Dear Hong Kong, Consider My Mind Blown. Love Always, Ashton.

While en route to Hong Kong, I wondered how it would compare to Beijing: Would the food be different? How does the culture compare? Etc. I’ve seen Hong Kong on TV and in the movies, but that doesn’t even begin to do this booming metropolis any justice.

Contrary to Beijing, arriving in Hong Kong felt like being transported into a modern, civilized Chinese world with hundreds of skyscrapers, bright city lights, and some of the most amazing natural landscapes I’d ever seen.
I couldn’t stop scanning the narrow, busy streets lined with huge bright signs hanging over the roads. It was exactly what I had pictured Hong Kong to be. With only three days in the city we needed to explore, and explore quickly!

Our first day was spent cruising Kowloon. We walked to the harbour and checked out the one-of-a-kind Victoria Harbour skyline. So many buildings! So many lights! When lunchtime came around, I found a place for Hong Kong’s famous Dim Sum. I definitely ate more dumplings that humanly necessary – boy do I love me some dumpling! SO DELICIOUS!
For our first night in Hong Kong our hotel concierge Dan (who turned out to be the coolest guy ever) suggested we check out Lang Kwai Fong, famous for its bumpin’ nightlife. It was amazing! Curvy cobble stone streets lined with pubs, bars, and clubs designed for any preference of nighttime escapade.

We took three bus tours the next day cruising around Hong Kong island, Kowloon, and Stanley, riding the tram up Victoria Peak (the highest point in Hong Kong), taking a ride on a fishing boat, and seeing all the important tourist spots.

At first I was most excited to see Hong Kong, but then I saw Stanley. Google it immediately! All I can say is, looks like I know where my next dream condo will be! In my head when thinking about Hong Kong, I only pictured busy downtown cores and skyscrapers literally scraping the sky.

I never considered what the south of the island would look like: bright blue beaches surrounded by stunning mountain landscapes that wrap around quaint little villages away from the hustle bustle of the downtown core. My jaw was literally dropped the entire tour and I could not take pictures fast enough.
We took a night cruise of Victoria Harbour to see the skyline all lit up. It was insane, I’ve never seen a more impressive skyline. Everywhere you’d look was brighter than the last. We caught the famous Symphony of Lights, but I have to admit it was a bit of a let down. I was definitely expecting more, but at least we can say we’ve seen it!
Strangely enough, the highlight of my trip to Hong Kong was the time spent with Dan and his friends on our rooftop patio. Most of them spoke very little english, but we were still able to communicate well enough. We answered questions about Canada, about speaking english, and shared stories about our two very different cultures.

We even gave two mainland Chinese guys english names naming them Kevin and Bob – best names ever! You have never seen ANYONE more grateful for anything as they were for english names. Glad we could be of service Kevin and Bob! Never have I laughed so hard while only understanding 40 per cent of what someone says to me. Thank goodness “Cheers!” acts as a universal term!
All in all, Hong Kong and Beijing don’t even begin to compare. Beijing is much more rustic, brash, and not so english-friendly, whereas Hong Kong is like New York City with Chinese street signs. It is much more advanced, chic and almost everyone speaks english – thank goodness!

Unfortunately three days was not even close to enough time to see Hong Kong. There was SO much more I wanted to see and do. Looks like I’ll be heading back to Hong Kong some day soon. All I want to know, is who’s coming with me?

Ashton Says: Hong Kong is a fantastic city with great food, great views, and great people. If you haven’t been, add it your bucket list. Don’t miss Lang Kwai Fong, dim sum, and Victoria Peak. If you can, share a Tsing Tao with some locals and learn about Hong Kong’s unforgettable culture.





Burps, Sweat Pants, And Things I Learned Living In Beijing

Well I successfully made through my two months in Beijing. Woo hoo! And now, as I sit on a 24-hour train to Hong Kong, I’m given the perfect opportunity to look back at my time spent in the huge, smoggy city of 22 million people.
Coming into this internship, I really had no expectations. I knew it would be busy, I knew it would be polluted, and I knew I would have absolutely no idea what anything or anyone says. I really had no idea what to expect from the Beijing people. I didn’t know the culture and I didn’t know social protocols.

