The “Last College Post”

College was like a roller coaster. A really fast, bumpy yet exhilarating roller coaster. You get off at the end wanting to go again but not sure if your stomach can handle it (or if you want to wait in the line again). So instead, you grab your belongings from the locker, check out the picture they took right at the drop on the ride that you know you are not going to buy, and carry onto the next ride. Or maybe grab a snack so you can buy time to look at the foldout map and decide where to go.

First semester Senior year could be described as “the beginning of the end.” Every event was marred by it being the “last (something).” The “last home football game,” the “last trip to Sarasota for fall break,” the “last time we’ll register for classes for our ‘last semester’ of undergrad’.”

Things got even worse second semester when the ticking bomb signaling graduation arrived and we all went a little batty. All of a sudden, it was ok to go out five days a week because “You are a Second Semester Senior!” You have a test at 11 the next morning? “Wake up and study at 7 a.m. because are you really going to sacrifice your “9th last Thursday night in the Grove” for that?”

Then came kickball. If you’ve never heard of WAKA it stands for the World Adult Kickball Association. In other words, a fancy acronym for a Sunday afternoon drinking league that just happens to also play some kickball. My team, the Recess Renegades, got off to a rough start but somehow that did not stop us from winning the entire thing.

Now I know you might be wondering if we were doing any work at all, and I promise we were! I was in a very strenuous Thursday morning class entitled “Yoga-based Stretching.” But really, I finished up my Exercise Physiology minor and Spanish major, continued tutoring athletes, led plenty of tours of campus as a part of Presidents’ 100, got certified as an ACSM Personal Trainer, and me and Joe ran our second half marathon in March.

A few weeks later, I participated in an all-you-can-eat sushi contest at RA where I came in second place for girls and ninth overall.

The album on their Facebook page caught the eye of a producer for Man vs. Food and before I knew it, I was shooting an episode of the show in Key Largo where Adam coached me in a conch fritter eating contest. Needless to say, don’t offer me conch fritters in the near future, but do catch the episode on the Travel Channel this July!

Since I had already finished up my broadcasting curriculum first semester, I kept up my work in the Communication School by anchoring and producing other packages for our weekly news broadcast, Newsvision.

I also was Co-Chair for Greek Week 2011 which took place the very first week in March. Me and a fraternity boy led an Executive Board in planning and executing what is one of the biggest Greek events at UM. We started planning in the Spring of 2010 so you can definitely call it a labor of love. In the end, we raised thousands of dollars for United Cerebral Palsy and I could not have been more proud.

I had avoided making the three and a half hour drive to Key West until I turned 21. Now that that was out of the way, it was time to see what the “Southernmost Point” had to offer and what trouble we could cook up on Duval Street. Signal Spring Break 2011:

Then fashion show was here before I knew it. I made that bittersweet walk down the runway for the last time with my dad on one arm and could not believe that it was finally my turn.

Soon enough, our parents were begging to know the plans for graduation weekend and we bit the bullet to get it all together. But beforehand, we had formals to attend. First in Miami. Then in Naples.

A couple tests and one 25 page Spanish paper later, I was done with school. Graduation weekend was a blur consisting of a group dinner at Rusty Pelican Thursday night, graduation Friday afternoon followed by a party for all of our friends and family at Tarpon Bend Friday night and then Claire’s birthday party hosted by her family at a house they had rented out in the Grove on Saturday. It really was an unforgettable weekend that I cannot imagine spent any other way.

All of a sudden, everyone was gone by the next Monday and reality sunk in. Within the next week, everyone would be packed and off to the next adventure. Everyone except me that is. Somehow, the one who swore she would never live in Miami other than for college has found a comfortable home in this hot place. It’s a crazy time for all of us but I rest assured knowing I have these wild and cherished memories to bring with me onto the next ride.


What’s Next?

Good question!

Before I left for Hong Kong I was so caught up in working (four jobs) that the trip really crept up on me. I would tell people where I was heading and told time and time again how lucky I was and how much fun I was going to have. I did not doubt that I would but had not fully grasped what the trip had in store.

