August: Orientation & First Impressions

by - September 15, 2013

So having turned up just under three weeks ago and completed some lectures, met some people, filled out a lot of forms and scratched the surface of Hong Kong I feel it is time to step back and mull over what has happened thus far.  I guess in times gone by, this mulling over process would have occurred in private, but hey this is the internet age so you are invited to join in too.

Victoria Harbour (looking towards HK island)

Lan Kwai Fong
To summarise, it has been a real whirlwind.  As I hypothesised in my previous blog, dropping one life and creating a new one was always likely to be a pretty crazy process and this has been proven true.  It has been intense, but wonderful at the same time.  Firstly and most importantly, the people.  I think that (for good or bad) it takes a certain set of character traits to want to take part in an adventure like a year abroad and in my fellow exchange students I have met some truly like-minded individuals.  The great thing is that three weeks in I am still meeting them - everyone is exceptionally friendly and up to meet new people and have new experiences.  The orientation events put on by the uni were, in fairness to them, pretty good - I’m always scared when a university puts on a “getting to know each other” session that I’m going to spend an afternoon sitting in a circle hearing everybody say one ‘interesting thing about themselves’.  Instead of this, the uni put on a day tour for the exchange students as well as an array of meetings and free food events etc.  We were never going to need that much encouraging to get to know each other though and within the first ten days I had been to Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), the party district, four times - which my friends from home will probably realise is probably more than the combined amount of times I have been out in Bristol in my lifetime.  This year is all about doing new stuff though, right?  Having said that, I don’t want LKF to play too much of a part in this year - it is about experiencing new cultures and I am very aware of the hedonistic western lifestyle that we tend to export all over the world (whether the locals want it or not).

A whole new level of bedroom view

View over the campus
Secondly, the university itself.  I have never been anywhere quite like it and I am sure that there can’t be many other places like it.  The location is simply stunning, sitting on the cliffs next to Port Shelter, a natural harbour segregated from the South China Sea by a row of islands. As for the institution, I cannot even fathom how much money it cost - everything is new, shiny and above all, vast.  Despite its scale, it also seems to have a human element that I have never quite felt in the UK.  On the first day, for example, the President of the university stood in the main atrium and handed out an apple and posed for a photo with every new starter.  They are also very generous, with a free gym, enormous library, two free swimming pools and even a free copy of the South China Morning Post newspaper (the leading English publication) delivered to the communal kitchen every day.  I had thrown myself in at the deep end a bit when it comes to teaching.  I am taking all fourth year engineering modules (even though I’m a third year student) because they seemed like the most in line with what I would have studied in Bristol, albeit more advanced in their scope.  I also have to conduct a research project over here and I have thankfully found a supervisor, who strangely enough did his PhD at Bristol under the supervision of my personal tutor.  HKUST had no obligation to offer me a project, but having spoken to lots of people and done a bit of convincing they have allowed me to work with a postgraduate student on the Geotechnical Centrifuge, one of the most advanced piece of equipment on campus.  I’m not going to bore you with specifics, but all I will say is that it is quite an honour and will give me a level of knowledge unlike anything I would have gained had I stayed in the UK.  It does have its downsides however, namely that by working with postgraduate students and an extremely motivated supervisor, I have signed away my Saturday mornings to work on the project - which I’m smarting about a little as it severely hampers my ability to get out and explore some other places around Asia.  Fitting exploring around this is a work in progress.

Thirdly, and finally for this post, the city.  Its very tempting to talk in cliches, and you know what, its late and I’m tired, so I shall.  Hong Kong is, in every way, the epitome of 'East meets West’ - from the skyscrapers sitting next to temples, to the McDonalds serving 'Samurai burgers’ and everything in between.  It is also supersized.  There is nowhere else on earth with as many skyscrapers and lots of these aren’t owned by flashy banks (though plenty of them are) - many are used to house the enormous amounts of people who live here.  From a Civil Engineering perspective (and I’m obliged to think in such a way from time to time), Hong Kong is an absolute miracle.  For so many people to live in such tight proximity in such enormous structures (not only the buildings, but the colossal transport infrastructure) and for it to be one of the most prosperous places in Asia is phenomenal.  I have just scratched the surface so far (I have yet to even get to the top of Victoria Peak for the world famous harbour view - I’m biding my time to go at a time when it is truly special) and I cannot wait to dig deeper.  To know that I have a year to do so, despite the hard work that will be needed, is both exciting and inspiring.

Temples and towerblocks

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