From honeymoon stage to homesickness, culture shock is just something we cannot escape when we go for the big move abroad. From sudden euphoria, to sudden sadness, to gradual acceptance - it really is an emotional roller-coaster.
In the Hong Kong district of Sham Shui Po, Kowloon side, the market stalls play host to many a social gathering. Groups of older men, stylish in aviators, crisp white, or pastel, short-sleeved shirts and tailored trousers, stand in a cloud of imperial leather, discussing, well...I rarely know. But sometimes there's a clue in the shape of racing forms being passed around, or a grandchild being proudly held aloft - a champion at a sporting event.
'The dark side' is the name sometimes used affectionately, and at other times less generously, for Kowloon (literally: Nine Dragons), the area of Hong Kong which lies directly opposite Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour on the southern tip of mainland China.
Moving abroad can be stressful, that much is obvious, but when you're about to leave home some arrangements come more naturally than others. While I managed to hold a leaving party before moving to Hong Kong, some things, such as organising the shipment of important possessions, fell by the wayside. Oh well - who needs a change of clothes anyway?
Travelling in China can be a bumpy road. There have been days when Stephen and I just look at each other in astonishment: this is what cycle touring is all about!
The policeman comes into our room. It's almost 10pm, and we have been at the hotel for five hours, but it is clear that there is something he needs urgently. He says a few things to us in Chinese. We give him our now well-practiced blank stares of incomprehension.
In China, we are Foreign Tourists, with a capital FT. There is no way to disguise it, to pretend we belong here, to go unnoticed in a crowd. Still, we are surprised by how rare the sight of a non-Asian tourist is on the streets of Beijing. So much so, that after a few days, we start to do as the Chinese do, and gape openly at any white people we see.
Culture shock is defined as 'the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes', and can be particularly affecting if travel itself is an unfamiliar experience. Yet travel is a means of experiencing new things and meeting new people; it's a way to find yourself as well as a discovery of the unknown.
Now, in the weeks that follow my arrival to Cambridge, I still find myself completely incredulous on several occasions. Taking a shortcut to a class means cutting through the grandeur of King's College Chapel and pretending that its majesty is something everyday.