Tag Archives: CUHK

So This is Jetlag…(A post on housing and brief recap on orientation)

I’m up at 5am this morning.  It’s my fourth day here now, and a Saturday.  Back home, friends are looking at the clock to get out of work and start the Labor Day weekend.  Me? I’m in bed here wondering if I should try to get more shuteye or not… Instead, I decided tocatch up on some blogging.

I’m homeless (not quite – I’m staying in a rather luxurious apartment in the prestigious Mid-Levels), and actually feeling a rather lot of anxiety about where to live.  I’ve seen three apartments now, in three differnet neighborhoods — Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, and Sheung Wan.  Out of the three, I’m rather liking Wan Chai.  I get a sense of a mix of people – both Westerners and locals, so prices aren’t skyrocket high.  I also noticed access to both small shops, wet markets, the ever-present malls, supermarkets, post office, and not that far from the water/MTR.

When I was doing my inital housing search from New York, I was dismayed to find that HK’s craigslist.org is rather spartan and useless.  If anything, it’s inhabited by ex-pats (Americans), and your choices are very limited.  Plus, as I started trolling the AsiaXPat and GeoXPat sites for HK, I realized I did not have any good understanding of the various neighborhoods of HK, and that there would be no way for me to make a decision until I was on the ground to explore.

Although the wealth of information on the 2 XPat sites are primarily on the difficult to search talk threads, after reading enough discussions on the subject of accomodations, I realized that the serviced apartment would suit me best at this stage.

Serviced apartments are essentially furnished rooms that typically come with bathrooms and some form of a kitchenette (although not all include one or the other), a variation of utilites (for the most part I’ve seen them come with (wired) internet, local phone calls, water and gas, and usually electricity), housekeeping, linens/housewares and can be let for anywhere as little as a week to several months (sometimes years).  Some get really fancy, and include gym, business center access or laundry, among other things, too.

Being that I have no idea as to what I wanted or how long I needed accommodations for, the serviced apartment seemed perfect for me.   They allow me the flexibility to leave/change apartments/neighborhoods, and suits me insofar as I may or may not even take a second semester (or more).  But where? And how much am I spending??

The apartments I viewed in the past two days ranged from 9,000 HKD to 14,000 HKD.  You do the math (1 USD is approx. 7.75 HKD).  And what I get are really tiny spots — I mean, I’m fortunate if I exceed 350 s.f. (homes are typically measured by “usable” square footage).   So dollar per square foot in HK is incredibly expensive — vastly more so than NYC.

Yesterday I saw what could be my home in the neighborhood of Wan Chai (彎 仔).  This apartment was on a residential street (meaning the lower floors are all shops,  while above are all residences), but very close to the MTR, and major shopping needs.  I bargained it down from 13k HKD to 12k, however, I’m still responsible for electricity and government charges on top (it costs 200HKD to draft the contract, and 25HKD per month to maintain its stamp — something foreign to Americans); so it works out to about 12,200 or 12,300 HKD.  It’s a close approximation to what I pay in NY at the massive Chelsea duplex, WITH cable, DVR, phone, electric, wireless internet.  Insane.

I fear of picking the wrong neighborhood; or that I won’t be able to stand living in a box.

Unlike Causeway Bay, which I thought was waaaay too congested (even for HK), and Sheung Wan, which I had no real feelings for one way or the other, Wan Chai felt right when I got there, and I felt happy… then I went home and did some research.  It was once a red light district, also made famous by The World of Suzie Wong.  However, further research (including asking people I know that know HK, like Peter and Liz), as well as some of the advice on the XPat sites) shows that it is pretty much safe now, even if there are some grosso girlie bars along Fenwick Street, where guys can apparently still buy drinks for girls in exchange for blowjobs (ick!) it’s actually a more dangerous place to be a guy than a girl, because the ladies of the night tend to be protective of other girls while guys are often harassed to come join the STD-filled fun.  Plus, all this is pretty much restricted to Lockhart Road (where there also happens to be a serviced apartment within my price range).

I wondered if living on HK Island is worth it.  I still haven’t explored Kowloon, and I know at least 2 classmates who live out there.  I figured that like in NYC, you’d probably want to live in Manhattan or at least say you lived in Manhattan even if for just a little while.  For me, most of my friends wanted to go out there, and while I grew to find myself with friends in Queens and Brooklyn with more frequency of late, staying on Manhattan made a difference.  Similarly in HK, the nightlife is concentrated on the Island, as well as the always fun-seeking expat community.

Anyway, this serviced apartment is not permanent, and I might just switch to Kowloon later… but I’ll take a look, hopefully Sunday.

As for orientation on Thursday — it was quite good.  It took me about 30 min from Central Station to get to the University, and what I found was a true blue campus on a mountain top, and stunning views of water (there is also a lake and reflecting pool).

The Yale-China Chinese Language Center, as it is now being rebranded, has only two buildings, but the program seems very strong.  I have five different classes for each of the five days, and each class is 3 hours.  There is a class wholly dedicated to TV Commercials and another to News! Perfect – as this is where I feel I just can’t seem to teach myself for some reason.

I’ve always believed my Chinese was decent (although I’m worried that Level 4 will be really hard for me), but just can’t get to that level of fluency required to say watch television or read a magazine.  Generally I can’t keep up the concentration needed for that kind of speed or I just lack the proper vocabulary.

