Monday morning again, I’m well rested despite my adventurous weekend. It’s late morning – I’ve been gifted an extra couple of hours of sleep due to my only lecture today not starting until 16:30. It’s Mandarin, my favourite class. I don’t indulge much for breakfast, two apples will suffice. I need to utilise the time before class to practice, undoubtedly there will be another Mandarin listening assessment – they are every fortnight; short albeit frequent. I revise all the Chinese characters I have been introduced to thus far as I may need to use any of them later. It’s quite enjoyable as I find the process of learning a new language very rewarding, especially with the frequent assessments enabling me to see tangible progress.

I check my watch. 15:30. Time to get to campus. I’m living in Lee Hysan Hall, near the medical campus, so the main HKU campus is a little over 30 minutes’ walk down the mountain. I opt to take the university bus instead, which leaves from across the road from my halls twice hourly. I get to the bus stop; the queue isn’t too extensive yet so I will likely get to sit where I like (the seat with a tad more leg room). The bus is scheduled to arrive in around eight minutes so I have some time to spare. I look around me, marvelling at the gorgeous archipelago south of the island, hoards of ships of all sizes darting in-between outcrops of land. Lonely towers rise out of a sea of green on each island, seemingly out of place. My gaze falls to Lamma Island, appearing uninhabited, save for the three giant factory chimneys being thrust into the air like fingers, behind the foliage (see right). The bus arrives and I am able to get the seat I wanted. Admittedly, it is only a 10-minute journey so it wouldn’t have made much difference regardless.

I arrive at campus, just outside the main building, with its beautiful clocktower and pale-yellow exterior. My Mandarin class is quite literally on the opposite side of the campus. I navigate the steps, escalators, and walkways to arrive at the Centennial Campus where my class is. I sit near the back of the class with my friend Hugo. The class is quite interactive, everyone having to contribute multiple times per lesson, ensuring no one is falling behind. A by-product is that we have all gotten to know each other quite well. This class alone is a melting pot of culture, despite there only being around 20 of us (see left). I am the sole student from the UK, but there are other students from Indonesia, South Korea, France, and Japan to name but a few. This week we’re learning how to talk about our family in Mandarin. Our teacher helpfully uses the Weasley family from Harry Potter to teach us, but being from the UK the connection is made that I am seemingly related to them too. Through this, our teacher ends of mispronouncing my name as “Toy” which amuses everyone no end.

All classes at HKU are at least two hours long so it is 18:30 by the time I leave. I swiftly retrace my steps across campus to catch the bus at 18:40 back to my accommodation. I need some noodles tonight so I pop into the 7-11 which is helpfully located on the ground floor of the accommodation. I relax the rest of the evening with my roommate, Dan, and get ready for tomorrow.


Tuesday: my busy day. Exactly half of my total lectures for the week are today. I get up quietly so as to not wake Dan and make my way to campus for my first lecture – Greater China: a multidisciplinary introduction. Today’s lecture is on the politburo. Most of my course friends are in a different class so we’ve arranged to meet after at Alfafa, a restaurant on campus that provides a cheap but thoroughly filling lunch. I head down there after class and get in the queue with them, we all have a one-hour break before our next class which we all share: Public Administration in Hong Kong. I choose the Japanese curry and rice, with an iced lemon tea. Delicious as always.

We head down one level to our class and I sit in-between Jonny (another British student on exchange) and Jilliane (a local student albeit on exchange from Columbia University). The lectures for this class are three hours long, beginning with some presentations from students before transitioning to the lecture content for the week. Today’s lecture was on elite co-optation. After class I immediately head up three storeys to the same room as this morning for my last class of the day: Politics of the Global South. Today’s lecture is on postcolonial development. The concept of colonialism and its impacts is a common theme in many of my lectures. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tad uncomfortable every time the topic arises, given the integral role the UK has played in colonialism. Even Hong Kong was a British colony until not so long ago…

18:30 again, bus time. I have the same meal as last night so that I can save some money to eat out at the weekend. I play some games of table tennis with some of my local flatmates, and then facetime my family before heading to bed – I have another early start tomorrow.


