Biking the Bay

After another early breakfast I began to make my way towards the waterfront with plans to rent a bike for the rest of the day. I took a longer scenic route to check out a few of the areas I hadn’t seen yet like China Town and North Beach. SF is known for its many distinct neighbourhoods; simply crossing the street can throw you from one of the nicest parts of town to one of the worst. Another thing that sticks out in San Fran is the prominence of homelessness. Homelessness is a complex issue but some of the major contributing factors in SF seem to be drugs and gentrification resulting from the tech boom.

From the waterfront, I set out towards the Golden Gate Bridge along the National Bike path that follows the water. I was lucky enough to have a beautiful clear day with views unobstructed by the fog SF is famous for.

  
Shortly after the end of the bridge, I came into Sausalito—a posh little bay village frequented by tourists from the city. I parked my bike for an awesome burger at a local restaurant and a quick look in the village shops.

The man at the bike rental office recommended that I continue past Sausalito to Tiburon—the next town over—for a more authentic Bay Area experience. This advice proved true, as I was the only person on the bike path for my hour and a half ride from Sausalito to Tiburon. The ride takes you through some very affluent residential areas along the water and right into historic downtown Tiburon. The quaint town has a lovely main street lined with upscale boutiques and restaurants. After checking them out and treating myself to a post-bike ice cream, I headed back into the city on the ferry which provides you with an up-close view of Alcatraz.

When I got back to the pier, I spent some time watching my new friends flop around on top of each other and retaliate loudly.

Afterwards, I headed back to my hostel for a quick power nap. I continued to be exhausted and amazed by the steepness of the city; from what I know, the hills are as steep as the cost of living. By the end of Tuesday, my fitbit said I had climbed 200 flights of stairs!

 

I finished my day off having dinner at the Dropbox HQ with a friend that recently started working there. Unsurprisingly, the office is beautiful and there wasn’t a single employee that looked over 30. 3 catered meals a day is pretty much standard at all the tech companies in SF; I was able to choose from 5 different hot meal options and a full beer fridge. I decided on steak that was prepared by a chef right in front of me. It was really cool to hear what it is like working in the tech capital of the world and San Francisco in general.

Strolling San Fran

I was up early with the time change and without my partner in crime Elai, I knew I had to get started on research for the best part of travel–food. I selected Brenda’s French Soul Food for its rave reviews; its popularity was confirmed by the 20 person lineup before it even opened the doors at 8. The fun atmosphere, friendly staff, pulled pork eggs benedict, and ghiradelli chocolate beignet did not disappoint. 

 
Afterwards, I went for a walk through the civic all the way to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies–made famous by Full House. Though they are lovely, they are definitely not the only ornate colourful townhouses worth admiring 

 
I walked back through a really cute up and coming area called Hayes Valley–filled with shops, cafes, and cool installations. I headed towards Fishermans Wharf to tour the waterfront and meet up with my friend from work. Of course it would have been wrong not to make a stop in the original Ghiradelli shop when passing through Ghiradelli Square.
 We headed towards Lombard Street–famous for its garden-lined switchbacks. Most cars driving the street were clearly tourists from their gopro filming; however the street is lined with real homes and  getting out of the driveway in a hurry would be impossible. I had heard prior to my visit that SF was hilly, and let me say that this is an understatement.

We hopped in Lisa’s car and made our way to Golden Gate park. The park is massive and the highlight for us was, without a doubt, people watching at the park’s outdoor roller rink. Next we strolled around the adjacent neighbourhood–Haight Ashbury–as per Lisa’s plane mate’s suggestion. The nieghbourhood is colourful to say the least and home to an eclectic mix of shops.  

We finished the night with amazing Greek food and were joined by Lisa’s friend from exchange. All in all, a great action-packed first day in SF with beautiful weather. 

