Sundays are for rest, and in my case, it was very much needed. Despite the protests not travelling to our area, I felt the tiny ripples that the protesters left in Causeway Bay reach me. Buildings in Hong Kong (at least on the main island) are very close together, so I can look out of the window of my flat and see into someone else’s. So, at night I was awoken at about 4am by someone yelling, again what I can only assume were the pro-democracy slogans, in Cantonese from one flat and someone responding to them from another. I listened as the waves of rebellion wash over the small corner of this huge city, and felt admiration for their unity. However, this was then undercut by a single loud scream of pain which I ascertained was below my building.
**TRIGGER WARNING: Gore, Organs, Blood** That day in Causeway Bay, I saw a poster of a campaign that quite literally haunted me as I slept which came to mind. It was of a man laying on a table in a dark room, with masked doctors removing his organs from his body. There was some English which said: ‘They take protesters and their organs’. In my sleepy stupor, I imagined the man on that same table, his intestine being unravelled from his body, his kidneys being ripped our as the cries continued to rise from the ground to my window. Another loud whistle of what sounded like a firework coupled my imaginings and I began to shake – was that tear gas? what was happening to the man? what would happen to me? Luckily, my friend was awake in London and I was able to vent to him. Somehow after we spoke, sleep found its way to my brain and told it to stop worrying, and shut down for the night.
I had arranged to meet my old high-school teacher who had moved to Hong Kong with their partner the next day at 11am for brunch at an all-vegetarian restaurant, a true rarity in the city!
I woke up feeling a little sluggish but decided to brush it off and did the usual routine: turn off A/C, open blinds, begrudgingly peel off my blankets, stretch, check phone — it read, 11 am. Shit. I jumped down my loft-bed-ladder and somehow managed to make it out the door by 11.20 (and, if you know me, you know how much of an achievement that is). In a panic I sent message after message of apologies and hurriedly followed the blue dotted line of Google Maps to the restaurant. Then, I waited. I looked around. No-one was waiting outside like my teacher said they would be. I poked my head around to check the restaurant through the door. It was too small for me to miss them. I sent them a message and they replied – ‘We’re outside the station?’. I replied – ‘Shit’. I forgot I was meant to meet them at the station nearest to me. Brunch slowly shifted into lunch but a truly enjoyable (and delicious!) one at that. It was weird for me as a student to make the transition from seeing my teacher as a teacher to a good friend, but it was one I was ready to make because now I am officially in my 20s. (Gross). The new and old blended together as I was introduced to a few Hong Kong dishes like congee, a porridge-vegetable soup and tang shui, sugar water with lotus seeds, orange peel and red-beans (SO GOOD!), but the comfort of unique phrases my teacher used to use at school remained. (PS: Thanks very much if you’re reading this, I really enjoyed spending time with you guys and the food was so good! ❤️).
I arrived home with half the day to spare, and not wanting to waste it, I decided to go exploring ON MY OWN. It was getting quite dark and admittedly the events of last night had still scared me, but I wasn’t going to go very far, just my local area. I am very Type A which essentially means I always have to be doing something with a goal or productive aim, so ‘exploring’ with no aim other than to explore was and still is a very new concept to me. At first, I ended up doing a circle around a cafe and a couple back alleys and came back to my house. Whoops. So instead, I decided to go straight and try and find a place for dinner. Highlights of the trip include: going into a stationery shop and asking if they had any metal water bottles and the owner responding with a fervent head-shake and saying ‘cash only’, finding a few small fashion places and discovering the JAPANESE SUPERMARKET where I bought matcha-flavoured kit kats!!
The night ended with a desperate craving for some ‘Western’ food, satisfied by a suitably Western pizza place I discovered with punk posters plastered on the walls, and a lovely chat with my flatmate who accompanied me.
The first day of university arrived with lashing rains and thunderstorms – well, at least for everyone but me. A great feature of Hong Kong University’s module selection system is that you can see when your classes are before you select them, so I had given myself Mondays and Fridays off 😎😎😎. The flat was empty, my checklist was not – the chores and bureaucracy of everyday life were things I could not simply leave behind in London no matter how much I tried. And now, almost a week in this new city, and I found them creeping up on me again. So, I went through them:
- food shop? check. Unlike my peers, I did not plan on eating out everyday. My wallet would cry and so would I with the lack of veggie options.
