All good things come to an end

 

I completed my final exams, turned in reports. Cleaned my side of the cubicle and packed my life into a backpack. Bid farewell to dear friends I`ve made and wished professors all the best. Finally I handed in my student id-card and key card to the Halls. Holding a train ticket to Guilin, I crossed the border to China and felt empty. This was it, my exchange. 5 months goes so extremely fast.

I know I will encounter numerous questions about Hong Kong in future, what would I reply?

It is hard to name single thing that I like about Hong Kong.

Sight-wise there are far better places to visit. Hong Kong has its skyscraper skyline and unique culture, but not a single outstanding sight like Eiffel Tower or Sydney Opera House which are instantly associated to the city.

However, when I’ve told that I am studying in Hong Kong the reaction has always been utterly positive. It is the overall ambiance of the city which makes Hong Kong outstanding place. Not before travelling to Mainland China did I realize the powerful impact of colonialist era in  Hong Kongs culture; the perfect combination of east and west.

The locals speak English, the public transportation is simply put, magnificent. Everything is close-by, nevertheless one will always discover something new in this city of 7 million inhabitants. It is so diverse; Mongkok with its numerous markets is very Chinese, when Soho on the other hand could be located to London or New York. In the New Territories one can witness a farmer taking care of  his  waterbuffaloes, this sight could easily enough be from Laos.

I feel privileged in having had to change to call Hong Kong my home for 5 months, and with a heavy heart, I leave the city behind. Farewell fragrant harbour, hopefully we will meet again.

 

Victoria Harbour

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Passing time


I have been extremely busy for the last week; semester is coming to an end, time to give presentations and hand in reports. Also, my family is coming to visit me this Friday so I do my best to wrap up as much as possible before that.

I realized that I haven’t really written anything about actually living in here. I`m not referring to the physical surroundings, but to the day-to-day routines one is bound to generate even though living in a suitcase. So here we go!

I wont lie to you. After sleeping, my most time consuming activity is studying (boring, ain’t it). Before coming here I thought I would take it easy and chill. Well that certainly didn’t happen. In PolyU`s faculty of tourism studying equals group work. Nothing new to me, same situation back at JAMK. But when working in a group with the locals I really have to give my 110%. My fellow local students are like machines; diligent, hard working, flawless. I am amazed how they are able to cite from word to word journal articles, professors, slides, whatever.

I had 3 presentations last week and the method of delivering the result is pretty different from Finland. Dress-code: suit. Power Point: mandatory. Slides: the more the merrier. Eventually, my Urban Tourism group had to present 50 slides in 25 minutes. Do the math.

Apart from studying, another key factor in exchange is going out. I`m not necessarily referring to partying, but other activities that involves experiencing the culture. But since I mentioned partying, Hong Kong is not the cheapest place for that. However, coming from Finland, the wonderful country of taxes, one really cant complain. The fun-zones are located in the Hong Kong Island; Lang Kwai Fong, Soho and Wan Chai. To be honest, I haven’t been to truly local pastime place. The ones that I have discovered are very cross-cultural and international and could be located in any cosmopolitan city.

Shopping. That is probably the most widely exercised activity in the Hong Kong islands. Millions and millions of Mainland Chinese tourist flood the city every year for material indulgence. And what a great place to shop it is! Everything from high-end designer products to cheap copycats sold in side street markets. Do not forget the bird market, flower market and antique market.. Sure, there are cheaper places in the world but Hong Kong has everything one might possibly need packed compactly along few shopping districts.

Hiking. Quite unusual, eh? Hong Kong is surprisingly hilly and lush. Hidden beaches, steep mountains and long paths that lead to undiscovered locations. The urban jungle takes only a small proportion of the total land area (which obviously means that everything is very tightly packed together), when the real jungle takes the major. Hong Kongs weather is subtropical, so using the term “jungle” is not exaggerating. There are monkeys, pink dolphins (pink! imagine!), parrots and banana trees.

The most important and most popular pastime by far is eating. And no wonder, since the city is a perfect place for cuisine sampling. As one can presume, Asian cuisine is the most notable style of cooking recognized in the city. Also there are very good western places, which quite frankly are also very expensive. But since one is in Hong Kong, you really should try the oriental cooking anyway. There are thousands and thousands of possibilities. Quit amazingly, the most popular ones are not the fancy, neat and tidy ones. Quite the contrary, the places without tablecloth and food on the floor are most renovated and totally packed night after night.

