Touched Down in Taipei

September 2nd, 2015 by under Semester, Taiwan. No Comments.

I just arrived in Taipei, Taiwan – the city that will become my home for the next five months. I am both excited and nervous for this journey ahead of me. I have been waiting to study abroad for so long and cannot believe the time is finally here!

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Flag of Taiwan (taken on my previous trip)

University of Maryland offers so many unique and diverse study abroad programs – there is certainly something for everyone! Personally, I knew that I wanted to study somewhere in Asia, as it is an emerging growth region. Taiwan eventually became my top choice because I traveled to the country last year and fell in love with the simple and service-oriented country.

Like many people who study abroad, one of my top goals is to become more independent. University of Maryland is about half an hour from my house so it will certainly be a huge change living halfway across the world.

Additionally, the language barrier poses as an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone. While I know a decent amount of Mandarin Chinese (the main language spoken in Taiwan), I certainly will need to quickly pick up on many more phrases and the pace at which locals speak. Plus, I have aspirations to be able to work abroad at some point in the future, so this experience will give me tons of practice to move towards (hopefully) becoming bilingual.

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My first lunch in Taipei: Lu Rou Fan (Braised Pork over Rice)

And lastly, my stomach is ready for all the delicious and amazing food!

Let the adventure begin!

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Let’s Talk About Australia… and Your Next Destination!

August 24th, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

Re-packing my clothes on the last night in Sydney was a surreal experience.  Not only because I found so many lost artifacts in my respective “clean” and “dirty” piles of clothes on the floor, but because this was it: I was going home.

Now I’ve been back in the U.S. for a few weeks, and I’ve had a chance to calm down and get used to Safeway and Giant over Woolworths and Coles. But it’s no less surreal to be back. I won’t be cheesy and say “it all felt like a dream!” or something like that; it doesn’t. No dream can be as vivid as working at my company, or as fun as staying at our lovably malfunctioning apartments, or as crazy as spending the weekend in cairns.

But because I’ve had all those experiences, I’ve got to have some expertise on the subject of what to do, right?  Maybe I’ve got some advice for you or anyone you know going to Australia.  I should have a clear list of what was the most memorable part of my trip, like a “top ten things to do before you leave Australia” list.  Yeah??

Nah. It’s like if someone tells you to “say something funny.” Where do you even begin? I loved so much about my temporary home, from the friendly people to my workplace to all my crazy friends I met there, I just can’t narrow everything down to a few moments.

If you’re looking for activities to do in Australia, I’ve got plenty to suggest. Visiting Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and Sea Life Aquarium, having a bite at a traditional coffee shop in Melbourne, going snorkeling, diving and skydiving (though please not all in one day) in Cairns are all absolutely incredible experiences.

But just because I enjoyed them that doesn’t mean you need to do them.

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I’ll see you later, Sydney.

That’s why I have to say, if you’re going to Australia (or anywhere), the best advice I can give you is to explore. I didn’t mention it much in these blog posts (I didn’t know how to put it into words!), but some of the most magical experiences in Australia have been just wandering around various cities with no plan, discovering anything and everything they have to offer.  Maybe it’s a tiny shop selling LPs, or a restaurant with $5 steak nights, or even one of several locations that offer salsa dancing nights, or something else entirely! But no matter what it was, it was so incredibly worth my time.  If this trip has taught meanything (and trust me, it has), it’s that travelling is all about exploring your location in person, not just planning it out.

So go forth! If you visit Australia (or any new place), spend a day for me that’s just an exploration.  No planning: just walk around and find something new.  Because having an experience like that is simply amazing, and it’s the one thing that I absolutely insist everyone does at least once, no matter where you go.

 

Thanks for reading my crazy ramblings these past few months, and happy travels, everyone!

– Sammy

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Let’s talk about The Rocks

August 10th, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

cruise liner in circular quay

A view of CIrcular Quay. And no, that’s not just perspective, that ship actually does dwarf the Opera House.

Well, it’s about time I wrote a traditional blog post.  So let’s talk about The Rocks: a low-key but glitzy part of Sydney that overlooks the Circular Quay waterfront, the Sydney Opera House, and the occasional Carnival cruise liners that lounge in the harbor.

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Does it matter what the non-dessert half of their menu is? No.

First off, I’d like to talk about your new favorite restaurant: Pancakes on the Rocks.  Except in the case that you dislike pancakes (and in that case, please return to whatever planet you came from), you have no excuse to not love this place.  Are they open 24 hours?  Yes.  Are the pancakes whipped to perfection?  Yes.  Do they have half of their menu dedicated to dessert pancakes?  Oh hell yes.

