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A trip to New Zealand makes students realise what happiness is really about, writes Gloria Cheung

With a population of 7 million living on such a small piece of land, no wonder Hong Kong is so crowded. There are people around you no matter where you go. Strangely though, most Hongkongers say they are lonely.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has only 4.5 million people. They live on islands which are hundreds times bigger than Hong Kong, so they have a lot more space. They certainly lead a more cheerful life. It might be their lifestyle that's making all the difference.

This Easter, I was chosen to go on a 10-day trip to New Zealand together with 30 Form Three students from Creative Secondary School. Our experience in the small town of Whitianga showed us happiness is not just about study and career, but more about the quality of life we enjoy.

From the moment we set foot on New Zealand, we were surrounded by exotic nature. We travelled on the highway and the scenery was breathtaking.

Not only do New Zealanders work hard to preserve their natural environment, they also live in harmony with nature.

Maurice Kirby is one of them. During the day, he works as the director of the language centre which provided English lessons to us. In the evening he goes back to his house deep inside the bush area. It is a living space embraced by nature, surrounded by trees and flowers. He has a beautiful garden where he grows apple trees and herbs. Paintings and pictures of his family are everywhere in his home.

"I've lived here for nearly 20 years," he said as he brought us tea and biscuits. Having a cup of tea on the balcony really purified my soul. Life in the bush is simple and relaxing.

In Hong Kong, although the economy is prosperous, many people feel lost amid the fast pace of life and all the luxuries they enjoy. They may have big houses and successful careers, but many of them feel empty deep down inside.

Residents of Whitianga may not be able to indulge in luxuries, but the natural environment makes them feel down to earth. They lead a simple and realistic life.

When we were there, we woke up early every morning as the sunrise filled the town with warmth.

Walking down the streets into town, we hardly saw anyone wearing a suit or holding a briefcase. There was no heavy traffic or pedestrians rushing around.

"Usually shops close at 5 pm," Johanna Blackman, whose family I stayed with, said, adding, "we do not prefer city life. People here think it's important to strike a balance with the environment."

It was so true. The Kiwis know how to relax - they sail, fish and windsurf at Mercury Bay. What we saw was a big contrast to life in Hong Kong - where people work more than 70 hours a week. We're used to hearing that "time is money", and every lost minute is a step away from fortune. This mentality not only puts us under pressure, but also isolates us from others.

For New Zealanders, bonding with family and friends is essential. My host family took me to their neighbour's for a barbeque one night. We had home-grown tomatoes for salad and sat closely together. I really enjoyed the experience, and it was something that could not be gained from textbooks.

Brain Monk, organiser of the trip, said: "We want to let more people know about this great place. I hope students will bring home with them great memories to share with friends and family."

Apart from broadening our horizons, the trip inspired us and made us reflect upon the way we live in Hong Kong.

Gloria's trip to New Zealand was sponsored by ProActive Study Abroad, a company that specialises in overseas English learning experiences. For more information, go to www.prosab.com.hk

Gloria, a Young Post Junior Reporter, is a student at Shau Kei Wan Government Secondary School. To catch her New Zealand diary online, click here

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