As for certifications — if I take 2 semesters, I can earn a Certificate from the Uni; and if I take 3, all the way through the highest level (6 — which I didn’t realize existed), I can actually skip over to getting an Advanced Diploma, which ordinarily requires about 2 years of study, or 90 credits.  For now, I am aiming to get the Certificate, and we’ll see if I can actually stay the Summer to do the final level.  Unfortunately, it also requires a 2,000 character essay plus an oral examination — so I’m not sure if I’ll be up for that challenge!

The class is extremely diverse, including three students from Africa!  Other countries I recall being represented were Switzerland, Sweden, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, Canada, England, USA.  So far, everyone seems nice enough, and I really am curious to find out what has motivated folks to come study Chinese here.

One very friendly Japanese woman seems to be here because she’s been living in and out of HK for the past 8 years, and has a boyfriend and life here.  Another Chinese-American guy similarly decided to just step out of his life, quit his job, and come here for a few semesters to create change.  Another middle-aged Chinese American who has been living in Singapore for the past few years decided to bone up on his Mandarin to assist his work as a missionary.

OK – more positivity!!! It’s another day, and more apartments await me.  Plus, Avi invited me to join him and his friends to a comedy show tonight.  So some socializing at last!


What (more): CUHK CLC

When I first decided to pick up and move to HK, I did not quite have any sort of plan in place  (arguably I still don’t).  I just knew it was time to make the change, had applied to one job (and even that may ultimately be on the Mainland if I even get it!), and otherwise had no real alternative worked out.  I was just going to pick up and figure it out once I got there.  Not really a good plan.

Fortunately, I shared my idea with Mike, a classmate of mine from law school who proclaims he can solve everyone’s problems but his own, who suggested why not start out by attending some sort of continuing education so that I could get settled into the country in a more relaxed transitional state, get a chance to really spend some time in the place before I decided a full blown commitment, all the while learning a marketable skill?

Mike was right, and the idea was brilliant!  I had taken 2 years of Mandarin in college, and had gotten relatively advanced, but did not feel entirely comfortable enough to work in a professional setting where I only spoke Mandarin.  I also speak Cantonese on a fairly basic conversational level, but it would be nice to really improve that as well.  It is, after all, my “native language” technically.  So going to Hong Kong to learn Mandarin AND Cantonese made perfect sense.  Plus, no awful simplified Chinese! Yuck!

But where?  The next morning, I immediately turned to your friend and mine Google, and searched terms like “mandarin study hong kong,” even “best mandarin study hong kong,” and found a number of “commercial” educational programs that catered to foreigners like me, with courses ranging from 2 to 8 weeks, costing about $800 to $2200 respectively.  These courses have a number of different start dates, and some included excursions, focusing on the “cultural experience.”

It was really hard to compare them.  I started making charts by costs per lesson hour, and noting whatever else I could tell that might differentiate one from another – but it was near impossible.  Further, these “intensive” courses, focused on training one quickly, which was not in line with my purposes in HK.  Besides from attaining quality education, I would actually prefer to take it slow and just get a real feel for my surroundings.

I’m not sure how I ended up surfing over to CUHK, but it came up on one of my searches and looked nearly close to perfect in terms of what I was looking for.  It did not force me to go in the summer only, targeted foreigners, had multiple levels of training and a variety of courses in terms of levels and time lengths, was at a a real university campus, was affordable.  I began to research CUHK further and discovered it was also one of the best universities in Asia based on some USNews-like rankings for Asia.

Turns out the Chinese Language Center has roots dating back to 1961, originally formed to teach ex-pats Cantonese.  In 1963 there was a collaborattion between the New Asia University and Yale, forming the New Asia -Yale-in-China-Program.  In 1974, the program was moved over to the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s campus out in the New Territories.  Now there are Mandarin and Cantonese classes, teaching a range of levels (1-5), short intensives, and regular seasonal semesters (Fall, Spring, Summer).

Turned out Peter and Han Han, who both went to Yale, had attended exchange programs there during summers past, and spoke very highly of the program.  What’s more, Liz ‘s parents had taught at CUHK (not CLC itself), and in fact are moving back to HK in 2010. CUHK CLC very easily became the forerunner, and soon there was no reason to try to figure out which of the seemingly hundreds of other study abroad programs would suit me.  We have a winner!

Although I could not get any direct information on the very program or classes I intended to take (also found some relatively positive but uninformative anecdotes on an expat talk thread), the program overall seemed perfect for me.  And now onto applying (a whole other post to come)!

The take-away here is that Mike’s idea is a great one, and for quite a few people I know who have expatriated to the USA or to other countries from the USA, it is often the first stepping stone.  It provides a good opportunity to transition more gently into the new country, and helps with learning what sometimes are needed skills to live in the new place (either job skills or language).  Plus, it should give you a valid legal premise! Yes, we don’t just get to move somewhere and live there without proper visas.

As to finding the right program – my recommendation is to look into REAL universities.  Study the area’s actual unis and educational institutions, including city colleges, community colleges, (I looked into the other universities of HK, including HKU and HK Polytechnic, etc.) and from there, check to see what kind of continuing education programs they have.  These, however, may be more expensive (although not so in the case of CLC), but at least they will  probably be more reliably legitimate programs, and offer more in terms of a community and support.

On the other hand, this is not to say that those “commercial” educational programs are necessarily worse, and it will depend on what you are seeking.