Blog Post #2 (3rd November)
One of the things I value most about the ‘university experience’ overall is the wealth of opportunities that are laid out in front of us. It feels like those expand ten-fold while on exchange, particularly in such a buzzing place like Shenzhen. I’ve lived here for nearly two and half months, and have now thoroughly had time to find my feet to be able to lean in to everything on offer.
Shenzhen is China’s newest hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, with a population of over 12 million, located right across the border from Hong Kong. Some of our course work here in China has us looking deep into companies that are right on our doorstep; in the weekend just passed we visited and toured a company helping start-ups in Hong Kong that we’d only recently studied a case of. It’s incredible to have such a level of access to see the paths we can choose to follow.
With just over a year left of our degrees, graduate life is getting close and being here has expanded my horizons by miles. Seeing the possible lives we may lead as UoA graduates has me buzzing for what may come. As well as the chances to build our business networks, there’s personal growth together with the tribe of international students, exploring the city, beaches, hiking trails, having movie nights in, and getting out amongst the night life. Our cohort of New Zealand, American, and Chinese students has bonded so much over the past year, getting through the thick and thin of living in new countries and rising out of it stronger. Forever grateful to my cohort family!
After studying here at CUHK, Shenzhen for around a month now, I have settled in very well. I have gotten to know people all around the world. I was able to meet people from Germany, Netherlands, Canada, and of course, China. This was the first time in my life where I could not use English to communicate with every person I met. Through my conversation with the local people, I was able to realise how bad my Mandarin was. Sometimes I was unable to convey the things I wanted to, so I had to resort to charade and have them guess what I was trying to convey. Another problem that stemmed from my poor Mandarin was that a lot of Chinese people would come up to me and speak to me thinking that I am fluent in Mandarin, when in fact, my Mandarin is no better than a child in kindergarten.
Last week we had our National week holiday, which was essentially a midterm break. I, along with a group of boys, decided to use this opportunity to explore south-east Asia. We thought to ourselves which countries we would never go to after returning to our home country. After numerous research and debates, we decided to spend 11 days in Myanmar and Cambodia. Initially, I was scared to go to these two countries after hearing the crime rates and how they are still “Major developing countries”. It turned out my worries were for nothing. The Pagodas were amazing.
In Cambodia, we went to see Angkor Wat, one of the world wonders, it was stunning, to think that it something like it existed in this world. After my experience in these two developing countries, I finally understood how privileged I am and how hard my parents worked to allow me to be this privileged. I don’t think I will ever forget what I have experienced in that past week.
The first few months in Shenzhen were quiet, and I was surprised at the lack of schoolwork we had been assigned. But since returning to university from the Chinese National Day break, my desk has been piled with assignments and mid-terms.
The Chinese National Day break allowed us to travel for ten days to two countries which I had never thought I’d visit in 2019 – Myanmar and Cambodia (with a day stop in Bangkok)!
A group of other international students and I started the trip in Yangon, Myanmar, with an overnight bus ride to Bagan which I’m sure none of us will forget. I had just fallen asleep but woke up a few minutes later in the middle of the night to gasps and the bus driving on two wheels. I saw my life flash before my eyes as it turned out that our driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel!
Bagan was a city that I didn’t know existed a month before we arrived, but it ended up being one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. On arrival, we hired e-bikes for an entire day for a few dollars and drove around the ancient city on our own accord. During the ride, we met a bunch of friendly locals and stumbled across plenty of cool spots among the 3000 ancient pagodas placed throughout the city. For the next two days, we had a tour guide take us around Bagan and do a bunch of unforgettable activities:
- Visiting pagodas and getting to climb on top of one
- Playing the traditional Myanmar sport of chinlone with locals
- Cruising down the river on a private boat for a sunset
- Hiking up Mount Popa which is famous for pilgrimage
Next up, we have Cambodia!
