With three days left in this program, I have decided to do a blog updating the work I have done, events we have attended and the places we have travelled.

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Hello again!

I'm finally here in DC and well, have been here for a few weeks!

The first time I set foot on DC soil, I knew it was time to start work to start the program that I had always dreamt about and am extremely thankful the University of Sydney has given me this opportunity to do this! Now, I don’t want to bore you but this is something that I have to say before I can launch into some of the weird, wild and plain amazing experiences I have had thus far.

Once in DC you can really feel it. Forget the lack of lights. Forget the lack of tall glaring glass buildings. Slightly monochromatic but nevertheless, they were magnificent stone structures that not only amaze you because of their façade but because of the rich history that unfolded behind those very walls. There is an atmosphere of grand austerity, the interplay between politics, law, business and society so palpable it’s raw.

To just walk past the White House, knowing that the President may be working there, to know that Congress is passing Bills right before my very nose and to know that this was the centre of global activity is exhilarating. When can you ever experience such proximity with the current affairs that shape this world? And to be working in a firm that is directly involved in economic policy and the creation of wealth for the communities in which Americans live is amazing. What more could I ask for, a mere intern dabbling in the intricate frameworks of a charged world.

The first day I stepped into the office, I just knew that I had to seize this chance to grow myself professionally and personally. It was time to fulfill those long awaited goals of augmenting my soft-skills and technical-skills, time to grow up I suppose!

Now, to start things off, I’ll tell you something that will forever be engrained in my memory. Before I do, think of the strangest place you’ve ever had a conversation and who it was with? Now, just imagine that the person is a prominent figure and someone you’ve only just met 5 minutes earlier. Still can’t conjure up a scenario? Well, I’ll tell you mine.

Think executive (keeping it vague!).
Toilet.
A necessary human function of excreting waste.

Yes, I spoke to someone very prominent as they carried out their "business" (excuse that terrible pun), awkwardly trying to make my escape, I was urged to keep taking about my impressions of the place and the tasks I was assigned with. The questions were almost endless! It was a minute that felt like an eternity. Best experience ever – odd but memorable. In fact it was really pulling me out of my comfort zone!

So to my first task – to be completely honest I’m extremely glad that the place I work for provides me with substantial work to do. There is no photocopying business, coffee making and the like that interns are usually associated with. Statistical metrics was the first thing I faced – in fact it was a 20 page semi-statistical, semi-analytical report which when I first saw thought was insanely difficult…Doing the introductory stats course…er…didn’t really help (perhaps I should accept that University invite to do the next stats course!).

Over the next few days though, I found the support from my supervisors extremely warm and helpful! They helped me with a lot of the really technical aspects of the project but were still patient enough to provide me the outlines of the basic and trust me with doing most of the writing and analysing.

This experience really showed me that as an intern, why should you be afraid of not knowing anything? In fact, that is the point of being an intern, to gain an understanding of what you lack knowledge in. To build yourself and grow in the areas utterly new and foreign to you. It is remaining open to these errs and challenges that will positively shape you. Upholding this mentality, I was able to grasp the gist of what I had to do in a few days and complete the report in less than a week.

Once fearful, it was delightful to observe how my knowledge had congealed and the new area of expertise I was gradually developing! Most excitingly, I was provided with the opportunity to write a case study for the firm’s journal! Recently it was published and I don’t know what to tell you…I felt enthralled and truly honoured that they would trust me with their content!

Well, these are the first few weeks of my internship in a nutshell!

Much more has been happening including my chance to meet some really amazing people at events I never would have thought I would get the chance to attend – a key member of Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, a reception (with some of the best food!) at the home of the founder of a prominent publications company, Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbull and Kim Beazley at the Australain Embassy (again with amazing food!) and the Dalai Lama! Of course, you’ll also here about some interesting occurrences on my weekend trips!

Now that we’re half way through the program (which absolutely unbelievable – time does really fly when you’re having so much fun!), the next blog will be jam packed full of exciting tales!

Stay posted for more!

