Nasi Goreng vs. Mooncakes

Only a few weeks into the semester, and the first mini-holiday presented itself. The Mid-Autumn Festival / Mooncake Festival / Chinese Lantern Festival provided me with an extended weekend, and I of course had to use that opportunity to see more of Asia.

I thus left behind Hong Kong and all the mooncakes, and instead headed off to Jakarta – Indonesia – with my travel companion, Mette.

Travelling by plane was the oddest thing! After so many weeks of travelling by train with Mette through China, it was strange to once again feel the comforts of a plane seat. Flying with Garouda Air, and having the dilemma of choosing what movies to indulge in on the 5 hour journey from Hong Kong was a luxury.

Now, what made this five-day holiday great was undoubtedly the open arms we were met with. Family friends of my parents opened their door to us, and not only provided us with the best accommodation one could wish for, but enlightened us with insider-information and secrets of this wild capital, catered to our taste buds, provided excellent company and late-night talks. It is also because of them that I finally got to watch “The Painted Veil. It is not the first time I have drawn on their hospitality, and I do hope it will not be the last time, either. Experiencing Jakarta would not have been the same without the Hejl-family.

Jakarta served as an interesting contrast to the rest of our journey through Russia, Mongolia and China. The vibe and the dynamics that prevail here differed immensely, and I loved every contrast.

This capital is the most populous city in Southeast Asia, which clearly shows once you try to get trapped in the infamous traffic jams. These macro-jams won’t get any better any time soon. According to the Economist, traffic gridlock will occur by 2014, unless the government makes drastic changes to the infrastructure. Because of urban migration, more and more vehicles are added to the existing roads, putting pressure on the whole setup. Hopefully the future will provide a solution, so as to facilitate and ignite the country and its economy.

The people of Jakarta proved to be absolutely wonderful. Everywhere we turned we were met with the biggest smiles and by joyful laughter. I often feel quite uncomfortable taking pictures of locals, as I feel I am invading a space where I am genuinely not allowed. However, several times we experienced how the Indonesians were the ones contacting us, asking if they could pose for a picture. They found it so amusing. Also, several encounters with children gave us another great insight into Indonesian culture: there is an all-prevailing curiosity, which helped to eliminate all barriers of contact. It was great to have these direct-encounters, even though we could only visit the city for such a short period.

Taman Mini was visited, which is a recreational park displaying the Indonesian culture. I was astonished by the beautiful and detailed architecture you could find here, as local pavilions and houses had been set up to demonstrate just how different such are in the various provinces of Indonesia. We also enjoyed a few hours at the Indonesian Museum, and visited the bird park here – activities which all exceeded my expectations. However, watching Indonesian traditional dances performed by local children hit home run with me. The hand movements are so intricate, and you easily lose all sense of time and space if you keep watching these mesmerizing moves.

Sunday unfolded itself at Thousand Island in the waters of Jakarta Bay. I would not mind spending every Sunday like this. Turquoise waters, sandy beaches and snorkeling opportunities. What more could one ask for?

Experiencing the beautiful Jakarta Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque also gave me a great insight into this capital. What resonates with me very deeply is when several religions can unfold themselves within the same borders, and I find Indonesia – and also Malaysia – as great examples of such. These two great, religious buildings are not only equally respected, but are also built right next to each other. You only have to cross the main street to move from one sacred building to the other. Mutual respect and understanding is something the rest of the world should take a note of.

Bogor Botanical Gardens also proved worth a visit. Situated some 60 km outside of Jakarta, the park consists of more than 15,000 plants and trees. It is said to be Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who initiated the building of the gardens, so a thick history of colonialism hangs over the place. The trees were gigantic, and it was a great feeling walking around so much greenery after having spent a few days in in a city choked with poverty and pollution.

Yummy in my tummy!

Whilst Jakarta features on many black lists, such as the ugliest city, the most hated city, etc., I certainly found a charm here. Perhaps the Indonesian language gave me positive connotations to my travels in Malaysia, which then may have fogged my judgment. Perhaps, the comforts of staying with family friends blurred reality. However, I came to really enjoy my stay. I ate a lot of Nasi Goreng, was overjoyed by the friendly people I met, and found a beauty in the rough streets. Clouded judgment or not, I wish and hope to come back one day, to explore the rest of Indonesia.

/Krissy

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Dim Sum-ing it in Hong Kong

I am no longer on the road. I have planted my feet on Hong Kong ground and I am here to stay for the coming semester at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As much as I love to travel over extensive periods, unpacking was a soulful relief.