Moab: 3 Parks, 1 Town

We had our hottest and scariest nights sleep yet at our new favourite campground. Around 4:30AM we woke up to some pretty bright lightning overhead; although it was a pretty awesome light show, we eventually decided it would be best to observe from the safety of the car. Once Kayley–our on-site meteorologist–had deduced (based on the trusty counting method) that the storm had travelled a safe distance from us, we returned to our tent. For the first time on our trip, we decided to stay at the same site for two consecutive nights. This was very exciting, as it meant no tent takedown or setup for one whole day! I had originally scheduled us for three days in Moab–one for each park–but our decision to stay in Zion an extra day meant we had to condense. This turned out to not be a bad call based on the close proximity of all the parks to each other in Moab.

Our first park was Canyonlands National Park just North of Moab. After our routine visit to the Visitor’s Centre, we settled on Neck Spring Trail since it was “desert scenery” vs canyon views (which we felt we had seen a lot of at that point). As promised, the trail covered 5.8 miles of dry, rocky, desert terrain, but had less spring action than the name suggests. Over the course of the hike, we drew many parallels between the trail and the landscape of the Lion King. Unlike other hikes we had done, the trail was less obvious–marked only by “cairns,” small inukshuk rock formations. Additionally, we did not cross any other hikers on the entire trail which was really nice.
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After 3.5 hours in what became blazing heat by the end of the hike, we were pretty beat by the time we made our way over to the park “next door.” We arrived at Dead Horse Point State Park with the best of intentions to complete another short hike, but fatigue had set in and the 37 degree weather had us longing for the AC of our car. We opted for a drive around the park to get out at the primary lookout points. Dead Horse was similar in landscape to Canyonlands; both parks are very well suited to not just hiking but also mountain biking and 4WDing. I later found out Moab is actually widely regarded as the mountain biking capital of the world.

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That evening we returned to the campground to start preparing the meal we had all been waiting for–breakfast for dinner. Caiti and ELai had taken on the Head Chef roles in the group with Kayley and I behind the wheel. After the first bit of pancake mix had been poured on the grill Caiti soon realized we had run out of propane. As it turned out, the first fire of our trip was created not by choice but out of necessity. 15 minutes of firewood collecting later, we were back in business with Caiti carefully cooking our pancakes over the fire; the adversity made them taste all the better.

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The next morning we headed for our final stop, Arches National Park. The park’s claim to fame is the fact that, as it’s name suggests, it is home to more than 2,000 sandstone arches. The most famous arch in the park–Delicate Arch–is featured on the Utah license plates. We selected a 4 hour hiking route that passed by 9 of the most famous arches. The trailhead is located 20 miles deep in the park and the drive through the park is very scenic in itself. A large portion of the trail was labeled “primitive” and involved scaling rocks and navigating the cairns again. The climbing around like monkeys part was definitely mine and Caiti’s favourite part, while it was a source of stress for ELai and Kayley.

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With that we set off for our final destination, Salt Lake City! We camped outside Salt Lake in the National Forest at a really nice campground. The only problem was that there was no showers so we decided to drop-in to a local Crossfit gym the next day to workout and, mostly, use the facilities. We enjoyed a great brunch at Park Cafe, walked around Temple Square and the rest of the downtown core, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the only place we could handle the heat, a waterpark of course. Salt Lake was much smaller than I had expected with a population of only 200,000 but it was a relaxing place to spend the last day of our trip. The Last Supper was spent at none other than Chipotle–somewhere I look forward to frequenting in TO!

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip before I get thrown into the real world! I was also reminded of how much fun and how cheap camping is–travel dollars go a lot further when you’re paying $4/night for accommodations!

“Of all the paths you take, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

Bryce Canyon National Park: Hiking the Hoodoos

From Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon was only a two hour drive–one of our shorter commutes. We arrived early enough to secure a campground in the park which was awesome, as we had had to stay at private campgrounds the two nights prior. Although private campgrounds usually have more amenities, they are far more expensive–$30+ vs. $15 at national park sites. Not to mention, they are a lot less “campgroundy” in general–closer to town, less spread out, and in one case a part of the Marriott (they’ve really started to diversify)? We were planning to make a fire and finally make some smores but ominous skies prevented us from following through with this plan. Instead we indulged in the uncooked version of smores, or what we coined, “Smores Tartar.”
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The hike selection process usually went something like this: myself and Kayley would look over the hiking section of the park guide, select the one with the most intriguing description, and present it to Caiti and Elai. The first question was always: “What is the rating?” The answer always seemed to be: “Strenuous” and was met my sighs, followed by a self-assuring comment that nothing could be more strenuous than the North Kaibab Trail. In our defence, we generally felt “strenuous” ratings were rather dramatic–based more on distance than actual difficulty.