Hong Kong never was on my “must-travel list.” In fact, I’m not sure I ever made that list but there’s definitely places I know I want to go (i.e. Greece, London, Buenos Aires, Thailand…) and yet, Hong Kong had never crossed my mind. Now that I’ve gone and had an amazing time, I wonder what other places aren’t on my list that deserve recognition. Let me know if you have any ideas!

Fortunately, the experience I had in Hong Kong will tide me (and my pounding feet) over for awhile. I will be boarding another plane to Iowa in a couple weeks for my cousin’s wedding but unless that includes skyscrapers, mass public transportation and dumplings stuffed with fresh seafood, that should be quite a different trip.

Hong Kong: The Shopping

Over the course of the ten days, we travelled via metro, taxi, shuttle, bus, ferry, and of course, by foot. Almost everywhere we went, we always left from a mall. I’m telling you I have never seen a city with so many luxury malls full of people shopping any time of day. Not to mention all of the shops lining the streets and city centers. It really is a shopper’s paradise and why I warn my dad to not let my mom (or grandma) loose if you ever decide to visit. I found some new stores that I really like, most notably one called Goods of Desire.

My friends and I may be in the “real world” now but that doesn’t mean we can afford all nice things. Now, instead of being “broke college kids” we are now “cut-off unemployed adults.” Pick your poison.

That’s why we headed to the markets for the best buys. I’ve always heard Claire talk about the Ladies’ Market and was eager to check it out. While I knew I didn’t need a bird at the Bird Market:

And was without a vase for flowers from the Flower Market:

I arrived in Hong Kong with a underweight suitcase and was ready to fill it up so embraced the cheap prices on clothing, shoes and jewelry at the Ladies’ Market. I swear I saw dresses selling at Free People for $108 for $10 at shops here. Necklaces going for $30 at Urban Outfitters, $3 here. I’m not sure I can every look at shopping in the United States the same.

After, we headed to the Jade Market where you could really bargain. I was able to cut most prices offered to me in half without too many problems. Looks like those spring breaks spent haggling in Mexico really paid off.

I’d have to do the math, but I am pretty sure the plane ride to Hong Kong and back to buy a new wardrobe every year might be worth the price you pay.

Hong Kong: The Food

So I’ve recently developed this new and exciting love for food. Just kidding. Well, not about the love for food but anyone who knows me knows that I am ceaselessly infatuated with trying new foods, reading about chefs, restaurants, traditions and pretty much anything having to do with gastronomy. In fact, you may not even have to know me for very long to realize this, as I learned last week when the DirecTV man decided to demonstrate how to use our new cable box solely in the “food” section of the guide featuring Food Network, Cooking Channel, Bravo, etc. Seems as in the few hours he spent at our apartment he caught onto what I was listening to, working o, and talking about enough to the point where he assumed those were my favorite channels. He hit the nail on the head but I admittedly was a tad embarrassed. But what can ya do?

Anyways, my trip to Hong Kong certainly did not disappoint in the food department. I was able to try some unique and authentic foods from all around. From my very first meal consisting of noodles and duck:

To bento boxes consisting of some of the freshest fish:

To a new twist on my favorite breakfast dish, Eggs Benedict:

I was in heaven.

I certainly can say that I have had enough rice (sorry Alex) and noodles to tide me over for a good month or so. You can probably add BBQ pork to that list too.

Just like any big city, Hong Kong has great restaurants featuring all types of different foods. In fact, I had some of the best Greek food I have had at Ricks. A juicy burger at Gourmet Burger Union. A Vietnamese sandwich, bahn-mi, at La’Taste. And my first meal completely of Dim Sum in Wan Chai (my favorite dish being the sweet steamed buns with pork inside)

I tried one of their most popular pastries, an egg tart, while shopping one day. Grabbed passionfruit bubble tea (to rival Lollicup Tea Zone) in Mong Kok and ate some new things too like water lily stuffed with rice, sweet bean curd and fried taro all at the monastery.

There’s one meal that stands out amongst all the others that took place Saturday night at a restaurant called Kaiko that is Teppanyaki, or hibachi. We went for a set meal that consisted of more food than I could’ve imagined prepared in brand new ways. We started with fresh sashimi of salmon, prawn and tuna. Followed by first taste of foie gras ever. I’ve always wondered what it would taste like and while it was good, something about the texture threw me off. Even so, we continued on with a delicious scallop, lobster and crab claws, tender steak, beef wraps with vegetables, other sautéed vegetables, a salad, miso soup and finished off with a lemon sorbet (our waiter knew that we couldn’t handle cake at that point).

