From here my travels in Asia are not quite done. Considering the fact that I am already thousands of miles from home, I figured I might as well see as much of Asia as possible before I head home. For the next six weeks I will travel through Southeast Asia, at first with my roommates and a cousin joining for the first 3 weeks, and then I am meeting some other friends for the next three weeks. The plan is to fly to Bangkok and from there travel onward to Laos, Cambodia, then back to Thailand. After I am meeting some buddies in Bangkok and from there we will then travel overland through southern Cambodia into Vietnam. I am so excited and ready to explore an entirely different part of Asia. I am literally taking with me a few disposable cameras, a stick of deodorant, my toothbrush, and a couple pairs of boxers, shorts, and shirts and nothing more. No phone, no computer, and no real plan. Just a small bag and lots of enthusiasm.
The next six weeks of backpacking really cap off a year and a half of studying abroad –an entire year in London last year and now a semester in Shanghai. While it is bittersweet to think that this is my last semester studying abroad, it is cool to think going back to New York will be almost like starting again as a freshman. Things will be new and exciting. I haven’t lived in New York since the summer after freshman year so it will be great to be back in the City. When I realize that next semester I will be living in New York, it makes me realize how great a school NYU truly is. I have spent time in New York, London, and Shanghai, and although I haven’t spent much time in Washington Square, I feel as though I have remained part of the “NYU community.” I also feel that I have not had to sacrifice my academics in the pursuit of travel. I have no doubt the classes I have taken in London and Shanghai are on par with the classes my counterparts are taking in New York. This experience has made me believe that NYU is really on the cutting edge of education. The idea of a “global-network-university” really does work and has real tangible benefits for students. It is not simply a great marketing phrase, it is the opportunity to live and study in contexts that make classes come alive as you walk out the classroom door. Learning about the environment in China and walking out into the smog of Shanghai makes learning come alive. Learning about the European financial crisis and encountering anti-austerity protests in France makes learning come alive. Studying abroad makes the intangible tangible. It has opened my mind to new ideas and ways of living. It has introduced me to new people and new cultures. It has taught me a lot. I will forever be grateful for this incredible experience I call college.
My time here in Shanghai is drawing rapidly to a close. The past few months have flown by in the blink of an eye. Thinking back to my first night here, I never imagined what an incredible, wild, interesting, and life changing experience my time in Shanghai would be. Of course I was excited to live in a new place and meet new people and learn new things, but nothing I thought at the time compares to what I now think of what has just happened. The experiences I have had, the people I have met, the things I have learned, this all has gone way beyond anything I originally thought would transpire from my semester in Shanghai. So much happened that’s its hard to pin down one particular moment, one particular person, or one particular class and say that made my time in Shanghai. Each thing has combined in the most perfect way to make my time in Shanghai what it has become. It truly has been an incredible experience and privilege to be here, to study here, to travel here, and I cannot say enough good things about the NYU in Shanghai program. The teachers, the student life staff, and my classmates were all unbelievable. Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher said, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind” and after this experience in Shanghai I wholeheartedly believe this is true. I still can’t quite believe that it is coming to close. That said, despite the fact that I will no longer be in Shanghai, I have taken away so much from my time here, that as cliché as it sounds, Shanghai will always be a part of me. It has left an indelible mark on who I am. Wherever I go from here, it won’t be easy to forget all the wonderful things this semester in Shanghai has given me.
This past weekend I went on my BPE class trip to Hong Kong. It was awesome. Hong Kong is an incredible city. I learned a lot and had a really good time. We left Shanghai on Thursday afternoon, arrived in Hong Kong, and without skipping a beat we went out to explore Hong Kong’s incredible nightlife. The center of the Hong Kong party scene is Lan Kwai Fong, simply known as LKF. It is a small area packed with restaurants, bars, and clubs that spill out onto the streets. It’s a very jovial place and it was a great place to spend our first night in Hong Kong.
Despite a late night, we all woke up early for an awesome campus tour, two interesting lectures, and lunch at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. HKUST has an incredible campus overlooking the sea, with great facilities like a golf course and beach. The day we visited also happened to be graduation day for many students. We were able to witness part of the ceremony, which was cool. Our two lectures were “Quest for Prosperity: New Structural Economics and New Growth Recipe” by Professor Justin Yifu Li, Chief Economist of the World Bank and another lecture, “Relationship between Hong Kong and China,” by Professor Francis Liu, Department of Economics. Both were pretty interesting. The first lecture focused on China’s growth and how it presents a possible new model of development while the second lecture discussed China and Hong Kong’s relationship. In 1997 Hong Kong shifted from British to Chinese hands. For hundreds of years, HK was a British territory. This makes Hong Kong a true East meets West kind of place. It also means most people speak English and drive on the right hand side. It has a distinct culture all its own. Besides the tour and lectures, we also had lunch with a group of fellow global business students studying at HKUST.
