Three Perfect Days: Hong Kong
Monday, August 12th
Hong Kong International Airport Authority announced restrictions for arriving and departing flights. We continue to monitor the situation and will provide flight status updates to our customers.
Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Photography by Victor Cheng | Hemispheres August 2019
Like many world capitals, Hong Kong entered the 21st century with a renewed sense of purpose. In 1997, the city bid farewell to 156 years of British colonial rule, and Hong Kongers have since experienced a period of transformation, growth, and experimentation. Developments like Victoria Dockside and the West Kowloon Cultural District have reshaped the skyline, a shiny new train station has connected the city—symbolically and practically—with other booming Chinese metropolises like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and next-generation tycoons (such as Rosewood Hotels' 38-year-old CEO Sonia Cheng) are reinvigorating it from the inside out. There's no better time to explore this place, as it remakes itself from a staid financial hub into a progressive city of tomorrow.
Tarts, temples and Tai Kwun
The former Police Headquarters Block at Tai Kwun
Hong Kong is a vertigo-inducing, vertical city, with more skyscrapers than any other place on the planet. Especially on Hong Kong Island—the Manhattan of this 263-island archipelago—folks build skyward, turning the green hillsides into upturned combs of tightly packed towers. I wake up on the top floor of the Ovolo Central, a boutique hotel in a relatively modest 27-floor building just up the hill from the party-hearty Lan Kwai Fong district. Up here, I'm at eye level with gliding birds of prey (the ubiquitous black kites), and I suspect we have the same thing in mind: breakfast.
My goal is to eat as many buns and dumplings and tarts as possible while here, so I walk five minutes down the hill to grab a custardy egg tart at the 65-year-old Tai Cheong Bakery. For good measure, I cut across the street to the no-frills Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns and order the signature sheng jian bao, which are crunchy on top and squirt scalding pork broth like erupting cherry tomatoes when bitten into. They take some practice.
A few minutes back uphill sits Tai Kwun (Cantonese for “the big house"), a sprawling new cultural center that comprises the imposing colonial-era prison, courthouse, and police station, plus two new contemporary art spaces by Swiss starchitects Herzog & de Meuron. It's the city's biggest conservation project ever, and I hop on an English-language tour to appreciate the full scale of the place. “We called it a one-stop approach to law and order," says the guide, as we stop under a towering mango tree in the courtyard. “A lot of police officers believed that if a tree bore a lot of fruit that year, it would be a good year for promotions. Others thought a lot of mangoes meant a lot of bad things were going to happen in the city. For police officers, those two ideas aren't necessarily incompatible!"
The Fortress Hill MTR Station
I tour through the old cells (cramped!) and the new contemporary art museum (avant-garde!) and then make my way a few blocks west to PMQ, the former Police Married Quarters barracks. It's now a multistory design incubator, where local artists sell everything from a roast goose stuffed animal to steamed bun–shaped salt and pepper shakers. Did I mention people here really love to eat? On the first floor, I stock up on kitschy souvenirs at design chain G.O.D. (Goods of Desire), but how to choose between mah-jongg-tile-print underwear and a “Dinner's Ready" apron that sarcastically uses figures from Maoist propaganda posters?
For lunch, I hop on a Ding Ding—a double-decker, onomatopoeic tram—and head to Causeway Bay, the land of glitzy shopping malls. While most dim sum spots have all the charm of a bar mitzvah banquet hall, John Anthony is a Wes Andersonian fantasia of sherbet tones and tropical wallpaper patterns. Named for the first Chinese man to become a British citizen in 1805, the restaurant nods to his legacy with a menu of globally focused dim sum, such as Szechuan Iberico pork rolls, abalone teppanyaki, and cumin lamb dumplings. The waitress tells me to order the air-dried duck because “people love it for Instagram." Far from a gimmick, it's a delicious work of edible art, potato-chip-crispy shards of duck prosciutto draped over a craggy geological formation made of honey.
After snapping a glamour shot of that duck, I hop on the immaculately clean MTR subway line back toward Central, getting out a few stops early to take a ride on the Mid-Levels Escalator—2,600 feet of public outdoor escalators and moving sidewalks that make the hilly terrain much more manageable. Eat your heart out, San Francisco.
