Why Asia is Baller

I’ve been reading Andrew’s blog on costs, and have decided to do a similar blog. However, apart from being highly derivative I thought I would advocate Asia as the best exchange destination.

I, like many, have dreams of living in Europe; a white Christmas, partying in Ibiza, sunbathing in the Greek islands, falling in love in Paris and generally being Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. The ability to travel through 44+ countries is an tempting opportunity. But my heart is in Asia. It offers the same deep cultural experience with an exciting twist – constant challenges and surprises – at a much lower cost (and better weather!!)

This was a $3 30min ferry away.

Four Reasons Why Asia is Baller.

1. Costs

There’s no doubt about it, Asia is way cheaper as a destination; its both closer and day-to-day expenses are well below those of Europe or America.

To give an idea, I’ve constructed a list of usual costs I’ve experienced in Hong Kong, one of the more expensive cities. Many are much cheaper (Bangkok, Mumbai, Mainland China) while many, like Japan are very expensive.

*In (approximate) Australian dollars.*

Meals

Home Cooked Meal – $5.00
Home Cooked Chinese Meal – $2.00
Breakfast at a local diner – $3.00
Lunch/Dinner at a local diner – $6.00
Dinner with few friends and beers – $10.00
Expensive Lunch/Dinner at a western café/restaurant – $30.00-$40.00
Expensive Lunch/Dinner at a Chinese café/restaurant – $20.00-$30.00
All you can eat restaurant – $20.00
McDonalds Burger Meal (the universal cost measure!) – $4.00

Living Costs

Accommodation (whole) semester – $1000.00
Laundry – 0.70c
Two weeks worth of phone credit (assuming you’re moderate user) – $8.00

Shopping

Basic Tshirt at H&M/Cotton On/ Similar – $10 -$15
Tshirt local designer – less than $20
Branded tshirt – $50-100
Decent guys shoes (branded) – $100.00ish
Paperback Book – $20.00
Going to movies – $10.00
Bottle of water – $1.00
Can of coke – $1.00
Coffee – $3.00
Cake – $7.00

Getting Around

MTR to central – $1.60
MTR (student discount) – 0.80c
Taxi from night out – 15.00 (split between 5 people, $3)
Bus to and from airport – $3.50
Ferry to islands – $3.50

Drinking/Going Out

Bottle of Beer at Supermarket – $2.00
Bottle of Beer at 7/11 – $2.50
Bottle of Beer at bar – $10.00
Spirit at bar – $12.00
Entry to the races – $3.00
Entry to average bar/club – Free – $15.00
Entry to top nightclub – $50.00 (not a typo!)
Night at karaoke – $12.00
Entry to all you can drink bar (guys) – $30.00
Entry to all you can drink bar (girls) – Free

Travel

Return Flights to Bne – Hong Kong $1000.00
Return flight to nearby Philippines $200-300
Return train to Shanghai – $200.00
5 day trip to Vietnam – $600.00
Weekend in Macau – $200.00

To give perspective, I live in a very wealthy suburb (recent houses went for around AUD$500million which means really expensive shops and supermarkets) and have lived a fairly spendthrift lifestyle at times – but have spent no more than $7000-8000 total (including flights). Other friends have spent closer to $9-10k, and have done a little more travel.

As you can see, it’s so much cheaper to live; but if you want something western, you’ll have to pay for it. I know the local students are probably living on closer to AUD$10-$15.00 a day. I think its fine if you’re feeling homesick or want to relax with something from home to spend a bit more. For example, I love my coffee, like to eat really well and try to be out and about when I’m not at uni. So you might want to budget $20-30ish per day for safety.

The trick is to avoid living like western tourist and to learn to live like a local.

2. The Future

You only have to flick through a Time magazine to conclude that China, India and the ASEAN (South-East-Asia-Nations) are going to be the absolute future of the world. There is not doubt that your ability to navigate Asian customs and business will be a powerful tool for your career success. As is your ability to find common ground, rapport and friendship with someone who won’t share the same values, language and interests as you.

3. The culture

I won’t go over already covered ground, but the ability to explore cultures and experiences that, in some cases have existed continuously for thousands of years is an amazing prospect. You could look at Roman ruins, or you could go to a hindu temple that has been used every day since the fall of the Roman Empire. Fight tourists in the French Rivera or be the only person on a tropical island. Eat pizza in Florence or Ostrich, fish skin and abalone in Shanghai. Give it a go!

ps. Ostrich tastes kind of gamey.  More like venison, rather than chicken.

