Joshua Yang ’25
“What I really wanted was to write on my own terms without having time or format constraints imposed on my stories”

Joshua Yang ’25 stands in late afternoon sun from somewhere high up in New York City, with the cityscape in the background.
Courtesy Joshua Yang ’25
When I arrived in Hong Kong in early June, the heat and humidity were already unbearable. A friend had previously told me that Hong Kongers can distinguish visitors from longtime residents by seeing how much someone sweats in the local weather, so based off this alone, my drenched clothes from my first night in the city made it clear I was an outsider. 

Of course, there were easier ways to see I was new to Hong Kong. Trying to navigate the streets for the first time, I got lost using Google Maps, I made a fool of myself trying to speak broken Cantonese with a shop vendor, and a taxi nearly ran me over because I forgot cars drive on the left side of the road. All of it told me I was in way over my head: I barely knew anyone in Hong Kong, I had made absolutely no plans for the days ahead, and I didn’t even speak the local language. 

Brightly colored tennis courts are separated by a row of palm trees from two rainbow murals and an apartment building.
Joshua Yang ’25

Looking back at this inauspicious start, it’s a minor miracle I’ve come to treasure this summer as much as I do now.  

My plan — if you can call it that — had come together months before. At first, given my journalism background, I thought I would end up interning at a local news organization. But my heart wasn’t sold on the idea: What I really wanted was to write on my own terms without having time or format constraints imposed on my stories. 

So, instead of sending my résumé to newsrooms, I applied for Princeton’s Martin A. Dale ’53 Summer Award, which grants rising juniors a stipend to pursue an independent project for the summer. In my proposal, I laid out an audacious plan to travel to Hong Kong and work as a freelance journalist in the city. To my surprise, Princeton signed off on the idea. 

Having the freedom to write across a wide variety of mediums meant I was often juggling different roles. Sometimes, when I was aiming to write for foreign policy-focused publications, I felt like an intelligence analyst of sorts. I scoured Hong Kong local news for the latest political and economic updates, then tried to explain what it meant for American interests in dry, concise sentences — in fact, an article I wrote about Hong Kong’s emerging social media trends wouldn’t have been out of place in a briefing book. 

Other times, I was a modern flaneur walking through different parts of Hong Kong, trying to piece together the intricacies of daily life. Seeing the city through the open eyes of a wanderer helped me compose slow, meandering articles about independent bookstores and small art galleries while centering the local perspectives that American publications often lacked. 

And sometimes, I chose to write because it was fun. One night in June, a friend took me to Hong Kong’s famous horse races. We stood for hours outside in the festival-like atmosphere, feeling the swell of exhilaration and frustration that came with each race. I used Princeton’s money to bet $15 on random horses, lost it all, then went home and wrote a piece describing the glamour and depravity I experienced that night. 

I don’t know if all of the writing I produced this summer will see the light of day or make me money — but that’s the beauty of the Dale award. I wrote thousands upon thousands of words this summer, and each sentence and paragraph brought me to a closer understanding of Hong Kong. 

As it happened, in my efforts to write about the city, I had also found small pockets of belonging. In my last week in Hong Kong, I had to work to squeeze in goodbyes with everyone I had befriended, from café owners and expats to government workers and teachers. I’m hoping the goodbyes won’t be final — and that when I make my way back to Hong Kong, I’ll sweat a little bit less than before. 

A Hong Kong city skyline photographed at dusk, the sky turning purple.
Joshua Yang ’25