2022 Second Quarter Reflections
The lively ambiance returned to town in Hong Kong gradually in the second quarter of 2022. With pandemic restrictions abating, sharing conviviality with friends, greeting familiar faces back in offices, and exploring the abundance of outdoor activities were some of the highlights in the second quarter of 2022.
“A different language is a different vision of life — another window from which to look at the world.” In 2Q22, the return of live cultural performances in theaters, the resumption of physical classes in AF classrooms, and the enrollment of the B2 Delf exams were all parts of the learning journey.
I decided to take the Delf B2 in April, as exams enable more wholesome trainings in the areas of listening, reading, speaking, and writing. I enjoyed online classes with Tr. Z***, and her experience in guiding several students in the preparation process made the course structured and enjoyable. A language can be a useful communication tool, but also a brilliant guide when it comes to enjoying cultural divertissements and literary masterpieces. Additional preparation aids that made learning a bliss include the materials below:
§ Podcasts: (1) L’heure du Monde (Published on Spotify, with daily 20-minute interviews on topical themes) (2) Inner French (30–40 minute series delving in depths into French a cultural phenomenon) (3) RFI Le Journal en Francais facile (daily 10 minute news broadcasts briefing through 3–5 international headlines).
§ Books: (1) L’Étranger (Albert Camus), (2) Le Petit Nicolas (Jean-Jacques Sempe ; Rene Goscinny), (3) L’usage du Monde (Nicolas Bouvier) (4) Le Tour du Monde en 80 jours.
§ Netflix: Dix Pour Cent — recommended by my French friend A****; it does take a bit of “French humor” to fully appreciate the jokes and satire, but an interesting series on work, relationships, and family.
Meeting A**** and A*****, 2 French friends of very different “French charismas”: comportment, hobbies, and personality made the cultural exchange more interesting. As Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” The essence of a culture is in its people, and from our lengthy discussion on culture and politics, I learned about their fondness of debate and disagreement (“In my family, we are educated to always hold different opinions. We talk about politics with our close family, but not to the extended ones — it certainly brings up huge debates.” — A****); from their dedication of cuisine, I glimpsed how gastronomy serves as a lynchpin in convivial gatherings; and learned how they take pride on France’s cultural heritage yet are upset about the social/political/economic state of the country today, thus expatriation of young elites are becoming more commonplace. I enjoyed the lively conversation before the dining table (all in French haha), while observing French mentalities, rich facial expressions, and personality differences when compared to our English conversations previously. “To have another language is to possess a second soul” — a magical observation and contrast, as our personalities transform with the adoption of a foreign language.
The joy of delving deeper into French music, literature, and film also enlivened the learning journey. The joy of comprehending news podcasts was a beginning step, and the luxury of enjoying French classics and contemporary pastimes takes the language appreciation up to another level. In May, the French consulate and HK government held a series of cultural activities with “French May” — which holds various musical performances, art exhibitions, cultural flairs in Hong Kong. I watched the operetta “Pomme d’Api” by Jacques Offenback, developed with HK’s cultural context — with the operas sung in French but acted in English. It was a sensual feast, and I started to appreciate opera (for the first time, I guess), as it was sung in a language that I appreciated and half-understood. The conviviality shared with the audience (a full house!), the powerful emotional expressions through opera, and the bittersweet reality reflected in the romantic operetta made it a sensational and magical experience.
Reflecting on the journey in the past 3 months, the learning journey remained steep and enjoyable, with more than 6 months into the permanent team. With incoming summer interns (les temps passe vite!), I reflected on what I would have thought 3 years ago (as an intern) if I had known where my permanent role would land. Stationing in the current post, working with a diverse team, learning from meticulous yet liberal seniors, and being granted responsibilities were great learning opportunities. And for this, I shall be grateful and grounded in where I am and what I do.
