The word rings with promise of a jaunty, jangling circuity of pure machinery meet mankind. The city delivers the full package of the terrible and terrific of the Asian cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Upon arrival after a harrowing 15 hour plane ride next to a small-bladdered infant, the plane forced a hackneyed landing into the HKU international terminal. Visa passed and baggage claimed, I proceeded into arrival area B…where I failed to rendezvous with my friend Tsz Sum. Instead, I managed to miss her by 5 minutes, and book a MTR one-way through Airport Express. After a speedy journey through the MTR line (without wifi), I talked a rather neurotic taxi driver into taking me to my dorm. He asked me, an English major, if I had “the cash money?” …& I quote. I managed to accept a hastily pulled RMB 100, exasperatedly gathered change, and proceeded to stand lost underneath the neon lights of Simon K.Y. Lee’s mini 7-Eleven, two bags in tow. Of course, none of the local guys offered a helping hair, let alone hand. After scrounging for some advice to get to my dorm, I managed to obtain directions in halting English. Fortunately, David from New York, another exchange student, led me to the front door.
Of course, the school acknowledged my suggestion that I would stay at Tsz Sum’s apartment. Thus, I had no room available that night. They let me into room 113 temporarily with Elyssa from Norway. With free wifi and a willing temp roomie’s phone, I managed to call Tsz Sum nearly two hours after our planned meet up. Relieved, she came to pick me up. After forcing our way through the red line MTR system with two suitcases, we finally arrived, safe and sound, at Tsz Sum’s.
The next few days were filled with errands, shopping, and meeting friends, both new and old. I live in a triple with a roomie from Cali and Manchester UK. Both are fantastically chill girls, and I couldn’t ask for better roommates. Albeit small, the dorm is cozy, with shower stalls on both sides of the hall, a shared pantry, and small toilet. (Yes, they say toilet here, not bathroom). There’s a button to press for hot water in the shower room, where you must wait a preliminary 10 minutes for a heated shower. After a busy first day running around with Tsz Sum and Vix at New Place Plaza shopping mall, I managed to get to IKEA, buy a new phone and SIM card, visit Sasa, multiple 7-Eleven’s, Mannings, Bonjour, and other stores for necessities. We also had fabulous, traditional Hong Kong style dessert at Honeymoon Restaurant after delicious Japanese Udon with fried dumplings. I had Mango Grass Jelly…yum. No hangout can be complete without a photoshoot, so we tackled Snoopy’s World outdoors. All the while, we were fascinated by the two-story level escalators…attributing it all to “Asian know-how.” Despite our extreme efficiency, we just missed establishing a bank account at HSBC by five or ten minutes. My initial impressions of Hong Kong were harried but incredibly fun in a dire, materialistic way.
My next few days are a bit of a blur, invested in getting to know the 2nd Floor girls at PM residence, getting documents for the university, and grocery shopping. Tsz Sum managed to let me borrow or bring me to places where I could buy everything necessary to survive a semester abroad. What a blessing! The girls and I explored local restaurants the next day after Orientation. Well, not necessarily after orientation…technically, we ditched the second half of orientation after our “break.” Then, after turning in registration documents and the Ming Wah canteen, we rejoined the Exchange pack for a second lunch. That Friday, the unlucky 13th, left us all exhausted. However, we managed to perk up enough to explore Lan Kwai Fong nightlife. We had a delicious dinner at Tsui Wah, where they’re famous for condensed milk toast. I shared a half of that, along with Spicy fish balls and vermicelli in fish soup. The following adventures were entertaining but painful. Suffice to say, heels on extremely hilly terrain and three creepy young, British uni exchange guys do NOT mix well. A certain Indian-British guy had the audacity to cover my ears as he, presumably, talked about me to his friend. After several hours of confusion and attempted fun metered by booming bass, we headed home. Sharing laughs about the ridiculously desperate guys, the Canadians, the Swede, and the Chicagoan limped home. Well, I limped home – I’m pretty sure the Steve Madden red suede heels I bought damaged nerves in my left toes…
Intent on finding exercise possibilities, we spent Saturday looking for a Dim Sum place and travel agency. After a delicious brunch on Aberdeen, we went to two travel agencies in Central. We decided on Thailand as a destination (though we didn’t find out about the Lebanese terrorist threats until later). Note from the now wary traveler – book flights months in advance…and especially not during Chinese New Year. The night was spent hiking along the Reservoir Road up to the Peak, a favorite of both locals and tourists alike. The path, ill-lit and sequestered, left me spooked after a certain floormate screamed bloody murder next to my ear, causing me to jump nearly out of my skin. Needless to say, I walked rather speedily up the incline. Our workout complete, we rejoiced by the elevated, boat-shaped building on top of the Peak. Yes, it was a shopping center. This is Hong Kong, remember? We had a fobby Korean boy take our photo and had dinner at Tsui Wah’s again. I had spicy fish paste puffs with vermicelli, along with a iced mint chocolate coffee drink. Waiting for the tram down the Peak, we watched this little old man hobble around, attempting to sell dancing soda cans. My friends and I felt so bad for him, we wanted only to give him some money so he would stop dancing around, such a pitiful sight. He left as we neared the tram.
Arriving at the bottom of the Peak in Central, we decided to walk back to our dorm in HKU. Not a good idea. Nearly 40 minutes and an underground walkway later, we stumbled into our hall entranceway. A speedy shower left us clean and groping for our bunk beds. We felt tired, satisfied, and completely cool. You know, in a stuck-up exchange sort of way…it was pretty awesome.
Today, I attended Island ECC with two other friends in Quarry Bay. Testimony Sunday left me convicted of God’s perfect will and unending grace. The service sped by, and we were curious about an upcoming conference regarding relationships. Afterwards, one of my friends and I attempted to wait for a noodle shop in IFC, but settled for good ol’ Mickey D’s and a bite of Haagen Daz, creme brulee. After booking a flight to Thailand for the Chinese New Year break, we went to Queen Mary’s Hospital for a bite of dinner. Yes, you heard me, THE HOSPITAL. They actually have better food than our nearby restaurant, Bayview. Craziness, I know, yet the interior of this HK hospital restaurant outranks most dining halls in U.S. dorms. Streamlined with beautiful lighting, the canteen even had a place for gourmet orders.
About ready to make a quick grocery stop later, I’m left wanting more of HK. Endlessly epicurious, I’m excited for a semester worth’s chance for new, challenging food possibilities. Ready to pick classes tomorrow morning, I’m anticipating travel as a source of knowledge more than the classroom. Every step leads me into an entire labyrinth of newfound guts, glory, and gorgeous sights. I’m thoroughly exhilarated and simultaneously scared witless. Leaping headfirst, life lends itself full force. Nothing left to do but dive in.