Other than that, I was a sponge waiting to soak in the experience. I remember first getting off the plane and thinking, “Okay Ashton, you can do this…”

I quickly learned that the Chinese people can be some of the kindest, most generous, and welcoming people I’d ever met. (Sure you’ve got your Grumpy Cats but you’ll find those everywhere.) People were often very helpful, very accommodating and very keen on sharing their culture with us.

And the longer I lived in Beijing, the more I began appreciating some of their customs over ours. I loved how people just did what they needed to do when they needed to do it and how day-to-day no one really cared about looking, doing, or saying the “right” thing.

I began to think of Canada as the land of over-polite, hyper sensitive people constantly apologizing for things that really don’t require an apology, whereas Beijing is more like the land of “Move it or lose it” – a system I honestly much preferred!

At home we’re always so worried about hurting someone’s feelings, looking appropriate and appearing like some high-class citizen when really all I want to do is barge passed you, burp after eating, and wear sweat pants to the office. Is that really so much to ask? It seemed like in Beijing all of those were perfectly acceptable options.

So I continued to wonder: Why are we, as Canadians, so self-conscious about everything we do? Wouldn’t it be nice to, for once, feel no shame, no guilt, and no worries about your appearance and your behaviour in public?
Although I do admit sometimes life in Beijing was a little aggressive and sometimes borderline rude (aka peeing in the street and spitting all over the place), I can’t help but wonder, is there a happy medium somewhere between the over-polite and the over-rude?

Ashton Says: What I learned living in Beijing: never forget that your culture is not always right. People have been growing and learning from others for thousands of years. Don’t be rude, don’t be hurtful, but learn to accept that no one really cares what you look like, you can never please everyone, and always be happy with who you are.


Slimy Yet Satisfying

Alright everyone, this one’s a biggy…

I, Ashton Marcus, ate a scorpion. A SCORPION!! I never, ever, EVER thought that I would eat a bug, let alone a scorpion. But I did it. And I have to say, it wasn’t half bad!

I felt kind of like Simba from The Lion King when he learns to eat bugs. “Hakuna Matata” I told myself as I slid the terrifying looking scorpion off the kebab and into my mouth.

Thank goodness it was oily and salty because I really did not want to know what that squish actually tasted like.

Although I didn’t quite make it to eating spiders or snakes, I’m pretty proud of myself for settling with the scorpion.

Excellent job, Ashton.

Ashton Says: Peer Pressure can be a bitch, but sometimes it pushes you into unforgettable moments and unique experiences that you know you’d regret not doing. It’s okay to give in sometimes. Life is too short! Hakuna Matata.





Germany Meets China – Beijing Oktoberfest

Who would have thought that I’d celebrate two Oktoberfests in a row?!

Last year, my bestie Jon and I went to the real thing in Munich, Germany and had crazy amounts of fun. So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that Beijing was hosting its very own Oktoberfest this year.

With tents inspired by those found in Munich, Beijing overflowed with huge 1L beers, warm salty pretzels, and delicious roasted sausages. There were also a few things on the menu that reminded me I was still in China aka not knowing what the heck you’re eating.

We met up with this amazing American couple whom we met on the plane ride here. They brought along a bunch of other friends so our group totalled about 12 people. We all got along really well right away – usually chirping the other about whose country is better. GO CANADA GO!!

The day was a beautiful, sunny day and we were ready for our beers. We sat in the Hofbrauhaus tent which was recreated after the famous tent in Munich. Seating probably 2,000 people, these are not your typical tents.

We spent the whole day drinking out of massive steins and listening to either German folk music or not-so-great Pop music covers. Can’t blame them for trying!

All-in-all we had a great day. We made some new friends, shared some hilarious stories, and ate some delicious food. Doesn’t get much better than that if you ask me!

