It’s only been a week or two since I arrived in Hong Kong and, wow, am I starting to fall in love with this place! I’ve visited so many places and eaten so many delicious foods that I don’t even know where to start.
School at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology started two weeks later than school at Texas A&M, so I was given an ample amount of time to pack and figure out what I needed. It was well-needed, too, for this was my first time traveling halfway across the world by myself, with no assistance! While I was nervous about starting school, getting around the city, and packing the right things, I was also excited to meet new friends and travel to a brand new place.
The one thing that surprised me when first getting off the plane was the fact that I couldn’t read many of the signs anymore. Though a lot of official signs and advertisements had English translations, quite a few of them were also in plain Chinese. Not being able to understand what was written was the biggest culture shock that I’ve faced immediately upon arriving. The ride to campus from the airport made everything worthwhile, however, as I got to see the city illuminated with its night lights.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is notorious for being a difficult school in Asia. So much so, in fact, that the locals have “lovingly” dubbed the university as the Hong Kong University of Stress and Tension. While the branding of this school seems quite intimidating, I also realize that this is why Texas A&M has chosen to partner with this amazing university, and will strive to work hard and return with more knowledge under my belt.
In the meantime, due to Lunar New Year this week, we have a break from classes from Tuesday, February 5th, to Thursday, February 7th. My newfound friends and I plan on hiking and touring many of Hong Kong’s landscapes and landmarks, including the Tian Tan Buddha statue in Ngong Ping. So far, I have been able to tour some of Mong Kok and the Central area of Hong Kong, watch the Symphony of Lights show on Victoria Harbor (which also happens to be the world’s largest permanent light and sound show!), and climb up to the top of Victoria Peak to get a nice panoramic view of the city. I cannot wait to see what other adventures await me for the rest of my time here at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology!
So this is it, my last night here in Hong Kong. I have to say, its been quite a trip, but I’m more than ready to go back home. I miss my family, my girlfriend, and my friends. I’ve never been they type of person to miss anyone or get home sick. My home city being seven hours away from college station proves that, but this was different. Being on complete other side of the world has this psychological effect on you where you know you’re far from home, and you know there’s no way that you can get to family or the things you hold dear fast enough. This may seem kind of extreme, however you do learn a lot about yourself. You’re horizons expand past that of the “American Bubble” we built for ourselves. You see that the world is not all a big, and bad scary place away from the safe comfort of your home. When you travel, you get this high, and excitement that you have never felt before. You’re doing it alone, meeting new people, exploring new worlds you’ve only seen on TV, experiencing different cultures. That is what this experience is all about. That’s why going to a country that is extremely different will help you see the world at a different angle. If you’re reading this to determine if you want to do a REEP program here, I say take the leap. What are you waiting for?
So at the end of my third month here in Hong Kong, classes are starting to come to a close. Today is actually my last day of classes before we get a full week to study before final exams. After that, I fly home.
Last week, my girlfriend came during our thanksgiving break. It was honestly something we both needed given how far apart we’ve been from each other. She was lucky and daring enough to come across the world for a week to be with me and experience the culture I have described to you in previous blogs. I took here to pretty much all the main spots here in Hong Kong, and some different. I took her to Ten Thousand Buddha, Big Buddha, and we even went to Hong Kong Disney! Every bit of it was just extremely enjoyable and memorable. If there is one thing you need to try, its traveling with one other person your care deeply about. Her one week here was probably the most fun that I’ve had during my whole time here.
Even though I’ve had fun and made a lot of memory’s here in Hong Kong, I am ready to go back home. Because I’m doing my exchange during the fall, I didn’t plan any more travels after the semester is over so I can be back in time for Christmas. If it weren’t for that, I would probably have something else to look forward to and not be so home sick already. In any case, I only have 3 weeks left here, so I’m going to make them count!
After my second month of living in Hong Kong and exploring Asia, I have to say that I’ve made quite a lot of memories with great friends. I’m currently writing this while I’m visiting Seoul, South Korea and it’s so amazing here. I’m honestly always amazed how in Asia, they have such great, amazing food yet still stay skinny and fit! Also, the people here are just so friendly and nice to visitors and locals have always welcomed us. It’s been an eventful week, but its not quite done for me yet. Two days after I go back from this trip, I’m going to Tokyo, Japan for five days as well. As much as I’ve been surprised and grown to love Seoul, I’m most excited about Japan. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.
