In Fresher’s year, I was like Daft Punk- up all night to get lucky. By February, I did and was given the chance to study a semester abroad. Since I wanted a change of scenery, I chose somewhere far away while still being academically “shiny” on my CV: The University of Hong Kong. Called my parents (they might as well be aware of my whereabouts), booked my tickets, packed my bags and in less time than you need to say “dumplings”, I was getting drunk on a plane to Asia.
Fast-forward to now, two weeks after my arrival in Hong Kong (HK), and I’m still puzzled by it. I had visited Asia before, so I knew I would be a bit unsettled by the culture, which is quite different from Europe. However, what got me the most is that when I arrived, I felt at home. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few differences from back home but I saw mostly similarities. Obviously, the first thing the hungry hippo that I am looked for was the food. One thing about me is that I love food. If you didn’t know, now you do and let me assure you that the food here, even if it’s mainly rice and noodles, is amazing. Although it was a bit disturbing, as for my birthday I wanted to go to a really fancy Chinese restaurant, and could only find Italian, French or other western Haute Cuisine. I’m pretty sure that the constantly raging hunger in me made me lazy and I wasn’t looking that hard to find them, but the massive presence of western restaurants in HK was shocking.
I also had to do some errands when I arrived like buying clothes, getting a sim card and treating myself for my birthday. Vain, I know, and I own it. Finding a true local shop for clothes was as hard as finding some brain cells in the new season of Big Brother. I was surrounded by the big brands and I didn’t travel 9,616 kilometres to shop at Zara and H&M. I’m sure the local boutiques are somewhere there but even if there was a sign in front of me, it’d probably be written in Cantonese, so, Google Translate, be my friend and save me. Getting a phone plan wasn’t that complicated but the choice was very limited. Choosing from companies like Three and Smartone felt like I was still in the UK, and the few local ones only had a 1-year minimum contract (I’m here for 6 months). On good advice from broke-ass friends I went with a pay-as-you-go one from China Mobile. About £10 a month for everything unlimited, seemed like a dream come true. Not. Eventually it messed up and I’m on a quest again to find the Graal that is 4G. Feel like Indiana Jones; without the whip though, I ain’t digging it.
During the first few days, before classes started, I was hiking everywhere, going to random places but always ending with beautiful landscapes. Seriously, I could start up a postcard making company with the thousands of photos I took. At one point, I had to make some space on my phone for it, so I deleted all the futile things like photos with my family or banking app. Who need those anyway? I can now say, without a doubt, that walking in Hong Kong and its surroundings is the best workout I’ve ever had.
My exploration of the city continued at night and I discovered nightlife in Hong Kong, starting by the famous LKF (Lan Kway Fong) or as I like to call it “White People Central”. So many bars, so many Westerners, so many clubs. Soon to be 20, I felt at home in this mass of drunkenness and wild mess. From bars to bars, I was getting to that ecstatic place they call “being draank” and soon it was time to hit the clubs. There are a lot of good clubs in HK and when I got in front of one of them, ZENTRAL, it was like a cold shower. Two bouncers, who looked like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum had been punched in the face, had the nerve, the audacity to ask me for 300$ HKD (approximately £30) for entry. I was on the verge to faint. Me, dramatic? Never. Although you’d have to admit that expensive isn’t even covering it. Coming from London and Paris, I’m used to paying a limb every time I wanna go partying but what I discovered in HK is that not only you have to sell an arm on the black market to get in but you have to be properly dressed as well.
Now, working in entertainment, I clearly understand the motives behind the dress code but in a city like HK, where it’s as hot at night as it is during the day, if you’re gonna go pre-drink and walk through the mass, then spend hours in a closed dark room, you might as well be wearing something that doesn’t make you feel like you’re in the middle of the Sahara.
However, don’t get me wrong, some clubs were cheaper and it does depend on what night you’re going out (I got in for free in a club and got invited to a VIP table, but that’s a story for another time). Finally, if I had a glass of wine for every time I heard French in HK, you’d find me under the table. The amount of French here is impressive, shortly followed by Americans, British, Dutch and Scandinavians. I know I’m complaining a lot and I shouldn’t because I can definitely afford this lavish lifestyle.
Overall, Hong Kong seems like it’s a white-washed Asian megalopolis, like a glorious city with Asians roots that is slowly being taken over by the Western trends. Nevertheless, it is an impressive city full of surprises, not always for the best, but it never misses the spot. In less than two weeks, when I thought that I was overconfident about not being homesick and would be missing home in no time; Hong Kong has been quite welcoming and everything I’ve discovered so far could be what I need to help me patiently wait till February (coming home) or it might even make me never wanna leave. Imma be a cliché right now but only time will tell. Hong Kong, I ain’t no Marvin Gaye but let’s get it on.
Text and photos by Stan Bertheol
Picture research by Juliey Pham; featured image taken from Insight Guides.