I remember, as if it were last night, hustling, bustling beneath the glary neon lights through the populated, dizzying footpaths of Mong Kok toward the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade where I would, on my first evening there, drop-jaw at the endless, staggering, over-bearing multitude of structures that make up Hong Kong Island’s skyline. More than just one of capitalism’s anabranches, I realised then that this complex, diverse city of contrasts would tattoo upon me experiences I will hold close forever and then some.
Perhaps this was only inevitable, coming from flat, slow, more of a large country town than a capital city, Adelaide, which is in many ways Hong Kong’s complete opposite. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fru Chocs, but even a happy fish in its homely pond must concede the greatness of the ocean. Hong Kong now holds for me such a myriad of memories so out of my ordinary that, as I sit with quiet, leafless Jacarandas out my window, I must wonder whether it were all a dream.
Exchange abroad is all that it’s made out to be. Thrust into the not-knowing-anyone-so-forced-to-be-nice-and-make-friends deep end, it emerges as a whole heap of fun. You’re introduced to like-minded individuals from all over the globe, and, sometimes unwillingly, like when it comes to egg and tomato soup (cheque, please!), immersed into eye opening cultures, both of your friends and the land’s. However, it’s more than all that. Exchange is a special, independent, occasionally academic, always new, exciting, rollercoaster that concludes at a peak of welcome personal growth.
From its happenings, you learn the world isn’t all that big and scary. There are kind people everywhere you go, and there are people who are quite content to injure you for a good place on the underground railway. And, while there are many interesting places and people overseas, they are not so different from those you know at home. One can be happy appreciating that, when home, there isn’t some big foreign party you’re missing out on. Everything you need is right here. In another sense of acknowledging your good fortune, travel also solidifies the genuine plight of so many of the world’s less fortunate, and one returns with a serious want to answer the question, ‘what can I do to help?’
This question comes with knowing fortune does not mean the same thing to everyone. At first, when I begun my travels through Asia I was slightly disappointed to be journeying through lands where I knew little history compared with that of the school-taught Europe or Americas. However, this misapprehension was soon rectified, as it became apparent how valuable these experiences, a contrast in itself (from rural Malaysia to Shanghai’s skyscrapers), and a stark contrast to home, are.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to have studied in Hong Kong. The campus on a hill ensured great exercise. The struggle for vegetarian food in a Cantonese climate produced proud miming abilities. The city made for a perfect base to see much of the world’s biggest continent. As the final sunset draped over the striking mountains that hang over some of the world’s tallest buildings, (a metaphor to be found there), I counted my lucky stars. Looking back I know already that this wasn’t a fantasy of imagination, but a startling, wonderful, priceless reality.