Well, my trip is over one quarter over. I’ve gotten through the first week of my internship, and I’ve done some good sightseeing in between. What have I learned so far?
Minibuses are a convenient way to get around the island, especially on routes not traversed by the regular, double-decker buses here. One catch with these minibuses, though, is that they don’t stop at every stop, and they don’t have stop-request buttons like big buses do. So, I’ve learned that there are three ways to get one to stop once you’ve gotten on:
1. Know Cantonese (I don’t), and know how to politely tell the driver to pull over at the next stop (I don’t.)
2. Happen to need to get off of the bus at the same stop as another passenger (convenient and requires no speaking.)
3. Keep saying “stop!!!” in English and gesticulate wildly toward the sidewalk.
This third option makes me stick out like, well, a white guy in China. Once, the driver started responding to me, in Cantonese, while pulling the bus over. If I had made some kind of mistake in the whole minibus process, I didn’t know it. I don’t usually take minibuses, partly because the big buses are more spacious (and sometimes even have Wi-Fi), and partly because I’m always just the slightest bit fearful that I won’t be able to get the driver to pull over, and that I’ll wind up in some unknown part of town. Getting to and from work on the double-deckers is just a bit easier for this foreigner.
On the subject of work, you may be wondering just what I’ve been doing. Well, let me tell you: although I’m on a public health internship, I haven’t really done much public health work. I’ve mostly been working on a review of background literature for a professor researching the link between sex hormones, economic development, and heart disease. This professor’s topic is really quite interesting, and the research has been rather enjoyable. I get to use some med school knowledge outside of my exams, for once, and I’ve gotten to do a bit of academic research, a process I’ve missed since graduating from undergrad.
But the greatest extent of the public health work I’ve done has been to go to a journal club meeting, in which the department gathered to discuss a couple of key articles that had come out recently. It was a real treat to be back in the journal club atmosphere; I started to miss arguing about research from my undergrad days. Plus, at the meeting, I got an interesting insight into the HKU view of public health. The leader of the journal club, another professor in the department, asked some of the students in the room to identify what they thought was the defining feature of an infectious disease.
A couple of answers were batted around, but eventually, the professor clarified the main point: in infectious disease, each individual case should be viewed in terms of their risk of infecting others.
This is a very different viewpoint from what I’ve experienced so far, especially in my non-public-health classes, and it highlights two contrasts. First, it shows the difference between public health and individualized medicine. In public health, the concern mainly lies in preventing things from getting worse on a grand scale. While your doctor prescribes you a course of antibiotics when you get sick, people in public health (who are often doctors too) are deciding when to close schools, when to restrict travel, and how to tell the public how to prevent the spread of disease.
Second, it highlights the unique perspective on public health in Hong Kong, a city with the rare distinction of having been the epicenter of two of the major infectious disease outbreaks of the 21st century: SARS and H5N1. Given the interconnectedness of the modern world, the threat of pandemic is more real than ever, and although it sounds melodramatic, time wasted equals lives lost. The U.S. has been fortunate in that it was largely spared from the threats of SARS and H5N1, and in my public health classes (at least so far), that sense of urgency was not expressed when talking about infectious disease. Here, to put it bluntly, they don’t mess around.
I hope to get more exposure to this kind of learning in the next few weeks. As my trip moves forward, I’ve been getting more and more accustomed to traveling around the city, finding new restaurants to try, and digging up new sights to see. I’ve still got plenty of time to explore, and plenty of content to post here, so keep checking back for more updates!