And this is how the story ends
10.12.2011 - 14.12.2011
We arrived in Hong Kong around 6 o’clock Saturday (Dec. 10) evening. Our flight had been noneventful aside from sad. By the time we got there we were all quite tired and wanted nothing more than to check into the hotel and go to bed. After meeting our guide at the airport, we went for dinner and then checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Cosmo Kowloon on the Kowloon side. We weren’t actually staying on the island of Hong Kong itself. Our hotel was very nice though, the nicest we had stayed in. Our only issue with it was that the rooms were quite small. For example they were so small that if Cindy opened her suitcase on the floor, it was impossible to open the door to our room. The small size though was typical of Hong Kong architecture though and didn’t provide us with any real problems.
Sunday (Dec. 11) was our only fully scheduled day in Hong Kong. We started out the morning with a great breakfast at our hotel. Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, made to order eggs, cereal, croissants, and a variety of other western dishes. It was a firm reminder that we were not in mainland China anymore. At 9 our busy day started. We began by heading over to the island of Hong Kong itself. Our first stop was a tourist destination right along the water. Apparently the point of the stop was to take a group photo with some giant, gold statue, of a flower. We weren’t too plused. However about twenty yards from the ugly flower statue was a gorgeous view of the Kowloon harbor, and all of the sky scrapers of the business district. Our next stop was the old Hong Kong police station. The station was up along the hills of Hong Kong along the way to Victoria’s Peak, it offered stunning views. The police station had been converted into a museum that told the history of the Hong Kong police department from the days of British control to the return to China in 1997. It also had step by step instructions on how to make illegal drugs, such as heroine and meth as well as examples of how people had tried to smuggle drugs to and from Hong Kong. Hmm interesting. After a while in the museum we had had our fill. Sarita, Dan, Guy, Chris, Kia, and I entertained ourselves by playing the playground equipment until it was time for the next stop. From the police station museum we went to the Aberdeen Fishing Village. Turns out its not much of a village, but it used to be. Today it’s a world famous floating restaurant that celebrities and politicians from all over the world have visited. It also has an exhibit that showcases what fish are being caught in the area and that was fun to look at for a while. Moving on from Aberdeen we headed to lunch. We were able to convince our guide to take us to a hole in the wall local restaurant instead of the usual large scale restaurants. It was delicious, we had traditional Hong Kong wantons. After lunch we drove to the other side of the island. Our destination was Repulse Bay. The most inaptly named place ever. It was beautiful! It reminded me a great deal of Redondo Beach actually. Our guide wanted us to spend just 10 minutes there, but we replied that was simply not possible. Instead we got to spend an hour. It was great time. We spent it enjoying the water, taking pictures, laying out on the beach and just enjoying one of our last days together. We also provided a great deal of amusement to the Chinese tourists who were bundled up in winter coats while we lounged on the beach in tank tops with our jeans rolled up and bare foot. After the beach we went to Stanley Market. It’s a sea side market that caters to tourists. Sarita, Cindy and I had fun just wandering around window shopping. The few times we tried to buy things though we shocked when the shop keepers were not willing to bargain. Another sign that we were not in the mainland anymore. After a bit we just gave up and enjoyed the nice weather. As we left Stanley Market the sun was beginning to set. From the market we headed to Victoria Peak. The plan had been to take the tram up to the Peak however the line for the tram was over two and half hours long so we opted to drive up instead. The views from the top were spectacular. In one direction it overlooked the ocean and outlaying islands such as Macao. In the other direction it offered a full view of Hong Kong and Kowloon with all of the sky scrapers lit up since it was after dark by this point. At the peak Bert’s dad, Paul Marsnick, a management professor at CSBSJU joined us. We had heard a lot about him throughout the trip because he was Dan and Guy’s advisor and it was nice to finally meet him. The only downside was that it had gotten really cold after the sun went down. After about 45 minutes of taking in the sites we were ready to go. Our last stop of the day was dinner. We went to the same restaurant we had gone to the night before. The food wasn’t great so we weren’t too excited. It was also kind of a bummer that it wasn’t very good because it was our last group dinner together. Unfortunately I was the first one to realize this and point it out and ended up having to give the toast at the meal. Oh well, worse things have happened. Despite the bad food, at least I was with people that I had grown to love. After dinner the group split up. Some people went out with Bert’s dad. Some of us went to the Ladies’ Market, and some people went back to the hotel. Chris, Zach, Nolan, Cindy, Sarita, Luke, and I opted to go to the Ladies’ Markets. We all bought a variety of things ranging from gifts to take home for people, souvenirs for ourselves, and just some random knick knacks to remind us of China. From the market we caught a cab back to the hotel and called it a night.