The shops at PMQ
I stop into Man Mo Temple, which opened in 1847 to honor the literature deity Man Tai. Coils of incense hang from the ceiling, and the air is thick with pungent smoke. (Fun fact: Hong Kong means “fragrant harbor" in Cantonese, in honor of the aromatic agarwood that's used to make incense and that once grew abundantly on these shores.) Formerly a popular spot among scholars and students, the temple is now firmly on the tourist circuit, as evidenced by the middle-aged Russian woman in a floral kimono peeking out seductively from behind a column as she poses for a portrait. A huddle of American travelers get their fortunes read by shaking incense sticks in a bucket. “Now is not the time to be making big decisions," their guide says in a firm tone. The fortune-receiver grimaces.
I continue along Hollywood Road, past antiques shops selling intricately carved mammoth tusks (I'm skeptical), and meet up with Vicky Lau, who was named Asia's best female chef in 2015 for her work at the Michelin-starred Tate Dining Room & Bar. After an unfulfilling advertising career (“I was doing a lot of shampoo ads," she deadpans), Lau attended Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok, having first gotten into cooking in her New York University dorm.
“Coils of incense hang form the ceiling, and the air is thick with pungent smoke."
The Tate space—with its blond wood and soft pink chairs that look like strawberry macarons—is defiantly feminine. “I didn't want something dark and trendy," she says. “I think you should not be afraid to show who you are. If I like pink, I'm going to put in pink!" The menu is distinctly modern, something that felt radical when she opened shop in 2012. “In New York, you've seen a big wave of modern Chinese, but back in the day here, it was all about woks and keeping the tradition," Lau says. “No one wanted to jump out of that. With younger chefs, we're rethinking ingredients." Her inventive tasting menu is inspired by, of all things, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's Odes to Common Things. “We're paying homage to all the ingredients, the seasons, which makes things a little more spiritual," she says. “A meal can feel like short travel."
I order a chardonnay from China's Yanqi region, which is improbably located in the Gobi Desert. “It's a hidden gem," my waiter says. The food is subtle but flavor-packed: Chinese yam with Ossetra caviar, sea scallop with aged kumquat grenobloise sauce, blue lobster with Shaoxing wine foam, steamed pigeon in a Szechuan sauce. The showstopper dessert is a buzzing beehive-shaped box containing petit fours made with honey from urban farms.
Around the corner, I stop for a nightcap at The Sea, a new cocktail den by the trio of bartenders—two Nepalese, one Indonesian—behind the award-winning The Old Man (get it?). The nameless cocktails here purport to be simple, but they're big on flavor. I order the #5, made with peanut-milk rum, banana wine, and pineapple kombucha. It's tropical but sophisticated, inventive but fun-loving. If they need a name, I'd go with the Tiki in a Tesla (this city's favorite car). Or how about just The Hong Konger?
A Hollywood Road antiques shop
The Rosewood Hong Kong's infinity pool reflects the Victoria Harbour Skyline
Creative Kowloon and a tropical day trip
The flamingo-lined rooftop pool at the Eaton HK
If Hong Kong Island is the territory's Manhattan, then Kowloon, across the harbor, is its Brooklyn—a historically louder, messier, more vibrant, more Chinese area. It's a place where high-end (the ultra-glam Peninsula hotel) butts up against working-class (the teeming Chungking Mansions housing complex), and one where a slew of skyline-redefining developments is attracting visitors in droves.
This morning, I'm moving my bags to the Eaton HK, a new activism-minded hotel that opened last fall on an unremarkable corner. Katherine Lo—the daughter of the Langham Hospitality Group chairman—took a gauche 1990s hotel and repurposed it for millennials, complete with a food hall and a members-only coworking space.
In the lobby, I meet the Eaton's director of culture, Chantal Wong, a Canadian expat who's lived here for 13 years. We step outside and look up at the facade, where the old building's tacky billboards now display progressive art installations with messaging like “What if you were free to love everyone you choose?"
The hotel's cocktail bar, Terrible Baby
“We had these massive billboards, so we decided to curate an exhibition and do something meaningful with them," Wong says. One was created by a domestic worker turned Magnum photographer, another by a trans Filipino university professor. “My LGBT friends would feel so proud to see that up there."
