Reflecting on his transition from farm living to city living, Chatteris’ own Duncan Fletcher takes us on his personal journey…
If you had asked me anything about Hong Kong about a year ago, there wouldn’t be much that I could tell you, apart from that the name sounded a little funny and that it was too far away on a plane for me to ever consider going to.
A few months later, I knew a bit more about the place. Then before I knew it, I was on the plane and soon after that I was standing in Tsim Sha Tsui casting my eyes over Victoria Harbour and the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island for the first time. It took my breath away!
A couple of weeks later, I was standing in front of around 500 primary school students introducing myself as their new teacher. It was these students I would be teaching English to over the coming months.
It has so far been an unforgettable experience. They say that if you want to remember more of your life, do something different each day, even something as simple as walking home on a different street. The more your days are the same, the more it merges into one memory, when really, you want to sit back in your old age and be able to recollect countless incredible and beautiful memories.
That was part of the reason why I came to Hong Kong. Living here and being an English tutor is a unique experience for anyone, and it was no different for me. The entire culture fascinated me and has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of life in Hong Kong. My time here has allowed me to realise and appreciate just how different the upbringings of people here were compared to mine.
I was raised on a small island called Islay in Scotland. It has a population of around 3000 people (only slightly less than the 7 million or so here in Hong Kong).
I grew up on a hill farm beside the sea, meaning there was a good chance I’d be blown away by chilly winds as soon as I stepped outside. My surroundings were wide: fresh air with fields and hills, dotted with sheep, horses, chickens, and cows. A lot of my spare time was spent outdoors exploring these areas and going on different adventures.
My commute to school involved trekking across a muddy field and climbing a fence. My school was big – it had a whole 36 students in it (very big compared to the school on the neighbouring island with ten students). The one high school on the island had a mind-boggling 240 students in it!
Hong Kong is (just) a bit different. Although small compared to other major areas, it is still one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It’s noisy, chaotic, and filled with wafts of stinky tofu and people doing tai chi on rooftops and in parks.
The weather is often hot and humid, the streets are jam-packed with people, and your daily commute will often involve wading through the flocks of people at a frustratingly slow pace. With regards to public transport, crammed in like a tin of sardines can often be the norm.
If you’re someone that comes from a quieter place it can feel very tightly packed in Hong Kong. Remember though, Hong Kong is a place of awesome skyscrapers AND stunning greenery. It only takes a short while to escape the masses and go on one of the city’s many incredible hikes. So, whenever you feel squeezed in, remember the nature side of Hong Kong is always at your fingertips.
Another difference I’ve come across is in how people communicate to one another. On Islay, you are expected to wave at every car you drive or walk past. You say hello and talk about the weather to most people you meet, even if you don’t know them particularly well. And of course, expect visitors to turn up regularly at your door for a chat and a coffee – it’s part of the culture.
It’s when you go abroad that you truly begin to understand what people mean by different cultures, and that the things you deem as normal are often viewed as bizarre by other people. In other words (gasp), if you try waving at passing cars in Hong Kong the chances of them waving back are very low (and this might also happen in the rest of the world, but I’m still to test this hypothesis!).
These types of expectations can be very specific and difficult for someone who isn’t accustomed to them. Even if they try to be nice to you in the way that they know best, you may find yourself unhappy because they haven’t met your deeply ingrained beliefs.
This is important in Hong Kong (and anywhere in the world) to consider. Realise that although people in Hong Kong are incredibly friendly and will go the extra mile for you, you have to understand that they may not meet the expectations from your home country. When you feel bothered by something, the important thing to consider is whether or not your expectations are reasonable, or if they’re simply old beliefs that you hold. This is why developing self-awareness should be everyone’s goal.
By being open and releasing yourself from the chains of your own culture you develop a more balanced view of the globe, and that’s critical in today’s interconnected society. That doesn’t mean that you can’t show off your culture abroad though! Many of the people that you work with will be fascinated by where you’re from and will want to learn more about you. The key thing is awareness and common sense.
So, if you’re reading this and you’re thinking of coming to Hong Kong (or living anywhere else for a long period of time), be prepared to say goodbye to a few things that you’ve always known. For me, I left behind the fresh air and open space. And you may have to keep your comments about the weather to yourself!
But also be prepared for an experience of a lifetime. Embrace the differences because you will find yourself appreciating home, missing home, but you will be left with memories and friends that last a lifetime.
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