Tuesday, July 3, 2012

All Good Things End

Tomorrow is my last day in Hong Kong and needless to say the time passed way too quickly. Summer study abroad is great in that it is convenient, but 5 weeks is simply not enough. This morning my POL group and I delivered our final presentation which overall went well. I got frustrated with the procrastination but in the end it all worked out. We also have to submit a paper in the next week for which I feel terrible that I will not be able to fully participate in. I asked my group in the first week and we've agreed I'll write the introduction and a few paragraphs and they'll finish the rest. I just hammered out my 800 words and they will complete the other 2,200 in the coming days.

Since my last post my major activity has been studying and spending time with friends made on my program around Lingnan. On July 1st, however, was the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong becoming an SAR - meaning the British transferred sovereignty to the Chinese and Hong Kong was to be granted autonomy under "One Country, Two Systems." Being a tourist I went to see the fireworks at Victoria Harbor. Considering I will not be home for the 4th it was nice to still celebrate "independence" and coincidentally enough from the same colonizer!

Many Hong Kong people, however, took the streets to protest as China's president was in Hong Kong swearing in HK's new chief executive. The Hong Kong people are very frustrated with the fact that they still feel controlled by Mainland and want more democracy and universal suffrage for Hong Kong. Despite the promises made in "One Country, Two Systems," they continue to be denied. Here are two good TIME articles if you are interested in reading more. The first is an explanation of why the people are upset and the second is photos from the protests. I didn't even know the protests were happening until I see these articles on twitter:


Tomorrow is my Mandarin exam, which I am feeling pretty comfortable about and afterwards I will be taking a bus to the airport to fly out to Bangkok, Thailand! I'll be sightseeing there until Saturday when I fly to Beijing. I'll be in Beijing until Thursday when I will return to Hong Kong to spend one last night in a hostel before flying back to the States on the 13th. Perhaps I'll blog then, but for the next week I will have very limited internet. I have had a great time in Hong Kong and Lingnan this summer and I really hope that it will not be long before I can travel to do business here! 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Life At Lingnan: For Future Students

Not every day is a whirlwind of sightseeing in Hong Kong so I figure for future students it may be helpful to speak in general about Lingnan. Campus is much smaller here than CMU so you generally can leave for classes a little later than you're used to. The hostels are community bath, however, so you still may want to wake up with some spare time just in case you have to wait (although I've never had to).
The room - not huge, but you don't have much to fill it anyway
View of the "hostel" from the outside - it's on campus, just called hostel here
 I'd definitely recommend spending the additional money for air conditioning and the linens before coming, too. It gets extremely humid here and as for the linens there are not any department stores near enough to Lingnan that buying them would be convenient. You would have to take a bus or the MTR, and who wants to figure that out on the first day?

Speaking of the bus & MTR take them to get food! At your orientation you'll be shown the shopping center Fu Tai that is right across from Lingnan's north gate. For the first few days it's cool - there are 4 restaurants (Hot Pot, a cheap cafe, McDonalds, and Home Fairy) which all are not bad and a supermarket to buy groceries. McDonalds dollar menu is different here and although lacking any burger hot fudge sundaes are only HK$6! As for the other places, definitely try them - have a local bring you to hot pot which is all you can eat for 2hrs. and try the other restaurants as well. DO NOT, however, fail to venture away from those four and the student canteen on campus which I'm sure you will abandon quickly. Try the street food (there is some at Fu Tai after 9pm) or take the MTR two stops to Long Ping. The food is generally cheaper there and you get much more for your money. Or take K51 (which will quickly be your go-to bus) to TMT Plaza in Tuen Mun to just walk aimlessly until you see a menu you like. There are no lie at least a hundred restaurants in that shopping center. It's also great because menus are always posted outside of restaurants, most are in English, and there are almost always pictures. In addition, most people speak English and if they don't you just have to point and gesture. It does not take long to get tired of the food in Fu Tai, but there are some really great places here you just have to be willing to go look!