We turn down Temple Street, where she tells me I can come later tonight to buy cheap factory goods from Shenzhen or jade—or get my fortune read. I make a mental note. We pass a blingy mah-jongg parlor with neon lights and Corinthian columns. “It's so intimidating, very tense, neon lights," she says. “No one has slept in three days." I'll probably skip that one.
I say goodbye to Wong and continue walking south to the West Kowloon Cultural District, which promises to reshape the waterfront with next year's arrival of the $2.8 billion M+, a museum devoted to contemporary “visual culture." Right now it's still a maze of scaffolding and makeshift tunnels.
In the middle of the urban scrum sits the exceedingly graceful Xiqu Centre, a Chinese opera house that opened in January and is shaped like enormous parted theater curtains surrounding an open-air atrium. I'm lucky enough to have stumbled in during an open rehearsal by a traditional music ensemble. I played bassoon and clarinet from elementary school through college, but I'm totally ignorant when it comes to the instruments here: some sort of banjo, a honking trumpet, a tiny oboe-like thing that squeaks out cheerfully nasal tones. I can't predict where the melody will go or how the chords will (or won't) resolve, but I love how expressive it is, like a gaggle of gossiping waterfowl. On cue, a bunch of songbirds—red-whiskered bulbuls, which look like brown cardinals wearing rouge—start to land in the atrium's trees. Walt Disney would have loved the scene.
"Mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork" dumplings at Ho Lee Fook
From here, I walk a few minutes to the new West Kowloon Station. The undulating train depot, which connects Hong Kong with Guangzhou and Shenzhen, is home to the latest outpost of dim sum staple Tim Ho Wan, which is often called the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. I order the pan-fried turnip cakes, BBQ pork buns, and springy prawn dumplings—all for about the price of a #saddesklunch back in Brooklyn.
This station has me thinking about the world outside the crowded city, so I decide to make an afternoon escape to the New Territories, a huge swath of the mainland and outlying islands that takes up about 90 percent of Hong Kong's landmass. I have my sights set on the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, and specifically its High Island Reservoir East Dam, an otherworldly architectural achievement set on the mountainous Sai Kung Peninsula, in the territory's far eastern stretches, once a stopover on the Maritime Silk Road.
You can get there by a subway followed by a commuter rail followed by a minibus followed by a chartered fishing boat. I decide to splurge on a taxi. Forty minutes later, the landscape shifts to tropical, as my taxi begins tracing mountain roads through jungle terrain, passing hidden coves and secluded beaches and rock formations jutting out of the sea. Do people know about this?“The 1970s dam is a climbable marvel sprinkled with wide cement holes that call to mind a 20-story Whac-a-mole board"
I arrive at a roundabout and start the half-mile hike down to the reservoir, which boasts a surprisingly diverse array of terrains within a 20-minute span: a sea cave, hexagonal rock columns that look like a curvy pipe organ, and the 1970s dam, a climbable marvel sprinkled with wide cement holes that call to mind a 20-story Whac-a-Mole board. Most impressive are the thousands of immense dolosse blocks, 25-ton concrete barriers shaped like giant jacks that are strewn here in piles to fight back against wave erosion. I stumble upon a feral cow munching on weeds under a block, which reminds me: It's been a few hours since I've eaten.
Dolosse blocks at High Island Reservoir East Dam
I head back toward civilization for dinner at Central's cheekily named Ho Lee Fook, the brainchild of Taiwanese chef Jowett Yu. When I arrive, a wall of gold-plated lucky cats waves me down into the basement space. Yu has said that the restaurant is meant to evoke late-night Chinatown dives in 1960s New York, but I can say from experience that the comparison doesn't work: Everything on the menu is too nuanced and creative to make me think of drunken nights over greasy egg rolls and wonton soup.
I order the “mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork" dumplings and a decadent roast Wagyu short rib. But the standout is a simple side dish of “typhoon-shelter-style" fried corn, served beneath a mound of fragrant fried garlic, scallions, and chilies, just as Hong Kong's boat people used to do with crab and shrimp inside their makeshift storm shelters. When I get home, I'm going to typhoon shelter everything.
