Groundswell Review

When picking up a book about online trends and technologies, I always look at the date it was published. The rate at which things move on the web makes even five years enough time for a book to become dated. So I had doubts when I saw Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Yi and Josh Bernoff was published in 2008. Eight years is an eternity on the inter-web. But, the book had been recommended to me by a professor, so I took the chance.

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The groundswell the book is constantly referring to is the mass of people online who are using social technologies like blogs, reviews, and forums to talk about companies and gather their own information. They represent the growing power of customers and individuals. Since the book was written, this trend has grown. People are banding together online in ever increasing numbers to threaten institutional power. The groundswell has grown much in the same way that it was predicted in the book. That is the real power of the book, that despite the number of years since it was published, its information is still relevant and compelling.

I actually liked that it was not quite up to date. The references to MySpace and Digg helped to remind me that the technology we use is constantly changing, so don’t get too attached to any one platform. It made me focus in on the theories being presented. And it reminded me to take all current predictions with the prescribed grain of salt. No matter what anyone says, the future is never certain.

Presented in an entirely readable way, anyone can understand and put into practice the theories espoused in the Groundswell. Case studies and academic knowledge were summed up and explained in groundbreaking ideas like: “don’t be stupid.” A lot of their advice might seem somewhat common sense, but the case studies and presentation of each point were what made them so understandable.

The overall tone of the book was very positive. I think that is part of what makes it a great book, especially for beginners. The encouragement to branch out and affirmative examples can help push someone to try something new. And no one will read this and feel shamed for not knowing something. However, I read it as a tad over optimistic. I think it glosses over some of the backlash and criticism companies do and will receive. But that doesn’t make these technologies not worth trying. I assume that was the point Yi and Bernoff were driving home.

Unlined by solid theories, I would easily categorize this book as a business book before aligning it with the niche of just social media. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, you will still be familiar with the technology in this book. Things like product reviews and support forums online seem as integral a part of the web now as Google. But they do represent a change in the business landscape from twenty years ago.

In the end, this isn’t a book about the Internet or technology. It is about a new way of thinking. I found it helpful and interesting for sure. Definitely recommended reading for others interested in the Web 2.0 revolution and social media. Or if you find yourself being thrust in the middle of it and feeling lost, this is a good starting place. It manages to present a lot information without being too boring or technical. Clear, easy writing helps the nuggets of wisdom in Groundswell shine.

As I continue my business education in school and out, I hope to find other books as useful and readable.

 

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How to Not Stress About Air Travel

Almost universally, everyone agrees that the worst part of traveling is the traveling. Being in a new place is great, but getting there can often be a pain. And if you don’t travel regularly, it can be stressful, especially if you have to fly.

Years of in-flight experience have turned me into something of a road warrior. With holiday travel season approaching, I thought I would share my tips for a stress-free journey.

Stress Free Air Travel

There are three main components to any good airport experience: packing the right bags, getting to the airport, and navigating security. Once you can master those steps, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Packing the Right Bag

You should have 2-3 pieces of luggage: a carry-on, a personal item, and maybe a checked bag. Whether or not you check a bag depends of the kind of trip your taking. But keep in mind that it will usually cost extra. If you do decide to check, pack your liquids and gels in a plastic bag in that checked bag.

The most important bag for your trip is the carry on. It’s where you will put your clothes, shoes, etc. that you need. Instead of winging it, use a packing list to figure out what you need, and what you don’t. Find more packing tips here. As you are gathering items from your list, put them near your bag. Don’t start actually packing until you have everything together. That way you can pack everything for optimized use of space and make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.

There are a few key things that you will need to pack with security in mind. Once you hit the airport security tables, you are going to have about 2 minutes to unload all required objects into bins and go through the scanner. This means don’t pack your laptop at the bottom of your bag. You will be tempted to, but resist. Instead, pack your laptop, tablet, and e-reader near the top or in an easy to reach place in your briefcase/backpack. Not all airports make you take out e-readers and tablet computers (think iPads), but some do.

