler than expected! Thankfully, no one got sick (it was ~14 degrees and felt much cooler because it was rainy... but we were wearing our Hong Kong clothes).
Drove to DaLi (~ 4-6 hours??) - An economically thriving city in Yunnan. Three attractions: (1) a traditional (rather wealthy) "Bai" people's house, very decorative, beautiful stones. The natural stone design paintings were very nice. (2) The three towers temple. Because of the economic wealth, the temple area was completely renovated. Amazing greenery surrounding it. (3) A historic market [recurring theme =p]
I thought these gigantic incenses were pretty funny. =p
My mom wanted a picture with all the monks, haha