For Bryce Canyon, we ended up selecting the “Figure 8 Loop” that combined three smaller loops–the Queens Garden, Navajo, and Peek-a-Boo. From the beginning of the hike we were in awe of the amazing orange rock formations called Hoodoos that fill Bryce Canyon. Our hike took us from the rim down into the heart of the canyon next to the base of the Hoodoos. We actually crossed more groups of horseback riding tours on the trail than humans.

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The entire park was much quieter than the Grand Canyon and Zion but was ranked number 1 park that we visited by two of my friends! There were different and gorgeous views around every corner of the trail that took us around 4 hours to complete.

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After a quick lunch we set off for a long 4.5 hr drive to Moab! The scenery along the way is extremely beautiful and the civilization is sparse. We stopped half-way at our shopping location of choice for the trip–Wal-Mart–to re-stock on groceries. After a very long campground search, we finally happened upon our best site yet!

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Zion National Park

The combination of jetlag and our early rise Grand Canyon schedule allowed us to get up bright and early to set off to our next destination–Zion National Park. We couldn’t resist stopping one (or three) more times for final views of the ginormous canyon we had just conquered. The views are different around every corner and definitely don’t get old.

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The drive through Northern Arizona and Southern Utah was 4.5 hours of stunning views. The entrance into the heart of Zion National Park is no exception; it takes about 20 minutes to navigate through postcard-worthy landscapes into the heart of the park. We arrived in Zion National Park around 3PM and headed to the Visitor Centre to scope out our best hiking option. All four of us were having some trouble walking post-GC as you can imagine, so we opted for a light route suggested by the ranger. Zion was definitely the busiest/most popular park we visited other than the GC; however, the majority of GC visitors don’t hike the Canyon so Zion actually felt the busiest. This is due, in part, to its proximity to Vegas, spectacular beauty, and also accessibility. The entire park is easy for people of all ages and fitness levels to explore with a wide range of walks and activities, as well as a free shuttle that transports visitors from end-to-end of the park.

The first stop in the park we made was Riverside Walk–a short trail that leads to what is known as “The Narrows.” We had heard from the rim-to-rim GC hikers that The Narrows was a very famous “bucket list hike” that took 8 hours to complete fully–and wasn’t the best place to be in a flash flood. Essentially hiking through The Narrows entails wading through 2-3 ft. of water in the narrowest section of the 1000ft walls of Zion Canyon. We definitely did not have 8 hours to spare and the moderate risk of flash flood (combined with our lack of watershoes) meant we couldn’t tread too far but we spent about an hour getting our feet wet *pun intended*. Pictures don’t do this place justice and I will definitely be returning to complete this hike!

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By the end of our short afternoon exploring Zion we were completely in awe of the park and made the executive decision to extend our visit one day longer to complete a famous hike we couldn’t stop hearing about–Angels Landing. All we knew about Angel’s Landing was that a section of the hike involved chains; in hiking this means that the chained portion is either very steep or a very tall drop off. The informational sign about Angel’s Landing advises that children and those scared of heights should steer clear of the trail; it also mentions that 6 people have died on it since 2004. Needless to say we were a bit nervous about it, but were on the trail by 8AM the next morning nonetheless. The sheer volume of other people on the trail is comforting, as its hard not to think “if they can do it so can I.” It took about 1.5 hours of very steep switchbacks to reach the beginning of the dreaded chain.

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Now I’m not going to sugarcoat this part–the entire 45 minutes of chain-lined cliff face to the peak of the hike was extremely beautiful and extremely TERRIFYING. 50% of the route consisted of hiking on a trail where one wrong step would send you flying off an 1000ft cliff. One section I remember all too vividly involved making your way across a section 10m long and 1m wide with 1000ft drops on either side–and some crazy person decided no chain was necessary. Despite this, I was floored by the amount of people completing the hike; I really thought a greater percentage of the population had a fear of heights. Additionally, Caiti and I added the trail to our own “List of Hikes to Not Take Your Children Under 10 On,” despite the number of kids we crossed (I think my mom would faint watching video of me doing this at 21).

