Form 3 trips have, in the past, included journeys to New Zealand, the Republic of Georgia, and New York, but this year, in anticipation of the opening of Buckswood Hong Kong, we switched our attention to the Orient!
Now, for those who have never been to Hong Kong (now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China), they will almost certainly assume that it is a bustling city-state and harbour, adorned with skyscrapers; a city that, like New York, never sleeps, and where hoards of busy people on a mission travel endlessly on trains, ferries and the efficient and ubiquitous underground system. The reality is, indeed, just that!
This year, the students – some of whom had never flown, let alone travelled to the other side of the world – set off in great anticipation of embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and that is precisely what they experienced, led by The Headmaster, Mr. Sutton, accompanied by Buckswood’s teacher of Chinese, Ms. Peirce, and Head of Juniors, Mr. Cassidy.
Our base on the peninsula of East Kowloon was the ‘upmarket’ Holiday Inn Express, at Tseung Kwan O, part of a large modern shopping mall complex, with its own underground station. It proved the perfect base from which to explore Hong Kong, such exploration initiated by a visit to Mongkok Ladies Market on the evening of our arrival, not that, as the name implies, we found any ladies for sale, but instead encountered vibrant, manic, neon-lit streets spreading out in every direction, with brightly illuminated colourful stalls offering a variety of clothing, technology, gifts, watches; indeed everything that once we in the West associated with… “made in Hong Kong”. If we are to believe the Guinness Book of Records, Mongkok is the most densely populated area in the world! Indeed it can be said that Hong Kong per se is just that: with a population of seven million people crammed into an area the size of Manhattan!
A principal component of this cultural journey was the opportunity to sample authentic cuisine and to avoid as much as possible the convenience of KFC and Burger King! Instead, we settled for the tiny gems of culinary authenticity and simplicity where the locals ate. This was the students’ introduction to the vibrancy, the energy and the culture of downtown Hong Kong, and equally their introduction to one of the principal arteries of the heart of the city: the spotless, efficient underground, a system of transport that the students learnt very quickly to negotiate by virtue of its logical layout and clear signage. Over the course of our seven-day stay, the underground served us well, and linked up with major tourist attractions, the ferry ports and the new international airport, built on an artificial island just off Lantau Island.
The group’s first day in Hong Kong was almost entirely devoted to one of the main tourist attractions: Ocean World, a complex of stomach-churning rides, a deeply impressive aquarium sporting a variety of equally impressive marine life, penguin houses built to emulate sub-zero Antarctica, mock-up Chinese towns, and incredible cable-car rides. There were similar adventures to be had at Disneyland, Hong Kong, later in the week, although unusually inclement weather conditions created additional challenges for the students: all character-building experiences! But what about the adults? Did they too embark on the roller coasters? The ever-youthful Mrs. Peirce did, while the Headmaster and Head of Juniors, chose to patrol sedately on foot like a couple of London bobbies keeping a watchful eye on the students from afar, but ready to assist when needed.
The seemingly static rows of highly grandiose skyscrapers that line Hong Kong Island (across the bay from Kowloon) come to life each evening at eight o’clock, with each building playing its part in a laser show: a Son et Lumière. Our group watched in awe, from the viewpoint of Kowloon, as the buildings across the bay were transformed in a sea of colour that tore up and down each of these impressive buildings, while green lasers, fired from their rooftops, travelled high into the sky in time to the beat of the music that played out over the bay.
Another wonderful experience for the students was an invitation issued by the Headmaster to “drinks” in the bar at the summit of one of Asia’s tallest buildings, the ICC building, Kowloon. The views were breath-taking – as was the bill for sixteen cokes and two beers! This bar was so elevated that St. Michael himself could have left his post at the gates of Heaven for a ‘quick one’, and for God not to have noticed that he’d done so! In reality, two lifts were required to reach the summit of just under five hundred metres! The views were astonishing, the group enjoying the thrill of looking down upon the rooftops of other skyscrapers, and out across the bay for another display of the laser show that happened to coincide with our visit.
