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July 5, 2017

10 Travel Safety Tips

Soo Leong Liu has been traveling quite a bit the past several years. She shares safety tips acquired from research and actual experience.

The recent terror attacks around the world were so tragic. Locals out and about and tourists experiencing different cultures have been targeted. Our world has evolved through technology to become "smaller", more connected. Events that would have been unheard of 20 years ago are now possible. (Know that we can be susceptible to attacks on our own soil. Safety should be practiced at all times, anywhere.)

If you have concerns about traveling abroad, take in the British mindset - "I am Not Afraid", "We Stand Together", "Keep Calm and Carry On." There will always be dangers in this world, just find your best path to navigate it.

You probably already know the obvious travel tips: Don't wear a lot of bling · put cash in a couple of different places on your body · stay off your cell phone · keep your passport in a safe place · check the State Department website for safety warnings in the country you are visiting, and you can register your travel plans if an emergency happens and they need to contact you · give a personal contact your itinerary and hotel names and numbers (if possible) · take a photo of your passport on your phone, also email a copy to yourself · don't linger in front of the ATM or bank when you withdraw money · look for escape routes as you enter a building or area, should you need to leave quickly · blend in · avoid dark alleys and isolated areas, especially at night · don't over-share information about your current whereabouts on social media · pack a first aid kit.

There are other ways we can lessen the chance of being targeted while traveling. I'd like to share ten more that I think are pretty important:

#1 Research destinations to see if there have been safety issues and any tips for that particular area. Read articles, reviews and blogs to get a feel of what to expect and places to avoid. (Before we left, I watched YouTube videos of pickpocket/distraction scams in Europe that really helped.)

#2 Walk on the sidewalk AGAINST traffic. Maybe you were taught to walk with the flow of traffic and it may seem strange to see traffic coming at you, but this way, you have a chance of seeing a traffic issue if it comes toward you and have a better chance to escape.

#3 Be aware of your surroundings. Scan areas as you move about snapping photos and enjoying the sights. Know who may be following you too closely. Is anyone acting suspiciously? We were walking down a less traveled Barcelona side street in broad daylight when a criminal tried to trip my husband to steal his pouch. Screaming had him quickly leaving, with a partner across the street, without his target.

#4 Try to avoid the main tourist streets. We often walked a busy street or two off the main streets. Not only can you still arrive at your destination, you will see different local sights. We also noticed that prices for meals and souvenirs were less expensive.

#5 Walk confidently and at a good pace. Criminals look for tourists who are not sure of their surroundings, maybe looking confused and hesitant.

#6 Save google maps of sights you want to see on your google account before you go. You will be able to pull it up and get directions and explore points of interest in the area without an internet connection. It was a great help on an 11 week European trip!

#7 If you wear a crossbody purse or pouch, move it to the front. I have a small zippered one and usually have a hand resting on the top as we travel about. DO NOT loop it over the back of your chair when you sit down, unless it(s a solid chair back you can wedge your small purse against as you are sitting. I often kept my crossbody on or rested it on my lap.

#8 Get an app that protects your information while using open wifis. Sometimes you may have to use cafe or hotel wifis that are not secure. At first, we used the TunnelBear app to protect us, but had issues and they didn(t respond to calls for help. We recently used PureVPN in Puerto Rico, Portugal, Spain, France and Greece and were quite happy with its performance.

#9 Investing in belt pouches or clothes with secret compartments is a good idea. If you(re handy with sewing, you can velcro at least one of your front pants pockets shut. It(s harder to get sticky fingers past noisy velcro. I also extended the length of the pocket with extra fabric as some pants pockets are pretty shallow. Men, putting your wallet in the back pocket is risky. It(s best in the front pants pocket, after you(ve stashed some bills elsewhere on your person.

#10 Always carry a fully charged portable charger. Sometimes we don(t realize how much we(ve used our phones or other devices during the day. You may need a charged phone if you have to dial your host country(s equivalent of 911. Oh, yes, bonus tip - Keep a list of the equivalent 911 emergency numbers of each country on your itinerary.



The Miss Chinatown Houston Scholarship Pageant 2016

2016 Pageant
Left to right: Sharon Liu - Miss Talent; Sue-Lynn Law - Second Princess; Karen Lynn Yang - Miss Chinatown Houston 2016; Irena Wan - First Princess - Miss Chinese New Year 2017
Photo credit: Alvin Gee Photography

It was the first time to hold the Miss Chinatown Houston Scholarship Pageant at the beautiful Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria hotel. For the 47th year, young Chinese women were vying for the opportunity to proudly represent Houston in the Miss Chinatown USA national pageant. Portraits of the lovely contestants were on display, with family and friends taking photographs beside them. Hors d(oeuvres were circulating and the noise volume went up as more and more attendees gathered in the lobby before the doors opened for the dinner preceding the pageant. Co-chairs, Betty Gee and Linda Wu, welcomed guests as Pageant Director (and Asian American Ambassador) Tammy Su and Co-Director, Kitty So, kept tabs on the contestants behind the scenes. Francine Di, Alisa Eng, Francine Cheng, Rina Liou and several other Asian American Ambassadors helped make up Tammy(s hard-working team.

