About this picture: The picture and title of this post refers to the kind of tree in the photo. These trees are growing through walls made of stone and cement. Our professor, Tracey Lu, told us that Hong Kong people regard this kind of tree as an emblem of their spirit. Through HK's modernization and constant skyscraper-building, beauty as natural and amazing as this can break through even the strongest of barriers.
This program in Hong Kong has turned out to be much more than I could have ever hoped for. From my first day in the country, I have been surrounded by incredible people, and it's these people that make Hong Kong such a special experience for me.
Professor Tracey Lu, a professor in the Anthropology department and one of the only archeologists in Hong Kong, taught the first week's lessons, entitled “Introduction to Heritage Management in Hong Kong”. Every week we have one full day of lectures and case-studies, broken up into two three-hour sessions, which usually falls on Monday or Wednesday. Then, on the Wednesday or Friday of that week, we have class again all day, either a full day of field trips or half lecture/half field trip day.
Learning from Professor Lu was one of the biggest highlights of the last two weeks. When we arrived into the classroom, we immediately got a sense of her teaching style and personality. She had us arrange our desks into a semi-circle for more of a discussion based lecture, let us adjust the air conditioner as needed, and turn off the electric lights in favor of the beautiful natural light from outside and a gorgeous view of CUHK's mountains. She got to know us right away, asking questions about our backgrounds and getting to know our personal relationship to heritage management.
For assigned readings, we read a few articles written by Professor Lu on topics such as various laws, policies, and government and non-government organizations that are currently and/or previously involved with heritage management in Hong Kong, examples of political, economic, and social contexts through Hong Kong's history that have pervaded heritage management, and case-studies of actual conversation or demolition projects in HK today and in the past.
What immediately struck me is how different HK is from the US in terms of the political, economic, and social contexts people have to deal with. First and foremost is the issue of HK's lack of natural resources—especially land. The HK government actually has to “reclaim” land; that is, they have to hire entities called “land developers” to create land by dumping trash into the ocean and building on top of it. That means, Hong Kong's area is actually growing ever year! This was something that came as a huge shock to me; I didn't even think it possible to build a huge metropolitan city on top of garbage.
Land developers are basically extremely wealthy people or companies who buy land to develop or develop government-owned land. The impression I got from my friends in the program who are from Hong Kong, land developers are hated. They are seen as money hungry, too powerful, and caring more about profit than people's way of life.
Heritage management, then, has an interesting political element. Because Hong Kong's total area is so small, demolishing old parts of the city in order to build tall skyscrapers and malls is a high reward business in Hong Kong. But, often times that means destroying parts of HK's history, literally moving streets, houses, and people away, and destroying informal social networks people have built for generations in certain areas of the rural parts of the city. Professor Lu gave us several first hand accounts of grassroots movements that have appeared in opposition to the capitalist development of the city. The best part is, she is the foremost scholar on the grassroots case-studies we explored (both in writing and in person, actually visiting the sites), so she is able to give us a first-hand look into some of HK's heritage management.
It was incredibly intellectually stimulating to hear her speak so passionately about heritage preservation, about her views and those of her informants on the subject of HK's political, social, and economic landscape, and about her life being raised in Mainland China, going to graduate school in Australia, doing work all over the UK and Mainland China, and pursuing her passion for social science in a region that puts such heavy emphasis on math, science, and technology.
As I mentioned in the last post, there are four Brown students and 7 girls from CUHK. I have had the privilege of getting close to my fellow Brown students, Larry and Laitan, as well as a few of the girls from CUHK, namely Lilian, Linda, Truda, and Jocelyn. All of the girls are incredibly smart, hilarious, opinionated, and welcoming. Lilian is studying Statistics here at CUHK and was my partner for our first paper (a 6-8 pg beast, single spacing, that we had to write together in one day.... stayed up till 5:30 am writing that...). I truly love hanging out and talking with her and I have fond memories of working with her until late into the night on that paper, laughing so much. Upon each of us sharing “tricks” we know with the other on how to make a paper seem longer than it is (including 1.5 line spacing, certain fonts, and including photos with captions), Lilian told me “I thought it was just Hong Kong students who try really hard to get away with making the writing stretch far”. She had me rolling over laughing with that comment.
I also have fantastic memories with Linda, both of us making fun of the other at the beach, taking loving pictures together, and sitting on the subway late at night animating a stuff animal I have so that we were pretending to have a conversation with it (we made him say obscene things in Mandarin in a high pitched voice; I almost cried I laughed so hard. The guy next to us was trying not to laugh too). Linda and I have been practicing our Mandarin together. (If you don't know, HKers are native Cantonese speakers and have been recently forced to learn Mandarin at school, something all my girlfriends from CUHK say they resent immensely, although I am very grateful for it. I would have been really lost in Hong Kong if not for the fact that most people speak Mandarin.)
Truda is a super stylish girl with short, curly permed hair and a British accent I can't help but tease her for. :P She is super passionate about dancing, going all the way to England to study it. She dances now and even choreographs, although in school she studies pharmaceutical science, which she hates. Her parents force her to study it and she doesn't waste a bit of her biting sarcasm and incredible wit making jokes about it.
And, just recently, I have had the pleasure of spending several hours mall-hopping with Jocelyn, who studies architecture, and talking about our respective cultures' values. I've learned a lot from her about HK people. She is very loving and open and I can't wait to spend more time with her.
The others girls from CUHK include Iki, Amy (a HILARIOUS goofy ball full of jokes and who smiles all the time; studies medicine), and Tiffany. I enjoy having class with them because I can have a conversation with everyone, which I didn't feel was the case at all in my year abroad in Taiwan before Brown.
Representing my brownies, I of course have to mention Larry Au and Laitan, the two I'm closest to. Larry, the HK native, is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about all things Hongkongese, especially when it comes to sex and prostitution. He's studying sociology at Brown and is, as Laitan and I call him, a sex-guru sociological genius.
Laitan is an absolutely hilarious and down-to-earth girl that I am so lucky to be spending all this time with. Our personalities mix really really well, which is a relief because I found most people at Brown unrelateable. We both have days we want to just lay around and not leave the hostel, days we want to go out, etc. Her faith is really strong as are her family ties, which I think has helped into developing her incredibly chill personality.
The three of us are actually kind of dangerous together. Most of the time, Laitan and I are just ordering Larry around, teasing him about everything while he just shrugs it off and sometimes plays with us (or even fights back!). I am enjoying this time with these two tremendously and it's especially great to be taking in HK as Larry knows it, especially since he's so politically and socially involved in his own city.
All in all, we're a really good, solid group of people who have great chemistry and work very well with each other. :) I've really lucked out.
The city of Hong Kong is magical, filled with beyond delicious (as well as crazy) food, a ridiculous amount of places to throw spend all your money at, and gorgeous places full of history, nature, and city-sights.
I've even had the chance to catch up and spend quality time with several Brown friends, including Wu Kaling ('14), Kathrine Ng ('14), James Eng ('14), Sarah Yu ('11), and Mana Hayashi Tang ('10), all of which was incredible, as well as meet and bond with Larry's high school friends Genny, Hayman, and Yan (all '14 at various unis in the US).
I am truly happy being here, which is a really nice and much welcomed departure from this past year, and I know I made the right choice to spend my summer here. I only wish I had more time (and money!) to be spending in this crazy city.