But first, it's back to the Eaton HK's buzzy cocktail bar, Terrible Baby, where I order the Another Type of Fashion, a smooth concoction of aged coconut whiskey, espresso salt water, chocolate bitters, and Oreo chocolate syrup. Maybe it's the Oreo syrup, but I'm feeling reinvigorated, so I head back out to Temple Street to get my fortune read.
I take a seat at a rickety table and haggle a price, and the middle-aged woman looks me over and starts rattling off rapid-fire, fortune-cookie-style pronouncements.
“You have long ears—a Buddha face." (Thanks?)
“You will be very rich in the future." (Thanks!)
“You have a good nose…" (Yeah?) “…so you won't fall into abject poverty." (Phew.)
“A lot of people are jealous of you." (I knew it!)
“You have a good heart; you're pretty good." (I'll take it.)
Sea ChangeSince debuting the $1 billion Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in 2013, Hong Kong has emerged as one of Asia's fastest-growing cruise hubs and a perfect gateway for exploring the region. On Silversea Cruises, passengers can access Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok, Shanghai, and Sydney. In January 2021, the ultra-luxury line will debut a 12-day roundtrip itinerary from Hong Kong that will make stops in Taiwan and the Philippines. Shore excursions include everything from temple tours and dumpling-making lessons to the Peninsula Take-Off & High Tea, a helicopter ride followed by a posh afternoon tea experience. From $5,940 per person, double occupancy; silversea.com
Kowloon Walled City Park
A rosy morning and a rocky night
Optimistic from my late-night fortune-telling session, I've decided to embrace the sweet life at the city's newest grande dame hotel, the Rosewood Hong Kong, which anchors Kowloon's Victoria Dockside development. I arrive by carshare, and as I pull up the sloping driveway, past a monumental bronze Henry Moore sculpture, I think, I should have upgraded to a black car.
Inside, I'm greeted by a lobby that's anything but stuffy—a perfect encapsulation of the brand's fresh vision under its 38-year-old Hong Kong–based CEO, Sonia Cheng. Damien Hirst butterflies line the lounge, and a team of chatty butlers leave handwritten notes and chocolate-covered marshmallows from the lobby patisserie in my room. I could get used to this. No, as the fortune teller said, I should get used to this.
I drop my bags off in my room and head back down to the lobby, where I meet Olivia Tang, an energetic young guide with Walk in Hong Kong. We drive 20 minutes north from the waterfront to Kowloon City, a densely populated but unassuming district of decades-old shops and tenements. “Neighborhood tours are a relatively new thing here," Tang says. On the drive, she tells me that she loves American TV, especially The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, whose title character has inspired her to pursue a side gig as a stand-up comedian. I ask her if there's much of a scene here. “Local humor is a lot of play on words and slapstick," she says, “like Jackie Chan slipping on a banana peel."
Our first stop is the pint-size Hau Wong Temple, where Tang shows me a wall with a grid of 60 deity figurines. “This is the org chart of the gods," she says. “Hong Kong is unique, because we have migrant gods, external consultants from Buddhism and South Asia. Temples are like 7-Eleven—the gods need to be easily accessible."
The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own, in the Rosewood Hong Kong's lobby
Next we step into an idyllic garden—all round moon gates and topiary dragons—that's not quite what it seems. Kowloon Walled City Park opened in 1995 on land that was once one of the most crowded and anarchic slums on the planet, ruled by neither the Chinese nor British governments. “Kowloon Walled City was as big as five soccer fields," Tang says. “At its peak, it had 40,000 people. It was at least 50 times denser than the densest part of Manhattan." It was full of crime, but it was also a place of ingenuity, a functioning mini-city, home to businesses, restaurants, factories, and dwellings. Residents stole electricity from street lamps, dug wells, and rigged a network of hoses from just three faucets. Every night, “fragrance people" collected waste buckets from the tenements' upper floors. “It was like The Wire," she says. “If you went in, you would definitely get lost."
