I am officially a tree hugger. There, I said it! In observance of Earth Day, Li & Fung and various other major companies throughout Hong Kong partnered with Ark Eden to make our world a better place and plant some trees. As most of you can probably guess, the air in HK is not the cleanest. It's actually insane when you're in the city and can feel the smog pollute your lungs. That's why I wanted to do my part and help to make HK a cleaner, fresher place to live in. So at 8AM on a Saturday morning, we met up and took the ferry to Lantau Island in order to hike up this insanely steep hill in insane heat and humidity. But as a passionate hiker, I enjoyed the challenge. We each grabbed 3 tiny trees, 2 bottles of fertilizer (literally made of bulls***) and some tools. After we arrived on top of the hill, enjoying the spectacular view, we started planting our baby trees. This was so fun! I'm definitely going to visit my trees when I come back to HK at some point in my career.
When my family was over, we went to what I would call the less fun version of Vegas: Macau. Yes, that's a thing. A country that used to be under Portuguese rule until 1999 to be specific. It's attached to mainland China and about a 1 hour (turbo) boat ride away from Hong Kong. Now why on earth would I go there when I fly to Vegas like every two months? It's all about immigration policies. So fun! The first month here in HK I was on a student visa that naturally expired after my 4 weeks at PolyU and in order to be a legal intern on a training visa, I had to leave and re-enter the country. So, we took a trip as soon as I heard the training visa was approved and ready for pick up. Yay! Off we go! After a fast but nauseating boat ride (apparently I did not know that boats made me feel that way), we arrived at a crowded boat terminal and were immediately approached by a tour guide wanting to sell us some crazy expensive "private bus tour". Thanks but no thanks. Not knowing where to get bus passes from, we got onto the next bus (no, the bus drivers don't speak English) and just paid with some HK$ coins because we didn't have any Macanese pataca (I still don't know if we paid the right amount but I'm pretty sure we didn't). We got off at the overly crowded Senado Square and it actually looked like some leftover Portuguese spirit and architecture. The rest - not so much. The rest of the city center looked more Chinese than anything and the loud street stands contributed to that. Can you tell how much I like this place just yet?
After doing a lot of walking, we decided to check out the reason that anyone actually goes to Macau: the casinos! MGM, the Wynn, the Venetian - sound familiar? Well these hotel and casinos are well known because of their Vegas originals, so if you've been to Vegas, this will not be too exciting. But since most of my family hadn't been to Vegas yet, this was fun and probably my favorite part of the trip. The Wynn in Macau has a gigantic fountain (à la Bellagio) out front and we arrived just in time for the water show to start, topped off with some pretty cheesy Chinese music accompanying it, but still awesome. I love bright lights and pretty fountains (so romantic! Sigh!). We also went inside but it became clear pretty quickly that there was no Vegas vibe to be found here. All slot machines and tables were behind red velvet ropes and you could only enter as a member. Nobody was really drinking and it was dead silent. Not quite the Hangover-type Vegas experience - so classy!
Afterwards, we ended our Macau experience at a typically Macanese restaurant called Riquexo. The food and the restaurant staff were absolutely awesome and we had a fun night! Definitely a must for when you're in Macau!
My family was here for a week and just left. I miss them already but we had a great time! I especially enjoyed their hotel breakfast buffet and pool!
Has anyone ever counted them? How do we know there's actually ten thousand of them? And who was the poor guy that had to carry ten thousand life-size statues up a steep hill in the scorching HK sun?
But all jokes aside, this monastery and spectacular walk up to it are a must-see when you're in Hong Kong!
(Allegedly) ten thousand life-size golden buddha statues are lined up along 430 steps that lead you to the top of the mountain. If you're doing this - like me - on a warmer day, make sure to hydrate and wear as little clothing as possible because you will sweat. A lot. But it's worth it and very possible for beginning hikers!
Once you reach the middle platform, you will see a temple and pagoda surrounded by (you guessed it) more buddhas. The smell of incense surrounds you and people are praying in front of the statues.
