I arrived at Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong during a tropical rainstorm. My introduction to Hong Kong was pouring rain, gusting winds, and soaring skyscrapers – suffice to say I was a little apprehensive about adjusting to life here.
A few short weeks later, this fascinating city feels like home, and I have gained a stronger understanding of international arbitration and business in Asia through my internship at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), one of the world’s leading arbitral institutions.
The HKIAC Secretariat is a diverse, multilingual team, whose members are qualified in civil and common law jurisdictions.
As an intern, I support the arbitration team in the case administration process, from the receipt of the notice of arbitration to the issue of the final award.
My work includes conducting legal and market research, and engaging with the HKIAC Administered Arbitration Rules and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules.
The wide variety of disputes submitted to HKIAC means that I have worked on cases that raise (often intersecting) issues of maritime, construction, banking, corporate and international trade law – to name only a few.
The opportunity to attend hearings has allowed me to expand my knowledge of arbitration procedure, effective legal advocacy and the role of the arbitral tribunal.
In May, I attended the biennial Hong Kong Business and Legal Summit hosted at HKIAC, which focused on trade and investment between Africa and Asia. I gained valuable insights into Chinese outbound investment in Africa as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, project finance in Africa-Asia deals, Africa’s economic direction and investment opportunities, and risk mitigation through arbitration.
Hong Kong is home to rich folk traditions, prehistoric archeological sites, sleepy fishing villages, rugged coastlines and mountain ranges, and, of course, a densely-populated international metropolis.
The city’s intriguing collection of anachronisms, idiosyncrasies and apparent contradictions is a product of its complex history: bustling street markets and bazaars – selling everything from goldfish to antiques to electronics – stand cheek-by-jowl with ultramodern megamalls; the historic tram – universally known as the “Ding Ding” – traverses the busy thoroughfares between corporate skyscrapers; eighteenth-century temples nestle between towering residential housing blocks; and traditional Chinese medicine dispensaries, dried seafood vendors, dai pai dongs, global coffee chains, and Michelin-starred restaurants alike line the streets.
Hong Kong’s sprawling countryside and lush emerald hills provided a respite when I needed the occasional break from the frenetic pace of life in the city. The hikes here often come with equal doses of spectacular scenery and culture.
On Lamma Island, for instance, I trekked along dramatic coastal cliffs and hillsides from one fishing village to another, while taking in majestic views over the South China Sea, a centuries-old temple dedicated to Tin Hau (the Goddess of the Sea), old feng shui woods and “Kamikaze Caves” built during World War II.
Due to its dual colonial and Chinese heritage, Hong Kong observes a long list of public holidays; in my time here, the city observed Easter, Buddha’s Birthday, Labour Day and will celebrate the 5000-year-old Tuen Ng (Dragon Boat) Festival. Of these, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival has been a particular highlight. The celebration dates to the Qing Dynasty, when a plague that devastated the island of Cheung Chau ended after the villagers paraded statues of deities through the streets.
The festival features a “Bun Scrambling” competition in which competitors raced up 60-feet-tall bamboo towers covered with buns. Colourful parades circle the island’s narrow streets, consisting of lion and dragon dances, loud gongs and drums to chase away evil spirits, children dressed in costumes suspended above the crowd, and papier-mâché deities led by Pak Tai (the God of the Sea). My favourite part, of course, was eating the eponymous steamed buns, filled with red bean and lotus paste.
I am certain that the knowledge I have gained over the course of my internship – about international arbitration, the Asian markets, and the history and culture of Hong Kong – will be invaluable whatever the future holds.