Saturday, January 25, 2014

Friday January 24
                Today we woke up in Singapore at the Red Dot Hostel and promptly boarded a bus to take us to Port Dickson Malaysia. On the way we had to go through customs and immigration because we were leaving Singapore to go to Malaysia. Getting out of Singapore went very smoothly. However we ended up waiting a while at the entry point to Malaysia because unfortunately Xin only had a onetime entrance visa to get into Malaysia. As a result Xin had to go back to Singapore and will be meeting us in Seoul, Korea.
                Our bus ride ended at about 5 pm at a peaceful beach resort called the Golden Sands Baptist Retreat. It was a refreshing change to be out of the city and be able to relax and go swimming in the ocean. We all hung out that night and some of us went out on the beach at night and did some light painting with our newly acquired laser pointers and Kent’s camera. Overall, the day was a good time for reflection, as we did not have any real plans or a big city to explore. It was a great way to end the trip, as tomorrow we will be travelling thirty hours between three countries.

Saturday January 25
                Today is our last day in Malaysia and our first day of traveling. The morning was spent packing and making sure that nothing was left behind. Some people took the opportunity to swim in the ocean one last time, others took advantage of the wifi, and the rest hung out in an air-conditioned room until our bus arrived. Then it was off to Kuala Lumpur to see the Petronas Towers before we left.

                Though we only had about four hours to spend in the city, I took advantage of it as much as I could. After getting dinner and exploring the mall a little bit, I left the area to go check out the KL Tower, a building that looked similar to Seattle’s Space Needle, and the park that surrounded it. Overall, though I didn’t have as much time as I wanted, I got some good pictures and visited as much as I had time for. I write this from our first flight of three that we will be taking over the course of the next day and a half. It has been a wonderful trip, but I am looking forward to getting home. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 21 to 23

By Pete Larson and Brady Huston

January 21:

Today the majority of the group spent a morning at the Batu Caves in Malaysia. After the Caves, we proceeded to Singapore by bus and made our way to our first hostel (Footprints). We arrived fairly late in the evening, and most of us wandered off a few blocks from the hostel and grabbed dinner at local restaurants.

January 22:

In the morning, we originally planned to go to the Gardens by the Bay, but after hearing that we could spend many hours there, we decided to see some of the key sights in downtown Singapore, and save the Gardens for later. We saw the Merlion statue, which looked exactly how it sounds. After we saw the amazing Bayview Hotel, we checked out of our hostel around noon and made our way to the Little Red Dot hostel, which was quite a walk in the humid heat. After we changed hostels and cleaned up a bit, we went to the Gardens by the Bay. It was breathtaking. The mixture of manmade structures and natural vegetation filled us with awe. The two greenhouses which housed a huge arrangement of flowers and a man made mountain with a waterfall were truly something to behold. I think many of us wished to have as much time as possible to take in the sights there.

In the evening, many of us went to the observation deck of the Bayview Hotel, and even managed to catch the sunset. We had the opportunity to see the lights change from day to night from a bird’s eye view, and it was breathtaking.

January 23:

In the morning the group visited the Institute of High Performance Computing, where we learned about what the instituted does with regards to technology and innovation. They also gave us an interesting tour of Fusion World ( ) which looked to be something out of Star Trek, but with realistic modern inventions. 

After that tour, we made our way to a zoo in Singapore which was home to many exotic animals, such as giant pandas, red pandas, an assortment of monkeys, and many others. We went on a brief “river tour” which highlighted some of these rare animals.

After the river tour a small group stayed at the zoo for what was called a “night safari.”  The night safari consisted of many things including a few shows displaying the nocturnal animals of the zoo and dancing (occasionally with fire).  There were also foot paths and a tram ride that took you around to all the nocturnal (or evening) animals of the zoo including hyenas, bats and otters.  

January 18th-20th

January 18-20

Saturday, January 18:

While many people in the group partook in different activities during our time in Hong Kong, for us the day included a visit to the island of Lantau. We took a quick MTR (the subway-like train public transportation) ride from Tsing Yi, our leaving point for each day, to Lantau. The first thing we did there was visit the Big Buddha, one of tourist attractions in Hong Kong. Many people in our group visited this site during our time here.