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After an adrenaline-filled hike to the summit, the 360 degree views at the top were absolutely incredible. We decided to spend an hour at the top enjoying our lunch to a) return to baseline, and b)muster the courage to go back down. Despite expecting that going down would be far worse than coming up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the opposite was true. We still aren’t sure what gave us a sudden boost of confidence, but the return leg of the chain felt like a breeze comparatively.

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All in all, will definitely be returning to Zion National Park and would highly recommend it to anyone! If you’re wanting to camp in the park, book in advance–this place is popular!

Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike

After convocation came and went, and real life is almost upon me, I decided I needed one last adventure. Over brunch I pitched the idea of a road trip from the Grand Canyon to Salt Lake City and two weeks later here we are. Caiti, Kayley, ELai, and I flew through JFK and into Phoenix. Of course the trip wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t run into someone I know–my Canada U20 teammate’s dad happened to be behind me in line at the rental car office. We headed North through Sedona based on recommendations we received, and we weren’t disappointed by the gorgeous rock formations surrounding the small town.
It was  6PM by the time we arrived at our campground on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We actively avoided catching a peek of the canyon to save the big reveal for the next morning. Thanks to the only one of us that could have passed as a Girl Guide–Caiti, no time was wasted setting up camp, making dinner, and hitting the sheets to prepare for a big 48 hours ahead.

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We were up at 5AM to catch a shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Before getting started we took a couple minutes to soak in the incredible views from the top of the canyon. It was around 7AM when we finally hit the trail and began our journey to phantom ranch. The entire trail was extremely picturesque–it felt as though the view kept getting better around every corner. It was hard not to turn every water break into a full-blown photo shoot. 7 miles and 4.5 hours later, we reached the Colorado River around 11:30AM. In the last hour and half of the hike, the heat made it easy to see why hiking between 10AM-4PM in the canyon  is not recommended.

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When we arrived at Phantom Ranch we were all quite happy to remain indoors and out of the sun until at least 4PM. Party animals that we are, we were fast asleep by 8 in order to wake up for our 4:30AM departure.We set off for the North Rim via the North Kaibab trail. We hiked in darkness with our headlamps on for the first 40 minutes through what is known as “the box”–a narrow passage that traps the heat so well that we were hot in tank tops at 5 in the morning.The North side of the canyon is far less popular and we did not see any other people for the first 3.5 hours. The first half of the 14 mile trail is mostly flat and we made it to the halfway marker around 7AM. At that point we took a little detour to visit Ribbon Falls–the canyon’s most well-known waterfall. From Cottonwood Campground (halfway) to the rim it was quite literally only uphill. It wasn’t until we were in the canyon that we realized how ambitious our hiking route was compared to most. Apparently not every weekend warrior is up to hiking 21 miles in 36 hours. Not to mention our schedule didn’t allow for much dilly-dallying, as we were catching shuttle back to the South Rim.

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We experienced a range of emotions throughout the second half of the trail as we encountered other hikers–some were encouraging, but most were quite skeptical of our ambitious timetable. This only fuelled the fire and resulted in Kayley leading the way with a pace that felt more like a sprint.It was hard to imagine how different the North Kaibab Trail could be from the South; however, we could not have been more wrong. The greater latitudinal distance covered on the North trail provides amazing scenic variety. This was perhaps the only thing that got us to the top, on time and without collapsing. The second half of the trail was comparable to the Summit Day hike of Kilimanjaro in physical difficulty.

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The feeling of sitting down in the bus and crushing a bag of chips and a beer was pure bliss after 9 hours of hiking. Just as we finished commending ourselves for our impressive efforts, we began chatting to two guys on our bus who had left at 3AM from the South Rim and beat us to the top. One man was turning 50 this year and they will return in October to complete a “rim-to-rim-to-rim” hike in one day. That means they will hike what we did over two days TWICE in approximately 21 hours. Apparently the record is 7 hours and change–a humbling reminder that we are mere mortals.

