Rooftop Parties, Orientations and Temples

As prophesied in my previous post, a week or so of orientation, exploration and a large night out or two has occurred. Although, this being Hong Kong, not a second was dull and everything is noteworthy. Fortunately for the reader, I am not nearly organised, dedicated or sober enough to weigh this down with too much detail.

If you are new to Hong Kong, drinking, and desperate to show the combination off to friends and family back home via social media, you are on a rooftop. The roof terrace of the central IFC mall and the open-air top floor of a 5-star hotel being the elevated watering holes that I found myself in. The former, an ideal pre-drink location. Grab a few mates, hit up a 7/11, grab an assortment of Tsing Tao, Blue Girl and Skol and watch the Sun go down and the lights come on across Hong Kong Island and over the harbour to Kowloon. The latter, a more luxurious location with some stunning panoramic views and even more stunning drinks prices. Alas, if you can’t splash out and enjoy a boogie on the 50th floor of a premium hotel, you’re in the wrong Special Administrative Region. When not at altitude, the famous strips of Lan Kwai Fong and the hedonistic Wan Chai have been the main places of business for myself and the thousands of other boozy exchange students, ex-pats and locals looking for a good time.

My international posse of fellow freshmen and I have eaten out pretty much every day/night since getting here, and the food is so consistently impressive and I have become so desensitised to it that it all blends into one continuous, never-ending path of deliciousness. That being said, one dining institution will stick in my head until the day I die. That is the snappily named Foosung Street Temporary Cooked Food Hawker Bazaar. A sort of tent that we invaded one night, filled with mismatched table and chairs flung together to form some cohesive structure, menus printed on the tarpaulin-like material that formed the walls and nothing but a transparent plastic sheet separating us from the hectic, smokey kitchen filled with sweaty men, guts on show, fags on the go, frantically whipping up some of the tastiest food I have ever eaten in my life. We ordered everything: goose, shrimp, beer, noodles, fish, beer, rice, beef, beer. It was flawless and came to around the same price per head as a British McDonalds meal. The presence of drunk groups of locals taking shots, shouting and swearing only added to the ambiance and made me feel substantially less like a loutish British tourist.
10/10: Will go again, must go again.

I just typed a lengthy description of the HKU campus before realising I’d written an almost identical description in my last post. Evidently, I am still impressed. I have been back and forth in the last week for orientations. It’s great to meet fellow exchange students from all over the world, studying inside and outside my faculty, as well as some of the lecturers I may encounter. I am pleased with the classes I was able to choose and am eager to get going with some history, art history, Cantonese, philosophy, politics and journalism. Studying can seem like a chore when I’m in the thick of it, but it really doesn’t take long before I start missing it. The contact and workload is looking a lot higher here than at Southampton, but the fact that I only need to pass should take the pressure off and allow me to focus as much on enjoying Asia, as work. It was reassuring to hear from my faculty dean that he believes grades and attendance are only a small part of studying abroad – especially in Hong Kong. That line may come back to haunt him when he tries to call me out on my absenteeism and poor grades. I enjoyed an introductory talk from the British Consulate which boiled down to ‘don’t lose your travel documents’ and ‘don’t get arrested’. I’ll remember this the next time I use my passport as currency to buy heroin.

Exploration has been a key theme since I landed and I have spent a lot of time walking, training, busing and tramming from place to place, wandering aimlessly, taking in the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Hong Kong. Today’s excursion to Chi Lin Nunnery and Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple was one of the best yet and Chi Lin is certainly one of the most beautiful places I have ever traveled to. The tranquil Nan Lian gardens surrounding the main temple is a Classical Chinese garden consisting of plants, trees, ponds and water features, rocks, and pavilions. One pavilion was dedicated to Chinese architecture and I was blown away to see intricate scaled-down replicas of famous Chinese buildings and to learn how their ingenious methods of engineering, design and carpentry allowed them to built huge palaces, that could weather earthquakes, storms and survive for thousands of years, completely out of timber. The Chi Lin temple itself was just as moving. The stunning architecture of the buildings, the grandeur of the huge golden Buddha statues, the natural beauty of the lily ponds and flora, the smell of incense and the comforting sounds of Buddhist chanting is enough to make even a hard-headed skeptic feel spiritual. The juxtaposition between this and the surrounding skyscrapers of banks, insurance companies and luxury apartments made it even more unique and incredible. You will not find a Chi Lin anywhere else in the world. Ironically, in this pocket of tranquility I lost all sense of time and location, and could have been anywhere in the world. I couldn’t help but feel slightly deflated when I returned back to the world of trains, cars and Starbucks.

All in all, a fantastic time courting Hong Kong. Now onto second-base for some school and rugby.

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