So, a cool thing about traditionally poorer neighbourhoods is that they often feel more natural, open, and exciting. They also can have interesting traditions. Such is the case in Mong Kok, which is famous for its street markets. Here is where I have found many of the best foods, both from intentional searches and happenstance. But the street markets also sell a wide assortment of oddities. There is a street famous for selling goldfish, another entangled with all sorts of cheap plants and flowers (cacti being an interesting inclusion), a hidden away corner for buying birds, a street where I bought very cheap shoes and sandals, and then general markets. These last ones are often cramped and narrow, but here you can find some of the best deals on clothes, tech, and souvenirs. However, none of this was entirely unexpected. What did throw me for a loop, however, was when the broad avenues and main streets became congested at night time. Dozens of clusters of citizens grouped around public demonstrations. It took me a while, and I’m still not sure of my conclusion, but I believe the objects of interest are basically public karaoke with dancing. Some performers appeared more professional, with personal mics and costumes. But others looked like they were comprised of random civilians. Even better, many were accompanied by people dancing in a couple or rocking it on their own. The best part? Most of these dancers were middle-aged to elderly. I saw men and women old enough to be my grandparents dancing passionately (and with much greater skill than I can attest to, I should add) to cheers and music. So in conclusion: Mong Kok’s streets come alive at night with a vigorous display of community and passion. Expect to be delayed, amazed, and captivated.
One of the largest culture shocks I have experienced during my stay here has been in the attitude of group work. Both my classes have assigned multiple class presentations, and when I first heard this there was some minor dread. As I’m sure most of us are familiar, group work in the U.S. is a crapshoot. Option 1: you get a dedicated group who communicates and shares responsibility. Option 2: you wake up and realize your group is you and one other member who actually cares, with the rest composed of people phoning it in or just never showing up. Getting people together for more than 10 minutes is a logistical conundrum that would rattle governmental intelligence agencies, and hoping for the project to be done earlier than midnight the day before its due is legal justification for asylum hospitalization. So I was surprised to say the least when both my groups, randomly assigned, immediately started organizing. Group chats were made, internal deadlines set, responsibilities delineated, and everyone got to work. People talked regularly, we set up skype and/or physical meetings, multiple rehearsals, everyone knew about google docs. In short, a magical experience. Heck, the first group to present in one of my classes made a 15 minute presentation in 1 week after 1 week of classes, complete with a game and prizes. Luckily classroom group work is probably no longer a worry for me, because I don’t think I can go back to the way things were. I’ve ridden a unicorn.
I was surprised at the the quality of the public transportation system here. Trains arrive very regularly, buying tickets and getting off at the right stop is made very intuitive through the use of flashing lights and arrows, and the stations are clean. One thing that is slightly unusual is the reliance on Octopus cards. These are basically debit cards that you can add money into at most stations. Japan had a similar system , but it is much more widely practiced here, to the point that a card was essentially necessary for me to live. Not only are tickets cheaper, it is the only way to pay for air conditioning and laundry at the dorms. It is also used for payment at many restaurants and the cafeteria. I will agree that it makes things run much more quickly than is standard for paper, but admit to being a bit confused. Why not just use actual debit or credit cards? Very few places actually accept them here, but an Octopus card is identically the same except that it has less uses and is harder to renew.
Food in Hong Kong is, as I was told by multiple people beforehand, very cheap. The cafeteria offers meals for between $3-4 USD, and restaurants are not that much more expensive. It is the only city I have been to where you can decide to go to a Michelin star restaurant on a whim. I can’t tell you how many times I have been wondering around the city to see the Michelin symbol on some random side street. So far, the best things I have tried include: pineapple buns (which have no pineapple), Hong Kong french toast (which has peanut butter), duck, and a special type of dumpling that is filled with delicious, tongue-searing broth. The most disappointing food has been the bbq-pork buns, which are too sweet, and coffee, which is too expensive and not very great besides. I have a little time left, which I intend to be partly used for food experimentation. The next post might very well be half a page of me loudly complaining about the taste of intestines.
So it’s not exactly “news” in the dictionary definition of the word, but I just learned about it this semester to that makes it eligible in my book. The Sagamihara stabbings refer to an incident in 2016 where a Japanese man broke into a care home for the disabled and stabbed 19 people to death. His motivation was that he believed he was putting these people out of their suffering. I won’t go into an analysis of the criminal-I think it is pretty cut and dry to label him as crazy, if not in the medical sense at least in the societal one- but rather the larger culture of disability discrimination that exists in Japan. Most physical disabilities in Japan are still surrounded with a an attitude of shame and guilt. Accommodations are rare, and many are unemployed. This isnt to say most people in Japan support the mass killing of disabled people, but in comparison to similar cases little information had been released about the victims of this crime. Reuters wrote that this was a direct result of the stigma in Japan towards the disabled community. My personal opinion is that this is an consequence of a society where much of your worth is based on your production and capability, so a disabled person has a had time establishing their value as a person, but I’m not a sociologist. Nevertheless, the problem does exist and deserves wider recognition if it is to be combated.
