FROM GRINGO TO GWAI-LO: JORDAN'S AMAZING ADVENTURE
Trip Start Dec 15, 2002
18Trip End ??? ??, 2003
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
So...5 days in Hong Kong and I'm blown away. Everything here is so cool. I haven't had time to take it all in - my first few days have been spent de-jet lagging, running errands, picking (easy) courses, and meeting people - but instead I've just been overloaded with sensations. HK vibes - more laid back than Bangkok, more frenetic than New York - in a completely unique style. The lights, the architechture, HK's complete existence on this tiny island is out of this world.
But hold on a second, let me give you some facts. Waking up from that never-ending night (and several terribly bad movies), Q (my monolettric classmate from back home) and I were met at the airport by the smiling face of my HKU-ordained liason, Kyle. Q, incidentally, had also supposed to be met, but Phil Chan chose this day to spend all night in the nudie bars before passing out on a local fountain (more on that later). So, Kyle took us on a double date, shlepping our enormously gigantic bags from airport to train to taxi. My head hanging out the window, I got my first taste of the sights and smells of HK (the latter being something between Spadina and Dundas, and Spadina and Dundas during the municipal workers strike this summer).
And then, St. Johns - my home for the next several months. After much begging and pleading, the exchange officer at HKU finally got sick of seeing my name in her inbox, relented, and put me in a single room. My anticipation - 6 months of squinting at tiny pictures of dorm rooms - got the better of me, and I lept up the stairs, admired the rooms of my floormates, threw open the door to room 621 and... promptly turned around and looked in the room next door to see if they were identical. I had a wood desk, an uncomfortable folding chair, and a bed fit for a prison cell. The walls were white and sterile, the window coverings an attractive floral brown, the lighting dim, and the floor cold and hard. Home Sweet Home. My spirits lifted slightly after seeing Q's room, which was all those things, in a smaller room with two beds. At least I can walk around naked and snore. A quick stop to the local Price Rite - HK's Ikea - left things a little cozier - a new mattress for my bed, a light to brighten up the room, and a rug to match the clothes strewn out over my floor.
But the situation is great - I expected most of the Chinese students to be shy, but instead they have been very forthcoming (as I write this, observing the 'open door, no locks' policy, Fong from 615 wandered into my room just to chat). Generally, they ask three questions: "Where are you from?", "Why do you choose HK?", and "What sports do you play?" The third question was a little unusual until I learned more about the hall system - Chinese students live in the same hall (and floor) for their entire tenure at university. What happens is that each floor in every hall becomes a mini-fraternity, eating together, hanging out together, and competing together - and only with each other. The school organizes inter-hall competitions - in sports ranging from field hockey to lacrosse to track and field - and these kids take it seriously - teams train three times a week!!! For intramural sports!!! And they are good too...yesterday, St. Johns organized a competition between the different floors. By chance, I started talking to one guy on my floor, and asked him what events he participated in: 100m dash, 200m, and shot put. "How did you do?", I asked. "I won all three", he replied in the typical bashful Chinese style. Blown away, I asked him how fast he ran the 100m dash, keeping in mind the world record of 9.79 seconds and my 7th grade junior high (in my fat stage) record of around 32 seconds. Again, typically bashful: "11.03 seconds"!!!! By the way, my floor won - the 6th floor hasn't lost in this competition in the past 12 years (St. Johns, the Lakers of HKU Inter-hall competition, has three-peated as overall mens champion and four-peated as women's champion).
Of course, this 11.03 seconds business makes perfect sense when you consider where I am (watching the pink and blues of a sunset over the condos and apartment buidlings in a t-shirt). HKU is the Harvard of Asia - consistently ranked in the top 3 schools, and making the task of taking a slack schedule very difficult. Every kid I talk to is in biotechnology, engineering, or chemistry, some sort of superb athlete, or a CantoPop superstar singer (Alex Fong, he's in my program). Another thing about them - they don't sleep. Dejet-lagging, I woke up at 5am to find them still playing PS2 and yelling at the top of their lungs. That part, the late night thing, is going to take some getting used to. But, unlike the crazy undergrads back home in Canada, they don't socialize and they don't go out. At dinner tonight I asked one student why they don't: apparently they just have more fun hanging out making noise and staying up all night at the hall. I haven't seen one two-four, bong, or beer in my five days here. Is this really university?
