Part 2: On My Own
Coming out of my last exam, I had mixed emotions about my future. On one hand, I was certainly glad to be done, but on the other, I had no idea what I was going to do. I had planned to have a relaxing spring semester that would have allowed me to finish my research project; however, that no was longer possible considering I could no longer take any classes. I was fortunately scheduled to go home for the holidays, which I hoped would help me decide what to do. Before leaving Hong Kong, I had decided to submit an application for the Cyberport Creative Micro Fund (CCMF). Now Cyberport and CCMF are both interesting for different reasons. Cyberport was set up more or less as a tax write-off; so, there are certain things that just do no add up. For example, why it looks like a spaceship, why it employs people who seem to do nothing, and why despite being a “tech center” does not provide much business support only cash. Many of these details I was unaware of at the time and would gradually discover over the course of working with them.More Information: Forbes , SCMP, SCMP
Now CCMF I had learned about through a class presentation. The way it was presented, if our project were accepted, we would be awarded 100k HKD or ~13k USD from Cyberport. What made it particularly appealing was there were no strings attached. You simply received the money and were told to put it to good use. That would not last very long, but it would at least provide the funding to submit a prototype. The application itself was simple enough, and I assumed I had a decent chance of being awarded the grant. As I was getting ready to board my flight home, I received the following.
This complicated things because I was hoping the presentations would not be until after I came back from the US. I had somehow made the mistake of not checking, only noting when I had to submit the application. The entire flight home I debated what I should. Once I landed, I fired off an email trying to figure if I could present remotely. Cyberport said, “although it was possible, we would prefer in-person presentations.” That left me with a decision, do I stay in the US or head back early and hope I get a grant.
72 Hour Scramble
I quickly decided I needed to go back because I did not have any other options. I looked online and found out the cheapest flight was in three days. I tried to figure out what I wanted to accomplish in those three days and knew the most important things was to try and meet with my research advisor.
The day after landing I drove four hours to South Carolina trying to make an afternoon meeting I had managed to set up. When I got my advisor’s office, he was stuck in another meeting. About an hour later, he emerged and looked surprised to see me. He had forgotten we were supposed to meet but offered to talk briefly to me while he walked to his car. In those ten minutes, I did not get much advice other than go read some research papers or books and then send him a rough draft. As I returned to my car, I could not help but thinking that trip was a total waste. I had spent my limited time in the US driving down to South Carolina only to hear, “Well try to read more research.” I had no idea how I was ever going to finish the paper, but I had bigger things to worry back. The next day, I raced back to North Carolina and tried to condense a month’s worth of family phone calls and meetings into a day. It was then time to leave and hope this gamble paid off.
Arriving back in Hong Kong, everyone was shocked to see me, and I began to work on finalizing my presentation. Seeing as this was my first time presenting to “investors”, I had no idea what I should say. I decided that because Cyberport was publicly funded I would focus on creating local jobs and reducing waste. What I produced was pretty bad, but I felt if I could add the proper amount of BS it just might work. I decided to add friends to my “team” to make it seem like it was not just recent graduate trying to get money.
The day arrived, and we were told to wait in a conference room. Trying to be friendly, I introduced myself to some of the other entrepreneurs. Many of them had more interesting ideas or were further along in development. I tried to ignore that especially after I met Carl. Now while most of us were applying for CCMF for the first time, this was Carl’s second or third application. He then proceeded to pull out an array of Apple products and say, “I just use CCMF to help me buy Apple products”. To this day whenever I see Carl, I can’t help but thinking, “Oh you are That Guy who exploits the government for Apple Products”. After hearing that, I felt a lot more relaxed. The presentation went fairly well because I sold them on the idea that as a former exchange student in Hong Kong, I would be able to develop a niche market. At the time, I had no idea how I would do that, but I made it sound plausible. I would find out later they had bought my student marketplace idea; so, I set about figuring out how I would use the money. Unfortunately for Carl, his quest to once again have the government pay for his Apple products, did not work out.
Christmas In Hong Kong
The week of Christmas soon arrived bringing with it drunken Santas and other festivities. For my birthday, my friends decided to take me out something called a Chocolate Party. The way it was pitched sounded like a lot of students and a lot of chocolate fountains. In actuality, it was one Chocolate Fountain and the few people who had nothing better to do two days before Christmas. As you can imagine, Chocolate and semi-formal clothing do not mix well. When the one Chocolate fountain ran out, you were left with a big mess and below average music. We decided to stick around for a little bit, but after the drinks had run out, it was time to call it a night.