In less than 1 month I will be leaving Kansas City for Hong Kong, and I have some things in mind for what to do. Unlike in Japan where my focus was on learning the language, in Hong Kong classes shouldn’t really be taking up a huge chunk of time. So, what should I do in my free time? Ideas:
1. Study for the GRE. This is really the important one: I have to spend some time going over the physics GRE if I want to get a good enough score to get into graduate school.
2. Explore the city-Karaoke, coffee, food. The easy answer. I have to find all the best places to indulge myself in. I’ve heard the food is cheap, so a breadth of options should be explored.
3. Go outside the city. While Hong Kong is traditionally seen as just a huge metropolis, from what I’ve read about it there seems to be a considerable nature element as well. I would like to at least once go on a day hike in the mountains or ride around in a boat. Preferably with good playlist set up and nice weather.
I had a few memorable moments from my time in Japanese club this semester. While I did not go to the movie night (due to never actually hearing when it was scheduled), nor did I get to try my hand at besting Dr. Friedman in go, interesting times still managed to present themselves.
1. Getting music advice from the group. I usually listen to music while working on Japanese homework during club times, with a preference for Japanese music. However, I have experienced some difficulty in both finding good Japanese bands to listen to as well as actually having a means of listening to them. However, more knowledgeable members of the club gave me some good band selections (one band humorously called “Toe.”) and ways to finding music, mostly through blogs.
2. Getting to talk to native Japanese speakers at a semi-regular conversation level. Twice during my time there I got to speak to Japanese exchange students in Japanese, my first time since coming back from Japan. It really helped my confidence to feel the difference that Japan and my studying has made. I may still be pretty bad at kanji, grammar, vocabulary, and thinking quickly in Japanese, but I my understanding of spoken language has improved to a point that I feel some pride in. It was great when one of the students, who hadn’t been back to Japan in a while, got stuck trying to say the same word that I did. I have a long ways to go still, but its comforting knowing progress has been made.
This may come as a surprise to my throngs of readers, but many people don’t like to be given extra responsibilities. I know, I know, my dedicated and socially-constructive readership likely finds it hard to believe that necessary tasks are not dutifully and earnestly requested but rather are furtively avoided; nevertheless it is the truth. This was seen in the past few weeks when the graduation of most of the governing body of Japanese club warranted for the positions to be filled with new victi- i mean volunteers. Tatsuzawa sensei, head of the department, repeatably asked members of my advanced 2 class (quite emphatically I may head) about their availability to fill these now vacant positions. Few withstood the onslaught for long, and as far as I am aware the cabinet is now complete. While I couldn’t volunteer myself, seeing as too will be absent come next year, I have faith in the club’s new management. Primarily comprised of members of my class, I know that they have an interest in the language that extends beyond academic. I particularly have faith in the new treasurer, who would at times walk with me to my next class while conversing in Japanese.
The last international event I went to this semester (and the last I will be going to at OU I suppose) was an ice cream social at the Millie Audas lounge in Farzaneh Hall. I arrived at the tail end of the event, so there wasn’t a huge crowd around. There was however still ice cream remaining, so there’s that. I got to hear some international students talk about their experiences in casual conversation, but what most sticks out in my mind about the event is learning about Millie Audas. There was a plaque with a description on the wall, and reading that made me curious enough to do some research on my own about her. By the time she retired, Mrs. Audas had negotiated for the creation of 174 reciprocal exchange programs between OU and foreign universities. Considering that both my study abroad trips have been exchange programs, it is possible that she was part of the reason I was able to go. So in conclusion, despite not knowing you before last week, thank you Millie Audas.
One of the international events I went to this semester was a book talk for “Go, Went, Gone,” a novel about the European immigration crisis. Unfortunately I have not read the book and thus didn’t participate in the talk, but it was still useful to hear other people discuss it. There was a surprising large crowd present: students filled nearly the entire Headington Hall cafeteria, and there were a lot of professors present as well. The talk started with some of the faculty bringing up various points about the novel and raising some questions. Conversation then moved to open floor, and we ran out of time before discussion died out. I was also impressed that the author herself was there. I did not (and still don’t, really) know much about the subject, so the point in the discussion that detailed just how difficult it was for an immigrant to be accepted, and all the complications present in the application, was particularly interesting. Unrelated, I am completely jealous of the cafeteria that Headington has.