Queing to restaurants is a new experience to me. It is more normal to queue than to walk straight in. Besides, the queue is there for a reason so the place is worth checking out. The culture also makes it possible for the queue system to function since the portions are prepared quickly and the locals eat (or more like wolf down) fast, pay and leave.

Also, eating alone is not unusual at all. Once I accompanied my local friends to a traditional restaurant, after queuing we were seated on a round table with one extra spot. A women in her thirties seated down, ordered and listened to our discussions. When her food arrived, she tuned right music from her ipod, put the earplugs on and started to eat. Afterwards I told my friends that I found the scene very strange. They on the other hand said that it is quite normal procedure.

Some of my favourite dishes are; pan-fried curry dumplings, pork dumpling dipped in vinegar-soy sauce mix, noodle soup wonton, sour noodle soup with pork belly and bamboo fungus (sounds disgusting but it is so good!), sweet pumpkin filled dumpling, noodles in spicy nut sauce.. yum yum.

Beverages. Milk tea landed to Hong Kong with the British, and has stayed. They even have a Milk Tea festival here, and I`ve been told that it is famous. However, mostly milk tea is not consumed as hot and from a china cup. Rather it is cold, in a huge plastic jar mixed with ice, jelly pearls and drank with a big straw. You can find a beverage stall from every major street. The menu is ridiculously long with at-least 25 different kind of drinks to choose from. Most of them are tea based, Taiwanese milk tea with black pearls (jelly pearls) being the most popular. My personal favourite is green tea drink seasoned with mango, served with a splash of whipped cream on top. And without those damned pearls.. I cant stand them, I find is very disgusting to suck up a straw a rubbery that is impossible to chew.

Long story short; the food is great, try everything. Even the pearls, maybe you will end up liking them.

Dim Sums

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Too good to be true

On my previous entry I described what it is like to live in the Halls of Residence, and mentioned the Hall Association who`s intentions are good but actions make them look like lunatics. My humble apologies, that comment was completely unjust and  I would like to re-phrase it;

They are all freaks

Why this outrageous accusation? Lets take a look at this neat email I received (along with all the other 3000 souls living here) today;

fish

I would be intrigued to know whether the fish was live or dead.


Halls of Residence

Previously I wrote about my room, so would be a natural continuation to tell something about living in this block I call home.

Before coming to Hong Kong, I wished that my room would be located on the top floors for the sake of.. well, being on the top now that I had a change (now now, don’t think anything nasty). I was mildly disappointed to learn that I would be spending my time in 13th floor, but after the first days I craved to live lower. Why? Because of the lifts.

There are 4 lifts operating; 1 stops at every even floor, 1 stops at every odd floor and 2 stops at every floor. Naturally, even floor lift does not stop at odd floor and vice verse. Lets throw in some digits. 17 floors (+ ground floor), approximately 176 students per floor and 3 elevators. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the outcome of this equation includes frustration, anxiety and rapid button smashing.

During the peak hours one ends up waiting the lift for quite a while. When you see the lift approaching, 17-16-15, enthusiasm starts to build in and when the doors finally open you are smirking like a kid in Christmas …only to discover that the lift is already full. If you still rudely squeeze yourself in, the elevator will stop at every – single – floor on the way down. Oh the joy when you have finally reached the ground floor and realize “Oh shoot, forgot my notes. Let me go and get them” Yep, see you in 10 minutes.

Every floor is named and have their own warden and hall association. I live in the Chengde Hall, and my warden is Professor Edwin Chan. The Hall Wardens task is declared to be; ” provide pastoral care to student residents and guidance to hall activities in the respective hall community.” Haven’t seen this chap Chan around providing his pastoral care, but instead have bumped in to the members of  Hall Association one too many times.

The Hall Association is group of students living in the particular hall who`s responsibility is to organize activities, events, sport competitions and so on. Being part of the team is totally voluntary and new association will be elected each year. To me it is mostly amusing to witness how whole-heartedly they have thrown themselves into this association. In such enthusiasm they organize events from Annual Apple celebrations (not standing for Steve Jobs`s new baby, but for the edible fruit) to Tug-of-War competitions.

