A travel moment in Hong Kong

A friend of mine sent me an email and asked if being in Hong Kong was a culture shock. I stared at the words for a moment and then laughed, replying that I feel quite at home here. That is the thing that has surprised me most; just how western it is here and yet, at the same time there are many distinct differences.

A few days ago I had a moment when I realised I was no longer in 'Kansas' but in a completely new place where I did not fit in.

Hong Kong is amazing, both for its city life and its city escapes. It does not take long to get to a quiet beach somewhere and even the top of Victoria Peak has its own strange tranquility. But it was not in the countryside where I had this strange moment of reflection, nor was it at the top of Victoria Peak. In actual fact it was during a swimming gala.

Perhaps I should first explain that I am working as an English teacher in a primary school. This week my school had a swimming gala. Now a swimming gala, in my mind, involves a few races and a bit of cheering. I discovered that they are something entirely different in Hong Kong.

For a start the swimming pool is outside and it is a full sized Olympic pool. The backdrop to this swimming pool is a picturesque view of luscious green mountains, contrasting greatly to the high rise flats in the foreground. The gala opens with a flag raising ceremony, done by some children wearing cadet uniforms with blue bags wrapped around their shoes (I can only presume this has something to do with the tiled floor). This was not a sight you would ever see in Britain.

Helping out with the chants and watching the children swimming was fun for the first hour or so, but then it got a little tiresome and my mind began to wonder. I tried to imagine this organised event in Britain and realised that it would never happen. These children were sitting here, all well behaved in the stifling heat, watching a swimming gala for hours on end. But then that is the culture here, it is work, work, work and everyone wants to be successful or everyone wants their child to be successful. All the children have tonnes of homework to do everyday, they all play instruments, they all paint, they all speak three languages and they all practice a sport. This is somewhat different to what I remember of my primary school days. Thats when I realised that I was in Hong Kong and the culture was very different. This gala was something no one could experience anywhere else and that I was taking part in it. It finally and pleasantly sunk in that I would be here for another 8 months and that hopefully there would be many more moments like this.

B McDowell

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