Calvin Dong
3 min readJan 15, 2018

Hong Kong has been a whirlwind. That’s the best way to describe it. It is, at one end, unpredictable, chaotic, and always in your face — the only constant to expect is that it will always be there. For once, walking around isn’t boring. The city is an assault on all five senses.

Sight — the colors. Public transportation pops and shimmers in waves of red, blue, and green. Even then, they’re not harsh enough such that it detracts from the overall color palette, in a sense. The best way to describe it is faded and pastel.

(Not my picture cause I suck at taking pictures)

Beyond just what’s immediately obvious at glancing at the roads and cars, Hong Kong is loud. I mean that in a visual way; the city is literally clamoring for your attention with every step. Like when we were walking around on Cheng Chau Island and every single seafood restaurant had a “salesperson” outside trying to convince us to choose theirs, over someone else’s. It’s a battle for very scarce resources in a city that has been crammed full of people and establishments who are perhaps all deserving of them. No one can see this and think it’s anything other than noisy

Everyone’s trying to make their way somehow.

Smell — the smells in Hong Kong evoke some combination of memories and desires. It’s an everyday occurrence to be casually strolling around and then to be blasted in the face by a waft of cigarette smoke from the person in front of you, who you didn’t even realize was smoking. Can’t lie, it’s pretty annoying, but it goes to show how full of surprises this place really is.

I’ve never been to a place which fluctuates so wildly on the spectrum of good and bad smells. Pass any food place, and you’ll smell something savory, some type of aromatic food right on the tip of your tongue — then you’ll pass a butcher shop and your nose will be filled with the scent of cloying meat and fish. Once again, predictable unpredictability.

Taste — This one speaks for itself, there are very few things in this world which compare to Hong Kong food. It’s not so much because of the stuff the city is known for — outside of dim sum, I wouldn’t really say that macaroni in soup with luncheon meat (spam) is incredibly flavorful and appetizing, but more so for the huge variance in the food offerings here. Since this city is such an amalgamation of different cultures it’s 100% possible to find a top notch restaurant for pretty much any Asian cuisine you’ve ever wanted. The best sushi I’ve had here so far is this little shop called “Sushi Takeout” which serves refrigerated plastic boxes of sushi. Honestly you could probably walk into almost any restaurant here that’s not too sketch and have a better experience than American Asian food.

Beyond just the surface of how strange of a place Hong Kong is, it’s made me feel certain ways that are very unique for a city. The language barrier is very real here, and I’ve never felt more helpless frustration trying to do something and just not being able to because of my very bad Cantonese. This city prides itself on efficiency, and I just can’t be that — at least not yet. I want to be able to walk into any subway station and confidently know which exit to take and which escalator to ride down. I can’t. I want to be able to hail a taxi whenever and for it to take me wherever, but I can’t do that yet, either. The prospect of rapid, unrestricted freedom, is so tantalizing, yet sadly beyond my reach. Like when my friend bought a SIM card and it didn’t work with the phone, causing us to resort to Mandarin to try to return the SIM card. It didn’t work, and I was left standing outside 7–11 thinking about what could’ve been if I spoke Cantonese. (Goal: being decent enough in Cantonese at the end of the semester to converse.)

to be continued?