You also have to figure out where to put your liquids and gels bag. Every passenger is allowed a one-quart bag with liquids and gels inside. Each bottle can be up to 3.4 oz. or 100 ml. More details can be found here, but suffice it say that you will need travel sizes. I usually keep my bag in my backpack or the front pocket of my carry-on. Then, once I’m through security, I can move everything around to a better location. For example, my hand sanitizer and chap stick go straight back into the front pocket of my backpack or purse so I can use them on the plane. The baggie is just a temporary measure in the airport. Just make sure you know where you want to keep yours.

Getting to the Airport

All of this packing happens the night before your flight. But when the actual day arrives, getting your physical self to the airport can be one of the most stressful parts of flying. For domestic flights, you will want to arrive no less than an hour and a half before your scheduled departure time. And for international flights that goes up to at least two hours. Personally, I would suggest two hours for any flight unless you are leaving before seven am.

So, now that you know when you want to be at the airport, you should determine how long it will take you to get there. Google Maps is a great tool for this. Look up the route ahead of time and there are options to send it to your phone (if you are on a computer) or to save it for later. At the very least, the airport you are headed to will be saved in your history for easy look up later. Preview the whole route to make sure the computer hasn’t decided to take you any weird ways. One time a friend and I got sent to cargo receiving and told to walk. That was no bueno.

Then, once you know about when to leave, set an alarm. That could be on your phone, or on an old fashioned alarm clock if you prefer. It is just easier to know that you don’t have to remember when to leave.

If you aren’t checking a bag, then you will also want to check in to your flight and get your boarding pass ahead of time as well. Save it on your phone or print it out up to 24 hours before take off. That will save you one line at the airport, so you can head straight for security upon arrival.

Navigating Security

This is it. The final hurtle to a successful trip. You’ve already got your bags ready to go, with everything you need easily accessible. But before you stride up confidently to the counter, there are a few do’s and don’ts of the security line.

  • Do bring a snack. Lots of people think food isn’t allowed, but solid food is just fine. Save yourself from overpriced airport food by throwing a PB&J or a granola bar into your bag.
  • Don’t forget to empty your water bottle. Planes are really dehydrating, so having plenty of water is a must. But only empty water bottles can go through security. Pack it empty, drink up, or if you forget, you can just dump the water in the bathroom sink at the airport.
  • Do wear shoes you can take off. If you are between the ages of 12 and 75, chances are you will be asked to remove your shoes. Your best bet is to wear slip ons of some kind. During the winter this can be tricky though, since you probably want your warm boots. If you have to wear lace up shoes of some kind, loosen the laces while you wait in line to make taking them off faster at the counter. Once you’re through the scanner, there will be a bench you can sit on to get your shoes laced back on nice and tight.
  • Don’t forget about watches, earrings, and other small jewelry. These are big culprits for scanner beeps. You probably wear them so much your forget that you have them on, so do a double check in line. Then place them all in your coat pocket (jackets have to go through the scanner anyway) or the front of your purse. That way they don’t accidentally get left behind in bins either.
  • Do empty your pockets. No matter how many times they announce this, someone always forgets. Best plan: don’t put anything into pants pockets until you are at the gate.

These simple tricks will get you in and out of the security line as fast as possible, but if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask the TSA staff. They are there to help.

 

Especially around the holidays, flying can be a stressful time. Hopefully this cleared up a few of the mysteries of air travel, and will help you have a great next trip.

5 Podcasts for Every Occasion: Or Why I Can’t Live Without My Headphones

Since the rise of popular podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Serial, I’ve been aware that out in the world, people were listening to podcasts for entertainment. My friends posted about new episodes on Facebook and Twitter. But I didn’t feel that my life had a place in it for audio-entertainment.

What is a PodcastThen I moved to Vienna for study abroad. Suddenly I had a 30-minute commute which meant sitting (or standing) on a subway train every day, and the need for something to help pass the time. It was high time to give podcasts a chance.

Starting with the familiar, I downloaded some episodes from people whose other work I knew, like CPG Grey’s Hello Internet and Freakonomics Radio by author Stephen J. Dubner. Then I went to the source of all knowledge, Google.

