Much to my surprise, it appears I have not gained weight since my last post. This completely disapproves the old wives’ tale of “you are what you eat”. At this point I should be a bowl of rice or noodles if that were true. I cannot stress enough that the almost absurd quantity of restaurants is my paradise. With such low cost to eat, I find myself saying “eh, I bet you I could squeeze in another bowl of noodles or two”. As that phrase was coming out of my mouth a few days ago walking down a popular food street, I stopped dead in my tracks. I noticed a tall cage that was meant for the one animal that can send me from 0 to 100 at the snap of a fingers. My fear of this animal makes me feel a little more like Indiana Jones. That’s right. Snakes.
Apparently, the restaurant doesn’t mess around with their “Snake Soup”. From a FAR distance away, it looked roughly 6 feet in length and as thick as an average person’s wrist. I’m not sure who was more startled, me from seeing the snake, or my friends from hearing the shriek come out of me. Usually I slowly pass restaurants so I can attempt to imagine what kind of amazing things are happening in the kitchen. Not this time. I got in the starting line position like I was ready for a track race, did the arm stretch like Michael Phelps, and SPRINTED by the snake’s cage faster than you can say “CRIKEY”.
I can’t even begin to describe the amount of noodles I had to ingest in order to recover from that traumatic experience ;). Maybe I just used it as an excuse to get food at midnight after already eating two dinners.
I use an example like that to show such differences in the norms at home vs. across the big pond. Hong Kong is arguably as advanced if not more than America. Thus, there are times where it feels as though I am right at home. However, there are extreme exceptions to this that fall on both ends of the economic spectrum. A difference of two blocks can mean walking in what feels like a third world country, to passing Gucci, Rolex, and Versace retailers. Despite such social class differences, it’s so refreshing to see all the smiles on the faces of those that seem less fortunate. How interesting is that? Going back to the old wives’ tale theme, “money can’t buy you happiness” is on full display in Hong Kong. It’s so common to see someone in a three-piece suit walking up to their $150,000 car with a smug or angry look on their face. Turning your head, you can see someone grinning ear-to-ear showing what little teeth they still have left. That smile shines brighter than the flashing lights of the city. Really puts things into perspective.
Sitting in a very American coffee shop while I write this entry makes me reminisce of my long hours spent in Starbucks attempting to study, but mostly socializing.
I had been planning this study abroad since the fall of 2015. Thus, it felt as though it could not have been further away. I always talked about it as if it may never come. Even in the short days prior to my departure, I still felt numb to the reality that I was soon going to leave the best earth (Oregon), wind (Oregon air), and water (wanted to pay homage to a favorite band of mine even though I substituted “water” for “fire”).
Flying across the world by yourself can be a relatively daunting undertaking. If it weren’t for modern technology and a little experience traveling, who knows which country I would be writing this entry from.
A little flight delay during my connection in Vancouver due to a medical emergency set me back a few hours. That can stress one out… Especially when they are stuck on a plane without cell service, meaning they are unable to reach out to those picking them up in 14 hours. Once seated, I watched as what seemed like 99% of the passengers were locating their respective seat numbers and attempting to settle in for the long haul. I became extremely optimistic as the rest of my row remained vacant. One of the final passengers to board the plane was carrying the one thing you do not want to see when your row is one of the only open ones left on the aircraft. A baby. I said a little prayer hoping that they would kindly pass me. I think you know where this is going… Yes. They motioned that the two seats next to me where indeed theirs. I then spent the next 14 hours watching various movies offered on the plane/getting woken up every time I would get close to sleeping (without fail). If there is one thing that can really make someone’s mood take a nose dive, it is sleep deprivation. This made the already long flight seem a little longer. Nothing a little Justin Timberlake can’t fix, right?
Arriving a little late to the airport meant we were unable to stop at Ikea for basic necessities like sheets, pillows, and towels, which I of course, brought none of. I was too concerned with bringing shoes. I was kicking myself, almost literally as I spent a chilled night flutter kicking attempting to keep warm. I kept hearing my family’s voices saying, “Are you sure you don’t need those?”. If you’ve never heard the phrase “mother knows best” … you may want to familiarize yourself with it.
