MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in

I will never forget the day when I received the Notice of Offer in my inbox with the subject “Congratulations”! I shared the news with my family and friends immediately.

Studying in PolyU is a decision made when I first visited Hong Kong back in 2010. I wanted to get to know the city by myself and not by what was told.

From Hengyang to Guangzhou, Taichung, Beijing and Hong Kong

In 2007, I moved to Guangzhou. After that, I lived in Taichung, Taiwan as an exchange student, followed by my residence in Beijing for the 4-year Bachelor’s education. Being a nomad these years, I realised that the only way you can experience the authenticity of a place is to live like the locals.

Guangzhou is another hometown besides my birthplace (Hengyang in Hunan province). For me it is a place to escape to, to return to.

My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
Enning Road, Guangzhou

Taichung is a city about dreams. I enrolled some music classes during my exchange semester. There was one time I joked that I wanted to go to Broadway to be a famous actress in musicals. My class representative responded earnestly and discussed a plan in details. In my view, people in Taichung encourage others to pursue one’s dreams.

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
Sea view in Taiwan

Beijing, a metropolis with a long history, used to be my laboratory to experiment things. The city is more like a spiritual symbol than the capital of China. The Forbidden City stands for traditional architecture and feudal monarchy system. Hutong stands for traditional Chinese streets. Understanding Chinese culture in general begins with understanding Beijing.

However, the city has serious traffic problems. And when going to an exhibition, it usually took more than an hour to travel on the public transport. I told my friend that I had to be 100% devoted in order to bear the long hours in commuting.

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
The Forbidden City

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
Great Wall of China

Back to Hong Kong, it is a city of combinations. There is no lack of high-rise office buildings, grand shopping malls, but also cage houses and squatter villages. Because of the varieties the city offers, everyone can find their space here. It is a place where you can escape to, pursue your dream, and experiment.

As a Tourist: Knowing Only Harbour City or Time Square

Because Hong Kong and Guangzhou are just one hour away by the intercity trains, I used to travel to Hong Kong frequently when I lived in Guangzhou. These trips might have eased me into the new surroundings, so I am adapting better than other classmates from the Mainland.

In my first few visits, I treated Hong Kong as a shopping heaven like most tourists and all we went was Harbour City or Time Square. When I was asked about other aspects of Hong Kong, I could say nothing; I did not know where Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and New Territories were, certainly had no idea about the scale of these places and thought they were an area like Hung Hom.

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
View Hong Kong from The Peak

As a Visiting Student: Being Invited for Lunch with Villagers in Cha Kwo Ling

Things changed when I participated in the AA School of Architecture Visiting School Programme in Hong Kong in 2016. Cha Kwo Ling was chosen to be the site of this workshop. Our aim was to forecast and design the future house for the squatter village which villagers lived in the tin shacks at that time. I could have never imagined such place existed in Hong Kong. The residents we interviewed were friendly to introduce us the house they lived and its history. A group of elderly even invited us to have lunch with them. No matter what house they lived in, all I could feel was the sense of warmth and sincerity – the humanity.

Through this field trip, I saw many sides of this city.

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
A corner of Cha Kwo Ling

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
Wall painting near the village

After this experience, I take another look at Hong Kong. It is charming and more complicated compared with the cities I have lived.

As a Full-time Student: Connecting with Others

In 2017, I retreat to Hong Kong again.

Can you guess my favourite way to explore this city after living here for weeks?

Put aside the Google or Baidu maps and walk by following our heart. I have found food stalls and tasted some delicious Thai food in an unknown street market, climbed up hundreds of stairs and seen much creative graffiti.

Society is formed by individuals, and at the same time, we are connected with others. The assistance to find the nearest MTR station can come from the passers-by, not necessarily from our mobile devices.

In my view, for those who might need a little help to settle in, here are some tips:

  1. Be friendly.
  2. Treat others the way you expected to be treated. Communicate, no matter what language you speak. Most people around can understand even with a few keywords.
  3. Not be afraid. Go around and explore the city.

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
A place near Sha Tin Wai station

Epilogue: Letter from My Dad

Limited by his work, my dad cannot go abroad. After visiting Hong Kong, he found that the city is vastly different from where he grew up and worked. People here reach out to help one another. He shared with me that he was helped by kind-hearted person and reminded me that what we say has the power to lift people up amidst the difficult times.

MDes Talks: My Ten Years in Five Cities and Tips for Settling-in
A letter from my dad

That’s it, what I wanted to share, my personal story about what brings me to Hong Kong. I believe we will all have a great year ahead in PolyU Design.


Photo Credit: Nian Wen

Posted by Nian Wen - An explorer of life, and staying curious. Graduated from China Agricultural University majoring in Landscape Architecture, I see the world through my own eyes. Eager to communicate with a different view, I am a photographer, a film camera lover, and learning to be a designer for urban environments. I love to doodle about my daily life and want to capture every wonderful moment with the pursuit and appreciation of beauty. 

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MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.
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