~ David Lai :)

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New York - Part 2

Now, I’ve left Times Square to a separate part - reason being was that we came here again with a larger group of friends on the Weekend once we were in DC so I decided to merge my impressions all together here! Times Square. Lights. Sounds. People. When you speak of New York, this is the area most people recall. The buzzing energy just pulsates through you. It’s an incredible aura of excitement that hovers in the air invigorating the people of the city. The number of ads that you are bombarded with is almost overwhelming but at the same time it makes you feel as though you are at the core of our modernised commercialistic world. A bubble of materialistic culture, shallow but none-the-less a luxury that inherently attracts people to the area.

Watching tourists spinning around and I won’t deny doing it myself, taking photos of the sky scrapers and that quintessential New York shot of the Times Square billboard in the background as you cheesily smile a horrid teeth-revealing smile into the camera is just an indicator of the excitement that this place can instil in you.

But, at the same time, beneath the masquerade of vibrancy that shrouds New York the disparity between joy and despair is so stark it’s confronting. Tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the city you can see poverty, homelessness and illness –the people who have not had the chance to reap the supposed wealth of this land of opportunism. In the snow, the biting cold, people huddle with flimsy blankets, plastic garbage and patched jackets. To say that New York is merely a place for fun is wrong.

Seeing these sights inspire a desire for change, social equality and responsibility. I feel that these ideals will always propel me to remain mindful of my fortune for having education, a home and opportunities. In my pursuit of a business/legal career, these experiences will shape the way I operate and the way I carry myself. We all have the chance to make a difference with what we have and I think it’s important to recognise that.

On a lighter note, my thoughts on New York food? Well, it really depends! Not a sucker for fast foods, the sight of oversized pizzas on steroids is sickening. I mean, what sort of pizza has an organgey hue of slick oil dripping off its surface and cheese that rather than being stringy slides off the top of the pizza?

BUT, there were a few places that had the best food. Club A Steakhouse which I believe is the best steakhouse in New York had a scrumptious 4 week aged rib eye fillet that was cooked to perfection. The juices (rare but not like other places where rare meant you could still hear the cow moo!), the individual threads of red meat were oh so delicious! Again it cut another whole in the wallet but who could resist?! Almost as good was Momofuku, a Japanese fusion that served a pork belly ramen and a delicate pork belly bun.

HOISIN SAUCE.
PORK BELLY FAT.
PORK BELLY CRISP.
PERFECTION.

Then prepare to be suited up at Club 21 – fancy as the Queen’s palace, the seafood was stunning. The meat amazing. Dessert out of this world! That apple crumble. That crunch. The subtle infusion of apple sauce and cinnamon. The way the smooth ice-cream complemented each bite, the vanilla essence slowly merging with the apple and cinnamon to culminate in a gentle flavoursome saturation of bliss on the tongue.

I suppose I should stop now before you dribble all over your keyboard right...because I sure am tempted to consume my screen while writing this!

Anyhow, apart from all that food, I must say that Broadway shows are never a disappointment here. I watched Phantom of the Opera and...upon leaving the show humming the tune now stuck in my head, decided to purchase, yes at the horror of my friends...the Phantom Mask. That piece of plastic threaded through with an elastic string (no sarcasm at all!) was probably one of the better purchases.

Don’t even try to tell me it was bad.

Despite that what I wanted to say was if you do go to New York, do not miss the chance to watch a Broadway Show whether its Phantom, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Matilda or Book of Mormon, as Nike would command you to do with its tick of approval, just do it!

Overall, though it was my third time in New York, I am sure it won’t be my last! The culture and invigorating milieu a magnet for my return! See you all soon and stay tuned for my next adventure!

~ David Lai :)

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New York - Part 1

Hi! It’s been a little while but I’m back! My five days in San Francisco with a couple of my fellow DCers were relaxing indeed! Now I’m here in New York sitting in a wonderful hotel overlooking (yes, you thought I was going to say Times Square didn’t you…I wish) a dismally deserted street. Just a little too dark…a little too empty…a little too close to the cacophony of taxis and people but oh well, I suppose you can’t have everything can you?