I found lots and lots of articles with the best 5-100 podcasts of every kind that I should definitely be listening to. Information overload was staring to set in, but a few descriptions caught my eye. I sampled for several weeks, trying anything that seemed interesting, and listening to the iTunes-generated related shows. Like any good love affair, I was in the middle before I knew what was happening, but I was completely hooked.

Before, I had struggled to think of times when I might listen to podcasts. Now, I listen all the time. Since starting on the train, I now have an episode or two playing at the gym, while walking to class, and to help keep me up on long drives. Pretty much every day is improved with the addition of a podcast.

I believe that there is a podcast for every person and occasion, so I thought I should share a few of my favorites with you.

When you want to learn about remarkable ladies…

The History Chicks

the-history-chicks-logo-200Two women, Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider, decided that leaving history to the boys was boring. So they started a podcast about all of the women in history in order to tell the stories of these extraordinary lives. And they called it the History Chicks. Each episode or minicast is entertaining, well researched, and fascinating.

We all have things we missed in school, and for a long time I was missing history. Once I figured out that I could learn from podcasts, I thought it high time to try to fill in some of the history I was missing. I started off with the names I recognized. Women who’s claim to fame I was familiar with. But it was when I started listening to the episodes about women I had never heard of that I fully realized how great this podcast was. Graham and Vollenweider could start me at the very beginning of someone’s life and in an hour, I would have a new hero. They interweave commentary and a vivid historical backdrop into their stories. Because that is what every episode ultimately is, a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Their tagline is right; listening in no way resembles a boring old history class.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 48: Agatha Christie

Episode 23 – Margaret “Molly” Brown

Episode 22 : Katherine of Aragon

When you want to be more cultured…

Classical Classroom from Classical 91.7

classical_classroom_logoHost Dacia Clay’s big secret is that she doesn’t know very much about classical music. Which is good, because I don’t either. Every week she acts as the audience stand in, interviewing classical music experts, professors, and musicians from Houston Public Radio, around Texas, and all over the world. As she learns about what exactly makes up specific pieces of classical music, I, the listener, get to learn with her. It is a brilliant model to get even reluctant music students like myself really engaged with classical music, ranging from Hayden to Steve Reich.

Since living in Vienna, home of Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, etc., I have gotten serious about my desire to know more about classical music. And this podcast has helped so much. Not only have I been exposed to all kinds of pieces that I never would have otherwise heard, but I have also developed a much greater appreciation for the music as something beyond pleasant background listening. So, big thanks to the Classical Classroom for generally making me a happier, more cultured person.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 4: Leitmotif In Star Wars – Brett Mitchell

Episode 36: Catherine Lu welcomes the Year of the Horse with the Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto

Episode 106: Bach Halloween Spooktacular With Keith Weber

When you want your mind blown…

99 Percent Invisible from PRX

99percent_invisible_logoDescribed as a “tiny radio show about design,” 99 Percent Invisible is much more than that. Each episode tells the story of something in your life that you may have overlooked: an obscure historic event, an everyday object, a fantastic building, anything imaginable. The stories are lyrical, informative, and enchanting.

I stumbled onto 99 Percent Invisible based on someone else’s list of podcasts, but after one episode I was completely hooked. The stories were so interesting, and each episode was relevantly short. And who can resist the draw of Roman Mars’ velvety smooth voice? If you are the kind of person who looks at something ordinary and asks, who thought of that? then this is absolutely a podcast you should be listening to on a regular basis.

Episodes to start with:

163- The Gruen Effect

133- Port of Dallas

137- Good Bread

When you want a laugh…

No Such Thing as a Fish from QI

No_Such_Thing_as_a_Fish_logoOn the surface, this is a podcast where four people just talk about trivia for 40-45 minutes every week. And I would be totally down for that, because I love trivia that much. But even if you aren’t a trivia buff, you want to be listening to this show, because the QI elves are hilarious. And they have delightful British accents to charm my American ears.

Whenever I am on the way to do anything unpleasant I listen to this podcast, because I know it is guaranteed to make me laugh. I’ve flown through a huge portion of their backlogged episodes, and share this podcast with everyone. What could have more appeal than funny facts?

