Immersing in an entirely different culture

By Fion Cheung Ming Yan

Life in Tubod Mar is certainly one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. Immersing in an entirely different living environment and culture has made me learn more about life and myself.

I am living with a couple – Carlosa and her husband. Carlosa is a really nice and motherly person. We are not able to communicate effectively sometimes due to language barrier. I learnt to stress on single words such as “shrimp” and “good” and speak with body languages to facilitate our communication. Although we might not be able to fully understand each other sometimes, we could still feel our care for each other. In particular, Carlosa has her heart-warming smile that she wears whenever she sees me. I have not interacted much with Carlosa’s husband as he uses to go out before my breakfast and come back after my dinner. Yet, he would still invite me to watch NBA finals with him when I stayed at home during weekends.

Carlosa is a kind and caring person. She observes our eating and sleeping habits and prepares meals accordingly. When she knows my vegetarian diet, she prepares vegetables and eggs for me each meal. I always feel that I would be treated as a source of troubles when staying at others’ home. Yet, Carlosa’s sincerity makes me feel that I am welcomed to live with her.

There was a moment that I felt slightly guilty last week. Carlosa has been asking if I would go to the waterfall on last Saturday for three days. Due to personal reason, I did not plan to visit the waterfall. I heard Carlosa saying that “if Fion goes to the waterfall, I will go together” the day before the visit. This made me feel that I should explore more opportunities to spend quality time with her. Therefore, I would like to accompany her to the church last Sunday. Not until had I arrived the church did I discover that it was indeed an English mass. She brought me to a mass conducted in her unfamiliar language just for the sake of my understanding. I really appreciate how considerate she is. I would like to thank her by spending more time with her. Thus, I decide to go to the Anda Beach on the coming Saturday with her in spite of my injured leg that makes me unable to swim.

Despite the warm hospitality of Carlosa’s household, I was not used to the environment at the beginning of the trip, especially when there is no shower and flush toilet. I did not enjoy on the first two days at all and I tried to look for ways to adapt to the environment. It was quite difficult as there was no children of similar age at home. As my partner arrived late, I have got a couple of free days. I felt bored and empty on those days due to the lack of itinerary. Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to have met a group of local friends – in which EJ was from Tom’s host family. They brought me out to row and swim in the sea on the first Monday.

By talking to the locals and participating in their activities, I felt much more comfortable staying in this place. I am glad that they have treated me as one of their squad afterwards and brought me to explore more about this region. Here I have learnt that one of the quickest ways to adapt to a new environment is to make local friends and establish a strong bonding with my companions.

The privilege of living in Tubod Mar – a place far from the town – is to be immersed in the nature. The beach nearby has an impressive scenery during both daytime and the night. I have discovered various sea creatures at the beach. This has been my first time watching coral reefs so closely and holding a living starfish.

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Among EJ’s group, a boy Anthony came from a fisherman family. Following him to fish allowed me to learn the entire fishing process – from tying a stone and a hook to a string, catching hermit crabs as food and throwing it into the sea. He eventually caught four fish which made us really excited.

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At night, the absence of light pollution enabled us to experience more of the nature. The sky filled with numerous stars and the trees surrounded by fireflies were absolutely breathtaking. The view was particularly rare to me as it could not be seen in Hong Kong nor captured by our cameras.

Furthermore, EJ’s group brought us to hike to the highest mountain around the village. It was amazing that they could be contented so easily that one of them tripping over would make them laugh for five minutes. When we have climbed over six mountains and reached the seventh (also the highest) peak, I genuinely felt the power of nature. The moment when I looked at the trees down the peak helped me relieve all my stress accumulated since the beginning of the semester. The best way to preserve the memory is always to take pictures and I am pleased to share this jumping photo with my local friends at the highest peak.

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The homestay experience has been inspiring through which I have gained new insights about life. I have realized that there are numerous things for me to explore around and I should not limit my way of living just to fulfill social expectation. It strikes me when I see how happy the locals are even when their living conditions are usually considered as disadvantaged in Hong Kong. The environment might sound unbearable to people used to living in Hong Kong – and I admit that I was not comfortable about it at first. However, I did not regret to have applied for the course at all. I am delighted to have a chance to know and experience such a different culture – that I would not be able to even through sightseeing. The atmosphere and slow pace in Tubod Mar gave me a taste of such relaxing life – and the delight of which would remain after years.

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