Afterwards, we took the bus to Tai O, a fishing village on the coast of Lantau. There we saw mangroves, stilted houses, and a traditional market. We also experienced a moment of cultural naivety, or as we put it, had a "cultural fail." We saw many 10 cent coins (the equivalent of about a penny) as we walked down the street and picked up each one, thinking that someone had carelessly dropped a lot of coins. After picking up at least ten each, some people about our age told us the coins had been dropped purposefully-- they were 'for the ghosts'. After googling the topic thoroughly, we still don't know what this practice means or where it comes from. (If anyone knows, please feel free to let us know!)

After leaving Tai O, we rode a bus along the southern coast of Lantau in search of a specific business where we could rent kayaks. The beach that we were looking for is many miles long and we did not know specifically where we needed to get off the bus. Eventually, we got off on a hunch that we were close. After speaking to an American expat, we learned we were just a few minutes walk away from the area we were looking for. We found the kayaks (some others in our group also spent time kayaking while we were in HK), rented them, and spent an hour or so kayaking around the area. The beach was beautiful and was mostly populated by local expats. It was very nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of populous Hong Kong for a little while.

Sunday, January 19

On Sunday morning, the majority of our group went to a church service at the Methodist church in downtown Hong Kong. This included a wonderful, comical pastor from England and multiple singings of Amazing Grace. After church, there was a delicious Filipino lunch. For many, the highlight of this visit was having the opportunity to talk to and spend time with migrant workers from the Philippines. These women were hard working and inspirational. Most of them spend 6 days a week working for pay (at least half of which they generally send back home) and spend Sundays volunteering at the church.

We also spent some time exploring Hong Kong Island by bus, all the way from Central (the main downtown area near the Western coast) to Stanley (an area of the island near the Eastern coast). At Stanley we found a touristy market and a bustling, developed waterfront. Like most of Hong Kong, it was a beautiful area.

On our way back, we decided to stop at Victoria Park to explore it a bit. There, we encountered enormous numbers of Muslim women gathered in the park. We couldn't decide if it was a festival, special event, or just a gathering. After some research, we found that Victoria Park is the place where most of the Indonesian migrant workers (nearly all women) gather for picnics and to socialize with their friends on Sundays (their day off).

In the same area, we observed multiple peaceful protests. Many people in our group noted similar protests in other areas of Hong Kong today. With a language barrier, we were unsure of what was being protested, but we think some of them had to do with justice for migrant workers and others protesting live organ donation currently occurring in mainland China.

Today, our group also had the adventure of taking the ferry which travels between Central and the small island we stayed on, Ma Wan.

Monday, January 20

Today we awoke early to catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL). Upon arrival, we waited for our luggage for a while then went through customs and immigration. Afterwards, we took two vans to a centrally located hotel, Hotel Sentral Pudu.

We took public transportation to dinner, which included a VERY crowded monorail which was out of some of our comfort zones. Most of the group dined at an Indian restaurant recommended by Kent. He enjoyed a short time in the culture which he grew up in and we enjoyed having him around to help us order the very best things! The food was delicious!

After eating, we had the chance to visit the Central Market. There were many food vendors and clothes vendors outside and much more inside. Some people in the group bought fruit at a small fruit stand. We have enjoyed being adventurous with trying exotic fruits on this trip including mangosteen (Kent's favorite), lychee, dragonfruit (which turned our tongues BRIGHT purple), rambutan, starfruit, and passionfruit. Cheryl even bought us all some stinky durian to try! My best description of the taste is onion combined with over-ripe mango.

By: Lauren and Lauren
Thanks for reading along with us!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 15th-17th

Wednesday, January 15th

After a full day in Shenzhen on the 14th, we were given a free day in Hong Kong on the 15th. Some groups went shopping and sightseeing and enjoyed the local markets and cuisine. Yours truly and a group of three others took a trip to Ocean Park Hong Kong, a local theme park and zoo. The bifurcated park is connected by a cable car ride that gives spectacular views of the South China Sea and the park and was well worth the hour long wait to ride.

