Adventures with a Passport: Hong Kong & China

Adventures with a Passport: Hong Kong & China

 

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Taken in Kawloon along Victoria Harbor looking across at Hong Kong’s Convention Center.

I am 24 years old and for the first time in my life, I left the United States. Hong Kong is about the last place in the world I expected I would travel first, but off I went. I traveled for work with my coworker with the goals of attending an industry expo, meeting with our company at our Hong Kong office and visiting the factory. Fortunately, we did also have one day to ourselves to explore, shop and site see. I am hoping to do more traveling, abroad and domestically and I hope to keep up a little log of my experiences, here we go:

 

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Taken after I devoured 3 servings of Peking Duck.

Favorite Taste: We enjoyed five Dim Sum meals with our Hong Kong office. Think of Dim Sum as Chinese Tapas, plates of varying sizes meant for sharing that are served on a Lazy Susan table. While visiting the factory in Mainland China we had my favorite dishes. Peking Duck, which is sliced duck on top of cucumber and a chip that reminded me of a Pringle, wrapped in a thin pancake dipped in Hoisin sauce, I hope I can find that in the US. The crunchy chip, the refreshing cucumber and the delicious duck that was filling without being too rich.

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The Hong Kong skyline is at its brightest and most gorgeous just after it rains.

Favorite Site: The skyline of Hong Kong at night from the Clock Tower in Kowloon. Just a short 15-minute walk from our hotel was this walkway along Victoria Harbor. From there you can see the gorgeous convention center, Victoria Peak, the Ferris wheel and all the lights that make up Hong Kong. It’s truly unique to be able to have a skyline view from any point around the harbor making it just a gorgeous place for an evening stroll.

This gorgeous chandelier hung all the way down to about 8 feet off the ground.
This gorgeous chandelier hung all the way down to about 8 feet off the ground.

 

Favorite Smell: During our stay we heard that from the top of the International Commerce Center you can eat dinner and look out over Victoria Harbor, we had to go check this out. Turns out it’s also the Ritz Carlton Hotel- we fancy. We rode the elevator 103 floors up to a cozy bar and lounge. The entire hotel smelled like vanilla and was so warm and inviting, I immediately felt comfortable and relaxed. A pleasant change from strange food and pollution smells I found in other parts of the city.

 

 

 

 

Favorite Touch: Victoria Peak is the highest point in Hong Kong. You can ride a tram all the way to the top to visit the sky deck and get a full view of Hong Kong, Kowloon and the surrounding areas. Even though it was raining on our one day to site see, the view looked something like this:

Super cloudy because of the rain you couldnt even see the trees or buildings close by and in the distance.
Super cloudy because of the rain you couldnt even see the trees or buildings close by and in the distance.

So we ate lunch there and then checked out what the shop venders had to offer. I found several scarves hanging against a wall and proceeded to feel all of them. Silk. Cashmere. Cotton. All so soft and so beautiful, I stood for several minutes touching and modeling a few before making my selection.

Favorite Sound: As many of my friends know, birds are not my favorite animals, but the birds in Hong Kong were a welcomed noise. Amongst the blaring horns and congested traffic, it was simple to hear birds chirping. Simple is a strange way to describe a sound, but hearing a bird sing in an otherwise developed area reminds me to stop and look around and take notice of where I am.

One place I didn’t mention that was a very cool experience was the fish market. You’ll question yourself getting out of the cab because it looks like you’re about to walk down an alley, which you sort of do. You’ll pass a few restaurants and fruit venders before seeing fish tanks with lobster, crab, shellfish, sharks and other local catches. I know what you’re thinking, but it actually doesn’t smell too fishy as you walk by.

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You wind your way through an open-air fish market where fisherman will try to sell you fish as you walk by. Behind or next door to the tanks you’ll notice restaurants. These are Dim Sum style restaurants where you select your order not off a menu but by choosing the fish from the tank. The fisherman kills the fish and the restaurant prepares it. I was not present when they picked out the fish, but the experience and the food was delicious and something I’ll never forget. If you have a hard time looking at a cow and then going to eat a cheeseburger, maybe not the place for you, but for everyone else, definitely check this out when you’re in Hong Kong.

I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to travel abroad for work and also have the opportunity to take time to be a tourist. I know this is a perk not everyone gets to enjoy. Should you ever find yourself in Hong Kong, have a great time, I know I did.

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ARCHIVE: Just like in College, Keystone is still a Bad Choice

Although TransCanada proposed this tar-sands oil pipeline in 2009, President Obama is now getting pressure from politicians, TransCanada, environmental groups and gas and oil companies to either approve or dismiss the Keystone Pipeline Project. The proposed pipeline will bring tar-sands oil from Hardisty in Alberta Canada down through the Central United States to Montana, Nebraska and Texas oil refineries. According to the Keystone Pipeline Project’s website it will cost the United States $5.3 billon, but when have these projects ever stayed under budget.

The support for this project comes from the job creation for construction workers, maintenance crews, and office positions for towns where the pipeline travels through and we will be able to import less oil from foreign reserves. TransCanada plans to use thicker piping and “horizontal directional drilling” to go under instead of through and major rivers that they cross in the process. This will hopefully protect wildlife and ecosystems should the worst happen. Deep Water Horizon had sustainability plans too when they first started. They made sure that the valve was easy to shut off in case of a leak and they had a budget for clean up. British Petroleum paid over $400,000 million just to individuals in the Gulf area for their business or individual losses. This does not include money spent to clean up the spill, restore wildlife habitat, pay for quality testing of seafood or the money paid later to bring tourist back to the Gulf coast. All while they took a reputation hit from consumers.

