Monday, July 10, 2017
Russell Martin with chicken on his head

About Me

This picture is really all you need to know about me – yep, that’s a chicken on my head. I’ve lived in Iowa my entire life, from preschool at Hoover Elementary in West Branch to my current studies in engineering at the University of Iowa. I frequently find myself in very Midwesterner-type situations; like in this picture when I became a perch for one of Iowa’s 60 million hens. That’s right: there are 20 times more hens than people in my home state.

The point of this blog is to share my experiences as I spend the summer living in a place where poultry do not outnumber people: Hong Kong. I’ll be studying at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; spending much of my free time exploring the city, learning about the culture, and taking plenty of pictures.

Instead of clogging your social media with those pictures, I’ll be sharing them here. Ultimately, my hope is to share my new perspectives with anyone who is interested, so that we all might all appreciate our diverse world a little more. 

dorm room

My dorm room: a little smaller than my room at Iowa, but I can’t complain. My roommate, Andrew, studies Chemical Engineering at Michigan.  

view from HKUST campus

HKUST’s campus is quite literally built into the side of a mountain, this is the view from the academic building at the top, and I live in the dorm on the bottom right of this picture. To get to the top, I have to take two ten-story lifts, walk along two skywalks, and take four escalators. The change in altitude is so significant that sometimes my ears pop!  

food on a table at restaurant

We ate at a family-style restaurant with a “Lazy Susan” rotating platter in the middle the table, which allowed us to share dishes easily. Some of the food was fantastic, and others were a little too exotic for my taste: personally, I’m not a huge fan of chicken’s head.  

Chi Lin Nunnery

We visited the Chi Lin Nunnery, a rebuilt Buddhist temple that was probably equal parts tourist trap and actual history – it was built in the 1930’s and remodeled in the 1990’s. Nevertheless, it was special seeing traditional Tang Dynasty architecture while Hong Kong’s skyscrapers loomed in the background.  

Nunnery and view of city

The entire nunnery was built without nails, instead favoring traditional interlocking cuts used to hold the wood together.  

Nunnery in the rain and girl with red umbrella

Definitely my favorite picture so far, featuring Meg exploring the nunnery in the lovely Hong Kong weather.  

Hong Kong Island street scene

Next, we took a tram to Hong Kong island. The steep hills and colorful buildings reminded me of San Francisco.  

Cloudy view from Victoria Peak

The last place we visited was an observatory called Victoria Peak. The view of the city was stunning and my photos really can’t do this place justice – looking out over the sprawling metropolis quickly sparked a few existential conversations. As we were leaving and looking for our guide, the calm weather broke into a torrential rain that completely drenched us.  

friends and ducks

I’ve only been here for a week, but I’ve already met some amazing people. Our merry band formed the first day we were here, during the typically bland “campus tour” that colleges always take new students on. On our first day without any scheduled activity we found this duck-themed area in a local mall!  

inside a Hong Kong subway

The subway system here, known as the MTR, is extraordinarily well designed. It was effortless to get to downtown Hong Kong, and round trip cost about $4 USD.  

street scene Hong Kong

I never get tired of middle-of-the-street pictures, I think it really puts the density of the city in perspective.  

busy street scene

We found ourselves at Tung Choi Street, also known as the Ladies’ Market. Despite the name, the market has more than just women’s clothing – my group of six guys bought everything from silk robes to art.  My proudest moment was haggling a vendor down from HK$280 to HK$110 (I can’t say what I bought though, it’s a gift for my mom who reads this blog!)  

cloudy skies over Hong Kong

Later on Tuesday we went exploring the campus for a bit, and found some fantastic views. This looks over the main residence halls, and in the distance you can see the bay.  

picture of the Bay

We were really excited when we found this area because it was a thirty minute walk from the residence halls – I’d bet we were some of the only students to get to see this.  

looking out the window at bay

My answer to the question “What’s your favorite part about Hong Kong?”  


It may seem like my time here has been all play and no work, but that isn’t totally true – in fact, HKUST is has been dubbed the “Hong Kong University of Stress and Tension.” I’m taking Differential Equations and Intro to Android Programming, so I’ve spent my fair share of time in the library. At least the views are nice!  

reflection of people in building window

Next-level mirror selfie skills being put to use in Kowloon, with Hong Kong island in the background.  

friends with bay and city in background

The classic tourist picture.  

boat on water in Hong Kong

The view of the city from our ferry ride across Kowloon Bay.  

Hong Kong at night

The view of the city from our ferry ride across Kowloon Bay.  

picture of friends at night in Hong Kong

Same buildings, entirely different perspective! We went to the peak again on a clearer night, and it was definitely worth it.  

running track

Between the 90 degree heat and 90% humidity, running during the day here is a huge challenge. My first time on the track I was planning to run 6 miles, but I only managed to do 3 before I called it quits   

gondola ride over water

On Saturday, HKUST arranged for us to take a trip to the Ngong Ping village, home of the 100 year old Po Lin Monastery. The fastest way to get to the village was via a 4-mile gondola ride!  


Peeking through an incense burner into one of the temples at the monastery.  

large seated brass Buddha

Ngong Ping is also home to the largest seated brass Buddha! (I know, very specific.) We climbed 268 steps to see the statue up close. Notice that again, the weather is dramatically different than it was an hour ago.  

friends together while touring

Matt and Stephon are a lot taller than me.  

view from the Buddha

The view from the Buddha’s perch. It really blew my mind that such a large settlement could be built in such a remote area.  

standing under a tree with flags hanging from it

Legend has it that if you manage to lasso a set of the orange balls into this tree’s branches, you get to make a wish!  

Tai O fishing village

Later Saturday afternoon we traveled to Tai O, a fishing village near Ngong Ping.  

bikes on the street

Despite the narrow alleyways of the fish market, bikes were the transportation of choice for people living here.  

homes on stilts

My last picture from the week, and one of my most memorable experiences so far in Hong Kong. This photo is of the stilt houses of Tai O, taken on a boat tour of the village. It was a surreal feeling being in a such an isolated and underdeveloped setting, while knowing I was an hour away from one of the most densely populated urban metropolises in the world. Moreover, that night I went back to my dorm at HKUST and more deeply appreciated aspects of my life I took for granted, like access to clean water or the opportunity to obtain an education. Who am I to not make the absolute most out of such privileges?

*Russell Martin is a biomedical engineering major at the University of Iowa. The West Branch, Iowa, native is spending his summer in Hong Kong at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.