Victor: Why? Because I’m on exchange!

Being on exchange, you find yourself having a completely different mindset compared to when you were back home. Back in New Zealand I can be a bit of a lazy slob sometimes, where home is the only getaway resort I need and my own room the presidential suite (I really should get out more). But damn if I don’t just turn into a “yes” man and proceed to jump on anything that seems exciting/exotic/free coming my way, no hesitation, when I’m exchange!

“Just do it.” – Shia LaBeouf/Nike

As should be implied, this blog entry is about the extra-curricular activities I’ve done while in Hong Kong, and I did a lot of them, sometimes too much. Here’s just a small snapshot of the crazy things I’ve done in HK, some which I hope to continue back home, some not so much.

The green side of Hong Kong

Hiking and camping

At first glance, Hong Kong may not seem like a place that could accommodate the nature lovers with its overbearing, modern concrete jungle image. However, there’s actually quite a bit of nature to discover in this city, if one took the subway or a taxi out of the urban centre. There, hiking trails and campsites await the adventurous.

A trail camping trip was being hosted by a university student association, which I came to know because an exchange student shared it in the Facebook group chat. Unsurprisingly, the event ended up consisting of mostly exchange students. The trail was Stage 2 of the MacLehose Trail which was this breathtaking mountain trail that winds itself to the seaside. I even got myself a brand new pair of trainers just for this!

After two hours of sweaty strolling on the trail, we arrived at this campsite beach for which we were to spend a night over. A fiesta promptly pursued, with frisbees, barbeques, sea diving (too cold for wussy me), and even bonfires! There’s no better teambuilding atmosphere than a dark, cool beach under the starry night sky.

The only part of the trip that I wasn’t too keen on experiencing again is spending the night in a tiny tent with my roommate. No, my roommate was lovely, if you were wondering. It was the blasted noise of the tent flapping like angry seagulls from the beach gusts and the arctic night temperatures that were the culprits. The back pains from the bumpy sand didn’t help, either. On the bright side, my shabby old mattress back in my room never felt more comfortable after this trip.

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Misty seaside view
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Humble tent for two
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Nothing like a bonfire to light up the night!

Ramble on

I joined the Rambler’s Club at HKU shortly after semester started, hoping my $30 membership fee would force me to go out a bit. I had the privilege of going on two events hosted by this club while I was here, a spring walk event and a stream trekking event, and got my hands (and pants) real dirty both times. Had to wake up early too on my lazy weekends, the nerve of these people! Thankfully, the crew’s hospitality is only matched by the beauty of the surroundings, which more than made up for my drowsy Sunday blues.

I went on the MacLehose trail again for the spring walk, this time it being a different, more hilly section of the trail this time, with plenty of large rocks. This was also going to be a proper whole day hike, nine to five. But I am a beginner still, so it’s not surprising that when we needed to climb over some of the rocks or slide down some hills I needed some support, both physically and morally. A tiresome day, but a fulfilling one at that!

Now, the stream trekking. I’m tempted to describe it as something akin to “pseudo-rock-climbing without ropes” in a jungle obstacle course. Initially, I thought we would be doing something similar to the spring walk but just with some water involved. I soon resorted to staring as the group leader promptly turned away from it and started climbing this unmarked small cliff to our right, into this dense and dark shrubbery. Fortunately, my fear of the unknown soon turned into the excitement for discovery, as our humble group twisted and turned inside the wilderness, skipping over gurgling waters and conquering stony walls. I definitely got a taste of a day in the life of Bear Grylls that day!

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Misty Mountains!
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Baaaa!

 

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Spirit of adventure (and fitness)!
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A waterfall sight

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Movie extravaganza

Lately I find my attention span being slowly whittled down to that of a goldfish. This means that I find it hard to properly commit and finish a book or even a proper video game before I get distracted and forget where I was, leading to me dropping the thing entirely (I’m getting better though). As a result, movies are quickly becoming my favourite form of entertainment, because it’s a bite-sized treat in which I can consume wholly in one sitting.

It started with me joining the Film Club, for which they handed out free tickets to movie periodically but only several hours before the session began. This led me to impulsively taking up an offer to see a Korean buddy-cop comedy movie, without thinking, at 9 in the evening. Needless to say, I came back to my room half-dying from fatigue at one in the morning, with classes in the morning. Not my best decision ever, but can’t say I didn’t enjoy the thrill of it!