Outside the walls of the old slum sits the refashioned Kowloon City—a refreshingly untouristed neighborhood of regular folks doing, well, regular things. As we stroll, we pick up snacks at beloved holes in the wall: cold soy milk and fried tofu at the Kung Wo Bean Curd Factory, which set up shop in 1960; egg tarts at Hoover Cake Shop, where, Tang tells me, “everything is made with love"; and bouncy fishballs at Tak Hing Fishball Company, a family-run operation that got its start inside the Walled City.
“I think Kowloon has more of a soul than Hong Kong Island," Tang says, as we stop in front of Tai Wo Tang, a new café opened inside a 1932 Chinese medicine shop. “I cried when this place closed!" Now, instead of dried roots and fungi, it dishes out Tai Wo Tang lattes, a play on the classic yuenyeung (coffee-tea mix) made with Earl Grey.
Happy Paradise's May Chow
All this snacking is making me hungry. I hop a cab across the harbor to Cause-way Bay for lunch. Though Hong Kong officially reverted to Chinese control in 1997, not all traces of British influence are gone. Case in point: Roganic Hong Kong, one of two new restaurants by Michelin-starred English chef Simon Rogan. The tasting menu is a hearty defense against those who think all British food is bland and gravy-covered. Among the flood of courses, I sample a one-bite pumpkin tart, grilled brassica salad with cheddar sauce and truffle custard, a funky Tunworth cheese ice cream, and raw beef dressed in smoky coal-steeped oil, which tastes like the Industrial Revolution—and I mean that in the best way possible.
After a lunch this decadent, I could use a nap, but I opt instead for a relaxing Victoria Harbour cruise on the Aqua Luna II, a red-sailed junk made using old-school shipbuilding methods. I board, grab a free glass of wine, and lean back in one of the comfortable deck chairs. If not for the incongruous soundtrack—a techno remix of Tracy Chapman's “Fast Car"—I could almost feel like some pre-colonial seafarer.
“I decide to work off some calories on Lion Rock, a 1,624-foot granite mountain. When I finally reach the peak, my legs hurt, but the view is staggering."
All that time in the sun has earned me some post-relaxation relaxation, so I head up to the Rosewood's sixth-floor infinity pool for an afternoon dip. Then, dinner, back in Central at Happy Paradise, the brainchild of May Chow, who was named Asia's best female chef of 2017. Located at the top of a steep hill, the restaurant looks like a design lover's take on the city's ubiquitous cha chaan teng diners. The whole place is cast in a noirish pallor, straight out of a Wong Kar-wai film, with a neon display of octopus tentacles and noodle-slurping lips behind the bar. The spot is a fun-loving shot in the arm—think drag parties and a dance-heavy soundtrack—in an otherwise buttoned-up business capital.
The chef's clever dishes
“Are you feeling adventurous?" the waiter asks. I let him do the ordering: sourdough egg waffles with bottarga whip, stem lettuce salad with noodle-cut squid, and an umami-bomb entree of M5 Wagyu with preserved lemon rind and seaweed butter. The pièce de résistance is a custardy pig brain, which tastes like meltier bone marrow, served in a little pig-shaped urn—a piggy bank best kept away from kids.
In lieu of a nightcap, I've planned a night hike. Many tourists reach new heights on Hong Kong Island by taking the historic Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak. The views are gorgeous, but it's easy going. Seeing as I've just eaten an entire pig's brain, I decide to work off some calories on Lion Rock, a 1,624-foot granite mountain on the border of Kowloon and the New Territories. As the light begins to fade, I don a headlamp and follow a winding path past other hikers, the odd snake, and a wild boar rooting in the underbrush.
I'm huffing and puffing a bit as the path turns into a steep staircase and dusk turns to night. When I finally reach the peak, my legs hurt, but the view is staggering: The whole city glows golden, with high-rises stretching out toward the black of the horizon. Hong Kong has been called the City of Life, and from up here, where the buzzing urban jungle meets the real one, it's hard to imagine another spot on earth that could ever hold that title.
