re: making friends

You’re my globe-mate.

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One of the best things about university is meeting new people. When it came down to confirming my choices, I chose the University of Nottingham not only because of its study abroad programme, but also due to its many international links. With campuses in China (Ningbo) and Malaysia (Semenyih), not to mention the vast amount of students either exchange or full-time coming from all over the globe to study, your once limited worldview is fantastically broadened.

Of course, it is easy to research and keep informed about major international events, but speaking to individuals native to a particular country makes a larger impact on oneself than expected. You can read about shocking laws, such as the now eradicated one child policy in China, but for me, it didn’t seem real until talking about the topic with my friends from mainland China. Naively I thought it was something blown out of proportion by the media, a hazy rumour serving only to stir up xenophobic feelings in the western world. Thus, it was startling to me hearing their experiences and opinions, of growing up without siblings, of distrust towards their government and of confusion as to what to believe (i.e. the self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square).

Studying in Hong Kong is no different. Through lectures and meeting locals, I have learnt about Hong Kong’s national identity crisis, more about the umbrella movement of last year as well as political controversies within the school. Conversing with other international students, I was so surprised to discover that South Korea still enforces conscription on its citizens, (further chats with friends told me that the existence of conscription is still quite common). Learning about these topics definitely makes me more conscious of the world outside my little localised bubble, as well as making me more active in seeking news not just pertaining to the UK, (after all, there’s only so much of David Cameron’s antics a person can take).

While making friends from other countries can make you more mindful of political issues, it also brings to the table many hilarious and amusing differences. In casual conversation with friends you might notice minute differences, which can lead to furious debates on what is ‘correct’ and what is not. (Bell pepper or capsicum?? Australians. Queue or line?? Americans.) Even well established holidays can be a topic for debate – you thought Christmas Day is safely on the 25th? Prepared to be challenged by the Germans who regularly celebrate the 24th instead! So, from friendly chats to late night conversations, there is a wealth of information to be learned about a person as well their culture. Being much more of a listener than a talker, this suits me just fine.

re: ading week

a little Japanture between friends.

Reading week marks the mass exodus of exchange students from HKU to neighbouring lands, and for me it was no different. Together with four friends, we ventured off to the land of the rising sun, Japan! For the first few days we stayed outside the city, roaming the idyllic areas surrounding Mount Fuji, soaking in as much of its 3776m majestic glory as we could take, (seriously, I have a million pictures of this beauty).

Apart from hiking trails leading to spectacular views of Fuji, we took a trail through Aokigahara, notorious for the high number of suicides attempted there. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but having heard so much about this forest, my curiosity was piqued and I couldn’t miss out on experiencing the eeriness of the forest for myself. Wandering through the forest confirms the many warnings to not stray from the path, the trees are so many and so similar it’s easy to get disorientated. However, being in the company of friends, the quietness of the forest was easily unnoticed and any pre-existing perceptions were quickly dispelled due to its natural beauty – the surrounding scenery was so vibrant and lush, it’s hard to imagine Aokigahara’s darker lure. Perhaps a more dismal day and a different mindset may emphasise the desolate nature of the forest, but my experience showed me an unexpected lighter side.

Heading back into the city after our countryside retreat was definitely a shocking contrast. Away from the chilled atmosphere of the country, the lively, fast-paced undercurrent of Tokyo is felt instantly; just standing around makes you feel restless! Having grown accustomed to the narrow streets of Hong Kong, Tokyo felt massive in comparison, THERE’S JUST SO MUCH SPACE! It’s also interesting to see the clash of new and modern architecture, walking around Shinjuku I was surprised to find a shrine nestled between the high rises, which was additionally only a mere stumble away from Kabukicho, Toyko’s red light district (uhh… certainly intriguing to say the least).

As well as hitting up all the usual major tourist spots, (Senso-Ji Temple, Harajuku, Meji Shrine, Ghibli Museum, etc) we also participated in a traditional tea ceremony and got to try on a kimono! My terrible posture was brought to light and rather than being the vision of elegance I had pictured, I instead looked like child playing dress up, oh dear K. The tea ceremony itself was a fascinating experience; each step in the process was methodical, being perfectly and purposefully executed. Our host was lovely and enthusiastic about sharing her culture with us, which brings me to my next point. PEOPLE IN JAPAN ARE SO NICE! Walking into shops and restaurants, I was overwhelmed by how friendly and accommodating everyone is. Makes for such a huge difference compared to Hong Kong or the UK, where there’s just not that level of hospitality in everyday life.

Despite spending too much money and time on transport (pls standardise ur metro networks Tokyo) for my liking, I had a wonderful time in Japan and would love to return to explore further. Anyone care to be my sponsor?

*crickets chirp*

re: 中秋節

celebrating mid-autumn festival the right way.

Eclipsed by the formidable Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival (Zung Cau Zit) largely goes unnoticed in the UK, silently slipping by western consciousness. I have vague recollections as a child of going to my local Chinese/Asian community centre to celebrate, lighting lanterns and eating moon-cake. Nowadays, the only time I know it’s Mid-Autumn Festival is by the appearance of a box of moon-cakes on the kitchen table. Similarly in Hong Kong, the deluge of advertisements showcasing the new, exciting types of mooncake notify me ‘tis the season. Embarrassingly enough, if you asked me last week, I wouldn’t be able to explain the story behind the celebrations (disgraceful really).

Now, let me attempt to redeem myself and share my recently acquired knowledge of the origin story behind this national holiday. *Ahem* In ancient times there were 10 suns (global warming ain’t got nothing on this), making life quite terrible for the people of earth. Cue the hero Hou Yi, who shot down all but one sun and made life bearable again, yay! Impressed by his actions, the immortal Wangmu gave him an elixir granting immortality. Not wanting to leave his wife Chang’e, Hou Yi gave the potion to her for safekeeping. However, knowledge of this potion was soon discovered by one of his apprentices (!!), who attempted to obtain it for himself. Knowing she would be overpowered, Chang’e drank the potion, becoming immortal and choosing the moon as residence to be near her husband. Upon hearing his wife’s fate, Hou Yi took her favourite fruit and food to be offered as sacrifice, which was in turn adopted by the people who heard this tragic tale.

Cut to modern times and Mid-Autumn celebrations are in abundance in Hong Kong, with lantern displays at Victoria Park or TST. Moon-cakes, starfruit and persimmons were generously provided by one of my teachers in class – getting the biggest piece of egg yolk in your slice of moon-cake signals good fortune for you! An attempt to view the festivities in Causeway Bay on Saturday was thwarted by a sudden downpour of rain (shakes fist at sky). Luckily, nicer weather was to be had on Sunday, where we saw a lovely display at TST and later headed down to Repulse Bay – perfect for a more chilled out celebration away from the crowds.