The following days were spent at various orientations and tours of the city. I am quite confident that I heard upwards of 30 people tell me “don’t be stupid” in 30 different ways. That just about sums up the orientation J. The tour is when things started to get interesting. Driving around Hong Kong in 3 buses is not the most stylish means of transportation. Especially because of the cars that are frequently driven in this country. I wouldn’t be surprised if Elon Musk made his entire fortune off Hong Kong residents. There are more Teslas than Toyotas.
We visited a temple, a market (that had amazing noodles), and Victoria Peak. As cool as these places were, they were relatively anticlimactic in comparison to the journey down from Victoria Peak.
Driving in Hong Kong looks a lot like the old arcade game Galaga. Cars slicing and dicing, somehow not hitting one another. It’s chaos. As we were driving down the hill from the peak, we rear ended another bus. It was a relatively decent impact, causing a few bumps and bruises. If I could look at one face for the rest of my life, it would be my tour guide’s face just after we crashed. I have never seen someone’s eyes get so big before. Anyone who knows me, understands I struggle with laughing at the least appropriate times. This was no exception. I almost fell out of my chair, and that wasn’t even because of the crash. My feeling soon changed as we waited for close to 2 hours for another bus to pick us up. I was banking on the bus coming much quicker. My arsenal of jokes ran dry after about 20 minutes… I had to bring out the dad jokes as a last resort (e.g. “what do you call a guy with a rubber toe? Roberto).
At that point, it could only go up from there right? It most definitely has! I have made friends from all over the world. My Scottish accent now sounds like I came straight out of Edinburgh. We have traveled far and wide in search of the best noodles Hong Kong has to offer, and boy have we found them.
I now have a week of classes under my belt, though it seems like much longer. The lectures are 3 hours long here. Getting hungry an hour in can come close to killing someone. Imagining the next food adventure is the only thing that pulls me through. Look forward to updates in the coming week! Got some big adventures coming up this weekend!
How fortunate I am to be living in an environment that is blessed with such amazing activities. I left America knowing that I would be traveling to a place that is relatively as advanced, if not more in many places. Often, I get bored with normal Westernized culture, which is why I enjoy Asia so much. Being reserved and timid in this city would be doing yourself a disservice. Countless times I find myself saying “ah why not?”. I have no idea when the next time will come where I have the ability to explore Southeast Asia! This does come with a price however, and it caught up to me this week.
I have become relatively accustomed to functioning though extremely exhaustion. A few days ago, I felt my energy reserves plummeting below expected levels. Now, I have never been physically hit by a car before. If I had to be hit by one, I would want it to be a 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom. A classy car that packs a punch and won’t get a scratch on it from hitting a 150-pound buck (me). I’m getting side tracked. Apologies. I felt like I got hit by a car from this sickness. I usually run at a high temperature regardless of any illness (I’ll get to the word illness in a moment), but I felt as though I could fry an egg sunny side up if I cracked it on my cheek.
When I informed my friend group that I was not feeling very well they asked if I was ill. I’m going to break this word down a little bit here. To Americans, you know how I pronounce this word. My Scottish friends pronounce “ill” like “el”. Thus, with my mind already in a haze, I had to ask them to repeat the sentences roughly 5 times for me to finally understand what they meant. I haven’t studied Spanish in a few years, but when they were asking “are you el(ill)?” I almost responded with “Yes I am a he” (“El” meaning “he”). Needless to say, I needed to rest up a lot that evening to recover.
New topic: Jake being dad at home and abroad.
Those who know my reputation at Linfield, know that everything about me screams dad. There is photographic evidence of me in Starbucks with glasses on, a Patagonia quarter-zip, and the newspaper in hand. Sounds like a normal weekday minus the sunglasses I borrowed from my friend. Besides my choices in fashion, my dad reputation comes from my lack of knowledge of young person lingo. The majority of the time I have to raise my hand and ask “excusez-moi?” as if saying it in French makes me more hip… You get the picture. This takes me to the following story.