 

Just a note: The jokes are intended for an adult audience, but are not very explicit or completely unsafe for work. Just a bit off colour every now and again. I don’t know if any of you are planning to listen with the under 13 crowd, but just in case.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 69: No Such Thing As The Pamplona Guinea Pig Run

Episode 63: No Such Thing As An Anti-German Sock

Episode 59: No Such Thing As Old Mother Bastard

When you’re hungry…

Burnt Toast from Food52

Burnt_Toast_logoCovering everything that is talked about around the New York office of Food52, Burnt Toast is a podcast about all things food-related. From what to eat on a first date to how to host a dinner party, they’ve got you covered. The hosts are funny and personable, and the special guests are always great. Their wide variety of topics also includes a peek inside the food industry, which I find fascinating.

I’ve loved Food52’s website and recipes for a while now, so I was thrilled when they started podcasting. I’ve listened to every episode. This show matches the tone of the website pretty well, with the addition of soothing, soft voices. The editors and guests tell lots of funny stories, so even if you don’t have a deep love of dish washing, you can totally relate. Every episode I finish inspires me to cook something.

Episodes to start with:

When Ruth Reichl Comes to Dinner

Lunch is a Point of Honor

Food Didn’t Mean Anything to Me Then

 

Honorable mention goes to: the gut-wrenchingly funny podcast The Sporkful from WNYC. A hardy dose of humor paired with each 20-30 minute discussion of food.

 

I could talk on about this forever. But for now, I sincerely hope that this has inspired at least one person to try these podcasts, or just podcasts in general. They are an exciting new area, and have become a big part of my entertainment.

If you are already a listener, what podcasts do you like? Let me know in comments, and I’ll be sure to check them out.

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Carmilla Review

In October I always make a point to read something a bit spookier than normal. I especially like anything Gothic in tone. The dark an stormy atmosphere puts me in the right mood for Halloween. This year I chose Carmillia by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu as my scary book for October.

When I was in high school, I read Dracula by Bram Stoker for English class. The ~400 pages took me longer than a month to read, but I did enjoy it. Since then I have been meaning to find a time to read another vampire classic. Published as a serial in 1871, Carmilla is 26 years older than Dracula, and often credited as one of Stoker’s major influences. Plus, it is set in Upper Styria, Austria, so I had kind of visited the location during my time abroad.

Since it was a novella, Carmilla was a very quick read. My version was only about 80 pages. The writing style was distinctly old-fashioned, but the imagery and tone helped to set the scene. Word economy in this rather short story dictated that there be very little down time. The action picked up almost right away, and trotted right along after that. Character development, therefore, had to play second fiddle to plot. I honestly ended up wishing that it was longer. I wanted to know more about Carmilla and her backstory. And more suspense would have upped the creepy factor a lot. I wanted more, more, more. In a lot of ways, it read like the outline for a great story about a vampire, rather than the story itself. I appreciated that it was a quick, easy read for me to fit into my schedule, but in the end, the brevity of Carmilla was weakness. But all of the elements of what is now considered the classic vampire story were there.

For anyone looking for a short, seasonal read, Carmilla does fit the bill. There are also numerous adaptations in films, sequels, and even a YouTube series. This story’s place in literary history makes it worth the small investment of time.

Water Water Everywhere

This week, South Carolina was hit with major flooding. It was all over the national news. Luckily, the campus of my university was not hit too badly. There was very minimal water damage to any of the buildings and we had power most of the time. But we are sill experiencing difficulties with the water system.

Due to all of the flooding, we are under a boil water advisory. This means no drinking, no washing dishes, and general fear that our water is going to give everyone the plague if it isn’t properly sanitized. Before that we were without running water overnight. The university has been great, providing us with bottled water and portable toilets during this situation. But the interruption to my normal routine has really made me stop to think about the ways I use water.

IMG_20151007_155208water distribution in Columbia

Until I couldn’t just turn on the tap and have whatever temperature of clean water I wanted, I took water for granted. Sure, I appreciated being able to wash my hands and shower. But I never thought there would come a day where I was happy to see a port-a-potty. When your toilet won’t flush though, port-a-potties are a godsend.

port-a-pottyMy beautiful port-a-potty

After our water was turned back on, we sill have to boil it “vigorously” for a minute before it’s safe to use. This has translated into our apartment filling up with bowls full of boiled, stored water. What I’ve mainly been using the boiled water for is washing dishes. I use so much water washing dishes! Seeing it portioned out like that really drives home how much water I’ve been using and never thought about. It’s an eye-opening experience.