One evening when I returned to the Student Halls around 4am (why this late hour is another story), I noticed a huge crowd in the common area/living-room of my floor. It was the weirdest situation; a Q&A session for the new Hall association nominees. There they sat behind a long table wearing their own uniforms, elabolatery answering audiences questions and telling how they will make the Chengde Hall a better place if they get elected. To make it even eerier, they had to stay put behind that table for 24 hours in a row, as an evidence of their commitment. Just to remind, I witnessed this scene 4 in the morning.

In Finland a situation like this would be handled bit differently, guess this could be compared to talonyhtiön kokous = housing cooperative meeting. The Finnish version would include sauna, alcoholic beverages, hugging and sharing with neighbours who you normally don’t even greet. But unlike in Finland, everyone in Chengde Hall were totally sober and dead serious.

Imagine that young people, who by all means should be living the best time of their lives, voluntarily sit 24 hours for the sake of organizing Annual Apple Celebration. And that is only the beginning, since after they get selected the real deal starts (for example, knocking on your door at 3pm to invite you to watch a basketball match the next morning). Yep, imagine.

To make this bit more interesting I`m going to throw in few pictures of the freaks, I mean people living in here (don’t get me wrong, they are wonderful but sometimes bit too hard to handle). Unfortunately, these shots weren’t taken by me.

kkk

tug-of-war

tug-of-war

Hall festival

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Mi Casa

The population density of Hong Kong is 6480/km2, which makes it the 4th most densely populated place in the world. In the fair city of Jyväskylä the population density is little bit less; 111,85 /km2. It is not too complicated to draw a conclusion that in Hong Kong  “Home” is understood bit differently from Finland. Therefore I would like to share with you my home away from home.

I live in University managed accommodation, quite fittingly called the Student Halls of Residence. The Halls are 22 stores high from which 17 floors are habitat by students. There are around total 3000 students living in the Halls, which makes it 176 people / floor.

I share a room in the 13th floor with my wonderful roommate from the Netherlands. I would say our “home” is roughly 18 square meters but amazingly enough both of us have our own bed, desk, bookshelf, closet and chair. In addition we have small fridge and the best view. We share our bathroom with two local girls, “toilet buddies”, who have a habit to sing Cantonese pop songs in the shower. The bathroom is located between the two rooms.

Okay, enough with the chit chat.

Prison? cmon...

IMG_3577

IMG_3579

The handsome gentleman in my bed is Andre Agassi. Nicole Kidman is observing.
The gentleman in my bed is Andre Agassi.
the kitchen

the kitchen

View from window towards the door. The old and rusty object in the middle is amanzgly enough NOT a piece of furtinure, that would be me. Hello.

View from window towards the door. The old and rusty object in the middle is amazingly enough NOT a piece of furniture, that would be me. Hello.

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Whole lotta skyscrapers

Skyscrapers are something that one is bound to encounter every single day when living in Hong Kong. Quite consequently, my hard drive is filled with pictures of these colossal multi-storey structures. So, I decided to share some of them with you.

Victoria Harbour at sunset. Terrific.

Victoria Harbour at sunset. Terrific.

Symphony of Lights. This lightshow takes place every evening at 8pm, and every night there is a huge audience.

Symphony of Lights. This light show takes place every evening at 8pm, and every night there is a huge audience.

Victoria Harbour yet again. Love it.

Victoria Harbour yet again. Love it!

From the Peak

From the Peak

On the front Lippo Tower and left Bank of China tower

On the front Lippo Tower and left Bank of China tower

Hong Kong Park

Hong Kong Park

On the left side is the boat of Jackie Chan, Jackie himself was hiding. Too bad.

On the left side is the boat of Jackie Chan, Jackie himself was hiding. Too bad.

This is from Macao, which happens to be the mostly densely populated area in the world. This is how they do it.

This is from Macao, which happens to be the mostly densely populated area in the world. This is how they do it.

Good old Kowloon.

Good old Kowloon.

IMG_2870

Last but certainly not the least is the view from my window. See the skyscraper in the distance? That would be the worlds tallest hotel. Quite nice, eh?