The same evening that my fever hit, my friends went out to celebrate one of their birthdays. Not only did I have a class at 08:30 the next morning, but my sickness also kept me from going out with them. After hearing the events that occurred while they were out, I wish my illness did not keep me in that evening. I’ll leave you with one line. Scottish people enjoy their drink. As this does not necessarily appeal to me, you might ask, “why does he wish that he went out with them?”. I probably would have asked the same question. Here’s the thing, let’s just say that at least one head was split open last evening that required stitches. That’s where Jake’s dad reputation was called upon. Literally. I received upwards of 10-15 calls in the “wee hours of the morning” as my friends from Scotland would say. With a decent amount of Nyquil in my system, the face I made bringing my head up to my pillow was the equivalent to most teenager’s faces when they found out that Kylie Jenner had a baby. Pure shock mixed with a little drool? Sounds about right ;).
Without recognizing the number, I didn’t answer. Not that me answering would have benefited the situation at all. I am quite confident that my sentence structure would not have been up to my normal standards. Thankfully, the people that I have surrounded myself with are some of the best in the world. The other American in our group stepped up to the plate and took the responsibility of our injured friend. Couldn’t be prouder of this person! Very refreshing to see such professionalism from those around me.
As week 4 comes to a close, travel opportunities have arisen. My friends and I have booked trips to South Korea and Vietnam during the coming months. Very excited to experience the food cultures of these amazing countries!
Hong Kong’s environmental diversity continues to amaze me on a daily basis. A person who enjoys being spontaneous belongs here. My most recent adventure took my group and I to the 10,000 Buddhas. Now, one may ask, “Are there really 10,000 Buddhas?”. If I’m being completely honesty with you, I got bored counting by the time I got to the low teens… According to an article about the history of this historical landmark, roughly 12,000 gold colored (not actual gold… I was disappointed as well) Buddhas are dispersed up a winding path that stretches up a large hill that I would argue is the equivalent to a small mountain.
Climbing to the top however, was the smallest feat achieved that day. Let me give you a little idea of why that may be. Located in the New Territories of Hong Kong, this paved trail up a mountain is a lot more difficult to find that you would expect. I kept asking myself “Okay… How arduous must it be to locate that many Buddhas…?” Much more than expected let me tell you.
Probably the most surprising characteristic of this attraction is what is at the base of it… I would have never guessed that our friends from Sweden would choose to house one of their most popular home good stores smack dab right next door. Yes. That’s right. There is an Ikea no more than 30 paces from the base of the 10,000 Buddhas trek. Conveniently placed I guess because what you see on this journey may make you want to cuddle a pillow, which you can conveniently purchase for around $100 HKD (around $12.50 USD).
I know what you’re thinking. What could possibly be so frightening about a little golden statue of a Buddha. It wasn’t the statues at all. It was what was climbing, swinging, and defecating all over them. Monkeys. Most of the macaque (species found in Hong Kong) were very cute and playful as we were ascending. However, during our descent, the macaques were a little less hospitable. I don’t want to sound dramatic by comparing our experience to the movie Kong, so I’ll use Rise of the Planet of the Apes as my example. The statues were lined up on either side of the paved pathway, which was surrounded by jungle terrain. Tree limbs surrounding us were shaking and we could see many masses shooting around in the brush. Without warning, close to 30 monkeys, from infants to adults swung their way onto the Buddhas that were in front of my group.
We were boxed in on all sides by these monkeys. At that moment you go back to your grade school teachings. The “there is strength in numbers” saying apparently is taught by another species with apposable thumbs. With a 10:1 ratio of macaques to people in my group, we found our feet cemented to the cement. Need I mention that it was a warm day. Thus, my consumption of water was decently high. There were also no lavatories along the trail. After a few minutes of letting the monkeys run amok, I told my friends that we needed to muster up some courage quickly or there was going to be an added water feature in their general vicinity. The hint was taken.
Maneuvering passed these monkeys was not an easy task because of how familiar they are with people. In my head, I was humming the Mission Impossible theme song and imagining what I would do if I was Tom Cruise. News flash. I am most definitely not Tom Cruise. Every muscle in my body was stiff as a board as I tiptoed by a full sized adult macaque. I was no more than two feet away. It felt just like high school when I came come past curfew: trying not to make a sound, avoiding possible eye contact, then once you passed the figure that you are trying to avoid you break into a full sprint. After making it down the mountain, my friends and I felt as though we barely escaped death. We survived of course, and rejuvenated with none other than a bowl of noodles. Pure comfort. In person, I am able to give a much better description and show videos of how crazy this experience actually was. See me in person for a more detailed telling of this story.