I eat most of my meals at the St. Johns canteen, where I'm served four breakfasts and seven lunches or dinners a week. They serve, quite obviously, Chinese food, and I'm getting more adept with the chopsticks every day. My slobby nature seems to have found a perfect home in this culture; imagine, a place where I can drip food all over the table, shove my face into the rice bowl, stick my chopsticks into other people's food, and look completely normal doing so. This is heaven.
Anyway, so I've spent the last couple days with Q and his friend from here running errands. I'm the proud owner of a new cellphone, an Octopus card, and a new pair of shoes. I kept dishing out HK$ for whatever she told me to buy - and that money flows very quickly. Besides that, she's been a great tour guide, and I'm starting to get the lay of the land.
The way the land lays is up. Hong Kong Island, the central commercial district and the residential areas surrounding it, is built around a central mountain called The Peak. Because there is simply not enough land for 6.9 million Cindy Chans, the city shoots straight up as it climbs the steep hillside. There are buildings by the ocean that are 30 stories, but, as you climb higher and reach the same altitude as their roofs, you're only at the bottom of yet another 30 or 40 story building. It turns into an inescapable web of skyscrapers and apartment buildings, steep streets, and more stairs then I ever hoped to see in my life - I climb up 106 stairs from street level to get to my building...and then go up 6 stories. No matter where you go, you're climbing stairs - the HKU campus is relatively small, but to get from here to there is a confusing maze of escalators and elevators. That stair thing was such a problem - some of HK's middle class live up in an area called the Mid-Levels, and the trek from home to work is bad now and brutal in the sweltering summer - so they went and built the world's longest escalator to alleviate that problem. It makes you wonder how long it will be before the Americans find a way to build the world's longest moving sidewalk to get people from their homes to the nearest McDonalds.
Lots of Americans here - about half the exchange students are from schools in the States, mostly California. In a city filled with Chinese people, there's a small little area called Lan Kwai Fong (we were there last night) where you don't see one Asian face. We were there to go out - we being a bunch of the newly arrived exchange students - and to take advantage of happy hours. Some happy hours - beers were HK$35 of $7CAD. Instead, we came up with a new plan - we bought HK$15 beers from 7-11 and hung out at the local basketball court. Eventually, we figured we (a team of smartly dressed trashed exchange students) could beat the locals, and promptly had our asses kicked with impunity. We wandered around the city, stumbling (literally) into a nightclub where girls get in for free (with free drinks) while guys have to drop HK$160 for cover. Too drunk to see into our wallets, we headed in and then I woke up in my bed this morning with a wicked headache. I was the lucky one - three of my friends spent their first night in HK asleep on a park fountain. Sitting out with the exchange students in the main square of campus today, enjoying the hot sun (and wearing a t-shirt in January) we realized: this is living.
We also had a chance to take the Star Ferry (HK$2, the best deal in the city) across the channel to the Kowloon side. This was HK as I pictured it: dirty, teeming with markets and loud, obtrusive, neon signs screaming out in Cantonese. I was on a mission to buy a new pair of shoes, and headed for Mong Kok, recommended as the cheap place to buy, well, everything. By chance, we stumbled upon the 'shoe district', a street lined with nothing but shoe shops. There's also (apparently) a fake purse district, a fish district, and a bird district. I am still looking in vain for the smoothie district. That would be heaven.
There are so many things on my to-do list that I couldn't even begin to tell you (I really do have a to-do list: Item #1...beat myself senseless for making a to-do list). I've been nominated de-facto party planner - some of the things on the schedule include a beach picnic this weekend on the south side of the Island and a Chinese New Year trip to the Philippines, which I'm planning as we speak. There's a large contigent of exchange students here, and we stand out...so it's easy to meet people and to organize non-alcoholic social gatherings. Tonight I'll take things easy, but those are famous last words. 7-11 here I come.
I'll keep you posted as the travelling continues, and I'll continue to let you in on what day to day life is like as a Hong Kong U student. Mission One: Get Alex Fong's autograph.