Other than my travels, since my last blog I’ve been able to explore more of Hong Kong as well. Around mid October, my parents came for my birthday week to visit me. I was more than happy to see them, but it was a bitter sweet time because it was the same week as my mid terms. Despite that, I was able to show my parents all the ins and outs of the city. We also even booked a tour to visit places that are not even known to most locals. My Birthday fell on a Friday and we ended up going to Macau, China for my 21st birthday. Macau is pretty much the Las Vegas of Asia. It was loads of fun and never would I have thought that I would be spending my 21st birthday in Macau.
On the flip side of things, I’ve actually been focusing more on my studies here. The exams here aren’t a walk in the park. Sure you only need a C to get credit, but HKUST isn’t one of the best university’s in the world because its easy. Sometimes I think I actually study as much as I do back home! Even with this new realization, I just make sure to make sure to enjoy my time here in this amazing part of the world.
It’s my third full week here in Hong Kong, China, and I can say that I absolutely love it here. I’m attending Hong Kong University of Science and Technology this 2016 fall semester, and this country, school, and culture is something I think everyone should experience.
The school here is a fraction of the size of A&M’s campus. The school houses around 8,000 undergrad students and about 1,000 graduate students. That’s probably at least the size of one of our majors at A&M. With such a small student base, the quality of the information taught is impressive. They have world-class professors with outstanding backgrounds, and with a small class size, allows more attention to each individual student. I’m actively engaged in all of my classes, and the great thing about it, its actually fun. Plus, on top of that, the campus is just down right beautiful. The campus sits on the side of a hill overlooking Clear Water Bay and the many small islands that are visible. I kept saying to all my fellow peers, “It’s almost like I’m staying at a resort instead of actual college!” All I can say is that this place is pretty great.
The Asian culture is very complex to say the least. From the experiences I’ve had so far, the locals here at school are welcoming with open arms. Everyone here is extremely kind and knowledgeable about a lot of things going on in America. Some of which I am embarrassed to talk about, such as our presidential race, and the racism. However, The people here are as curious about my American/Mexican culture and me as I am of their Chinese culture. I’ve been invited to a few dinners where they treat me as a guest and share with me some of their tastiest of food. The food here is different than the Chinese food that westerners are familiar with, but its even better, and sometimes weirder! On top of their food, they have a rich a beautiful history. I’ve traveled to a few of their historical landmarks, my most recent to date was the Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery. It was 431 enlightening steps up a mountainside with hundreds of golden Buddha’s paving the way. At the top was a lavish Buddha temple and at the end was a final statue under a waterfall. Even with all those agonizing steps, the journey was well worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
This is just my first month here in Asia, but it feels like I’ve been here my whole life. This weekend I’m actually traveling to Bangkok, Thailand, so the adventures keep coming. I seriously cant wait to see what else this beautiful part of the world has to offer.
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.
Wong Tai Sin Temple
Sha Tin Temple of 10,000 Buddhas
Sha Tin Temple of 10,000 Buddhas
Dinner with my parents and friends at Mr. Wong’s
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.
Donkey Tacos in Beijing
Temple of Heaven
The Forbidden City
The Great Wall of China
With meinem deutschen Brüder
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.
Delicious traditional Indian home-cooked meal
The Qutub Minar
The Taj Mahal
We are 3 friends from 3 different continents sharing 1 priceless moment
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.
As always Hong Kong never ceases to introduce me to interesting new people, places, and events. November was a quite a hectic month packed with school work (group projects and studying for tests), dance practice, and archery practice. Between group projects and all the practice I was doing for my organizations it felt as if I was stuck in some sort of constant juggling act. All in all though, the month finished with a bang and gave me quite a few incredible memories that I will never forget.
Before I get into my favorite memories and experiences I would like to offer some quick advice to any of my fellow students who encounter group projects in their future. Now this is common sense but I still feel the need to reiterate the point that the absolute worst thing you can possibly do is procrastinate. If you fall a little behind in a class you can catch up on your own time without anyone bugging you, but if you fall behind on a group project you’ll have about five people ready to remind you. Now multiply five people by four projects and well let’s just say you’ll need some serious patience to avoid having a nuclear meltdown if you start falling behind. So even if you know you can finish your part of the project in a day play it safe and don’t wait until the day before.