As for the people on campus most are eager to practice English and get to know international students. What they tell you at orientation is true, though, be prepared to discuss American politics. Hong Kong does not have universal suffrage and many people want it badly - fueling their interest in the American system. I am also frequently asked what my GPA is, how I did on my standardized tests, and about the quality of my home university. From what I've learned there is a ton of pressure on Hong Kong students to do well on their tests and go to the best universities. I've tried to explain that sometimes going to Harvard or Yale isn't the best for people if they can really prosper elsewhere, have financial incentive, etc., but the cultural difference is overwhelming. Rank and status are extremely important here so be prepared for questions like those as well.

Finally, what is there to do when classes are out and you don't want to do homework? Lingnan is located about an hour away from Central so tourist activities are limited but there are still plenty of other options. The campus has an Olympic sized swimming pool that you can utilize for $4HK and workout facilities that also cost a small fee. There is a running track that is free and basketball and tennis courts right outside of the university gates to utilize as well. Additionally, on the upside from being far away from Central there is great hiking around Lingnan. If you're interested in hiking please let me know and I can send you directions on how to get to the trail heads. The trails are pretty taxing so bring plenty of water but here are some of the views to look forward to:

I only bring my iPod so the pictures are not great, but I promise it it beautiful

Finally the TMT shopping center in Tuen Mun is also great for shopping, eating, seeing a movie, or many other activities so you really should not be bored at Lingnan! If you do get bored, hop on the MTR and visit somewhere you have not been or take K51 further than you had before and just remember where to get back on. That's how we wound up at Gold Coast Beach one night which is a beautiful area (as well as a tourist trap) with gorgeous beaches and with restaurants of mixed cuisines albeit with high prices. Before I came to Lingnan I thought I was going to be in the hustle and bustle of the city and when I first arrived I was a little disappointed to be so far away from "downtown". However, once you visit the packed streets and clouded air of Central or Mong Kok it is easy to appreciate where Lingnan is located. The best advice I can give is to encourage you to meet locals who can show you things you never knew were there. Don't be afraid to explore unventured territory, and do not be afraid to try new things. Please don't be that study abroad student that eats McDonalds daily and never leaves their hostel, and please feel free to utilize me as a resource!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One Week Left

It's hard to believe that there is only a week left until my studies at Lingnan are over! Although I know my mom is counting down the hours until I arrive home this short summer session has flown by. As next Monday is Hong Kong's SAR day we do not have classes and thus our exams are on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you thought exams were stressful in the U.S. they're nothing compared to Lingnan's. For government and politics my grade is broken down into: 20% Participation (attending class and engaging in group discussion), 20% for the reflection paper I wrote on my visit to the Election Information Center, and the last 60% is comprised of a final group presentation (40%) and a final paper (20%) submitted on the last day. My group has not started putting anything together yet, and they seem unconcerned about the fact that 60% of our grade hangs in the balance. They're local students though so I'm just following their lead and waiting to help out as soon as I can. Mandarin, on the other hand, is 50% attendance/homework/quizzes and the other 50% will be determined by my exam on Wednesday. The grading system is definitely much different here and puts a strong emphasis on the end of semester assessments so it's going to be a challenge to balance enjoying my last few days in Hong Kong with making sure that I preform well on my presentation, paper, and exam. My Mandarin exam is also the first time we will be assessed on our pronunciation... as if characters and pinyin wasn't enough. I shouldn't complain though. I'm growing to really enjoy Mandarin and there is not doubt in my mind that I want to continue my education in the language after I leave.

