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Breaking the Mudd Bubble with Conner DiPaolo

Apparently there are a non-zero number of people at Mudd who want to know about my experience studying abroad in Hong Kong this semester. How is it different from life at Mudd? Cultural differences? The food? Whether that non-zero number of people lies entirely in the Muddraker editorial staff is a separate question, but here I am writing an article. At least trying. As I sit here in my dorm (objectively nicer than West, but that’s a low bar indeed, and the social scene on campus could never compare) I’m realizing that pinning down Hong Kong culturally, even just with food, is even harder than it would be most places. Any list of cultural points that could fit into this article would necessarily focus too heavily or too little on the colonial history with Britain, complementary encroachment by the Mainland, thriving Cantonese culture, or how one Cantonese word could mean both ‘thank you’ and ‘get the heck out of my way’ depending on how aggressively you say it. So here’s my compromise, ambiguous reader: let me tell you a couple stories. Short ones. Things I’ve experienced here that I almost surely would never experience at Mudd. Along the way hopefully I can convince you that Hong Kong (a) is an amazing, vibrant place that (b) isn’t as different as this prompt might suggest if you look past the micro scale.

Story 1 // I’m at Lam Kuai Fong. The club/party area in Central. I’m hanging out with some 30 year olds I met through Tinder a while back. I had to call my bank, which time zones pushed to a drunken midnight call instead of a human hour. The clubs are so loud I walk around to find a quiet place. “Wait for me I’m going to the bathroom.” After my 20 minute call with bass thumping through the walls (“I CANT HEAR YOU CAN YOU HEAR ME? YES THAT IS MY ACCOUNT NUMBER …”) I move towards the door to exit. I pull. Nothing. Hmm. I must have locked the door. Still nothing. I laugh. I’m exactly the person who would get locked inside a bathroom with about a thousand people partying right behind the wall. “IS ANYONE THERE??!” I bang on the door. “HELP!! IS ANYONE THERE?!!!” Still nothing. 11 minutes of this goes by. I’m running into the door trying to break it down but all this is doing is reminding me that I was a cross country runner in high school and hurting my shoulder. I get up on the sink of the bathroom to get better leverage. Start yanking and yelling again. “ANYONE???!” I readjust my position and pull in a different direction. It was a sliding door not a regular one.

Story 2 // I wake up at 8am to go backpacking with Miguel. “Can you bring some cooked rice?” So here I am carrying 4 cups of warm rice in a grocery bag along with my school backpack and my bed sheet for a sleeping bag. I left all my gear in the US. We walk to the MTR, take the train one stop to Tai Po, and eat some siu mai and a waffle. As we’re eating a random local person, late 20s, sits down next to us to chat. He spoke a bit of English, I spoke a bit of Mandarin, and Miguel spoke a bit of Cantonese, so about every four words we switch languages. He teaches a martial arts classes in Sha Tin. Miguel says he’ll go next class when his mom is visiting. After getting some final supplies in Tai Po we start walking towards Tai Mo Shan. The plan is to hike 25km, cook and sleep, then finish the remaining 25km of the MacLehose trail the next morning. Twenty kilometers later we stop to eat at a random shack along a road the trail cuts across. More siu mai. The rice was a great call. By the time we’re both tired enough to want to sleep and find somewhere we can comfortably set up camp, we’re already 35 kilometers in. It’s getting dark but we decide to just finish the 50km tonight and get a cheap foot massage instead of sleeping on the ground covered by a bed sheet in the woods. On our way out we run into some dogs guarding the rural houses behind Tsuen Wan. I’m terrified because of previous Hong Kong dog experiences. They start nipping at our feet and barking. “Just keep walking and don’t look at them. You’ll be fine.” “Thanks, man.” The $10US foot massage was great.

Story 3 // Miguel found out about the rave by bumming a hand-rolled cigarette off some random guy at a house festival in Hong Kong. Apparently those are uncommon here. Laura, Miguel, and I arrive at a bus stop nearby, but quickly realize we’re in a factory district of Hong Kong. “Is this the right place?” “Yeah I’m pretty sure…” We see a cracked open door leading into a factory that about lines up with the address. A late-night security guard doesn’t say a thing as we walk by and head over to the first elevator we find. Two others head in our direction. “You guys look young do you like Drum and Bass” “Yeah! We like a lot of music honestly.” We take the elevator to the 32nd floor. The building has 32 floors. Exit the elevator. Walls are shaking with bass. We enter the room with the party. It’s literally a factory building that some local musicians live in and record from. From the pictures on the walls it looks like some of them are in a rock band. This definitely isn’t rock music. There’s less than 50 people in the room and about 2 tonnes of speakers. The music is _fast_. Someone is incapacitated enough to be slowly squirming across the room on her back videotaping people dancing from her phone. Soon Miguel waves me over, says something in Cantonese, and introduces me to the person who organized the party before leaving with Laura to get drinks. I start dancing aggressively with the people around me. About an hour later I’m still dancing and they aren’t back yet. My legs are tired and I sit down on a mat, sober but also incapacitated. A bouncer from a UK club approaches me to chat. He’s on holiday. Miguel and Laura come back and re-energize the floor mat I’m on. More dancing. More conversation. I take a taxi back to campus at 3:30.

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