Of course, there’s more to The Rocks than one restaurant.  Like I mentioned earlier, the Rocks are also one entryway to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a famous bridge in Sydney that connects central Sydney to North Sydney, and it is a fantastic bridge to walk (or bike) across at any time of the day, as it gives you probably the next best view of the Opera House after Circular Quay and The Rocks.

Why second best?  Well, you can’t get much better than the view from next door.  The Rocks stands right next to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”), the bay where the Opera House resides, and it’s truly a marvelous view from there too.

But despite all of that, perhaps one of the most interesting things about The Rocks is its Aroma Festival, a festival held on July 26th that allows coffee baristas to rush out of their cafes and set up stands in the streets where floods (and I mean floods) of people join them to taste their coffee, hot chocolate, and a few other assorted “delicacies” like fried corn.

Boy, I could talk for days about this area of Sydney, but I think I should leave it there for now!  Let me just say that the next time you’re in Sydney, I’d highly recommend taking a peek at some places to visit around The Rocks.  You just might love what you see!

 

 

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The Final Whistle and Goodbyes in Sydney

August 7th, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

Jamie WongBy Jamie Wong

Although this may be my last post about the Australian Internship Summer Program, the memories will not be forgotten. The following guide will act as list of activities to help fill up your itinerary but it also includes some useful tips for students traveling in Sydney. Please keep in mind that these are based on my experiences here on this study abroad program. Also, I highly encourage everyone that has the opportunity to travel and go on this program for all majors. At first I was hesitant and did not know what to expect…but this turned out to be one of the best learning experiences outside the classroom I have had.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents, the Smith School and everyone that was involved to make this happen. Also a HUGE shout out to the fourteen others I traveled with here from Maryland and no one can take the unique experience away from us. While traveling, remember to stay adventurous, reflect on your experiences (like becoming a blogger :D), make the most out of your free time and expand your global mindset!

Here is a comprehensive travel advice that I thought that might be useful for anyone that is reading this:

My favorite scenic spots to see in Sydney

  • Take a stroll around Circular Quay – the views overlooking the harbour, the harbour bridge and the Sydney Opera house are stunning whether it is in the morning, afternoon, sunset or night time
  • Bondi to Coogee beach 5 km walk – Relatively flat for most parts and incredible scenes along the way; there are lots of free swimming pools which are pumped straight from the ocean water which is really clean
  • Manly beach – take the ferry from Quay 5 towards Manly Beach, there is a great lookout point, beach is filled with extremely fine sand, great place to chill/hang out with your friends

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(Top left is the mussels I had at a nearby restaurant at Bondi beach; the rest are photos are the coastlines and Bondi Beach – if you look closely there are tons of surfers on the waves)

Good Eats (There might be a bit bias towards Asian foods but there is such an great variety of food choices in Sydney

  • Tim Ho Wan (Chatswood)– it is a bit far from the city but it is the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world with excellent Chinese Dim Sum and high quality service; Vanessa spilled soy sauce all over the seats but they had 3 waiters to help clean
  • Chat Thai (CBD)– they have the best Thai curry dishes I have had in Sydney, savoury fried noodles and for dessert – Mango Sticky rice is a must
  • Criniti’s (Darling Harbour) – this is really cool because of their meter to 3 meter long pizzas which can be shared between 4-10 friends
  • Pancakes on the Rocks (Near Circular Quay but they also have one at Darling Habour) – if you miss American fluffy pancakes, burgers and fries, this is the place to go

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(the delicious short stake pancakes at Pancakes on the Rocks)

Shopping Spots and Deals

  • Patty’s Market – a place for fresh veggies and fruits; also great for gifts for friends/family for a reasonable price
  • Macquarie Shopping mall – During June they have lots of sales because it is the before the end of the tax season
  • Hunter Valley – they have amazing soil conditions given from the volcanic activity conditions and short winters help grow incredible grapes (Shiraz, Sauvignon, Verdelho, Cabernet are the famous ones)
  • Glebe or Paddington Market – food stalls and hipster clothing for fairly cheap prices; good place to pick up some books, espressos if you are a coffee fanatic and value for money goods

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(Hunter Valley Oaks Barrel at one of the vineyard we visited – the 2011 and 2014 Shiraz was excellent and full of rich flavours)

General Tips

  • There is no free wifi provided at the accommodation and acquiring their internet services is quite expensive – go to UTS’s library and use eduroam with your UMD login details
  • To save money on transportation – take as many rides as you can in a day to take advantage of the free rides after 8 trips. E.g. Some of us will take the bus during lunch breaks or get off at a different stop coming home from work to save some cash (savings up to $15 dollars a week)
  • Speak to as many people as you can and make friends – it will enhance your experience here, where it is talking to random people at a bar or playing some pick up soccer on the beach, making friends with a local or other tourists that are travelling will make you feel less like home; we met other students that are also on study abroad programs from other universities

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(The 2015 Australia Summer Internship Program Group)

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A Case for Chatswood

August 6th, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

Chatswood, a town in north Sydney, has quickly become one of my favorite places in Australia. This news may be surprising, given the fact that I work in Chatswood, however this area has so much to offer in terms of local culture and culinary options. It isn’t the most popular Sydney attraction, but if you have time come to Chatswood.

