Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Edit: Decided to change the title of the blog after writing this post. I hate boring titles and I love sarcasm, so the new title seemed fitting.

Thoughts from a quiet Wednesday night:

Hong Kong is a lot like Iowa: Skyscrapers stretch as far as the eye can see, uninspiring high rises stretch even farther still, and millions of people manage to cram into every square inch of remaining space. Travel a few miles beyond the main hub and you find yourself in a tropical paradise - luscious green mountains, hundreds of small islands dotting the sea, and beautiful white sandy beaches. 

Wait - did I say “a lot like Iowa”? I meant to say completely opposite in every possible way.

I wasn’t really expecting to find many similarities to home, but as I set out from the bustling city to spend a night camping on a beach last weekend, I was struck with the variety of environments here. One minute you’re inching your way through massive crowds in a mega metropolis, the next you’re alone on a trail in a tropical forest gazing out over the ocean. It’s like being in New York one second, and Hawaii the next. Gotham City to Jurassic Park Island in the blink of an eye.

I’m sure there are a lot of places like this in the world, but coming from a place that lacks such visual stimulants (to say the least…), I am impressed by the beauty. Hong Kong is gorgeous – once you get beyond all of those plain, drab high rises of course.

Reminds me of home. In a very roundabout way..

Here are some highlights, lowlights, and random thoughts from the past fews weeks:

  • America needs to get with the rest of the world and switch to the metric system and ditch it’s wonky measurement system. These ridiculous conversions are making my life difficult. 
  • A good cup of coffee is hard to come by on campus. For someone who drinks about 3 cups a day back home, this is a problem. Hot coffee on campus always comes with condensed milk and a lot of sugar - way too sweet. My struggles are real.
  • Very rarely do I eat McDonald’s at home, but when you’re starving and stuck in a building due to a torrential downpour, Micky D’s sounds pretty good.
  • I have no explanation for the other 3 times I’ve eaten McDonald’s…
  • Most classes are 3 hour lectures held once a week. I’m not a fan. Give me the shorter, more frequent class structure.
  • There are fewer homework assignments here. This is great for my weekly stress levels. We’ll see how I feel when finals roll around.
  • A large portion of local students go home every weekend. It makes sense when they’re so close, but it’s quite a bit different from the US where going off to college is all about freedom and liberation from home.
  • All of the dorms (hostels/halls, whatever you want to call them) are divided up into groups, called colleges.  I’m in New Asia College, which contains 3 or 4 other dorms.
  • Each dorm has it’s own chants, complete with stomping and clapping - the kind of rhythmic beats that a step team would use, but also accompanied by a call and response.
  • Our dorm hosted a week of activities during the second week of school for the whole hall. The first night was just called “Mass Games”. We all divided up into our respective floors and competed in rather juvenile games.
Everyone from our hall after the Mass Games
  • For example, the first game included two teams sitting across from each other with a line drawn down the middle. We balled up newspapers and tried to see who could throw the most newspaper balls onto the other side in 30 seconds. There was also a wheelbarrow race, where I had to finish by writing a Cantonese character with popsicle sticks, and a balloon popping game. The games were a little childish for university students, but they were a ton of fun. It was a great way to meet local students and build camaraderie.

Happy Valley Racecourse
  • The next night after the mass games, most exchange students went out to the horse races. Horse racing is a big deal in Hong Kong, although we managed to find the course with mostly international spectators. After placing a few bets, losing some money, and enjoying some refreshments we went out to the clubs in the Wan Chai district. One of the best nights I’ve had so far.
  • One other big highlight from last weekend was the excursion to Tai Long Wan for some cliff diving and beach camping.
  • We rode a bus for about an hour to a little port town. From there we took a 45 minute taxi ride up winding roads to the head of a trail. We then walked 45 minutes to the first beach and found the way to the cliff diving area through a wooded area.
  • The area was quite crowded because we went on a public holiday, but it only added to the fun. Visitors from all over were cheering each other on to jump from this 30-40 foot cliff into a pool of water. 
    Cliff Diving
  • The beach we camped at for a night
  • After a few hours of jumping we hiked on to the second beach. This one was just as crowded as the first, but it was easy not to notice.
  • We swam in the ocean for hours, ate dinner at a little shop on the island, and sat around a campfire until falling asleep on the beach in our rented tents.
  • I highly recommend swimming in the ocean under the midnight moonlight if you ever get the chance.
  • This camping/swimming/hiking excursion has definitely been the highlight of my semester so far.
  • My next adventure is a long weekend trip to Taiwan. No classes on Friday or Monday and a Public Holiday on Tuesday meant we had to plan something. Taiwan is close, cheap, and requires no visa so it was the winner for this weekend. Can’t wait!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

So I’ve been living in Hong Kong for more than two weeks now. My time here thus far has been incredible. There have been few moments to just sit and reflect on everything that has happened, hence the lack of updates, but I finally found some down time on a Monday evening to jot some stuff down.

