One VERY important thing about Hong Kong (or at least to me) is the abundance of tasty food. No matter where you go in Hong Kong, there will always be a place near by (or in most cases right next to you) where you’ll be able to get a bite to eat. Due to Hong Kong being the economic hub of Asia, many people of many different ethnicity come to Hong Kong and bring with them their cuisine. Whether you’re a Malay, Singaporean, or even a Nigerian, there’s a restaurant making food from home. Heck, there were even Halal restaurants, and quite a few of them. (and I must say the kebab was pretty good). My top pick has to be the Japanese ramen restaurant Ichiban, which would consistently have a line outside longer than ten people. If you’re homesick, there’ll always be a McDonald’s right around the corner, but most local food is actually cheaper and tastier. Speaking of tasty, dessert in Hong Kong is pretty darn good. A lot of the desserts are fruit-based and primarily consist of fruit in some form, so you don’t have to feel guilty when eating a lot. I know I sure didn’t! Now: some food photos!
Culture in Hong Kong is very unique in that it is a product of colonization, creating a hybrid of Chinese and English culture. Also, due to having economic wealth earlier, it tends to be a lot more “civilized” in the Western sense of the word. It tends to be cleaner than the other large cities in mainland China and less polluted. Well, that and a lot less people using the restroom in public, which I had only seen twice in Hong Kong and both were little boys (nothing like the split pants for toddlers in mainland China). Although most toilets are normal Western-style toilets (albeit a bit smaller) there are squat toilets (which I had the misfortune of running into a few times). One piece of culture that people seem to be confused about are people wearing the health masks. People in Hong Kong wear them when they’re sick so they don’t get others sick. This is also practiced in Mainland China as well as other Asian countries like Japan.
Like other Asian countries, people in Hong Kong are more group-oriented rather than individualistic, and the thoughts and ideas of their peers play a more important role in how they think in comparison to western society. Rarely does anyone speak up when someone is being noisy during a lecture, but when I’ve told someone to quiet down, they did, but took it more harshly than someone in the West would. Dressing up is a big thing in Hong Kong. No matter where you go (regardless of it it’s finals week or not), everyone dresses up. The only time you really see someone in shorts and a shirt or a hoodie is either in the dorm or at the gym, something I rather preferred to the average American college student’s style of dress. Another important thing is that filial piety (respecting your elders) is extremely important and one is expected to give up a seat on the train or bus for an elderly person or go out of their way to help the elderly. This mindset is prevalent in the majority of Asia, not just in HK.
Last week is what is known as “Revision Week” here at St Andrews. It’s basically Dead Week at Purdue, minus that whole having class thing. Which means I had a whole week free dedicated to studying for my three finals that are coming up. Instead of cracking open all my notes on British History and Ancient Israel, I cracked open my wallet and bought an overnight bus ticket to London. I spent 5 days roaming around London getting to experience it at my own pace. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made studying abroad. Not only did I get to take a nice break from academics, but I got to do it in a city I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a little kid.
Now that I’m back in St Andrews, still not studying, I wanted to share my tips on visiting London with y’all.
- Buy an Oyster Card
- If you plan on using the Tube at all, you will have to purchase an Oyster card from inside any of the stations. It is a thin plastic card that you load money onto for your subway fares. The card is way faster than trying to pay for each individual journey separately and it gets you a cheaper rate. You “top up” the card in three ways. You can add more money to it with your credit card via a machine in the station, pay cash to a teller, or with a card online. It cost about £2.10 for a single journey in central London. If you go outside what they call Zone 1, it will be a bit more.
- Ask for Student Price
- A student price is sometimes called the Concession price. I thought they were talking about snacks for the longest time, but its actually just the cheaper enter rates. At all things that aren’t free to do in London, ask if they have a student price. 8/10 times they will (The Globe Theater does. The London Eye doesn’t). You’ll just have to flash your student ID and you will save a couple £££. It doesn’t hurt to ask at retailers too. Some shops will have a 10% student discount.
- Go places early!
