February 7th, 2010
Well! It was quite a full first week for me in Hong Kong, to say the least.
Since arriving, I’d been to Stanley Market and Victoria’s Peak and ridden the tram down from the peak (which naturally had a Burger King on top of it), to Wong Tai Sin temple in the middle of Hong Kong, the horse races at Happy Valley one evening (no worries, I didn’t even try to bet; no sense just throwing away money), and to Tsim Sha Tsui where some friends and I bought hydro-foil tickets for a day trip to Macau the following weekend during the Chinese New Year. And I’d already eaten more rice, noodles, dim sum, general carbohydrates and things without discernible origin, than ever before in my life (my mantra in Asia quickly became: If it tastes good, eat it). And milk, cheese, salads, vegetables, and fruit (especially in raw, uncooked forms) seemed to be a rare delicacy there. For the most part; I felt very deficient on the vitamin, calcium, and nutrient front. I craved a giant salad, and that would probably be the first thing I’d ask for upon return to the US in June (or so I imagined at that point in time anyway; turned out I was craving Hong Kong bubble tea with giant tapioca pearls upon my return, but that’s for another post).
We had a couple days off from school for the new year holiday, so in addition to going for a group hike (and possibly swimming/windsurfing) at Tai Long Wan beach on Saturday, we decided to start our traveling and sightseeing while studying in HK by doing a day trip to Macau (the island about an hour’s ride south of Hong Kong) on Sunday, then come back for the parades and fireworks in the city on Monday.
Classes (oh yes, I did go to ‘study’ something, didn’t I?) were fairly good to begin; I ended up switching a few around (not quite as interesting in reality as the course description made them out to be), and I quickly decided to drop Beginning Mandarin for a grade (five classes is a lot to handle, and after the first two classes I realized, “Wow! It’s really difficult!! People weren’t joking when they told me that!” – shocker, I know) but I did decide I wanted to study it on my own time, so I planned to buy some books for beginning Chinese (my friend Jen, lent me hers and it seemed really good) and try to learn some Mandarin that way. Just to tell you now, I never got around to it.
I did make a lot of new friends fast; almost all of the exchange students were really nice and friendly, and my roommate Katrin, who’s from Austria, turned out to be great (best roommate I had all through college actually) the longer we lived together. She liked to stay out a little late for my tastes (5 AM-ish), but I hoped she’d calm down once classes really get underway (wishful thinking – the Europeans really know how to party and drink).
I also made friends with a couple of girls from Italy and Amsterdam who were roommates and had similar class schedules to me, so we started hanging out/going out a lot together. It was fascinating talking to them because their universities, politics, and country’s policies are so different from America’s, and yet some things are also eerily similar.
To be honest, I didn’t have too much interaction with the full-time, local students; they tended to stick to themselves and speak Mandarin or Cantonese unless in class and forced by the professor to speak English, so it was a little challenging to engage them. It struck me as funny that they came to a university which teaches primarily in English (I would assume to become more proficient in the language), and all the majority of them did was speak Chinese whenever they could. Oh well, the few I did talk to early on had been very nice and helpful. And I also joined a student group there called the Exchange Activities Committee composed of two full-time local students and three exchange students each semester that planned group outings to facilitate intermingling between local and foreign students (the previous semester they did things like a harbor tour, a day hike and kite flying, etc). It seemed like an excellent way to see more of Hong Kong, meet more people (local and foreign), and get more integrated and involved on campus (not to mention pad my resume); really make at least a bit of a difference while I was there.
The actual city of Hong Kong is certainly the most energetic, interesting, and FOGGY place I’d ever been. Almost every morning (at least in the beginning of my stay), I’d woken up to fog outside my window on the bay, and although it wasn’t what you’d call warm (about 60-65 F degrees), it was much, much better than my home in St. Louis, MO during February. The humidity was unbelievable too (my bath towel never fully dried out before I showered each day) and the nights could get quite chilly on campus, but once you went further inland into the city, it warmed up quickly. The radical temperature shifts due to proximity to the water was truly stunning – like San Francisco, but even more so.
More updates soon. Until then, enjoy a few more pictures.