Then came along the Hong Kong International Film Festival. I’ve never been to a film festival before, so naturally I wanted to use this opportunity. Coupled with the fact that special student tickets were going for around $6 NZD (!!), I went pretty nuts on the number of tickets that I bought…

Can’t take photos in the cinema, settle for this cool collage instead!

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Ranging from documentaries to indie debuts, restored classics to anniversary commemorations, I lost count of the number of times I sat in an enclosed theatre space. I found it strangely fitting that I would be watching movies from all over the world in English, Cantonese, Japanese and even Hungarian, in a city that can be considered an intersection of the global cultures.

Initially, I was under the impression that a film festival would be similar to a music festival, where they show a bunch of films in some fixed venue for a couple of days and then wrap it up. However, the films were actually shown at various cinemas scattered across the city, over the course of a month. Therefore, while my school mates went bar hopping on a weekend’s day, I went cinema hopping because I packed two movie showings in the same day. The worst instance of this was when I sat myself through three hours of Kurosawa’s restored Seven Samurai in the afternoon, only to be forced to chase myself to the other side of Hong Kong to catch a 9 p.m. session of a cyber security documentary. I suppose, for that month, I was more exhausted from watching movies than from actual course work.

Other assorted shenanigans

For my regular dose of fitness, I always had sessions of badminton to keep me occupied. In Hong Kong, I managed to find this lovely piece of website called MeetUp, where people get together on the fly to do something they all like, which includes badminton. Since I have a colossal six-hour gap between my morning and evening classes on Tuesday, what better way to spend it than hitting some shuttles for a couple of hours with some friendly locals, right?

I also had the privilege of seeing the HKU Philharmonic Orchestra for their Spring Concert. This was truly a rag-tag team of amateur music lovers coming together to make sparks fly. According to the music director, whose full-time position was the dean of Medicine, none of the members have a music major and some of them only joined the second half the concert because they had tests during the first! Yet, the music they produced could match any of the NZSO concerts. I should know, as I’ve went to most of them all!

And we are nearly there…

The above should be sufficient to give you an idea of life outside the classroom here in Hong Kong, as well as the almost maniacal drive behind them, all because I wanted to milk this exchange experience to my best of abilities. After all, I am only doing this once.

As this entry comes to a close, we are also regrettably stepping towards the end of the blog series as a whole as the semester finishes. Catch the epic finale soon where I will be giving a wholistic reflection of the six months as a whole. Until then, dear readers, and good luck for the finals!

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Food, glorious food: Victor

I’d like one slice of Hong Kong, please! Actually, make that two!

Looks at the newly assigned blog theme…

”Hmm, food…”

Looks down at my bloated belly…

“…yup, this should be a piece of cake…”

 “I get way too much happiness from good food.” – Elizabeth Olsen

 Greetings fellow students! So you want to know about food in Hong Kong, eh? Well, I think it’s safe to say Hong Kong is among the best in the world in terms of culinary experience one could enjoy, with its innovative and masterful blends of Eastern and Western styles. Heck, you know you’ve landed at a place that cares about food, when a standard greeting in Cantonese is “Have you eaten yet? (Sik zo faan mei aa?)”.

I must say I really hate food, because it tastes so good and I get so fat! So I tell myself I’m on exchange and I can work off the gains later. Anyway, here are what’s on the menu:

 The university canteens
Yes, I know. Out of all the places I can choose, I start with your boring old campus restaurants. But honestly, this must be put first simply due to the sheer amount of times I have been there, and been there I have! Even though they won’t show up on your Michelin guides, they still serve some damn good grub. Don’t believe me? See for yourself!

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Diced-chili fish with rice, tea, and Canton Soup!
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Sizzling seafood teppan with soy sauce!
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Scallop and mixed vegetable-covered rice, with HK-style milk tea!
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Beef knife-shaved noodle with a side dish of rice noodle roll!

Now that you’ve seen for yourself, it is regrettable that you, my dear readers, cannot taste for yourself. Alas, Auckland Abroad doesn’t cover budgets for instantaneous food delivery, so you will just have to settle for amateur photography instead.