On Christmas Eve, we decided to go out again. There seemed to be as many people as Halloween; so, the night was largely spent dodging police trying to maintain traffic flow. For reasons I can not remember, I ended up at a friend’s place. On Christmas morning, I tried to motivate myself for something called, “Santa Yoga.” Now upon telling my friend where I was going. She looks at me and says “That sounds stupid” before going back to bed. Having been of fan of trying “different” yoga classes, I figured maybe they would have created new poses. In actuality, it was just a yoga teacher wearing a Santa Hat, needless to say, it was a disappointment. I hoped the rest of my Christmas was not going to be lame, and, fortunately, some friends prepared one of the best Christmas meals I had ever had. It was nice to relax, reflect, and simply take a break from the pace of life that exists in Hong Kong. It felt weird going home by myself for Christmas, but watching Its A Wonderful Life made it okay. If you have never seen it, you should fix that.
The march towards New Years continued with me trying to fire off emails to my company secretary to formalize my company. This would prove to be the worst time to set up a company because it seemed Christmas, New Years, and Chinese New Years all fell in quick succession. I was left never knowing when my company was going to be set up. Luckily, everything worked out and by Cyberport’s Introduction day, I was all set up.
As much as Cyberport operationally may have issues, one thing it does not have an issue with is providing amazing views. While not all of the offices have such great views, many look out over a harbor that provides great motivation when you are wondering why your product is not working.
After a brief tour, the introduction ceremony kicked off, and I was in for a little surprise. Instead of getting 100k all at once, it was going to be disbursed in three parts, 10, 45, and 45. Now while this may make sense from an investor safety standpoint, this would be a disaster for me because I had planned on using a lot of that money immediately. The 10k covered company registration; thus, I had no money to get started, and no idea how I was going to reach the midterm or final checkpoints. Leaving that presentation, I was dejected because it seemed coming back to Hong Kong was a mistake.
My friends tried to cheer me up by taking me out to a “rave”, which in reality was just a normal club providing glow sticks to people. The club ended up getting raided by the police; so, we spent most of the night having the police check IDs and the club’s management struggle to restart the party. We decided to leave and at least got to experience something called a Flaming Lamborghini.
Chinese New Year
With the company registered and me now struggling to get by, my friend offered to let me stay with her family over Chinese New Year. I had heard that while Chinese New Year’s in Hong Kong was nice, in Mainland China it was on a whole another level. Everyone seemed to be leaving at the same time; so, getting across the border proved to be a challenge.
Our first stop was Hui Zhou to visit my friend’s Grandma. Having been a longtime fan of Chinese History, it was a great opportunity to hear stories from her childhood. The greatest story was about why festivals are so important to the elderly. When she was younger, no one had food and meat was only available during holidays. Despite all the success and opportunities China now had, she never forgot those days and enjoyed being able to share her food with strangers. She had certainly come a long way as we soon set down for one of the largest meals I ever had. After we had finished my friends cousin decided, she wanted a photo of me holding her baby.
I had found a way around the Great Firewall and decided to share the photo. I then saw “Wow Cute Kid” and “Jason, when did you have a kid” pop up on my notifications. Even my mom chimed in “is there something we need to talk about”? For the record, I did not but I will agree she is adorable. We wrapped up the night by walking around the West Lake and getting stared at by everyone. I think they were simply surprised to see a white person there over Chinese New Year. It was a great place to be though because you could see fireworks shoot up from all over the city.
The next day, we returned to Guangzhou, which had turned into a ghost town. A little backstory on that, most of China’s Eastern cities are filled with migrant workers who only get one holiday a year, Chinese New Year. When it begins, it brings with it the largest annual human migration. Last Train Home does a great job chronically that migration, but even that can not prepare you for how empty these cities feel. This emptiness though allowed us to travel easily around the city. I managed to convince my friend to go visit her old school because I was interested to see how it compared to mine. We got to her school, but our plan was shot down by a guard. He said that even though she was an alumna, no one was allowed on the campus. Disappointed we instead decided to wander through Guangzhou’s various museums and historical sites.
