re: booking out.

let’s have a catch up ey?

It’s been a while since I posted, but things suddenly got very hectic after reading week – a cheeky trip to Seoul meant cracking down on university deadlines and sadly not a lot of time to spend on the ol’ blog. But today I just took my last exam and am ready to travel as much of Asia as possible before my flight back in June! While I’m happy to be done with exams, I don’t want to come to terms with the fact that this signals the end of my study abroad period 😥 There’s been so many great experiences, and I’m not just talking about travelling to different countries… story time!
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Sitting in a class I was very nearly on the verge of skipping, I came to the sudden understanding of the purpose of going on exchange. Instead of the usual lecture, the class was split into two groups arguing for and against the given topic, ‘is the current approach of cognitive neuropsychology really helping us to understand the human mind?’ The experience was amusing, engaging and students became surprisingly passionate, despite the random assignment to groups. Although, knowing psychology, this is should be hardly surprising at all, (Tajfel’s minimal group paradigm, anyone?). Perhaps the surprising thing is that I was considering missing the class. But this is what I came to realise, being on exchange is fundamentally to experience education in another environment, a different style of teaching. I know, what a revelation right? However, I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking this; at least I like to believe so! For many students considering studying abroad, the most prominent and alluring factor is simply being in a different country. After, comes the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, maybe improve upon a language and of course, the shimmering prospect of endless travel. For a lot of students, studying is a ghostly afterthought and not something to really gain any enjoyment out of. Although I grumble and criticise the teaching here as not being comparable to what I know in the UK, I was actually really struck by how dynamic the methods are. An in-class debate in place of a lecture is not something you would usually see in psychology course outlines and being able to learn from your fellow classmates NOT through mundane and repetitive presentations is really refreshing.

While there’s plenty of wonderful and amazing times to be had travelling and living abroad, finding the fun in studying is not to be overlooked! Damn, why does this sound so nerdy.

Also, I now have periscope – follow me on there for occasional live broadcasts hah (@karmeli0n). Will this be the next big thing for ‘blogging’?

re: cantonese

Gwong Dung Whaaaat?

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Sitting on the bus just the other day, I was struck by how at home I felt. Surrounded only by people speaking Cantonese, it felt as comfortable as sitting on a bus in the UK. Having grown up with the language always in the background of my life, I guess it’s no surprise how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to life here. With Hong Kong’s colonial past and native roots from China, many people in the city are able to speak at least two or three languages. Sometimes that can be depressing, but putting my jealously aside for one second, it is SO impressive! In the UK, being able to speak English was quite enough. Here, with almost everyone I’ve met being bilingual, you do start to feel a little inferior, not to mention ashamed. I can blame my parents for not enforcing the second language growing up, or myself for foolishly not wanting to learn, there are so many ways to lay the blame, but that doesn’t help me today.

Actually, when I first came to Hong Kong I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed of not knowing the language fluently (aren’t you supposed to be Chinese?) and I was embarrassed of speaking it in public – for some reason it felt fraudulent. I know people say that locals love and appreciate it when you try to communicate using their language, but to me it feels offensive. During an inter-railing stop in Paris, I cringed internally every time my friends used ‘merci’ (guys, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!) Maybe ‘thank-you’ comes across as ignorant or stubborn, but I feel much more truthful saying it. This can probably be attributed to the amount of random people I’ve come across in my life who have ever uttered the words ‘ni hao/nei hou!’ to me -_-‘ please… do not do that. Similarly, it goes to say that people (i.e waiters/waitresses) here also do not have the patience to listen to you rattle out your awkward Canto. My exchange friends have told me of their experiences where they got scolded for not knowing the correct word or not fully understanding (note, these people have a far better grasp of Cantonese than me!)

However, I’ve always heard it said that the best way to learn a language is to live abroad, to immerse yourself in the desired language and culture. Being surrounded by people speaking Cantonese, I can definitely say that being abroad is an enormous help. However, the problem is that many people are also able to speak English! It therefore becomes too easy to fall back on the language I’m most comfortable with in social situations – if I get asked a question in Cantonese on campus, my immediate instinct is to respond in English (must…resist). Taking Cantonese lessons helps to build upon my existing foundations (shaky though they are!) and it becomes easier for me to retrieve certain words from memory. I can optimistically say that I am able to perfectly understand roughly 90% of what is spoken to or around me, but when it comes to speaking it myself, somehow the words don’t come to mind. Maybe my problem is wanting to express myself exactly how I would in English, thus making it harder to construct sentences with the vocabulary I know. To combat this, I am regularly going to a Cantonese language exchange. As well as being a great way to practice speaking with locals, it’s also a wonderful way to meet new people as you’re paired with a different partner each time – plus everyone goes for dim sum after!

It took a trip to Japan to make me see how it truly feels to be living in a place where I do not know the language at all, to realise how familiar I am with Cantonese. Returning to Hong Kong actually felt like home, everything became understandable again! All in all, I do really want to become orally fluent, and hope that by the end of my study abroad period I am able to confidently say (maybe in Cantonese heh) that I am. Wish me luck!

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: cutting loose

All work and no play, you say?

Finally made it through the midterm period (∼celebrations all around∼) and I thought I would get down to documenting some of the places I’ve visited in Hong Kong so far. Armed only with knowledge gleaned from others, my initial ideas of Hong Kong were concerned with food, shopping and food. And whilst Hong Kong does fulfil my expectations in those arenas, there is so much more to discover!

 

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Holding the proverb, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ to be true, my first month into the exchange period was a hectic flurry, ticking off tourist destinations, experiencing just the surface of Hong Kong. I joined a hike organised by the university during orientation week, leading to the top of Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. Taking a trail starting straight from campus (so convenient!), the hike provided amazing views of the city throughout our ascent. Jarringly enough upon reaching the top, rather than finding a quiet, tranquil area to relax and enjoy the view, you’re coolly greeted by the 21st century in the form of a little shopping area filled with fast food restaurants, big brand chains and overpriced ice-cream! (~£4 for one scoop, hurts just thinking about it)

In a similar vein, visiting the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island felt like walking through some manufactured wonderland. Skipping the hike (this time!) and opting for the lazy efficient route via cable car, spectacular views were to be enjoyed, but for those interested, I would recommend pre-booking tickets and selecting the glass floor cable car for a really exciting ride! Once there, cheery elevator music is played through speakers while you browse the shops filled with souvenirs before eventually getting to the Buddha. Although impressive, knowing that it was only built in 1993 takes a bit away from the grandeur of it all – nowadays everything seems so easy and effortless, it’s hard to appreciate the labour and workmanship (of which I’m sure was hard and many hours) that went into constructing it. Nevertheless, there’s the Po Lin monastery nearby to check both the history and sacred-ness boxes as well as an infinity pool and fishing village which I unfortunately didn’t get to see, but is definitely on my list to come back and do!

Heading over to TST, I walked the Avenue of Stars and was grateful for my Hong Kong Cinema module as otherwise I would have been pree-ty clueless about most of the famous names and handprints on the walk. Saving this topic for another post, but I’ve come to realise how underappreciated and unaccredited Hong Kong cinema is in terms of influence – especially on Western cinema (side eyeing Scorsese here). More in this area includes the Hong Kong Museum of History, wherein I saw a very informative exhibition on the Han Dynasty as well as getting to view up close an extremely intricately made jade suit, that only members of the royal family were buried in. It’s funny how unaware we are about the history of other countries, and quite overwhelmingly depressing knowing there’s so much information out there that will never be learnt or even cross your mind. In contrast, the Hong Kong Space museum isn’t anything special. While I trust the information to be perfectly valid, it’s quite drab and in need of a renovation. Especially when comparing it to TeNQ, (Tokyo’s Space Museum) which utilised exciting cinematic technology to exhibit short films as well as presenting information in an engaging and interesting way – there’s a lab with scientists from Tokyo’s universities conducting research that you can peer into (if you like that sort of thing heh).

My most recent endeavour was a scenic bike ride starting from Tai Wai, going along the river and harbour to the Tai Po area, only to regain all those calories burned with all you can eat BBQ! Luckily for me, the route consisted of mainly flat terrain, making it an easy and relaxing cycle through rural parts of Hong Kong. It was so lovely to get away from the endless high rises in the centre and experience Hong Kong like a local – surprisingly this activity doesn’t attract many tourists, but is for sure the best thing I’ve done yet!

I’m cautious about viewing Hong Kong through rose-tinted glasses, but there’s certainly more depth to the city than I initially thought. So far, it seems like there’s everything you could ever want in one place, beautiful beaches and natural landscapes to explore/relax, then bustling shopping areas and nightlife to have fun/spend your student loans away. As time goes on, I am unexpectedly finding that I’m growing to love the city more than I had anticipated, making me question whether I could uproot myself from the comfort and familiarity of the UK to embrace the scary concept of working and living abroad for a while…