Ashton Says: No matter where you are, Oktoberfest-ing is always a good time. But remember to bring your arm strength – those beers are HEAVY!!

China Week 5 – Bei Hai Park

Boy Beijing is a cool city. I’m really loving it here.

Since we’ve already visited all the major attractions (The Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc. etc) we’ve taken to exploring Beijing’s natural beauties. And by natural I mean man-made parks and lakes – thank you Chinese emperors!

This past weekend we went to Bei Hai Park. An imperial garden for more than 1,000 years, it only opened to the public in 1925. It’s filled with artificial hills, stunning pavilions and beautiful temples.

My favourite part was the Jade Island. Located in the centre of Bei Hai lake, it’s topped with a giant White Dagoba, a Tibetan-style stupa built to honour the Dalai Lama in 1651. The day was perfect: the sun was shining and the humidity was low. A perfect day for a walk in the park if I do say so myself.



Also I should note, for five weeks now we’ve seen people eating these mystery white popsicles. They always look so delicious and we wondered what flavour could it possibly be?! White freezie or coconut?! OR could it be something completely unknown?!

You’ll be happy to know, we finally got our white popsicles. And the flavour was NEITHER white freezie nor coconut! It almost tasted like a mixture of the two with a touch of banana. Strange I know, but also incredibly delicious. Like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.

The case of the mystery white popsicle: solved.

We finished our Saturday night by meeting up with a friend we met a few weeks ago. He took us to this club where we actually ran into other people we know (some guys we met a few days prior)!! I never thought in a city of 22 million people, and considering we really have no friends here, we could bump into someone we know! Insane. Our little Chinese social circle is blossoming quite nicely.

Ashton Says: Chinese white popsicles: mind = blown.





Oh The Adventures We Had…

I’m a bit late on this one since it’s about our Saturday adventures and now its Thursday but oh well. Better late than never right…? Work with me on this one.

Anyways, Saturday (August 31) we took ourselves on one epic adventure around Hou Hai lake which is about a mile north of the Forbidden City.

We started walking through a bunch of hutongs which are like old alley ways. They’re all very narrow and go in every direction possible. It’s really hard to know which way you’re actually walking.
Just when you think you’ve walked yourself into Rapeville, USA, you pop out onto a street and find the beautiful Protect the Nation Temple or Prince Gong’s abandoned mansion. It’s quite amazing how modern China is just wrapped around different sections of ancient China – every once in a while you’re reminded how old, and rich with history, this city really is.
One of my favourite parts was finding the outdoor “gym”. You think it’s a playground for children but really they’re meant for adult exercise. I definitely had WAY too much fun on these things.


After a very confusing walk, we ended up at the waterfront of Hou Hai. In a city this big, a concrete jungle like none I’ve ever seen before, it was so nice to be near open water. Maybe it’s the pisces in me but boy do I love being near the water; makes me feel at peace inside.

We walked along the water for a while and stumbled upon a tourist area reminiscent of Italy’s Venice – narrow rivers with boats, cafes, and cute restaurants. We managed to find a rooftop patio that overlooked the water and provided excellent people watching. A perfect end to our perfect day.

Saturday night was no less interesting than our day. We again ended up back at Sanlitun (typical us) and walked into a club called Cheers. I will never get used to the hilarity that is Beijing’s dance clubs. The music, the dancing, the crowd – all absolutely hilarious.

We met some locals, who didn’t speak ANY english, but wanted so badly to be our friends. It’s pretty amazing how much you can communicate without understanding a single word the other person is saying. When it doubt, just cheers your drinks and smile.

I also found 500 Yuan on the dance floor which is equivalent to about $80 CAD. EXCELLENT FIND ASHTON! So needless to say, drinks and post-bar McDonald’s (again, typical us) were on me all night. Woop woop!

We’re starting to feel really at home in this city and I can’t believe we only have a few weeks left here. I will definitely miss my home here in Beijing.

Ashton Says: Learn to say “Cheers!” in the local language wherever you are visiting. It is the best solution to any miscommunications on a dance floor.