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Brief Stop in Bali

Apologies for this longgg overdue last post of my trip–writing it slipped through the cracks of my back-to-school frenzy. To my dismay, the final stop in Bali was much shorter than my trip to the beautiful island last year. We headed straight from the airport to our first stop at Green School–the Green School on Earth located just outside of Ubud. We walked down a long path into the jungle before eventually reaching the entrance to Green School (seen below).

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We were led to what looks like a giant treehouse where Green School founder John Hardy was waiting for us. He told us his personal story of growing up in the GTA, travelling to Bali and picking up on local jewelry-making techniques, founding a jewelry business he later sold for tens of millions of dollars, and finally his latest project–Green School. We toured the entire school grounds; it is an absolutely stunning place with brilliant bamboo architecture. The school offers K-12 teaching for international students and locals alike. Below is an example of a Green School classroom. IMG_1156

Below is a panorama of the Heart of School building–the photo really doesn’t do it justice. Another cool feature of this building is the names of all the donors written on bamboo poles inside the structure–I even spotted Richard Branson’s pole! Green School aims to be the #1 model of sustainability in education in the world. Although certain aspects of Hardy’s talk were far-fetched, Green School students really are doing amazing things. He told of us of students’ project to abolish plastic bags in Bali; a government official told them they would need 1,000,000 signatures on a petition to make this possible and they have already reached close to 90,000. And who did we see at the airport on our way out but Green School students collecting signatures from travellers on their weekend!IMG_1159

We stayed in John Hardy’s “luxury eco hotel” overnight–to put the ‘luxury’ part in perspective, these cabins were $400/night while I was paying $25/night in Bali to stay in very nice villas last year. The resort was comprised of many small standalone houses on a gorgeous property overlooking the rice paddies. We only had 12 hours to relax at this beautiful hotel but it was a very relaxing way to end the trip! My house was the one on the far right.

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We had one final stop in Kuta at Pro Surf School before we had to begin our long journey home. We heard from the founder of the Surf School about the growth of tourism in Bali over the past couple of decades. He attributed the rise in popularity of Bali as a destination to be largely due to surfing–at least initially. From the little that I saw of Kuta I was happy Elai and I had decided against spending any time here last year. Kuta is by far the most touristy part of Bali and the beaches are quite dirty, with piles of trash all along the beach. It is interesting that so many people are still drawn to this location considering the rest of Bali is much more beautiful. I guess surfing must still play a bigger role in tourism than I may have thought!

Jakarta Part 2

The rest of our time in Jakarta was a 50/50 split between business and pleasure. We began our third morning with a guided tour of Istiqal Mosque–the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. The size of the building was quite impressive but it was quite industrial in terms of decoration compared to pictures I’ve seen of mosques in Turkey etc. Afterwards we headed to a local market before heading to our first meeting of the day.

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First we met with Lippo Group–the Indonesian conglomerate that owns and operates the hotel we were staying in. They also do business in retail, real estate, healthcare, tech, financial services, and education. Lippo Group stressed that they feel Eastern Indonesia is where the future of the country is headed due to richness in natural resources. Next we met with a panel from the Asian Economic Development Bank, who highlighted regulatory uncertainty and bureaucracy, a large informal sector of the economy (66%), and sustainability as Indonesia’s key development challenges. Our last meeting of the day was at Norton Rose Fullbright–a UK-based law firm that has established operations in Indonesia through a partnership with local firm Susandarini & Partners. In this presentation we learned about the legal environment in Indonesia and the challenges faced by foreign firms. Shamim Razavi, Senior Foreign Legal Counsel for the firm, put it quite nicely: a good London lawyer would do very poorly in Indonesia. In London, everything has been done and it is just a matter of finding the right precedent. In Indonesia, nothing has been done.