A perfect showcase for local culture and culinary options is the outdoor market on Thursdays and Fridays. Options range from Taiwanese pancakes, to Turkish flatbread, freshly made churros, and Japanese takoyaki batter balls.

There are three huge malls in the Chatswood. A vast range of restaurants surrounds these malls. I was able to explore the area during my lunch breaks. Not only did I have some great meals, but also walking around I truly felt immersed in the day to day Australian culture.

If you’re coming to Chatswood and only have time for one meal I’d recommend Tim Ho Wan. This dim sum chain is lauded as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world. If you’re on a budget, try the cheaper, but still good, dim sum alternative New Shanghai.

My favorite food court is a tie between the Lemon Grove Café and The District. The District is where Tim Ho Wan is located and has an excellent Ramen restaurant called Ippudo. The Lemon Grove Café has some great options for noodle soup.

My favorite Thai restaurant is Khao Pla. Their pork belly with broccoli, fish in a banana leaf, and sweet and sour pork ribs are all excellent. Also, one of my other favorite restaurants is Marukame Udon, which hand makes Udon noodles everyday.

Handmade Udon noodles and vegetable tempura

Handmade Udon noodles and vegetable tempura

If you have the time, Chatswood is an interesting stop. Come for the food and stay for the opportunity to immerse yourself in culture.

More restaurants:

http://www.broadsheet.com.au/sydney/food-and-drink/article/ten-under-10-chatswood

http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/eat-street/a-foodies-guide-to-chatswoods-victoria-avenue-20141003-10orly.html

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The Intern Life at Nielsen Australia

July 30th, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

Jamie WongBy Jamie Wong

The first day when I started working for my internship in the Finance department at Nielsen in late June, it was a really nerve-racking day. The dress code at the company is pretty casual and the director in Finance told me that no one would even put on a tie here. I was a bit overdressed but now I can even show up with a sweat shirt and jeans to work unless there is a meeting!

Every morning I catch the subway from Central Station to Macquarie Park using my Opal Card (A tap on and off card that you can top up with money for all local transport in Sydney – every 8 rides a week and you will get the rest of all the trips free). Macquarie Park is a business park with lots of big name companies such as Cannon, Emerson and Foxtel. Nielsen is about a 5 minute walk from the Macquarie Park station, nearby there is the Macquarie Center which is a mall just a short distance from the company which is a great place for lunch and shopping. They are strategically located further away from the city as companies need more space and it is less costly – Nielsen have over 250 employees here at this office.

The everyday life at the office is quite consistent and there are so many opportunities to learn from the finance team. In order to get the best out of the experience is to always ask questions and be keen to learn. I have also learnt that it is important to have a good work/life balance because it is not possible to be productive if you are over loaded with work. This is one of the main aspects of working in Australia is that they understand how to crack a joke in conversations here and there.  It really makes the environment so much more enjoyable to work in. Here is a list of the work culture I noticed:

  1. There are birthday lunches for the finance team and they order in a platter of food from the café across the street
  2. When the long serving receptionist left the company – they had the entire company to join her for a surprise get together with cake and snacks
  3. From time to time they have these “Nielsen Connect events” where they encourage employees to get together e.g. Poker Fridays, Soccer world cup between departments, Nielsen Art day (employees bring in art work related to office life and they vote on the best piece for gift cards prizes), Business updates where we get to hear the CEO speak
  4. Flu shots before the winter season hits and flexible with sick leave
  5. Employees can work from home and leave early if they need to pick up their kids from work
  6. Always keen to teach and give trainings to each other
  7. Soccer on Tuesday and Thursday – I play for a Nielsensations team at the lunchtime legends league against other company’s team in the business park

* Here is a picture of our team when we lifted the lunchtime legend trophy – Shane and I are on the left and made valuable contributions throughout the season

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Australian Animals

July 26th, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

Australia is famous for its deadly animals (spiders, snakes, man of wars). I’m glad I overcame my fears because animals are at the focal point of some of my most awe-inspiring (and terrifying) memories. Hopefully you can get past the fact that I discussed food in my last post. While Australia has an abundance of wildlife, Port Stephens, Phillips Island, and the Great Barrier Reef were especially spectacular.

