Hello from the other side of the globe!
After flying roughly a combined 17 hours and 8,500 miles from Columbus to Toronto, then from Toronto to Hong Kong, I’m finally here. It’s surreal. I keep asking myself “Is this real? Am I really here? Am I crazy for signing up for this on impulse?” The reality of my new situation still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I mean, I know I’m here in Asia for the next 4+ months, but I don’t think my brain really gets it yet. Luckily, it understood well enough when to go to sleep and when to wake up this morning. I’ve been here roughly 24 hours now, and I don’t feel any effects of jet lag, so that’s a plus.
I haven’t seen or done much yet aside from get unpacked and established, but here are some first impressions.
- The flight was both awful and awesome. Michael, the other OU student who traveled here with me, described it best: “The whole thing felt like a fever dream.” We left Toronto around 10 AM EST on Sunday and flew in a weird trajectory northeast over Greenland, then southeast over Russia and China, finally landing in Hong Kong at about 2 AM EST on Monday (3PM Hong Kong time). The odd thing was that we landed in Toronto as the sun rose, then it sunk away as we hit the western coast of Greenland, then it rose again over Russia. All in all, there’s just no good way to make a 16-hour flight in an economy seat a completely enjoyable experience, but the Air Canada staff did its best. The in-flight meals were surprisingly good, and the flight attendants kept the cart of drinks coming every couple hours. Each seat came with a complimentary pillow and blanket as well as a power outlet and a tablet screen loaded with movies (I finally got to watch Wind River and highly recommend it. I made it through the first half of the original Blade Runner but can’t make the same recommendation… at all.).
- Navigating the airports and going through immigration was way easier than I had anticipated. We just filled out a couple forms in the planes, showed them at the airports, then we could go on our merry ways. Super simple.
- Hong Kong is absolutely gorgeous. I was too preoccupied talking with an Australian exchange student to take pictures during the bus ride to the campus, but this place is just incredible. Try to picture New York City surrounded on one side by vibrant, blue ocean and on on the other by rainforest-covered mountains. The contrast was striking. I’ll take some pictures later, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In the U.S. we have cities, and we have nature, but I don’t think we have such a huge city sprouting up so perfectly in the middle of nature. I can already tell this place is magical.
- Living here as a foreigner with no grasp of the local language will of course pose some challenges, but it’s been smooth enough so far. All the cashiers I’ve encountered so far have spoken English and have had no trouble helping me, which I am very grateful for. Important signs and audio announcements are in English and Chinese. Some store displays and ads targeted toward the locals require me to fill in the blanks a bit, but it’s all been manageable so far.
- Shopping has been so convenient. My credit card automatically converts currency and has worked everywhere I’ve tried it. My debit card charged me a whopping 50 cents to take money out of an ATM. There’s also an awesome payment method called an Octopus Card, which works pretty much everywhere in Hong Kong (If you’re a college student, think of it like loading your student car with money that you can use on campus, like Bobcat Cash or BuckID). You pay a few bucks to get the card, then load it with cash like a prepaid Visa card. Then, you just tap it to a pad to pay at stores, vending machines, subway stations, restaurants, or basically anywhere else. This is the payment method for the MTR, which is Hong Kong’s subway system that nearly everyone here uses, so it’s a necessity.
- Most things here are pretty cheap compared to in the U.S. My dinner at KFC yesterday (a huge bowl/bucket of rice topped with American-style chicken & noodles, plus a drink) cost $2.94. I bought a blanket, pillow, washcloth and some hangers at Ikea for $27. I got two 23.5 oz bottles of water for $1.75 (to compare, single-serve bottles in the U.S. are 17 oz.). Granted, the process of mentally converting currency and dealing with the sticker shock is a little odd. My Ikea purchase, for example, was $212.60 in Hong Kong Dollars, which was a bit striking until I did the math (1 USD is roughly 7.5 HKD).
- The bank notes here are so colorful. I’ll try to get better pictures later, but I dig these. The $10 note is a thin, fluorescent plastic, but the others are more similar in texture to American bills.
- My dorm room is tiny but has a lot more storage space than I was expecting, which I was relieved to find out. The rooms don’t have heating units since it rarely gets cold here, and last night’s ~60 degree (Fahrenheit) was pretty comfortable. I’m on the 16th floor and have a view of the skyline, which is also awesome (again, no good picture since it was rainy).
- Starbucks is still expensive and overrated, but I’ll take coffee where I can get it.
Tonight, I’m meeting my friend Sam to do a bit more shopping and to get dinner, then student orientation begins tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes!
Also, I’ll up my photography game from now on. During the 50 hours from 9AM on your Saturday morning until your 11AM on Monday, I got about 4 hours of sleep and was hardly functional during yesterday’s adventures. Any photography skills I might have had were completely shot. I’ll keep you posted as I dig a bit more into life here.