- David's Story Getting Ready
“I'm getting geared up to go to Hong Kong. I've got my Culture Shock Hong Kong book and have been checking accommodation possibilities. I can't wait to step outside the airport and get that first smell of Hong Kong which always gives me a hint of what's in store in a new place.
“It's only a couple days until I leave and I'm in a rush phase to get everything packed and to try and decide what I will take. It is going to be difficult since I only want to take one backpack so that I can remain mobile and take trips to neighbouring countries when I get a break. Even if I only take my most important books, that’s still 5, and that’s just the minimum. My gigantic Brain book full of maps and functions of the brain, important to inspire me in my Neuroscience studies; Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet", a book of poetry close to my heart, for guidance; Neil Gaiman's "Make Good Art Speech" to remind me of my potential to be creative in the projects I undertake; “Culture Shock Hong Kong”, for obvious reasons; and my Mandarin dictionary so I can use it in class and on forays to China.
“I have to be prepared for this wonderful journey, which I know is going to be more challenging than anything I've done before. I went to India for 3 months in my gap year, I left the USA to study abroad in Aberdeen for my first year at University and I’ve been to China and Malaysia but I have never had a chance to settle down in Asia, especially on my own. I want to work in Asia in the future so this will be a test for me but I am determined to make it work, no matter how difficult.
“It’s a great relief to me that one of the hardships I don’t have to deal with abroad this year is taking out a student loan, thanks to the Lord Wilson Scholarship. The scholarship is bringing me one step closer to my goal of being able to go work where I want to, without worrying about having to pay back any loans. I am thankful not to have that looming over me and to be able to concentrate on, enjoy and learn from the experience I’m about to embark on.”
- David's Story Culture Shock
"Density is what Hong Kong is about. Every square foot of space is a prized possession and its potential must be maximised. People pour through the streets like sand through a sieve, occasionally peeling off into buses or buildings. Shops piled on shops, arts centres with over five stages orbiting around the main hall like planets; tiered streets where people fly above you on escalators and zoom below you on Metro trains. To be a part of it is extremely invigorating. There is a chance to meet any type of person you want and a plethora of other opportunities.
"One opportunity that I have taken advantage of is the art scene in Hong Kong. It's incredibly cheap to watch ballets, symphonies, modern dance, film festivals, operas and almost anything else that sells student tickets. I have been going to weekly open mic poetry nights and performing there. The reactions received from audiences and the quality of the other artists’ work has gone a long way to help me improve my writing. This is a skill I want to use later in my career to write popular science books, just as the scientists I most admire have. I've made friends with a few University professors who come regularly to the poetry nights and I often end up drinking a lot of wine with them afterwards and discussing literature and poetry.
"Once a month there is a meeting of storytelling enthusiasts called ‘Liars League’ which takes place in an underground club. There are all sorts of actors living in Hong Kong, ranging from businessmen to artists and Liars League provides the opportunity to read out flash fiction stories, carefully selected from the large amount written and submitted by people who are locally based. The quality of what is written is astounding and I don’t intend missing one for the rest of my time here. It's easy for me to grow accustomed to moving among these circles of well-read people from all walks of life - however it's been more difficult for me to get used to how crowded the city is.
"I love open spaces and nature and assumed, wrongly, that there would be places like this in Hong Kong due to the many hiking trails on its hills. The hills are forested and you have to go through narrow trails on which you constantly encounter other hikers. To find a place where I can be alone with the elements I go all the way to the new territories and the outlying islands which are journeys of an hour or an hour and a half - the only places in Hong Kong you could call rural. Once I found out about that and a few hidden places on campus that are pretty and secluded it became much easier for me not to get frustrated by the shear mass of people you tend to trip over everywhere you go.
"Hong Kong University itself is full of brilliant young people. The exchange students are all ambitious and well travelled, constantly flying off to other parts of Asia during break. The locals are very committed to their studies and have an amazing amount of determination to understand English literary texts which are difficult enough for me to comprehend. They often balance their school load with impressive jobs with charities or in clubs. It's nice to have so many inspiring people around me."
- David's Story Hidden Gems
"In the Pearl of Asia, the name is a sobriquet for Hong Kong, there are many hidden opportunities. After a semester of going to meet ups around the city where artists and travelers gather (who seem to me to know more then the locals about the city) and talking to the people there, I began to find some of them out.
"I discovered that sail boat hire and courses are subsidized by the Hong Kong government. This led me to start attending them first thing after winter break. The beginning two-day course only cost with materials the equivalent of about 10 pounds inclusive. I went through a few courses and can now rent my own boat and take it out by myself or with friends from any government water sports center in Hong Kong. There are few things so pleasant as to be pushed along the water out in the warm sunlight, or on a windy day so thrilling as to have to lean out of the boat away from your dipping sail as the wind push’s it almost into the water in order to balance your boat to prevent capsizing. I plan to get as a high a certification as I can manage in sailing with the time I have left here this second semester. The water sports center I am at in this image is in Stanley on the South Side of Hong Kong Island.
