Through the Eyes of an Educator: Hong Kong

by Stacey Ebert /
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May 04, 2015 / 0 comments

A decade ago, one of my childhood friends moved to Asia. Instantly, I knew I’d visit. Little did I know I’d have my first ‘official’ date with my husband here, visit almost every two years and fall in love with the city she has chosen to call home. Hong Kong is an amalgamation of cultures, a spectacle of lights, a convergence of old and new - and runs on a pace all its own. As a friend, I wanted to see where she was living, raising a family, starting a business, and spending her every day. As a traveler, I wanted to dive right in to cuisine, sights, and all things that make this city tick. As an educator, I wanted to explore culture, understand tradition, find beauty, and discover similarities and differences to share with my students. Lessons of life, meeting new people, embracing diversity, and expanding comfort zones were immediately brought to light in my first steps on the Asian continent.

Travel provides lessons of the everyday and more often than not, these are the unquantifiable ones that are sadly disappearing from today’s classrooms. Perspective and grace, patience and compassion and the understanding that one’s way of life is not the ONLY way nor is it necessarily the BEST way to do things happens when you least expect it. Often it takes throwing oneself into a cultural change to open eyes and embrace this newfound learning. Books, teachers, internet searches, and documentaries can do a lot, but travel is that missing piece inviting extended understanding, discovery, and that human component. People and cultures different from our own force us to look deep within and discover who we truly are or want to become. Travel is not a detriment (as seen today by many school systems), but vital to the education process. 

Each time I arrive in Hong Kong, there’s something new to experience, as well as returning to favourites of previous excursions. This bustling metropolis exuding life in every twist and turn breathes culture. A cacophony of accents fills the air as bundles of pedestrians dodge fast moving cars on her busy streets. As with most large cities, each area has its own special qualities, making one spot ever different from the next. Spending all your time amidst the chaos of Central’s winding alleyways is a dichotomy from the slower paced island lifestyle on Lamma. Watching the neon lights dance on the harbour’s water at night is a shift from the clearer night sky near Shek O and Stanley Market. Spending time amidst Happy Valley’s Racetrack and shopping is a far cry from the fishing village of Aberdeen. There’s learning to be had with every step up to Hong Kong’s Ten Thousand Buddhas or the Po Lin Monastery, not to mention the physical activity embraced at these sights or the transport discoveries along the way. And then, of course, there’s the food!

Hong Kong is a walkable city. If you want to get out and discover amazing modern transportation and throw yourself into technology, Hong Kong is a great place to start. Take the tram up to Victoria Peak for a stunning view of the city and a fabulous hike along the way. If you're a fan of water travel, check out the Star Ferry as it crosses Victoria Harbor between Hong Kong and Kowloon. The ferry provides an unsurpassed view of the spectacular skyscraper-filled city skyline. And of course, a visit to Hong Kong is not complete without a wander up The Escalator. Central’s shopping district is a winding maze of laneways below, while hidden pockets of shops and restaurants hover above the air. Seeming to rise to heights unknown, The Escalator floats above while the pulse of the city emits below. Here you’ll find brand and boutique shops, chain and independent restaurants, and people everywhere working, haggling, shopping, and going about their lives. Every sense will tingle amidst the buzz that is Central.


Tram to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Tram to Victoria Peak


Culture is everywhere in Hong Kong. It’s in the way streets are crossed, languages are spoken, the street signs in both Chinese and English, the architecture of buildings, and even the balance of the structurally impressive bamboo scaffolding that lays on the side of buildings in construction. The scents of well-known Asian spices waft through the streets as international chefs and locals alike create some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. Wander city streets to find colorful fruit and vegetable markets, storefronts displaying chickens and meat to purchase, and pop up stalls for street food that will dazzle your taste buds. Religion and history smack you in the face in various parts of the city. To delve into the heart of the Buddhist traditions, Hong Kong doesn’t disappoint.

The Big Buddha sits over thirty metres high. Looming large atop over two hundred stairs, Tian Tian Buddha towers. Although a bit of a way out of the city, the Big Buddha is more than a stunning sight. The statue abuts the Po Lin Monastery. This monastery, home to practicing devout monks, is filled with history, culture, stories, beautiful gardens, and a tasty vegetarian restaurant. The Buddhist symbol is ever present. We spent the afternoon eating delicious vegetarian fare while reading up on Buddhist traditions and customs. As incense burned outside, we heard other families beside us explain the tenets of Buddhism to their children in a place that exudes its heritage. The educator in me was flooded with thoughts of ven diagrams and charts that my students and I would create filled with the practices of these monks’ everyday lives. I couldn’t snap photos fast enough wishing my students could share these tangible moments that would stay with them far longer than the memories of those charts ever would. Travel makes us all richer.