- “Go Ugly Early” isn’t just for Harry’s. After a late night out about in the city, you might want to sleep in past 9am, but don’t do it. To save time, get to big tourist spots early in the day so you won’t waste time in the long queues (lines). My guidebook said the average wait time for the London Eye was one hour. By going early I spent an hour total at the London Eye. That included a short wait to buy my ticket too. On the other hand, I decided to go to the Natural History Museum in the mid afternoon and had to queue for a half hour just to get inside and another 30 minutes to see the dinosaur exhibit.
- Get to know the people in your hostel
- Because I went solo I figured the only time I would get to speak to someone was when I was buying something. Not true at all. The girls that I met in the hostel where great! There was Rachel and Ragen from Ireland, a super sweet Brazilian girl whose name I never caught, Amber also from Ireland, two German girls, and the two Maria’s from Greece. Not all of these girls where at the hostel at the same time, but they all were some of the nicest people I’ve met here in the UK. We would share advice about what was interesting to see in the city, how to get some place, where the best shopping was, ect ect ect. Amber and I even teamed up one day and walked around the city. She took me to the British Library and I took her to Kings Cross. Because of the girls I met in the hostel, my London experience was that much better.
I hope these can help you out if you ever plan on visiting London or anywhere you travel. Sadly, I’ve actually got to study now for my finals.
BOUNS TIP: Don’t be afraid to travel alone! I was, but seriously being on my own in London was an amazing experience. You can read what I wrote about traveling alone over on my own blog.
Like the last post, this post is gonna be a little more in the vein of entertainment. Just recently, I went to Macau for a day trip. It’s about an hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong and in many ways is quite similar. Like Hong Kong, it had been a colony of a European state (Portugal) and had been returned to China in 1999 (2 years after Hong Kong was returned) . Macau is now known for casinos. Big ones. Quite a bit of Macanese land is covered in casino property and is the main draw for tourists.
Upon arrival, I noticed that many of the signs had Portuguese on them, an outward sign of being a former colony. Riding a bus into the city I noticed it was very clean and everything was glitzy and elegant. Most of the cars were luxury cars and many people were dressed well. Seeing these initial images really shows why so many people come here. Well that and because it’s the “Las Vegas of the East” (despite actually being bigger) and having a lot of hype can boost the people coming. Other than casinos, there really isn’t much to do other than shop, eat, and see its old colonial period architecture ( which isn’t too much due to Macau being so small). Macau is also know for hosting automotive events and concerts and I was here for the former. I’d come to see the first exhibition of Japanese D1 drifting and I wasn’t let down. Seeing tuned Japanese cars going sideways at high speeds and I even caught a shirt on of the drivers threw into the audience. All in all I had a good time, although I did not gamble due to being underage (and not really wanting to) despite being able to walk into and through casinos (like The Venetian) without being carded simply because I “looked” 21 or older. Anyway, it was an interesting place, but if you don’t gamble or party, you’ll only need a couple of days to see the whole place.
There are definitely perks to living in one of the biggest cities in the world. Trying new food, meeting new people, going cool places. The list goes on, but what I’d like to highlight is the opportunity to go to so many concerts in one place. A few weeks ago Bieber was (sadly) in the area, The Killers and Matchbox Twenty were here a few months ago, Best Coast was here a week ago, and there will be a huge music festival where Franz Ferdinand and Metric will be performing. I got the opportunity to see the Danish band Mew (who I’ve really liked for the past 3 or 4 years) and the up-and-coming American band Wild Nothing. I honestly had never thought I’d get to see Mew in concert and I’d actually found out only a day before that it was even happening (thank God for the City U of HK International/Exchange student Facebook group!) The concert was great, with the opening band Wild Nothing doing pretty well, reminding me a bit of both The Killers and The Smiths. When Mew came on, though, it got awesome. They’re a normally chill-sounding band when you listen to their studio albums, but they were something else live. They played some of my favorite songs, people were singing along, and surprisingly there were quite a few big Mew fans in Hong Kong, with many locals bringing their CDs to be signed, as well as the free posters many got. I must say, it was an awesome experience and I’m pumped to see Franz Ferdinand at the end of the month as well.