I got a tiny taste of not having clean, running water, and that was enough. I can’t even imagine living every day without it. But according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 750 million people around the world lack access to clean water. It’s time to change that. That’s why I decided to support water.org. For over 20 years they have found innovative ways to bring safe water and sanitation to communities around the world. They’re an awesome organization.

 The United Nations recently released their sustainable development goals for 2030.

One of them was to ensure clean water and sanitation for all people.

I’m incredibly thankful that the only thing I’ve had to put up with this week is boiling water. I know many places it is much worse. And I now have a new-found appreciation for the water I use and drink every day. I hope I can continue to act on the lessons I have learned this week as classes and normal life start back soon.

A Whirlwind Tour of Kansai

I was only in Japan for three days. That gave me one day in Osaka and one in Kyoto to see castles and shrines, to cruise the city, and learn about the history. And, of course, to eat. The time flew by.

What struck me the most in Osaka and Kyoto was how beautiful everything was. The historic sites were absolutely breathtaking. And I have no words to describe the gardens. Just that it was clear why everyone wants a Japanese garden in their palace, city, or home.thumb_P1140895_1024 thumb_P1140898_1024

I was also stuck by the simplicity that these beautiful structures contained. How could they be ornate and simple, I do not know, but they were. Some of the beautiful places I visited were Osaka Castle, Nijō Castle, and the famous Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji. Each one was also rich in history. Before Tokyo became the capital of Japan, the shogun ruled as military officials throughout the country. These shogun were appointed by the emperor, who lived in Kyoto.  IMG_20150708_123245thumb_P1140885_1024thumb_thumb_P1140890_1024_1024thumb_P1140948_1024

Kyoto is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. There are many Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples that are open to visitors. An unexpected favorite of mine was Ryoan-ji, famous for its rock garden. It was a last minute decision for me to even visit, but I am glad I did. The rock garden was indeed wonderful, and just the break I needed in my day. What amazed me was how reflective it made me feel, like I could really sit there and just think.IMG_20150709_151246

While Kyoto has the lion’s share of history, Osaka was full of interesting experiences among the busy streets and tall buildings. One great experience was the view of the city from the Sky Garden. A tall building with a viewing platform, the Sky Garden was pretty much designed for couples. I decided to go anyway. The view at night was spectacular. I got to see the entire city from above. Seeing the castle lit up among all the modern buildings was a special treat.thumb_P1140808_1024

The Sky Tower

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I got a bit of a taste for Japanese culture as well. For one, I stayed in a Japanese style hotel room. The bare room with mat floors and a roll out bed was quite the departure from what I was used to. However, I found that the simplicity was nice and the bed was comfortable. I also got a complementary robe and slippers to wear during my stay. That was awesome. It was so cool to see everyone walking to use the hall bathrooms all wearing the same robes. It felt like I was at wizard school or something.

My roll-out bed

Slippers and robe!

I also rode the subway. It was a very different experience from subway riding that I was used to. For one, it was more crowded during rush hour. I didn’t even know that many people could fit on the subway. Due in part to the packed trains at rush hour, many lines had cars that were women only. All of the ads inside were for really girly things. But the biggest difference I thought was how quiet the subway was. Even with tons of people, no one spoke. It made riding such a pleasant experience.

