Students’ Stories: Dieke Ribbers in Hong Kong

Hi! diekeI am Dieke, 21 years old, and for the first semester in my third year of studying MKDA I went on exchange to Hong Kong.

As an art student, the VU Worldmap doesn’t give you a whole lot of exchange destinations (IBA is better off, as always), but I had already decided that I wanted to go somewhere that would, culturally, be completely different from the Netherlands, and the decision to go to Asia had, therefore, been made rather quick. Soon after that, due to the limited options within Asia, I had decided to go on exchange to the City University of Hong Kong. After some back and forth emailing about the courses with the Examination Committee, I chose to fill my four months with the following subjects:
– Mandarin for Non-Chinese Speakers I
– Technologies in Art, Science & Everyday Life
– Documentary and Everyday Urban Life
– Discovering the Dynamics of Contemporary Cities and Architecture in China
– Video Games: History, Industry, Society, and Creativity

View from the CityU Student Residence rooftop
 View from the CityU Student Residence rooftop

Living in Hong Kong has made me open my eyes to the world of the people living there. The Special Administrative Region (SAR) currently could be seen as a region with an identity crisis. In 2047, the contract between China and Hong Kong, set up by England in 1997 aiming to let Hong Kong keep its language and cultural values without China interfering, will expire, letting China have free reign over the region. To not let themselves get trampled by the mainland, especially with China already trying to increase influence by building bridges to connect Hong Kong with the mainland and introducing Mandarin to kindergartners, Hong Kong people are trying to find their true identity. A task not as easy as one may think as Hong Kong has, throughout the years, never been fully independent. Influences from England can still be seen nowadays (driving left, British dishes on the menu, colonial style architecture, etc.).

Buddhist temple in Ngong Ping (Hong Kong, Lantau Island)
Buddhist temple in Ngong Ping (Hong Kong, Lantau Island)

However, while residing in Hong Kong for four months, I could start to see the differences between Hong Kong and China. Especially after visiting Shenzhen, a city  just across the border in China, twice, the freedom and creativity of Hong Kong seems so much more apparent than before. The Hong Kong cinema is one of the creative outlets that became immensely popular worldwide with most people having seen Chungking Express at least once (visiting Chungking Mansions was not as scary as it first seemed, the Indian food is fantastic!).

The urban village in Shenzhen in contrast with the high-rise buildings in the back
The urban village in Shenzhen in contrast with the high-rise buildings in the back

Hong Kong, aside from being one of the most passport friendly countries in the world (which cannot be said of China), also deals with a whole other array of problems than China. The biggest one being the lack of space which pretty much shaped Hong Kong’s cityscape. One might think that Hong Kong is just concrete and people, but the opposite is true. 70% of Hong Kong is uncultivated, which means hiking for hours without seeing a single skyscraper (and finding at least 20 hidden beaches).

Shopping and dining area in Shenzhen (close to the design museum)
Shopping and dining area in Shenzhen (close to the design museum)

My exchange to Hong Kong has been an experience I would want to relive over and over again. Not only did it make me more confident in what I do, it also showed me how to view the world from a different perspective and taught me how people who seem culturally so close can still be miles apart. ‘That’s all clichés’, most will say, but going far away from your comfort zone really does help a great deal with being more openminded.

Neighbourhood in Hong Kong (Kowloon) by night
 Neighbourhood in Hong Kong (Kowloon) by night

Oh, and one last tip: China might not seem as creatively free as Hong Kong, but visiting Shenzhen is definitely worth crossing the border. The city grew from an agricultural village to China’s design capital in less than 50 years and has quite some fantastic neighbourhoods (Dafen Oil Painting Village) and art & design galleries!

Dieke

View from the highest point of the Lion Rock Trail (Hong Kong, northern Kowloon)
View from the highest point of the Lion Rock Trail (Hong Kong, northern Kowloon)

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