Hong Kong Essay

Hong Kong Travel Blog

 › entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
Hey Family and Friends, thought I would share of few details of my life in Hong Kong!

My first impressions of the city were more based on the geography of the city than the actual structure and layout. Hong Kong is very hilly, with peaks up to a couple thousand feet jotting around here and there. Most likely, wherever you go, you going to doing some vertical distance as well. Because this creates land shortages, developers here have opted to build skyward, as you would expect. My definition of what earns the label as a "tall building" is now a little more specific. My room is on the 13th floor of a 20 floor resident hall, while at my other college, the tallest floor found anywhere would be 4. Elevators here are a way of life, almost too much for the locals, who often take the elevator up or down only a few stories, which is my new, and greatest, pet peeve. Laziness is a universal value, I've learned.

The city, especially after visiting Saigon and it's surrounding region, as well as Beijing, is very clean, orderly, fast-paced, friendly, and Western-Friendly. Signs are in English (unlike almost all other cities in Asia), locals speak some English (keyword: some), and the city has great public transportation, including double-decker public buses as seen in London, a clean subway that seems from the future (you don't even need to guess where the doors to the train will end up), and cheap taxis, which are usually taken by three to four students at a time to cut costs even more. Whatever you would pay in the U.S. for a taxi ride, divide that cost by roughly five for here. I know, I know, life is tough.

My school is interesting, to say the least. For one, it's much bigger than Linfield, and thus has some of the random chaos you would find on a larger campus, which I love. The students are mostly locals from Hong Kong, yet there is a sizable population of Western Exchange students, and mainland Chinese students. While there is a sizable mix between the three core groups, it's not as much as I expected. This can be largely concluded with three points: First, Western students all speak better English than both the locals and mainland Chinese, and thus have a easier time communicating with. That, and the fact Westerns have common interests, values, and goals (traveling, sight seeing, bars) brings them tightly together. It's not that Westerners don't want to be with the locals, it's just, when school is out, they have different priorities from them. Plus, locals have longtime friends, and see little reason to really invest their time with someone who will be leaving in a few months anyway.

As for local-Chinese relations, they comparable to rural-cosmopolitan U.S. relations, such as a farm boy from Nebraska interacting with a New Yorker, except to a further degree. Locals here openly state they think they are better than mainlanders, and never call themselves simply Chinese, but always Hong-Kong-ese. They don't really want to see China that badly, and most haven't seen much of China anyway. To them, China is a place behind the times, less modern and sophisticated, like your yokel cousins who live in the country, cliniging to their guns and religion. Locals also dress much differently than those in Beijing and Yangshuo, with Western clothing the main style. Mainland Chinese tend to wear more simple, and in my opinion ugly, clothing, although this is much more obvious in Beijing than on campus (I will expand on this further in my upcoming Beijing and Yangshuo blogs). Mainlanders see Hong Kong citizens as modern, rich, and stuck up, as obsessed with making money, which I largely agree with. 

In my opinion, Hong Kong is what China could have, and with all possibility, become still. This city is an oasis of Western ideals in a Asian ocean. That being said, there are many things awesome and beautiful about Asian and Chinese culture here too and this side is evident if you leave the main street and stroll down the side-streets, which I love it. The open markets with seafood still alive in tanks of water, the smells of who-knows-what, not a word of English being spoken. Other sigts inclue tai-chi practicers found in parks, and construction workers climbing around bamboo scaffolding like it was a jungle gym,

Beijing's main argument in denying it's citizens the rights they have here, is that the current government can make you rich. And since 1989, this argument has been successful. But now, with the financial crisis shutting down over 10,000 factories in China, within 100 miles of Hong Kong, this argument is starting to peel away. 40% of China's GDP relies on exports, and with Western countries strapped for cash, there's nobody to buy their goods. Keep on eye on China in the coming months, things are going to get interesting. Beijing has not been this concerned about civil unrest since Tienanmen in 1989. What this means for Hong Kong probably won't be nearly as much in the near future, as the city is a financial and service-based powerhouse, and manufacturing is a small deal here.