The theme park was complete with roller coasters, ferris wheels, and spinny rides. Our first ride of the day was called 'The Hair Raiser', a roller coaster that gave you an upside down view of the South China Sea.

After several rides the group indulged in some local fair food. We all ordered hot dogs, complete with tomato meat sauce, onions, and lettuce. Not quite your average fair hot dog. Vendors were also selling popcorn, noodles, and fried squid.

In addition to the theme park were several animal habitats. We got to see everything from penguins, to an artic fox, to sea mammals, to a dolphin show, and to our favorite, two giant pandas.

Ocean Park is also home to the largest indoor aquarium, containing more than 5,000 different fish and sea creatures. We even got to pet a starfish. At the end of the day there was a sound, light, water, and pyrotechnics show called Symbio, that told the story of how two fighting dragons of water and fire came together in peace and harmony. The show was spectacular and was a great way to end a fantastic day at the park.

Thursday, January 16th

Today a group of nine students went to Mong Kok to enjoy an afternoon of karaoke. We were given a private room to ourselves for four hours. The room included six microphones and two flat screen T.V.'s.  Lunch and endless songs were provided for the afternoon. We sang the best classics of American history at the top of our lungs.Time flew by and everyone left feeling like it was an unique experience that we were all happy we were able to enjoy.

Friday, January 17th

Today we took a day to sleep in and relax in the morning before meeting up for a Dim Sum brunch. Dim Sum is a local Cantonise cuisine made up of many different types of small dishes of steamed buns and rice noodle rolls containing various ingredients. Of course our Dim Sum meal was also served with tea.

After Dim Sum, we all hoped on the MTR and headed to Hong Kong Polytechnic University to meet with professors and students for a software company visit. The company we visited is named Abacus. They specialize in software for travel solutions and travel bookings. They partner with Asian-Pacific Airlines and travel agencies to provide time and cost efficient travel options to consumers. We were given a two hour presentation on their business practices and development.

After the presentation we were free to spend another night exploring the city. My group went to visit more of the local markets and sat down for dinner at a local congee & noodle restaurant off Nathan Street. I got a huge bowl of noodles, greens, and broth for only $20HK or less than $3US. It is always great to end the day with a full belly of delicious local food.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 14, 2014

Today we spent most of our time at Shenzhen University (SZU) and later we went on a tour of a Lenovo factory. Since both of these places are located in China, we had to go through customs in order to leave Hong Kong. While we knew that it would take a while to travel from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, China, we didn’t anticipate it would take 3 ½ hours; we thought that we would arrive in Shenzhen by about 10:30, but because we were traveling by train we actually arrived at 11:15am.

 Just outside of customs, we were greeted by a group of students holding signs reading “Welcome Dear Guests From Whitworth University.” The students seemed very excited to meet us and talk to us about our lives in America. While we talked, the students led our class to SZU’s Math and Computer Science building for formal introductions. The introductions began when the professors from Whitworth and SZU exchanged gifts, and the professors from SZU presented information about the Math and Computer Science department and degree programs. Our professor Kent Jones, gave a brief presentation on the similarities and differences between Whitworth’s Math and Computer Science programs.

Once the formal introductions were complete, the students from SZU led us on a campus tour. We took many group photos with the university students and the staff. SZU campus has the most scenic campus we have seen so far on this trip. There was a large pond and many surrounding areas where students could study or relax outside. The student guides from SZU showed us a few of their buildings including a room with real time stock market information and their library.

After the tour of the campus we were served a family style lunch with some of the most high quality sea food on the trip so far. We had whole crab legs, clam, fish, and a whole chicken. SZU’s hospitality surpassed the kind of hospitality we would have experienced in the United States. Although an extravagant meal may have not been necessary, I think it displays Chinese hospitality, even toward foreign guests.