The following day I decided to return her to Hong Kong and give my friend time with her family. I figured because Chinese New Year was not over, I would not have a problem crossing the border. This plan failed to account for one key group of people, cross-border shoppers. Due to the holiday, a lot of people had decided to go to Hong Kong and do some shopping. I felt like I was a cow being herded through a line. A few hours later, I finally made it to the Hong Kong resident crossing and expected to cross the border quickly. As I was waiting for them to process my passport, the guard signaled his boss and I got escorted into a separate waiting area. I did not know what was going on; so, I just sat there for another few hours. Finally, someone began to ask questions regarding my visa, and what I was doing in Hong Kong. Apparently my student visa had been canceled due to the mix up in my academic plan, and no one had bothered to tell me. The immigration officer told me to go to my school and ask them about it, but I knew that would be a waste time. I finally made it to Hong Kong, with a complicated visa status unsure how my predicament could get it any worse.
An Apple a Day
The next week I thought I had found a way to solve my money problem. I received a call from an Apple Recruiter, despite never applying for a position. He said there was possibly a Supply Chain role that would be opening in Shanghai in the fall. He also said there would be a part-time internship in Hong Kong that could cover my expenses before then. This opportunity sounded great, I could work on my project while also learning from one of the greatest companies in the world. Unfortunately, like many things in this story, it did not go according to plan.
I passed multiple interviews with him and the head of the office in Hong Kong. They then had scheduled for me to do a final interview in Shanghai in late-January, which the recruiter assured me was purely procedural. He said, “it would be a great chance for you to interact with the team and provide you an opportunity to find a place to live.” I then told him I was scheduled to attend a conference, HPAIR, that was going on at Harvard. He assured me that was fine, and as I once again left Hong Kong, I felt pretty confident I could resolve my job situation.
The Harvard HPAIR conference was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it to any college students. As the conference was wrapping up, I received a strange message from the recruiter asking me if I had left out any work experience or higher education from my resume. I knew almost immediately that the Apple position was about to fall through. Mainland China and Hong Kong both have an informal rule that they rarely grant visas to anyone without two years of work experience or an advanced degree. Because of that rule, I was shocked when they had offered the position but assumed Apple had found a way around it. In reality, what had happened was no one had bothered to ask the person responsible for filing Visa Applications. When finally asked, the person felt there was only a 10% chance that my application would be approved; thus, it was not worth the effort.
Being told that that I was not worth their time was certainly draining. They offered to make it up to me by trying to connect me with a recruiter in the US. I did not have much faith in this though, and sure enough they responded by saying the recruiter was not interested in talking to me. I once again returned to Hong Kong still having no idea what I was going to do.
Soon after arriving back in Hong Kong I learned of an upcoming Hackathon at Cyberport. For those unfamiliar with Hackathons, you spend 48 hours trying to create a product. You frequently come in with a team, but in my case I came in with just an idea. This competition seemed to be the best opportunity to create a working product.
Upon arriving at Cyberport, I was lucky to find two developers who seemed somewhat interested in the idea. They did not fully understand the concept but felt it was better than what anyone else was working on. Now while of the teams brought in monitors or kegs of beers we just quietly worked away during the weekend. We created a “prototype” that did little more than allow you to upload photos. Going into the presentations, I was nervous because I assumed other teams had made a lot more progress. Our presentation went well, and we were then quite surprised at the lack of progress some of the more “professional” teams had made. We figured we had a decent shot at winning, and sure enough we managed to win “The Most Complete” award.
While I will be the first to admit it was a corny title, what was interesting is we won a free trip to Shanghai to present at Conference in May. The organizers thought this could be an opportunity to test our product and connect with potential investors. They also suggested I join Cyberport’s upcoming delegation to San Francisco and South By Southwest (SXSW) to further my network there. I figured that seemed like a better option than waiting around in Hong Kong; so, I agreed to join them.
American Tech Adventures
Going with a foreign tour group to your home country is an interesting experience. I got to be subjected to, here’s how you buy a sim card, this is the history of America, and now here is an American Dim Sum Restaurant. Yes, the group’s first real meal in America…Chinese Dim Sum. I began to think maybe coming on this trip was a mistake as it seemed entirely focused on explaining America. The one highlight of San Francisco was the opportunity to pitch a startup accelerator. They provided good feedback but did not feel my solution was scalable. The next few days rolled by, and I hoped SXSW would save the trip.
Upon arriving in Austin, it was as if half the world had descended on the airport. SXSW attracts a variety of people for its Film, Interactive, and Music festivals. There were massive lines for cabs, and there was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air. I hoped there would finally be someone here who could help me.