One thing that stood out, besides the foie gras, was something that came on the garden salad. It’s what’s called the “ice plant,” It’s more or less a thick leaf that has little dew spots on it and really does taste cold.

I also fell in love with drinking tea at every meal and was impressed by the friendliness of the majority of waitstaff at every restaurant we went to. One unique part of going to a restaurant was the fact they gave each table (even if there were 7 of us) usually only two menus. This meant we either left it to a couple people to order for everyone or spent a long time passing the menus around until everyone had decided what they wanted. Usually, dishes were served family style on a lazy susan (my new favorite dining accessory) so there were usually plenty of dishes to share so everyone could find something they liked. Thankfully, my friends are also not too picky (but don’t bring dim sum up to Sophia) so we were all willing to try just about anything.

As of now, I say that I am going to start eating meals at home with chopsticks but we will see how long that lasts.

So no, I didn’t eat dog (sorry dad), try pigeon (sorry Kelly) or eat off a street cart (pretty mad at myself for that one), but I got to experience some new cuisine that I’ll carry with me forever. But I can’t lie, I’m excited for getting some Mexican food right when I get home.

Hong Kong: “Asia’s World City”

Graduation weekend was a whirlwind. Between the invasion of family members from all over, cherishing those final Grove nights and avoiding the imminent ending of college, it’s no surprise I made some hasty decisions.

Thanks to my amazing grandparents, I was able to join my five best friends from Miami in Hong Kong this past week. My friend Claire’s parents recently moved to the city for work so she has visited a couple times before. This time, her parents extended the invitation to all of us us and without knowing where I was going to be living or working after Friday the 13th (yes, that is the day I graduated on… Ironic?), I was hesitant to commit. But when my grandma leaned over the table at my post-graduation ceremony lunch at my favorite restaurant saying she would pay for my plane ticket as a grad present, I knew that I had to make it happen. My flight was booked before dinnertime and I could not wait to tell my friends I would be joining them in “Asia’s World City” June 8-18.

Now this more-or-less hasty decision landed me booking a less-than-convenient flight for the way back home. While my friends are enjoying a direct Hong Kong-Newark journey, I’m headed to Tokyo and then Tokyo-Newark, spending the night at a Marriot then eventually will be back in Miami by Sunday morning. The one plus to this long journey back? I’d say the time for much needed reflection of this last month (or entire last semester while we are at it). That, and when I land in Tokyo I can say I’ve been to Japan for the first time! Hopefully next time I can stay for longer though.

So let’s begin with Hong Kong. While I feel like I can write about the previous ten days for hours, chances are you do not want to read for that long so I’m going to do this in a few installments. Little blurbs about certain aspects about the city that will forever be engraved in my mind. This was my first experience in Asia and I had no idea of what to expect. Too busy working beforehand, I did not do my regular research that usually involves making long lists of places to go, foods to eat and noteworthy facts. Thankfully, we had two experts on hand at all time- Claire and her mom  (now a Hong Kong resident). Looking back, I cannot imagine getting around without them.

I left Miami a week and a half ago on a Wednesday. Now that college is over, we have all ended up in different places. Kelly was coming from Colorado, Claire from Delaware, Alex from Baltimore, Sophia from Connecticut and Chelsea from Tampa. We all congregated in Newark to make the trip across seas. We arrived to find that our flight to HK was delayed four hours but happy to be back in each other’s company, we grabbed drinks at the bar and waited for boarding.

We ended up sitting close to each other on the flight and about 14 hours later found ourselves greeted by Claire’s mom at the HK airport at around midnight on Thursday. After settling in at their wonderful apartment, we went to sleep for the evening but due to the timechange, woke up bright eyed early Friday morning, ready to climb Victoria’s Peak. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city around their apartment, SoHo and Central. We had our first meal of noodles then returned to their building to enjoy the gorgeous pool and spa. After a home cooked meal around a table family-style (something I regretfully realized I hadn’t experienced in some time), we headed out for our first night on the town in Lan Kwai Fong, much like the Coconut Grove of Hong Kong with a little more edge.