Full of anticipation I closed my eyes as I boarded a train to New York. I expected to find a city of lights, people and bustling energy. But, contrary to these illusions, I saw nothing but a heavy curtain of grey clouds lazily scudding across the skyline. As the train skidded along the metal rails, screeching and squealing as snow and metal collide in a spray of white. It was a monochromatic palette of colours – a disheartening welcome to my second time in New York.

But just as I was about to wallow in my pit of despair, I saw it. Rising up from the dilapidated outskirts was what I had come to see – the towers, the lights and the beautiful…er…interesting…brown haze of…photochemical smog?! Whoot! Nevertheless, we were here! NEW YORK! As soon as we hit the floor, we were off. Shopping became a priority as we raided the Soho stores, digging our way through sales and clothes...finding that dastardly people had come to the prey before us! There were only XXXXXL sizes left…a little too big I suppose.
Within those frantic hours, we spent. Money flowed like water. The holes in our wallets became larger as we purchased self-indulgent items, gifts for friends and family and load of useless miscellanies. And, SOMEONE who I shall not name…bought a $500 guitar!!…Reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands our fingers were weighed down with shopping bags…only this time instead of cutting other people, the bags were cutting into us.

Now, you would think that if you’re going to be walking around New York shopping from afternoon to night, you would be wise enough to dress warmly. Idiotic Aussies who thought we could dress for our “winter” only to be faced with sub-zero temperatures, snow, sleet and a piercing wind that chilled you to the core, we were underdressed. To matters worse we were caught in the cold snap, snowstorms causing planes even to be cancelled at JFK airport.

My foot sank into the snow, canvas shoes becoming soaked. Belly button, I can certainly vouch for it, felt like it would shrivel up and just drop off. Ears probably frozen. Hands…gosh…we didn’t even have gloves until we came back to New York the second time round on a weekend trip from DC! It was the ideal recipe for frostbite and sickness. And before we knew it, we were sick, hysterically laughing with our hoarse sores throats at our adventurous nature.

Regardless, we powered on! The Empire State building was the next challenge! As we reached the top of the building and pushed open the doors to the observation deck, we were smacked in the face with a ripping wind. Fearlessly, cameras were out snapping away at the best views we could find. There was a point when my fingers just refused to function, even my phone’s touch sensitive button no longer registered my hand with the lack of blood in my fingertips. Alternating between the hot running water of the bathroom and the cold, we flitted in and out of the building photo-snapping for as long as possible – a pair of madmen.

Soon our time was drawing to an end and it was almost time to head to DC for the start of the IPP Program! All play no work makes one dull I say! I suppose it was time for us to resume our studies and gain some real work experience. We were sad to leave but little did we know that one last adventure, a very expensive one, would haunt us forever.

BONUS CHAPTER: When Bus met Train.

You book a shuttle. You expect to take that shuttle. You also would expect to have the seats you booked for. WELL, not with this company! They love the idea of overbooking – taking in more people than the bus can handle – so it becomes a race against time to get there on time and get a seat (but yes, I must acknowledge out errors too)! We arrived 1 minute later.

9.31.

“Sorry we only have one seat left. You can just split up. One person takes the bus to DC now. The other one waits for the next bus in 4 hours. Also, there is no guarantee that the second person will get a seat”. Those were the words that costed us $40 – 160 Chicken nuggets from Maccas or 40 McFlurries if you want to convert it to a measurable currency. To make matters worse, knowing that there was no guarantee of two seats on the next bus, we took the AMTRAC.

Last minute booking, as you all know hikes prices up and we ended up paying– now I’m not going to you how much but I’ll tell you one thing it costed for the both of us, let’s see...2000 nuggets! And so, the underdressed, now poor Aussie boys lugged their overstuffed suitcases to the train station, squeezed on to the train, shoved their suitcases in perilous places along the carriage and sat with a guitar spanning their laps.