The conference should be a must for anyone interested in Film, Tech, or Music. I did not know what to expect, but I got to hear about the behind the scenes of Shark Tank from Mark Cuban, witness a woman hire an actor to carry around a tv with her Skyped in, and finally Ron Perlman of Hellboy. One of the more random things that happened, was being asked by Vice News if they could film a friend and I walking around a party. I have no idea if this piece ever got finalized, but it was great hearing their perspective on the conference.
The one last thing worth mentioning about SXSW is the Food. IBM bought Watson, to prepare scientifically perfect meals, and I also had the best donuts from a food truck. It truly seemed everywhere you turned there was more good food to eat. If you go, make sure you bring enough money to eat your heart out. The conference soon drew to close, and I still had not managed to get any more guidance. I had spent money I did not have and managed to dig myself into a bigger financial hole than when I had left.
Can You Lower the Volume?
One of my rugby teammates had recruited me to DJ for a college party soon after I got back. DJing was something I had picked up partially out of trying to find some way to make money. Despite having used some of my CCMF money to pay for lessons, I still was not very good and could not afford a turntable. I figured this would be a great chance to practice; so, I tried to mix a set via a computer program.
Now one of the problems with this, is I had no concept of Keys or Beats Per Minute (BPM). What I had created was a list of songs that simply did not match with each other. That would prove actually to be the least of my problems that night. I arrived, and it seemed no one knew how to work the sound system. Parts were broken, and the building supervisor was certainly not interested in helping kids at 9 pm. We miraculously got it figured out, and the party finally kicked off 30 minutes late.
Saying everything was fully working would not be accurate, but I tried to compensate for it by “maxing” the volume. Even then it sounded like we were in a coffee shop that just happen to be playing dance music. I soon saw an older lady rush towards the organizers and say.
“Turn the Music Down”
After all the struggles to get some sound, I wanted to ignore her, but the organizers insisted we turn the music down even lower. The organizers then decided to follow a random schedule; so, I would periodically have to stop for someone to dance on stage or perform. These interruptions were certainly an annoying way to start my first performance. Someone asked me if I had DJ before, because it had become obvious the songs were not matching each other. I just remembered thinking this night needs to end. Finally, it did, and I was glad to escape from what had been one of the worst parties. I would like to think I am now a lot better at DJing, but you never forget your first time.
Hong Kong Sevens is a spectacle unlike any other. Donnie of Donnie Does , does a great job of capturing the atmosphere. On the surface, it does not sound like much of an event. A three-day rugby tournament in a city that does not support sports. The rest of the stops for this global tournament are just that, a rugby tournament; however, in Hong Kong, its a completely different story.
Day One begins in one of two ways. If you are rich and connected, you go to something called a long lunch. You eat and drink for four plus hours before stumbling over to the stadium to watch the day’s only interesting matches. If you are not part of this crowd, you are either trying to scalp tickets or taking advantage of the free university tickets. I got to take advantage of that because I somehow “forgot” to mention that I was no longer a student.
Day Two you could call costume / crazy day. If something weird is going to happen, it will happen then. Day Two that year was a let down due to torrential downpours.
I saw these black clouds rolling in, and soon it seemed like someone had turned off the sun at 11 am in the morning. That day it pretty much rained all day; so, I ended up leaving early hoping that day three would be better.
For Day Three, I decided to enter the Belly of The Best, South Stands. South Stands is an area that requires you to be 18, usually has long lines, and becomes the cesspool of the earth. After two days straight of drinking people there generally look like the Walking Dead or wear the most outrageous costumes.
I had decided to go out early and try to meet friends to watch this all unfold. As expected, you saw people maintaining some semblance of dignity to start, but that quickly evaporated. As teams got eliminated, they would also come to the South Stands and hang out with the fans.
The rain that had managed to stay away for most of the day finally returned for the Finals between England and New Zealand. As a fan of New Zealand, I felt obligated to stay despite feeling like I was in a hurricane. New Zealand ended up winning and thus decided to still perform their Hakka.
I was pretty pumped after this and decided I was going to try and sneak into the tournament’s afterparty. I had heard from a friend roughly where to go; so, I assumed if I acted like I belonged it would not be a problem.
