This world is a funny thing. Humans beings walk upon its surface, using a technology of symbols and speech to communicate amongst themselves, the mode of which changes, dependant on location or ancestry.
English is the first weapon of choice for most New Zealanders, as it is in many other countries- god bless the queen. But whilst it isnt the most spoken language of the world, it is the most learned.
It is normal to speak at least two languages in most European countries, English being one of them.
As a native speaker living amongst all this, isn’t it unnerving? Humbling. We never really feel the necessity to learn a language here. A life where you must is alien. Abstract.
Maybe this is where the stereotypes come in. The lazy, stupid American. The uneducated English speaker. The population whose language is spoken throughout the world,who have no need to try when they travel. The prejudices are there, but we can only hear them in other tongues.
Our world becomes wider when we speak the English language. But our inner world grows if we take the time to learn others. Different languages affect how we treat the world. Germans have to listen very carefully till the end of people’s sentences because thats where the verbs are! The world changes as we express ourselves in a completely different way. We become part of a more exclusive club.
The way we communicate affects how we interact with the world. Maybe if we all tried, the world would be a different place.
I spent a few days in Hong Kong on my way to Switzerland in late August and, needless to say it was quite different to my native New Zealand. Here are some random things I noticed about the ‘Special Administrative Region’ –that I found out is not just a city–of China.
1) It’s so hot and humid. The weather wasn’t great when I was there, spitting with small patches of sunshine, but my camera kept fogging up and I was sweating like a pig! Each step I walked my T-shirt became more and more drenched (sorry for that image) and I had to stop and take refuge in any given air-conditioned lobby, catching weird looks as I stood catching my breath.
2) So many umbrellas. Coming from a city where no one carries umbrellas due to Wellington’s serious Human-Wind Conflict, it was strange for me to see people taking out umbrellas as soon as the tiniest drop fell. Someone I met later intelligently told me it could’ve been acid rain, so I’m crossing my fingers I don’t start balding :p .
3) People wearing masks. I don’t mean masquerade ball masks, I mean doctors’ masks. Not the beaked ones from the plague era, but white ones. I saw so many people wearing these masks, and no one else blinked an eye. This phenomenon finally made sense when I found a sign saying ‘if you have a cold wear a mask’. Because it’s such a vast population, they have to wear masks in public so the whole area doesn’t get sick.
4) Less gimmicks. I was staying in North Beach, a less touristy area and i noticed the shops don’t pretend they’re not shops like in the western world. I went in to many places where stock was kept on boxes on the floor and there was no back room. Boxes were left and piled on the sides of the street! Maybe they took after the many back street markets with little stalls of heaped fruits, strung meats and piled miscellaneous items.
5) I felt very white. The whole time I was there I saw a grand total of 3 ‘non- Asian’ people on the streets of North Beach, Hong Kong. People spoke very loudly in Hong Kong. As soon as shopkeepers saw me they switched to a more delicate English if they could, or at least said ‘hello’. The street signs were in English as well Chinese, as it is an official language, and some street names were funny and very literal like ‘Healthy Street’- which had a lot of doctors on it.
6) The food. One of my favourite things to do in a foreign country is go to a supermarket. Its such a mundane, everyday place that showcases a lot of differences in culture. Funnily enough, in Hong Kong there was one aisle dedicated to soy sauce, another to colourful boxes of candy (i saw Winnie the Pooh cookies and Pocky) and one more to noodles. I didnt get to consume much hot food past the dumplings at the breakfast buffet, but I did try the regions egg waffle, a puffy bubble wrap-like snack.
7) The buildings. I didn’t get to see any surrounding nature in Hong Kong while I was there, but the city and its buildings are attractions by themselves. On the bus into the into the city at night, I saw most waterfront buildings were almost identical, square white skyscrapers (so tall). They were lit with different coloured lights in their windows, like they were filled with the softened beach glass you find on the sand between your toes.
I would definitely recommend Hong Kong. It was different to anywhere I’d ever been and the culture hits you as soon as you step outside into the heavy air. Staying in a less touristic area allowed me to the lives of the everyday people, but I was still the obvious tourist, taking pictures of anything and everything.
Cow and church bells chime outside my window…
Life is weird.
How I see it, you live through so many different realities in one life. One moment you could be getting up early everyday for your supermarket job, trying to smile through the fatigue and snuggling your sweetie at night. The next, you’re on a plane, in Hong Kong, then living halfway across the world, practicing German by day and partying with other foreigners by night.
We work towards these ‘reality changes’, as i did saving for my trip, but never can expect what it will be like on the other side. Its like dying. I suppose that’s a lesson you have to live with; you can never control what each new experience brings.
Traveling to Switzerland on exchange, another exchange. I was told I was a ‘crazy girl’. But the hunger for travel, for the unknown, never goes away. As my friends are settling down with jobs and flats and partners, I’m off exploring again. I’ve left people that I love and the places that I’m comfortable in. That doesn’t mean I’m not scared as shit that things wont work out, that I’ll just be broke and lonely on the other side of the world. But it’s worth it to try. I need to. The weird makes me happy.