4. The weather

It’s winter in HK. Its 20 degrees outside, not a cloud in the sky.

Risks of Asia

1. Feeling Lost

No doubt that the unfamiliar will frustrate you. Big cities can make you feel lonely and isolated. Big changes in language and processes can leave you wondering what the hell is going on. Food may be unappetizing and badly cooked. Inflexible bureaucracy and hierarchy can make you angry. You’ll find your resilience being stretched. These will be common wherever you go, but if you’re the type of person who doesn’t adapt to ambiguity and change, Asia might not be for you.

2. Health

A constant onslaught of bad food, smog, crowds of people, bad sleep and sometimes-unsanitary conditions are going to assault your immune system. You’re going to get sick. Really sick. Factor it in. Come to peace with it.

Feel free to ask me more questions, I’d be happy to offer help.

My friend Lorencio has put together a fantastic site which really helped me adapt to Hong Kong and has expanded costings – http://www.newtohongkong.info/

Hope that helps with sharing my feelings and experiences. No doubt, with one chance to go on exchange, you want to make the most of it. So wherever your heart is set; don’t hold back in going for it.

Dim Sum Yum

It would be impossible to cram everything about Hong Kong into a single day – it’s a diverse city, crammed with culture, lights sounds and experiences. But I finally found the time to explore some of the more tourist sights with my girlfriend Bek.

It’s a tough, fast paced city, no time to stop.

We packed in a whirlwind mission to explore some of the culture sites of Hong Kong fueled on a diet of delicious dim sum.

For those wondering chicken feet are delicious – its like extra fatty marinated chicken wings.

Once you get over the fact you’re sucking on a chicken toe.

Here we go!

I can’t say enough how delicious dim sum is. I want some right now! Its a raucous dinner with dumplings and tea flowing everywhere.  Even with a booking, you have to fight for a seat! A little tip I was told (not sure if I have the guts to do it.) – look for people who look like they are nearly done and hover over their table until they get uncomfortable and leave! I told you it was a tough city.

Ten Thousand Buddhas - number 167

One of the monks on the way to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Before you ask, there really is Ten Thousand of them. They don’t all look like this though. We made the mistake of climbing the hill the wrong way and walked into what we thought was the temple. It was infact a columbarium  for peoples ashes and paying respect to ancestors. Easy mistake to make, but those paying respect must have been wondering why we were sight seeing through a funeral home!

Fish, freshly wacked.

Hong Kong-ers have a close connection with their food. While westerners are bizarrely squemish about knowing where our food comes from – locals have no qualms with watching tonights fish be beaten to death in the super market. Oh, and the cage the bottom is full of ‘edible frogs’ – tea anyone?

Nunnery

Bring me... a nunnery

Feeling very gwelio (foreigner) in Sheung Wan

Watching over

The connection to religion and spirituality continues to run through the city. It provides welcome relief from the stress of daily life. The thing I enjoy most is leaving the rampant commercial life and getting lost in a totally foreign atmosphere

The World Below

View from the Peak

You can’t help but finish the day with a stunning sight. The Peak remains home to the rich and famous (actually with HK real estate you need more than fame, you need Incan treasure) and one of the worlds greatest views. Its surreal being so far above the buildings and seeing the world run below you.

My friends

Ps. This is one of my favourite photos – two local characters – a 70 year old drag queen, and a man with a Pomeranian on his head – dancing to 60s Cantopop. Brilliant.

Macau – Serious Business

Like Hong Kong, Macau is an example of China’s One Country, Two Systems – a rather awkward endeavour in sovereignty – Macau remains autonomous for the next 50 years but under direct control of Beijing. This is shown as you check your way out of Hong Kong and through Macau customs – somehow you have left, but remained in the same country.

Crowded into 3 tiny islands (or 1 peninsular, 2 islands for the geographically-picky, there’s a slight connection to the mainland) Macau totaling less that 30km2 of area. A former Portuguese Colony (returned to China in 1999), Macau packs in a jumble of colonialism, Chinese culture and western ostentation.

A Mash of Culture -

Chinese, Portuguese and Western culture comes together

Oh and what ostentation, as if there is anything else. I’m sure you’re aware of the casinos .The largest in the world – Venice Themed The Venetian (complete with indoor canals, bridges and piazzas.); The Lisboa a monstrous vase of light and colour; its all a competition for bigger and better.

The Grand Lisboa

Bigger, better, gaudier

Ostentatious Ventian Casino

Luckily, Macau has been smart enough to keep their history. The stunning Ruins of St Paul remains the focal point of the city, while the fortress of Monte Fort watches over the city.