Learning about the Repo markets (client types, execution strategies — in financing, and borrowing for shorting positions), taking accountability of ********* clients, being on top of primary market process (IOI, book building, sending out price guidances, building and distribution etc), and gradually learning from different styles of secondary execution were highlights in the learning journey this quarter.
The credit market facilitates financing from different types of institutions and sovereigns globally. Interesting sovereign/ quasi-sovereign bond issuances in the past quarter included: INDOIS 5yr/10yr (Indonesia Suksuk), EXIMTH (Export import bank of Thailand), UAE Govt (United Arab Emirates government bond), Kingdom of Jordan sovereign bond etc. In every new deal, my understanding of the global markets — the institutions in need of financing, the different circumstances in the geography, and the comparable peers of the company itself is renewed. For instance, I learned that there were 7 emirates in the UAE, with Dubai and Saudi Arabia being 2 of the largest economic powerhouses, as well as their major industry sectors and GDP performances.
Another interesting corporate bond issuance is New World Development’s green bond, as I enhanced my understanding in Hong Kong’s local housing market, NWD’s strategic partners (such as Chow Tak Fok), and its green initiatives. Having participated in New World Development’s annual cross harbor swimming competition and currently renting one of its apartments made the deal’s connection to real life stronger and more interesting too. Corporate bond issuances have been on a hiatus in 2022 compared to 2021 (issuance size dwarfed), with the volatile global rates environment and surging inflation forecasts; but we learn that this is just part of the longer term economic cycle. In the end of a fast-paced day, you realize that there is meaning and instant feedback in such work — acting as a bridge between bond issuers and institutional investors, channeling capital from those willing to invest to those who need it, and facilitating capital market efficiency when trading in the secondary markets. In the end of the day…what grants you meaning in your job, the learning journey, interpersonal interactions (including team dynamics), et votre façon de travailler (équilibre ou pas?) will determine if this is a short-term assignment or a long-term calling.
I was able to release some bandwidth to graduates rotating on our team, delegating certain administrative or ritual tasks that could be helpful in their learning journey. Prioritization is increasingly important as you yourself are delegated more responsibilities — what serves as the best utilization of my time?
This window of stability granted me time to explore the next stage. Personal pursuits outside of work serves as an equilibrium for work — one balancing out the other. Learning both in and outside the workplace are essential to growth. Keeping our heads down to dedicate our energy at the present task, while gazing our eyes at longer term goals ahead are both important. As Misty Copeland said in her HBR interview, “It’s about the work you are putting in — there’s no way to go on stage and become the person you want to be, if you are not prepared, focused, and grounded.”
Weathering through the storm together
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you crawl inside his skin and walk around it.” — Harper Lee. Friendships, kinships, and relationships are forged throughout a portfolio of experiences together. Mutual support during challenging times and continuous inputs of novel elements are essential, as we cannot just be fair-weather friends. Some of the most profound friendships are “discovered” during challenging times when we need a helping hand. In the past quarter, my heart was left hanging when I received *****’s messages in challenges faced in academic and future endeavors. I was concerned and anxious with the messages ***** sent out. Amazingly, the discussions we had in the following weeks were some of the most earnest we’ve had since childhood. Reflecting on this rollercoaster experience, I realized that it takes an open heart, a pair of patient ears (as a listener more than a lecturer), and a bit of lightness and humor as we envision future possibilities.
During challenging times, “Start gently in conversations: use mild and supportive language, reflect on your own biases, and be sensitive.” Being an ally requires patience, sensitivity, and empathy, and I found that sharing vulnerabilities, being open, and listening to understand can be powerful aids. As we’ve never experienced their conditions, we don’t want to jump to conclusions, to offend, or seem like a “know it all”. After our initial conversation, I better understood the reasons behind *****’s though process, *** Plan A/ Plan B, and longer term aspirations. I found comfort that *** core values were intact: the care for others, the positive attitude in taking responsibilities in decisions; and the opening up to different perspectives.
