May 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
Although I still have a few more Hong Kong-related blog posts in the works (as well as the final segment of my trip to Singapore), I figure that now, as I am idling in the airport, is the best time to publish my concluding thoughts on my journey.
I really didn’t know what to expect this time around. It was a risk to even come all the way here for an internship — what if I hated it? What if they hated me? What if it was a total waste of my time? What if I died in a horrible subway accident in Hong Kong and my remains got buried and I was never found because nobody knew where I was?? (I’ve pictured that situation a number of times, and really, I could only pray for it not to come true.)
Thankfully, these worst-case scenarios remained mere figments of my overactive imagination, and while looking out at the passing scenery on the way to the airport just now, I felt incredibly rich — rich in spirit, rich in experiences. I’ve learned and undergone so much here that I might never have otherwise, and I’ve been truly blessed by all the friends I made in such a short amount of time.
One thing I’m really glad I did (and would recommend to others) was joining a church right away. This was a commitment I made in light of my experience the last time I was in Hong Kong, during which I attended church maybe five times in six months (yikes). I’ve realized since then that it’s almost impossible to truly feel like a member of the church community from only attending Sunday services. I was lucky that Michael, a friend introduced to me by Esther, invited me to Union Church, where I met his friends and immediately glommed onto a small group by attending their social event and taking a lot of photos that I posted on Facebook — one of the best ways to ingratiate yourself and make sure people friend you!
It sounds pathetic because it kind of was, but honestly, it can be remarkably difficult to find genuine community after transplanting to a different part of the world where you only know five people (who don’t know one another) in the whole city. And although I was nearly a decade younger than most of my new friends, their Christ-like generosity and openness imparted a feeling of comfort and pleasure that I won’t forget.
Of course, not every part of my experience here was so lovey-dovey, including but not limited to my never-ending fight with mold. I’ve also had more time to reflect on contemporary cultural issues, and they’re not especially pretty. For example, all of the Hong Kong locals I met told me that the city has changed — too much, in their opinions. “There are so many mainlanders here now,” they’d say, the word “mainlanders” rolling off their tongues as if it left a bad taste in their mouths, like some in America might say “negroes.”
Have I noticed any differences? Well, it’s true that every time I was in TST (an upscale-ish shopping/tourist area), I always saw tons of other Chinese people (usually couples) dragging rolling suitcases around with them even though it’s nowhere near the airport. I never bothered listening to their conversations to discern where they were from, but it’s safe to say the majority of them aren’t from around here. Apparently, rich mainland tourists arrive in Hong Kong with suitcases full of cash and leave with suitcases full of luxury purchases. In a somewhat related incident a few months ago, a crowd of Hong Kong locals protested outside of a Dolce & Gabbana store whose shopkeepers allegedly discriminated against local shoppers.
The furor over that was understandable: It’s insulting for residents to be barred from taking photographs while watching tourists snap pictures freely. (Also, I find it rather tacky to shop with a suitcase, but perhaps Hong Kong prices truly are that much cheaper than in mainland China. To which I would ask, why? Is it because the Chinese Yuan is strong right now??)
There are other issues as well, most noticeably the ire that Hong Kong locals feel when pregnant women from mainland China give birth in Hong Kong hospitals expressly for the purpose of making sure their child (and by extension, themselves) is guaranteed a (free?) Hong Kong education and residency and such benefits. These mainlanders are overrunning our hospitals! the locals protest. Of course, they have every right to look out for their own welfare and hospital space. But I found the situation sad rather than appalling.
In my mind, I ask, aren’t we supposed to be united as one country? I was in China during the summer of 1997, when the 99-year contract with Great Britain expired. I remember listening to cassette tapes on my Walkman of joyous Chinese tunes specifically written for that event. An air of celebration permeated the country. But Hong Kong is like the kid who got sent to some rich boarding school in the city and is now ashamed to return to his poor and unsophisticated parents in the countryside.
I understand that things in Hong Kong were generally better under British rule; the corrupt Chinese government certainly isn’t doing Hong Kong any favors. But isn’t it sad that soon-to-be-mothers are so desperate to give their impending children a better future that they will literally cross the border while in labor so that the authorities can’t keep them from giving birth on Hong Kong soil? On one hand, you can see them as leeches and freeloaders. On the other hand, they’re victims of a system of disparity. What will it take for China’s education system (or whatever is so lacking) to match that of Hong Kong’s? Aren’t Chinese authorities alarmed by these migrating trends, and what are they doing to fix things?
Anyway, being a “mainlander” myself, I can’t help but take slight offense when people say the word with disdain. Somewhere down the line, most people in Hong Kong came from mainland China anyway. To them, I say, be thankful for what you have and that you don’t have to be the one trying to latch onto a loophole in someone else’s system.