Monday (Dec. 12) was split into two parts. In the morning we had a planned itinerary. We spent the morning touring HIT’s (Hong Kong International Trade) shipping yards. A Johnnie alum that Paul knew named Adrienne had set up the tour for us because one of his Johnnie classmates was one of the owners of the cooperation. We were really hoping we were going to get to meet him since he is one of the five richest people in Hong Kong and the highest salary earner on the island. Unfortunately no such luck, he never made an appearance. The tour was interesting though. It explained all about the cooperation which is in charge of running the shipping docks in Hong Kong. We also took a tour of the shipping yards that was cool. After the tour and lunch we were free for the rest of the day. I had heard great things about Macao and really wanted to go. But unlike climbing the mountain, I didn’t want to go by myself. Lucky for me, Nolan wanted to go too. We decided that the free afternoon was the best chance for us to go. After a quick stop at the Ladies’ Market for a few last minute things Nolan and I headed to the ferry station. After buying our tickets at a discount counter and freaking out that it was going to turn out that we got totally ripped off we eventually made it on a ferry. The ferry ride was about an hour and half to the island. I loved every minute of it. I had forgotten how much soothing the feel of the waves rocking a boat was. We arrived on the island around 5 o’clock. We really had no idea what we were going to do; we were playing the whole thing by ear and making it up as we went along. We hopped on a bus and, by passing all the casinos and hotels, headed towards the historic district. Unfortunately because of the time most of the sites were closed. We were still able to explore the streets and walk around though. Macao’s historic district was a strange site. It was old traditional Portuguese architecture than covered with Chinese characters. It was rather bizarre and required a number of double takes. During our wandering we explored an old Portuguese military compound, a church that had burned down and all that remained was its façade perfectly preserved, some old theaters, and a variety of other old buildings. After some time though wandering around the same streets grew tiring and I was ready to head back to Hong Kong. Macao had been experience, I was glad to be able to say I had gone and seen it, but I wasn’t really loving it anymore. I was also getting more and more hungry. After a few failed attempts to find a restaurant that was open and catered to our limit budget we had to give up and just head back. After a few struggles we eventually found a bus that ran by the marina and hopped on. Thankfully our sketch discount tickets worked to get us home just as well as they had worked to get us to the island. We arrived back at 10:40. The last bus to get us back to our hotel left at 10:45. After a sprint through the ferry terminal, a race through customs, and another sprint to the parking lot we arrived at 10:46. We just missed the bus back to our hotel. By this time I was starving, however everything in the ferry terminal as closed so my only hope of getting food was to get back to the hotel. We decided to try to save a few dollars and take the subway home. Poor choice on our part. We ended up farther away from our hotel then we set out. Rather than trying again I simply told Nolan that we would be taking a taxi back. He readily agreed and in no time we were back home safe and sound at the Cosmo. By this point I was so tired I just walked across the street to the super market and bought an apple, a box of Ritz crackers, a Kinder bar, and an ice tea. I headed back to the room, ate my make shift dinner, talked to Cindy for a bit, and fell asleep.