Love From A Distance

Here I am on day 27 in Beijing; it’s almost been a month since I left Toronto for this amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip to Asia.

As grateful as I am for this opportunity and all the lessons I’ve learned already, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to miss my friends and family. Although technology makes it incredibly easy to communicate, it’s not the same as being there in person. I can feel the distance between us all.

I miss the hugs, the laughs, and the general closeness.

It’s weird though. Even though I’m literally on the other side of the world I can most definitely also feel the love, even from this distance. With every Facebook message, random iMessage chat, and every Skype date, I’m reminded how crazy blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life.

I know everyone is rooting for me over here and they’re motivations are what keep me going. I know I’ll see everyone soon enough. And I’ll have so many stories to tell and so many stories to hear.

I hope everyone in the world can know the blessing of great friends and family. It is the biggest honour I could ever ask for.

Thank you for loving me from a distance.

Ashton Says: Life is nothing without the love of those around you. I’m grateful for you all every day.

In the words of movie version Maria Von Trapp, played by my idol, Julie Andrews, “Nothing comes from nothing, Nothing ever could, So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.


China Day 24 – Climbing The Great Wall

This weekend I finally visited China’s Great Wall – let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I can’t describe how inspiring is it to visit something so well-known and that’s over 1,000 years old. So historic and so monumental – it gave me a whole new appreciation for life; past, present and future.

Our guide suggested we go to the Juyonguan Pass section of the wall as it would be less crowded and more beautiful than the more famous mountain-pass, Badaling. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains and clean, fresh air, we began our hike up the Wall.

If for a minute you think the Wall is mostly flat, think again. When they say “Mountain Pass” they really need to emphasize the “mountain” part. It was literally straight uphill. The steps ranged from small easy steps, to huge two-foot-high steps. I have absolutely no idea how people managed to walk this path daily. Props to you my ancient Chinese friends.

Each landing was equipped with an incredible view of China’s natural landscape. Just when you thought you’d seen every angle of the mountains, you’d climb another 200 feet and witness a view more incredible than the last.

“Going up is the hardest part,” they told me, “coming down is easy,” they said. All I have to say to that is: HA!

By the time you get to the highest point your legs will take you, your muscles are so shakey and tired that walking down is almost more challenging. Knowing me and my clumsiness, I was so afraid of missing a giant step down and having a domino-effect on everyone else. (Wouldn’t that make a great YouTube video…)

It was truly a remarkable experience I will never forget. The scenery alone is worth the hike, let alone being part of ancient Chinese history.

After the Great Wall we visited the Ming Tombs. Although beautiful, I have to say I kind of felt like I was in a zombie apocalypse here. Allow me to expand.

Apparently Chinese people are very superstitious and feel that burial grounds are bad luck. This means that no one visits the Ming Tombs. In my past month here, everywhere I’ve gone has been packed with people – PACKED! Ming Tombs: empty.

There was literally us five and maybe five other people. You’d think having the place to ourselves would be nice, but instead it just really freaked me out. I’m so used to being pushed and shoved that I’ve forgotten what personal space feels like.

The architecture surrounding the Tombs was beautiful. The detail the Chinese people put into their buildings is outstanding. Hand painted and hand carved from floor to ceiling. Absolute perfection.

We also visited a jade factory where I bought myself a charm for my bracelet! The green colour of the jade will be a perfect addition. The charm is a small round jade circle with a Chinese symbol for happiness inside.

For anyone who knows me, I’m quite the happy gal. I always try to think positively and live life with a smile on my face. And now I get to carry some happiness with me wherever I go. Loves it. It’s so pretty and I can’t wait to add it on!

After the jade factory we went to Beijing’s Olympic stadiums, the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. So crazy cool!

Welp, that’s about it for weekend number four here in Beijing. Hard to believe I’m in my fourth week here!

I can’t even imagine what else is coming my way… More pics below!

