Our Winter semester at Dongguk officially ended on the 18th of December, but the modules I had taken ended some days earlier. Academic years in Korea run along the calendar year, so their first semester begins in March, while Semester 2 begins in August. Since coming here meant studying the Korean second semester as my first, after a few months of getting to grips with being in their education system I was suddenly left to deal with the 2 ½ month end of year break. In theory, 2 ½ months of nothing but Me Time sounded great, but as it loomed nearer I began to have my doubts, especially as I had made no plans, while friends had all booked holidays to jettison all around Asia. However, after a little persuasion, I also ended up booking flights to join them on a month-long holiday beginning in Hong Kong on January 18th. Side note: the night before flying out, our washing machine broke down, which was decidedly not fun for packing.
So for the first time ever, I found myself alone in an airport for 5 or so hours… at night. Since I decided upon going abroad quite a while after my friends had booked, their flights had obviously increased in price, meaning I had to book one much earlier. My flight was at 5am in the morning, and trains don’t operate between about 11pm and 5am, so unless I wanted to fork over a considerable fee for a taxi (I didn’t) it meant staying the night. It wasn’t so bad in the end, and despite my anxiety, everything ran smoothly.
Stepping off the plane on the other side brought relief for a number of reasons. First, I managed to rest a little while, so I wasn’t feeling so lousy. Next, now that I had successfully navigated the nightmare that is airports, the knot in my stomach began to dissipate. And finally, it was brilliantly warm and sunny, in the middle of January. I had left behind the frigid -15°C that is Korea in the winter. It was a completely absurd feeling to be in a place so temperate that I had to shrug off my jacket in what I have come to understand to be the coldest point on the calendar. Nonetheless, I was enjoying myself.
The first day I didn’t do much. I sat along the Tsing Yi Waterfront Promenade and enjoyed the weather and made my way to the hostel to catch up on sleep. Later, one of the girls I shared with took me into town to show me around where I had dinner, and for the first time in months, a Granny Smith and some Babybel. I also bought some granola, yoghurt, and berries for my breakfast the upcoming days. I didn’t realise just how much my diet had changed since being abroad but that certainly opened my eyes again.
While I was booking my flights and hostels, I’ll admit Hong Kong was the place I was the most apprehensive about but if you asked me why I couldn’t verbalise a reason, but I quickly found that in reality, I really really liked it there. It was an almost perfect balance between the familiar and the foreign, which probably leans in to the fact that Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997. Obviously probably not a great thing, what with the long and violent history of Colonial Britain, but I felt a lot more comfortable than I did when I arrived in Seoul. Plus, they also use British Plugs and sockets, so it was nice to not have to use an adapter for the first time in a long while. One memorable part of Hong Kong that I really liked for no apparent reason was that there were so many extensive skyways and central elevated walkways in the city centre, which connect almost everywhere and link to everything or everyplace you need. In fact, when I finally made my way down to street level it was a surreal feeling because I had no reason to actually be down there. So much exists on the upper level that you could spend the entire day if not longer without stepping foot on the ground.
The following day, we headed to the Graham Street Markets, which was a lot less busy
than I expected. One of the stalls I liked the most was just this table this man had mounded loads of old knickknacks on from decks of playing cards, to spyglasses, old cameras, and harmonicas. I (stupidly) didn’t end up buying anything but it was a nice mess in any case. After that we headed to The Peak, which entailed getting a cable car up the (nearly) vertical side of a mountain, which was actually very cool. Unfortunately, the day we decided to go to The Peak was unreasonably cloudy, and the magnificent views we should have been privy to were lost behind a sea of white.
Anyway. Later on our holiday we took a ferry to Lantau Island and then a cable car up to see the Big Buddha. We had to get a bus to the cable car, and en route the inner part of the island reminded me a lot of Barbados, even though I don’t remember an awful lot about it. In retrospect, pretty much all of the island seems quite similar, down to the areas that are made up nice for tourists. In any case, the Big Buddha was an absurd experience, aptly summarised by another friend as a “religious Disneyland”. For reference: if you have ever walked through little streets in any Disneyland lined with those cutesy “boutiques” and “emporiums”, that is essentially what the entry to the Big Buddha felt like, except instead of Mickey Mouse ears, they’re trying to sell you commercialised Buddha memorabilia. There were also a lot of cows walking around, but I guess that’s neither here nor there.
But speaking of Disneyland, did you know there is one in Hong Kong? After making the rounds through the science museum, the history museum, the Victoria Harbour Village of Stars and light show, and a number of impressive parks, we concluded our trip at The Happiest Place on Earth and indulged out ‘inner’ children. Unfortunately, we had a flight the following day so we didn’t get to stay and enjoy the evening parade, but even without seeing it, we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our day.
Thus concluded the first leg of what would prove to be a very interesting holiday.