View from The Peak

First Meal in Hong Kong- Roasted Duck and Noodles

HK is made up of 235 islands accessible by ferries. We headed to Lamma Island early on Saturday and learned some of our friends are a little prone to sea sickness. Or you can blame it on Lan Kwai Fong, I’ll let you decide. We had a delicious meal consisting of a little bit of dim sum and some other Cantonese dishes. We hiked the perimeter of the island to the other side where we heading to the fishery to try our hand at hook-free fishing. I’d be lying if I said we caught anything. Then it was time to return home to get ready for a Teppanyaki dinner which I’ll get to in my food post.

Attempting to fish

Sunday brunch is my favorite meal and I might have had one of the best yet at The Verandah at Repulse Bay. It was a great way to start out the easygoing day that ended with pizza delivery and traipsing around SoHo in the evening where we met (much to Alex’s chagrin) cameramen from CNN.

When we awoke on Monday we headed to Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha, the largest brass sculpture of Siddhartha in the world and it was just that.

Tian Tan Buddha is it's official name, but Big Buddha is just more fun

Afterwards we explored and ate at the Po Lin Monastery on the grounds, an all-vegetarian but delicious meal. Once we got back to Central, we headed to a spa where everyone got massages and I went for a much-needed manicure and pedicure. Afterwards, we headed for a Vietnamese dinner where I had my very first bahn-mi.

There’s no denying people who live here love to shop (another post to follow). Tuesday was spent at the many markets beginning with the flower market followed by the bird, fish, Ladies and jade markets. We ended up going to Lan Kwai Fong again that night. Wednesday we did some more shopping in the boutiques of SoHo after climbing the peak followed by a full-on dim sum meal before the horse races at Happy Valley. I’ve only been to one other horse-track in my life and this was huge in comparison. There were so many people drinking pitchers of beer, a band performing and old men marking up their papers with the most recent statistics. We all put down some bets with Alex coming out as the biggest winner of the night.

Happy Valley Racecourse

After hiking Victoria’s Peak our very first day, we swore we would do it every day after that and return to the United States with super-tight legs and the fitness level of Lance Armstrong right before the Tour de France. For better or for worse, that plan went a bit awry but we still made it back up to the top on Thursday by foot and Friday by a very steep tram, and it really was a lot easier than the first time around. Since it was our last full day in the city, we decided to take it easy and returned back to the spa for foot massages and pedicures followed by Happy Hour at a place called Pure where they gave us free cosmopolitans from 6-8. After that, we headed out for a Greek dinner that was delicious. And we made it out for one final night in Lan Kwai Fong.

Friday we awoke not in the best of shape after the previous night’s activities but we still made it onto the TurboJet to get to Macau, aka the Las Vegas of Asia. In dire need to some food, we stopped at Sands Resort first but quickly after refueling headed to the Venetian where there was an awesome ice sculpture exhibited entitled “Fun Ice World.” I joked that any place that feels the need to put “Fun” in the title of the exhibition probably isn’t all that fun, but this ended up being a great time. Afterwards, we explored the shops in the Venetian and then tried our luck at the casino. We’ll just say that it was an excellent way to get rid of my remaining Hong Kong dollars so that I didn’t need to exchange any back to U.S. dollars at the airport…

Turns out Macau is a Portuguese colony and we tried out some Portuguese cuisine at Fernando’s Restaurant that was great. We returned home that night to pack and wallow in the fact that our trip’s end was looming.

Entertaining Sign at Fernando's

As cheesy as it might sound, I am so thankful for being granted this opportunity by Claire (and her generous family), to my grandparents for the plane ticket (and just being the best), along with my work for giving me the time off! I was so worried about graduating and jumping right into the workplace but this definitely made any anxiety obsolete. That just sounded like an Academy Awards speech.

Saying goodbye to my five friends in the Hong Kong airport was quite bittersweet. When we left Miami we knew that we only had a few short weeks until we would be reunited for this trip and now that it’s over, it’s hard to say when the next time we will all be together again. Even so, I’m grateful we will always have these memories (not to mention the past four years) to look back on and appreciate forever. Stay tuned for a couple more posts detailing two of my favorite things: food and shopping.

Hong Kong Love