In short, my trip to Hong Kong was good.
The long version however, you might want to strap yourselves in for it.
So, Without further ado! lets dive headfirst into the world that was “Josh’s Exchange in Hong Kong”
Hong Kong: the New York of the east, was where I was lucky enough to study during the latter half of 2017. No amount of preparation could have readied me for the crazy adventures and stories that followed.
I could sit here for days and type out pages of my different adventures, but I’ll keep this one readable in a sitting or two
I remember my feeling of first landing in Hong Kong, it was one of anticipation and trepidation. I had no idea what was in store for me or what was even going to happen, all I knew was that I had an interesting time ahead of me. This feeling of wonder and adventure is something that I wish you, dear reader, will experience through my writings
Looking back at it now, the things I worried about back then were insignificant, just like the myriad of problems in day to day life that we tend to exaggerate in our heads. Things have a way of working out if you stay determined and resilient. Every obstacle in your life is a wall that can be shattered, passed by, scaled and much more. Every challenge is one you can learn from.
When people asked me about living in Asia, one of the most common things that I was asked was the price of food. Now I’m going to be real with you here
The cheap food was CHEAP and expensive food was something that could bankrupt me very easily. I found myself eating “buy one get one free” egg cartons and rice very regularly. I somehow always managed to run out of food money.
I always cooked for my best friend and I during my time there. We bonded through our mutual suffering of never having enough to eat. Some of the most meagre meals we shared are some of the most important memories that I have of him.
I remember one time I had a plethora of eggs and nothing to go with them. I scrambled some eggs to have the consistency of rice to go with some other sunny side up eggs.
However, I went hungry quite a lot.
Don’t think it was always poverty living though!
Hong Kong has a plethora of Michelin star restaurants in seemingly impossible to find back alleys. Seemingly unassuming hole in the wall eateries were often Michelin recommended or better.
Food aside, one of the big points I’d like to point out is the lifestyle of Hong Kong. Living up to its name of “the New York of the east” Hong Kong is busy, crowded and somewhat dirty- I revelled in the lifestyle.
My first few weeks were spent navigating the attractions of the island as well as exploring every district possible. I like to think of it as my excited tourist phase
I managed to see 90% of the attractions in that period. But as time passed and reality set in, I found myself used to the busy schedule. There was always a list of things to do and people to see. However, what once was a magical experience quickly became mundane. If you ask me what’s interesting about Hong Kong I wouldn’t know because it was all so normal to me.
I remember spending nearly every day I had in “Mongkok”- a district in Hong Kong. It has a world record for being the densest commercial district in Hong Kong. As an avid shopper, I quickly became familiar with the spaghetti streets and innumerable streetwear, fashion and electronics stores. Very often I’d give directions or show tourists shops that I frequented. I quickly became a local. Fashion in Hong Kong is trendy and expensive. People cared most about how much their clothing/image was and it was a race to wear as much money as possible. I admit, I was swept away in the waves of HK culture.
(My favourite shopkeeper there! she made a lot of money from me)
I quickly made friends with the shopkeepers there, I brought a lot of business to them too!
Now, like all big cities, transportation was light years better than public transport back home. The subway was fast, reliable and crowded. It was the epitome of big city transport. It was definitely preferable to the lengthy delays, slow circulation speeds and unreliable transport methods back home.
One piece of advice I’d like to give is to try and be as social as possible in the early periods of your exchange before cliques and groups are made. You can quickly veto out the groups that you don’t wish to stay with and form as many close friendships as possible. This is extremely important as you risk being isolated in a foreign land with very few people to turn to. Make friends with your dorm security guards too!
I tried to be as nice to the dorm guards, I usually waved or smiled whenever I passed. Due to this alone I was able to get away minor infringements as they would often bend the rules a little for me. I do admit I admired their work ethic though. One of the security guards I nicknamed “eagle eyes” for his sniper like eyesight and ever watchful gaze. He always smiled and nodded whenever I waved. He always worked 10 or 12 hour shifts without so much as a single complaint
He retired when I was there, I miss him.
I met some of the most interesting characters from so many different backgrounds during my time there. Many evenings and dinners were spent simply comparing our lives back in our home countries. I loved telling stories of the plethora of things in Australia that can kill you.
The sheer variety of different nationalities and cultures meant that you get a feel for how wide the world is, your eyes are opened to so many different perspectives that you never thought possible.
I was humbled.
I’m going to admit, everyone seemed to have things that they disliked about their home country. There were always complaints about this or that.
There are always things wrong with where you live, but there are always positives too!
Now if you are traveling to a country that does not speak English as the primary language, it might take time for the locals that you encounter frequently to open up to you. Don’t take offence from it though! I remember during the early period of my time in hong kong I continually offered to some of the people on my floor to join in the activities that my friends and I did. They all said the same thing
“I’m not confident in my ability to speak with you in English”
I insisted that it was fine and was rewarded with some of the nicest people I’ve met. I was able to go rock climbing for free and had friends I hope to keep for my lifetime.
I loved everyone there. They were some of the most interesting, varied and wonderful people I’ve ever met. It might sound a bit weird, but I like to think that even though I may not be able to see them again, they never really left my life. The memories we made together will always stick with me.
Life in Hong Kong really opened my eyes to how lazily I had lived my life until then. The lifestyle of Hong Kong was busy, it really contrasted against my life on the Gold Coast. There were so many things back home that I needed to do, and hadn’t.
I realised that I had to make changes
I can guarantee you that you will make many realisations during your time too.
Exchange is definitely an experience that will quickly mature you or break you. I mean that as it’s a situation of “do or die.” You’re stuck in a place on your own and you have to claw and tear through the difficulties that you face with your own strength.
