Hong Kong Exchange, Travel

First Classes, Michelin Star Dim Sum and Crowded Subways

This week capped off my first week of classes at HKBU, and I also did some more sightseeing in my spare time. It’s been a busy week, but I’ll do my best to fill you in.

Monday started with me desperately trying to find one more class to fill my schedule. I submitted my proposed schedule to the university last semester, and I made it into all my classes except one. I wasn’t able to replace that hole with my second or third choices, but I finally managed to sneak in my fourth choice. The upside: I don’t have any classes on Thursdays or Fridays, which gives me the freedom to travel on the weekends. The downside: the class I ended up choosing will definitely be the toughest of the semester. C’est la vie.

My first class on Monday was “Videogames and Arts,” and if you know me, then you know I was stoked for this one. It’s a combination of gaming theory, video games, art, business and technology, and one of our projects is to design and demonstrate an idea for a game (video, card, board or otherwise). How cool is that? Anyhow, something kind of interesting happened in what I assumed would be a ho-hum introductory session.

The instructor had all the students form a circle around the classroom perimeter so that we could all sit down and see each other. We were told to scan the room and mentally choose one person in the room. At first, he didn’t say what we were choosing students for or what criteria we should use; he simply told us to identify a student. After a couple minutes, he clarified by telling us that this person would likely become one of our group partners. Once we each identified a student, we were told to write down a detailed description of that person. He collected the descriptions, shuffled them, had us return to our original seats and redistributed the papers at random. We were then told to draw a picture based only on the description we received and what we could remember of the people in the room: we should not cheat and sneak peeks around the room to jog our memories.

He said that there are usually a few “popular” students in the classroom that multiple others would gravitate toward for some reason or another. So, let me backtrack and set the scene. In a room of maybe 30+ people, there is one white guy, and there’s me. Everyone else is Asian. I was the only student who walked into this video game-themed class wearing a game-themed t-shirt and turned out to be the only student in the classroom who owned a PlayStation VR headset when the professor asked for a show of hands (this drew “ooohs” and “aahs” from the other students). So honestly, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I drew the attention of multiple students during the exercise.

Nonetheless, I was quite surprised when I was one of the five or six students who had been drawn multiple times. The instructor read out the descriptions as he showed each picture to the class. One of mine included “American accent.” The other described me as “fit,” which I gladly and undeservingly accepted. Of course, both descriptions called out my dark hair, gray Overwatch shirt, my khaki pants, and my glasses.

As you can see in the pictures above (which show infinitely more artistry than the cave drawing I turned in), both drew attention to my tanned skin, which I found quite humorous. Personally, I think my skin tone is fairly similar to the Asians here. But clearly, they see it differently: I was one of only two people who had their skin color mentioned in their description, and I was the only one for which it happened twice. I figured my skin tone would help me blend at least a little bit better here than at home, but it’s obvious the locals disagree and found it unique enough to make me stand out.

According to the descriptions, my skin is tanned, and theirs is not. The only other skin descriptor was for an Asian student described as having yellow skin, which I always thought was a term introduced by whites who had already used the black and brown descriptors and couldn’t come up with anything better. But a quick Wikipedia search (if it can be believed) suggests that “yellow” descends from the Chinese surname Huang (translated to yellow) and its association with the center of historical China, when colors were used to identify cardinal directions. Fascinating.

Anyhow, later on Monday was my Services Marketing class, which seems like a run-of-the-mill marketing class that will polish off my minor.

Tuesday started with my table tennis class, and I think it’s going to be a blast. I couldn’t come here and not practice table tennis, especially considering I never took a P.E. class at OU for the fun of it. At OU, I always took at least one more class than necessary and made sure not to waste any time getting my required courses out of the way. That turned out to be an incredible decision since it means I have the freedom to take almost whatever classes I want here at HKBU.

That afternoon, I barrelled into my East-West Comparative Literature class a solid 30 minutes late because I couldn’t find the building, despite the fact that I was referring to a map the whole time. As it turns out, the classroom was tucked in a nondescript part of a building with little signage, so I don’t feel too badly for missing it. I apologized to the professor, and she brushed it off. Tardiness is viewed as no big deal here. In every class except table tennis, students routinely poured in 10-15 minutes late or more, and the professors hardly batted an eye. Being early or on time to class, especially morning classes (remember, Hong Kongers love to stay up really late), seems to surprise professors here.

Wednesday was The Rise of Contemporary China, which will take a closer look at Mao Zedong and the history of communism in China. Most people in the U.S. instantly equate communism with being evil for exploiting citizens while democracy is considered superior. Of course, this is colored by a cultural lens: Americans are by and large convinced that America is the best country in the world. We hardly touched on communism in high school, and the depiction seemed biased and unfair. I wanted to see the opposite side of the story, and it looks like this class will take a deep dive into the history of China, willing to praise the movement for its success in making China a world power and unafraid to call it out on its uglier moments.

That evening, Michael and I went to Mong Kok and spent a couple hours on “Sneaker Street,” which is exactly what you’d expect: block after block of shoe stores. Nike, Puma, Adidas, Converse, Vans and Timberlands stores lined the street. What amazed me was that some brands had multiple storefronts, especially Nike, which seemed to have at least six. Each store was a little different and had different shoes in stock; some looked highly familiar, but there were others I had never seen before. The place would make sneakerheads lose their minds. Then, of course, there were plenty of stores clearly selling fakes, used or mismatched shoes, and brands that simply should not exist. Sneaker Street provides everything from dirt cheap to top-of-the-line sneakers. I ended up snagging a (real) pair of lightweight, mesh, black Adidas shoes that will be great for the hot, muggy summer weather that’s coming. They were on sale for $40 and are so comfortable that I couldn’t pass them up.

Friday, Michael and I went with another student from Ohio back to Mong Kok and later to Central for some thrift shopping and record store hunting. I had never visited Central before, and it’s a more upscale part of town. It’s on Hong Kong Island and seems to be where higher-income families and individuals live. I ended up snagging a couple pins for my ukulele bag and two CDs that were cheaper than I’ve seen anywhere in-store or online in the U.S.

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That afternoon, we stopped for lunch at Tim Ho Wan, a dim sum restaurant in Mong Kok known for being the cheapest restaurant in the world to earn a Michelin Star. Eating at a restaurant with a Michelin Star sounds so pretentious, but looking at the restaurant, you’d never know it was anything special. The food, however, spoke for itself. The dishes were delicious, from the BBQ pork buns to the sponge cake, and the dumplings in particular were the best I think I’ve ever had. To add to the list of foods I’ve tried for the first time, we had pan fried radish cakes (not my favorite) and a pumpkin soup dessert with tapioca balls (delicious). In all, I think we ordered seven different food items and soft drinks, and the bill came out to $7 per person. We’re absolutely eating there again.

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On our way back to campus, we had to travel through the city’s busiest MTR station. During rush hour. Hong Kong Station is an interchange for four major lines, and during peak hours, it’s an absolute mess. I have no way to estimate how many people were flowing through that station, but navigating it was like swimming through a sea of bodies to cram into a tiny escape shuttle. It was insane.

Anyway, here’s to hoping that this semester is a good one and that my classes don’t keep me from exploring too much. I’ll be back soon with more pictures from the weekend!

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