3 hours later we were in DC. The details of the trip you may be wondering? Cramped. Long. Despairing. Hungry.
We had made it! The ordeal was through and we sure did learn our lesson then and I’m adamant that there will be many more lessons to come when we start our placements!

It’s time to buckle down and enter another chapter in this adventure!

~ David Lai :)

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Next stop, San Francisco! To be completely honest, I didn’t know much about it. It just seemed like a nice place to go to and of course the home of the Golden State Bridge and for all you NBA fans, the Golden State Warriors. Upon arrival though, I could immediately sense the difference in ambience between Korea and SF. It wasn’t so much a lack of energy but there was a less frantic vibe, an all-round feeling of chill. A nice change in fact!

Rather than the usual disconnection between individuals as people rushed past you in the street, taxis honking and the low rumble of suitcases being dragged across concrete, the only sign of travellers was us. If I had to compare it so some place, I really think that San Fran is like Sydney in a way. Perhaps that’s why it felt homier than other destinations I’ve been too!

Dressed in our colourful coats and scarves as we lugged our bags to where we were staying, we were greeted by passer-bys saying “Welcome home!” It was as if they weren’t even expecting visitors! It was a little odd, but I’m not going to lie, it felt nice being accepted as a San Franciscan.

Before I go into what we did…there is one thing that’s odd about San Francisco…something that slightly bothers me…it’s their public transport system. I can comprehend an underground rail system like the subway. On the surface light rail is fine too. So is a horse-drawn cart if they really wanted! BUT what in the world is a vehicle that switches from looking like an underground train then abruptly morphs into a tram?! Ludicrous!

Moving on, out of all the places, we could have visited first, we somehow ended up in Castro, the LBGT capital of San Francisco – a large rainbow flag marking the area’s pride. What captured our attention though were the store names…they all awkwardly contained strange innuendos which I suppose…best be left out of this innocent post ^^”…but hilarious nonetheless! We saw interesting things, observed things we didn’t know existed and fascinated by the highly accepting culture of the area. Amid all the hype about equal marriage rights within Australia with the High Court deeming such marriages unconstitutional (deeming so many same-sex marriages void) and similar occurrences in the US, Castro in its own small way seemed to be challenging all this resistance. It really made you wonder why with all this belief that the modern world was making a transition towards social acceptance and change, why these rights have not yet been implemented. If such a small community as this was able to uphold acceptance, why couldn’t the rest of the world follow suit (of course there are some obvious reasons for not following along but still)?

Next on our itinerary was to visit a number of scenic and structurally interesting places! Composed of a tonne of red steel, bolts and suspension, The Golden Gate Bridge was indeed a sight to behold! Standing high up, I was able to look across to the “Golden Gate” – which I learnt from our highly knowledgeable tour guide Anton was because the bridge spanned the narrow entrance between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay (yes you still do learn on holidays!). A lover of high places, oceans and sun, standing high up was exhilarating. I inhaled the fresh, crisp ocean air (okay maybe not entirely fresh with toxic fumes billowing from trucks around me) but still, I breathed it all in taking in the panoramic view. Indeed, every bridge is an amazing structure, the thickness of the suspension cables and the engineering prowess underpinning its construction always leaving one in absolute awe!

On par with the Golden Gate Bridge, I would have to say was Lombard Street, the quirky winding road and Filbert Street, the steepest road in San Fran! Quite novel sights they were and even more intriguing was the annual trike competitions that were held on Lombard – a little perilous but undoubtedly amusing. Just imagine, hundreds of people crammed on a narrow winding road, their legs hanging over tiny little three wheeled bikes, the type that children play with, recklessly racing one another.

The highlight though had to be spending New Year’s Eve in San Fran. In fact, we were part of the few populations around the whole world that shouted “Happy New Year” last! I remember the excitement churning through me as we stood at Fisherman’s Wharf eagerly anticipating the fireworks. Unlike the sardine squishing I often encountered in Sydney, there was ample space to navigate around and more importantly breath without being smacked in the face by a sweaty arm or sin worst cases, a sweaty behind…Then a quiet silence subsumed the area.