"Other then settling into a new semester at Hong Kong University I am enjoying exploring farther North from the busy cosmopolitan Hong Kong Island to the quieter places. The outlying island of Tsing Yi’s placid water front reminds me of cities much smaller than the 9 million strong Hong Kong such as Vancouver or San Francisco. On a whim I decided to take a look at this island mainly passed over on the way to Kowloon from the airport or vice versa. This thoroughfare stretched for a kilometer or so along the shore with a smattering of locals walking, picnicking, and fishing along its length.
"Hong Kong has many tourist sites and famous trails with sweeping views of the city skyscrapers challenging the hilltops in charismatic majesty. However as I’ve stayed here longer, and exhausted myself of interest in these places, I have turned to the even farther fetched areas that are beyond the city in the New Territories. During a hike around Plover Cove in the North West of Hong Kong only about 8 or 9 hours walk from the Mainland China border we found a lovely spot by taking a narrow overgrown path off the main trail and discovered a small stone bridge spanning a bubbling river in the midst of a bamboo grove.
"Since hiking is so easy here, the nearest trail to my flat in the center of the city is a 20-minute walk away; I have made a personal goal for myself to do a famous endurance hike before I leave. There are many such hikes in Hong Kong but currently the most popular, the Moontrekker, is a trail to Lantau peak, 40 Km long that is supposed to be completed in one night. I’m training every other day by hiking a few hours to get ready for it in the hopes that I can make it in those 12 hours before the sunrise. Last year’s winner of the annual race made it in 4 and half hours.
"My new flat wouldn’t be possible without the Lord Wilson Scholarship though. Accommodation prices in Hong Kong are some of the most expensive in the world so I would have to take out a school loan to afford it without the help from this scholarship. It is quite small but location is great. It is just above Soho in the center of Hong Kong which allows me to feel like I’m a part of the city life and yet easily get both to my University, water sports centers, and the hills that look down on this extravagant city.
"I’m looking forward to balancing my extracurricular activities and the demanding environment at Hong Kong University this semester. I am also excited about coming back to Scotland ready to contribute my new skills to exploring the beautiful Highlands and North Sea with the new board members of Highland Frontier Society and using my new study management skills I am developing here to contribute to my Neuroscience with Psychology degree."
- David's Story Near the End
For my last few months in Hong Kong I was caught between trying to enjoy myself as much as I could with the time I had left and studying for my exams which were rapidly approaching. I picked up a few new hobbies that I knew I would regret not having tried and visited one last place a short distance away.
I got a fin, mask and snorkel and started diving around the rural areas of Hong Kong. There wasn’t much information online about places to snorkel so I had to do some detective work to find out where I could see some coral and tropical fish near the shore. I saw a variety of soft and hard corals, unicorn fish, many lizard fish, and on one occasion a manta ray. In addition to be very fun it also helped me in studying for Marine Biology.
I could see some of the things I was reading about and I remember particularly one day when I happened to be reading about diving adaptations in mammals right on the beach between snorkeling sessions. It made me think about how poorly I was adapted to doing what I was. I could only go down for a minute at a time while seals could spend thirty times as long underwater without needing to come up to breathe.
I made sure to eat as much Chinese food as I could too. I visited a popular Chiu Chow restaurant in the city, which is a region of China with a very specialized type of food. They had a dish of liver in a spicy sauce and pig intestines and other foods which sound awful to my palate but actually were quite good. I got a little bit of a lesson in Chinese eating out culture when I had to argue and compete with my friend over who would pay the bill which ended in her paying for the entire thing. Apparently in Hong Kong it is an honor to pay for the meal when eating out so people end up fighting and trying an array of tricks to be able to pay for the entire meal. For example pretending to go to the bathroom and sneaking by the counter to pay for the meal ahead of time.
I visited a different culture when I want to Cambodia during this last semester. There I went with my mother to visit a friend. We flew in to visit Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a thousand year old palace built in the heart of a rainforest. It is one of many different temples built in the area and has been described as one of the seven wonders of the world. Moving through the halls of old stones shipped from hundreds of miles away to make the buildings possible I contemplated how easy it is to see the eastern world from Hong Kong. All the best spectacles in the East seem to be just a short hop away.
Thanks to the Lord Wilson Scholarship I was able to save enough money, that I would otherwise have needed for my studies, to go to Cambodia. In fact so much of what I did in Hong Kong and in countries nearby was possible because of the scholarship. So I am grateful to the Lord Wilson Scholarship for making it possible for me to have these vivid experiences which I will treasure and draw perspective from for the rest of my life.