The above are, obviously, just a taster for what I have had the privilege to enjoy for my time at HKU. Scattered across the campus, it was no less an adventure to discover all that was available when I initially arrived. From small yet delicate cafes to crowded mess halls, a world-class dining experience is just five minutes from your classroom.

And did I mention about the bonkers prices? As far as I’m concerned, most of the meals I paid for are between $20 to $40 HKD, which converts back to around…4 to 8 NZD?! Yes please! I will certainly miss this a lot when I return to Auckland. To those, well, not-so-bonkers-priced canteens back home…

 Care for some dim sum?
Dim sum needs no introduction. As the poster child for Cantonese cuisine, how can you afford to miss this while going on exchange here? From the more accessible shrimp dumplings and barbequed pork buns, to the chicken feet and cow stomach fit for the more adventurous types, a dim-sum experience is tailor-made for everyone. Much like a Chinese-version of Spanish Tapas (or perhaps Tapas is like a Spanish dim sum?), one has the benefit to taste a variety of bite-sized dishes without committing to one particular dish. I know I’m always guilty of wanting to take food off of someone’s else’s plate!

Interestingly, I only had one dim sum here in Hong Kong so far, but it could not be in a more fitting context: a Cantonese class field trip. Having been learning about how to order food, our lovely teacher planned a trip to a local restaurant near the campus on a day off for us students. Restricting ourselves to be only using Cantonese during the meal, we feasted on authentic and delicious steamer baskets of delicacies to our heart’s content, filled with prolonged periods of silence and awkward, broken phrases of Cantonese:

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Dim sum, chopsticks, and tea
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A sweet sesame roll

 

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Happy class portrait

 Out on the streets
While abroad, you are naturally drawn to roam and discover the streets, where all the food resides. Currently it is the semester’s final week for me, so studying’s a bit hectic to just stroll through the city right now. But boy did I do a lot of that when I came here initially, with the food most delicious and also most expensive (compared to campus prices, they are usually more than double!).

One particular story that stands out is the tale of the expedition to Mr. Wong’s. One exchange student in our Facebook group suggested this Friday night event to a place called Mr. Wong’s, an all-you-can-eat joint where the prices are so cheap that legend has it that this is only possible because Mr. Wong has elusive ties to the Hong Kong Triads and drives a Ferrari…

Setting off in a group of about 10, we got to the set location to be greeted by a small, already-packed restaurant. We had to wait about 10 minutes before Mr. Wong himself brought out extra tables and chairs for us to eat on the pavement. Sitting down, the whole evening can be concluded as nothing short of a mystical madness. There’s no menu, and no waiting either. Food just came pouring out like a waterfall from inside the kitchen, usually delivered by Mr. Wong himself: plates after plates of below-average dumplings, sweet-and-sour pork, fried rice…truly summarized by the quote of “quantity over quality”. By the end of the night, I’m sure everyone present was passing out from the sheer amount of food, but the urban atmosphere together with the jovial company made the night one to remember.

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At Mr. Wong’s
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Food…
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…and more food!

The wrap-up
Hopefully that didn’t make any of you too hungry! I know I am just by writing this, but good thing I’m grabbing my dinner soon. Here’s a toast to you, dear reader! May your semester be terrific and your plate always full of your favourite food! Until next time.

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Accommodation Awards: Victor

Greetings students! Thank you for joining me today. I am your host, Victor, that Engineering student from down under. You are all cordially invited to this year’s Auckland Abroad Accommodation Awards, right here in the busy, bustling, and breathtaking city of Hong Kong. So, prepare some Hong Kong-styled milk tea, get comfy in your favourite chair, and let’s get started.

“The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner.”
– Italo Calvino

 “…what do you mean we only have one nominee?”

“Well, you only did live in one hall, so isn’t that…”

“Yeah I know that, but it’s going to look pretty…oh shh shh we are live!”

Hey sorry about that folks! We had some technical issues but it’s all fixed now. So without further delays let’s present our grand winner tonight, the humble abode where yours truly resides, the one and only:

LEE HYSAN HALL

The hall, towering before you.