I’ll start with my experience as a member of the Dance Society (or DANSO as they abbreviate it), which was an unforgettable one to say the least. I don’t think I have ever been part of an organization so dedicated to a pure passion for something. The amount of practice we had during a week was honestly borderline overwhelming. We would literally practice at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 3 hours each practice. It was interesting because the vast majority of the practice would be conducted in Cantonese, but I was very rarely (if ever) lost or confused. We would usually get out of practice around 10:00 p.m. on a normal night, and sometimes closer to midnight on a long night. As you can imagine, if you start practice at 7:00 p.m. and don’t get out until midnight you’re going to be starving and exhausted at best. All of the practice was for a huge show at the university held on November 28th called the “Mass Dance” where 9 other universities come in to perform in addition to our team. The show lasted about 2 hours and was packed with all kinds of amazing performances, each carrying unique dancing styles and themes from all across Hong Kong. For me it was like a non-stop adrenaline rush as we performed on stage in front of hundreds of people. The performance only lasted eight minutes, but the rush lasted for the rest of the night. If you have time you can check it out for yourself, here is the link to our final performance: http://youtu.be/GAryXFE31hs.
DANSO Pre-Team 2014
Another two notable memories from the month were the Dragon’s Back hike and the Hong Kong Pride parade. The Dragon’s Back hike is one of the most popular hikes in all of Hong Kong. It’s a relatively short and easy hike (no more than roughly two hours), but the scenery is absolutely incredible (even on a cloudy day like the one I went). I went to the pride parade to support a friend who I had met in Hong Kong. The parade was interesting because even though we are in a completely different part of the world people march for the same reasons. I also went to a rooftop bar called 270 Degrees in the district Causeway Bay with a view of the skyline that was awe inspiring. Everyone may feel differently as they look out over the skyscrapers, but I don’t think anyone could deny that at the very least it’s thought provoking.
Dragon’s Back Hike
270 Degrees Rooftop Bar
As I mentioned a bit earlier I participated in a fair amount of archery club practice during the month of November. I started archery at A&M during my second semester, and upon finding out HKUST had an archery club I was eager to join. On November 30th, I competed in the Biannual Internal Competition for the Archery Club. I had never competed in an archery competition before so I was a bit nervous to say the least. Despite shaky hands at the start though, I’m extremely proud to say that this Aggie took first place for the Maroon and White. For the final score you can go to this link: http://ihome.ust.hk/~su_archy/.
Practice before the Tournament
In both of my previous blogs I mentioned some interesting eats that I had found. Well folks, I give you some tasty little fried fishes by the name of shishamo. Now I know at first glance these little guys don’t exactly look like the most delicious thing you could eat, but I must say they actually aren’t all that bad. Now I prefer them with soup instead of rice, but either way they’re an interesting break from the monotony of barbeque pork and rice (a pretty popular meal among exchange students at HKUST). You probably won’t find these in any Chinese restaurant back home, but if you’re ever in Asia (I think they actually originate from Japan) give them a try.
Shishamo and Rice
As if the 30th wasn’t exciting enough with the archery tournament, later that day my parents actually came in to visit for a week. In the next blog I’ll talk about my experience playing tour guide for them, and some of the neat new experiences I got to partake in as a result. In December I’ll be going to do some sightseeing in Beijing for about five days, then coming back to Hong Kong to take my one final exam, and finishing out my last week in Asia with a trip to India to complete the Golden Triangle. The cool part is I’ll actually be staying with a friend who lives in Delhi who I met at HKUST, so I’ll be getting a true local experience.
Well let me start by saying howdy from Hong Kong to everyone back home! What a journey it was just to arrive (hurray for 14 hour connecting flights from Houston to Beijing!…), and things have not slowed up one bit since I touched down here over a month ago.