As most of us native Hoosiers know (and anyone who has been at Purdue long enough to witness all four seasons), Mother Nature answers to no one. This I’ve discovered hasn’t changed with me switching continents. Here in Scotland, she is as ever indecisive as she is in Indiana. It is almost impossible to predict what weather gear you are going to need on any giving day. Watching the forecast is a good place to start, but be careful the weather man lies. Even if there is a 0% chance of rain that day and you see a grey cloud in the sky, be prepared to get wet. My phone app, I’ve just realized, only gives me the actual temperature and not what it feels like with the wind chill. I have walked outside one too many times thinking I’ll be fine in a warm sweater just to have to run back into my room for my coat. Thankfully, I have it on good authority that it doesn’t get as cold here as it does in Indiana (a lady in the study abroad office used to work at that crimson and creme school in Indiana), but it is still pretty cold on the days it does hit below the freezing point. Anyway I wanted to share a short list of weather supplies you can’t survive in St Andrews without:
- Rainboots/Waterproof shoes
- Some people might tell you that you can get by without a good pair of rain boots, but I’m here to say they are wrong. I tried to survive Scotland without rainboots, but its impossible. You will need a pair of rain shoes. Male or female, if you don’t want to be constantly shoving newspaper into your shoes trying to dry them out. You don’t necessarily need to pack them because you can find a good pair in stores pretty cheap. I think I got mine for 20 quid when I was in Glasgow a few weeks ago. They have made my life considerably happier. Wet socks are the worst.
- Unless you want to be chilly in lectures, bring or plan on picking up some warm sweaters. I suggest wool if you aren’t allergic. A lot of the classrooms and lecture halls here in St Andrews can be pretty drafty. I have a tutorial in a professor’s office and even sitting beside his space heater I freeze without a sweater! Even my own room can get chilly because the heating is only one during certain hours of the day to save energy.
- Fleece Jacket and Heavy Coat
- This one seems the most obvious of this list, but I actually came to Scotland without either of these things. I accidentally left my fleece at home and I didn’t want to have to deal with packing a heavy coat. Fleece jackets don’t seem to be quite as popular here. I don’t see them in stores much, but bring one to help fight the chill off! A winter coat is also a no brainer. If you are like me and don’t want to worry about dragging on all the way here there are some great stores that carry nice, warm winter coats. I bought one for about 70 pounds from a local store and I couldn’t be happier with it. It is the warmest coat I think I’ve ever owned.
- You should always have in your bag a hat, a pair of gloves, and an umbrella. I’ve had it start raining on me when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The temperature is in flux all day so you never know when a big wind will kick up with a cold bite to it. And if the sun does decided to stick its head out from behind the clouds, you can always put your accessories back into your bag. Better safe than sorry.
- Socks have been the plight of my existence here in Scotland! I don’t know what it is, but every time I leave St Andrews I’ve had to buy more socks. You can ask my traveling buddies and they will let you know that cold feet are my biggest complaint. My feet freeze here! Make sure to bring nice thick socks, not just thin athletic ones. I promise your toes will thank you (and your wallet).
While it does seem pretty basic and obvious to bring these things with you on a Scottish Adventure, I didn’t. I’ve had to buy at least one of everything on this list since I got here. Albeit I only picked up another hat because it was on sale for a pound in the grocery store. Leave your shorts and tank tops at home. Even on the off days in September when it did hit the mid 60s, it wasn’t warm enough for them. In all just make sure you are prepared for what ever the weather decides to throw your way, because after all you don’t want your study abroad experience to be defined by freezing feet and soggy clothing (which mine some days has unfortunately been).
A few weeks ago I had traveled the the the island of Cheung Chau, a few miles south of Hong Kong. It took a 45 minute ferry ride to get there and the ride itself was pretty calm and provided a nice view of the other islands south of Hong Kong. I’d been convinced by my friends we were going for a simple day at the beach, so I’d worn flip-flops and trunks. I’d been sadly mistaken. What we ended up doing was more akin to hiking, if anything, and would have been fine if I wouldn’t have worn flip-flops. Despite that mistake, it was a nice, quaint island with good food, beautiful scenery, and plenty of little shops and restaurants to visit.
The island was very hill, but had beautiful coast line and some old cannons left behind by pirates. There was even a small hideout cave you could crawl through to get from one side to the other (although it was nearly too small for me and very dark).
There was swimming involved, but only for about 5 minutes and I cut my feet pretty badly on some underwater rocks. Overall, I was glad to get back to my bed that night. Beautiful sights, but a rough day.