I’ll close my entry with a pro tip. When your friend group is trying to get from point A to point B via ferry, do not leave the dock because you are trying to catch a Pokemon playing Pokemon Go. First of all, I was under the impression we left that in 2016. Second, if you hear the siren that is signaling the ferry closing its gates, it may be wise to let the Pokemon go… However, it did make for a funny story and video as we sailed passed our friend waiting for the next boat. Never a dull moment over here!
With one of the most convenient places for travel in Asia, Hong Kong has given me many opportunities to explore the surrounding countries and islands at very reasonable prices. Two weeks ago, I was able to go on a little weekend holiday with friends to Seoul, South Korea. This was one of the most memorable experiences I have had to date. Chatting with my friends who went with me on this trip, I found a cultural and environmental difference that didn’t surprise me, but I had just never really put that much thought into. Many of my European friends began traveling internationally with friends from the age of 15. In America, that is extremely uncommon. Of course, geographically it is much less significant for a European to cross an international boarder than it is for many in North America. Knowing my level of maturity (or lack there of) at 15, there is no way I would have let 15-year-old Jake travel with his friends without adult supervision! That’s a whole additional blog post by itself…
This trip was the first time that I had booked a flight by myself, a tour, researched accommodations, etc. This may sound odd, but when you have a dad like mine, who is easily one of the most well-experienced travelers I have ever met with planning trips, I don’t need to help out much in trip logistics with my family. Several of my friends were the ones that officially locked in reservations for us, but we all contributed in the finding process. However, my buddy Eddie absolutely knocked it out of the park with the Airbnb he found for us. This place had EVERYTHING. It was tucked into a little street just off a main road right next to one of the liveliest districts in Seoul called Itaewon. The location was so convenient and absolutely gorgeous! This place even had a rooftop that we could sit down at and sip on traditional Korean beverages. We escaped the heat of Hong Kong, to dive into freezing temperatures in Seoul. Thus, we did not spend lots of time on the roof J. That is also because we were exploring the entire time!
As much as a fun oriented trip this was, it was also very valuable to my development of seeing and understanding the world. We were able to go on a day trip to the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). I can’t even begin to describe how I felt about this experience. The amount of history, of both tragedy and fortune, could be spotted at every destination we stopped at. It was an endless roller-coaster of emotion for everyone on the trip.
At one of the observatories we stopped at, we could see “villages” in North Korea. I use quotations because these “villages” are the places that news anchors are taken to with the intention of giving a false view of what truly occurs in the country. They are essentially “fake villages” as many South Koreans call them. Our tour guide said that normally propaganda is blared on both sides of the boarder which is audible from where we were standing. Most of the time, it includes banter regarding the corruption of North Korea and how life is so much easier in the South. Other times, we were told, the South Koreans blare American popular music just to piss off the North Koreans. Of course, I had to ask what kind of music was played. I was told Michael Jackson is commonly played. No wonder so many North Koreans want to say, “beat it” to Mr. Kim. Ha. Ha. Get it?
Unfortunately, nothing was being played that day so we were unable to have that experience. What we did hear was a sound that was almost deafening. Absolutely nothing. Looking over at what was probably the closest I may ever come to North Korea, there was a silence that is indescribable. It could have been the scene out of a horror movie. Not even a bird was flying or chirping. It was a lot to take in after having so much fun at the prior stop’s gift shop.
Later that day, after exploring most of the city on foot, the group was ready for dinner. Boy had I been waiting for this! As most people who know me might expect, I thoroughly researched many options for dinner that evening, prior to our departure that morning. I had a list of 5 things that I absolutely had to eat while I was in Seoul. They are as follows: Korean BBQ, Bulgogi, fried chicken (famous in Korea), Japchae (sweet potato glass noodles), and rice cakes. Yes. I tried Every. Single. One. In my research that day, I came across a place we had to try. A next level BBQ restaurant. I sold the heck out it to my friends, even though the place really speaks for itself. My friends let me have a ball and order for the table, which is probably one of the best compliments anyone can give to me. It shows that they trust me to make a decision that they are literally willing to bet money on, that I will deliver something amazing. The food was FANTASTIC! For most, it was their first experience with this kind of restaurant so it was fun to see everyone’s smiles as the meat was cooked in front of them.