I only have one class today, but it is arguably my favourite: Transformative Learning and Experiential Integration in International Contexts. I know, a very lengthy name. A truly unique course, it looks to engage intellectually with study abroad programmes, aiming to integrate individual and collective insights for transformative learning. In short, it is a way to enhance my time abroad, and it succeeds in doing so. If my Mandarin class was a melting pot of culture, this class is a cauldron. Through the personal nature of this course, I have made friends from every corner of the globe: from the USA to India; Russia to the Philippines; Norway to Kyrgyzstan.

The teaching style is unlike anything I’ve seen before too. Today’s class, for instance, is off campus, in an Islamic Cantonese restaurant that is attached to a mosque. We’re learning about cross cultural learning and encounters with difference today, so our lecturer deemed this an appropriate location. We are asked to order some food for our tables that we are unfamiliar with. I am sat with my Norwegian friends (Vilde and Frederick) and Jonny, so we order some food to share. I choose some chicken feet as I have heard how popular they are in China (see right). Unfortunately, I am not a fan, but the smorgasbord of dim sum that my friends ordered easily make up for it. Our lecturer is even kind enough to pick up the bill for everyone! My Norwegian friends tell me that they’re flying to Taiwan after class, for a few days, as they don’t have any more lessons this week. It sounds amazing, something I’ll be fortunate enough to experience in December.

Class concludes at 12:30, meaning I’ve got the rest of the day free. I make my way back to my accommodation to do some work and get ready for tonight. Wednesday is race day at Happy Valley – arguably one of the most quintessential Hong Kong activities. I catch the tram in Kennedy Town which runs through most of the island, through Central and Causeway Bay, all the way to Happy Valley. The atmosphere is great, just like the first time I came, and the place is rammed with people from all walks of life: from kids experiencing the races for the first time with their parents, to seasoned veterans, lost in newspapers as they try to deduce the best odds. I have arranged to meet a friend of mine who is also on exchange, Dilshan, at the races. We met through my roommate, as they both attend Leicester University, and we have become quite good friends in the relatively short time we’ve known each other. He is with some family friends from Sri Lanka who are in Hong Kong on business for the week. I steer clear of the betting, simply there to soak in the atmosphere, although one of Dilshan’s friends lucks out and ends up winning around £30. The rest of us were, predictably, not so fortunate. On the train back, I bump into one of my French friends from my Mandarin class, Celia, and we both do a double take. It seems almost unbelievable how I’ve managed to bump into someone I know in this vast metropolis, when I’ve only been here just over a month!


I have no lectures today, so I want to make the most of it and explore the city. But first, I need to get food. I make my way down to Kennedy Town to the Wellcome store, situated on the top floor of a relatively empty shopping mall. The store is set up in a peculiar way, like a route you must follow, with the entrance and exit some way apart. The first area as I walk in is for fruit. Surprisingly, the fruits that are typically cheaper in the UK are more expensive here, whilst the fruits that are more ‘exotic’ are comparatively cheaper. I notice some dragon fruit is on sale so I quickly put two in my basket, before getting a bag of apples imported from Australia. As I turn the corner, I come to the meat section: to my right is an extensive array of packaged meats in every shade of red; to my left is a butcher’s station, with pigs hanging from hooks, the smell of raw meat wafting into the aisle. I pass into the fish section, with packaged foods on one side, but an aquarium of alive sea life on the other.

I continue into the store; I know exactly what I want given my budget. I come to the noodle section and pick up the cheap Sichuanese noodle packet with seasoning included. It only costs 5HKD (approximately 50p) so is perfect for me, especially given the two servings per pack. I get four packets, two chicken and two pork. I make my way over to the frozen section where I pick up some dumplings that I intend to add to the noodles later. I get a few types, such as kimchi and pork. I then pick up some tangyuan, a dessert that I only discovered last week. It is a traditional Chinese dessert made of glutinous rice shaped into balls that are served in a hot broth. They have many different fillings, my personal favourite being taro, although my local flatmates are adamant that peanut is the best. They were truly shocked when they saw me cooking it last week, and it helped them open up to me, having been somewhat closed off to me before. On my way out I spot some mochi so I pick up two packets, one durian and the other red bean, as I have not tried these flavours before. The latter was delicious, but the former was pungent and lingering in more ways than one.

