By Nooa Karlo (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
It took me a long time to start writing this text, which goes to show how busy I have been with various things after arriving. I have been in Hong Kong for well over a month now, since I arrived on the 10th of January. The beginning was quite hectic, especially because I did not yet have my student visa and therefore could not register as a student or apply for a student card. On top of that I had to complete alternative assignments for my Manchester modules all throughout January, and this was a major drain on my energy levels. To be fair though, I spent more energy on worrying about being able to complete everything properly than actually working, like always. Fortunately I could at least register for and attend classes, which promptly began on the 15h of January. And despite some difficulties with paperwork, everything turned out just fine in the end: I received my student visa quite swiftly about a week after my arrival. In order to activate it, I also visited Macau on the 24th of January. It was such a beautiful and welcoming place. Although the thing that often stands out when people describe Macau is the massive gambling industry (which produces ten times more revenue than its Las Vegas counterpart), I personally found the history and architecture to be more in line with my own interests. Due to its history as a Portuguese colony, the buildings and streets emitted a very European vibe. Yet at the same time, Chinese culture was everywhere, from language to Buddhist temples. The vegetation, of which there was plenty in the less concrete-filled parts of the city, also betrayed the city’s geographic location. All in all, I would definitely recommend that anyone spending more than a few days in Hong Kong make at least short day trip to Macau. The ferry tickets are cheap, it takes less than an hour to travel from HK to Macau, and the time spent there will definitely be worth it.
But perhaps I should say something about Hong Kong as well, and the university. It took me surprisingly little time to get used to the huge high-rise buildings towering above wherever I walked, or the seemingly infinite crowds that inevitably form when people in a city of over 7 million inhabitants go Saturday shopping. Considering that my home country Finland has a population density of 16 people per km2, and Hong Kong one of 6500 people per km2, I’m a just little bit proud of myself for not getting overwhelmed. That does not mean that I’m completely at home yet; I still find myself getting confused and occasionally lost because of the vertically oriented city planning, or wondering where the people who live on the 20th floor find the courage to hang their laundry out to dry on those small racks right under their windows. I wonder if there are any native Hongkongers who suffer from a fear of heights.
Similarly, the university campus (or the Main and the Centennial campuses, which are the most central) initially caused me many headaches. It was probably the first time in my life I have encountered a conglomeration of buildings that appears so complicated from the outside, yet is so incredibly simple to navigate once you’ve managed to capture its general layout in your spatial memory. In other words, once I had continually got lost during the first four times or so I visited the campuses, I never got lost again. Or maybe it’s safer to say I haven’t got lost since. We may have to return to that statement next time I need to find a building I haven’t visited yet. In any case, the university is very modern and beautiful, and I find just walking around the buildings or sitting on any of the numerous benches scattered around in close proximity to small garden-like pockets of greenery a pleasant way to spend time while avoiding my readings. Funny that hanging out next to a lecture hall could be so relaxing. The modules I’m taking are great though, so the studying itself is also fun at times. All in all the only complaint I have so far is that I haven’t had enough time to explore everything Hong Kong has to offer, but fortunately I still have about three months left. Plenty of time to explore and plenty of time to experience more.