- laundry? done. The trek up and down those 7 flights with a laundry bin was…interesting.
- picking up Student ID? Ugh, I’ll need to go into university, but I’ll go
Clinging to my umbrella for dear life, I made it and waited in a queue that stretched over the expansion of two floors and buildings. I sat in a corner and read until the line moved🤷🏽🤷🏽. However, the closer I reached to the collection room the more I noticed a key document around me that I had forgotten – passports. When I finally entered the room undergraduates were sent away because the first batch of IDs were for postgraduates. So, I thought I’d go back home and get my passport since it’s only a short walk.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it home.
I came out of the building and slipped on the two steps leading out to the pathway. Embarrassed, I looked around and was grateful no-one had seen, but felt a burning sensation in my ankle. I tried to stand up but immediately fell back down. What was happening? Suddenly, the pain became unbearable and I didn’t know what to do. The building’s guard rushed over and tried to help me up, asking me questions of what I ascertained were concern in Cantonese. My eyes began to water as I realised I had probably done something to my ankle. My memory is a little fuzzy here, but I remember the first-aid person from the university arriving and a post-graduate student from HKU being pulled from the queue inside to translate. They asked me if I was in pain and one word kept being repeated – ‘ambulance’. Now I’m not sure if any of you know the system in the UK , but luckily we have the NHS (#SaveTheNHS) so health-care is free. I had no idea where they would take me, how much it would cost, what would happen to my accommodation because remember, 7 flights of stairs to walk up daily. I rang my friend from London who I knew was on campus and luckily she had just finished her lecture, so she rushed over to me. While we waited for her the student attempted to make small-talk with me, and the situation became ten times more painful. I can’t explain what Comparative Literature is for the millionth time when my ankle is killing me! The ambulance arrived and one of the team spoke English. He asked about my pain levels, what had happened and as he was tying an ice pack to my ankle with a bandage asked – ‘Do you have your passport?’.
OH, THE IRONY OF IT ALL.
I looked at my friend, she looked at me, I looked at the guard.
‘No, I don’t, I was just about to go get it.’
Unfortunately, neither of my flatmates were available so my friend was sent on an expedition to grab it from my room. In the mean-time, I was lifted into a wheelchair and then the stretcher-bed-ambulance thing. Three paramedics weaved me back into the building through the crowd of students and into the very small lifts and the ambulance. All the meanwhile, I was crying. I kept thinking I was an idiot for falling down the stairs, because it was literally two steps, and about how I probably deserved this for some reason. I sunk lower into the blanket to avoid being seen, and lower and lower into my pessimism. I was stupid for thinking I could come here. I don’t have good balance, I’m always falling over. Why on the first day of university? In the ambulance, (Side note: Shout-out to my friend for getting my passport in like 20 mins when the round-trip would have been like 40, love you! ❤️❤️❤️)
At the hospital, I was put into a wheelchair and sat in what appeared to be a waiting room. I was made to pay 180HKD (approx £18) for the attendance fees, which was a lot less than I expected. We heard random Cantonese phrases being said over an announcer and waited, very clueless and lost. Then, my aunt arrived, but we proceeded to wait for another 5 hours until I was finally seen by the doctor who sent me to get x-rays done. On the x-ray table, they kept turning and stretching my foot and asking me to lift it up. But, I couldn’t and I was in way too much pain. But they still did it 🙃. Finally, exhausted emotionally and physically I returned to my aunt’s flat with the diagnosis of a simple sprain.
The night before I had vowed to not let my ankle get in the way of my learning. I hadn’t travelled 20 hours and worked my butt off for the year to not go to the university I had been wanting to go to for so long. I envisioned myself as a heroine of higher-learning, a pillar of student-hood as I scribbled down lecture notes in my note-book with my ankle in a cast. The reality was certainly not as romantic or heroic. I had no cast, nor crutches since the hospital said they would cost more and I would have to come back and wait to collect them the next day, and I had classes and had lost all my patience after waiting for so long the day before. I did have my aunt’s hiking stick however, which I used to hobble around university the whole day. Yes, it was painful, but I loved my classes and that’s all that matters!