Hong Kong may be a great place to make it big, but most of the cities inhabitants live a modest lifestyle, not traveling much, working long hours, living in tiny apartments. There is a huge rich-poor gap here, more than I saw in Beijing and Saigon by far. This is a capitalist city no doubt, and there is a general belief that any person's quality of life is directly related to their personal drive, much like America. I have learned, through my urban geography class, that this republican view of rugged individualism is very hard on the elderly of the city, who face job discrimination and a relatively unsympathetic population willing to support their needs.

What I love about Hong Kong is all I can do, cheaply! Take my last week. On Thursday, I went to Beirfest with a couple friends, drank some beer, ate some sausage, then danced for a few hours with tons of also-intoxicated locals to a live band (I also entered a yodeling competition, and took second out of perhaps eight). Later, I wen to the party district across the harbor, danced till two, then made it to my 8:30 class. Ahh, being young. Other activities I have down this last week: Climbed Lion Rock, a mountainous peak right behind the school, about 1500 ft vertical, to get a great view of the city, and went ice skating at a local mall I can WALK to. Tomorrow I have organized a party for a good Danish friend of mine, starting with great Indian food, then off to the party district once again. You can get any kind of food here you want, and good quality at that, for decent prices. Want Nepalese food? Just look it up.

When I'm having fun, I'm on the school campus. I don't spend as much time in classes as I do at Linfield, but I do spend more time studying outside. Most of my Monday-Thursday experience is homework, group projects, and my favorite, eating! It's takes pretty good discipline to work hard here, as there is sooo much to go out and do, and you can do it whenever you want. The freedom is amazing, and will be sorely missed when I must rely on cars for everything.

The weather was something else, starting out. Nowhere in the United States is as humid as Hong Kong can be, not even New Orleans. I though DC would toughen me up, but Asia's humidity is a whole different animal. The first month was terrible, I was sweating all the time, even when sitting down in the shade. But this made terrific swimming, as while the beaches here aren't always as clean as you would want, the water is as warm as a bath (at least in September).  Nowadays, I can still go around in a t-shirt and shorts, but long-sleeve shirts and pants are sometimes the better choice. The locals here are all bundled up now, which cracks me up, as most don't have any idea what cold truly is. Then again, living here through summer after summer deserves some sort of high five too.

I thought to myself, how can I better immerse myself in the local culture before I leave? How can I maximize my experience? I know, get a local girlfriend! So I did. Her name is Heidy, she's two months older than me, and she's part-time student and part-time worker. I asked her why she likes Westerns more than locals, and she told me locals are too lazy, and too bossy. I said fair enough. I met her through some mutual friends, as her best friend dates a good buddy of mine here on campus. Grandpa, if your reading this, don't worry: I will take here to the Peninsula Hotel for high tea! Her English is getting better, but often we have to communicate more with hands and gestures than words. In fact, you learn very quickly in Hong Kong to slow down your speech, simplify your English, and use non-verbal communication whenever possible. I constantly have to filter my words, which can be tiring at times. As for the Europeans, you can tell when they are tired, as they begin speaking in their native language.

You can be happy Americans here build bridges, not burn them. We have a good rep on campus, and are actually outnumbered by the Germans and French. Also, Obama's win boosted the rep of the USA as much as any single event could. Sometimes I say to my Euro buddies, when are you going to elect a minority president? Come on, get with the times!

So yea, that's Hong Kong in a nutshell. I'm getting pretty attached to this place, it's going to be rather rough to leave, as I've made as good as friends here as anywhere. I'm traveling to Southern China this weekend to a place called Yangshou, but besides that Thailand/Cambodia for Christmas and a quick trip to Macau, my last 45 or so days here will be spent in HK. Looking forward, I'm here to keep my grades up with having as much fun, learning as much, and doing as much as I can with my time left. My next blog will be of my Vietnam adventures, a dirtier, friendlier, more chaotic, and more authentic corner of Asia.
sirgerald12th says:
Well written. Great job! I stumbled to one of your pictures in Hong Kong..and through different links, I ended up to your essay. Thanks for the first hand insight of your immersion.
Posted on: Nov 26, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Sponsored Links