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Working hard (or hardly working?)

Lets talk about studying, cos that is the reason why I am in Hong Kong (right?).

I chose to apply to Hong Kong PolyU because the SHTM (School of Hotel and Tourism Management) is widely recognized as a very respected and valued institute. In 2009 Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research ranked SHTM as the second best academy in hospitality and tourism in the world. Quite nice, eh?

I was utterly baffled with the number of different courses one could choose. All these interesting topics that someone from JAMK could only dream about! Everything from Airline Management and Theme Park tourism. I would have wanted to take them all, but was advised to take 4 courses. This is the combo I came up with;

Convention and Venue Management

China Hotel and Tourism Development

Urban Tourism

Casino and Gaming Management

In addition I took the course Confucianism and Chinese Culture from another faculty, but lets concentrate on my tourism studies now. Here are few words from each of the courses.

Convention and Venue Management

My teacher Dr. Jones is true professional since he has made a long and successful career in the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) industry before becoming a teacher. We are taught about architect of venues, management issues, different types of conventions and so on and so fort. My groups project is to evaluate Venetian Macao as a convention venue. With this course I was able to go on a field trip to Singapore.

China Hotel and Tourism Development

How China`s tourism has developed and what factors have impacted the present day situation. Amazingly lot about history, I’ve learned how Tienanmen Square massacre/protest/incident (how ever one chooses to call it), Cultural Revolution, SARS, Hong Kong’s return to China, Tibet and 5 year plans have affected the country. My group project is about Cruise industry development on Changjiang river (more commonly know as the Yangtze river).

Urban Tourism

Dr. Kim from South-Korea is a very professional and he has the most peculiar opinions (lets put it that way). He enlightens us from all the aspects of Urban destinations, and if there is time left he is more than happy to show us his travel pictures. For this course my group project is to research about Melbourne as an urban destination and define new marketing strategy for the city, as well as do a variety of strategic analysis.

Casino and Gaming Management

Coolest course one could ever have, eh? (also the coolest professor, he has been to Antarctica 19 times. 19!!). Dr. Bauer tells us about gaming and gambling, mainly focusing on Asia, Australia and Las Vegas. Groups need to master designated table game and then teach it to other students. My group did black jack and poker, terrific and fun. For the actual group assignment we are making a development plan for a casino in the island of Hainan (China’s Hawaii, very up-coming so keep a close look at this one). Also there will be a field trip to horce races in April.

I already told something about Confucianism before, but what the heck. This course serves as a framework for everything else since with its aid I am able to understand the locals more every passing day  (something crucial when doing group work I would say). Challenging course, but very interesting. My teacher, Mr. King, is wonderful. Right from the beginning I thought that he resembles master Splinter (you know, the maroon gowned  sensei from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) with his soft voice, elegant gestures and vice words. Imagine my excitement when I learned that he has in fact lived in the United States for quite some time AND he has 2 sons. Now just have to figure out where the other two turtles, I mean sons, are.

Non of my courses are a simple walk in a park. They are time consuming, challenging and simply put – hard. But at the same time extremely interesting and rewarding. I feel privileged to be here to learn from these great professors and tutors,they share with me their outstanding knowledge and provide outside-the box thinking.

I`m glad I chose Hong Kong PolyU (sorry for the worlds cheesiest punchline).

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Get well soon

One is bound to get sick when living in Hong Kong.

Extremely high population density allows bacterias to spread around the community with the speed of light. Humid climate combined with pollution makes sneezing and coughing a common nuisance. There are guideline adds everywhere; this is how you should cough, put the protecting mask on this way, wash both hands after taking the mask off. Yep, sounds kinda ridiculous to a Finn but keep in mind this is far from joke. Hong Kong has greatly suffered from SARS and bird flu in the past, so those adds are there for a reason.

So, I got a nasty flu and decided to seek for a professional help. There are two clinics at PolyU campus; normal and traditional. Traditional meaning Chinese style health-care. Well, my feverish mind wasn’t in the mood for ying yang so I chose the normal clinic.