Cutting straight to some necessary propaganda, I simply just love the campus of CUHK. The University is the second oldest in HK, and is multilingual – ensuring that various sound bits of English, Cantonese and Mandarin reach my ears every day.  Campus is situated in New Territories, a somewhat far journey from your downtown Hong Kong entertainment. Luckily, CUHK is the only university with its own MTR station, meaning that the quest for enjoyments has been successfully eased. However, being in New Territories mean that I am effectively studying in a jungle. Campus constitutes a good 137 hectares of land, which means that we have to share this space with wildlife of all sorts and shapes. Rumour has it that monkeys can be spotted – I will of course be on the lookout and report back if I can confirm such whispers. Whilst I am thoroughly enjoying to be enmeshed in this greenery, I curse the uphill hikes when I have to make it to my political classes at the very top of the campus – You guessed it: New Territories is nothing but jungle and hills.

Orientation week was a blast. Met so many new people with amazing backgrounds and stories to tell. It is just like backpacking, meeting new people with the same adventurous requests as you and you feel an immediate bond. Whilst I’ve met all sorts of nationalities, I somehow manage to spend my majority of my time in a group of mostly Dutch (however, I must acknowledge some French and some American blood in this little group as well). It is almost like I am flying KLM every day.

Wednesday and Thursday nights are to be spent in LKF (Lan Kwai Fong), a district in central, where music from all the bars and clubs reach the main streets in a haze. It is on such days that the infamous LADIES NIGHT unfolds, meaning free drinks to the female species. If I don’t go on these days, my bank account would be nonexistent on my return home. Whilst HK certainly is an expensive city, it does not feel so bad when your home is Denmark – except for the drinks: drinking hurts in HK, not just the head.

After the initial stress of trying to enroll in my desired subjects at CUHK (read: most redundant enrollment system in the entire world), I can finally say I got courses I can approve of: One 20th C. literature class, an anthropology course on ‘Political Violence and Human Rights’, and three political classes: Global Environmental Politics, Ethics & International Affairs and Asian Comparative Politics. The workload is great, my home institution, CBS, seriously made a mistake when they calculated the amount of credits I would have to take abroad. Or maybe I am still on holiday?

What other shenanigans have I been up to in the first few weeks? For starters my roomie took me out, along with a friend of hers, to a delicious, nearby dim sum restaurant for some Sunday-brunch-fun. Probably the best I ever had. And I LOVE dim sum. There was an insane queue going out of the restaurant when we arrived, and we therefore had to wait around for a good half an hour or so – but it was worth it. You settle in at gigantic white-clothed, round tables and intake your food with other families or hungry folks. It is such a lovely way to spend your Sunday, in company of good people and delicious food. Also, food in Hong Kong is simply just GOOD. People who say otherwise obviously went to the wrong part of the world. Unless I increase my sporting activities here, extra kilos will be a given on my journey home – and here I am not referring to my luggage.

Beaches have also been visited, and it is not the worst thing to “study” with your toes dipped in the sand, listening to the sound of waves and admiring the islands scattered out at sea.

I went on a lovely hiking trip, with Per, a fellow student from CBS. Apart from the fact that his legs are made for running up hill it was quite an enjoyable trip. We went from Park view to Stanley, which is said to be the 4th best hiking trip around Hong Kong. It involves 1000 steps and various forms of increasing gradients but the view is stunning. Luckily (or unfortunately for the photos) we went on a cloudy, cool day so the trip was very manageable.

One weekend was also used to go to Macau, which went above and beyond my expectations. Seeing as it is a former Portuguese colony, the architecture there becomes a mix of Chinese and Southern Europe – very curious indeed. Before I blabber on about how much I loved the architecture, Macau is obviously not known for this, but rather its gambling and Casino offerings. Gambling has been legal since 1850, and is today their biggest source of revenue – in fact Macau has officially overtaken the Las Vegas gambling income. Seeing mostly Chinese men and women playing everywhere at the gaming tables on a late Sunday night, puts this into perspective: Customers are plentiful on all days of the week. However, because I only got to visit the “smaller” casinos when I was there, I will have to go back later to pay “The Venetian” a visit – the largest casino in the world, and a sister casino to the one in Vegas.

Whilst I have so many stories to tell, I think I will conclude this post. I am so excited for my stay here in beautiful Hong Kong, so stay tuned for more campus and city rants.