Tuesday (Dec. 13) was our last day in China and it was completely free. We just all had to be back at the hotel by 6 to go to the Mariner’s club for an alumni event. For our free day Kia, Deanna, Sarita, and I decided to go back to Repulse Bay for the day. After breakfast we got directions from the concierge and set out on our way. We took a taxi to Nathan Street where we knew we could catch the number 6 bus which we had been told would take us straight to the bay. With relatively little trouble we caught the bus. After about ten minutes though we realized we had forgotten something. Hong Kong is an island and we were on Kowloon. The buses only run on Kowloon. So after taking the bus as far as the ferry terminal we hopped off and reevaluated. We talked to the information desk and they told us to simply take the ferry across the harbor and then catch the number 6 bus again. That’s just what we did. In about an hour we had made it to Repulse Bay. It was the perfect day for the beach. It was in the high 60’s, no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. We had a great time swimming, taking photos, playing in the sand and getting some sun before returning to the freezing cold Midwest climate. After a few hours we grabbed lunch at the 7 Eleven and caught the bus back. We then took the ferry across the harbor and from the ferry station caught a taxi home. We arrived just in time to shower and change before heading to the alumni event. At 6 Luke, Cindy, Sarita, Nolan, Deanna, Kia, Chris, Axel and I assembled in the lobby. The deal was that if we went from the hotel the program would pay for taxis there, otherwise we had to find our own way there. After a short taxi ride we were there. In true China fashion though, no one else was. So for a while we all just awkwardly sat around in the room reserved for the event waiting for people to show up. About twenty minutes later Sam and Annie finally showed up. They had left the hotel the same time as us and none of us knew what had happened to them. It turns out that their taxi driver had taken them to the other Mariner’s club on the other side of Kowloon. Oh well, eventually they got there. The alumni mixer started off to a slow start but eventually everyone warmed up and it was a lot of fun. It was really interesting to talk to the Hong Kong alums about what their experiences had been like at CSBSJU and they enjoyed hearing our thoughts on China. The tear jerking moment of the event was when Annie gave one last toast to the group to cap off our semester in China. It made us all tear up a little. The mixer was supposed to end at 8:30 but at 9:45 none of us showed any sign of leaving. Paul remarked that is seemed like none of us wanted to leave. And he was absolutely right. As long as we were all sitting around talking and laughing we didn’t have to face the truth that once we walked out the door our study abroad trip was over. For a few last minutes our group could sit together as we had for so many months and not think about what we were leaving. As Annie said in her speech, “this group, seeing each other every day, sharing all of this together had become our lives.” When we left each other at the end of that night it would no longer be our lives and we were sad to let that go. Eventually though we were forced to leave when the club closed for the night. The group said their good byes. From there, Guy, Dan, Bert, Luke, Sarita, Cindy, Kia, and I decided we weren’t quite ready to say good bye to our study abroad experience yet. We walked down to the Hong Kong cultural center and passed the time sitting on the edge of the water overlooking the skyline of Hong Kong. It was completely unplanned and it was completely wonderful. As I sat there, surrounded by the people I had become closest to during the trip I thought about what life would be like when we went home. I didn’t know, I still don’t, if we would all stay friends, if we hang out back on campus, if we would be important in each other’s lives like we had been. But I also realized that even if we don’t, it’s okay. We have a bond that nothing can break. We didn’t consciously form it. It was formed by the things we went through together and the moments we shared. We did not choose each other as friends, we chose to come to China and fate brought us together. However, as fate would have it, it brought together a group that got along incredibly well, that challenged each other, that complimented each other, and most of all came to love each other. Around midnight Kia, Cindy, Sarita, and I headed back to the hotel. After quickly making sure everything was packed and ready for the morning we both crawled into bed. Just as we were about to fall asleep we heard a knock at the door. It was Guy, Dan, Luke, and Bert. We spent the next few hours just talking and reliving our favorite moments of the trip. Slowly one by one the boys left as they came to accept that the trip was finally over. It didn’t matter that we got almost no sleep that night and almost overslept and missed our bus to the airport. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing trip. Now we were all ready to close the chapter of our lives on China, at least until our next visit.
Wednesday (Dec. 14) was the day of our return home. Some of the group was staying. Bert was going back to the mainland to vacation with his dad for a few days. Nolan was going back to Shanghai to spend some time with his aunt and uncle. Kia and Chris were off to Thailand. Those of us that were heading back to the US though all boarded the bus at 7:30 (well around then, Luke didn’t make it until about 7:45) and headed to the airport. There’s not much to report of our trip home besides that it was very long. We flew to Tokyo (I got lucky on that flight and had no one in the seat next to me and got to stretch out and sleep), then Chicago and then Minneapolis. By the time we reached Minneapolis our day had lasted over 30 hours and we were quite excited to be done traveling. We were excited to see our families and sleep in our own beds. After saying our good byes to each other we headed off in our separate directions. We all knew though that it was not a good bye at all, but simply a see you later.