And, of course, I ate the food. Seafood is incredibly popular in Japan, so I tried fried octopus on my first day. It was good. It tasted like most other deep fried things, a little fishy, and was kind of chewy. I also had Okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake. There was shrimp in the actual batter, so the whole thing had a slightly fishy taste, but was really good. Both the octopus and the Okonomiyaki were covered in a brown sauce that packed a big punch of umami flavor. (That’s what makes meaty things taste good). It is apparently a hugely popular sauce in Japan, but I found it kind of overwhelming.thumb_P1140702_1024IMG_20150708_184817

For sweets the most popular flavor is matcha, or green tea. I tried a few things, but found that the ice cream was the best. Baked goods also came in a variety of flavors I had never heard of before, like red bean and purple sweet potato. Those were phenomenal, however, and I thoroughly recommend them. Many mornings back in the US, I wish I could pick up a red bean bun.thumb_P1140723_1024

My red bean bun

My red bean bun

Purple sweet potaoe

Purple sweet potato

My three days in Japan were an intense cultural and historical immersion. I am so grateful that I got to go. Lots of things were very different from what I was used to, but that is the fun part. And the beauty of Kansai will be on my mind for quite awhile.thumb_P1140697_1024

Hong Kong Highlights

When I went to visit the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, it would have been easy for me to become overwhelmed. Luckily, some family friends lived locally and offered to guide me around the city. They planned a very special itinerary for me so I could see what Hong Kong had to offer.

One of the most popular things to do is to visit the bay. I got two great views. One was walking along the Kowloon Boardwalk and the Avenue of Stars. We strolled along one evening to watch the sunset. Just after dark, about 8 pm, there was a beautiful light show. Many of the tall buildings lit up different colors with lasers and even projected image displays. The 20-30 min show was timed to music, and lots of fun to watch.P1140366 P1140349 P1140372

Avenue of Stars

Avenue of Stars

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

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But I also got to see the bay from above. After a trip up the Peak Tram I saw the spectacular views of all of Hong Kong, both main areas, the bay, and the surrounding islands. Framed by the lush greenery on Victoria Peak, it was a sight to see. We toured about half of the Circle Walk to take in the views. It was an easy trail, but the hot, humid weather tired us out quickly. But when we got too hot we could go into one of the hilltop shopping malls to cool down.P1140432

Mall on the hill

Mall on the hill

Hong Kong certainly has plenty of shopping. There are malls all over downtown to beckon shoppers in with all sorts of luxury brands. On the streets you can find markets selling just about every good imaginable. Clothes, souvenirs, and small electronics are abundant. But you usually have to haggle over the price. I used the rule a girl from my hostel told me: always start by halving the original offer. Then you have some room to work up.thumb_P1140477_1024
We went to the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market. They were both big and crowded with booths and shoppers. I got some great deals on things to bring home.IMG-20150706-WA0001

Another popular spot in Hong Kong is the beach. We took the bus around the windy roads to the Stanley Beach area. In addition to a crowded beach, there was also a boardwalk with beautiful water views and a small market. It was a nice area to get away for a bit from the hustle of the city.P1140448 P1140458

fishing boats!

fishing boats!

Hong Kong itself has a long and interesting history. I spent one afternoon exploring the history museum and another at the maritime museum. Both had very detailed displays with lots of interactive areas. The history museum in particular was entirely built around the theme of each room, with the different time periods housed in full sized replicas of boats, houses, streets, and jungles. It added flair to the museum. I enjoyed both museums a lot.

History Museum

History Museum

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At the Maritime Museum

At the Maritime Museum

But above all else, the most important thing to do in Hong Kong is to eat. Hong Kong is a foodie capital of the world, so to miss out on the deliciousness would be a shame. Just like everywhere else, the best meal is brunch. In Hong Kong that means dim sum. You get lots and lots of little dishes like dumplings and pork buns and even egg rolls. Everything we had was so tasty. Other meals followed a similar pattern of including many dishes to be shared by the table, and all of them tasting amazing. I didn’t eat a bad meal the entire time.thumb_P1140470_1024
One morning for breakfast we stopped by the Honolulu Coffee House for their breakfast specials. I got eggs, bread, and a bowl of instant noodles with bacon. My eyes are now open to all new, noodle-based breakfast options.P1140398IMG_20150704_091753

After eating, shopping, and sweatily sightseeing my way through the lush metropolis of Hong Kong, I came home with the worldly insight to put bacon in my ramen. Just kidding, I actually learned so much, and cannot wait until the day I get to go back. There are so any things left to see and do in Hong Kong, but I had a wonderful time just scratching the surface.P1140439