Betty Gee, Linda Wu, Tammy Su and Kitty So deserve a HUGE thank you for giving our community the very best showcase for Houston(s most talented, intelligent and lovely young women of Chinese descent to compete for cash scholarships and a chance to proudly represent the City of Houston at the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant in San Francisco! The national pageant has been held during the Lunar New Year festivities every year since 1958 and is a wonderful experience. There is the pageant and Coronation Ball, dinners, meet & greets and an exciting evening ride on a float in the Chinese New Year parade. The winner spends the year of her reign promoting the American Chinese community and Chinese culture and heritage by traveling around the United States and Asia.

For many, many years Linda and Betty have spent months planning the pageant, diligently working behind the scenes. Betty became involved with the pageant when her daughter, Tammy Su, competed for the title and won! Linda(s mother, Jane Gee, successfully chaired the event for decades before handing the reins over to Linda.

During Jane(s tenure, Cookie Joe of Cookie Joe(s Dancin( School, a former Miss Chinatown Houston and current Asian American Ambassador, did a fabulous job instructing young women, many who had never competed in any such competition, to project stage presence and self-assurance with every step, to be poised during the question and answer segment, and to let their inner beauty match their outer beauty.

Years later, Tammy and Kitty came on as Pageant Co-Directors to do the same for contestants - coaching, encouraging and instilling a confidence to sail through three segments of judging - swimsuit, poise & personality, and talent. It(s amazing to see how polished and smooth the pageant is each year. Tammy, a mother of three young children, takes time out of her very busy schedule to commit months to this event. Kitty flies into town many weekends each year to work with the girls. It is no small feat to have three out of the last five national winners come from Houston!

Veteran pageant MCs, KHOU-TV(s Lily Jang and KIAH-TV(s John Newinn, were charming hosts, trading jokes and keeping the audience entertained. Lily was stunning in an aqua gown and John wore a cool baroque style brocade long jacket.

When the judges were introduced, everyone could but only be impressed by the caliber and variety of professions. From a sitting judge to a television newscaster to an opera singer, the five judges were well-established in their respective fields. To name drop, there were Judge Theresa Chang, Harris County Civil Court at Law and KRIV Fox 26 Morning News Anchor Rita Garcia. Another impressive judge was the lovely coloratura soprano, Etta Fung. The award-winning Hong Kong born singer performs internationally and looks for ways to enhance her craft.

We(re sure the judging was difficult as all the talented contestants moved gracefully through the program. A local dance troupe kept the audience involved between segments. Pageant winners from the previous 40 years made an appearance on stage. The co-hosts exchanged more lively repartee.

The judging was phenomenal - Karen Yang was crowned Miss Chinatown Houston 2016!


Karen Lynn Yang - Miss Chinatown USA 2017
Photo credit: Alvin Gee Photography

Karen Yang went on to be crowned Miss Chinatown USA 2017 last February in the Palace of Arts, San Francisco! That makes it four out of the last six years that a Miss Chinatown Houston became Miss Chinatown USA, proof that the Houston pageant is an excellent training ground to hone skills and confidence to compete and win in San Francisco.



August 22, 2013

Congrats to Miss Chinatown Houston 2013, Karen Li!

Karen Li is the new Miss Chinatown Houston! She did a fine job, as our new titleholder is quite accomplished and lovely to boot! Karen will be a wonderful representative for our city in next year’s national competition. The pageant also recognized a dazzling visitor - the reigning Miss Chinatown USA, Leah Li! Her presence at our event added quite a bit of glamour and glitz. Read more.



April 11, 2013

AAA Member Updates

Happy Year of the Snake!

This is the Year of the Snake. To some, snakes are not so desirable. Try looking at it this way. Every year the snake sheds its old skin and goes off with its newly revealed body. May we all shed our old, unwanted habits and start the new year with a fresh, bright outlook!

Below is what some of our members have been doing in the community and goals they hope to achieve this year.

Shirley Kwan has served on the Texas Diversity Council for the past three years. This March, she chaired the Women in Leadership Symposium. In addition, Ms. Kwan is an active board member of the Asian Chamber of Commerce.