Tian Tian Buddha, Hong Kong

Tian Tian Buddha


Ever more Buddhist statues and traditions abound at the Ten Thousand Buddhas. This off the beaten path site is filled with temples, pavilions and more statues of Buddha than are available spots on your camera’s memory card. It seems there are the same number of stairs to match the name of the site, so bring your walking shoes and water for a learning experience unmatched by any textbook or youtube video. Exploring history, religion, customs, and tradition here is coupled with physical intensity and endless vistas at each platform stop. Discussion often ensues along the way, sparking conversation, curiosity, questions, insights, and inferences. Imagine a class trip and hike along the way – the creative thought development alone would bring a smile to the face of the most seasoned teacher. Amidst picture taking, water breaks, rest stops, and sightseeing, education happens here.


Ten thousand buddhas, Hong Kong

Ten Thousand Buddhas


Hong Kong Island has many places to view and spend time at the water. Whether you want to wander the esplanade path at the harbor or spend a day on sandy beaches, Hong Kong provides. Those involved in a world of unschooling and worldschooling might love a day spent wandering Kowloon and taking in the sculptural displays along Nathan Road. Interests of the young and old can be piqued by a day exploring while uncovering discoveries new to each set of eyes. If you want to try your hand at bargaining or find more details of tradition and customs through shopping, Stanley Market is a special place to visit.

You’ll find souvenirs, trinkets and clothes galore at Stanley Market. Set beside the sea, this large market draws droves of tourists every year. Maths can be practiced while bargaining for the best price at some stalls. Chinese calligraphy is displayed alongside the deep greens of Jade stones known well throughout the region. International travelers, expats, locals and tourists meet in the market where old world products meet new, ancestral stories are shared, and trinkets with hidden tales are bought for friends and families back home. Language, customs, traditions, heritage, writing, religion, and mathematics are all found here amidst other unquantifiable qualities that are equally important. Learning patience, personal awareness and space, tolerance, respect, how to wait your turn and ask questions of others all happen amidst the narrow lanes of market stalls and post card purchases.

For Disney fans, Hong Kong Disneyland is a special trip. Although public schools often frown on taking students out of school for what is perceived to be ‘lack of learning’, a day spent here is filled with education never found in a school text. In Hong Kong, one of the shows we went to at the park was presented in Chinese. This was my first experience at a Disney performance where I knew the songs being sung by only their melodies. The characters were familiar, but the lyrics foreign. Imagine a student who has never experienced ‘life in a language minority’ experiencing it on their own. Imagine the empathy transmitted to another the next time they meet someone new to their country, state, hometown, or school. Imagine the ability that same student might have to now enter an unfamiliar setting with limited trepidation of the unknown. Tools learned and molded in that familiar happy place may later find a traveler setting off on a grand adventure exited to learn new languages or help others do the same. All of this took place in the magical setting of Main Street joy, amusement adventures, character friends, delicious noodle bowls and Tinkerbell lighting firework delight. This is Disney education at its best.


Hong Kong Disneyland

Guess where?


Hong Kong offers so much more than sights. The Royal Geographic Society has a base here, sharing lectures and taking guests on journeys around the islands. International events, chefs, stars, and more visit often and hold grand events in this city of culture. The international airport is a hub for Cathay Pacific Airlines flying travelers to nearby and beyond. Artists come to create, intellects to study, travelers to explore, students to learn and many more live every day in this international mix of cultures, languages, and people. Each time I visit I yearn to return. Sometimes we spend time in the city; sometimes it’s more on the water. Sometimes we pass through on a visit to somewhere else or spend time nearby in places like Macau. Sometimes we stay local to the expat neighborhood in which she lives taking the kids to the park, on hikes, to the zoo or hitting favourite restaurants (like Crystal Jade and Nha Trang). 


Royal Geographic Society trip to the 9 Pine islands, Hong Kong

Royal Geographic Society trip to the 9 Pine islands


From the moment I arrive, I know good things will happen here. One day there may be the frantic pace of Central and the next a rigorous hike to Tai Long Wan or a rest day at Repulse Bay beach. The journey provides the schooling and each day is filled with mini lessons on culture, language, cuisine, history, or just plain exploration and fun. The takeaway isn’t always obvious, but education and travel are intertwined. The day my friend's four year old and I learned to say her address in Chinese was a remarkable day for the both of us. The day we found our way to a fishing village to watch an early morning fish market trade was a success. And all the days in between have been filled with exploring and uncovering yielding a respect and love for a city to which I continue to return. My friend has made a home in Hong Kong, and this wandering educator finds joy in each visit.



Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.  


All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert