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NEW WEBSITE!

Thank you to EVERYONE who has supported me as a blogger during the past year and a half. Now, I have great news! I have officially moved my website to:
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www.twentyandcounting.com

Please update your bookmarks! I look forward to seeing you at my new website!

With gratitude,
Lauren L.

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President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in January 2011

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at Howard University urging American students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities in China. It’s all part of President Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” which aims to increase the number of students studying in China by making it more affordable through scholarships and programs. It was launched during President Obama’s 2009 trip to China, and unlike other initiatives, it relies solely on private-sector donations.

 

Michelle Obama speaking at Howard University last week

During her speech, the First Lady emphasized that “studying in countries like China is about so much more than just improving your own prospects in the global market. The fact is with every friendship you make and every bond of trust you establish you are shaping an image of America projected to the rest of the world.”

As someone who studied abroad in Hong Kong, I fully support this initiative because studying abroad is the most humbling, life-changing experience. In fact, I urge college students to take advantage of these opportunities to study abroad in China – or anywhere in the world. You will not regret it.

Sometimes, it’s hard to explain in words how much my life – and world perspective – changed after studying abroad. Yet I’ve come up with a few things that I learned during and after my experience:

1. Living in a city is different than visiting.
When you live in a city for an extended period of time, it’s a completely different experience than being a tourist for a few days. Living in a city forces you to mingle with the local people – in restaurants, marketplaces, riding the MTR or public transportation, and school. When this happens, you learn about their culture, mannerisms, values and language. For me, riding the MTR every single day was one of the greatest learning experiences for me. I observed and listened to the Hong Kong people, and after a while, I began to blend in with them. You don’t get to experience this as a tourist.

2. You develop a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude.
When you live in Asia, you witness all levels of living conditions from rural villages to metropolitan cities. I was given the opportunity to teach English in Zengcheng, China (see post here), backpack throughout Vietnam and Cambodia (post here), as well as visit thriving cities such as Seoul and Shanghai. When you travel to these cities, you develop a deep sense of appreciation for everything you have in America: freedom, democracy, a stable government, education, and endless opportunities to follow your aspirations and dreams. After witnessing some rural conditions, especially in Cambodia, it made me reflect on these simple freedoms that I took for granted beforehand.

3. China is now a major focus of the world – and the future.
China is a country filled with opportunity and adventure, especially now because it is a major focus of the world. Companies are moving to China while others are growing exponentially, the economy is booming, and opportunities are plentiful. By studying abroad in China, you can experience firsthand what it’s like to live there, and you can immerse yourself in this pool of opportunity.

4. Mandarin is the world’s most spoken language.
More people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese than any other language. English is the second most spoken language. While in college, I noticed that more and more students were enrolling in Mandarin classes, especially those from the USC Marshall School of Business.

5. Learning a new language can be beneficial for your job hunt after college.
What better way to learn another language than living in a city where it is spoken all around you? Textbooks and classrooms can only teach you so much. Using the language on a daily basis is KEY to becoming conversational and fluent. When you learn a new language, you become that much more multi-dimensional. It looks great on job applications.

6. Our world is becoming increasingly inter-connected.
With the internet and social media as powerful forces, our world is becoming increasingly “smaller and smaller” (not literally, but figuratively speaking). People are now connected more than ever, news travels fast, businesses and companies are working together overseas, and the need for people with international experience is a plus. When I was abroad, I met so many European and Americans living in Hong Kong with various companies. They all told me it was important to immerse yourself in the growing global economy. Studying abroad is one way to do this, so take advantage of these opportunities while you’re young!

7. You learn to become independent.
When I reflect on my time abroad, I think the biggest transformation was becoming more independent. A more independent thinker, decision-maker, and person overall. I will forever be grateful for this experience. When I left Los Angeles for Hong Kong, I didn’t know anybody. I had never lived anywhere else besides LA, and that is all I ever knew. I was going into unchartered territories. But when you’re living in a new city, you’re forced to make your own decisions. You have to ask for directions on the MTR. You have to ask taxi drivers to take you to your next destination. You have to order food at local restaurants, and ask others for good recommendations. It opens your mind and soul to your own personal capabilities, and it brings out the best of YOU.

8. You make lifelong friends and share a special bond.
I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for meeting the most incredible group of friends in Hong Kong. My experience wouldn’t be half as wonderful had I not met these people. We explored the city together, ate together, traveled around Asia together, and had unforgettable memories. You form a special bond with these people that nobody will understand because it is an experience that only you went through. Even after this experience, we share memories and get together as much as possible. We will forever share a very special bond that cannot be explained in words.