When you resume the climb to the top, the statues start becoming female ones and on the very top, male ones completely disappear. The view from the top is spectacular and also the temple and buddhas on the rocks offer a great view! This place is definitely worth a trip!
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University - not only does it sound like a university that's up there with the big ones, it truly is!
After setting foot on campus for the very first time, I knew this would be an adventure. I have always dreamed of living the true university life. And no, I'm not talking about partying my life away, I mean a big campus, student activities, a canteen and enormous library. I still like the intimacy of AMFI with its small building and cozy atmosphere but this is the kind of university you usually see in movies.
So, of course I got lost - a lot. But that's okay. Exploring new cafes, outdoor sitting areas and stores was fun.
I was mostly impressed with all the activities organized by students. In our first week, we stumbled upon a Chinese New Year Gala during lunch time. Students had prepared performances and several teachers and the dean of students were thrilled to talk to us exchange students, which was quite weird to be the center of attention when we had only been there for a few days.
And there was free food to try from different Chinese regions. FREE FOOD!
The next - and definitely most fun - event was LoveOn. A week full of activities around what love is about. As a funny coincidence, we even got free tickets to a dinner show hosted by the committee and we definitely laughed a lot that night, aside from eating a variety of Western food, which you definitely crave every once in a while after eating rice pretty much every day.
In our last week at PolyU, we traveled around the world in literally 10 minutes. How that is possible? There were 10 canvasses with props showcasing different countries around the world and when you took a picture at each of them, you got a free polaroid picture, which is kind of like the best thing ever. The next day, there was free food again from all 10 countries. I probably don't have to mention that guacamole from South America was my favorite, right? How I had missed some good old guac!
Unfortunately, the time at PolyU went by way too fast and I will definitely miss some of the things there (mainly the food, because food, duh?).
What would Hong Kong be without its many markets? Hermes wallets for €15, Mulberry bags for €20 and the list goes on. You can have everything you want here for a fraction of the price. Of course, as a fashion student specializing in production this is a difficult subject. It's the fact that the faking of products seems impossible to stop that makes this topic a very frustrating one. Especially when I saw T-shirts from the brand I interned for and can very well see myself with in the future, it made me wanna act upon the urge of stopping this madness that costs the industry millions every year. The question is just, if you can't stop it, do you contribute to it? Is it that bad to buy one or two items if there will always be someone else who buys it instead? I don't know yet. I feel very strongly about certain brands and I am more indifferent towards others. But does that make it okay to buy items from these brands then? I feel conflicted.
Whether you agree or disagree that it's not "the right thing" to do, you should definitely check out the Temple Street Market and the Ladies Market. Both are only open at night and it's quite the experience!
I don't know if you know it but I love the beach. It's a place of complete bliss, peace and happiness. It's impossible to be in a bad mood when you're surrounded by sand, the sun is shining down on you and you hear the sound of soft waves crashing onto the shore. This is my happy place.
My first Hong Kong beach experience was in Shek O, a little village on the very East of Hong Kong Island, far away from the busy city life (plan enough time for the bus journey). You can actually breathe here and not feel like you've just inhaled an entire country's smog particles. I would have never thought that I would appreciate fresh air as much as I do here.
And the beach, it was beautiful! Fine, white sand, the ocean not too cold after you get used to it (warmer than the Pacific for sure - sorry California you lose this one) and a breathtaking view of rocks and islands in the far back. Did I mention how happy this place makes me?
On the far end of the beach, there are BBQ pits and tables for everyone to use and the restaurants in the village offer an array of Western (quite pricey) food. As we walked around to discover Shek O, we found out why. It seems like all the rich Western people built fancy modern houses on the cliff overlooking the water (which actually reminded me a lot of one of my favorite cities - Laguna Beach).
It was such a great day and I'm sure I will return soon!
On my second day in Hong Kong, I decided to go to a few of the close by markets. Living in Mong Kok, Kowloon - the more traditionally Chinese part of HK - many markets are within walking distance. So, me and a few friends decided to check out the Flower Market, Bird Market and Goldfish Market.
