So my first term at HKU is drawing to a close. Winter has well and truly set into Hong Kong now; the Christmas lights are up, there’s an outdoor ice skating rink (with special non-melting ice, as the air temperature is still about 15°C!) and people bustle around town clutching shopping bags, bundled up in coats and scarves. I type this wrapped in a blanket- how I’ll ever survive back in the Arctic temperatures of the UK I don’t know…
The past four months have flashed past: hazy Summer heat when I first arrived, new people to meet and a whole new city to explore, giving way to wet Autumn blues when I realised just how far from home I was, finally turning to cold winds and renewed spirit, as I turned 21 and beckoned winter in with my red beret.
On Monday, my exams will finish, and my first term will be officially over: no lectures until the end of January, and the terrifying prospect of being half-way through my time here will begin to set in. I know there’s still a long way to go, but I can’t help but think ahead, to what life will be like after this. It’s bizarre to think that I’ll have to go back to my real life: I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to cope. How tiny Nottingham is going to feel; no skyscrapers, no jumping on the ferry to pop across the harbour, no rice for breakfast, no markets or hawker stalls or menus I can’t read. I genuinely call Hong Kong my home now, and I can’t imagine life without it.
I know humans are adaptable. We have to be. I’ve adapted to this life more than I ever thought I would (Asian fashion and chicken’s feet excluded- you have to draw a line somewhere…), so I’m sure I’ll bounce back. But as a person, I’m going to be so different when I return.
I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time- maybe more so than in my previous 21 years of life. I’ve learnt about myself: my strength my passions and my downfalls. I’ve learnt not to panic, and that although there is time for everything, sometimes you need to seize the moment. The words ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ have never crossed my lips so many times, as I set off for another mad night out, mentally preparing myself for propping my eyes open in my 9am Counselling lecture. I’ve learnt about another culture and another continent; I’ve learnt the human traits which transcend race and upbringing. I’ve learnt the things about Hong Kong that you don’t see in the glossy photos- the covert control from China, the deep-rooted racism, the Capitalist dream starting to slip away, the obsessions with Japan and Korea reflecting on a desperation to carve out a cultural niche which never quite happens…
Hong Kong is no paradise. Last week a fire killed 9 people in Mong Kok, the most densely populated area of Hong Kong, where the poorest live in rooms which are sub-divided into 1x2 metre cages: just enough space for themselves and their possessions, and all they have any hope of affording. Just enough space to keep them off the street, and conveniently hidden from view. But the flaws are those of the whole world: greed, money, obsession. The benefits, on the other hand, are unique.
I’m cynical tonight. I have mixed feelings about everything, and a sense that there is a sour edge to all sweetness in life. All good things must come to an end. But, to follow one idiom with another, a change is as good as a rest. I am renewed; socially, mentally, spiritually, culturally- maybe even fully. Going home at the end of next semester will just be another chapter in the book, an end and a start. So here’s to another 7 months in Asia, and may it teach me even more that I didn’t know.
On Tuesday, I turned 21- making me a legal adult everywhere in the world! Before I came out to Hong Kong I was really gutted that I was going to be turing 21 without my friends, and in turn missing out on celebrating all their 21s birthdays. However- this year was probably the best birthday I’ve ever had, although it would obviously have been improved by the addition of all my best friends from home!
On the friday before my birthday, myself and some friends had a posh dinner, and then hit the town for drinking and dancing- it was so much fun, I rolled in sometime around 6am. I had my wallet stolen which did put a bit of a dampener on things, but luckily on the morning of my birthday, I got an email from the police saying my wallet had been handed in, so I was able to collect it. All of my cash and credit cards were gone, along with my UK driving license and my student card, but everything else was still there- the photo of my boyfriend, the business cards of people I might one day need to contact, all my loyalty cards, my lucky washer etc. etc. (basically all the irreplaceable things). Plus, they left my Hong Kong ID card which was an absolute miracle; they are sooo expensive to replace! So it was traumatic having my wallet stolen and waking up on Saturday morning with no money, but all in all it worked out just about as well as it possibly could have done.
Reunited with my wallet, my dad and I (he came to visit for my birthday) jumped on the ferry to Cheung Chau island, a tiny little place between Hong Kong Island and Lantau, famous for its food and clean beaches. The weather was absolutely glorious- about 25 degrees, with blue skies and sunshine. I paddled in the sea and sunned myself on the beach- a bit of a change from last year’s birthday in England, when it snowed! Dad and I ate lunch in a restaurant on the seafront, slurping noodles while watching an old man catch tiny fish and throw them to a family of stray cats. My friend Beth came to join us (it was her birthday too!) and we ate egg tarts on the beach and essentially just chilled out, until the sun dropped behind the buildings. It was blissful.
In the evening, dad and I dined in style at a ridiculously posh vegetarian restaurant we found by sheer chance. We had a beer in the bar and ate birthday cake; I opened my beautiful presents, and the day was complete!