Those are basically the two main things I wanted to get off my chest. My flight takes off in an hour! Then I have a six-hour layover at Incheon Airport, which I am absolutely not looking forward to. Good-bye, Hong Kong — it’s been real. I promise to visit again before I die!
May 18, 2012 § 4 Comments
On my second day in Singapore, CK took me to explore Chinatown, for lack of better things to do during the daytime. It seems weird that there is a Chinatown in a predominantly Chinese country, and I really don’t have much of an explanation for that. Our first stop was at a large Buddhist temple, where I was instructed to cover my bare shoulders and short skirt with the (admittedly nice quality) shawls that the temple offered for irreverently skanky people such as myself.
I feel a bit guilty when I enter a Buddhist temple because I’ve pretty much forgotten everything I learned in the Buddhism course I took a few years ago, other than that the religion is both less wacky and more wacky than I originally thought it to be. I wonder what it’s like to try to live diligently by the Eightfold Path or even try to remember all the tenets of Buddhism. I’ve met very few (or perhaps none) authentic, practicing Buddhists my age, so I haven’t had much chance to discuss it, sadly.
Like any mega-church, this temple was clearly rolling in the dough. It was a five-story building with thousands of big and small Buddha statues throughout; there was a rooftop garden and even a small museum of artifacts and relics. And gold — or golden paint — was everywhere.
May 4, 2012 § 3 Comments
The morning after I landed in Singapore, I went out to have breakfast with CK, his parents and his twin brother. It was Good Friday, so the streets were super crowded with parked cars because the churches didn’t have parking lots, despite being mega-church status (apparently). The breakfast location was an open-air food court-type place, which is quite different from the usual IHOP experience but not unlike what you’d find at Chicagoland’s Diho. CK helped me order a plate of noodles, which came with fried fish and egg.
The whole thing was quite tasty but also very oily, which I don’t tolerate very well in the morning. It’s interesting because when I talked to CK about it later, he told me that he has a hard time eating dry food in the morning. I wondered if it’s because I come from northern China, which is known more for its bland fare (dumplings, buns, etc.). I mean, seriously, I could eat a whole loaf of bread in one sitting without any water, but I detest chow mein, deep-fried chicken and bacon.
Anyway. The good thing about the oilier Singaporean food I tried was that I could eat it without stuffing my face — I usually can’t help but gain weight while on vacation. (The constant heat and humidity helped diminish my appetite too. I love Singapore!) CK also bought me a curry puff to snack on. It was really spicy and really tasty, even four hours later.
After breakfast, CK’s brother dropped us off at the nearby MRT station, where we took the subway to Orchard Road, basically Singapore’s supreme shopping destination. It’s like Las Vegas strip if you replaced all the casinos and restaurants and brothels with malls and malls and malls. You can walk half a block out of one mall right into another one. The other amazing thing was that it seemed like half the malls were undergoing renovations or construction of some kind, meaning there will be even more stores. It was pretty overwhelming.
April 14, 2012 § 11 Comments
I took this photo before even leaving Hong Kong Airport — as I sat in the lobby waiting for the two-hour window of permitted checking in, a young couple and their photography crew of three appeared across from me for a wedding photoshoot. This sight is pretty common in HK; I see at least one a week, usually on my way home from work. I guess there aren’t that many viable locations on this island to shoot wedding photos? Maybe they met in the airport or something. Either way, it was weird but cute.
My flight was supposed to arrive at Singapore’s Changi Airport at 10:30PM on Thursday night. My friend CK, who was graciously hosting me, would still be working at the time, so we planned for me to take the MRT (subway) to Marina Bay Sands, where we could meet and grab a bite while enjoying the view.
As is typical with airlines (especially budget ones), my flight was delayed. We landed in Singapore at around midnight. I find it surprising that (I was told) Changi Airport is usually ranked one of the world’s best airports — whoever judged that contest obviously never visited the “budget terminal,” which basically means “cheap-ass building for our most worthless customers that is a mile away from the actual airport.” Frankly, it was comparable to the lilliputian Yiwu Airport.
Right after passing through customs, I exchanged some cash and called CK’s cell phone from a nearby pay phone. He didn’t pick up. Worried, I figured I should just try to find the MRT right away, so I exited the building and followed the signs to the free shuttle bus to Terminal 2, which is apparently where the MRT is located. It was seriously like a 10-15 minute bus ride (at night, with very little traffic!), which speaks to how far removed the janky budget terminal is (still bitter). At least I had this sign to amuse me: