“It’s okay la!”

If I had to describe Hong Kong in one phrase, this is what I’d say. It fits so perfectly, because just like the city itself, it’s a mix of West and East. It starts out in English, but takes a little Cantonese turn at the end. “La” is a particle that is used pretty arbitrarily, especially by girls, who like to use it to sound cuter. No matter how impossible learning Cantonese might seem, and it definitely is far from easy, everybody coming to the former British colony will learn this phrase, naturally along with the sometimes uncalled-for yet entertaining profanities that you learn in every language first.

Just like this phrase, my exchange year at The University of Hong Kong, started with the realization that this isn’t China, at least not in the traditional sense. Having spent quite some time in other places abroad, I completely missed the culture shock. What started as a disappointment turned out to be the perfect place for a global, multicultural freak like me. When I left my tiny apartment in Sheung Wan, right on the island, and made my way through the concrete jungle on the hunt for some food, I had the difficult choice between dim-sum (traditional Cantonese food), Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Indian and Thai cuisine. If I got homesick, I just went to the German bakery at “Western Market” or grabbed a nice cold German beer that is always in reach, thanks to the “7-Eleven” epidemic (a US American supermarket chain). But thanks to open eyes and an open mind, I did find China, as well. For example at university, I joint the dragon boat racing team for some time and in my classes I learned about recent Chinese history and even human rights issues. The city truly turned out to be my “gateway to China” and to places I never dreamt of going. Most special to me was a study trip to North Korea organized by the university.

In the end, studying in Hong Kong for one year was far more than “okay”, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

© Alexander Stotkiewitz

Experience of a German student in Hong Kong - Alexander Stotkiewitz

On the Star Ferry, with ICC in the background