Slowly, everyone became hushed.
We waited.
Watched.

Then, boom! Music echoed through the night. Cheers reverberated around the pier and I jumped up and down to the beat fearing deep inside that that delicious clam chowder I had was going to come out. It was a magnificent sight – a vibrant burst of colours trailing through the air as we watched the fireworks. We all felt nostalgic yet excited spending out first New Year’s away from home!

Anyway, I think it’s time to go now! It’s kinda late here but I’ll keep you posted on my next adventure soon.

~ David Lai :)

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Hello again!

It was the land of spices and chilli. The land where you can’t eat dinner if your tastebuds just don’t have the guts. And no, it’s not India. It was Korea! On my way to Washington, I was lucky enough to have a brief but packed 22 hours in Seoul - a hub of bustling commercial zones, matchbox apartments, the mother of PSY’s Gangnam Style and the capital of K-Pop all nestled within an extremely rich cultural mantle.

My friends and I had stepped off the plane a couple of hours earlier, doggedly searching for our accommodation before seeking out some yummifuls. We were disappointingly confronted by a dilapidated façade of dirtied concrete, a shifty stairwell and a massage parlour…the supposedly grand entrance to “K-Pop Residence II” (being impoverished students, cheap accommodation does come at a cost!). Reasons as to why the name itself wouldn’t have triggered “dodgy” in my mind earlier still escapes me. That aside, the inside wasn’t too bad and more importantly, it was…err…safe!

That aside, it was time to hunt down the food. Oh how my stomach was crying out to be nourished! Luckily, our apartment was right on the street of shops, restaurants and neon lights, the sort of winding, Tokyo-esque street you always see on travel brochures and wish to walk down. The electric energy was overwhelming. Just the sheer number of people still socialising at night around 10pm was a cultural shock, but one that I wholly embraced because it just meant more time for fun. Back home 5.30pm weekdays, office workers and students alike lethargically trudge back home, heads down, earphones in. Here, the youthful buzz was frenetic. Chattering. Laughter. Music. It truly was an interesting situation to be immersed in a nation where you didn’t speak the language. All around were unfamiliar phonetic sounds and tones. It felt isolating but at the same time enriching – a strange paradox of fear and excitement at being the tourist, the odd one out.

Best of all though was the perpetual scent of Korean BBQ and whatever wonderful Asian dishes were being cooked was infused into the night air. Occasionally, a waft of freshly baked sweets from side carts tickled your nose, enticing you to stop and stare at mounds of fluffy cupcakes, rice cakes, nutty cakes and more cakes as the befuddled store owners stare back into your crazed eyes trying to figure out whether you were a depraved thief or just madly ravished.

Unfortunately, a natural suspicion made them lean towards the latter – the subsequent barrage of words running from mouths (just like the saliva running from our mouths at this point time), which we hoped said something like “are you going to buy it or not” rather than “*@#$%” brought us back to reality. Sheepishly, we shook our heads and walk off. It was then that we found it. A restaurant with smoke billowing from a large metal vent awkwardly protruding from its side window. And applying the often flawed tourist ideology of “Oh look! Lots of locals eating in there. Must be good!” we walked in. Nose first and stomachs rumbling we stared at the huge stone dishes and their contents of rice and meat gently sizzling on a hot plate. Delicious! Tourist logic must be infallible! We sat down and ordered, selecting the biggest plate on the menu, some chicken, rice, veggie combo.

Efficiency was peaking. 1st minute cups of water appeared on the table. 2nd minute small side dishes of kimchi, radishes and bean sprouts were laid on the table. 3rd minute a stone plate arrived. 4th minute, a bunch of ingredients were thrown in. 5th minute, the plate was sizzling, food cooking. By the 7th Minute, it was done.
Eyes wide open we dug in, piling our plates with the rice…dismissing the fact that the dish was….really red…I mean orange, crimson, chilli red. The whole thing. That’s right the rice bowl was saturated with chilli. In we charged – a brave but idiotic trio of hungry musketeers. Spoons drawn like swords, shovelling the rich spices into our mouths. It was magical.