The Hong Kong trip has been designed to incorporate a strong educational and cultural element to it, and we were warmly welcomed as guests at the Creative Secondary School (CSS), close to our hotel at Tseung Kwan O, Kowloon. We were greeted by a group of smart, eloquent students, under the watchful eye of Deputy Head of Lower School, Ms. Lanny Tsou, and they led us on a tour of the school, after first serving a lunch (al fresco) of chicken, rice and vegetables. Buckswood student, Felix Bimezgane, greeted our Chinese hosts in perfect Mandarin, eliciting a spontaneous round of applause from the much-impressed principal of the school and his students. Buckswood student, and Hong Kong resident, Victoria Tam, accompanied us on many of our visits during our stay and was, coincidentally, a former student of the CSS, before joining Buckswood UK.
During the visit to CSS, our students joined in a calligraphy class, and sat with their Chinese counterparts to perfect the art of writing in Chinese, under the tutelage of no less than five Chinese teachers, after which the Buckswood students were invited to view the school’s art exhibition, which clearly demonstrated the school’s commitment to creativity.
On a trip of this nature, we are not so heavily attached to a predetermined itinerary that it leaves little room to explore. One afternoon, being well ahead of schedule, we ventured deep into Kowloon where we found, the bird market, nestling in a small park. Rows of tiny sparrow-like birds sat miserably in equally tiny cages, and when we were informed that for the equivalent price of sixty pence we could purchase a bird to release back into the sky, the adults each bought a bird, and the rest of the group followed their example, as their hearts and minds opened to the true intention of nature. We formed a small circle and the frightened birds, once incarcerated in bamboo prisons, were transferred to small paper bags, each of which was held by a student and teacher. The group released the birds simultaneously high into the Hong Kong sky where they belonged. There was a feeling of great accomplishment and of spiritual wellbeing, yet this wasn’t on our itinerary: it will, however, be on it for subsequent years.
The family of Buckswood student Alex Cullen played host to the Buckswood group, and were welcomed to their luxury floating home at the Yacht Club in Discovery Bay, Lantau Island, for a dinner of home-made vegetable rolls and pizzas. The rain had stopped, although there was a sharp breeze and the group enjoyed the added spectacle of a ringside seat at the bow of the vessel for the evening firework display over Disneyworld, Lantau.
The highlight of the week for many, coincidentally the day that offered blue skies and soaring temperatures, was a visit by ferry across the South China Sea, to Buckswood Hong Kong, on the far side of Lantau Island. The buildings lie in a secluded bay with a gently curving private beach, not unlike the beach portrayed in the opening minutes of Lord of the Flies. It was here that the students and adults relaxed, swam, cooked sausages and steaks by the barbecue, explored among the exotic flowers and marvelled at the swarms of indigenous butterflies that often alighted on the students. A day of complete relaxation after an action-packed week amid the hustle and bustle of a vibrant Hong Kong.
Early indications suggest that the trip was most warmly and enthusiastically appreciated by the students, for the post-trip comments from students and parents have been very encouraging. For some, the most poignant memory was of our day on the beach at Buckswood Hong Kong, while for others it was the trip by bus to Stanley Market. Others marvelled at the laser light show, while others greatly enjoyed their visit to the Creative Secondary School. One student remarked that he loved Ocean World, while his friend preferred Disneyland. Another student raved about the ride on the ancient tram up to Hong Kong’s Peak. There was something for everyone, not least of which was a lifetime of memories.
What is without doubt is that the nature of this trip is an appropriate climax to the students’ lives in Junior School, for soon they will transfer to Senior School with its more demanding schedules and higher expectations. Unlike the trips on offer in the early years of Junior School, where much of the planning and organisation is done for the students because of their age, the Form 3 trip expects students to display higher levels of initiative, resilience, maturity, inquisitiveness and energy, and if they weren’t in possession of one or more of these qualities already, then the Hong Kong trip will surely nurture in each of the students the acquisition of them all!