Appointment could be neatly reserved via online booking system. A chart showed available consultation times for different doctors, so I had a free will to choose my doc. Well, Chinese names don’t usually reveal too much to me so thank gosh there was F or M to indicate the sex of the doctor. Rather than blindly pointing one, I chose Dr. Man (F), simply `cos I found her name funny. (Yes, I know I`m bit simple at times.)

When I entered the clinic I went to counter to register, and paid 15 HK Dollars (around 1,4€). With that ridiculous price I got my height, weight, blood pressure measured, consultation, treatment and the medicine. I was taken care by Dr. Man and a nice nurse with whom I discussed about Iphones (Iphones are similar subject of discussion in here as weather is in Finland).

All this with 1,4€!!! And there is no need to hunt for a pharmacy to get the medicine, one receives is right from the clinic neatly packed with your own name on it.

That is what I call efficient. Now I`m tempted to try out the traditional clinic.

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Passport – check!

Toothbrush – check!

Sunglasses – check!

Chewing gum – check! …wait a minute, un-check!

What am I on about? Well, I`m going on a field trip tomorrow, and as you might have guessed the destination is Singapore. I did not know beforehand that the syllabus of Convention Venue Management -course includes a field trip, so I was very pleasantly surprised to learn about.

The trip is going to last for 4 days (Thursday-Sunday). We are going to visit all the major “don’t misses” and in addition getting acquainted with the local MICE industry (and MICE stands for Meetings Incentives Conferences Exhibitions, not labrats). As well there will be dinner in partner University, Scavenger Hunt/Amazing Race activity, Night Safari, City tour, and so and so fort.

On Sunday we will have some free time before it is time to hit the airport. I might have to spend mine mystery-shopping Singapore Slings at Sentosa’s beaches. Yeah.. tough job but someones gotta do it.

It will be interesting to go from Hong Kong to Singapore, from one Asian city-state to another. I wonder what kind of similarities they share and what are the major differences. I found two brilliant descriptions of Singapore; “Disneyland with the death penalty” and “world’s only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations”.

Now, time to continue packing.

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Fortune cookies

Today I had my first mid-term exam from Confucianism and Chinese Culture. This course has nothing to do with my major, Tourism. I chose this particular course because, well, the obvious reasons. I want to learn about the culture, customs and history of China now that I`m in the area. Sounds easy, right? Think again.

The founding father of Confucianist thought is Confucius (duh). But who is this Confucius aka Kungfutse aka Kongzi? Well, he is the one whose  texts you can find when you crack open a fortune cookie. He is depicted to look like the stereotypical “sensei” in kung-fu movies (without the aerial martial art tricks). You know, the pondering old man with white scraggly beard.

Confucianism discusses ethical, social and political issues. Highlighting  the importance of personal cultivation, desired values, proper behaviour, learning and arts. It gives insight into governance in number of Dynasties throughout the history. Confucianism introduces ideology of scholars and philosophers who have evolved the system with their own contribution. It includes elements of Taoism and Buddhism. In other words, Confucianism is ethical and philosophical system covering myriad aspects of life.

Phew.. Sounds rather confusing, eh? And it is, especially for a Finn or generally to a Westerner. Learning this philosophy is like learning to ride a bicycle again (okay, bit exaggerated but it is hard nevertheless). In West aspects like individuality, creativity, freedom and initiative are prized. In China it is quite the contrary, more like the full opposite which makes it rather tricky.

Why am I torturing myself with this subject?

Cultures and countries strongly influenced by Confucianism include mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Chinese people, such as Singapore. It might be that as many as 1.5 billion people follow Confucian ideals.

Gotta love Wikipedia.

I would be utterly flattered if those 1,5 billion would take the time to study the depths of the Finnish culture; understand why we sulk/drink/get depressed, yet at the same time are able to design Nokia mobile phones and Angry Birds. That would be just great, but we know it is never going to happen (on the other hand, we have won Eurovision singing contest once so everything is possible?)

Okay, enough of dreaming about world ruled by Finns.

As stated, Confucianism is the core foundation of the East-Asian cultures listed on the quotation. I consider understanding the Japanese (second biggest economy in the world), Chinese (the next BIG thing that is already huge) and Koreans (Samsung <3) extremely vital. Not only because of the booming economy, but also simply for the sake of understanding the people.

Study the past if you would define the future.

– Confucius

Well said, old man, well said.

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