The tar-sands oil reserve in Western Canada represent the third largest oil reserve in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The Keystone Pipeline will carry 830,000 barrels per day to its refineries. Americans are using about 700,000 barrels of oil a day but our consumption continues to increase by about 3% every year. We keep finding more oil reserves to fill our consumption but this pattern is not sustainable. The focus of the Keystone Pipe is to help reduce American dependency on foreign oil but the real problem is that we are addicted to our consumption lifestyle. Eventually there will be no reserve large enough to fill this need.

For the Central United States where the majority of the construction will take place, TransCanada says it will bring in jobs and boost economies in the towns where the pipeline passes through. TransCanada already has several offices and has built a relationship with towns in Nebraska but during a case about landownership for the project Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled against a law that was created in 2012 allowing Governor Heineman to have final say. This puts another issue up for debate and will prolong the decision even longer. TransCanada has said that they will proceed to mine regardless of if the pipeline passes, they will just have to figure out another way to transport the tar-sands oil to be refined.

With the project still being debated, why does this matter to us? I see it as showing both good and bad signs. As I mentioned earlier, the fact that the Keystone Pipeline was even proposed shows that priorities are not on green energy or sustainable practices but finding ways to continue with how we’ve been fueling our machines for over a century. While standards for emissions on cars have improved with better gas mileage and technology it hasn’t brought our carbon emissions down. The good news is that this was not an automatic yes from anyone. Even Nebraska who has worked closely with TransCanada for years is skeptical. It shows that there is resistance to the idea that continuing to use oil might have consequences. President Obama made a point of having the EPA conduct an Environmental Impact Statement, which tests to make sure that during and after the project the quality of the environment is not harmed.

As consumers we can try to reduce our carbon emissions by driving less, recycling plastic bags and products, parking the car and go into the restaurant instead of the drive through and other reducing practices. As this the decision on this project unfolds there will be more to debate and talk about regardless of the outcome.

ARCHIVE: Plastic Water Bottles and Albatross Birds, What do They Have in Common?

This post is originally from April 2014. 

On March 4, 2014 San Francisco, California became the first large city to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on public property. THIS IS HUGE! San Fran will begin to phase out single use plastic water bottles of 21 ounces or less over the next four years, they have considered large events and have made a waiver available for events, business etc where water would otherwise not be available.

Resistance from water bottle distributors and the American Beverage Association claim that water bottles are recycled after their use and that consumers deserve to drink water in whatever form suits their needs. They have a point. Consumers do have the right to enjoy something as necessary as water whenever and however they’d like, but there is a problem with plastic single use water bottles. They are not getting recycled. According to the EPA only 28% of plastic were recycled in 2012. Of the 14 tons of plastic produced that year, that’s nothing. If consumers were actually disposing of their water bottles properly cities like San Francisco and Concord Massachusetts (also banned plastic water bottles beginning of 2013) would not feel the need to put up such a ban.

These bans get at a larger issue, the behavior and habits of people and how it impacts the environment. In the United States, vast majorities of people are comfortable in their consumption patterns. They buy what they need or want and often don’t give a thought to what happens after they’re done using it.

Photographer Chris Jordan made a name for himself in 2009 when he decided to go to Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean to photograph albatross. As Jordan began taking photos he noticed that the decomposing birds were not dying of natural causes. In the stomachs of these birds Jordan found plastic bottle caps, lighters, bits of left over plastic bottles and other trash that made its way to sea. These birds were choking on the material they or their parents had found out in the Pacific Ocean for them to eat.

Photo by Chris Jordan in his “Midway: Message from the Gyre” collection.

Currently in an area about the size of Texas over 1.9 million bits of plastic per square mile sit in what is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Trash is not only floating on the surface of the water, but heavier pieces of trash are sinking to just below the surface where it is interfering with other marine wildlife such as birds, turtles, whales and fish like tuna. Simply by choosing not to drink water from plastic water bottles or always bringing a reusable bag to the store, we can reduce the amount of waste produced and reduce the amount of trash that ends up in the environment.

Photo by Telegraph Co. in UK. Plastic washed ashore in Hawaii where plastic bits currently out number the grains of sand on the beach. 

Also in 2009, the Climate Leadership Initiative, and a few other contributors, came out with “Climate Communications and Behavior Change” explaining how one of the next challenges in sustainability is not developing the technology, but getting consumers to understand why they should choose sustainability. This article mentioned the “Take-Make-Waste” system that consumers use today. Our taking of resources is happening faster than the natural system can produce resources, our making of products is not lasting long enough to make the taking worthwhile and the waste is contaminating the resources we already have. Worst part is we’re all guilty.

The best part is that we can do something about it. Really? Yes! We’re the problem and so we can fix it! We can use San Francisco and Concord as examples. Take an issue, and these are complex issues, that’s for sure, and think about how you contribute to it. Do you buy water in plastic single-use water bottles? Do you recycle materials that can be recycled? One part of the student organization that I volunteer with is educating people and organizations so they know what items are and are not recyclable (see my discussions here on Beacon for a list of common items and how they should be disposed).

It might be overused, or maybe forgotten, but Reduce- Reuse- Recycle goes a long way. Reduce: the resources we use and that’ll solve a lot of these complex problems. Reuse: making what we do use last longer and go further for us. Recycle: let’s find a way to put materials back into the system. These issues are difficult to handle and might seem daunting at times, but if we take things piece by piece and each of us does our part, the problems will start to unravel and become easier to solve.