In the end of the day, we live with and for our closest relationships. We are in the ride together, finding meaning and crafting values throughout the journey. The strength, stability, and warmth of understanding and connections are incredible. “Love is understanding.”, said Thích Nhất Hạnh. In Ellen D’s last episode of the Ellen Show, she shared that when people are willing to share their true selves — uniqueness, vulnerabilities, struggles, it is one of the greatest gifts they can give. “When someone opens their heart to you, it is a gift, as you are made a source of trust, so be grateful and respectful for this honor.” Our compassion and respect are gifts in return to the trust they share. Realizing that it is about seeking to understand before being understood, listening and honoring what is shared, digesting a different viewpoint and reconstructing that of your own…are some of the best lessons that we continue to learn together. I also asked ***** about what advice or observations ** had on my endeavors these years. “***…[redacted]…***” It was a diplomatic but direct way to talk about the elephant in the room that we’ve never discussed out loud, for some time. I’m glad that we talked about it, albeit lightly. Along with time and wisdom, we all learn to make improvements gradually, one step at a time.
In the end of the day, I’m extremely grateful for *****’s presence, offering a pair of binoculars that zooms into our common endeavors for another point of view. Grateful for this mastermind with varied worldviews with our divergent personalities and experiences, a supportive companion along the rollercoaster ride de la vie together.
When you’ve known someone more than half your life, each reunion (no matter virtual or in person) enables you to connect back to where we’ve started and the transformations along the way. I haven’t seen ******** since our trip to T***** 3 years ago, yet in between these years we’ve stayed in contact through multiple Facetime chats. Despite being 12 hours apart, I’ve always felt in sync in our journeys — academic milestones, career endeavors, relationships, family, and future blueprints have been shared in virtual chats, which have become a ritualistic and warm pastime.
Thus, when ******** had a few abrupt life changes in the past week, the focus of our chat was mostly on ******** synthesizing the rollercoaster of emotions and reflections, with me mostly a listener seeking to understand. I felt a huge reassurance just seeing her picking herself up, rationalizing how the learning experience meant, and channeling her energy to the new chapter ahead. Listening to her share her experiences in depth, I bluntly shared my logical reasonings and observations of her changes through the past 2.5 years — both positive and negative transformations along the way. Being an attentive listener, offering emotional support, and joining together future blueprint sketches felt like the good old days, and I learned a truckload in such experiences that I’ve never encountered — in relationships, family, and forward career blueprints. ***REDACTED***
I loved the brave warrior and curious adventurist inside ********, it had always been there since those tender school years when she was the outlier in championing her thoughts and goals. She continues to be an inspiration in curious pursuits — language learning, nature explorations, traveling expeditions, and overseas venture. With her firsthand and extensive experiences in having studied, worked, and travelled through Europe and the US, I always appreciate her wisdom and experience, as well as the mutual insights generated when discussing longer term blueprints. Looking forward to her steering back the sails and venturing forward after changing course abruptly, and confident that she can weather the storm — À la prochaine!
Peer exchanges/ Creative pursuits
Making space yourself are just as essential as peer exchanges, both precious moments when we reflect on communal experiences and envision future blueprints. Flipping through my journal in 2Q22, I find that the opening up of the social scene in Hong Kong does portray it as an extremely interconnected and vibrant city. Back in University, I seriously doubted D****’s reply when asking him how he liked Hong Kong — “It is a great place to be for young people, vibrant, interconnected, convenient.” As a student, I was unable to appreciate the ambiance and way of life of working professionals. Yet, fast forward today, reflecting on the activities and meetups in the past months, I realized one of Hong Kong’s attraction is its proximity of people and places with its interconnected geography. A refreshing hike, a calligraphy session, a reunion before the dining table, a ferry ride, a coffee chat…are all a few messages away.
[Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail 元荃古道]
In stark contrast to E****’s experiences in the US, where “we have to be vigilant and careful to accepting invitations from friends — because we are far away from each other, and have to plan ahead…”, Hong Kong is the exact opposite. With main anchors of life steadied, side activities and leisurely pursuits could be impromptu and flexible. Searching at routes of “Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail (元荃古道)” early in the morning, and jumping onto the mini-bus at 7am that day, I appreciated the exhilaration of exploring a novel path in the New Territories. It was a 4.5~5 hour forest trail that started with a steep ascent along paved routes and stairways, but gradually evolved into a gentle trek in the woods. The trail is suitable for summertime, as 70% of the route is covered with lush vegetation — a shady respite in Hong Kong’s humid and hot summer. Along the trail, most of the hikers I met were solitary trekkers, and I guess it is a mutual understanding that…a 5 hour trail in the summer could be tedious and arduous, if you don’t enjoy the essence of nature or the hiking activity itself. Hiking off the beaten tracks in Hong Kong has always been a respite. The simple yet abundant nature environment keeps me grounded and grateful; the secluded and serene ambiance stimulates thoughts along the way; and hikers are mostly kind…sharing a few nonchalant conversations as we trudge ahead, each seeking for answers and finding part of ourselves in the woods.
Cultural activities were on full display starting April and May. French May and Hong Kong’s 25th handover anniversary each presented cultural events with festive flair…theater, art expositions, culinary events, nostalgic history exhibitions, and many more. I was surprised to find a calligraphy themed activity “世界和平書法日” held by a NGO and HK’s education bureau. I was first attracted by thr beautiful blend of colors used for presentation of 心經: in gold characters and blue settings, a contrast to the traditional version of black ink on white papers practiced at home. It was an interesting writing experience along with several elderly participants, all seated together in the newly renovated “Central Market” event space, listening to the chanting of the scripture from volunteers as we wrote calligraphy, each immersed in our own world.
[大埔滘Tai Po Kao]
In midst of reunions with old pals of similar background, or with new acquaintances who might possess different values with diverging life experiences, we our personal narrative gets a bit more lucid with each encounter. There are new acquaintances who just “click” after multiple exchanges and old pals who you’ve always found it harder to converse more deeply in fixed subjects. Those with similar personalities might make initial interactions easier, as we share similar ways in expressing ourselves, observing interpersonal cues, and energy levels are more aligned. As S****** shared, “I enjoy small group scenarios where I get to know individuals more deeply. In huge and loud events where people talk about skin-deep and fleeting subjects, I find it harder to express myself and feel easily bored.” That was a sentiment that I echo, yet I’ve increasingly found that personalities can be fluid and adaptable these days.
It was nice to share a few hikes with T****, first in Hong Kong’s Maclehose trail (around my place) in HK Island, and then to Tai Po Kao in New Territories that was close to her place. I guess it was our similarities as well as differences that drew us together. The commonalities in our personalities *redacted* , the common goals that we aspire, and core values drew us together; while differences in cultural background, educational exposure, and overseas experiences were areas of mutual interest.
*REDACTED* Soft spoken yet eloquent in mandarin while direct and unreserved in Cantonese, *****’s personality diverged between languages. *****’s slow-to-warm-up character, the calm and thoughtful temperament, and curious attitude facilitated slow-paced and deep discussions. Discussions were nonchalant in the woods, as we were paying attention both to the question in head and the path ahead, and had ample thinking time before coming up with a more profound answer. *REDACTED* In answering and exchanging answers to these questions, we are also renewing the relationship with ourselves, validating things that we’ve always believed in, learning about what values other bring with them, and finding joy that there are rare qualities that you share with certain individuals mais absolument pas tout le monde.
Looking forward, I hope that I stay grounded and anchored towards my goals planned for 3Q22. I could feel perceptible changes in sentiment these days among peers — with to the wider ranges of recreations to choose from, the milestones that are tapped upon, and the enhanced independence in making life decisions (for peers our age); it is easy to be swayed offtrack in midst of our journey ahead. Remember who you are, remind yourself of the goals you’ve proposed humbly from the start, and re-anchor yourself from time to time — along with family and friends that spice up the ride.