Can you believe it’s already 2011? The holidays passed by so quickly, but they were filled with good times, good food, and good laughter as always. This year, I was the designated “family holiday card designer”, so I created a collage with some of our travel photos from this past year. We did quite a bit of traveling: my younger sister Danielle volunteered in orphanages and schools in Burma and Thailand over the summer, my other sister Dayna worked in a medical clinic in Honduras, and my older sister went all around Costa Rica. It was a snippet of our year in review!

Hopefully everyone had a safe and wonderful holiday season. December updates are coming soon….but for now, a holiday card from my family to yours!

DETOUR Hong Kong 2010

When: November 26 – December 12, 2010
Where: Victoria Prison on Old Bailey Street in Central
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 12 pm – 7 pm
—  ——Friday – Sunday: 9 am – 11 pm
WEBSITE: http://www.detour.hk/index.php

Last year's DETOUR was held at the old Married Police Quarters in Central. Exhibits were displayed in small rooms on boths sides of the building.

DETOUR is an annual large-scale event that showcases avant-garde design and artwork from local Hong Kong talent and international artists. To me, it is a testament to the rapidly emerging art scene in a city filled with diversity and creativity. DETOUR is a two-week series of events with a main anchor site filled with exhibitions, public art displays, and interactive installations. This year, the anchor site is the old Victoria Prison in Central. It is transformed into a splendid public space for artwork, design and music; something you wouldn’t necessarily expect in this old building.

The most impressive part about DETOUR is the intelligent use of public space for showcasing talent. Last year, DETOUR’s main anchor site was at the old Married Police Quarters in Central. It is an abandoned building, but they transformed it into a vibrant and bustling space. I was absolutely blown away by the numerous small exhibits with interactive art and design.

If you have the chance, I absolutely recommend visiting DETOUR this year. It will leave you with a greater appreciation for design, shapes, art, color and most importantly: creativity and imagination.

Here are some photos from last year’s DETOUR 2009:

A room filled with interesting flourescent orange bubbles!

Photos representing Hong Kong. In this photo, it depicts the hustle bustle of the MTR.

Public art. These artists are painting a large mural for public viewing.

 

 

Ho Choi Seafood Restaurant
3-4/F, China Resources Building
26 Harbour Road
Wan Chai, Hong Kong

My friend Kitty took me to dim sum at Ho Choi restaurant, located in Wan Chai. It was quite delicious, so I went back and took my friends when they came to visit Hong Kong. Ho Choi may be a bit tricky to find because it’s in the business district surrounded by several office towers, hotels and government buildings. Just look for the China Resources Building and it’s on the third floor.

Most dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong offer the standard dishes that you’ll find everywhere. However, many places have their specialty dim sum dishes that you won’t find at other restaurants. Ho Choi’s specialty dishes are quite flavorful and unique. You should try an array of dim sum, including their delicious dumplings in soup broth. The preparation and presentation of dim sum is fabulous at Ho Choi and the food will surely satisfy your stomach!

Kitty and I. She knows about all of the great food in Hong Kong!

Pigeon

Reece's favorite food: pigeon!

I also took my friends to eat dim sum too.

A sweet and sour-type sauce to pour on top of crunchy chips

One of their specialties: wontons in a flavorful soup broth

Halloween 2009 in Hong Kong

Crowds, crowds, and more crowds. If you’re planning on celebrating Halloween in Hong Kong, most people head to Lan Kwai Fong to take part in festivities. Unlike most nights here, you’ll see people of all ages from young children to teenagers to adults. Here, they come to people watch, marvel at elaborate costumes, and simply take part in this fun holiday.

But beware! The crowds are enormous. You won’t be able to mingle freely around the area. Instead, the police set up barricades and people are herded into the area and out of the area. There are SO many people cramped together that it almost seems like we’re a herd of sheep. Last year, it took us about one hour to walk through the area. Lan Kwai Fong is a great area for people who have never experienced Halloween in Hong Kong, but it’s quite hectic! My friends and I went to Lan Kwai Fong, then headed over to Wan Chai to meet up with our Japanese and Korean friends. It was much more low-key, but still very fun!

Cats for Halloween!

 

Entering Lan Kwai Fong

As you can see, there are so many people crammed together to walk through the area.

 

Some people dressed up as Jabawokeez, a popular dance crew from the United States

A mother wanted us to take a photo with her children

Another fun event around this time is the Ocean Park Halloween Bash. Ocean Park is a normal theme park, but during the month of October, they transform it into a Halloween-themed area with spooky mazes, special on-stage shows, and monsters, goblins and scary creatures are all around the park trying to scare you. It’s a fun even that only comes to Hong Kong one time during the year!

One of my articles was recently published on CNNGo. It’s all about the most delicious, mouth-watering food in Tai Po, Hong Kong – a true hidden gem in the city. CNNGo is one of my all-time favorite websites because it gives you an in-depth, insider’s guide to traveling in Asia! Click HERE to read my article!