Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Thoughts from Hong Kong

I have spent the majority of my time over the last couple of days inside of a room staring at my computer screen while my 8 delegates participated in Harvard Model Congress Asia at Hong Kong University. The 3 day conference consisted of long days and committees where my girls, generally used to a mono-cultural environment, were thrown into multicultural settings with students from all over Asia. Talk about overload. Coming in nervous and more than probably unprepared, the first day was definitely a shock to the system as they were forced to confront what it means to be a global citizen and why it is important to be a language learner in our increasingly interdependent world.
HKU (buildings on Right) in its humble habitat

As we concluded the conference today, I could see a light in their eyes. They showed us pictures with their new friends from other schools, laughed triumphantly about finding them on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, and spoke earnestly about coming again next year now that they know what it's all about.

Conclusion? I'm so glad we came. If only we had had a bit more time to explore this fascinating city.

Still, as per custom, here are some initial thoughts about Hong Kong:

1. The Vertical City
Hong Kong's many buildings tower above the streets, probably in a means to conserve space. We searched in vain for the sky between the peaks.

If you've seen the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets that came out this past year (I know it received mixed reviews, but bear with me), you might be familiar with the scene near the start of the movie where Valerian is falling through the different levels of Big Market. In some ways, Hong Kong and especially the HKU area reminded me of this sense of things hidden beneath the surface. We were on Hong Kong island for the majority of our stay and as we went between our hotel and the university, I found it confusing and mesmerizing. Each time you would "pop" out of a building or road, you would be at a different elevation and because there are so many buildings, you were constantly finding a different perspective in such a short period of time. I couldn't help but stare out at the city every chance I got. The university was confusing at first, too, because so much of the structure is vertical more than horizontal like I'm used to, but I also kind of liked it.
HKU and the surrounding buildings climb up the mountain...
2. The price to eat: Local Cuisine?
A lot of people complain that Hong Kong is expensive and I don't disagree, but I think it also depends on what you are hoping to eat. If you are looking for western staples like burgers, pasta, sandwiches, steak and the like, well duh, that's generally more expensive anywhere that I've been in Asia. However, if you're willing to eat more local cuisine or at local stands, you can totally find cheaper, satisfying and delicious food. Unfortunately for this trip, we didn't have the time nor the local for finding as many local places. I would have liked to have gone for a more in depth walk through the city. Next time!
Then some Dim Sum
3. Where does the food come from?

4. Ocean Park for a Cable Car
In Line for the Cable Car!
One of the first things we did in HK was head to Ocean Park as per suggestion by one of my coworkers. We were too early to check into our hotel and the conference registration hadn't quite started yet either. With hours to kill, why not?

It was definitely a fun place to visit, but also fairly empty. We gathered that January is generally not peak season for this water-rich attraction filled park. Despite the cooler weather, we still found it was a beautifully constructed park with a cable car attraction that yielded stunning views of the island and the sea. Worth it for the park's admission fee. Plus our students enjoyed the rides and the chance to shake off some nerves before diving into the conference.
View from the Cable Car as we went over the mountain
5. Language Barriers
I thought I would throw this in because one of my students expressed her frustration and difficulty when we were out and about at restaurants or stores. While you can find a lot of places where people speak some English, there are a lot of places where they don't. For my student who has mainly travelled in English proficient countries (or has generally travelled with parents to work through language situations), this was a bit of a shock. She couldn't understand why more people couldn't speak English in such an international city. It was interesting to alert her to the fact that in many places in Korea it's the same and because she speaks Korean she's never noticed. Definitely an eye opening experience all around.

That being said, if you can mime or are willing to point randomly at menus, you'll be fine.

In all honesty, these impressions are based on the smallest glimpse of Hong Kong since, aforementioned, I spent most of my time in a university classroom. I wish I could speak more to the hiking, transportation around the city, and food adventures. Alas, I'll just have to visit again I suppose...

Love & Hugs