Once I arrived at the party, I decided to check my phone where I noticed a troubling email from my research advisor
After reading this, I did not know what to do. I certainly had no idea intention of finishing the research paper, but I also did not know what grade/assessment was. My main fear was that somehow this would prevent me graduating. I tried to explain what had happened over the last few months, but he was not interested in hearing it. I managed to convince the research office to give me a pass, but they were also disappointed I had “let down” my advisor. I tried to put that behind me as I went around meeting players. I got to watch them struggle through songs and attempt dance routines while attempting to maintain their composure. It did not hurt they had free food and drinks; so, it was a nice way to end the weekend.
The Story of a Scar
The next day, I woke up with a terrible sinus infection. Since I was little, if I ever got truly soaked nothing seemed to prevent this from happening. I was supposed to begin working at a Private Equity Firm, and I was miserable. I had talked my way into the role, at an event; thus, I was determined to not take a sick day. I was also supposed to be preparing for University USF tournament, the largest rugby tournament for university students in Hong Kong. I had somehow managed to stay on the team and commute an hour each way for a year; thus, I was going to try and heal up in time.
That Friday, I went out with my boss and a colleague to try to talk strategy for the next few months. I ended up back at my apartment at 1 am really worried how I was going to get up in 5 hours to go play rugby.
On Saturday, I somehow dragged myself out of bed and made it to where our team was meeting up. I felt better and excited to finally get this tournament underway. The first game I decided to wear a mouthguard after I had suffered a concussion in a previous tournament. Due to a combination of feeling slower and being unable to breath due to the sinus infection, I decided to take it out.
The next few games, without a mouthguard, I felt quicker and stronger. We ended up winning our first three games and then had a long break before our final match. This break is when going out the night before began to hit me. I debated telling the coach to let me sit out the next match, but due to some players having to leave this did not seem possible.
When the match rolled around, I debated putting my mouthguard back in. We were already going to win our group, and I did not want to go all out. I made the foolish mistake of not putting it back and raced onto the field.
“Always wear your mouthguard”
Due to a miscommunication we fell behind early and could not seem to get anything to go our way. The opposing team was about to score; so, I decided to go for a big hit on an opposing player. I remember hearing a loud thud then blood shooting out of my mouth. At the time, I did not know what was wrong. I walked over to the medical tent, and the nurse says “you are going to need stitches.” Still unsure what exactly had happened I got my phone and noticed a hole in my lip. Due to the tournament’s policy, they did not want me to walk to the nearby hospital and instead I had to wait for an ambulance. The ambulance finally arrived and dropped me off at the ER.
The first doctor I saw initially did not think it was a big deal. She said I had suffered a through and through lip laceration, meaning my teeth had completely cut through my lip, but the nurses should be able to sew it up. I waited for another hour and got called again only for them to look at it and say we can not fix this, we need a doctor. The doctor finally arrives and says sorry I also can not fix this, and I think you will need plastic surgery. He told me to go wait in the lobby and that someone would bring me a blanket because I had begun to shake from the loss of blood. I waited with my coaches in the lobby and somehow managed to hear my name in Cantonese. My coaches did not know it was me; so, I tried to flag down the nurse, which is quite difficult while also trying to prevent blood from going everywhere.
We finally arrived at a ward that clearly did not look like a plastic surgery ward. Everyone looked 70+ years old and were nursing various broken bones. We had a nurse come up and ask what I was there for, my coaches told her and she was shocked. She somehow found me a room, then said that due to a policy I would have to get checked by two doctors before I could leave…the orthopedic ward.
Somehow despite clearly suffering a facial injury someone had wrote down I had broken a bone. The kid who shared a room with me was clearly confused why I was there and kept flashing concerned looks to his mom. The hours ticked by, and I began to worry as it approached the 12-hour post-injury time. I had heard, from a family friend, I needed to get my wound closed by then. The wait for the second doctor seemed to take ages and when he finally arrived he insisted on checking that all my major bones were unbroken. He finally cleared me, and I headed to the plastic surgery ward.
Once I finally arrived, they then had to track down a plastic surgeon. He walks in and says “wow, that’s pretty bad,” not exactly what I wanted to hear. He then laughingly says, “Well I guess you can not be Mr. Hong Kong anymore”. I had no idea what that was at the time, but I could not believe a doctor was telling me I was going to look like Frankenstein. Once the surgery wrapped up, I was shown to my bed, unsure of when I would be able to leave the hospital.