Guest Blog: The Hong Kong Expat Experience by Rebecca

5 Apr

This month’s guest blogger is Rebecca. Rebecca and I went to high school together in Australia and she is currently a expat living in Hong Kong.  Thank you for sharing your experiences with the readers.

Please give a warm welcome to Rebecca with her blog post below entitled ” The Hong Kong Expat Experience”

Hong Kong, a bustling city that truly never seems to sleep, and in general, is an easy and interesting place for expats to live.

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, having been handed back to China by the British in 1997. Being a Special Administrative Region means Hong Kong has a different political system to China and a separate judiciary. In practice, the combination of the old British heritage and Chinese authoritative influence makes Hong Kong a unique place to live, aptly described as “East meets West”.

Hong Kong is in fact made up of around 250+ islands, with the main areas being Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, often described by expats as “the dark side”. Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are divided by the world famous Victoria Harbour. A picturesque harbour that bustles with activity being one of the key commercial gateways into China. You can spend hours getting lost in your thoughts simply watching the ships come and go.

Typically, Hong Kong Island is more westernised with high end shopping, English pubs and French cuisine. In stark contrast Kowloon offers visitors a flavour of a true Chinese city. Kowloon is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, with apartments as far as the eye can see with strange food sold from street vendors. Kowloon is not for the faint hearted. According to Wikipedia 8 million people live in Hong Kong, this is almost half the population of Australia in area that feels no bigger than Sydney’s CBD.

The sheer number and size of the expat community confirms Hong Kong’s place as one of the true international cities of the world. No nation is unaccounted for, with Argentinian restaurants sitting comfortably next to Irish pubs. Due to its historical links from the expat community is dominated by Englishmen, Australians, New Zealanders and Americans. Consequently, it a very easy place for expats to move too. There are numerous relocation agents and real estate agents for expats to assist in finding an apartment, connecting your gas, electricity and cable TV services etc.

The biggest shock to expats is the price of rent. As space is at a premium, rent in Hong Kong is exceptionally high. Be prepared to part with a sizeable chuck of your monthly pay if you want to live on Hong Kong Island. The cost of rent and lack of space is often a downside for expats not accustomed to living in an apartment. However the apartment buildings often have good facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, tennis courts and children’s play areas. There is less excuse to miss the gym when there is one in your apartment building!

Our apartment block

Our apartment block

People work very hard in Hong Kong, whether it be a CEO or a street cleaner, seemingly everyone is putting in the hours – probably to pay their rent! Being the financial hub of Asia, the majority of expats are employed either directly or indirectly by the finance sector. There is no end to the banker and lawyer jokes in this town. . Being a lawyer myself, Hong Kong is an ideal place for Australian and English lawyers to work, due to Hong Kong’s legal system being based on English Law.

Excluding rent most things in Hong Kong are relatively cheap compared to Australia or England. The biggest upside is the ability to employ a “helper” Helpers are quintessential to the way of life for expats in Hong Kong. Household chores become a thing of the past when you move to Hong Kong, with Helpers cleaning, ironing, washing, taking children to school and feeding the baby during the night. I suspect it will be hard to move back to the “real world” in Australia. Public transport is unsurpassed in Hong Kong, with multiple options including: one of the world’s most efficient and extensive subway systems, taxis, ferries, buses and a tram line with double decker trams. The tram line has been running for over 100 years, and whilst slow, is a fun way to see Hong Kong Island. The ferries that run between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are also another good way to view the island. Taxis are plentiful and very cheap. Sometimes you may have difficulty directing the driver where you want to go if you do not speak Cantonese or Mandarin, but for expats there are apps (Hong Kong Taxi Translator being the best) which translate most streets into Cantonese.

There is always something to do in Hong Kong, whether it be a new restaurant or market or simply just exploring a suburb you’ve never visited before. I’ve found Hong Kong to be a fascinating mix of Western and Asian culture. For example, all the streets in Hong Kong have an English Name, and a Cantonese name.

Exploring the Bird Market, Kowloon side of Hong Kong

Exploring the Bird Market, Kowloon side of Hong Kong

Chinese New Year is a really interesting time, as Chinese people have a huge number of auspicious customs for Chinese New Year. For example, you are not meant to have you hair cut for a period of time after Chinese New Year, so as to not “cut away” your luck for the rest of the year. Similarly, on the first day of the New Year, you are not to sweep your floor, so not to sweep your luck out of your home. It was also great giving out “lai see” – the red packets containing money.

The best activities in Hong Kong are often things you would not expect from a large city, Hong Kong is made up of around 250 islands and is very mountainous. There are great hiking and trail running paths, and a view from the water or from the top of a mountain is the often best way to see Hong Kong. The city skyline of Hong Kong Island is beautiful, and from a distance, appears to rise straight from the between the mountains. We’re members of the Aberdeen Boat Club, which allows us to get away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and spend the day at an outlying island swimming and eating at a beachfront restaurant.

 

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The view of the back of Hong Kong city during a hike up one on HK’s many mountains – cloudy day, normal for HK!

 

Food is ingrained in the culture of Hong Kong, with a huge variety of cuisines available from high end restaurants with three Michelin stars to street vendors, Hong Kong has it. Dim Sum in Hong Kong is particularly good!

BBQ Pork Buns – Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant in the world

BBQ Pork Buns – Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant in the world

 

Given the long hours people work, and the lack of kitchen space, many Hong Kongers do not cook at home and choose to eat dinner out after work. The majority of apartments I viewed did not even have proper ovens! Despite the huge number of restaurants, it can be difficult to find good quality meat and vegetables if you do wish to cook at home. The majority of food is imported into Hong Kong, as due to space, very little food is grown here. There are some international/western supermarkets here which stock products imported from Australia, Europe and the US (Harvey Nichols, Oliver’s), but they are much more expensive than the local markets, which predominantly stock Chinese grown vegetables and meat.

Overall, I would recommend Hong Kong to any future expat. Language is not a barrier, transport is cheap, entertainment is plentiful and having a Helper makes life much easier! There is a large and welcoming expat community, and many clubs catering specifically for expats. In terms of career, Hong Kong is often the Asian headquarters for many companies, so there are certainly a lot of opportunities. I’ve also come across many new businesses started by expats, such as wine distributors, clothes boutiques or blogs such as Sassy Hong Kong (http://sassyhongkong.com), which are really useful resources for expats. Overall, it’s a great place to be an expat in, and has many luxuries that will be difficult to give up should or when we relocate!

 

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One Response to “Guest Blog: The Hong Kong Expat Experience by Rebecca”

  1. Chai a Cup of Life April 15, 2014 at 6:21 am #

    Hong Kong Looks like an expats dream! I recently had a new expat write her experiences 🙂
    http://www.chaiacupoflife.com/hong-kong-a-city-for-everyone

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