Of course, much more happened on this trip than was included in this post, but I cannot express enough how great the people I have the luxury of calling “my friends” are. I never would have thought that in such a short time, people could grow so close. I look forward to our upcoming adventures in the weeks to come. First, we have to get through midterms this week. That’s right. I am still in school, though I probably could have fooled most of you…
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!
I cannot stress enough how emotional I am thinking of leaving Hong Kong. What seemed so foreign to me when I got here, has become my reality. The flashing lights, skyscrapers, wealth, poverty, smells, etc. that used to blow me away, now make me think of home. My love for my actual home hasn’t changed in the slightest, despite what the previous sentence may make one think. I love the Northwest and all it has to offer. Before leaving for Hong Kong, I never imagined myself loving something more. I also didn’t think I would ever consider living outside of Oregon. That has all changed.
The experiences that I have had the opportunity to partake in, have given me a new look at life. I always dreamed of living a life of luxury. Traveling in first-class, drinking fine wines, dining at 5-star restaurants, etc. I can tell you with absolute confidence, that lifestyle could not disgust me more. The people I have seen in third world countries who are living in some of the worst poverty I’ve ever seen can give you something that no classroom can: perspective. If I asked you to compare two people side by side, one person who probably makes less than a dollar a day living on the streets in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Thailand, vs. the person that owns city blocks on Wall Street, you may notice something. Why is the person with hardly any money to his/her name smiling brighter than the burned-out Wall Street executive? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. It proves the theory that money does not buy happiness. However, if someone wants to make a case that money does buy food, which does make me happy… I’ll listen.
With less than 3 weeks left in this paradise, the title of this post, “It’s never too late…” has been my motto as of late. This is mainly in relation to the people I have met and begun cultivating relationships within the past 3 weeks. Considering how minimal our time is, few people go out of their way to venture outside of their well-established friend groups. The people I have spent the last 4 months with have become, and will forever be, my family. My very dysfunctional family that is. I could easily rattle off the names and descriptions of each member of my friend group and classify them as members of a crazy family.
As I was saying, I have met and become friends with such amazing people recently. It saddens me knowing that I had 3 months to get to know them, that I wasted. The main people I am thinking of sit right behind me in my Mandarin class! Feels like wasted time, but “it’s never too late”! For such a long time, I had this mentality that once groups had been established, venturing outside of those groups was frowned upon. That is one of my biggest regrets this term. I can only imagine how close I may be with these people had I not had such assumptions. You know what they say about assuming… It makes an @$$ out of “u” and “me” (ass u me).
My advice to anyone, not limited to those studying abroad, is never for a second think that there are limitations on who you can meet and when. A simple conversation can blossom into an amazing friendship, which I can attest to with numerous examples! I can’t express enough how much I’ve learned from the people I’ve met. It’s like a never ending book that I just can’t put down. The thought of leaving these people indefinitely is crippling, though the plans for reunions have already begun.
(To better understand my emotions while writing this entry, listen to Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You” while you read this)
And so the time has come for the final entry during my study abroad semester. I write this from Seat 28H on Air Canada Flight AC008. I knew this day would come, but I could never have prepared for it. Just fair warning, if this post turns into a love letter to all the people I just said “good-bye” to, don’t be alarmed.
This has been a week full of reflection, “last times”, and heart break with the periodic departure of dear friends. Originally, my flight was scheduled to depart on the 17th, but I requested an extension until the 20th, knowing most my friends were leaving on the 19th. This flight change happened in February and as I mentioned in my previous post, so many life changing friendships have been made since then. There is a quote I came across recently that goes something along the lines of “Friendship is not how long you know someone. It’s about who came, and never left your side”. I would manipulate that quote to make it fit my experience more. Instead, I prefer, “Friendship is not how long you know someone. It’s when people come into your life, make an effort, make themselves vulnerable, and truly care”. If this study abroad experience has taught me anything, it’s that when people take down their walls, that is when true bonds form.
