Building Bridges by Claire Evans
Shortly after arriving in Hong Kong for my internship at Ove Arup & Partners, I pulled out my notebook and started a list. Guidelines to make the most of the summer
Act as if this is permanent
If you’re considering something but are scared or tired do it anyway.
Don’t worry about doing the touristy things, just live life as if this is home and it will be.
Those first few days had been a slow push through culture shock I both expected and didn’t. I was fighting a sense of obligation to do the sort of things an Adventurous Person does when they travel the world, though I wasn’t sure what those things were. I was simultaneously overcome by an opposing urge to do Nothing At All.
Arup is an international engineering company with around 8000 people in Hong Kong alone. Hong Kong is a city of 7 million. The pure scale of it all is hard to wrap my mind around. When I meet strangers it’s fun to tell them that I’m working on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. The bridge is visible under construction when you land at the airport in Hong Kong, and currently the only way to travel between Hong Kong and Macao is by ferry. It’s a huge project that nearly everyone has heard of.
The more specific reality is I’m part of a team working on a single viaduct of the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link. I’ve learned an incredible amount about reinforced concrete design, an iterative process with an apparently never ending series of checks for how the combination of concrete and steel rebar will or won’t hold up under various forces. I’ve spent hours reading through design codes and am impressed with the way my colleagues can instantly pull up a mental checklist of calculations to be done or know which of a dozen equations applies to a particular loading case.
I like having a routine and a million things to do, so I signed up for memberships at a rock climbing gym and a regular gym, and joined several groups on Meetup.com including a climbing group and a language exchange group. These were my routine building blocks for the overwhelmingly large project of exploring Hong Kong. As I took part in activities not unlike those I’m involved with at home, I’ve gotten to know a great variety of people and places in Hong Kong.
Dragon Boat Races
My second weekend in Hong Kong, I texted one of the other interns I’d met through the Hong Kong America Center. She told me that Hong Kong’s Dragon Boat Races were that weekend, and that the ones in Sha Tin where I am staying were the ones to see. I walked down to the river while she took the train over. The races at Sha Tin had teams from many local organizations. Their skill levels ranged from impressive to zig-zagging and the community experience of standing in the park along the banks was really fun.
After we grabbed lunch we went over to the races at Stanley. The crowd there was much bigger, and the teams were all from large companies. We dubbed this set the Fortune 500 Dragon Boat races. The contrast between the two sets of races was interesting to see. The former had lots of locals with their own decorated boats, while the latter was mainly expats who climbed in and out of the same two sets of 12 boats.
A Perfect Storm
The first time I tried to go to a rock climbing meetup I utterly failed at using public transportation and arrived almost an hour late. I tried to pull up the forum page and call the organizer to find the group when my phone ran out of data and I found myself by the shore in a monsoonal rainstorm with a broken umbrella. I took shelter by the base of the sea wall for a while, then ran up to the top of the stairs where I shoved my backpack under a tree and joined a group of picnickers I’d seen earlier. I traded smiles with the group and eventually joined those who had forgone umbrellas and were just standing getting soaked in the rain, shrieking at the intermittent lightning strikes. As the storm died down we introduced ourselves. They were all from the Philippines, most worked together, and had been in Hong Kong for some years. I was invited to join them at the beach. We walked back down the road to Shek O and took a dip in the warm, salty water. I hadn’t brought a swimsuit or change of clothes but was soaked from the rain anyway. They unpacked containers of homemade Filipino food to share and continually encouraged me to “Eat more!”. Finally we took some selfies, exchanged contact information, and parted ways.
There were several times that day I had to make the choice between giving up or embracing changes in circumstances: when I couldn’t find the bus stop, when my phone died and my umbrella broke, when it started raining too hard to see, whether to talk to the strangers in the storm, whether to join them for the day. Each time I decided to keep going, which opened up opportunities for more unexpected experiences.
This is how I choose to live life. I make plans and goals, but it’s more important to engage in the unpredictable circumstances that arise. Being fully present in each moment allows me to experience things more deeply and say “yes” to the unexpected. It’s a similar mindset that brought me to Hong Kong. I started my minor in Chinese/Asian Studies without any concrete plans to travel to China. I was looking at internships in LA, but when I had the opportunity to meet with the former lead of Arup’s Hong Kong Civil Engineering department, I jumped on it and ended up here. I hope that the ability to follow through on opportunities will continue to lead me on an adventurous path through college and beyond.