Ashton Says: Be sure to visit international heritage sites and take the time to breathe it all in. It’s so easy to get caught in our own little bubbles and forget that we are just small pieces to a huge never-ending puzzle. Find your spot.









Beijing City Tour – Highlights

After our epic fail on Saturday (we got lost trying to find our tour’s meeting spot so we missed the tour completely) we successfully made out tour on Sunday. We visited the Temple of Heaven, Tiannamen Square, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.


All linked to ancient Chinese Emperors, these places were exactly what I had envisioned when I thought of ancient China. The temples had brilliant hand-carved details and colours visible from kilometres away – let’s just say these imperial residences made Versailles look insignificant and dare I say, common?

The day was actually a beautiful, sunny day with essentially no humidity. This apparently never happens so we were very grateful. I totally get the sun umbrella now. That sun gets damn hot and there is very little shade. I bought my very own fancy sunbrella and it saved my life!

We started in Tiannamen Square, the third largest city square in the world. It leads to the Tiannamen Gate which opens up into the Forbidden City.


The Forbidden City was insanely cool. The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Located in the centre of Beijing, it now acts as a Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

It was as if the Forbidden City’s grounds went on forever. Every time I thought it couldn’t get any bigger, we’d walk through another gate into yet another massive courtyard. The Emperor definitely knew how to live in luxury. I’ve been taking notes for when I build Temple-a-la-Ashton.


The Summer Palace is where the Emperor would go for vacation. And let me tell you, he did not skimp on this one either. The Palace is again a massive estate surrounding a man-made lake and beautiful greenery. It is also home to the longest painted corridor in the world. Absolutely beautiful.

Anyways, we had a hoot exploring some of Beijing’s famous landmarks. Sunday was also the first day we had people ask to take photos with us – pretty exciting haha.

Ashton Says: Dear future husband, I would like a bright, colourful temple with a lake and mountain view. That is all. Love Ashton.


New Friends, New Perspectives, New Person.


Before travelling to China, I really had no idea what to expect from Beijing and the Chinese people. I have to be honest, I was really quite uninformed and uneducated about the culture within a communist country. I knew only what I’d seen in the movies (so realistic…) and what I’d heard in the news (also not always very helpful).

But as per usual, immersing yourself in the culture and meeting the locals is really the only way to learn what’s really going on.

I’ve been here 16 days now and I have to say my eyes have been opened already. Not that I expected people to be cold towards us, but I certainly did not expect people to be so warm towards us! Everyone we’ve met has been so incredibly welcoming and friendly to us. Restaurant owners, retail workers and even taxi drivers offer us their help however we may need it and introduce us to their friends and family.

Just last night, we struggled to get a taxi (help me I’m white!) so we went to see our friend William who owns a fantastic restaurant around the corner, and he called a driver for us and arranged a pick up and price on our behalf. It was so helpful and so generous.

This week at work was a bit slow so we strolled through some different departments and met some more of our co-workers. People were so excited to talk to us; they asked us questions about our homes, our families, our jobs, everything and anything. Similarly, they shared the same info with us. It was really quite amazing how despite the distance globally, and the cultural difference, we’re not really so different.


Women still feel self-conscious even though they’re beautiful, they gossip about men, and love pigging out with their girlfriends.

Last night we were invited our for dinner with a friend we’d met last weekend, he introduced us to some friends of his – a Canadian, a Kiwi, and a Beijinger – who have all lived in China for years. After many discussions about the culture, they explained to me that China is actually the land of relationship building. They continued that it’s all about being adventurous, meeting new people, and leaving your mark on the world.

Strangely enough, this is exactly what I’m trying to do right now. Hard to believe a series of random events in my life can lead me to a place where discovery and relationship building are the fundamentals of cultural survival.

I’ve only been here 2.5 weeks and I already feel like a new person. I can’t wait to see what else I learn about Chinese culture and also about myself.

Ashton Says: Travel is everything. Meeting new people, sharing stories, and learning about others is the most valuable information you can ever receive. Never turn it down. And always keep your mind open.