Modest, yet respectable. Welcome to my hall! Location-wise it’s just a short bus-trip to HKU, and from listening to the testimonials of some local students who have to take an hour or even longer to get there, I think I should feel quite lucky (they do give priority for hall housing to incoming exchange students). As for travelling around the city from here, that shouldn’t be a problem as the Hong Kong subways are world class and they have a station right at the university, so your destination is just a train-hop away.

Now let’s just step to the left a little and see what’s around the corner…

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Just your friendly neighborhood 7/11
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The sneaky restaurant tucked away at the basement

The dynamic duo, 7-11 plus the student canteen, literally at the hall’s feet. This definitely scores well in my book. These have become an inseparable part of the hall life now that I’ve come to realize how much I depend on them. Class is starting in 40 minutes and you just woke up? Get that sandwich plus coffee deal from 7-11 on the run. Trudging your heavy steps back after a 4-hour lecture block? Treat yourself with a $5 (yup, that’s NZD) steaming plate of curry chicken or BBQ pork rice. I even had the pleasure of casually strolling down to refill my fresh milk supply for my cereal when it ran out. That’s right, affordable and accessible food and drink is a life-saver for a student living abroad, and probably for anyone else in general, too!

The Floor

Now we continue the grand tour inside. Arriving at the 10th floor, you will see that the space is compact and the hallways narrow. Coming from the context of endlessly stretching farmlands and fields of New Zealand, this might take some adjusting to. After all, this is Hong Kong, which is so much more densely populated than Auckland, and people will have to be packed just a little closer together. But that is not stopping my hallmates from decorating the place in high spirits! They will gladly tell you that a home is what you make it.

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The two lifts for the hall
The colourful legacies of my hallmates
The colourful legacies of my hallmates

 

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The (enclosing) hallway

The Common Room

Here we step into the place where your path collides with your hallmates, the kitchen and the dining/gathering/partying area all in one. To be expected, the place is quite messy and crammed to the maximum with everyone’s stuff here and there, which could be a little inconvenient. It’s honestly not that bad though, you do get used to it after a while, and with a bit of respect and consideration everyone gets by just fine. As a bonus, you can often meet and chat with others here when they are not busy dwelling in their natural habitat, their room…

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Looks like people had fun last night
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The family of appliances
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Where did I put my milk?!

The Laundry

Hey, nobody likes to do it, but it’s gotta be done. Living here by yourself, your dirty clothes pile up, and eventually you need to wash them. The hall provides laundry services on the top floor with several washers and dryers, with their service requiring a reasonable small fee. There is a balcony in which your clothes can be hanged to dry, but after several failed attempts due to the seemingly permanent cloudy and dank weather that is in Hong Kong, I have found it less trouble to just simply throw it into the dryer to get it done with.

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The laundry room
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Great balcony, not-so-great weather

The Room

I’m going to be a bit cheeky here and reuse the photo for my room from my last blog entry, because it’s honestly the best shot of the room I have (and now it’s…slightly less suitable for photography). My points from last time still stands: the room is fairly small, but it provides everything a room should. It’s got sufficient storage space for all your stuff, a great view, and above all a trusty old bed you can come back to every night. The prophecy has come true: my room is a big ol’ caveman’s mess, and thus it is now my home.

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The Wrap-up

Give a big round of applause for Lee Hysan Hall, everyone! The well-deserving recipient of the “Place to call home” award! It may be a bit cramped, shabby, and a few holes here and there, but it’s everything you need and more to make your overseas stay at Hong Kong a cozy and welcoming one. Before long, I think I will start to miss this place, for it has, without a doubt, become a second home for me.

That’s all we have in store for you folks today. Stay tuned next time for more wonders and woes of Hong Kong, and good luck with all your studies back home!

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My O-Week Experience: Victor

First impressions of a faraway land

Actually, “faraway” isn’t too accurate. This is because I already made the trip to Hong Kong and then to the neighboring Shenzhen about a month ago, for a vacation with the relatives living there. As such, having casually driven to O-work and already well-adjusted to the surroundings, my experience may not be the typical jet-lagged, disorientated, hypnotized, and all-around confused type that is more common for exchange students that just hopped off a plane.

“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.” – Nury Vittachi

Greetings everyone! It’s been some time, hasn’t it? Now all the hype, the expectations, the anxiety, and the excitement converges at last. The exchange has begun!

