Saturday, 11 June 2011

All good things come to an end.

Well, for the last few weeks since returning to Canada, I've been spending my time getting used to the climate, starting work, studying for and writing my LSAT, missing Hong Kong,

and trying to figure out how to wrap up this blog. How on Earth can I sum up one of the most amazing years of my life so far?

I spent my last few weeks in Hong Kong saying goodbyes. To my new friends, and to the city that feels like my new home town. In the end, after squeezing in a trip to Guangzhou, hiking up Kam Shan (金山) to find monkeys, going for hot pot with a family I had become good friends with, eating dumplings and gelatto with my Arabic class friends, and heading to Ocean Park with my buddies who helped show me around in the very beginning, I still felt like the last night came too quickly. That last day in Hong Kong I spent the morning trying to pack my bags to avoid excess baggage fees (despite which, in the end, I had to frantically re-pack on the airport express and pay extra money to take a third bag). The evening was spent with a few friends, including my buddies who showed me around Hong Kong when I first arrived, eating pizza, cooking some Canadian food I had brought with me in August (and which turned out to be expired and we didn't actually eat), showing them around UHall, and playing the card game they got me as a going-away present. After they left, in a typical Hong Kong rain storm, I went back to say goodbye to some friends who lived in the hall, take some last pictures, finish packing, and sleep a few brief hours. The next day, I rushed to the airport, was told my bags were too heavy, repacked them on the airport express, and had to rush to my flight to New York (which, for the whole 15 hours 40 minutes, didn't have a functioning entertainment system).

Like I said, the end felt like a rush, and there's a list of things I meant to buy, eat, and see one last time before I left.
But that's ok. Because I really, truly, hope to be returning to Hong Kong. Because I'm not exaggerating when I say it feels like home now.

Which brings me back to all the small memories, the ones that have been coming back to me as I begin going through the photos, the souvenirs, and the stories.

Tonight, for instance, I was thinking of Causeway Bay. Causeway Bay became one of my favourite places in Hong Kong; it's always so bustling, exciting, full of people and lights and life, especially on the weekends. Causeway Bay was the first place I went with Tracy, my buddy, and her friend Tammy, who both became my good friends. We went there on my first full day in Hong Kong, after going to the University to get some paperwork done; we went to buy a phone, and go to Ikea and the grocery store. I also ate my first Chinese meal, Hainan Chicken, there at a Tsui Wah restaurant, and had my first Iced Milk Tea. A few days later (I don't remember when), I tried to go back to Ikea and the Wellcome grocery store there. I'd nearly forgotten about this until I was looking at photos, but now I remember coming out of the MTR, wandering around looking for these familiar places. It was probably less than a week since I'd been there, and Hong Kong still seemed too busy and too hot. In short, it was still intimidating, and I soon gave up, completely lost and overwhelmed and headed back on the MTR.

I mention this story because it's one of very few I can remember where Hong Kong felt so foreign and intimidating. Mostly, Hong Kong quickly felt like home, so much so that I occasionally found myself thinking I hadn't gone anywhere foreign at all really.

But now that I'm back, I realize how different it was, and how much I miss everything. I'm also amazed at all of the small habits I didn't realize I'd developed. The other day, without even thinking I picked up my plate of barbecued food and held it like a rice bowl (my parents gave me a really funny look). I always want to say "M Goi" to the people working at stores to get their attention, and even though I haven't yet spoken to anyone in Chinese, I do sometimes forget that everyone speaks the same language, and think I need to order food or speak to employees at stores rather than let the people I'm with do it (even though I'm speaking the same language to both).  And, after the months I spent trying to adjust to cars driving on the left, I now need to get used to them being on the right.

Overall, I couldn't be much happier with having done my exchange. I feel like I've accomplished a lot, travelled a lot, and seen a lot. Before I left, I could understand a handful of Chinese Characters and words, and had only been to three countries (Canada, US, the Bahamas), all of which spoke English and used dollars. I'd never flown to another country, never filled out an immigration card, had no stamps in my passport, had seldom taken a subway or double-decker bus, never seen a car driving on the left, and so many more. I'm proud that I can now understand lots of Chinese, both spoken and written, have tonnes of stories about travels, and nearly filled my passport which had only one stamp (from taking a ferry to the US) before I left.

I'm also happy with how much I traveled. When I was choosing where to study abroad, I was concerned that going to Hong Kong would limit my travel ability. I thought that since it only borders China, where I'd need a visa to travel, that I was unlikely to go many places other than Macau. I never realized how cheap it would be to travel, how easy it would be to get a visa for China, or how willing I would become to spend money on travel. Traveling to other countries (Macau twice, China three times, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) brought me many memories, insights into even more cultures, and fantastic friendships.

Speaking of friendships, those were obviously the best part. I made friends with people from all over the world-with local Hong Kong students, Mainland Chinese students, and other exchange students. There's not an inhabited continent that I didn't, at the very least, meet someone from, and whenever I travel, be it to another continent or to other parts of North America, I'll have people to visit. There's nothing that makes you feel more at home than making friends with so many people, and the friendships I have with people from Hong Kong are the biggest reason I want to return; because I have so many people to visit. And anyone who I met in Hong Kong will always have a friend in Canada (or wherever I happen to be) who will be excited if they ever come to visit .

All good things come to an end, however, but I strongly feel I've no right to complain-I had an amazing trip, an amazing experience, and am extremely fortunate for that. As far as this blog goes, I feel like this may be the last post, unless there's something related to make another post about. This blog was only half about keeping people at home updated; the other half was for anyone who's interested in Asia, Hong Kong, exchange etc. If anyone reading this blog has any questions about anything I've mentioned that I may be able to answer, please write a comment or send me a message and I will reply as best a can.

Now, to sum up, one last short story, which I think sums up the experience of being an exchange student.

When my friend and I traveled across China, he downloaded a "quotes" app for his iPhone, to keep us entertained when we were waiting for different things. When we were sitting in a restaurant in Beijing waiting for Peking duck, we read a quote that still sticks out in my mind:

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”-Robert Louis Stevenson.

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