The flowers at the market were incredibly colorful and all bouquets looked very romantic (I'm just gonna call it that because cheesy has too much of a negative touch). I found it to be very Chinese. The flower shops sold everything from the flowers to the baskets to Chinese decorative elements. I was amazed by the types of flowers and plants that were offered and decided to buy some once I settle in.
When we heard the sound of birds, we looked up and up in a park right next to the Flower Market, we were led to the Bird Market. The positive experience I had until now faded quickly. Birds in tiny cages, screaming for freedom left a feeling of helplessness with me. The further we went, the more birds were held in a cage and the louder their screams got. It made me very aware of the cultural difference and how - even though this is HK - the Chinese animal rights are very different to European ones. I honestly just wanted to buy all birds and set them free. Especially the big, beautiful parrots at the end, chained to a small branch that they sat on, made me feel like something was very wrong here. I kept trying to keep in mind that this is a different culture but it saddened me to see the conditions these animals were held in. I can only hope that they find a lovely home or are being set free rather sooner than later.
After this culture shock, we decided to continue to wander the streets of Kowloon and happened to stumble across the Goldfish Market. And, you guessed it, they were held in small plastic bags. Bags you would normally put your sandwich in. And I mean the small size. From an artistic point of view, you could maybe argue that photos of the many bags with the colorful goldfish look artsy but this is - again - so wrong. There is probably a reason why taking pictures is forbidden in most of these places.
I went back home with many thoughts running through my head, thinking that there will be a lot I have to get used to.
Suitcases checked, tickets in hand, Hong Kong study visa in my passport - off I go. But wait, I forgot to mention the 10-pack of tissues, nasal spray, vitamin C, zinc and Halls that are supposed to help me get through this flight without my ear drums exploding from the pressure up in the air. Being pretty much the only blonde next to almost all Chinese passengers on my flight, I was met with quite a few stares from the surrounding rows. I saw this flight as my first Chinese experience. From friends who have lived in or been to China previously, I already knew that the Chinese perception of personal space is quite different from what I am used to. And this flight wouldn't disappoint. All part of the experience though, of course. As always, I had an aisle seat (IMO the best option for any flight unless you're flying to Vegas for the first time or across the Caribbean) and when my "neighbor" arrived, he wanted to squeeze in front of me. Now, this is Economy we're talking about. If you're short like me you're lucky enough to have an inch in between your knees and the seat in front of you. Not necessarily enough space for someone to pass by without awkwardly landing on your lap. He was quite surprised when I quickly got up to let him through to his seat. When dinner was served, he started burping loudly and fell asleep snoring loudly right after. All part of the experience though.
I am ready for China now. China, are you ready for me?
Hong Kong. 7+ million people bundled up together in 426 square miles/1104 square km. Los Angeles with its almost 4 million residents pales in comparison. I have traveled to and lived in many places around the world but nothing quite like this.
Do I know what awaits me? Absolutely not! Do I think I can handle it? Absolutely yes!
As much fun and games as it seems, I'm actually going there for school. And work.
I study International Fashion & Management at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and I am in my third year. I just finished interning in the production department of a major action sports brand in Southern California (because where else can you actually surf and snowboard in the same day?) and I had the time of my life. I loved every second of it and I feel lucky to be able to go back this summer to work for them once again and to spend time with my husband. But first, there's Hong Kong, where I will experience apparel production from the other side of the spectrum. Now, the whole China thing is starting to make sense, right? I don't seem completely crazy anymore packing my bags to go work in a city with the official languages being English and, yes, Chinese. Luckily I have had the opportunity to learn some basic Mandarin and will go to university there to keep working on my ni hao (pun intended). I will be fluent. Not quite. Not even close. But a girl can dream, right?
But what this all boils down to is that in less than 4 weeks from now, I am getting on a plane to discover the beauty of China. I wanna see and know it all. The culture, the food, the language, the nature, the people and did I mention the food? It will be an adventure. One that I'm sure I will never forget.