As I mentioned in Entry 8, the recent connections I made with people mean the absolute world to me. That is because these people have shown me their true selves beyond what I could have ever asked for. It did not come easy though. Many barriers had to be broken. One of those barriers has been referred to as “The French Barrier”. A large majority of students studying at Hong Kong Baptist University are from France and they are known for spending most, if not all of their time with other people from France. Few people have had the luxury of being included in one of the most exclusive “clubs” in Hong Kong. The French exchange student club. From an outsider’s perspective, one can misinterpret why they spend so much time with one another. It wasn’t until I began to try to connect with some of them, that they told me why they rarely venture outside of their group. They feel insecure that their English language skills are less than stellar, so they prefer to use their native tongue. To be honest, if I spoke French, I would definitely prefer to use it as well. However, I have picked up a few phrases from them that I will be using for the rest of my life. If you’re reading this, and you are one of my French friends, the word starts with the letter “P” ;). As if I don’t miss them enough already, I decided it was a good idea to turn on Ratatouille on the plane as I write this. Not the best decision when considering my emotional stability right now.
That is beside the point. As I was saying… I thought I had a general understanding of what caring for and loving people looked/felt like. No. I did not. Never in my life did I think that in less than 2 months’ time (and in many cases for me, less than 1 months’ time), I could go from being complete strangers with someone, to not being able to imagine my life without them. Saying “good-bye” to people ripped my heart out of my chest and it will never be fully replaced. It sounds sad, but I know it was worth it. As the great philosopher Winnie, the Pooh once said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. Typically, I think it’s cheesy when people use this quote, but hey, I can’t argue with it. This really means that we had the time of our lives. I will never be the same because of the people I met while in Hong Kong. I cannot put into words the emotions I feel when I think of them. They have taught me a whole new meaning of love.
I think it’s necessary for me to mention some of the things I learned from my friends. I will not mention names, but those who I am writing about will know who they are.
The first lesson I want to touch on is in relation to happiness. This person changed my life. She has an unparalleled ability to light up a room with her smile. Look up the lyrics to “Lemonade” by Jeremy Passion. Probably one of the best ways to describe her! I’m convinced that her laugh and smile could change anyone’s mood or end world wars. Without fail, whether I was having a good or bad day, I could always count on seeing her to propel my mood to a state of almost irrational happiness. She taught me that life is far too short to allow little things to get the better of me. I can’t think of a better example of pure joy than this girl. Her love for life and people (especially her friends) is one of the many reasons why she is so happy. I try daily to emulate her passion for those things. If I am half as happy as she is in my life, I’ll count myself the luckiest guy in the world. The world is a better place because of her. If there were more people like her in this world, I can only imagine how much more amazing life would be! To her I say, “HIP HIP HIP BUBBLE”. (If you don’t understand what that means, I am talking about someone else lol)
Let me now talk about someone else who really changed my life. The lesson is about friendship and creating a connection that cannot be broken. This person truly loves people unconditionally. Watching her with those she is close to (me being one of them), made me feel like maybe this world isn’t as crazy as I thought. She also happens to be best friends with the person I wrote the previous paragraph about. If I learned to love like her, I would be such a better son, brother, and friend. Thank you for being who you are. The impact you had on me is immeasurable. I look forward to our future culinary endeavors together!
Next on the list, someone who I have a bond with that will last a lifetime. The lesson is about going above and beyond for those you care about. I witnessed this girl be one of the best examples of a friend that I have ever seen. She wasn’t asked or required to do what she did in this situation, but she saw the need and helped immediately. That is the definition of what it means to be a good friend. Thank you for showing me the art of serving others better than anyone expects! She also has a ridiculous sense of rhythm. Her dance moves are stellar haha.
The next person I want to mention taught me so much about making an effort with others. This is where the vulnerability concept comes into account again. She had recently gone through a separation with a significant other right before she met me. Despite not knowing me very well, she was so willing to share how she felt. I didn’t expect her to talk about her feelings, but I am so thankful that she did. It catapulted our friendship to a place I didn’t think was possible in such a short time. It is rare to connect on such an emotional level with someone and to know exactly where you stand with that person at all times. It was the easiest thing in the world getting to know this French “work of art”. We also have a running bet as to whether Oregon wine can put up a fight against French wine. She will soon know what a true Oregon Pinot Noir is!