Later, me and Dan head across to Kowloon to experience the Symphony of Lights – a daily light show at precisely 20:00 that sees multiple skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island coordinate to light up in time with music that can be heard from the Avenue of the Stars (Hong Kong’s version of a walk of fame). As the boats glide past and Victoria Peak looms over a thousand towers, clustered together like bristles of a hairbrush, it is truly breathtaking (see above). We head to a cheap Indian restaurant I had read about called New Chetttinad. They serve skateboard sized dosa for a mere 45HKD (£4.50) so are perfect for a student meal (see right). Afterward, me and Dan make our way back to Kennedy Town, by which point the heavens have seemingly opened from out of nowhere, the rain so relentless it ends up flooding some metro stations, sweeping people away. Thankfully, we both make it back to our accommodation safely, albeit soaked.


I only have two hours of Mandarin again today, commencing at 16:30, so I sleep for an additional couple of hours, having succumbed into a rain-induced coma the night before. The rain was incessant last night – barrage after barrage of water assaulted the air conditioning unit that juts out of our window. It sounded like it was ready to explode at any moment, with the BANG of every golf sized raindrop. I get my work done and make my way to campus, a repeat of Monday. In class, we continue to learn about the family, and have a listening assessment. I think it went well, my character revision proved helpful, although apparently my writing of the characters does look like that of an infant according to my teacher. Baby steps, quite literally.

In the evening I call my family, particularly late given the eight-hour time difference. First, I call my grandad who wants to know every detail of what I have been up to since we last spoke. I am more than happy to oblige, as he tries to live his life through my eyes. Next, I call my mum, and we catch up on Neighbours. It is the only show we watch together, and have done for years, having only just returned after a year’s hiatus, much to our delight. By the time I get off the call, it is very late and my bed beckons. Admittedly, I am being rather generous by using the term ‘bed’. It is quite literally two of the thinnest mattresses you will ever see, stacked atop a slab of wood. The mattresses more closely resemble gym mats. Nevertheless, I am so exhausted, I fall asleep within seconds.


Today, me and Dan plan to ascend Victoria Peak – I’ve read that it has some of the best views of the city. We planned on catching a bus to Kennedy Town and then the MTR from there to Central, however when we get to the bus stop there is a bus arriving that is going direct to Central, so we opt for that instead. Mistakenly, we thought it would drop us off near the MTR station in Central, however, it stops by the harbour so we have a hefty walk ahead of us, as the funicular railway that we are going to take up the peak is on the opposite side of Central. Admittedly, walking through Central is never arduous, perhaps only on one’s neck as they are forced to look up to marvel at the countless number of looming skyscrapers, looking down at the amalgamation of businesses below. We walk through the unique HSBC building and Cheung Kong Park before passing St John’s Cathedral, and finally reaching the Peak Tram at around 14:00.

The queue is far longer than we anticipated, and we end up waiting over an hour to finally get on the tram. The incline is steep, surely at least 45 degrees. Me and Dan are both fortunate enough to get a seat, and as everyone else crams into the carriage like sardines, those that are standing seem to be holding on for dear life. The summit is not what I expected: the exit is situated within a circus of commercialisation – a plethora of chain brands vying for my money. The building itself is unique, shaped like a lotus with its stem exposed, the roof of which is a sky deck from which to admire the city. Me and Dan wander for a while, trying to catch glimpses of the view from balconies lower down on the building, as the sky deck is set behind a paywall. Unfortunately, our view is somewhat obstructed wherever we go, so of course we eventually cave. As we apprehensively make our ascent to finally see the self-proclaimed “best view of the city”, we wonder if the money was worth it…

It does not disappoint. As the sun sets, the lights begin to flicker on, and my gaze is met with hues of blue, green, orange, and pink (see left). My eyes lock onto the Bank of China tower, as two lights zigzag up the unique façade to make a crisscross pattern. My gaze is drawn slightly to the left to see the International Commerce Centre Tower, a lone giant across the water. Text runs across the towers south face stating the time and then the “Mid-Autumn Festival”, no doubt illuminated by thousands of lights. We stay up there for around an hour before hunger sets in. The queue for the tram is exceedingly long, so we opt to walk down the peak instead. It is a fair trek and takes around 45 minutes to get to the MTR station, but it gave us even more time to appreciate the views.


