Exchange and global opportunities

USLS Learning Journey: Exploring Hong Kong’s Extraordinary Income Gap

The pinnacle event of each year’s University Scholars Leadership Symposium is the “Learning Journey” – a variety of hands-on, real-world experiences designed to broaden each delegates perspectives on global humanitarian affairs.

Kowloon Bay
The income discrepancy in Hong Kong is truly astounding

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
– Albert Einstein

Taking place on the third day of this year’s event, “Learning Journey” activities included the following:

  • Modern Day Slavery – a simulated experience of working in a sweatshop, including harsh conditions and heavily restricted space.
  • Fisherman Encounter – Cultural and historical tour of Lei Yu Mun, followed by an afternoon providing community services for the local population.
  • Refugee Run – Crossroads Foundation’s world-famous simulation of the conditions and challenges facing displaced refugees.
  • Teaching Kinds – Play-inspired English lessons for kids from Kai Tak derelict housing.
  • Serving the Children – Acting as a surrogate big brother or sister for a local underprivileged child, taking them for a day exploring a local amusement park.
  • Arts with the Disabled – Delegates engage with local disabled artists and gain insights and lessons on how to recreate the art themselves.
  • Rehab Centre – Delegates interact with patients at the “Providence Garden for Rehab”, sharing stories and cultures and participating in group activities.
  • Day Camp – Providing activities and entertainment for children from a local village, sharing culture through dance, songs, sports and games.
  • Be a Farmer – Hands-on tour of a local farm, including participation in organic farming practices.
  • Intellectually Disabled – Soap making and packaging, cooking, cleaning and dancing with the intellectually disabled citizens at one of Hong Kong’s many foundation houses.
  • Intergenerational Learning – Delegates visit some elderly citizens living in Mongkok cubicle housing and help them clean their environment.
  • Elderly Care – Delegates visit lone elderly citizens in their homes and help out with cleaning and household maintenance.
  • Nursing Home – Tour of a local nursing home, followed by delegates assisting with entertainment and operational activities.
  • Domestic Violence – A small number of female delegates visit a home for victims of domestic violence to hear their stories and offer emotional support.
  • Befriending Elderly – Delegates visit Cheng Chau Island to bring warmth, happiness and social interaction to the resident elderly population.

Personally, I selected “Fisherman Encounter” – spending my day in the small village of Lei Yu Mun to learn more about the fascinating social dynamics of Hong Kong.

USLS Learning Journey
On our way to the “Fisherman Encounter”

 

Historic and Cultural Tour Through Lei Yu Mun

USLS Learning Journey
It was an 8:15am start for our journey to Lei Yu Mun

 

We set off early, meeting our the other members of the tour group and climbing aboard a bus bound for the New Territories’ western coastline. Our day’s activities – organised by Gigi Chau’s fabulous Faith in Love Foundation – started with an introduction to our tour guide Bill, who lead us off on an exploration of the villages important historical sites.

Lei Yu Mun village
Representatives from the Faith in Love Foundation ensured the smooth operation of the day’s events
Lei Yu Mun village
Lei Yu Mun, a former quarry town and opium den, is steeped in cultural significance
Lei Yu Mun coastline
As is the case everywhere in Hong Kong, the village’s visual landscape is simply breathtaking
Lei Yu Mun coastline
Many of the delegates insisted on taking a moment to enjoy the view

 

As we walked through the small village, we were enthralled by Bill’s tales (complete with photos) of the incredible level of changes that have taken place over the past 50 years. In some cases, development of Hong has involved actually reclaiming and landfilling parts of the bay, turning what was once a sleepy, isolated quarry into a vibrant commercial hub.

Lei Yu Mun coastline
Modern day Lei Yu Mun is home to a large array of high-class seafood restaurants

 

As one of the less developed, less industrialised areas, Lei Yu Mun provides some incredibly stark examples of Hong Kong’s mesh of British and Chinese cultures. As we passed each of these sites, Bill took the time to detail the recent shift away from modern Hong Kong’s British roots, explaining the cultural war constantly waging between the region’s various elements as the economy rapidly and dynamically expands.

Lei Yu Mun pillbox
This pillbox (bearing the insignia of King George V) represents one of the last remaining vestiges of British history in Hong Kong
Lei Yu Mun lighthouse
At the neck of Kowloon Bay, Lei Yu Mun is home to a historic lighthouse used to guide ships safely into the harbour
Lei Yu Mun temple
The village is home to a Tin Hau temple, designed to protect the quarry workers from bad weather as they transported stone across the bay

 

The history lesson continued as we made our way around the bay. While we walked, Bill was meticulous in describing the local way of life and how it has changed and varied in the face of the industrial and technological boom currently gripping the region.