My next lesson is about compassion brought to you by one of the most caring guys I’ve ever met. He was the glue (one of them) that kept my group together. The epitome of a great friend. If I listed all the times he put other people above himself, I would need hand surgery from typing so much. Seriously, I have never seen such an example of compassion in a person before. I can only hope to care for people the way he does. He turns “like a bridge over troubled water” to “like a bridge over peaceful waters”. Cheers to you buddy!
I have so many more examples I could include, but this is the final one I will talk about to save you some time. The last lesson is about being less concerned with the opinions others have of you and how it can drastically improve your quality of life. This girl never worries about what people think about her. She has gone through so many hardships in her short life that have molded her into the woman she is today. There was a time on a holiday trip where we shared some of our thoughts on life and I was completely blown away by her insight. She told me that once she stopped worrying about what others thought of her, she became exponentially happier! I can only hope to be more like this!
As I sign off, I want to thank everyone who made me feel so welcome in this foreign land and experience. Hong Kong was never my home. The people, my friends, my new family members, where what made it a home. Now, my home is all over the world returning to their normal lives. However, it will never feel “normal” again. I know that will be true for me as well. What we went through together is an experience of a lifetime. It was a gift that I honestly will never be able to put a value on or describe in words. I know exactly how each and every one of you made me feel and I only hope that I made you feel the same. I am a much better person because of you all.
I’ll leave you guys with one final quote. Again, from the cartoon character mentioned above. He said, “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever”. No matter the distance or time, you guys will always be with me.
In Hong Kong, Spring Break is the equivalent to Easter Break. While all my friends at home were enjoying time off a number of weeks ago, I was still in the thick of a week of classes. However, when my Easter Break came around last week, I’m sure that my activities may have made a few of my friends a little jealous. In late January-early February, knowing that we had a week off the first week of April, my friends and I booked tickets to Vietnam. As I have mentioned in my posts many times before, I gravitate towards countries that have amazing food. Vietnam is in my top 5 favorite countries for food, if not top 3.
Let’s get into the meat of it!
The trip definitely had its bumps. Many of which came at the beginning. Once we arrived at the airport in Hong Kong, one of my friends who thought she didn’t need a visa to get into Vietnam, discovered that she did in fact need one. After everyone but her had made it through security, we started making bets as to how close she was going to cut it before the flight. She made it with about a 25-minute window left. A close call for sure! Once we arrived in Vietnam, the stressed intensified.
Of course, with purchasing an expedited visa, there was an assistant waiting for my friend at the airport in Hanoi. He assisted her in the application process and sped up the time of getting her visa. Now, let me include some more details. We landed around 2:45pm in Hanoi. We had a private bus scheduled to depart at 4:00pm. Having completed my visa application weeks before, I was under the impression that I just needed the visa stamped in my passport and I would be on my way. Essentially, that is what happened. However, what it took to have that happen was far more time consuming than I had predicted.
(At this point, all my friends had made it through immigration and customs. This included the girl who got the expedited visa.)
I waited as only one name was called to retrieve their passport from the immigration desk about every twenty minutes. There was a great sum of people that were in line ahead of me, making my stress levels go off the charts. I noticed something with about twenty minutes to go before the bus left the airport without me. The same guy who helped my friend with her application, was now assisting other people in front of me. Observing the transaction process, it became clear to me that his services were not cheap. I decided to give it ten more minutes before I made a rash decision. Of course, those ten minutes felt like ten seconds.
(At this moment, I had ten minutes before the bus left.)
Approaching the guy with as much of a charm as I could muster while under some of the most intense stress I’ve experienced, I politely asked him how much it would cost me to acquire his assistance in expediting my visa process. He asked what my name was and where I was from. With those details, he said “Yeah I can help”. Within five minutes, he had retrieved my passport with the visa stamped inside, helped me get my picture taken, and got me through immigration/customs. When he handed me my documents, I was anxious to hear how much he was going to ask for his services. With a very kind look on his face, he said “All set! No charge for you”. It’s people like that who make me think this world isn’t so crazy after all. Really makes you want to pay it forward!