The following morning our first meeting of the day was with the UN World Food Programme. The representative emphasized that the goal of an organization like WFP is to be able to be out of a country as soon as possible. They attain this by creating programs that require buy-in from beneficiaries rather than spoon-feeding aid. He also mentioned that as a result of Indonesia’s fast growth, obesity is now on the rise. Our second meeting of the day was at Ogilvy & Mather, an international advertising, marketing, and PR firm. Their office was everything a creative office should be–beautiful, inspiring, and fun–complete with a slide to enter the main part of the office! A key talking point in their presentation was that Indonesia is a very happy country, with 51% of the population claiming to be “happy”; only 27% of the Canadian population feels this way! This combined with other important Indonesian values of collectivism, embracing ambiguity, work-life balance, and religion, have powerful implications on the way in which content must be marketed.

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We then set out for the office of XSProject–our local charity of choice for this year’s trip. The organization’s mission is to raise awareness of environmental damage and poverty through education, innovative product design reusing consumer waste, and creating new income opportunities for the disadvantaged. At the office we were greeted with a delicious lunch and we had a chance to watch the trash cleaning process in action and buy some of their beautiful finished product. Finished products include bags, wallets, umbrellas, laptop cases, luggage tags, jewelry, and more.

Afterwards, we went into the village where trash-pickers work and live and met with the children of these communities before touring around. This experience was nothing short of humbling. Hundreds of people were living amongst disease-ridden heaps of trash piled 8 feet high and days were spent sifting through it, picking out items which could be re-sold. Despite all of this, the 50 or so children we met had smiles on their faces. Although trash-pickers are among the most impoverished people in Indonesia, they are still respected for their efforts to legitimately better their situation rather than beg, lie, or steal. Part of XSProject’s work is to purchase trash from trash pickers at above market prices, giving them much needed extra income. The other part is to fund 12 years of school for 50 children living in Jakarta’s trash picker community. Leaving a community like that only confirmed that I won the genetic lottery and am amongst the luckiest people in the world. Now it will be a matter of how I choose to leverage my luck to increase the fortune of others. To donate to XSProject and help my class reach our goal of $5,000 please visit https://www.globalgiving.org/fundraisers/hot-cities-xsproject/!

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Jakarta Part 1

Our time in Jakarta has been absolutely action-packed. On the first day we started with a visit to BTPN–a medium-scale bank that integrates social change objectives into its business via micro-finance. Micro-finance means providing access to capital for all; loans are as small as $200 and can be administered to citizens in the most remote areas of Indonesia. This is especially important with the huge growth of Indonesia’s middle class–those that live on more than $2 and less than $20 per day. The proportion of middle class citizens has risen from 37% in 2003 to 56% in 2010. The unique challenges faced by BTPN are primarily associated with Indonesia’s lack of infrastructure and the transaction costs associated with serving a nation that comprises over 17,000 islands across a distance wider than the U.S.

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Later we visited Deutsche Bank and two media companies–Femina Group and the Jakarta Globe. Femina Group owns a portfolio of women’s magazines that target the 20-34 age group mainly. They focus on issues like fashion, entrepreneurship, career, food, and lifestyle to name a few. It was interesting to look at the magazines and see examples of progressive Muslim media–that showed models with exposed shoulders and knees etc. The Group also puts on Jakarta Fashion Week, in which 2/7 days are dedicated completely to hijabi fashion. The Jakarta Globe is one of two English newspapers in Indonesia and our correspondent spoke at length about the changing media industry relating to the rise of the internet.

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Our second morning started with a meeting with the Country Director for Asia Pacific of international consulting firm AT Kearney. We discussed the consolidation of the consulting industry and the intricacies for international firms operating in Indonesia. After we heard from the President of Aimia–the Canadian loyalty company that manages programs like Aeroplan. She provided an interesting perspective on working in Indonesia as an ex-pat and cultural differences. We visited the Canadian Embassy and heard from the Canadian Ambassador to Indonesia–a Saskatoon native–about Canada’s relations with Indonesia. He joked that “diplomacy is the art of keeping your mouth shut in many languages.” Our last meeting of the day was at Edelman, a global PR firm with clients like Starbucks, Chevron, Axe, and many more. They spoke to the need to localize services for foreign markets and specifically Indonesia.

