MDes Talks: Six Months (Even a Bit More)

It has been more than six months that I am in Hong Kong now. Those six months are felt, at the same time, passing by in a blink of an eye and that I have always been here.

If the clock seems to spin faster when you’re doing something new and interesting, it does the opposite when life gets routine and dull. […] Memory then plays further tricks on our internal metronomes: When we look back on our life, the boring patches barely register while the highlights loom large.1

 1 Doing the Time Warp, Carl Honoré, Kinfolk n°20, 2016, p26

Changing apartment – making home

This is exactly what I am experiencing since last August. Memories in Hong Kong seem big and taking a lot of places compared to my last year in France. Even more because every time I feel like I am settling into a new routine here, a new element comes and brings change. Not only the change of semester at school bringing new projects, but also, I moved to a new apartment. The first apartment was fully furnished, so I felt like I wasn’t going to stay there for long and I could leave anytime. The current one, on the contrary, is partially furnished. I started with a fridge and curtains, and little by little, I am adding my own furniture, hence my own space.

Six months (even a bit more): Making home
Making home

Making friends – if things aren’t going your way, adjust

As I suspected, the most important things were to remain patient and stay open to opportunities. I kept in mind my goal to know more local people and culture rather than hanging out with foreigners like me. But opportunities come and I also count incredible people from around the world in my friends now.

What I have discovered is that there are two sets of speed in Hong Kong. The everyday life, meetings, interactions, and anything relating to get things done, are fast, and faster than any place I have been before. But when it comes to building human relationships, it is the opposite. Yes, Hongkongers are always friendly but to be their friends, it takes a long time.

MDes Talks: Six months (even a bit more): View from the rowing centre
View from the rowing centre

So far, I have observed a separation between locals and foreigners. Sports teams or clubs are either a bunch of people from different nationalities, or consisted of purely Hong Kong people. That’s how I ended up being the only foreigner in my club. Now if you see the picture I am painting now, a club “usually not mixed” with members who are “slow to be friends”, you can guess that my situation is not always the most comfortable. There was a day I really wanted to complain to them, to ask to put a bit more effort in communicating with me. Then, I remembered I chose this situation and I should just try harder to reach out to them. It is hard but worth the effort.

MDes Talks: Six months (even a bit more): The rowing fam
The rowing fam

The obvious things that make foreigners standout are their appearance, habits, and of course the language they speak. The Asian culture is probably characterised by being similar or the same, rather than different and that’s why the feeling of being an alien set in. My experience in the past six months tells me that the language barrier is still an issue. From afar, everybody thinks that the locals speak fluent English but it is not the case. The language spoken in the city is Cantonese and that forms part of the culture and the identity. English is just a new layer that history has brought upon.

I had to hold on in the past six month, progressing step by step, as an athlete but also as a member of the team. Just recently, people started talking to me, and were quite surprised that I could understand their bad English.

MDes Talks: Six months (even a bit more): Hong Kong landscape
Hong Kong landscape

Having a new understanding – to overcome communication barriers

More deeply, this leads me to two propositions.

First, Hong Kong people are unexpectedly shy. They don’t trust their ability to speak English, and perhaps more importantly, have the fear of not being understood, literally or metaphorically. They also don’t understand why I am more interested in being part of their group instead of my own “gweilo” community, meaning they don’t feel special enough to deserve this attention.

Second, perhaps, foreigners, more often as tourists or expats, come and go in this fast-paced city. While staying for a short period, tourists and expats create a different rhythm in the way they consume and live. I have often noticed a difference in my interlocutor’s attitude when I say that I’m planning to stay after my studies: they look more relaxed, as if I am worth some of their time and effort to invest in the friendship.

MDes Talks: Six months (even a bit more): Getting to the deep Hong Kong nightlife
Getting to the deep Hong Kong nightlife

Even if I feel exhausted these days by all of these, I do enjoy how unique Hong Kong’s way of life is, and still curious about learning more. Summer break will bring new challenges and new opportunities.

Photo Credit: Mathilde Gattegno

Posted by Mathilde Gattegno – from Paris and love to see the world. Graduated from architecture with an option in civil engineering. Curious about everything, a huge bookworm, a little bit geek and also enjoy music, sports, going outside to take pictures. Hong Kong is a brand new playground!
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.