(Some clarification: the bus driver did not speak English. Therefore, he did not understand when my friends asked him to wait for me. He was getting antsy to leave as close to 4:00pm as possible.)
Sprinting through an airport is definitely not high on this list of things you should do, but with three minutes to go before the bus left, I thought “desperate times called for desperate measures”. I made it to the bus with one minute to spare! My friends were telling me how stressed they were that I may not make it. They could tell by the look on my face that their stress was pretty insignificant compared to mine though. Now, let me tell you a little bit about this bus.
I had been the one who really pushed to book this bus prior to arriving at the airport, because none of us had experience with public transportation in Vietnam and the drive was two and a half hours to Ha Long Bay (our first destination). That made me possibly missing it a little more ironic. That’s beside the point. This bus was the perfect cure for my stress. We didn’t realize that it was a luxury bus service that we had booked. We are talking reclining leather seats, LED ceiling lights, a gorgeous clock built into the wall, blankets, waters, the whole nine yards. In addition, the service was door to door. Dropped us off right in front of our Airbnb! Such a blessing.
Our days in Vietnam varied. We spent a few days in Ha Long Bay and then returned for a few in Hanoi. A cruise in Ha Long Bay took us to some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We even had an opportunity to get out on the water and kayak as well. For me, that was one of the highlights from the trip besides the food.
I’ll get into the tour a little bit here. We were picked up around 08:30 by bus to head to the marina about twenty minutes away, if my memory serves me correctly. Once there, our guide ran us through safety protocols for the day and got into logistics a little bit. After a short while, we were out on the boat. It was another pleasant surprise! The boat had tables with intricately designed table cloths, nice bench seats lined with pillows on them, a clean bathroom (which I rarely have found on many boats), a little gift shop (that was actually a basket of souvenirs for sale), it even had a deck with tanning chairs to catch some sun!
The tour took us to see several famous Islets such as Stone Dog, Incense Burner, and Fighting Cocks. See my Facebook and Instagram for more pictures. In addition, we were taken to Sung Sot Cave (one of the largest caves in Ha Long Bay). Which I also believe is the second largest cave in Vietnam! It was absolutely MENTAL. I was blown away by the intricate patterns inside the cave. Very beautiful!
We were also taken to an island where we were able to swim for a little bit and hike. The view from the top of the hike was breathtaking and very worth the intense staircase up, haha. It was then time for our return. Luckily, we had met some travelers from Australia on the tour who made the long ride seem very short! I loved sharing stories about traveling and comparing our cultures. Look forward to meeting them sometime again!
Once we got to Hanoi, the fun continued! Our first meal was actually at the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain took President Obama in 2016. Boy did they capitalize on that… The “Combo Obama” consisted of their classic Bun Cha (grilled pork with vermicelli noodles in broth=absolutely amazing), a seafood fried roll, and a Hanoi Beer. We even saw the table they sat at, that is boxed in a glass case. As an avid watcher of Anthony Bourdain (I’ve seen the episode where he takes Obama to this restaurant), I enjoyed it so much more!
My friend and I also had an opportunity to take a cooking class in Hanoi! I cannot stress enough how much I loved this! We were taken to a local market to buy all the fresh ingredients, which always gets me excited. Love to see the differences in markets at home and abroad. The FDA would have had a heart attack if they saw what was going on there. We then prepared 5 dishes: beef pho, bun cha, spring rolls, papaya salad, and egg coffee (sounds odd I know… however, it’s very light and sweet. I ended up liking it surprisingly). It was funny to see some adults much older than me lack basic knife skills. You wouldn’t survive in my house if you aren’t willing to lend a hand with meal preparations.
We also did some other touristy things. Explored Train Street (train tracks that go straight through neighborhoods), the prison where John McCain was held after his capture (a very moving experience), and a number of places around the city. Adventuring with friends continues to be such a valuable time for me and I can’t wait for what’s to come! I left a few stories and details out for a reason. Some need to be told in person and I look forward to the opportunity to tell them soon! Only about a month left. Little confession… I don’t want to leave 😉