The view from Lion Rock
Where to Stay
Ovolo CentralThis local boutique brand runs a sister property on Hong Kong Island's burgeoning southside, but you can't beat the newly renovated flagship's in-the-thick-of-it Central location. The vibe skews playful, thanks to a house-curated Spotify playlist of '80s hits and kitschy artwork, such as a portrait in the lobby of a bubblegum-blowing Queen Elizabeth II. From $230, ovolohotels.com
Eaton HKThere's a progressive political bent to this 465-room Kowloon hotel, which has its own community radio station, coworking spaces, and social justice–minded programming. But it still knows how to have fun: Don't miss the pink-flamingo-lined rooftop pool, the free tai chi classes in the gym, or the epic breakfast buffet at The Astor. From $160, eatonworkshop.com
Rosewood Hong KongThis 413-room hotel is a big statement property, but it's the little details you'll love, such as cashmere wall coverings by Loro Piana. Book a table at The Legacy House, a sure-to-be-Michelin-starred restaurant honoring the delicate cuisine of Shunde, in China's Guangdong province, home of CEO Sonia Cheng's grandfather. From $612, rosewoodhotels.com
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month — recognized nationwide from September 15 to October 15 — we're highlighting the extraordinary impact of Hispanic Americans on our nation, starting close to home with our more than 13,000 Hispanic colleagues at United.
As part of our festivities, we're showcasing the stories of a few of our Hispanic employees, who were nominated by their colleagues as rock stars. In addition to their personal or professional achievements, these employees were selected because of the significant contributions they've made to United by going above and beyond to help our customers, their fellow colleagues, and the communities we serve, thrive. Whether donating their time volunteering for a worthy cause, leveraging their unique perspective to address a critical business challenge or helping foster an inclusive culture, they make United a better place to work. Let's get to know them better here.
Captain Gabriel (Gabe) Vaisman, based in Houston, has been part of the United family for over 34 years. As a native of Argentina who immigrated to the U.S. with his family at a young age, Gabe faced multiple challenges during his school years, including financial struggles and learning a new language. However, with discipline and determination, and even working two jobs in high school, he was able to obtain his commercial pilot's license and multi-engine rating at the age of 18. He quickly moved up the ladder and landed his first job at United in 1985, where he continued to move up and became a captain for our Boeing 737 fleet 22 years ago. When he is not busy flying customer to their destinations, you can find Gabe visiting children hospitals as part of his volunteering efforts with the Pilots For Kids organization in Houston. For the past 14 months, he has also served on the board of Lone Star College, acting as an advisor for their professional pilot degree program and inspiring a new generation of pilots.
Gabe pictured at a lecture at Lone Star College (LSC), with LSC students, and at one of our recent events for Girls in Aviation Day.
"All the volunteer work I do has helped change one life at a time, and I hope that my career story inspires anyone who feels hopeless with no way out of their current situation. The message I always try to leave with young people is that no matter what career you choose, you will have to sacrifice time and maybe give up a few good times with your friends to accomplish what you are pursuing."
Vania Montero Wit
The daughter of Bolivian immigrants, Vania earned her law degree from Harvard University and joined United's legal department 20 years ago. Throughout the years, Vania Montero Wit has advanced to become one of the key leaders of United's legal department as vice president and deputy general counsel. As one of the highest-ranking Latinas at United, Vania represents a crack in the glass ceiling for Hispanic women in corporate America. Despite the heavy demands of her job, Vania is very generous with her time, serving as executive sponsor for uIMPACT, a business resource group supporting women at United, and has given career advice to employees as a panelist for UNITE, United Airlines multi-cultural business resource group. She has made a positive impact in the community as Chair of the legal department's Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, where she even took on and won an asylum case. Vania's compassion for others and continued support of the company's diversity-and-inclusion initiatives make her a role model for both Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike.
Vania (center) speaking at a leadership event at United.
" As a working Latina woman, I strive to be a role model for any and all who are working in a corporate environment and struggling to find their voice or simply looking to make connections and expand their network. My long tenure at United has afforded me a range of experiences and teaching moments all of which I am happy to share with others."