This is not the most exciting post, but there is good news! For the second straight day I can see a blue sky and my new debit card is on its way! Time to go enjoy the sun and prepare for my last Mandarin quiz/start studying for the final!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Debit Cards and Dragon Boats

What's the best way to draw out all of the internationals in a city? Celebrate a national festival and have one area carry out the festivities in English! That's exactly what happened today. As it is the fifth Saturday of the fifth month of the lunar calendar today was the Dragon Boat Festival, a celebration that originated in China but has since spread across Asia. There were celebrations all over Hong Kong today marked by the unique spectacle of getting to watch dragon boat races. The boats hold about 20 people and are led by a person sitting at the front drumming. Allen was quick to point out that since we went to the English broadcasted one it was nothing like what he was used to experiencing in Mainland China, but it a very cool experience. The beach was packed with tourists, many of whom seemed to be more interested in snapping pictures of some of the racers costumes than the races. Despite the heat and the massive crowd I'm glad I went for the experience.
Dragon boat

Costume contestants
The Goldman Sachs team celebrating a victory
Tranquility on the other side of the pier
Speaking of bringing all the tourists together, however, it was crazy that while eating lunch listening a a band play in the town square I not only saw my Mandarin classmate, but I also ran into another Chip! I saw someone walk by with what I thought was the flying C and then as he passed I saw "CMU Lax" on the back. I couldn't believe it. We talked for a bit and he is a CMU student completing his internship in HK. He seemed to be loving his experience too, and I was a bit jealous to learn he was staying until August. I'm still shocked I ran into him.

On a final note, I lost my debit card. I didn't get pickpocketed as I still have all my cash and the rest of my cards, but I have no idea what happened. I think it must have fallen out when I took out my octopus card to pay for the MTR in the past week. It's a very unsettling experience, but it could be so much worse - I mean, it could have been my passport. Everyone here has been very helpful and I've got the card canceled (no foreign charges were made) and should have a replacement by hopefully the end of next week. Sometimes things feel like the end of the world, but I am very lucky to have wonderful parents that figured everything out for me back home. Note to future students: bring 2 cards and keep them separately! I did the first 2 times I was abroad, but having closed my Michigan bank account after graduation I did not this time and obviously regret it! On a high note, however, I just got my passport back from the Chinese consulate and have been granted a visa for my after program travel! I can officially say I will be traveling Bangkok and Beijing for 8 days following my program's completion!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Typhoon Season

June is the rainiest month in HK and the past week has felt like Florida. You can count on rain at some point, but the skies could be clear 30min. before and after. We're currently in typhoon season and the local students anticipate that the rain could signal a coming typhoon. Only a typhoon 8 will cancel classes, and right now the watch is just 3. All this really means is that the rain is interfering with my tourism! On Saturday we did not leave the hostel and on Sunday we went to Central to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. I spent my day at the botanical garden which was both free and beautiful! Afterward I tried to catch the 8pm light show, but it started raining about a half hour prior to start.
The garden had mammalian, avian, and reptilian sections
Fountain in the garden
Ominous clouds over the Avenue of Stars
Yesterday I again messed up my Mandarin characters quiz, but I feel like I'm learning.. and that's what counts. Today was awesome, however. Instead of lecture, my Government and Politics professor scheduled a visit to the Hong Kong Election Information Office on HK Island. I think the local students were bored, but I learned a ton! Here I was thinking Hong Kong was democratic, but in reality the people do not have universal suffrage. They can vote for district council representatives, but these DC representatives only communicate their constituents' ideas to the chief executive. The chief executive is selected by just 1,200 individuals and must be PRC approved. Some of the 1,200 are elected, but religious institutions can directly appoint (no voting) their 60 guaranteed members and the China People's Political Consultative Conference also appoints its guaranteed representatives. This is not the forum to discuss extensively as the details are complicated, but I loved learning more about the One Country, Two Systems (which I have chosen as my final presentation and paper topic).

Afterwards our professor invited interested students out to lunch where my classmates made me try traditional Hong Kong food - Singaporean fried noodle (still unsure how that's "local") and milk tea. The noodle was great - the milk tea, eh. Worth noting is that iced drinks cost about HK$3-$6 more  here. The city water is not potable and an American told me they import ice  because it's cheaper than purifying. Not sure if that's true, but I cannot wait to drink so much ice water upon my return. After lunch two of my group members took me around the famous shopping district Causeway Bay. I don't understand what I did to deserve the kindness of so many Hong Kong people. My professor picked up my lunch bill and these girls just wanted to enhance my experience. I wish I saw more of this in America. It makes me feel guilty for not being more engaging with international students in my classes, particularly when I already had friends in the class.
Poster explaining procedures in determining the 1,200 who vote
"Time Square" in Causeway Bay
Casting ill fortune - you write a name, pray, the name gets beaten with a shoe, and then is burned...
Packed Causeway Bay

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cultural Differences

Now that I have been living in Hong Kong for almost three weeks I want to share some of the cultural differences that an American could expect when traveling to this incredible city.

