Three Places, Three Projects: A Research-Filled Summer


 A crew of businessmen and businesswomen all dressed in black and white, confidently prancing their way down the Mid-Level Escalators while their clones emerge from various corners of the street, including the ‘underground’. A sunlit sandy beach, mysterious societies of men who pledge their allegiance to the glorious local gastronomic scene, a surreal land where imagination seems to have taken over reality. A page from history that cannot be erased and remains a divisive force after decades…


These images, and many more, encompass the essence of my three-month summer. Despite all their differences, Hong Kong, Spain (Cádiz, San Sebastián, and Barcelona), and Beijing will now be linked to each other in my mind in some interesting ways.

I have always loved researching: the sight of books piles up high on my desk or scattered all over it is a pleasurable one in itself. This summer provided me with some fantastic opportunities to conduct both guided and independent academic research projects, involving desktop research, onsite/field research, and team collaboration.

Summer 2016 officially started for me as I handed in the final papers for my courses — halfway through college! Almost immediately as I returned all the library books, I started the desktop research phase for the projects before proceeding to my sites. The more “homework” I could complete, the more I could get out of the field research phase. Desktop research continued throughout the summer as an indispensable way of providing a large and powerful supply of knowledge — quickly, too.

For my internship in Hong Kong, my goal was to analyze the dynamics behind the upcoming September Legislative Council (LegCo) election by examining key issues and striving to predict plausible outcomes. I liked the idea of designing and developing my own “syllabus” for this portion of the summer, giving myself certain deadlines while documenting the directions that I would choose to take. For me, this was a valuable learning process where I volunteered to take the role of the professor in a sense, sketching out general directions and required readings for each day while being very flexible about changing plans where necessary.

As I was in Hong Kong for this project, I tried to take full advantage of my time on the site, getting incredibly excited whenever I spotted LegCo-related materials on the streets and even more so when I got the chance to visit the LegCo Complex when its weekly meeting was in session. I was immensely fortunate to receive the invaluable guidance and mentorship of Mr. Bernard Chan, a Pomona College alumnus and trustee who serves a wide array of roles including deputy to the National People’s Congress, current Hong Kong Executive Council member, and former LegCo member. In addition to hearing Mr. Chan’s firsthand experience in the Hong Kong government, I also benefitted greatly from interviewing a veteran political journalist in the city as well as a think tank director, among other locals with whom I chatted to grasp the picture at large. Although the 47-page (!) research paper was completed, the project triggered my interest in the political scene in Hong Kong, whose geopolitics had always been particularly fascinating to me per the city’s uniqueness.

A very different project that usually receives a lot of “wows” from my friends when we talk about our summer adventures, surely, is my “grand food tour” (as some of them call it) in Spain. Of course, I didn’t just “sit and eat” across the country, although experiencing Spanish cuisine firsthand was certainly a significant component. Funded by Pomona College’s Iberian Grant, my project aimed to explore the evolution of Spanish gastronomy in relation to Spain’s shifting regional and national identities as well as external forces including globalization. Food, cooking, and eating are in themselves a powerful mirror of social and political changes over the years — one that we can tangibly see on a daily basis.

A fun, research-filled summer
A fun, research-filled summer

A highlight of the onsite research phase, in addition to all the interviews with some of the chosen sites’ most celebrated chefs, was my four-day course at the Luis Irizar cooking school in San Sebastián, Spain’s very own culinary capital with a jaw-dropping number of Michelin restaurants. As I don’t cook very well or very often, this experience was certainly way outside my comfort zone: especially that the course was specifically on seafood and featured materials such as octopus and local fishes that I had never seen before. In the fast-paced kitchen, I quickly bonded with the other students (who are mostly in their 50s or 60s) and our instructor, gaining some wonderful insights from them.

The final part of my summer was a five-week politics research project focusing on Sino-Japanese relations, especially Chinese responses to Japanese apologies concerning Japan’s World War II atrocities in China, such as the “comfort women” issue. I worked alongside my professor who specializes in militarism, security issues, and East Asian politics, as well as three peers who focus on Japan, South Korea, and China’s perspectives, respectively. We each chose our own directions to take and aspects to dive deeper into while using a qualitative data analysis software called Atlas.ti to code and analyze hundreds of sources, including polls, government speeches, editorials, scholarly articles, etc. I was most interested in how the politics of apologies has been used as strategies by all parities involved across different historical periods, as well as the specific strategies each state chose to adopt, focusing partly on the judicial approach that China and South Korea have taken in relation to Japan’s strategy in using the domestic court system and international laws alike to its own advantage.

Somewhat paradoxically, summer 2016 felt long but not long enough for me — I am happy to see the outcomes of my research findings and to enjoy some quality bonding time with friends and family members, reading Murakami novels on cozy afternoons, learning new songs, etc.; meanwhile, I couldn’t help noting so much potential to dive deeper into the topics explored and beyond. Like other things in life, the three research projects did have official “end dates”. Yet, despite the culmination of the projects, I am eager to carry them on in my future endeavors.