It’s been over two years for me at HKUST so I figure it about time to tell something a bit more about the time spent here. Academics aside, being an international post-graduate student at HKUST is definitely not an easy experience, and there are many reasons for that. One of those has to do with the accommodation and flatmates.
I currently live at the HKUST university apartments, which are – without doubt – the nicest option available to students in HK overall. I don’t know what you imagine when you try and think of a HK PG halls, but I’ll start off by pointing out a few simple facts:
- It’s a tiny single room provided with a very short single bed and barely enough space to maneuver for a big guy like me. The apartment includes a fairly basic yet large living room no one ever uses, a kitchen with most things you could expect, a toilet room and a shower room.
- The single room is part of a four room apartment with flatmates that have been assigned to that flat. All of my flatmates are mainland Chinese doing their PhDs.
- The flat is located in an apartment building where I seem to be the only white skin guy around. Based on what I see in the hall ways and the elevators, I’d say it’s composed of atleast 95% mainland Chinese (others mostly being Indian, Singaporean, and Taiwanese). This means that while I officially live in Hong Kong I actually live in mainland China.
- Currently, out of the three flatmates – though we’ve been living together for between one to two years – I only know the nickname of one of my flatmates. He is definitely the more sociable among them in terms of having friends over and every once in a while he would ask me something about Jews and Israelis that have to do with his Christian bible classes. The other two I don’t think we’ve exchanged more than two or three sentences this whole time and their English names I only know by seeing their incoming mail.
- I rarely see my flatmates. I sometimes hear them coming back at late night from their labs or see signs that they’re around, but I could actually go through days without having seen any of them.
So with an already bizarre situation of living with people I hardly know or interact with, I’ll continue with the following peculiarities:
- I’m already well-aware of the fact that different people, not necessarily of different nationalities, have different standards of space and hygiene and with flatmates – especially ones you don’t interact with – it’s probably always a challenge. But, generally, I think that after a while we’ve reached a livable status quo. Not sure why that is, but it seems that I’m the only one that ever cleans. I’m also the only one who ever buys anything hygiene related (soap, garbage + bags, cleaning liquid, air fresheners, flushers, etc.). But as long as things are kept the way I want them to be – I’m fine with it. By this description you might conclude that I’m either one of those sparkly clean freaks or just the apartment sucker. I would then challenge you to overcome communications and cross-cultural barriers in an already complicated flatmating situation.
- Furthermore, every semester (used to be every two) the housing office would announce general cleaning and on that specific day all the apartments will be opened by the manager, doors will be kept open and a cleaning team would be allowed inside. This is perhaps my only chance to sneak peak into other apartments to see what things are like. I’ve got only this to say – “o-h m–y G-o-d…”
- It’s completely against university regulations and any of my non-Chinese social etiquette, but some of the students here have their Chinese mothers living with them in their tiny little rooms. We even have a “mothers’ club” here at the towers, where the Chinese mothers gather downstairs, go shopping together, take walks together or do whatever it is that Chinese mothers do together away from home to feel at home. The mother’s role, ofcourse, is to do whatever it takes to make sure the child fulfills their future financial potential. To the mothers – this means, cook, clean, do laundry and God knows what else, so that the child will spend the maximum of his waking university life studying to excel at his degree. For two long long weeks I had such a student living in my apartment while his apartment was being renovated and it was very disturbing to watch. There was also this one typhoon night that was especially weird when I saw the mother sitting down all night next to the phone in our living room waiting for her son to come back from the lab and staring at the door. Needless to say, she completely ignored my existence, even when I tried to directly talk to her in Mandarin. Every once in a while the housing office would crack down on those and post signs asking other students to snitch on “illegal residents” and promise to bring them to disciplinary justice, yet it rarely works or lasts.
- I’ve been told it’s different at the UG halls, but our PhD halls are dead quiet. No parties as I’ve come to know parties from my previous degrees and if there are any social get-togethers they’re usually about playing cards (the most exciting I’ve ever heard about is mahjong). I’ve also never ever heard noises of, how should we put it… ecstasy, leading me to believe that either there are some pretty serious cross-cultural differences in how people here express their moments of intimacy or perhaps that there are simply none of those taking place at all.
There are quite a few other things about living here at the university, but generally – though this is definitely less than what I’m used to and need and there are quite a few challenges to overcome I have come to accept the fact that given the real-estate prices in HK and how most people live in this ultra expensive city (I call them ‘shoeboxes’) I’m actually quite lucky. I pay 2800HK$ (!), all expenses included, in one of the prime locations in HK in terms of scenery, air quality and weather, where I enjoy a free gym and swimming pool 5 minutes away and have very quiet flatmates who are usually not around and who never bother me. All in all, not a bad deal.
If you found that interesting, then I’ll refer you to an article by Sooxue.com on the top bad habits by Chinese college students translated here – The top ten bad habits of Chinese college students. The most relevant of those here, perhaps, would be :
Dorms have become garbage dumps
"A university dorm is just like a garbage dump. Students usually clean once a week, and this is considered quite the chore. Many only go about it once a month or more. They spend most of their time playing computer games and are even too lazy to go out and eat, instead simply ordering out and the fast food boxes just pile up like a small mountain."
College student’s restrooms are horrible
"One could say that college student’s "bathroom culture" has reached its pinnacle. Even while going to the bathroom one does not want to forget to leave a note saying that "so and so was here for a little trip" . Even more common is for people to receive poetic inspiration and inscribe a wry ditty in order to drop "one" for the ages (名垂青屎 (屎=dung) a play on 名垂青史 "to go down in history" )…"
If I went to college in China I would probably forgo bathing
Not that it’s directly related to my life here, but just to wrap up this part here are selected photos from a terrific post from the Tiexue Chinese BBS about the Chinese dorm life (through LoveLoveChina):