We made our way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, waking up at 6 am to a thunderstorm and the beginning of our day tour of Angkor Wat. The complex is genuinely spectacular and interesting to see bullet holes in the walls and hearing from locals that there are still land mines planted around Angkor Wat by the Cambodian government. I had my first ever interaction with monkeys outside the complex and even had my chips stolen by one as I tried to take photos of them.
Now, we’re back in Shenzhen and it is time to get our heads in the books. It’s very new to see massive lines of people waiting for buses from the library back to the dorms just before they stop running at midnight!
It has been over two months now since the arrival in China. Since my last blog, I have gone on holiday to Myanmar and Cambodia. Both these places were very humbling, with each providing a unique and unforgettable experience.
There were six cohort boys on the trip, not including myself, and two other exchange students, one from Nederland and the other from Germany. We first visited Thailand for a day, which was a fleeting experience but was excellent none the less. Afterward, we were flying to Yangon, Myanmar, for a night before heading to Bagan on a 10-hour bus ride. Bagan was impeccable with its 3000+ pagodas available to see, which we sightsaw on hired e-scooters for a day. The other portion of the stay was with a tour guide. He provided greater insight into the City’s history and gave us a unique experience that we wouldn’t have been able to experience ourselves. We then headed back to Yangon for a night, where we needed to relax. Then we headed into the Cambodia portion of the trip. Spending two days in Siem Reap, where I, unfortunately, got ill, so I missed most of a day. However, I still was able to see Angkor Wat and the other ruins around the area. Finally, our trip concluded in Phnom Penh for a day, which we dedicated to the Killing Fields. It was an intense and saddening experience, but it gave some insight into how fortunate I have been to have had this trip. Overall, it was a fantastic time, and by the end, I was looking forward to my Chinese bed again.
Since arriving back in China, I have been very much involved in study and group work. Some highlights not involving the academics include the Shenzhen light show and the trip to Hong Kong, involving HK Science Technology Park and Explorium. The Shenzhen light show was world-class, with multiple artistic pieces by Australians, which was very cool to see. The Hong Kong trip with the Innovation Cohort was enjoyable, but I didn’t find myself interacting with the speakers too well at Science Park. Explorium, on the other hand, had a very engaging speaker. He gave insight into the work they do with Li and Fung Supply Chain and how innovation is such a crucial part of the business. Now I must continue with my studies as I have multiple assignments ahead, and exams are beginning to creep up.
I am currently over the halfway point in my exchange at CUHK SZ and it has been moving at such a rapid pace! I have just come off the back of midterms and I am starting to prepare for the last month and half of my exchange!
A few weeks prior I experienced my first national holiday, this was around two weeks of no classes due to the holiday and provided the perfect opportunity to go travelling around Asia. Therefore, me and eight other students, some from the University of Auckland, and also some from varying countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, decided to travel to both Myanmar and Cambodia for the national holiday period. It was some of the most amazing experiences and ones that I will never forget, from riding scooters through fields of Pagodas in Myanmar, to taking overnight buses with a group of foreigners to go see Angkor Wat in Cambodia, exploring the unknown. It was the perfect opportunity to push my boundaries and comfort zone by exploring these countries that I would have never personally thought of travelling to.
That has been one of the great things about this exchange is that not only do you get to experience the university life in a different country but you make plans to travel around to these amazing places that were not even considered attainable when you were back living in your home country. I would have to say Myanmar was my favourite place of the two, due to the local experience we gained through a tour guide who knew exactly what we wanted and also Myanmar is relatively untouched in terms of tourism compared to a lot of South-East Asia.
After the holiday we arrived back on campus late at night, still dressed in the South-East Asian style which included Thai pants and Cambodian t-shirts, so we were getting some curious looks as we got out of our taxis and back to our dorms! Then it was back into classes and daily routines again which was a little bit of a struggle after feeling like intrepid explorers for a few weeks. Now that the midterm period is over it is really starting to feel like the end of this exchange will creep up! The University has organized a trip to Hong Kong this upcoming weekend to visit the science park and the varying businesses around the area, that will be interesting to gain an insight to business life in comparison to New Zealand. Also, I am planning to visit Beijing in the coming weeks hopefully before the exam period begins! It is a must for me to visit the Great Wall!
