Field Study Trip Part 2: Hong Kong

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After a five-star hotel breakfast and our company visit to Xiangxue Pharmaceutical Co., we headed to the Kowloon-Canton Railway for Hong Kong. For some reason, I couldn’t grasp the fact that the train ride would only take 2.5 hours. The idea of Hong Kong lying just off the coast of mainland China—adjacent to Shenzhen and Guangzhou—challenged my preconceived notions of the city being geographically isolated. The train was fairly standard—maybe a bit fast compared to the trains I’ve taken (thanks, Amtrak), minus the Wi-Fi.

The coolest part of the ride was seeing the change in geography as we moved toward the coast. Guangzhou seemed like many 21st century Chinese landscapes: modern, curiously designed, neon-lit buildings, yellow scaffolds everywhere, with parks, museums, clean city squares, and pollution. But after a certain point, green, mountainous terrain replaced the remnants of Guangzhou’s sprawl. These differences in geography parallel many other differences that exist between Hong Kong and mainland urban centers.

Since deciding to come to China, people have told me that Shanghai was a “good choice” because English is common in daily life. And since arriving in Shanghai, I can say that, for the most part, this is true. One can safely navigate the subway system, read the menus of downtown restaurants, and understand TV advertisements in the back of taxis without being proficient in Chinese. But right after arriving in Hong Kong, it became clear that Shanghai pales in comparison. A formerly British colony, every street sign, advertisement, and menu had grammatically correct English translations. More people spoke it, too.

Having spent the last few months scrambling to learn Mandarin, I was also relieved to learn that many Hong Kongers have proficiency.

Besides the English, Hong Kong is remarkably more international than Shanghai. While I enjoy being a foreigner in Shanghai more than many, I didn’t like being gawked at on the subway or being the only white person in a restaurant. This never happened in Hong Kong. 

Shortly after arriving, we boarded a bus that took us to our trendy youth hostel for a short rest. From there, we headed to an Islamic Center for what was perhaps the most delicious dinner I’ve had on this side of the globe. I think the purpose of the trip was to show us the size of China’s Muslim population—which is surprisingly large. Also, since many regulars at the center are Arab, the visit was a testament to Hong Kong being home to many non-ethnically Chinese.

We ended the night at The Peak. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Hong Kong’s skyline from anywhere besides Victoria Harbour, chances are it was taken here. The roller coaster to the top was almost as cool as the view itself: the track navigates through tightly squeezed buildings that look sideways for most of the ride up! The humidity that clouded parts of the view made it even more stunning.

My favorite part of the trip was a visit to the Tian Tan Buddha, an enormous statue of a Sakyamuni Buddha. The statue is on Lantau Island, quite a distance from downtown Hong Kong. To get to the statue, you have to take a 15-minute gondola ride that showcases the lush and rolling hills that surround the city. The air smelled strongly of flowery incents. Walking towards the Buddha, I realized that pictures did no justice to its massive size. There it was—hundreds of tons of bronze atop roughly 300 steps—jutting out from the side an even higher mountain.

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