Hello everyone! So for those of you who don’t know I am spending the first half of my final year of university in Hong Kong. I am documenting my travels on my blog and will update every week or every few days (or whenever something interesting happens, lol). Please follow my blog to keep up with this journey and I look forward to seeing you around!
PS: Hi to anyone who’s been mentioned and is reading this, and thanks very much for everything you’ve done for me so far! ❤️
When I arrived in Hong Kong only two things were familiar to me – the Japanese snacks and the India-level humidity. The rest, completely foreign. After months of hard-work to ensure I was accepted into my study abroad programme, Hong Kong seemed more like an apparition than an actual city. It had been an ideal for so long that when it materialised before me, I was very lost.
Myself and two other girls were dropped off by the Hong Kong University shuttle bus in a location that looked completely different from the directions we had been sent for our accommodation. Were we really meant to be staying in what seemed like a tiny noodle shop? We asked the man at said shop for directions, but got no English response – and I began to panic. Was this really the right decision? I know Hong Kong was listed as one of the English-speaking options for study abroad, but how could I navigate a city by myself where I knew nothing of the language? Luckily, this panic was interrupted by me realising road signs also had English on them, and recognising the road that I had seen opposite ours on Google Maps.
As I crossed the road, with an unfamiliar insistent beeping bursting out of the traffic lights around me, I noticed that the road in front of me was vertical. Something else no-one had warned me about, acclimatisation to inclination. Little did I know what my legs were about to endure. Finally we arrived at our accommodation, a metal door (which to quote my friend ‘looks like a prison’) on the side of a little alleyway. The door was opened and we were met with a bright green staircase. Let’s remember, I am a 5ft person with a 23 kg (50 lb) bag (and another smaller one, and my backpack) faced with God knows how many stairs – I’m sure you can do the math. I prayed that this God would subtract as many stairs as possible from this horrible equation, but they did not. I was given keys to my flat on the 6th floor, which meant carrying everything up 7 flights of stairs. G r e a t. Admittedly, the main reason I decided to come to Hong Kong was to gain more independence and confidence in my abilities of looking after myself. But I felt like the universe was playing a cruel prank on me in giving me such heavy responsibilities so early on in my trip.
Somehow, I did it.
Similarly to the city itself, my accommodation had seemed like a far off thought until I actually saw it before me. I am a small person so size is not an issue to begin with, but regardless I am enjoying being in a smaller space. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the picture which had been listed as the ‘living room’ on the website was more than just an ominously placed fridge.
But more than the ominous fridge, I was worried about living with a roommate. Luckily, she was very nice. After taking a much needed cold shower (because we still have no idea how to get hot water), we decided to buy some basic necessities and water bottles. Having another person with me usually makes any experience a lot better. I find being on my own a very anxious experience, probably because I’m more on the extroverted side of the spectrum and I am fortunate enough to have family and friends around me more often than not. Hence, coming here to find independence. I felt as if I had failed the first task of my trip by asking my roommate to come with me and settled into my comfort zone of letting another person take the lead.
Lush displays of egg tarts and cream pastries, numerous 7-Elevens, neon signs in the day-time and Cantonese characters swept past me until we came across what appeared to be a small supermarket. I reached for the familiar – Almond Breeze, Special K cereal, Dove soap, not really taking account of what I was buying or how much. Weirdly enough, I saw a lot of Tesco and Waitrose (well-known British supermarkets) brand items. I truly thought, where the heck am I? I took my items to the counter and fumbled for my wallet once the cashier announced the price in Cantonese. This is where my memory fails me slightly since I’m writing this a couple days after arriving. I think I handed her a 20HKD note, not realising that it was only £2 ($2.50), and so a fraction of the price of what I bought. In response, she began getting annoyed but again, in Cantonese. I frantically handed her a 200HKD note (£20 or $25), grabbed my change and left.