Katherine Gil Mejia
Katherine Gil Mejia is a human resources representative for United Ground Services in at New York/Newark. A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. only 8 years ago, she joined United shortly after at the young age of 19. With her work ethic and drive, she quickly became a go-to-person for many departments offering assistance or guidance when needed. Katherine never hesitates to step in and translate for customers or colleagues that are struggling with a language barrier, and she does so while providing amazing customer service. Katherine's knowledge of United — as well as her caring and friendly personality — have earned her the trust and respect of her colleagues. Katherine also has a passion for helping others, giving back, and making a difference in the community. She always offers to volunteer during United Airlines Fantasy Flights, and when she can, she also takes the time to bring Ben Flying bears to kids at hospitals.
Katherine in Newark.
"I know the language barrier for some employees can play a role in potential miscommunication. I often put myself in their shoes and try to relate. My upbringing in Dominican Republic taught me to work and trust my neighbors, community and family. It was natural to bring that trust mentality into work with my colleagues and employees. I believe that is what makes me successful in HR."
Antonio (Tony) Valentin has been working as a ramp service employee at Chicago O'Hare for three years. He's earned the respect of his colleagues by going above and beyond and always stepping in to help both colleagues and customers alike. It's not rare to find him around the terminal translating for Spanish-speaking customers and helping them find their ways to their gates. Tony's caring personality shines beyond the airport in all the volunteering work he does in the local community, especially in the Chicago Humboldt Park area, and in the work he has done as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, including his deployment to Puerto Rico where he assisted with relief effort after Hurricane Maria.
Antonio at Chicago O'Hare.
"I've always had a passion for helping people and I truly believe that being a good person is equal to being successful. As a prior educator, I am always encouraging members of RSE (ramp service employees) to return to school and to live their lives as lifelong learners."
Sylvia Gomez is the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents that moved to the U.S. in 1960. At the age of 5, her family moved back to Mexico so they could build strong connections with their heritage and culture. They eventually returned to the U.S. in pursuit of a better education, as her father believed that education was the key to success. The move back to the U.S. was not easy, but it gave Sylvia the opportunity to understand two different cultures, which has been instrumental in her career. She recently celebrated 30 years at United, where she currently serves as managing director of IT Infrastructure Program Management. Sylvia has been making a mark in the company with her efforts to pass forward her experience and knowledge, and she spends a great amount of her time mentoring United employees. She is currently mentoring five young women, and she also makes sure to stay in touch with previous mentees to make sure they are still on a path toward success. She is also an active participant on the planning committee for a Women in Technology group and volunteers with Junior Achievement USA, mostly working with inner-city high school students.
Sylvia (center) pictured with Digital Products managing director, Francisco Trejo and Security Technology managing director, Diego Souza at the HITEC San Jose Summit.
"Always look for people that have been there and learn from them. And, always look to see who you can help. Never underestimate the power of having people around you. Have the confidence to take risks and celebrate your successes."
Carlos Palacio, a lead customer service representative in Houston, has been part of the United family for 20 years. When speaking to Carlos, you can clearly see how passionate he is about his job and about United, and embracing his Cuban heritage has been instrumental in delivering excellent customer service at the airport. He even takes extra time with Hispanic customers that cannot speak English, making sure they have all their travel documents and that they have all they need for their journeys. On his spare time, the new father often travels to Latin American countries like Colombia and Cuba to visit children's hospitals and to donate schools supplies for children in need. Seeing the smiles of the little kids he helps keeps Carlos motivated and pushes him to continue his efforts to help others.
Carlos pictured in the cockpit of a United aircraft (left) as well as donating school supplies to children (right).
"I want young people to know that this is a great country … to go to school and make a career and pay attention to mom and dad who want the best for them, and one more thing, never forget we are all human. My culture is very fundamental in my job. I help people every day who need help in Spanish. Speaking Spanish at work helps many of our customers."
Roberto Hernandez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. His passion for travel and customer service ultimately led him to the airline industry four years ago, when he joined United as a flight attendant. Roberto worked as a purser for a while, displaying excellent leadership skills and customer service. He now works as a base supervisor at New York/Newark and is also the local chapter director for EQUAL, a business resource group at United. In his role at EQUAL, Roberto has been focused on fostering diversity and inclusion at United, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, he recently played a great role organizing this year's company celebration of Pride in New York and was there front and center representing our company in Pride Live's Stonewall Day on World Pride. Roberto really values his heritage and culture, and is very proud of where he comes from, which is why he did not hesitate to help with the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Roberto, posing in the engine of one of United's aircraft.