Francine Di is passionate about music. She continues to perform locally with a group specializing in traditional Chinese music with instruments that date back thousands of years. On the other end of the spectrum, Francine recently joined a new Asian fusion band! In March, she placed third in "Voice of the Southern," a singing competition sponsored by Southern Daily news, and sang in a benefit at the Chinese Civic Center for the Sichuan earthquake victims. In April, she was named among 24 recipients of the Houston Arts Alliance individual artist grant. She also finds time to sit on the Rice University Community of Asian Alumni board. Not to forget the past, one of Francine’s new year’s resolutions is to redirect some energy to old friends who mean a great deal!

Cami Lenett, RN, MS, CNS, is in the process of building a nonprofit organization in San Francisco. The proposed Kokua Lodge,, is all about survival and recovery. The lodge hopes to become home away from home for patients and their caregivers during and after treatment for blood cancers (leukemias, lymphomas and myelomas) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF Medical Center). Coping with a challenging, intensive recuperation period in unfamiliar surroundings can hinder the process. As patients must stay nearby for 3–6 months after treatment, an affordable, calm oasis of support and renewal would be welcome help on the road to recovery.

During Christmas, Suzanne Gee directed a small nativity skit for the children of a local apartment complex. She also enjoyed singing songs and playing bingo with the elderly at a local nursing home. When not working, Ms. Gee keeps busy with teaching high school Sunday School and directing youth activities at Asian American Baptist Church.

Sherri Liu’s piano students will be sharing what they are learning and performing at several senior residential centers this year.

Soo Leong Liu joined Mental Health America, Fort Bend County chapter,, to help shine a light on the many levels of local resources one can go to with mental health issues. The group prints a yearly booklet to be given to area schools, hospitals and to other professionals to share with those needing such services. The events in the news involving people with extreme mental issues were unusual situations. It does not mean that people with mental health problems can’t get help and live relatively normal lives. MHA advocates for improved care and accessibility for mental health services, gathers information on available resources and hopes to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues with education. Soo was recognized as Volunteer of the Year for 2012.

Many people don’t realize the work that is required to produce a school curriculum that will challenge, yet nurture and develop a child’s mind. Director of Curriculum and Instructional Support Alisa Eng continues to direct the curriculum at Annunciation Orthodox School to help produce well-rounded, upstanding citizens of society. Core areas of study, along with Greek language, culture and heritage and faith-based classes, are just some of what a student can learn.

When she’s not taking care of her sweet young grandchildren, Alyssa and Kennedy, Cynthia Lee Chang and her husband, Charles, have been very busy! Besides running two Spotlight Karaoke locations (plus a karaoke supply store!), they started a philanthropy to help others. Each Christmas, they host 20 children from a local shelter. Last year, they hosted a fundraiser for an employee who passed away and made sure the former marine was given a full military honor service. Giving someone a new lease on life can be such a blessing. An older woman was in danger of losing her house. The Changs gave her a job and loaned her a car. And now that she is battling breast cancer, they continue to give her support and encouragement.  

Each Saturday, for the past two years, Janet Goh-Wiener has volunteered at the Texas Children’s Hospital. Among several other volunteer duties, Janet, as a member of the Circle of Sound, plays the singing crystal bowl once a month at Menil Park.

Last April, Charles Foster was instrumental in initiating the building and dedication of the $48.5 million new home of the Asia Society Texas Center, Designed by internationally acclaimed architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, the center highlights Asian art, culture and business and policy programs. It has excellent family programs that are free and open to the public. Foster is the incoming Chair of Interfaith Ministries,, and has been working on a $10 million new home for Interfaith Ministries. Charles became involved with Interfaith Ministries because of their refugee resettlement program and through Meals on Wheels, which provides thousands of Houston seniors a hot meal each day that they would otherwise not receive. Further, they help provide a forum for interfaith dialogues to lessen tensions between the people of different religious faiths in our community.

Francine Cheng has been quite busy with residency duties at the University of Texas Medical Branch.  She is involved with several children's organizations and continues to do community work through the UTMB Pediatrics Department.

Virginia Chang Kiraly was inspired to create Ring The Bell Fund last year after discovering that schools in her community, including her children’s school, had fire alarms that were not monitored and connected to any kind of first responder, such as a fire department or fire district. When she was elected to the Menlo Park Fire Protection Board in 2011, one of her priorities was to help connect school fire alarms to a first responder and bring awareness to this issue, since most parents assume that school fire alarms are actually connected. Formed in 2012, Ring The Bell Fund’s mission is to advocate, educate, and raise funds for school fire alarms to be connected to first responders and for automatic sprinklers to be installed in schools. Official launch of Ring The Bell Fund will be Thursday, May 2, 2013, at the Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

These are just some of the projects of our members. Please consider finding your passion in a community project or program. If everyone takes a little time from their busy days to brighten someone else’s day, it will encourage others to pass it on!