Coming to Australia, the two (animal-related) things I was most excited to do were see a kangaroo and go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. To my dismay, there were no kangaroos hopping around the airport when I arrived. In fact, it took a couple weeks to even spot one (I guess some Australian stereotypes aren’t true).

My first kangaroo sighting was at a wildlife park. He was massive, towering at around six feet. There was also, a myriad of birds, wombats, koalas, and penguins at this park. However, my favorite part was feeding the wallabies. Wallabies are basically mini-kangaroos (see picture below). I got an ice cream cone full of grass and went up to different wallabies. Like most people would, the wallabies mostly ignored the grass and went straight for the tasty cone.

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This guy adorably snatched the cone from me!

Another time I saw wallabies and koalas was in Phillips Island. Our guide was telling us about how the tourism industry is affecting koalas. Koalas spend around twenty hours a day sleeping; they need to conserve energy because the Eucalyptus leaves they eat need a lot of energy to digest (see source). Some companies make a business out of allowing tourists to hold koalas. According to our guide, this puts a lot of stress on koalas and drastically reduces their lifespan. At the wildlife park we were able to take pictures with koalas, but only those that were feeding; the ones that were sleeping were left undisturbed. In most Australian states, it is illegal to hold/cuddle the koalas, but some still allow it.

The highlight of Phillips Island was the penguin march (not to be confused with March of the Penguins). This is when penguins come out of the water and onto the beach to mate. While you might be imagining the penguins from Happy Feet, this particular type was called Fairy or Little penguins. These penguins are about a foot tall and have a dark blue coat. My classmates and I watched as the penguins tentatively came out of the water in groups. Sometimes, they would timidly exit the water only to immediately dive back in. Once out of the water, the penguins moved as one shimmering cluster past the rocks. Then, they lined up and marched up the beach (no dancing unfortunately). Regrettably, we were unable to take pictures, as this would disturb the penguins.

Port Stephens was another place with a wealth of wildlife. I got to ride a camel around a desert. In addition, my friends and I climbed down into a pool and feed small reef sharks and stingrays (including a 700 pound sting ray named Rasputia). Finally, we went whale watching and spotted some seals.

One of the main things I wanted to do in Australia was go to the Great Barrier Reef. My family and I are avid snorkelers so I was excited to see what the Great Barrier Reef had to offer. I snorkeled three times at different points in the reef. Each time was spectacular, although, as the wind picked up, it got progressively harder to motivate myself to get into my freezing wetsuit. But it was worth it; I saw huge rainbow colored parrotfish, angelfish, sea cucumbers (vacuums of the sea), surgeonfish (named for the sharp bone in their tail they use to defend themselves), and countless others. The most beautiful thing was the reef itself. Coral of all different colors, shapes, and sizes. The craziest thing I saw was a six-foot reef shark!

Unfortunately, the shark swam away before I could take a picture.

If you love animals, Australia is the place for you. If you have the opportunity, go the Great Barrier Reef, Port Stephens, and Phillips Island. I got the chance to see a kangaroo, feed wallabies, watch koalas, see penguins marching, ride camels, whale watch, and swim with sharks. However, I’m still searching for Nemo.

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Let’s Talk About Seasickness

July 23rd, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

I’m one of those weird people.  Someone with a clearly malfunctioning inner ear who enjoys things like roller coasters, drop towers, and other things that fling you around violently.  So it stands to reason that I thought our recent, stormy trip the Great Barrier Reef was absolutely fantastic.

Things started off calmly enough, with cloudy skies and an innocuous breeze blowing by as we boarded the boat.  A buffet of bite-sized blueberry and chocolate chip muffins happily greeted us as we stepped inside, with more foods being prepared for lunch and even afternoon tea.  Seriously, if any place has afternoon tea, you know they’re putting on the ritz.

And thus our sudden change of fortune caught us blindsided.  Soon enough, the food was safely stowed away while waves rocked the interior cabin.  I thought this was just fine, and placed myself in the front of the boat, holding onto the metro-like railing hanging from the ceiling as we were thrown about.  But other, more rational people… weren’t faring as well.

Those guys sat in little rows in the back of the boat, exposed to the elements (since any air can help with seasickness. Supposedly.).  Hunched over, they (presumably) tried to ignore how we bounced along the waves in a fashion more similar to a jetski than the medium-sized ship we were actually riding.

