In my last month in Asia you might say I saw more than in any one of the three preceding months. I’ll start off with the wonderful week I spent touring my parents around Hong Kong, then talk a bit about my interesting trip to Beijing, and finish up with my amazingly enjoyable excursion to India.
First things first let me say I am extremely proud of my parents for making the journey all the way from Houston to Hong Kong. I had quite a few people who said to me before I left that they would come visit, but my parents actually came through. I spent the whole week they were here touring them which luckily for me happened to be my dead week at HKUST. To make things even better my only final wasn’t going to be until a week after they left, so I’d still have plenty of time to study. While the majority of the things I did with them were things I had already done, there were a few awesome new experiences for me. My favorite new place I visited while touring them was the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas in Sha Tin. Just in case you’re wondering, yes, there actually are 10,000 Buddha statues at this temple. There was also a gorgeous temple in the district Wong Tai Sin, and a place called the PMQ (Police Married Quarters) that we visited that were certainly worth while culturally enlightening stops. I’d warned my parents to practice using chopsticks since most places in Hong Kong didn’t have forks readily available, but it was obvious they must not have taken me too seriously. I spent our first meal together literally putting noodles into their bowls because they were unable to grab them. It was honestly like something out of a comedy show where I was the parent and they were my children. By the end of the week though they got it down and were able to eat their meals without my assistance. The week flew by and my parents who had never truly been immersed in a foreign culture got to experience places and things that they both never thought they would. All and all it was an amazing week, and I couldn’t have been more blessed to have had the opportunity to introduce them to a new side of the world.
Beijing was an interesting place where I found my perceptions didn’t quite match my expectations. Not in a bad way necessarily, but it was an eye-opening experience for me to see how drastically different it was from Hong Kong. Quick word of advice for anyone planning to visit Beijing, avoid going in the winter unless you enjoy freezing cold. I mean in the five days I was there the temperature literally never rose above the 20’s (below 0 Celsius for everyone outside of the US). Aside from the frigid temperatures Beijing was overall pleasant as I got to see the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and of course the Great Wall of China (just to name a few things). For me, the Great Wall was the icing on the cake. There is something so satisfying about walking along the wall that extends for miles out of sight in both directions. While Beijing is an extremely safe city you do have to watch out for conmen and women here and there, so be sure to do a quick read on common scams. It’s best to follow the old rule your parents gave you when you were a child and “don’t talk to strangers.” I found the food in Beijing pretty delicious (often quite spicy actually) and in some places even cheaper than Hong Kong. While you will definitely struggle to find restaurants (or anyone for that matter) who speak English, there are plenty of restaurants that offer pictures of the food items on their menu, so you should be okay even if your Mandarin isn’t up to par. This actually brings me to a funny story about my very first meal in Beijing. My German friend Fabian and I were feeling adventurous (as always) so we walked into a tiny hole in the wall restaurant nearby our hostel. With our Chinese character recognition skills having improved due to our Mandarin course, we were feeling confident about being able to read the menu. We immediately recognized the character for meat “rou”, but we didn’t recognize the preceding character that indicated what kind of meat it was. Long story short, it turns out we were eating donkey meat, which I must admit is surprisingly delicious. I would have to caution anyone like me who loves eating street food just to be careful where you eat in Beijing, as I did have just one incident where I had a bit of stomach ache after some yummy pancake wrap looking thing. Beijing was quite a pleasant experience, and truly eye opening on just how enormous and diverse China really is.
India was everything I expected and so much more. If you’re like me and love spicy food then prepare to be in food heaven. The majority of curries (or gravies as they are typically referred to) have at least a little kick to them, so there’s no need to worry about a bland meal in India. I would also like to say that contrary to everyone’s warnings that I would get sick in India if I wasn’t careful, my stomach was perfectly fine the entire time. Perhaps the main reason that India was so amazing to me was because I was staying with my friend Sampriti (who I met in my Mandarin class in Hong Kong) and her family for almost an entire week. I got to experience India in a way that would have been impossible without them. They were the best hosts I have ever had the pleasure of being a guest for, as they treated my German friend Johannes and I as if we were their sons. We began our trip touching down in Delhi, then went straight to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Fatephur Sikri, then returned to Delhi and saw the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort, then went to Jaipur to see the Amber Fort, and finally returned to Delhi where we did a little bit of exploring before leaving back to Hong Kong. The Taj Mahal was in my opinion every bit as majestic as you could imagine with immense detail in every nook and cranny of the massive marble palace. One thing that I found absolutely fascinating was the multiple forts I visited. Walking through the extensive corridors I felt as if I was literally in the movie Aladdin, or (for all my gamers out there) the game Assassin’s Creed. As with mainland China I would have to warn everyone about people who are trying to take advantage of you in India. However, I actually found Indian people to be some of the friendliest and most helpful out of all of the countries I have visited. Like China, India is massive with many diverse regions and in the future I will definitely return to spend more time exploring other parts. Once again I would like to send a very special thank you to the Dwivedy family for being the most gracious hosts that anyone could ever ask for. I only hope that one day in the future I will be able to repay their kindness.
Hong Kong was my third choice out of four possible locations I was looking into for studying abroad. Before I came I had never thought of the city as somewhere that I wanted to live for four months. Now all I can think about is how much I miss the diverse culinary scene, the beautiful mountains and dense jungles, the superb ocean view, and all of the amazing people I met there. Of all the places I have been in the world outside of the US, Hong Kong is the one place that I can actually see myself living and working happily. It hurts to have to part with a place that became home for me, but I have a feeling that I will find my way back in the future. I want to thank everyone who made this dream a reality from my family, my friends, my amazing advisers, and the generous donors of the scholarships I received. Without all of your support and love, I would not be where I am today. One of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine says, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” So read as many pages of this world as you possibly can, and don’t be afraid to discover something new.