John Millett

Major: Business Administration and History

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Study Abroad Program: Chinese University of Hong Kong - Summer

I have never been anywhere that is as crowded as Hong Kong.  Although both Shanghai and Beijing have much larger populations, neither compares in terms of population density.  People are everywhere.  There were always people in line at any store that I visited, no matter the hour.  Restaurants are nearly always close to capacity.  The MTR, Hong Kong’s subway system, was routinely standing room only, and for somebody used to Atlanta’s sprawl, all of this was completely overwhelming.  I had known that it was going to be crowded, but I had been able to comprehend what 6,339 people per square kilometer actually meant. 

Fortunately for the Hong Kongese and me, Hong Kong has some of the world’s best infrastructure.  The MTR can get you nearly anywhere, quickly.  Trains come nearly every minute, and they reach nearly every populated corner of the special administrative region. For those lucky enough to have cars, the road network is equally impressive.  Major thoroughfares make it easy to travel large distances quickly, and once you near your destination, the innumerable on and off ramps make it equally easy to get off, though I suspect that they make learning to drive in Hong Kong exceptionally difficult.  Hong Kong’s tunnels are even more impressive.  There are three that run under the harbor to connect island to Kowloon, and there are several more that run through mountains, such as the one that links Stanley to central Hong Kong. 

While Hong Kong’s infrastructure was impressive, it did not excite me.  Hong Kong’s buildings, however, did.  I have been interested in architecture for a long time, and fortunately for me, Hong Kong has several incredible buildings.  Though not particularly impressive in terms of scale, the old admiralty building, which was moved from Central to Stanley, is a graceful three story building with wrap around porches and giant windows.  Similarly, the Legislative Council Building is neither massive nor novel, but is instead a perfect execution of the neoclassical style.  In stark contrast to the Legislative Council building the HSBC and Bank of China buildings are striking examples of modern architecture.  While the former will never be beautiful, Norman Foster’s brainchild is certainly unique and impressive.  On the other hand, IM Pei’s Bank of China building is incredibly beautiful, particularly at night when strips of light bulbs highlight its crisp, perfect lines.  

Buildings do not, however, constitute a city.  People do.  As I said, at the outset, I found the sheer number of Hong Kongese to be overwhelming.  That many did not speak much or any English made the prospect of living in Hong Kong seem all the more daunting.  By the end of my stay, however, I felt very comfortable.  What made the difference was that I realized how friendly and patient the Hong Kongese are.  Even when they could not understand me, they would make every effort to understand and help.  For instance, my favorite restaurant in Hong Kong wound up being this hole in the wall in Tai Po Market.  I still have no idea how to pronounce the restaurant’s name, and none of the staff spoke any English, but our waitress, we always had the same one, would work with us as we pointed to items on the menu and then held up fingers to indicate how many we wanted.

Turning to food, Hong Kong has some really great food, and some food that is not so good.  The dumplings at the hole in wall were the best I have ever had, and at less than 25 cents a dumpling, they were incredibly cheap.  The goose at Yung Kee was also exceptional, though it cost far more.  Yung Kee’s thousand year old eggs were also really good, though they were an acquired taste.  Perhaps most surprisingly, the food from street vendors in the Temple Street Night Market was also very good, though I am pretty sure that the nurse at the travel clinic would pass out if she knew that I had eaten there.

I did also take classes when I was in Hong Kong.  While Human Resources did not particularly interest me, Global Enterprise Management proved to be an exceptional class.  The professor used Harvard Business Review case studies to highlight some of the particular challenges that multinational corporations face.  As we were working through the cases, however, she also encouraged us to think about how our own cultural norms and expectations could lead to inter-organizational tension.  Such introspection proved to be quite helpful when we later worked on group projects.

While I did learn from both of my classes, neither taught me anywhere near as much as simply living in Hong Kong did.  While certainly more western than China proper, it is still far more foreign a place than Western Europe.  Because so much was new, it was sometimes hard to make myself try new things.  When I did, however, I was rarely disappointed.  I never came to like boiled lettuce, but I did come to like every other type of food that I tried. I also became pretty adept at using chopsticks, though my technique is not the best.  I learned so many more little things that, while not significant enough to mention on their own, made my experience in Hong Kong tremendously enriching.  Consequently, I am extremely grateful to have been a Phillips Ambassador because I would not have gotten to Hong Kong otherwise.