The Accommodation
I am staying at the Lee Hysan hall, which is around 10 minutes’ ride to the university campus. The hall shares its grounds with two other halls, the R. C. Lee Hall and the Wei Lun Hall, which forms a triangle triumvirate that faces each other head-on like a Mexican standoff.

After checking in with the front desk, I arrived at my room on the 10th floor. On first impressions, the place seemed a bit smaller than I expected for two people, with each person occupying one side of the room. There’s sufficient space to deposit all of the luggage I’ve brought (even my clunky guitar case!), but the real highlight is the absolute killer sea view from the windows. I can’t imagine how much this would cost in Auckland!

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Killer window view!

Sometimes the local students get a bit loud late into the night as you are trying to sleep. Where’s noise control when you need them? Good thing I brought a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to act as makeshift ear-muffs. Generally, they prefer to huddle in their own groups, but by just saying hi and having a chat, you find they have a lot in common with you and are all very nice people.

There is a 7-11 just at ground level to the side of the hall, but for more extensive grocery shopping I needed to take a bus to a larger store. It wasn’t that far away, but you need to brave a mountain of stairs and hills to get there, so much so that I felt like I’m back in downtown Auckland. No, it’s not fun to carry 5kg of grocery and going for a hike at the same time, but a guy’s gotta eat. I would place a walking-distance supermarket much higher on my list if I ever do this again.

Overall, it gets cozy after a while, and you do feel like coming back to a home as you spend a feel days out exploring and dragging yourself back here, exhausted. You will know you have settled in when your accommodation room gets as messy as your own room back home.

New land, new friends
My roommate’s name is Chris. He’s from Maryland all the way in US, and he also brought his guitar like me! He’s studying electrical engineering and unfortunately quite jet-lagged when I first met him. I had to tip-toe around him for several days at 8 in the night while he’s turned in already and vice-versa when he’s up and about at 4 in the morning. I forgive him. I’ve been through this plenty before.

I met some more exchange students from going to the university to sign up for orientation events. We went out for some cool days and nights out in the heart of city, often walking our feet off. But it’s all worth it, as in the midst of the streams of people and zooming cars, you discover a city truly:

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The bustling Mong Kok markets
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Overwhelming skyscrapers at night
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Together with friends at the Victoria Harbour  light show

Definitely, definitely go out and explore the city with the new people you meet! Preferably before the semester begins and all hell comes crashing down (for me as an Engineering student, anyway).

You notice early on that while English is ok to get by in Hong Kong, not everyone is as proficient as you hope, and it’s somewhat difficult to mingle with the local culture and people without any Cantonese. Hopefully, with the class I’m taking and me being Asian, I can one day successfully infiltrate a local conversation with a mouthful of fluent Cantonese.

A side note, Hong Kong’s public transportation is phenomenal! From the double-deckers that come every five minutes to the metro than spans across the entire city, Auckland needs to step up its game.

The Food
I’m a guy that likes to eat, and Hong Kong is a heck of a place to tick that need. As the cultures of the West clashes with the East, you will be sure to find many authentic cuisines of both types, as well as innovative combinations of both! From dim-sum to fried fish-balls to beef brisket noodles, be prepared to work off those extra gains while staying here!

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Just something regular at the restaurant downstairs, less than $5 NZD!
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A “Pun Choi” at orientation events

The University
We can’t forget the biggest reason I’m here right? The University of Hong Kong, lo and behold it in all its glory.

Firstly, this place’s huge! You get a workout from just walking from one side of the campus to the other. Funny story, I spent about 30 minute trying to leave the school once after classes because I forgot where the exits were, akin to a kid lost in an amusement park. I was finally able to escape with the aid of various campus maps planted here and there, but not before I caught a glimpse of a different side of the university after nightfall:

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Campus at night

Looking at that picture, you wouldn’t really be able to tell it’s a university right? Seems more like a place you go to wind down and grab a few after a hard week. Overall, a real treat and privilege to study in a place such as this.

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Of course we do!

That’s all folks!
That’s all I have to blabber about right now. I still have so much to discover and do so I guess I need to be hurrying along now, dim sums and wontons await! See you next time!

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