A not inaccurate depiction of our trip

None of this was totally unexpected.  At the counter beside the buffet stand, the crew members were hawking ginger tablets and more heavy drugs to cope with seasickness like street vendors. Hell, barely before our ship’s engine had gurgled to life, one of the lead crewmembers declared to us with a grin, “I’d say ‘bout sixty percent of you’ll be sick before we get to the reef.”

Obviously, he was right.  And while the snorkeling itself was truly amazing, I think that’ll only be half the trip I remember: the other half will be holding onto the railing and munching on a muffin as the roiling sea threw me about.

And to be honest, I think the rest of my fellow snorkelers will also remember their trip in a similar way… for better or for worse.

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A place you must visit in Melbourne – The Great Ocean Road

July 22nd, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

Jamie Wongby Jamie Wong

If you are travelling to Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road tour is definitely recommended and a must do!

On weekends away from our global marketing class and company visits, our professor allows a generous amount of free time to explore the city. Instead of being lazy in our comfortable Sheraton hotel beds and walking around the same places in city center of Melbourne, a group of us went on a day tour to check out The Great Ocean Road in the southern coast of Australia.

That morning, our 5 star hotel breakfast at the Sheraton was rushed and many of us were not in the greatest of moods as we had to get on the bus at 7:15 a.m. We hopped on the bus and headed towards the south western part of Melbourne. As we drove towards the suburbs, some of us caught up on some sleep as the night before we had stayed up all night watch the Champions league final. It was very interesting to see the transition of the modern streets in the city to quickly changing into incredible scenic landscapes as we drove towards the coast and our destination, the Great Ocean Road.

Our first stop was the Great Ocean Drive. As soon as our group got off the bus, it was freezing cold but luckily our tour guide greeted us with hot beverages and snacks. Although the instant coffee packets are not comparable to the espressos we had in Melbourne, we were content with it as it gave us the much needed warmth.

The great ocean drive runs along the coast and due to its geography, there are many bends and corners. It was a bumpy ride but the anticipation and excitement of viewing the twelve apostles got us through without much complains.

Also, our stop for where we had lunch overlooking the ocean and the lighthouse. It was quite cold and windy out but it was an incredible experience to be able to enjoy a meal with friends, with the feeling of sitting at the edge of the continent.  The lunch was simple with sausages, salad and pasta but it tasted so much better because we were starving and needed the calories to keep ourselves warm. One of the memorable moments of that day is when Venessa’s entire plate of food flew across the table and hit Eric in the stomach due to the winds.

Twelve Apostles

When we reached the famous twelve apostles (Above is the photo of this natural wonder in this part of the world), the tour guide told us there are actually only eight left today. A few stacks of rocks have already fallen off due to the constant contact from the waves. We took many pictures and selfies from probably every possible angle, shared on our different social media sites.

The night ended with a long ride back to the city and we were exhausted by the end of it, but it was all worth it. Do as much as you can while you are travelling to a new city because it is hard to have another opportunity again.

 

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Let’s Talk About Being PC in Australia

July 7th, 2015 by under Australian Internship, Summer Break. No Comments.

F___ing Dave!”

Little phrases like that are the reason that I just know I’m in the right workplace at my company in Australia.  In no way would you ever hear anything like that at a U.S. office space (usually, at least), but Down Under, where most things to do with freedom of expression are more relaxed, it’s not uncommon.

And yeah, freedom of expression is very relaxed here.  Not just in their rampant bashing of their politicians and celebrities, but also in simple day to day interactions like the one I referenced above.  Where else would you find a waiter who literally sits on your table before asking for your order?  And where else would your co-worker unabashedly come up with a scheme bordering small-time item-kidnapping to better know some mystery lady?

Waiter with champagne

Not exactly the Australian standard.

In general, Australians are all about saying what’s on your mind  This was something I realized as I watched my coworker glare at her screen, saying the first two words of this blog post not in a frustrated mutter under her breath, like someone would do in the States, but rather in a very audible grumble that turned the rest of the office’s heads and left me in stitches.  Nobody thought it was weird or out of place aside from me (after all, everyone curses in the office, as I later realized), but they were simply curious as to who had done what now.

That blew my mind at the time, and I’m going to be perfectly honest here:  I think this is really great!  Obviously, this can lead to some confrontations with people who aren’t used to the Australian culture, and this will still offend some people who are part of their culture.  But personally, I think it’s kind of a relief to not worry about being PC all the time; to be in a place where maybe you have a bit more freedom to say what you want.

And to think: I’m arguing that Australians have more freedom of speech in their culture than Americans.  If you’d told me that before I came here, I’d say you were crazy.

But now that I’m here, I’d say you’re goddamn right!

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