Monday, September 19, 2016

HONG KONG: first impressions.

Past year I was active in the study trip committee of the psychology students' association, and spent some hours working on the preparations for this trip. We did all from booking the flight and the hostel to setting up a program for each day to arranging fundings. The result was an unforgettable 12-days trip to Hong Kong, China, with 44 psychology undergraduates and one teacher. In the upcoming couple of blog posts, I would like to share with you my experiences in this enormous, bustling Chinese city. To kick off, here's a general impression of Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong is often called "New York of the East", and at first the sky high buildings towering over us may have had us believe for a split-second that we'd actually arrived in New York of the United States, if it wasn't for the Chinese characters on brightly lit neon signs, the large crowds of small Asian people and the pungent smell in the streets...I could hardly believe that at that moment we were standing on the other side of the earth, let alone in the great and mysterious land of China! 

At the first day we immediately walked over Nathan Road, the busiest and most crowded street of all in Hong Kong. It was overwhelming, but rather impressive as well.

We had ten full days to explore this Special Administrative Region of China, and we soon discovered that Hong Kong is móre than just a modern, vibrant metropole, full of tall buildings, Western stores and gigantic underground stations. Between all this we found all kinds of surprises, like an impressive Buddhist temple that suddenly rose out of nowhere, guarded by stone dragons and spreading the penetrating odor of incense through the entire neighborhood. At other times it was a busy market filled with souvenirs, trinkets and other rubbish, which vendors desperately tried to sell to tourists, by lowering their prices until they gave in. Then again, a large city park suddenly appeared between the steel buildings, where we found tropical plants, palm trees and other flora, but also tropical birds, flamingos, turtles, and even monkeys. Here we also saw locals practice the art of Tai Chi, while other locals asked the blonds within our group for a picture, as if they were celebrities!

Bamboo structures supported the buildings that were under construction. Completely different from the steel scaffolding we're used to!

Not far from the city center we discovered a complete different part of Hong Kong: unspoiled, tropical nature, where bright green flora surrounded us, and where mountains, covered with a thick layer of broccoli, surrounded a clear blue bay. This was especially impressive at the island Lamma, where we hiked for over an hour in the burning heat. It was devastating, but totally worth it. Furthermore, we visited some of Hong Kong's beaches, where we could go into the water to escape from the heat, drink from a coconut, look for nice shells in the sand, but most of all: flee from the hustle and bustle in the city center. 

Together with an amazing group of students, we finished a busy but fun program that week, so we got to see a lot of the city. One day we visited the Monastery of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which, indeed, included over ten thousand Buddha statues. Another day we visited a small fishing village called "Tai O", where the people live in houses on stilts in the water. In Aberdeen Fishing Village we took a ride on a traditional Sampan boat, that took us around the harbor. Furthermore, we caught a glimpse of the famous Big Buddha statue at Lantau Island, fortunately, as it was quite hidden away behind the clouds that day. Nevertheless, the Po Lin Monastery was at least as gorgeous. And when we took the cable car down - once the cloud around us had disappeared - we had a magnificent view. 

Even though we took the underground to get around a lot, there is also an option to cross the river by boat, the "Star Ferry", which we did once or twice. Nevertheless we had to go by boat each time we wanted to visit one of Hong Kong's islands - one of which made some of us feel rather seasick.

As we were on a study trip, some study related activities were involved. Besides some museums ,(including the Hong Kong Correctional Services museum, which taught us some more about Hong Kong prisons, and where we got to attend - presumably - a guards training session, which took place at the grounds next to the museum, coincidentally at the time we were there) visiting a Mental Health Association and a lecture at a Hong Kong University was part of the program as well. Both taught us more about important culture differences between East and West, both in general as in terms of mental health. It was fairly interesting to learn some more about Hong Kong from the viewpoint of a local. This absolutely contributed to our dynamic experience in the city.

Of course, we also had enough spare time to spend on our own terms. One night, we visited the highest bar in the world - the Ozone bar on top of the fancy Ritz-Carlton hotel! Even though the view at night was marvelous, I have heard that the view in daylight is at least as beautiful! One other night, most of us went to see the famous Hong Kong horse races, which was an amazing experience! Finally, one day I went canoeing together with some others in the sea near Sai Kung, where we paddled from island to island and from beach to beach. The surroundings were breathtaking and peaceful, until we saw a sign that suggested there might have been sharks in there, too....

There are so many Buddhist temples in Hong Kong and we visited a lot of them, though most of the time they are quite similar. According to Buddhist traditional rituals, people come down to the temples to pray by lighting some incense sticks and putting them in a bowl filled with sand.
Temple Street Market.

In short: it was an unforgettable trip! A thousand new memories and photographs were made, I was terribly bitten by bed bugs, some others got a bad sunburn, we learned how to eat using chopsticks (and we learned that if the piece of meat is too big for us westerns to eat with chopsticks, the waitress'd love to come and cut it smaller with her pair of scissors...!), we shared our food like people in true collectivist cultures usually do, we bought cheap stuff at Temple Street Market, bought midnight snacks at 7eleven, and much, much more! 

This all I put down here was really just an introduction to what we all did during our trip to Hong Kong, but I will dedicate some more internet space to some of the best things we did and some more specific pictures that I took. It will be up on the blog in the next couple of days :-)

The text in this article was based on the column I wrote for the Psychology students' association in Nijmegen, "SPiN". You can find this original article here (Note that this was written in Dutch).

Thanks for reading! :-)

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  1. Wauw wat een mooie foto's zeg! Ik wil zo graag eens naar Azië, lijkt me zo gaaf.


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