Or at least, so I thought. I woke the next morning to find my foot swollen and my ankle angry that I had walked back and forth across campus so much. So, begrudgingly, I spent the day at home. But no matter, I thought, I had been asking for a day off to just get all my academic and personal admin in order and read for my dissertation, so I’ll do that. And so I did.
Today, I had to go to university. And not just because I was determined, I had a placement test to see which Japanese module I could take since the module I had taken was meant for complete beginners, which I am not.
The other days, I had been escorted around campus by people who were nice enough to open doors for me and help me find my classrooms, because the campus is massive (PS: Thank you so much to anyone reading who’s done that)! But that morning, I had to find the room to one of my classes by myself and admittedly I was very nervous about being late. Luckily, I found the building and the room and felt more confident in myself. Most of the classes I had been to thus far were large lectures, but this class was a lot more intimate and small. We were put into groups and given the task of introducing one other member of the group to the rest of the class with their name, their major (another new concept to me as a UK student) and a fun fact. My fun fact was that I am a spoken word poet and the class was so impressed, which again, made me feel more confident in myself. It was truly an unexpected and humbling experience 😊! I left the class having made two new friends who were nice enough to take me to the other side of campus (thank you!) and with my head held a little higher despite my awkward limp.
When I was in the ambulance, my mum had told me that things happen for a reason, and that I would soon see why I had sprained my ankle. But when I left my other class alone, I could see none, other than pain and embarrassment. Hong Kong is fast-moving, way faster than London, and the university is no exception to that rule. Amidst the bustling crowd of students, I was simply a hindrance slowing everyone down. I felt the pessimism from the ambulance return. I had been away from my flat and the situation I had only just begun to get used to and thrown into another and was forced to adjust to the city all over again. I was missing my flatmates, the quaint shops that surround us, even the 7 flights of stairs. But I also felt ridiculous. I wasn’t dying, I wasn’t far from them at all, and the rest of my body is perfectly fine. Surely I should also be grateful that it was only a sprain not a fracture? I have a lovely aunt who is letting me stay with her, technically I have no reason to be sad, right?
Lesson #1 of Ankle Sprain – practice gratitude when you’re down. It’s difficult, but it helps.
I decided to message my flatmate to ask her if she wanted to meet up for lunch, and we ate at the lovely Buddhist (and so, veggie!) buffet on campus, before heading to the library. Space-efficient facilities are very common in a city where most spaces are occupied, and the library was also no exception sporting a very cool fold in-chair and desk which, yes, I took a photo of:
I studied for my test in a panic, trying to re-learn as much of 3 months of Japanese in 3 hours as I could. Soon, it was time to leave. My friend had gone to the languages office to ask them about the test for me the day before, and had told me it was on the north side of campus. I left early so I had enough time to awkardly limp to the building, went up the lift and found the room.
It was a small office.
I began to panic. It was already 6.20, the exam was meant to start at 6.30. Luckily my Japanese teacher was in the hallway and I asked him for the room and directions and when I heard them, I panicked more. It was in a part of campus I had never been to, and there was no way I could run, but I damn well tried. I half-limped, half-sprinted to the other side of campus and luckily found a girl to show me where the room was. It was tucked away in a small corner of the building I never would have been able to find without her. I rushed into the room, grabbed my paper and sat in the first seat I saw.
7.00 PM. Shit.
My hands began to shake as the exhaustion, pain and exam-stress suddenly weighed down on them, but the rest of my body felt light, almost too light. Dizzy and sweaty I opened the test paper. To my dismay, I couldn’t read much of it. My Japanese was not good enough yet. I attempted to write the few answers for questions I half recognised, but at 7.30, with 30 minutes left until the end of the exam, I gave up. The crushing weight of defeat fell on my shoulders as I handed in an almost blank test paper and headed home.