After spending the day at the University we headed to Hong Kong Island itself and had a Group Dinner at Café Deco at the Peak. The food was delicious as was the view. Hong Kong has some incredible architecture. From dinner, we headed back to LKF for the evening.
The next day was perhaps my favorite. We spent the day on Lantau Island where we had a full day tour. Lantau Island is much less populated than the rest of Hong Kong. We visited a traditional fishing village where there are houses built on stilts in the sea. Afterwards we visited the Big Buddha. It is a massive bronze Buddha built in 1993 that is truly majestic. Its sits all alone on a hill overlooking the entire island. Following our day by the Buddha we took a really long cable-car and were able to see much of the island.
From the short time I spent there, I came away with the impression that Hong Kong is a real city of the future. It’s a real global hub and great place to see a combination of East and West.
I realized on the plane ride back to Shanghai that I only have three weeks left of the semester. Time is flying, and this semester has been awesome.
This past weekend we headed up north to Beijing, the real cultural capital of China. We stayed at an awesome hostel, at lots of great food, saw tons of cool things, and best of all, we climbed part of the Great Wall of China. I was lucky enough not to have class on Thursday so I decided it would be a cool experience to take the cheapest train to Beijing, 15 hours overnight on a three person bench with only squatting toilets. It was an incredible, albeit uncomfortable experience. It was incredible because although I had the opportunity to travel alongside people I would never otherwise have the chance to interact with like poor migrant construction and factory workers and even a student studying in Beijing from Pakistan surviving on a shoestring budget. We left Shanghai on Wednesday at 6pm and arrived in Beijing at 9am the next morning. We put our stuff down at the hostel and immediately went sightseeing. On Thursday we visited two religious sites, The Temple of Heaven, an old temple complex and massive park used by Chinese emperors throughout history to pray for good harvests, and then we saw the Lama Temple, a really cool and surprisingly peaceful (considering the crowds) Tibetan Buddhist temple in the middle of Beijing. On Friday the rest of our friends arrived, and we went to see the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Military Museum. They were nice to see, but by far the best thing I saw in Beijing was on Saturday when we went to Great Wall. The Wall is absolutely enormous (some say 8000km long) and there are many places to see the wall. For convenience sake we went to the Wall nearest Beijing. We were concerned the crowds would take away from the experience; so of course being young American tourists we climbed well beyond the reconstructed portion of the wall (where your allowed to go) and climbed on the unreconstructed part of the wall (where your not allowed to go). It was incredible. The Wall itself is impressive, but the surrounding scenery was equally so. On Sunday we went to see the Summer Palace, a massive palace and park complex built during China’s imperial period, and by Monday morning we were back in Shanghai.
After visiting Hangzhou, I really wanted to experience the rural, scenic China I had scene in movies. Last weekend was my opportunity. Two friends and I went to Mogan Mountain (aka Moganshan), an incredibly beautiful and historic natural area just a couple hours from Shanghai. We left early on Friday morning, took the bus to Wukang Town and from there took an hour-long ride in a short bus to the village where we were staying. We lodged at an awesome guesthouse called Prodigy Outdoor Base. As soon as you leave Wukang Town and head up the mountain, you feel as though you have stepped back in time to a simpler era. All along the winding mountain roads we saw groups of villagers harvesting and processing bamboo from the expansive bamboo forests that cover the mountainsides using the same tools they have used for hundreds of years. After reaching the guesthouse we immediately began to explore the area. That afternoon we landed up going on a three hour hike through the bamboo forests, past small farm houses, and fields of fresh vegetables. We had a crude map and a slight idea of where we were going but of course we got lost and just as the sun was setting we landed up finding a small inn and restaurant. We walked in, ordered a few drinks and asked how to get back to our guesthouse. The innkeeper told us it would take us an hour or two to walk back through the forest, so she called us a cab and we made it back to guesthouse just in time for a dinner of delicious local produce. The next day we woke up early, rented mountain bikes and for pretty much the rest of the town we biked throughout the valley. We happened upon an awesome lake and damn and jumped in for a swim. It was an incredible day. That evening my friends left to head back to Shanghai, and on a whim I decided to spend an extra night on the mountain. I landed up meeting a few other Americans and the next day I spent the day hiking with them. It was incredible to see this side of China. Rural, natural, and fresh.