Exploring and Learning (Though rarely in the classroom)

Entering the cave on Cheung Chau Island ft. Emma

They say that time flies when you are having fun, but that is an understatement. Unbeknownst to me, somehow the halfway point of my time in Hong Kong crept up on me. I cannot express how disappointed I am knowing my time here is so scarce (for my econ colleagues). I have met such amazing people here that it makes the thought of leaving excruciating. We have done so much in the first half of our exchange, but there is still so much left to explore in this area!

I wanted to touch on some key areas that have been requested (mostly by my parents concerned as to whether I am actually attending my lectures). One may be surprised by the fact that I am in contention for best attendance in most of my classes! Despite my stellar commitment, lectures are far from where I have learned the most. In fact, in comparison to my educational development outside of the classroom, it is almost nonexistent. Talking with people and learning from them has been the best avenue for me to acquire knowledge.

I am an avid proponent of Bill Nye’s famous quote “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t”. A simple “Hello” to a stranger can lead to such a valuable conversation and experience. I have met some of the most amazing people by simply smiling and asking a few questions about them (e.g. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?”). So simple, yet it has the potential to blossom into something beautiful. Never did I think I would meet such a variety of people from all over the world. Usually, I don’t have to say where I am from, people can tell from how I dress and talk that I am most definitely from America.

Many who know me, are well aware that I am willing to talk to just about anyone I cross paths with, sometimes to the point that I have to leave holes in my schedule to accommodate the possibility of bumping into people. That is not meant to sound arrogant at all by the way. I just understand what it feels like to not know many people, and have one person single me out for a quick conversation. It means the world. I wasn’t always like this however. My freshman year of college, I was extremely timid and intimidated by most of my peers. I was convinced that people were not interested in talking to some kid from a small town who was no longer an athlete or well-known at all (even though Linfield is in a small town as well). It took quite some time for me to come to the realization that everyone I was around has similar struggles as me. We are all trying to figure out who we are, what we want to do with the rest of our lives, etc. Once I realized how simple it was to start up a conversation with people, I began learning so much more than I did before. As I have said many times before, reading books only take you so far. If you are unwilling to engage with people, you are limiting your education beyond measure.

It’s heartwarming to witness people coming from all over the world, from so many different cultures, studying abroad in one environment. We are so different, but similar at the same time. Everyone has similar needs as human beings and I tend to capitalize on two of them: relationships and food. This has led to many adventures traveling across the city, hopping to a nearby island, or even jumping on a plane to get some good grub (though food wasn’t the only reason for the holidays). In fact, many of the connections I have made with people start by asking about what food they miss from home (in addition to the previously stated questions). I absolutely love hearing about what their favorite thing that mom makes at home is. Recently, I was chatting with a girl from Central Asia and she was showing me pictures of the intricate family meals that her mom makes for celebrations. I kid you not, this girl’s mom and aunt could compete on Cake Wars. I was blown away! Made me want to hop on a plane over to her home country!

Little subject change for you. (Referencing the “exploring” part of this post’s title)

My friends and I had the opportunity to island hop over to Cheung Chau Island this weekend. In the past when we hopped over to a neighboring island, it was very rural in comparison to the city. It almost felt like a different country. I was hoping that Cheung Chau would be similar to that. However, immediately after stepping off the dock, I saw that famous yellow “M” that is known by just about everyone in the world. I was then well aware of the climate we were walking into.

There were countless people crowded in the streets and shops, so we decided to just point in any direction and walk. Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had here, have not been planned. Growing up in my family, I am so used to plans and structure. It has definitely taken some time for me to adjust to just exploring without having structure. Coincidentally, the way in which we walked led us to a cave after about 3,000 meters. I know this because the sidewalk had distance measurements!

There was quite a que (“line” for my American friends) on the path that led to the cave, which surprised us. It made me think that perhaps this was one of those caves where you enter and exit through the same spot. However, we hadn’t noticed anyone coming back. I was too curious to wait in the line that seemed to not move for 5 minutes at a time. Thus, I hopped over the railing onto the rocks that oversaw the water probably 30 meters (more or less) below. That was not as reckless as it sounds, for my mother’s sake. As I rounded the corner to the area of the que that we could not see from where we were, I kept seeing people disappearing into the rocks below. At that point, I was taken back to summer camp in Oregon where my friends and I would explore places we probably shouldn’t have, but had a blast nonetheless. Jumping over rocks, trees, and small streams as a kid gave me a feeling of joy that was unmeasurable.

I then maneuvered my way to where the disappearances were occurring to find an opening about the size of a man hole cover. As if I couldn’t be more excited, there were people selling flashlights near the entrance. This made my adrenaline pump even harder than it already was! My imagination was going wild at this point. I was also witness to many of the classic “hand-offs” of kids as they were lowered down by one parent, and received by the other. All this hype made the wait seem much longer than it actually was. The heat and humidity also played a key part of the wait feeling longer.

Finally, we made it to the entrance. I was volunteered to go first by the other members of my party, which I was more than fine with. As I lowered myself down, I understood why flashlight salesmen had made this area their choice of business. I used a small ladder to drop into almost complete darkness before I turned the flashlight on my phone on. I was pretty surprised to see what was illuminated when the light came on. Pretty small quarters that a lot of people were trying to venture through.

I ran into traffic a few times, but it gave me time to look at my surrounding environment. There was graffiti on the walls of the cave along with a few variations of what looked like vines hanging from the ceiling and walls. It also had the stereotypical characteristics of caves: musty and damp. After a few minutes of spelunking, I stood with wide eyes at the very small opening that I was going to have to fold myself through to get to the exit. The hardest part about the maneuver was not ruining the clothes I cared about (I did not dress myself with the idea of caving that day).

Daylight was spotted not long after, but we had to climb up another ladder to get there. The view of the ocean and surrounding rock faces was breathtaking! Worth every second of squeezing through the cave. Of course, as I climbed out, I paid tribute to Bear Grylls by doing his famous scream while filming on my phone camera. So grateful for stumbling upon this little adventure.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the urban areas of the island. Food was at the top of my list as you might expect. We were in the hunt for some sustaining grub after exerting ourselves a decent deal. If there is one piece of advice that I can give someone who is hungry in a new and unknown place, “go where the locals are”. I tend to avoid going to places where there are a lot of foreigners. Not only is the food likely overpriced, but it is nowhere near as authentic. Thankfully, we found a place that really knew how to do curry the right way. It was the perfect recovery food from our earlier activities. Overall, this was such an amazing day of new experiences and adventures!

Until next time,

Cheers!

Jake