Lesson #2 – It’s OK to give up sometimes if you know it’s the right decision for you. (Don’t take that out of context though).
The defeat of yesterday dragged itself into the next morning and I found myself highly unwilling to get out of bed. There was no point in doing anything if I would be in pain the whole day. But, I practiced gratitude: at least I have a roof over my head, an aunt who cares for me and is lovely, an awesome cousin to chat with and a delicious breakfast waiting for me.
But, the further into the day I got, the more sluggish I felt. I lay on the floor of my room for several minutes before eating the lunch which in my head I was extremely grateful for, which tasted like a bittersweet mix of tangy garlic and nothingness. It’s difficult to describe what low days feel like, but for me it’s when my food is tasteless.
I remembered I had made plans to meet with my friend from my Japanese class in London, Hydi.
My aunt is a tutor and at the time I was getting ready to leave she had two young students over. Their cheeky giggles overlapped with the music I was listening to as I did my makeup, and I felt a weird sort of piercing sensation. Still in a sluggish daze, I rushed out the door and soon found the bubble-tea place we were meeting out and Hydi herself.
Also if you’re enjoying my blog posts you will love Hydi’s videos! She posts travel vlogs and they’re very entertaining!
Hanging out was a much-needed reminder that I am still who I am despite my ankle, and there are those around me who will help more than judge. We discovered quite possibly the fanciest Starbucks I have ever been to where they served this amazing broccoli pie, something you’d never see in the UK:
However, paradoxically, it was also a reminder of my insignificance. After talking about anime, we decided impromptu to go see the newest anime film together. We were on our way out of the shopping centre, with a spring in my step that my deep itch for exploring Hong Kong was going to be satisfied, when Hydi’s father rang. Protests had just broken out near the cinema we were going to in Hydi’s local area, and she needed to leave.
Don’t worry though, we’re all fine! And I stand with the protestors – I understand their fight for democracy and it is one that needs to be heard.
Today, I had nothing special planned. So once again, getting out of bed was tough. I decided to go out at least a little bit and go to the local Starbucks to study (I have yet to try every green-tea flavour thing I can find there!).
I took my seat, feeling rather low, and saw a cute little girl next to me with her father. I have gotten accustomed to words being noises that I cannot decipher rather than language and so felt the usual wave of dissapointment in this hole of knowledge I had yet to fill. However, I realised, I knew that language – it was Japanese! I could speak it! But my mouth had remained closed for so long, could I really speak it? Shakly and shyly, I decided to speak to the father. I leant over and said: ‘Excuse me, but your um–‘ Shit. I forgot the word for child. ‘Daughter?’ He helped. ‘Yes! Daughter, is very cute!’ ‘Ah, thank you!’ He turned to his daughter, ‘say thank you!’. The daughter responded with a scowl that will forever be etched into my brain as quite possibly the quickest transformation from cute to evil I have ever seen. It was as if her face had become stuck in a permanent scowl, not quite a frown but not anger either, just pure hatred. He laughed awkardly and I waved it off, my pride in my Japanese skills having returned after the defeat of the test.
I came home and my aunt, having noticed my slightly withered demeanour, decided to take me out for dinner and a night on the town.
I enjoyed a weird but oddly satisfying treat of toasted bread with condensed milk.
And a lovely meal! After, we enjoyed a tram-ride around town. However, the reminants protests of the day before were scattered throuhgout the area: poles that the protesters had used to protect themselves, tape that they had used to tie to the railings and most notably, the graffitti on the walls:
As we returned home, I felt full from the good food, great atmopshere and lovely time we had. But a sinking feeling remained in the pit of my stomach – how much longer were the protests going to go on for? how can I help? what can I do? And to be honest, that still remains. I don’t know how to help, or what to do or where to go because almost everyone is on edge and in the same boat who isn’t a protester. But for now, I know that this (posting) is all I can do. And perhaps, that’s the reason why my ankle was sprained. To understand the pain of broken bones, wounds, when I saw them on screen, something I had never felt before. So that’s my update. That’s what I’m doing right now in Hong Kong, the country and the city.