I felt the same panic wash over me as I returned to my room. I decided to message my aunt who I knew lived here if she wanted to have dinner and began unpacking my things, pushing away my doubts and worries. But I was alone in the flat, alone in my room, in a new city where my first encounter was being yelled at. I was not Chinese, a curvy British-Indian girl, far from the usual population of the city. My friend who I had arrived with was far away in the other side of town. Everything felt too far. Then, my mum called, and I began to cry. The fear of being alone, the lack of sleep, the heat, it all poured out of me in that moment.
Lesson #1 from Hong Kong – give yourself time to acclimatise.
I explained the situation to my aunt who was kind enough to come to me with dinner, bed-sheets (the reason I couldn’t sleep) and much needed hugs and advice. After she left, I spoke to my Chinese-American flatmates who returned from their day, about mine. They reassured me that they too were overwhelmed when they first arrive.
And that they have also been yelled at by her.
Lesson #2 – appearance and acclimatising well to new environments are not related, you can look the same, speak the same language and still be overwhelmed.
The next day, I headed to the Hong Kong University campus for registration. Once again in the morning I found myself alone in the flat on account of everyone else waking up just before me.
But, I went out only to realise:
Lesson #3 – The Internet Is Crucial To Modern Day Survival
I had no internet. And I am not the best at directions to begin with, so I had to attempt to follow an offline map which lagged, a l o t . The hills were cruel and unforgiving, the stairs death-inducing, the rain treacherous and torrential (and of course on the day I decided to not take my umbrella), but somehow I made it to our University’s Main Building.
With a level of pride in myself I thought was hardly possible yesterday, I saw on the map that the building for registration was only 2 minutes away from me. Perfect!
Unfortunately, those 2 minutes turned into 20.
My map was sending me round in circles. I didn’t have a sim card so I couldn’t ring anyone and no internet to look up an alternative route. And again, the panic – was I really capable of being here if I couldn’t even find one building? Was I stupid to even consider doing this? Me, who gets lost in London, my home city, how could I possibly navigate another one?
Fortunately, my friend came to the rescue after she spotted me wandering around from the building above me. While enjoying a peach-jelly green-tea (THE BEST FLAVOUR by the way) in the Starbucks on campus, I noticed around me that there were a lot of Indians. Their Hindi lingo, their mannerisms, their gait – it was finally something I recognised. They didn’t know it, but they were truly doing me a favour by being in that Starbucks. I no longer felt that alone.
The rest of my day was spent being envious of my friend’s accommodation because it had a lift, finding an upgraded version of my favourite food, tofu, which was bean curd skin and realising I could actually read the Cantonese numbers because they were the same in Japanese.
Lesson #4 – I am smarter and more capable than I know.
I spent some time on campus for orientation in the morning, most of which was sitting through a lot of talks about Hong Kong University’s module selection process, but also enjoying a performance by their Chinese Orchestra:
In the evening, I had a lovely dinner (more tofu!! 😍 ) with my aunt in her amazing flat!
Today, my flatmates and I took a trip to Causeway Bay. This, like many parts of Hong Kong, is the region best known for its high-fashion shops and great food – but we went to IKEA. The shop was a maze of home appliances with many escalators which lead you to everywhere except the exit. Needless to say, I accidentally took the wrong escalator up when my friends weren’t behind me and had to find my own way out.
However, our trip was shadowed by the oncoming protests. We knew that they were going to take place at 2pm, and so we were constantly checking our watches and keeping an eye out. Just as we were entering the train station to get back home, we heard some yelling and a large crowd began to form. People behind us began yelling in unison with the crowd what I assume were the pro-democracy slogans and we realised we needed to get back home fast. We are all safe and sound now, but many places along our road were shut today since it looked like this:
But this is just a precautionary measure. The protests have remained in the Causeway Bay area at the moment, and we’re still safe and sound in our flat.
But that’s all for now! Remember to follow me or give this post a like if you enjoyed it and I’ll see you next week!