The biggest differences have become apparent in restaurants. Unlike in the United States, tables have no designated server and when the table is ready to order someone simply raises their hand and says Mm-goi which is the Cantonese word for thank you, excuse me, and please (very useful and the only Cantonese word I can remember). Once the food is ordered it does not come out all at once. Instead, it simply comes when it has been prepared and there is no waiting for others to get their food before you start eating. I think part of this difference in explained by the fact that most Hong Kong people do not order themselves a meal. Instead, the table orders food and then everyone tries what they are interested in so when the food comes out everyone starts eating. We try each others food here, but when we're not with locals we tend to stick with just ordering personal dishes. The multiple plates and sharing concept (as far as I understand) is called Dim Sum. It's similar to the idea of tapas in Spain which just mean smaller plates of food so everyone can try a little of everything.

Dim Sum with spinach, dumplings, chicken feet, duck, pound cake, vermicelli, tofu and already consumed pork buns
Following the meal it seems as though everywhere we have eaten one pays the bill at the front (money is not just let on the table as it is in the States) and tipping is not customary as a 10% service charge is automatically added to most bills.

Another big difference is the frequency of using "thank you." Similarly to my experience in Spain we have been told by locals that we say thank you too much. Service is expected in Hong Kong and no thank you is required when someone completes a service they are paid to do for you. Additionally no thank you is exchanged between friends. I suppose it is just implied. This may not always be the case and I do not want to overgeneralize but we have been told (and noticed) that we say thank you much more frequently than the local Hong Kong people with whom we interact.

Finally costs are much different here. For example, one bus ride is HK$1.90 the equivalent of US$.25. Much preferable to the US$2.25 it costs to take a bus in Chicago! Taxis, however, are just as expensive. Food is also cheaper if you know where to go. We have finally gotten more confident and started taking the bus to new places to avoid the small selection of restaurants near Lingnan and have found some very good meal values. Obviously not an exhaustive list, but just a few things to note for future students!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Second Weekend

Hong Kong did not have the nicest weather this past weekend, but with only 5 weeks in this incredible city I would not be deterred from staying as busy as possible. On Saturday one of the exchange students who was here for the spring term and stayed for the summer term took us to his favorite hiking trail in Hong Kong called Dragon's Back. The trail has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful in all of Asia and despite the cloudy skies the trail lived up to its reputation.

Hiking Group

The beach we celebrated the end of our all day hike at
Celebration dinner of the best beef noodle I've had to date!
Saturday was exhausting and we woke up to rain on Sunday, but after it cleared around 1pm a small group of us took the MTR for about an hour and a half to the other side of Hong Kong, boarded a 25 minute long cable car ride, and visited what is likely the most famous landmark in Hong Kong: The Tian Tian Buddha (or just Big Buddha). The clouds greatly obscured our view but the huge figure still commanded a grand presence despite only allowing clear shots of it every 20minutes or so when the clouds favorably parted.
From the cable car, you can see a hiking trail that would take hours as the alternative route
Tian Tian Buddha
Close up
Despite the weather it was great to visit this famous Buddha and I couldn't help thinking about how thankful I am just to have been there. Sure the pictures are not on some blue sky background but just the fact that I could visit this Buddha gives me an overwhelmingly lot to be thankful for. I think that's the mindset to be in while you're abroad. It was another incredible weekend and now I've put off studying for my second Mandarin quiz long enough so I gotta get to it. Also got my final paper topic for government and politics so I'm going to have to start on that essay soon too. Midterms came up fast in this 5 week summer session!
Working on my characters for Mandarin!