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Some of the interesting facts, figures, and anecdotes about Indonesia that came out in our meetings are as follows:

  • Despite being the largest Muslim population in the world with 90% of the population identifying with Islam, Indonesia is very tolerant and moderate; women play a large role in society and the country is not classified as an Islamic state
  • Traffic in Jakarta is horrendous and it was recently named the worst city in the world for traffic jams according to oil giant Castrol’s index
  • There are said to be between 10 and 20 families that control most of the Indonesian economy
  • Indonesian’s are very hopeful for the future after the election of their new President Jokowi in the fall–he is the first President to be elected without strong ties to the Indonesian elite
  • There are more phones in Indonesia than people and Indonesians are among the most active social media users in the world

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Happenin’ Hong Kong

Jet lag had me up at 5AM on our first morning in HK so after getting out my first blog post I hit the streets for a workout. I decided on a stair workout after discovering Ladder Street the day prior; the street is a 30-flight stair case that extends up four city blocks.

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After breakfast at the hotel, we set out for our first meeting of the day at Hutchison Whampoa with Frank Sixt. He is a McGill grad that now serves as the Executive Director for the multi-national conglomerate. He spoke about his career path, gave an overview of Hutchison Whampoa’s operations, challenges facing the company, and opportunities for growth. Hutchison Whampoa is a Fortune 500 company– chaired by the richest man in Asia–that operates businesses across 5 main categories–telecom, infrastructure, retail, energy, and ports. After a fascinating talk with Frank we got to visit one of their many businesses–Hong Kong International Terminal (HIT) at the Hong Kong Port; HIT is the largest port operator in the Hong Kong and the world, controlling 16/24 berths in the HK Port. We got a driving tour of the cargo terminal that was followed by a question and answer period with a HIT employee. The scale of the operations in Hong Kong’s port was jarring–last year alone the port moved 13 million shipping containers and employed 200,000 people. Perhaps the most shocking factoid was that there are 5 operators in the port and there is no common IT system between them for logistical coordination and communication.

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We enjoyed a delicious Dim Sum lunch at HIT before heading to the Shangri-La for our last meeting of the day. The Shangri-La is a renowned 5-star hotel chain based in Hong Kong with 89 luxury hotels across the world. The chain is a family-owned business and we were lucky enough to hear from Chye Kuok–fa senior family member and McGill alumni. Kuok spoke at length about the emphasis on Shangri-La’s customer and employee obsession and the importance of customer experience in the 5-star hotel industry. A challenge facing the Shangri-La now is maintaining the “familial” feel of the chain as they grow and approach 100 hotels. The Director of the hotel we visited specifically added a personal story of a career highlight–when the former king of Saudi Arabia booked out the entire hotel for his stay in HK. We then took a one hour guided tour of the beautiful hotel which included two Michelin star restaurants, the Presidential Suite, the world’s largest painting, amazing views of Hong Kong, and more.

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We spent our free evening grabbing a bite and drinking in the streets (totally acceptable) of LFK–the bustling nightlife strip of Hong Kong Central.

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Our first meeting of Day 2 was with McGill alumni Bruno Roy–Director of Asia-Pacific for McKinsey. Bruno was a fabulous speaker that spoke primarily about working and living in Asia in general. He spent his first 5 years In Beijing and made the move to HK last summer. Roy said the reason he loves working in Asia is because there’s so much left to be done. North America is such a mature market and work in consulting is focused on incremental improvement.

Our second meeting of the morning was a panel discussion with five McGill alumni. The interesting and informative panel was focused again on what it’s like to live and work in Hong Kong.The key points I took away from the session were:

  • Low taxes are great–16.5% is the highest tax rate you could face in HK
  • HK is extremely expensive and owning real estate is completely out of reach for most–rent ranges from $2,500-$4,000/month for central locations in HK
  • Work/life balance is non-existent so you have to love what you do–12 hour work days are not unusual and leaving the office at 5:30 usually prompts the question “are you only working a half-day today?”
    • One panelist told us his company’s recent new policy that allows employees 1.5 hours/month of personal time
  • The opportunities in HK are endless but very competitive

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After a quick lunch it was time to make our way to the airport to head to our next stop, Jakarta! All in all I can say that our stay in HK was only a teaser and I will definitely be returning for more. Further, our amazing speakers definitely piqued my interest in living and working in Hong Kong so perhaps I will be back for much longer next time!