Hong Kong – New York on Crack?
So I had decided that I wanted to spend my exchange semester abroad in Hong Kong at the Polytechnic University. Many of my friends had a rather big frown on their faces when I told them where I was going. “But it is China?” they would say. Yes it is China, or so it recently became when Hong Kong was surrendered as a British colony to the mainland.
China being one of the BRIC countries has an economy that is booming. The middle class is growing and it is undertaking a newly advanced economic development. The United States, the current super power of the world although how long that may last one might wonder, is in debt over its knees to China. With this in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to become friendly with the people that may soon rule the world. Or at least a great deal of it.
Since it is China, it also involves an extreme cultural difference from our beloved little Denmark. Denmark, where the glorious people of our nation believe they have invented sarcasm and are cited as being the happiest people on earth, highly care about formalities, and scream freedom of speech at the top of their lungs even in situations where the small state could be jeopardized as a target for world terror.
This is in high contrast to China infamous for the One Child Policy and citizens who burp and fart to show appreciation (or just because they really don’t care). Individualism is most certainly not a strong suit in China and many Chinese still live with their parents until they get married. From then on, they bare the burden of taking care of their parents.
And the differences continue… I however learned Hong Kong is a far more international city and the Hong Kong Chinese consider themselves very different from the, in their eyes, unsophisticated Chinese mainland people.
My Experience of The Local Students
So how was my experience of all this?
Well I must say it was still different, very different. The first day of school, I found myself in a class of 30 Hong Kong Chinese, in which I was the only non-Chinese. Not only did people stare when I walked in with my Scandinavian look of long blonde hair and blue eyes, but they were also very introverted and only spoke Cantonese to each other. As I sat in class, I felt rather alone the first couple of weeks. When the teacher asked us in class to discuss the material of her lecture with the person next to us I turned to the fellow students only to see the backs of them turned away from me speaking fast in Cantonese. I, however, discovered that if you want to get to know the Chinese you must come to them. I decided to take upon the challenge to become friends with at least one local.
So one day, when the teacher told us to form groups, I overly enthusiastically turned to three Chinese girls next to me and asked them if I could be a part of their group. Their first reaction was to smile and giggle, but they agreed on taking me in as a member. I high-fived myself on my inside and started talking with my new group mates. They turned out to be extremely friendly and asked me a million questions about Denmark, our culture, and my travels in general. I learned that once you understand where they are coming from it is possible to relate to them and learn something interesting about their culture.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Polytechnic University is an excellent university with good teachers. One should however be aware that the school system is very different from the one we are used to in Denmark. It is commonly known that at CBS it is technically possible to not participate in a single class throughout the semester and then excel at the exam and get the highest grade. That’s all that matters – the final exams. In Hong Kong things are different. Group work, assignments presentations, reports, participation in class, in short all things that are done throughout the semester count as the final grade. I found it difficult to adjust to this system, since I personally relax a little too much throughout the year and then study intensively right before the exam.
My Stay at The Student Halls
I stayed in the student halls where I shared a tiny (let me emphasize TINY) room with my best friend from Denmark. We shared a bathroom with two girls from Mainland China. I found it a bit awkward in the beginning when I kept randomly running into one of the girls standing naked in the bathroom. Especially because she somehow always managed to scream when she saw me and desperately tried to cover herself up with the nearest towel.
I eventually got used to and regularly tried “cooking” an excellent cup of noodles in the kitchen, always with curious Chinese students playing weird singing or dancing games.
Hong Kong the City
Hong Kong is a city that is buzzing. It is filled with excitement and a great mixture of an international and local crowd. Hong Kong Polytechnic University is at the Kowloon side, which means you have to take the metro (which works perfectly well) about half an hour to get to central Hong Kong. This is also where the nightlife is pulsating, mainly centralized in Lan Kwai Fong (LKF). This area is filled with intoxicated people in all forms and shapes including students, expats coming straight from work, and curious tourists. It offers cheap bars, fancier cocktail spots, chilled dance bars, and fancy clubs filled with models working in Hong Kong.
The exchange students tend to stick together and do a lot of different activities together. There is always something to do in Hong Kong, whether it is cheap cocktails at Taco Tuesdays, dinner at Mr. Wongs (free beer and food for less than 50 kr), a trip to China or some gambling in Macau (the Chinese version of Vegas).
I would recommend that you also get to know other people than the exchange students. There are many interesting people (especially expats) working and living in Hong Kong. This is a good way to expand your horizon and get to know another side of Hong Kong.
If you let it, Hong Kong it will teach you a thing or two. Some say Hong Kong is like New York, but on crack. I don’t know if this statement is completely accurate, but it is definitely on some kind of speed.