"I bring my true, authentic self to work each day, ready to assist in whatever way I can. When I say 'true, authentic self' I mean the person I was raised to be. A kind, caring and patient individual who is ready to assist in any way I can. I think the most important piece is to respect each other and to learn from one another. Be proud of who you are, no matter where you're from. We're all different, but if we all integrate together we can make things happen. That's what I love about United. We're doing that."
In their own distinct way, these rock stars exemplify the many ways our company is enriched by our differences and unique journeys. When we create an environment where people feel valued, this influences how we treat one another and our customers across the globe. In the words of our chief executive officer, Oscar Muñoz: "This month is also an opportunity for us to think about our efforts to build bridges between cultures and communicate authentically to all the communities we serve," he said. "By becoming more culturally aware, we can be more effective ambassadors for United's values around the world and embody them in the way we serve our customers and one another."
We hope you're as inspired by this group of dedicated, passionate and talented rock stars as we are.
Yirlany Moya, a United aircraft move team employee in Los Angeles, is nothing if not an eternal optimist. Which is part of the reason why, for the longest time, she wasn't too concerned about the lump that had formed in her right breast. It couldn't be serious, she reasoned. After all, she was young and healthy.
One afternoon, while talking with her neighbor Cari, Moya joked about the "little ball," as she called it. Cari shot her a serious look and urged her friend to get it checked out. Moya's sister, Joscelyn, did the same after hearing about the lump, but, for weeks, Moya stubbornly refused.
"I kept telling them, 'It's not cancer, stop being negative.'"
Finally, the pestering got to her and Moya called her mom, Esther, who is a retired nurse, for advice. Over the phone, Esther told her daughter not to worry, but talked her into coming to Costa Rica, where she was living, so that they could see a doctor together just in case.
There, a physician examined Moya. When he finished, he asked her to get dressed and meet him in his office. With a grave expression on his face, he said there was a fairly significant chance the mass was cancerous. Her mother broke down in tears, but Moya took the news in stride, not yet ready to consider the worst-case possibilities. It wasn't until she was back in Los Angeles a few days later, after a mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that she had stage-3 cancer, that reality set in.
In March of 2017, Moya underwent a double mastectomy, followed by a difficult three months of chemotherapy. By that fall, she was cancer free, but she wasn't physically able to return to work until October 2018. When she did finally get back to the airport, it was a welcome return to normalcy and a long-awaited reunion with her colleagues, many of whom are like family to Moya after 23 years with the airline.
They welcomed her back with open arms and she, in turn, talked openly about her cancer with them, hoping that it might help someone else. There's nothing wrong with assuming the positive, Moya says, but she tells other women to get checked out immediately if they notice a lump or anything else out of the ordinary. She also reminds them of the importance of yearly mammograms. And recently, when her supervisor was diagnosed with a form of cancer, she guided him through his treatments with encouragement and advice.
Sometimes, she's certain that she went through her ordeal so that she could be a beacon for others in that way. If that's the case, she feels it was worth it. Cancer gave her an ironclad resolve to spread goodness and hope. Her tattoos say it all: Inked across her chest, where her breasts once were, is an anatomically correct heart wrapped in bright pink swirls, with the words "Life doesn't allow you to be weak." On her right calf is a cancer awareness ribbon, with splotches of pink exploding out of it, symbolic of Moya's unbridled joy, which stems from her feeling of unending gratitude.
Moya's Tattoo across her chest: "Life doesn't allow you to be weak."
"I'm in a good place in my life," Moya says today, two years removed from her last round of chemotherapy. "I have a great job, and I'm blessed with a great family and great support system. I wake up every day and give thanks to God. I think there was a bigger purpose for what I went through. Ask me what it is, and I can take a guess, but I haven't figured it out yet. One day, though, I know the dots will connect."
Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.
Go apple picking
Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.
Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years.
Visit a pumpkin patch
If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.
If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.
Enjoy a harvest festival
An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.
For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.
Hit the trails
Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.
On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.
Roll in the hay
Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.
In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!
Up, up and away
Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.
If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.
Pitch a tent
Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.
For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.