I want to say that there are a lot of things in life that might scare you. Its normal to feel scared, but it isn’t normal to let it paralyze you. You’ve got to trust in yourself and have the courage and resilience to take that step forward, lest you may never move from where you are standing now.
I’m going to admit that studying in Hong Kong was something I disliked. Partly due to the fact that I somewhat didn’t take it seriously, but also because of how different the experience is compared to Australian universities. Group projects were common and always had a minimum of eight people, that’s right, eight people.
I remember spending many nights awake with a bottle of alcohol to get me through, Hong Kong was busy and so was I. Lectures consisted of three hour lectures once a week per subject. I’ll admit i often fell asleep, but then again, so did everyone else.
During my five months abroad, I visited a variety of locations and countries
- Hong Kong
- Taiwan – Taipei, Hualien
- Japan – Osaka
- Korea – Seoul
- Philippines – Manila, Siargao
I managed to get lost or face difficulties in every single one. I’ll admit, I have terrible travelling luck…
But what I do have, Is amazing people luck.
During my travels, I was amazed at the sheer human kindness of the people I encountered.
In Taiwan, I wasn’t able to find my Airbnb. My taxi driver stayed with me the entire time to make sure I found my place to stay. Sure he could’ve simply dropped me off at the first address but he drove with me for over an hour simply looking for where i was staying.
I had to insist that he take the 200% tip
In Korea, I met people that helped me find my way, showed me the “local experience” and fed me for free. They approached me and I’m grateful that they did. They were there when I saw snow for the first time, which was an important item on my bucket list
In Siargao, Philippines, I was beset by events that should’ve made my trip a nightmare. However, I met some of the kindest and most inspirational people in my life thus far, my dinner with them probably changed the direction that my life is going.
- I had a 50-hour travel time to the island due to flight cancellations
- I lost my debit card and had no money
- I sliced my foot open x5
- I crashed my motorcycle and had no money to pay for it
- My flight away from the island was cancelled
- I had nowhere to stay and nothing to eat
- I was stranded
I’d like to highlight the last few days on the island in particular.
I met these two women on a tour and afterward we all went partying as a group with other people. The next day we all hung out and relaxed and it quickly dawned on me the extent of damage that my bike received during my crash. Due to my loss of debit card I had no money to pay for it and very few options. I seriously considered ditching the bike and leaving. I risked being beat or hunted down.
Upon hearing my story, the two women, offered to pay for the damage without hesitation. Their sheer kindness at the time nearly brought me to tears. During our dinner together, I asked for life advice from them and filled over 4 pages in my notebook from what they said alone. I would not have made it off the island without their unrelenting kindness. I look up to those two greatly, I hope to one day be able to meet them again and repay their kindness with interest.
Even my tour guide offered to go with me to talk to the bike rental agent to see if he can lessen the degree of trouble I was in.
The next day my flight was cancelled and since I had no money I was simply going to camp outside the airport as I did in Taiwan. A man sitting next to me offered to let me stay with him and the van driver that brought me to the airport offered to drive me for free.
I ended up staying with the two women from before though (don’t get any ideas).
Instead of having to sleep in a ditch somewhere I was able to have a shower and coffee without having to fear for my safety.
Like I said before, it’s this human kindness that really humbled me. None of these people had to help me, they didn’t even know me. But they did, and for that, I do not have words to explain how I feel. Those people that offered to help a stranger like me
I hope that I too, can be like them.
Now If you’ve stayed with me until now, I’d like to congratulate you on ploughing through my ceaseless rambling. I have a little more left, but stay strong!
If you are considering exchange, Go for it!
However, Exchange is what you make of it. It’s a washing machine of unforgiving circumstances that will test you as a person. I encourage you with all my being to stay resilient, be determined and most importantly,
Make the most of it! Talk to people! Learn lessons! Go places!
I know for a fact that I am a completely different and mature person from when I initially left. I’ve experienced so much that I cannot even begin to write about them all. I definitely recommend keeping a journal of the things that have happened to you, to ensure that you remember what you have learned.
I hear the phrase “I’m travelling to find myself” quite a lot. To be completely real with you here, I think it’s stupid. If you want to find yourself go to the lost and found, you might have better luck there.
What I’d rather say is to know yourself. I mean, what if you actually do manage to find yourself and you turn out to be a terrible person, what good that will do for you?
Know your strengths, your weaknesses, the things that make you who you are.
Be introspective! Be self-aware!
If you know what really makes you tick, you can capitalise on what you know and really make the best of what makes you, you.
I used to think that by studying what I was studying, I was aiming to become that profession. However, I learned that my profession is simply a means to an end.
If I am truly good at meeting people, then I must work in something that allows me to meet people.
Get what I mean? It’s something along those lines.
Finally, you should always do good (yes, I know, cliché). If you fall into the cycle of thinking that bad inputs equal good outcomes as long as you get away with it, you risk having it all come crashing down on you in an instant. All the bad you have done will drag you down.
The world is shitty enough, don’t make it worse.
Be someone that other people aspire to be like.
As I write this in the closing days of my adventure, I hope that I’ve managed to convey even a fraction of how I feel at this moment to you. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have experienced all this at my age and even more so because of the incredible people that I have met or been helped by. I am indebted to a lot of people around the world.
Just like all the people that have been kind to me, I honestly hope to pay it all forward.
I could keep rambling, but I’d seriously like to say.
Thank you, thank you for taking the time to read this.
May your own journey be worth an essay multiple pages long.
I wish you all the best in your future travels.