The first few days of our stay in Hong Kong now blend together like a distant memory as the work involved in our program begins to take shape. It was a wild start to experiencing Hong Kong as I was overcoming jet lag, and toured the city with little regard to the time of day or even day of the week. When we finally started in the classroom and began interacting with our international peers, I adopted a whole new perspective on the city. The whirlwind tear through Hong Kong reminded me of trip I took with my dad when I was young, making sure to hit every local attraction in hopes to see it all, but as we settle into our schoolwork my time here feels less and less focused on being a tourist and instead focused on experiencing life in Hong Kong.
Each of the Oregon students were put into groups with the other HKU students and were required to visit a site, many of them in far reaches of the Hong Kong area. My site, Tai Kok Tsui, was very centrally located on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, shrouded in urbanity and flourishing with historical significance. On the surface the steamy concrete landscape seemed void of natural life and relief from the heat, but as we worked our way through the site the space became clear to us. We wandered along the empty sidewalks quickly making our way towards the nearest shaded spot we could find in a small local park. It was there that we met an older woman who we spoke to briefly about what she was doing there. She explained to us that she didn’t have an A/C unit in her apartment, so every day she would come down to the park to get some air in the midday heat and meet with other friends of hers from the area. While our group and this elderly woman came from very different backgrounds and places, our purpose here was the same when thrown into the harsh urban landscape of Tai Kok Tsui. The dense buildings and lack of any real outdoor eating and resting places forced people to take use of the public space into their own hands, making use of sidewalks, storefront, parking spaces, and alley ways. The way the residents use their space, especially at night, is part of what gives the Tai Kok Tsui area the culture and flair of a organic local neighborhood which serves the purpose of providing for the people who live there.
As a white foreigner, I didn’t feel in danger at any time or feel that I was truly unwanted by most of the locals, but I specifically felt that I wasn’t being catered to as a tourists unlike much of the rest of Hong Kong. The feeling was similar to when I was 14 traveling to New York City for the first time with my Dad and stepping off the subway into Flushing, Queens. It wasn’t Manhattan, it wasn’t Time Square, it was a neighborhood built for the people of the city. Restaurants were next to heavy industries, next to wedding shops that were connected to liquor stores. Everything that the locals of Tai Kok Tsui needed was in this district. These ideas for me at least, were channeled in the project that me and my group members created for first week’s assignment.
Working with group members from a different cultural and lingual backgrounds was difficult at times, but rewarding as well. The hardest part for me was that I tend to speak my thoughts when I attempt to hash out an idea, however when english is not the primary language for the people who I’m speaking to, this audible thought process comes across more like rambling to them. Another english speaker might understand what I’m getting at, but my sentence structure alone may be enough to throw others off. I’ll probably end up explaining more about my group work in later blog posts, but it shouldn’t be understated how great it is to actually get the experience of improving my communication skills for people of varying degrees of english ability.