When you’re given the opportunity to travel the world. Take it.
In January of 2019 I was getting ready for my day (watching the Today Show, drinking coffee, doing the reading I should have done days ago) when I got an email saying I was going to be one of fourteen students traveling to Asia in May. Over the course of 13 days, our group went to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Every Spring the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC-Chapel Hill offers a Special Topic course that invites undergrads to travel to China and Hong Kong to learn about international media markets. This course is lead by the wonderful Joseph “Joe” Czabovsky, a PR professor in the school who ACTUALLY AGREED to chaperone a bunch of hooligans across the world and teach us about media and culture. Our adventures took us into the conference rooms of fortune 500 companies and to places like Lantau Island and the freaking GREAT WALL OF CHINA!
The trip itself had us visit both Chinese companies like JD.com and the South China Morning Post, as well as international agencies like Wunderman and Jack Morton. In order to save this post from being a million pages long, I will briefly recap what we experienced and did in each place as to not bore.
Stop #1: Beijing
Before we left North Carolina Joe told us that Beijing would be the most “Chinese” of the cities we would visit. This definitely didn’t sink in until we left the airport. The smog was thick, the English was sparse, and the smell of Durian filled the air. While a shock for us, we couldn’t help but press our faces to the windows of our tour bus and take in everything we saw. We were lead by our amazing tour guide, Suzy, for most of the trip and she answered every question we had from Chinese history to modern street fashion. Within the first 20 minutes of our journey, I knew I needed to do everything in my power to remember every second of this experience.
Things we did and saw:
- Tiananmen Square (we stayed in a hotel that was literally an eight-minute walk away)
- The Forbidden City (again super close. Yes, I asked questions about Mulan)
- THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA (I just…..still haven’t processed that I climbed it)
- Our first traditional Chinese family-style dinner
- The Beijing train station where we think we saw Yao Ming
- BULLET TRAIN!
- APCO Worldwide, JD.com, Wall Street Journal, Caixin Global
Stop #2: Shanghai
Our time in Shanghai was BEAUTIFUL. We ended up being there over a weekend which meant we had two days completely free to see and do whatever we wanted. Of course we still had professional meetings to attend, but our time in the city was perfection. We bonded more than I thought we ever would and we got to experience the joys of public transportation.
Things we did and saw:
- Karaoke (…wow)
- The World’s Largest Starbucks
- Hot Pot and Pig Brains (my go-to fun fact now)
- Fake Designer Markets (at one point a few of us were pulled into a wall for knock-off Louis Vuitton…we lived to tell the tale)
- Rooftop bars with killer views
- Soup Dumplings !!!
- Wunderman, WSJ, WeWork, F5
Stop #3: Hong Kong
I will never be able to forget the thick layer of humidity that greeted us as we ascended the long escalator from the MTR to the streets of Hong Kong. Because of the very HOT and HUMID climate of HK, and their infamous tiny hotel rooms, our first day in Hong Kong was rough. It wasn’t until the following day when we were able to explore that we fell in love with the city. And fall in love we did. Out of the whole trip, it was by far my favorite. The transportation was stupid easy, the people were amazing, the streets were winding, and the rich culture was right at your fingertips.
Things we did and saw:
- Lantau Island (BIG BUDDAH!)
- Hong Kong University
- Rooftop pool
- More dumplings
- the Iron Fairy (the coolest bar I’ve ever stepped foot in, also the band played Sweet Caroline for us at last call)
- Late-night subway rides (fun fact: HK does not have open container laws)
- Generous bar patrons (on our last night in HK a random guy bought all fourteen of us a $700 bottle of vodka and the VIP lounge at the club because we reminded him of what being carefree felt like)
I could absolutely cry just thinking about all the fun I had and the people I met and the things I did while in China and Hong Kong. We started out our trip as strangers and ended it as a family. The people I shared this experience with were definitely part of what made it so special.
Because you know I can’t write or experience anything without a playlist, here is the one I made to commemorate this special time. These are songs we had stuck in our heads, songs we sang on the bus, songs we partied to, songs Suzy introduced us to, and songs that just remind me of the trip of a lifetime.
If you’re interested in the 72 hours I spent in Singapore after leaving Hong Kong, keep an eye out for a future post!