Before I dive into the university (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) I’ll talk a little bit about the city, landscape, and culture of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is essentially a massive city inside of a massive jungle on an island that lies just off the south coast of mainland China. It is one of the best places in the world to capture a truly unique culture of east meets west. The city itself is every bit as bright and vibrant as Times Square in New York (there is actually a Times Square here by the way), and I would argue that if New York is the “melting pot” then Hong Kong is the melting cauldron. I have metindividuals from almost every country in Asia, western Europe, South America, North America, and even a few countries in Africa. People here move a mile a minute and it doesn’t exactly help that there are 7 million of them. If you want to get a perfect picture just go during rush hour to the subway system called the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). I would liken it to trying to fit a tennis ball into a Gatorade bottle in 10 seconds. No worries though, no exchange student would ever have to worry about rush hour since they all live on campus. People are generally nice and helpful, and in addition to most people understanding English, virtually all signs are in English and Chinese so getting around is no problem. For those who are interested, Hong Kong boasts one of the best night scenes I have ever experienced (just ask anyone who has been here about Lan Kwai Fong, it makes 6th Street look weak). Aside from being an urban paradise, Hong Kong has some of the most beautiful beaches, jungles, hiking trails, and temples I have ever seen. Don’t believe me? Just take a look for yourself.
Man Cheung Po (Infinity) Pool
To get to the pool you have to take a bus to a place called Tai O, and hike on a trail alongside a jungle for about one hour (so worth it).
Po Lin Monastery
Next to this monastery is the largest seated bronze Buddha statue in the world, which you hike up over 260 steps to get to (also worth it).
At this point I would like to include a special segment just for the foodies out there who may be reading. If you think you are an adventurous eater searching for a place to enhance your culinary expertise, then look no further than Hong Kong. For anyone who is not quite so adventurous you can easily find a McDonald’s (actually one on campus), Subway, Pizza Hut (delivers), or KFC (also delivers) in just about any district on the island. Now for all my “eat now ask questions later” kind of people, you are going to be in heaven with the most amazing local restaurants and street food. Oh and by the way my meals on average cost about $3 to $6, so prepare to eat like a king or queen for an unbeatable price. Portion sizes are generally comparable to what you might get in the United States, and because it is so cheap (comparatively speaking) if you have room for seconds you’ll certainly find it in the budget. I’ve had fish balls (balls made of fish), kidneys, and ostrich intestines (surprisingly delicious) just to name a few unique dishes. Here’s a picture (below) of some Dim Sum (a traditional style of eating in which many small dishes are ordered and everyone shares) I shared with a few friends. My personal recommendations for anyone passing through would have to be barbeque pork buns and shrimp dumplings (each small bites scrumptious of heaven). Don’t eat meat? No problem, I have yet to go to a restaurant that does not offer numerous vegetarian options. One of the best parts of eating in Hong Kong is that you have such a wide array of types of food you can eat. Whether it’s Thai, Chinese, Indian, Western, Italian, or Turkish (try a Kebab they are magnificent) you are sure to find something that fits what you’re in the mood for that day.
Dim Sum (at the ground floor Chinese restaurant ON campus)
Now ladies and gentlemen our train has arrived at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The question is where should we begin the last leg of our tour? Oh wait, how about the view from the university that is essentially on the side of a mountain in a jungle that overlooks a gorgeous bay (see below, I actually wake up to this every morning). My arrival here went generally smooth with the help of two local buddies the school assigned to help me with my transition to Hong Kong. Upon arriving I found a large population of international students all every bit as eager to explore and make friends as I was. The student organizations here are some of the most devoted and active I have ever seen. It feels like the perfect place for an Aggie to really come and dive right into some student activities. In fact, I’ve already joined the Management Students’ Association, the Archery Club, the International Students’ Association, and the Dance Society. Want to learn martial arts from a real master? There’s a club for that. Interested in the ancient art of Kendo? There’s a club for that. No matter what your interests or hobbies are you’re guaranteed to find an extracurricular activity here you will absolutely love. Getting into the classroom you’ll find things more or less similar to how we do them at A&M. My classes are generally medium sized hovering at about 40-70 students per class. I don’t find them particularly difficult, however be prepared to have group projects in almost every class that last the entire semester and are somewhat time consuming. Most professors are very well qualified and actually make the classes far more interesting and interactive than just a straight lecture. One thing that is small but worth mentioning is that books are super cheap here, so expect to save on what you would normally spend at A&M.
The View from my Dorm
All in all, Hong Kong has become my home away from home. Maybe I’m still in the “honeymoon” stage of my exchange, but I think there’s something a little more profound to my attraction to this vibrant city. I’ll be taking a trip Bangkok soon and midterms are coming up so the next blog will feature that as well as more specific details on my explorations of the culture and scenery of Hong Kong. If you have any questions or comments please let me know and thanks for reading!