Overall, I have now started to feel more comfortable in my new environment and have appreciated the opportunities that have come my way in the last few weeks, it is still crazy to think that I am out here studying in a completely foreign country!
So, since the last blog post, school work has really started to kick into gear. However, a great coping mechanism I’ve found is consistently having a new adventure to look forward to. The longest break of the semester is national day holiday. The actual national day is the 1st of October, but the holiday lasts a week. Because flights around the majority of south-east Asia are quite cheap, the issue lies in where to go.
Writing my life moto on a lantern in Pingxi.
Church of St Dominic, Macau
If you want to leave mainland China but are travelling on a budget, I would recommend going to Taiwan. Taiwan has a lot to offer from the Beitou thermal Valley, to the Shifen Waterfalls and can’t forget the famous night markets and Bubble tea. Taiwan has something for everybody! Not to mention the exchange rate of the New Taiwanese Dollar to the Chinese yuan and New Zealand dollar is pretty great.
Qixingtan beach in Xincheng County, Taiwan
Qingshui Cliff in Hualin County, Taiwan
Walking trail in Hualin County, Taiwan
The A-Ma Temple, Macau
The A-Ma Temple, Macau
The Eiffel Tower, The Parisian Hotel, Macau
For a quick getaway, my favourite weekend trip so far has been to Macau. At first glance, one would think all the small island has to offer is just big Hotels and Casinos. However, as it was previously a Portuguese colony, there are lots of European architecture and influences throughout. With it being only an hour’s ferry from Hong Kong, I would highly recommend.
The Venetian Hotel, Macau
The Galaxy Hotel, Macau
The Eiffel Tower, The Parisian Hotel, Macau
The ruins of St Paul, Macau
And just like that, we have completed over half of our semester in Shenzhen, China. Time is flying by so quickly it is hard to keep up, so much is happening on a day to day basis with many adventures and laughs being had in between.
To begin where I left off, only a few weeks had passed since we arrived in Shenzhen, but we already had a sizeable friend group who we spent time with regularly. We all knew the Chinese National Holiday was coming up and we wanted to spend it together. Tom played the role of travel agent and came up with the idea that we should all go to Myanmar and Cambodia. A few people took convincing but after a short while everyone was excited, and we all booked tickets.
The day finally came, and we left for the airport at 1am on Thursday the 26th of September to board a plane to Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. We arrived early morning and checked straight into our hotel so we could have a rest before properly starting our day. After we woke up, we had a very nice and very cheap breakfast at a local café. From there we went to a very large pagoda and spent some time along the river front. As the sun set, we headed to a bar next to our hostel and had a few drinks, excitedly waiting what was to come. We went back to the hotel, collected our bags and headed to the bus station to catch a bus to Bagan. Bagan was unanimously the highlight of our trip, it is an old town that has thousands and thousands of temples, all within very close proximity to each other. We spent the first day on rented scooters exploring the temples and going off road and spent the following two days with an amazing tour guide who showed us all the main tourist attractions and took us for a cruise along the river at sunset. After Bagan we headed back to Yangon for one more night before heading to Cambodia.
We landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the evening and headed straight to the bus station. We ate dinner and then boarded another bus to SIem Reap. This is where all the temples are, namely Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom. There were a lot more tourists in Siem Reap and a nice bar street that we of course had to pay a visit. After visiting the main temples, we found that there was not that much to do in Siem Reap so we headed back to Phnom Penh for our last night on holiday. The next day we visited the Killing Fields and had a quiet day after that. We went to the airport in the early morning and flew home via Hong Kong.
It was an amazing experience and opened my eyes to how other parts of the world live on a day to day basis.