Kowloon Bay
The path took us along the spectacular coastline of Kowloon Bay

Outside of the built-up areas, the contrast between the pristine skyscrapers in the distance and the small, cramped housing is incredibly eye-opening. Hong Kong is simultaneously home to the world’s 4th richest man and an enormous impoverished populous, and it’s in these outlying areas such as Lei Yu Mun where you can really begin to understand the consequent impacts this wealth discrepancy has the lives of its citizens.

Lei Yu Mun village
Houses in Lei Yu Mun
Lei Yu Mun village
Throughout the village, many of the structures are just barely managing to stand up
Lei Yu Mun village
As space is such a premium, houses and temples are built almost wall to wall – privacy and personal space are commodities that the people of Hong Kong can rarely afford

 

With 8,000,000 people living virtually on top of one another in such a small geographic area, there is always likely to be a large gap between the top and bottoms ends of the socio-economic scale. Even so, the level of money flying through Hong Kong’s economy is astronomical, and yet a large portion of its people are seemingly being left behind.

These are the kinds of facts and scenarios that USLS prompts you to consider.

Hong Kong nature
The amount of nature and greenery in Hong Kong never ceases to surprise me
Lei Yu Mun tour
The day wasn’t all sobering facts and serious discussion
Lei Yu Mun quarry
Lei Yu Mun formerly played home to a large industrial quarry – the sculpted cliff faces nowadays act as a picturesque landmark for tourists and fishermen

 Community Service at the Drop-in Centre

Learning Journey lunch
The team enjoying lunch at a local restaurant

 

Following Bill’s fantastic tour, we were treated to lunch at a local restaurant before making our way to a local community centre. Once here, we separated into three groups with distinct tasks: “Group 1” would be helping to clean local houses, “Group 2” would conduct English lessons with the drop-in centre’s children and “Group 3” would play games and entertain the kids after their boring English tutelage.

USLS Learning Journey
“Fisherman Encounter” turned out to be a whole lot more than any of us were expecting

 

Lacking talent in both cleaning and education, I decided to stick with what I know best – looking cool and making people laugh

Teaching kids at the drop-in centre
Spot the posing Australian
Kids in Lei Yu Mun
Ramo here certainly appreciated my fashion sense

 

Over the course of the afternoon, we got to know these kids through a variety of games and activities. Despite the crippling language barrier, play is universal, and it was fascinating to get to know their unique personalities and characteristics solely through the use of non-verbal communication.

Kids in Lei Yu Mun
This face says “If you tickle me again, I will smash this phone on the ground”.
Kids in Lei Yu Mun
In most cases, the families of these kids cannot afford schooling or daycare, so they rely on community centres such as this to entertain and educate

 

I couldn’t help but get the impression that this place is very much the highlight of their young lives. The surrounding suburbs are full of cubicle housing and other low-income dwellings, and its likely that this small, concrete play area is literally the only place that these kids have in which to run, dance and explore.

Meanwhile, there is potentially a billionaire sitting just streets away, mulling over plans to develop this whole area into a glitzy shopping mall or some other tourist trap.

Dancing kids
It was hard to tell without understanding Cantonese, but I believe this was some sort of dance lesson
Bonding with the kids
Many of us formed strong connections with the children, who were clearly enthralled by the sudden presence of banana coloured giants in their play area
Kids in Lei Yu Mun
Believe it or not, a 5 year old Hong Kong boy took this photo
Playing games with the kids
“Give us the ball bald man, and no one will get hurt…”

 

The photo below best sums up the dichotomy constantly facing the local population. Here we have a small, concrete children’s play area surrounded by a rusty barbed wire fence and neighbouring a house that looks as if a strong breeze might detach it from the Earth – seemingly a million miles away from the glamour and sheen of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula.

But then there in the background is the beginnings of a high-rise building.

Small house in Lei Yu Mun
Never have I witnessed a greater contrast between wealth and poverty than in Hong Kong

Irrespective of the circumstances they live in, it’s incredibly uplifting to witness the way these kids can still socialise and play without a care in the world. This experience is certainly one that I will never forget, and I am so immensely grateful to QUT for sending me over here to witness it with my own eyes.

Honestly, I can never repeat this enough – if you ever get the chance to attend the University Scholars Leadership Symposium, TAKE IT and don’t look back.

Herman Melville said: “We change lives with grand gestures. We change the world one step at a time.”

I struggle to think of a better way to take the first step.

Lei Yu Mun drop-in centre
Spending a couple of hours with these little characters was an experience that will stay with me for a long time
Underprivileged children
Playing hide and seek with local children at the drop-in centre

As always, watch this space for more insights and experiences from QUT Business School life.

avatar

Bachelor of Business (Advertising, Marketing)

Write A Comment

Send this to friend