Today is the 74th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, so I am meeting Jonny and some friends in Kowloon this evening to watch the fireworks. After getting some work done in the morning, I take the bus to Kowloon a few hours before we’ve agreed to meet so that I can do some exploring. Before I departed for Hong Kong, I purchased a guidebook, to educate myself on as many places to visit as possible, as well as to uncover some hidden gems. I pore over the Kowloon section and create a rough itinerary, then set off. I am fortunate enough to catch a bus from outside my accommodation that goes direct to Kowloon via a tunnel, so I’m able to save some money and time.

I get off next to Kowloon Park, which just so happens to be my first port of call. Like Hong Kong’s version of Central Park (although nowhere near as big), Kowloon Park is squashed between Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, which is arguably the largest metro station I have ever seen (it even has a small IKEA), and Jordan MTR station, which marks the start of Temple Street Night Market. Inside, there is everything from a sports centre to an aviary, but I head straight for the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre, situated on the south side of the park. The centre acts as a rather humble museum, giving a holistic depiction of Hong Kong’s history from its prehistoric settlers through to the present day. I only intend on spending around 45 minutes inside, but instead find myself lost inside trying to absorb as much information as possible, like a sponge. I particularly enjoy the room dedicated to the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368 – 1644), its floor made up of thousands of shards of the gorgeous blue and white pottery from that era (see right). Situated on the wall is a huge map, depicting the vast number of trading routes the dynasty had – I’m astonished to see they extend even as far as Gothenburg!

I depart the centre after a few hours, at which point the sun is beginning to set. I have less than an hour until I am set to meet my friends, so I try to cram in as much as possible. I manage to check off some colonial buildings, such as a former school and two drastically different churches. The first is made of redbrick in late Gothic revival style, with exposed timbers holding up the roof. The second is a tiny Portuguese church, looking like something plucked straight out of Disneyland, with its whitewashed walls, pink roof, and tiny turrets that are barely big enough to fit your head into (see left). I go to walk inside, but realise a service is taking place, so swiftly depart. I go to meet my friends at a ramen restaurant not too far away. You have to choose your level of spice from one to ten. I opt for five, just to be safe. I was not safe enough. My mouth is on fire, and there isn’t a drop of milk in sight to numb this seemingly never-ending burning. I manage to slurp the final dregs of hell before I subsume entirely to despair. I wipe away my tears and we leave promptly to get a good view of the fireworks.

I have never seen crowds like it. As we exit the restaurant, we are met by a sea of people, all vying to get the best view. The thing is, we aren’t even close to the water – we’re about 700 metres away! We eventually navigate through to Nathan Road, the main stretch where people are trying to view the fireworks from. Me and Jonny are able to get a fair bit forward as the fireworks start, but our friends aren’t too keen on the crowds, so opt to find a different viewing point. After a few minutes we decide to follow them, as apparently, they’ve been successful in securing a view by the water. However, as we make our way down Haiphong Road onto Canton Road, we can’t locate them anywhere. We have a mad scramble to find them before the display stops, but to no avail. We resign ourselves to our obstructed view of the fireworks from Austin Road (see right). Admittedly, it is still impressive, the sky on fire for what feels like an eternity.

As the fireworks cease, we realise they rushed through a fancy shopping centre to get to the water, near to where the Star Ferry departs. As we rush through there, I bump into Celia again, which seems even more absurd than before, as it is the second time in a week! She points us in the direction of the water, and soon enough we are all able to reunite. Next came the hard part, taking the MTR back. The crowds are so excessive that Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station has been closed, so we have to make our way to Jordan. However, due to the sheer number of bodies heading in the same direction, we move at a snail’s pace. If I had thought the earlier crowds were bad, this was on a whole other level. Many people in the crowd are not heading to Jordan, but rather to Kowloon station nearby, to get on trains back to the likes of Shenzhen and Guangzhou on the Mainland. Eventually, after over two hours, we make it onto the MTR, change at Central and all get back safely. Time to rest, to prepare for another busy week ahead.

A Week in Hong Kong

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