When we finished our meal, we met with another group of students from New York to visit a Lenovo Factory. For those who don’t know, Lenovo is a computer manufacturer (think Dell, HP, etc.). Before we entered the working area, we received lab coats, hats, and shoe covers for safety reasons. We were also told that no pictures were allowed inside the factory, but we managed to sneak a few pictures of the workers from afar.  We saw two floors where graphic cards and card readers were manufactured and tested. The smaller components are first placed on the circuit board and the board is heated, melting solder to hold the components in place. Larger components are applied through the process of wave soldering. Other parts of the board, apart from circuitry, are applied by factory workers on an assembly line. The last part of the process involves testing. Upon passing this phase, the card is packaged and shipped to another location. The tour guide said the factory was able to produce about 10,000 cards per day using the process they showed us.

As the tour ended, we said our goodbyes to the New York and Shenzhen university students and staff. Some students from our class exchanged contact information with other students in order to keep in touch with the friends that we had made today. After making it back to Hong Kong everyone began to split into smaller groups to enjoy dinner and free time.

-- Hannah Cruze & Brennan Metzelaar

January 13, 2014

                Today was fairly free since only the first half of the day involved a scheduled event. After breakfast everyone went on a tour to Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), then after eating lunch at the university the rest of the day consisted of free time to explore, journal, and to enjoy the country of Hong Kong.

Upon arriving at Hong Kong PolyU, the professors welcomed us into a conference room and introduced themselves to us.  They also had a brief presentation about their university, programs, and interest in foreign exchange students. They offer many graduate programs, including programs for Liberal Arts students as well as math or science majors. They showed a great deal of interest in student exchange between schools and thought was important for students to broaden their experiences by living in a different culture as well as learning how different people around the world live. The university recommended that students do an exchange program for a semester to get what they called a “taste” of another culture. If the student enjoyed the experience, then they would be welcome to apply to one of the many graduate programs. Regardless of whether a student did an exchange program as an undergraduate or not, the professors explained that the graduate programs are available to those who are interested. As the presentation concluded and questions were answered, the professors led our group to research labs to view projects that graduate students were working on.

The purpose of touring each lab was so that students could get a better idea of what graduate projects are actually like. In one demonstration, there was a miniature model of a city block. On different parts of the map they had cameras set up along a model of a road. They would track miniature cars driving along the road using cameras which were designed to trace specific objects. When the car began to leave the range of the first camera, the next closest camera would look in the direction of that car and continue to follow it. While the project itself seems fairly simple in concept, the potential for this research to be used in every day traffic settings is incredibly high. For instance, this technology could be adapted to our own traffic systems to locate stolen cars, monitor high speed chases, or find known criminals. However, others could also argue potential privacy issues that this new technology could bring.

Another lab demonstration was researching the ability to create what I would label as an “automated house” or a “smart home.” Instead of a typical lab with computers, tables, and research material, it appears that you have just entered into someone’s dorm or apartment room. The lighting is soft and warm; there is a neatly made bed in the far left corner, a TV and couch to the left of the room’s door, and a sink with appliances in the center right of the room. This “smart home” demonstration most likely gained the greatest interest. Essentially, the researchers use infrared to allow devices (TV, coffee maker, etc.) to “talk” to one another. For example, let’s say you set your alarm for 6am, around 6am the following could happen: 5:50am the coffee maker starts, 6am the alarm goes off, bed rises and a projector turns on displaying the calendar for the day with a voice that announces each scheduled task for the day. With the technology that we have today, an automated “smart” house has become fully possible. In fact, they have integrated the core hardware and software for this home system into nothing more than an internet router. While this is a rough draft of what could be, the tangible potential made everyone eager for more. Sadly, the demonstration concluded and we finished our trip at Hong Kong PolyU by eating lunch in their cafeteria.

 --Hannah Cruze & Brennan Metzelaar

January 12, 2014

Although today was a free day, most of our class decided to tour the same areas. We went to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, the Chi Lin Nunnery and gardens, and in the evening we met up again for the Symphony of Lights.

                Our first stop was the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, located in a village near the Sha Tin station. Admission to the temple is free and there are signs warning about scams and false monks just outside the entrance of the monastery. Sure enough there were “monks” outside of the entrance asking for money in exchange for a Buddhist blessing and a bracelet. You can avoid scams by refusing to engage with the false monks, and as long as you keep walking the false monks are fairly harmless.

