Navigating Hong Kong
When I arrived in Hong Kong, groggy and jet-lagged from the travel, I was overwhelmed by the experience of being in a completely new and foreign place.
As someone from Minnesota attending the University of Minnesota, I had never had the experience of truly and completely being in an unknown place. While there have certainly been areas around the Cities that I’ve discovered and gotten to explore more as a student at university, the area has always been familiar, the people friendly and willing to help with just a quick question.
Arriving in Hong Kong, however, despite having stared at a map for a while trying to familiarize myself with the geography of the region, I simply did not know where I was relative to anything or where I was trying to go. Luckily, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology arranged buses to pick the exchange students up from the airport when we arrived, but my proudest accomplishment was finding my sense of place in Hong Kong and learning to navigate by bus, minibus, MTR, taxi, or walking.
Learning to do so gave me the freedom to make Hong Kong my own and to easily explore its vibrant neighborhoods. It was difficult the first couple weeks or so, trying to navigate around the city which is so much larger than Minneapolis and St. Paul and with such extensive transit services, especially during the lunar new year festivities when there were even more people than usual travelling around the city. It also took a while to understand and appreciate travelling via those speedy little minibuses, although as a foreigner knowing no Cantonese when I arrived, I would simply hope someone else would request my stop until my roommates took it upon themselves to teach me the basics. With that simple phrase mastered, the city was truly mine to traverse.
I loved the opportunity to explore Hong Kong — to see the nearly endless skyscrapers, hike the mountains, and enjoy the sea view from campus. With the wonderfully efficient MTR system and extensive bus service areas, all of Hong Kong was mine to explore: the shiny and tall office buildings in Central, the designer shops and Museums in Tsim Sha Shui, the touristy markets like in Stanley and Mong Kok, the everyday markets and malls near every MTR stop, the impeccably maintained hiking trails, all the bubble tea shops and dim sum options, and of course, all the temples. I loved the juxtaposition of traditional Chinese buildings and shops with the older, clearly British influenced buildings and the ubiquitous skyscrapers. I loved how the skyscrapers themselves were pretty, painted with fun designs or splashes of color to spice up the neighborhoods. I loved discovering the touristy places and hidden gems my local roommates told me about, and I enjoyed sharing with them beautiful places I found that they hadn’t heard about. I loved that despite the small land area of Hong Kong, it was full of things to do, places to explore, breath-taking views, and its own indescribable energy so different than that here. I loved getting to know Hong Kong and getting to be a part of it.
Studying in Hong Kong made me realize how exciting and intensely interesting the whole region can be. It instilled in me a powerful desire to go back and travel everywhere.