That night we breathed fire.

Anyway, enough on food and the realisation that though not completely flawed tourist logic on the best food places need to implemented with touch of cultural finesse, we were ready for more adventures – we were all fired up (literally too)! Next morning, we recovered. Just a few kilometres from the central area were shrines and palaces, magnificent structures of stone ornamented with the most intricate designs and traditional carvings. We decided to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace and to say the least, it was not a disappointment. Located on the fringe of the city, it was interesting to observe the disparity between the sprawl of glaring glass, steel and concrete towering high in the distance while here we were standing in a large open space, encapsulated by the surreal tranquillity and fresh mountain air of the palace grounds. I always wondered to myself whenever I saw such sights as to how such an urban development could occur. There was a transition from ancient traditions to urbanisation, yet there was still room for co-existence – perhaps this was indicative of how culture and history are truly engrained aspects of humanity, it is what shapes nations after all!

That contemplative mood didn’t last long though. Trigger happy tourists, our cameras were out in a second as we snapped photographs of the place. Running wild across the empty grounds. But as out energy waned (partly from the lack of food…), it was refreshing to be in such an open space. Slowly, I began to walk, absorbing the atmosphere around me, the expanse of gardens and observing the way the light glanced off the top of frozen ponds. It was a good chance to just relax one last time before we headed to the US – the true capital of lights and energy!

Soon, it was time to say bye to Korea. Returning to our K-Pop Residence II, we packed, faces turned towards a new adventure. 안녕 (Bye)!

~ David Lai :)

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Hello all! On top of the already buzzing excitement of the ever approaching Christmas season and the frenetic rush to secure the best gifts, there is of course the overwhelming thrill of my imminent trip to the land of opportunism –THE USA!

The last time I found myself amid the bustling milieu of the States, I was a mere youngling, a little wide-eyed 13 year old from Trinity Grammar School who marvelled at the sight of towering skyscrapers (and of course, as any sane child would, utterly confuzzled as to how in the world that cumbersome ape King Kong ever managed to get atop the Empire State…). Back then, it was all about the sights and sounds, the more obvious aspects of the nation that triggered my love for the US.

Now, I feel that things are a little different. Yes, I will be going there to capture the best Kodak moment, visit the popular attractions and embrace the invigorating ambience of energy and hustle. But above all, I’m looking forward to the hurly-burly of cross-cultural transition. To be cast into the deep end of the pool as an Aussie student in the US – living, breathing and working in Washington DC – an area where once I could only observe from the perspective of a camera-hugging tourist.

This time I won’t just be hearing the incessant snapping of cameras accompanied by the occasional oohs and aahs. This time, I will be immersed in the pulsating dual-lives (almost like a superhero!) of a US student and worker, hearing the voices of the new people I meet, the rhythmic pattering of office keyboards and the hum of great collaborative minds. This time, it will truly be a life-changing experience! I am so thankful the Business School has provided me with this wondrous opportunity.

Each night, there is a growing anticipation, a surge of electricity that shoots through me before I sleep. What will it be like the moment I set foot into the airport? My first day at UCDC? My first day at work? The people I’ll meet? What strange queries will I face about my supposed pet kangaroo (apparently named Steve) that I ride to school? (Yes…this is not a delusion of mine…I have been asked this while in line for a Broadway show…!)
My mind just whirs round and round!

BUT, time keeps creeping forward and in less than a week I’ll be on a plane, jetting to Korea, stopping for a frantic food finding, fun filled, frenzied twenty-two hours before jumping back onto the plane. And then, I will be there – at last – in the USA.

Meeting the rest of my fellow Washington DCers at the pre-departure ceremony, where I also had the privilege of meeting Consul General Hugo Llorens, only confirmed how amazing this trip will be! I can’t wait to continue building both existing and new friendships. It’ll be a blast!
For now, my still empty suitcases are beckoning to be filled with the horrendous mound of clothes spilling from my wardrobe… So, I suppose that it’s bye for now! More excitement coming soon!

~ David Lai :)

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