My first week here was a whirlwind of activities, new faces, and new places. The university hosted various welcome activities and ceremonies, along with presentations on how to get a student ID card, register for courses, and survive on campus. These orientation activities only took a few hours each day, so the rest of the time was spent making new friends and exploring the city. All of the exchange students posted up in one or two dorms for the first week, before moving to a permanent dorm, so it was easy to make friends right away. There are students here from all over the world. There are a lot of people from Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, France, England, Canada, Chile, Japan, China, among many others. There are quite a few Americans, but I seem to be the only one from the Midwest. I loved coming here without knowing a single person. It’s so much more fun this way and it forces me to branch out and meet people. Most people have heard of Iowa, but for the most part, no one knows anything about it. Even some Americans aren’t quite sure if we grow potatoes or if I’m just pronouncing Ohio incorrectly. Everyone here is insanely nice and friendly though. The best part of this experience so far has definitely been the people.
A group of us went to Macau on Friday. I was the token American. 

As for the school aspect, classes just started last week. I need to keep reminding myself that I’m actually in school taking classes. My motivation to study is nowhere to be found. I suspect that it will remain lost for the rest of the semester. All I can think about is where in Hong Kong we should go to next or which countries I’d like to visit in a few months. But alas, I shall try to focus on school for the time being.

So far I’m enrolled in two Accounting classes (Financial Reporting II and Cost & Management Accounting) and an introductory Marketing course. I say “so far” because I still have to finalize my schedule this week, even though classes have already started. Their system for course registration is pretty messed up, but I think everything will work out for me. I’d like to add a Mandarin class for my last course, but that is a work in progress. It looks like the accounting courses will be challenging enough, but not too hard, while the Marketing course looks plenty doable. It definitely feels weird to be the quiet foreign exchange student sitting in a class with all locals. There are always foreign exchange students in my classes back home and you never really think much of them or what it’s like for them to live in a totally new environment. Now I get to take a walk in their shoes. It’s just an odd sensation, but exciting nonetheless. The local students have been gracious in helping me find my classrooms or even translating for me when a class discussion switches from English to Cantonese.

CUHK’s campus sits on top of a mountain. Not nuzzled up close to the bottom - literally built on top of a mountain. At orientation, each student was given a walking stick and his or her own Sherpa for the semester. When debating on whether to wait for the bus or just walk, you will always be wrong if you decide to walk. Either you get soaked because its raining cats and dogs (and it has rained a ton here since we’re still in the rainy season), or you sweat profusely in the humidity while climbing thousands of feet in elevation. This location makes for some pretty incredible scenery though. There is a bay across from our campus with a mountainous backdrop and scattered high rises. Unfortunately the campus is a couple of train stops and line transfers away from the main downtown area so there is still so much of the city that I have yet to discover. It’s quite cheap and easy to travel around here though, especially with a student MTR card.

The view from my room. Not too shabby, eh?
My dorm is located quite near the central campus. I’m blessed with a gorgeous view from my room. My roommate is a local 2nd year student. He is crazy nice and always excited to tell or show me everything about Hong Kong culture. He also helps me practice Chinese, even when I don’t ask for help…but it’s definitely appreciated.

Even though we are in dorms, there is no central cafeteria or meal plan for most of the dorms. Students get most of their meals at little canteens spread all throughout campus. The food here is decent, especially for the price (most dishes are around 3 USD). Hong Kong is known for it’s culinary prowess though so hopefully I eat well while I’m here. I’ve had some amazing food already (an all you can eat Japanese restaurant with incredibly fresh and succulent sushi), but undoubtedly there is more to come.

That’s all I can muster for tonight. Class awaits me at 9:30 tomorrow morning. I'd upload more photos but my camera broke not too long after I arrived so those will have to come later. 

Until next time!

The Pavilion of Harmony - located right behind my dorm.