For all the gaudiness, Macau is serious gambling. There’s no Vegas-esque debauchery, no wild bar shows. Whether its billionaire high rollers or middle-class mainlanders keen to blow off some steam (and their wallets)- everyone is here to play. You can see in the intense glare, chain smoking and beaded sweat.

Hong Kong: Everyone is rushing to get where they are going.

You’re on the plane. The headphones and blankets are coming around.

You’ve been talking about it for months, the planning is done.

No more talking.

No more planning

You’re doing it

You’ve left

You’re going on exchange.

I arrive at the gate, the cleanest and most efficient airport you’ve ever seen – a highspeed MTR wizzes me to the terminal.

Everyone is rushing to get where they are going.

Could be an allegory about the whole city.

The City

Hong Kong is really about success – make money and go where you are going. Everything is flashy, everything is about showing what you have. Nothing is preserved, it just about building and buying bigger and better. So the skyline is impressive and brands are everywhere.

But it can sometimes feel a bit cold and soulless. You’re surrounded by people, but yet you are a bit alone.

The defining feature of HK is its compactness.  The size of central brisbane; but home to 7 million people.  It’s all about packing everything tightly, making more with less.

This centrality gives a critical mass of people to create an incredible infrastructure – the best transport I’ve experienced; and (rightly or wrongly) an underclass of people who keep it meticulously clean.

The Study

Hong Kong IS business. A massive port, banking skyscrapers – if you’re into finance, trade and economics come here.

But even if you’re not, come here.

The flexibility of exchange presents an opportunity to do things that you might not be able to do otherwise.

I’m here finishing the last few parts of my Business (economics) degree, while gaining some perspectives on my law degree. Whilst that means I’m exploring the wild thrills of econometrics and micro-economics; I’ve also had the chance to indulge in my love for development and aid, Asian relations, security and Chinese law.

Whilst the easy marks sometimes offer the temptation to ignore study – it also presents an opportunity to engage with the subject on your own terms.

The inability to work and minimum accountability to anyone by myself presents the chance to really take stock of what I’m learning.

Looking beyond the obvious. Reading past what is asked. Instead of “getting through this assessment” and “just ticking the boxes” – it’s a chance to open my mind to some of real issues and expand my passions. The work is not longer about marks, but about learning for me.

Mngoy..

A sire of British order, and Chinese hierarchy and harmonization – Hong Kong is about process; a city run by bureaucrats. It certainly needs to be – in order to manage 7 million in a tight spot, HK requires following of rules. I found myself, surrounded by signs instructing my behaviour (no littering or sleeping in trees – noted), and red-tape blocking my way.

While success in Australian culture is defined by your ability to speak informally to authority, cut through bureaucracy and charm your way through inflexibility; I found I needed to adapt quickly to Hong Kong’s ways. Patience through the process

HK’s tight space also means that it imports pretty much all its food. While Australia has some of the best produce in the world; fresh vegetables, cheap meat – expect to pay through the nose for it here. And it won’t be much good. Eating healthily requires some clever thinking and patience.

And don’t expect much in the way of good coffee.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find amazing and delicious food. Seafood galore (I can’t go past pavement satay squid), a brunch of dim sum (yum cha dumplings and chicken feet) to the positively novel – snake soup (I thought the snake blood was a bit depraved) and chicken testacies.

Savior of bars falling down bars, the world over.

It’s a cliché, but Hong Kong never sleeps.

Well, it does, but just not at western times. It’s not surprising to find that shops don’t open to 11am-ish (emphasis on the ‘ish’). However, everything will be open until 11pm at least, and it’s not surprising to find people walking around a shopping centre until after midnight.

Of course, this has the unfortunate effect of shifting your sleeping patterns from 11am – 3am each day. For my own mental health and productivity I’ve attempted to maintain a certain level of normal routine and functionality. But, when in Rome….

People who know me well, wouldn’t be surprised to know I’m never far from holding up a bar.

Nightclubs here are a myriad of live music, tiny haunts, high-class skyscraper bars and (what I suspect are) triad-fronts. Whatever you want, they’ve got; with the emphasis on showy and ostentatious.

The best fun I’ve had though, was kareoke! The locals absolutely love it, what better opportunity to sing canto-pop at top volume!

The bar district Lang Kwai Fong in central Hong Kong, remains a popular centre for local yuppies, ex-pats and Australians who should know better.

I don’t know if it’s the humidity, but I always wake up with an awful headache.