                Beyond the entrance of the monastery are steps leading up to the main temple. Lining the steps on either side are statues of Buddhist monks, each one of them with a unique face and pose. Although the walk to the temple is relatively short, it is a fairly steep climb. However, pausing to take a picture of a statue is a good excuse to take a quick break.

                The main temple is located at the top of the stairs. Before the entrance there is a large cauldron-shaped pot where incense can be purchased and burned as an offering. The smell of incense was the first thing we noticed as we reached the top of the steps. Just outside the temple there is a small restaurant. Orders are sent to the kitchen by clipping a slip of paper to a clothespin and sending it downstairs on a clothesline.

                Inside the main temple there are over ten thousand small Buddha statutes – twelve thousand eight hundred to be exact. Each statue is about one foot tall and is shaped into a different pose. All the miniature statues are inset into the walls of the temple. In the center of the temple there is a large Buddha statue where people can kneel pray to ask for a blessing. People do not necessarily have to be practicing Buddhists to do this ritual. In front of the large Buddha statue is a table containing offerings of fresh fruit such as oranges, grapes, or apples. A member of our class said he saw a monkey sneak into the temple and steal a vine of grapes. More monkeys were seen on our way up to the temple and we saw a maintenance man with a broom scare away a curious monkey.

                The group’s next destination was the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens located near the Diamond Hill station. Inside the temple area of the Buddhist nunnery we could hear the beating of a drum and the chanting of Buddhist monks. There are also four Buddhist statues along each wall of the temple square. The statues have different meanings, such as a statue for wealth, good fortune, guardianship, or grief. This has been the first time we have seen practicing Buddhists on the trip, and it was very peaceful to hear their chanting in the middle of a scenic garden.

The Buddhist nunnery is also famous for its wooden architecture, manicured gardens, and bonsai trees. We noticed that the bonsai trees were shaped by attaching wire from the branches to the trunk of the tree, or by using small metal poles to support the branches. There seems to be an ideal shape that the trees must conform to – a long and thick lower branch and smaller, shorter branches near the top. Some of the trees are reminiscent of mountains; others look like trees from a Dr. Seuss book. In a room outside the monastery there is a building containing wooden models of Chinese architecture. The models are very impressive because of the amount of detail and accuracy placed into the replicas. Even though the models are on a smaller scale, some of them can be very large. The largest model was about eight feet long.

Just outside the nunnery was the Nan Lian Gardens. This area had a less manicured feel, but was still very peaceful. There was an expensive tea house in one end of the garden serving rare and exotic types of tea. The price one cup of tea was anywhere from $180 to $360 HKD ($25 - $50 USD). There was also a nice looking restaurant at the other end of the garden with a waterfall cascading from the roof to a pond below. The experience made us forget that we were in a big city, even though there were tall buildings looming just outside the gardens.

                Our last activity as a group was the Symphony of Lights at the Hong Kong Cultural Center. The city stages the light show every night at 8:00pm, and it lasts for about 15 minutes. We met at the Cultural Center because it offered the best vantage point for the show. We stood on a balcony of the Hong Kong Cultural Center and saw the city lights stretch out in a 180 degree arc along the coast of Hong Kong Harbor. Although the light show has a famous reputation, many students from our class felt that the reputation of the show preceded the actual performance. The show consisted of green lasers and bright lights mounted on top of five of the tallest buildings. These lights were synchronized with music and are used to represent the power, energy, and diversity of Hong Kong. Many students were somewhat disappointed with the show and felt that it would have been better if more buildings had been involved. Other students simply appreciated the view of Hong Kong’s city lights reflecting against the water and felt that watching the city from beyond was a worthwhile view, regardless of the light show.

    While today was a very busy day, I felt that our class was able to experience two sides of Hong Kong’s culture. On one hand, the Buddhist temples and gardens show that Hong Kong values its cultural traditions, religious rituals, and art. On the other hand, the Symphony of Lights uses technology and art to celebrate Hong Kong’s growth and advancement. Personally, I feel that today is a reflection of Hong Kong’s ability to preserve the past and look ahead to the future.

--Hannah Cruze & Brennan Metzelaar