My life in Hong Kong was a truly memorable experience, both good and bad (which you can read more about here). When I lived there from 2010 to 2012, it was a busy city with a melting pot of cultures but a gradually increasing population from mainland China. Hong Kong’s colonial British past was slowly disappearing and I knew that my time there as a foreigner who didn’t speak any Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean or Japanese was coming to an end. Which is why when I think of HK, I think of a bustling concrete jungle with a lot of East meets a little bit West. The ‘West’ is mainly on HK Island, particularly in areas like Central and Soho where expats gather in Western cuisine restaurants, American style bars and boutique dress shops. But it would be perfectly normal to see bare bodied Hong Kong labourers carrying large bamboo sticks for scaffolding when constructing or renovating a building while you eat an eggs benedict with bacon and drink a cup of coffee at the latest brunch spot.
Walking outside my apartment was a tourist experience in itself because I lived in Kennedy Town, which was more of a local area in 2010 (before the MTR station was built). The pungent stench of the South China sea and the intense humid heat would hit me as I walked outside the air-conditioned lobby of my apartment building. I would walk past dozens of small, retired locals practicing Tai chi in their pyjamas outside. Further up the street I would pass the local butcher with fresh meat for sale on tables outside, vegetable stalls with all kinds of tropical vegetables and a small restaurant serving cheap fish ball noodle soup. On the corner was a Pacific Coffee restaurant, which is suspiciously similar to Starbucks, serving all kinds of sweet drinks and Western treats for the locals that lived around my building. The smells were a mix of food and body odour. The sounds were locals chattering in Cantonese trying to be heard over the sound of angry taxi drivers honking their horns and the low rumble of the trams.
It was a very interesting experience for me as a Sri Lankan-born Australian girl to suddenly live in a foreign city such as Hong Kong. I don’t think I would have had the same interesting experiences had I lived in London or New York. So for that reason, if you are thinking about moving to the Asian version of Manhattan for work or study, here are some things you may experience… or try to experience!
1. An apartment (or hotel) with a sea view. It’s easy to rent an apartment with some kind of sea view on HK Island. I gazed at this view every day because I knew it was a temporary luxury. Apartments are teeny tiny in Hong Kong though. I was lucky enough to live in a 600 square foot apartment, which could actually hold a family plus a maid….
2. Taxi rides for HK40 or less. Although remember that most taxi drivers don’t speak English so it’s good to know the Cantonese name for your destination or your taxi ride may end up costing a lot more than it should.
3. Roaming the streets of HK Island at all hours of the night and feeling perfectly safe. HK island is so small and people are out and about throughout the night, so I never felt unsafe in the main, well lit areas in Central and Kennedy Town.
4. Eating fish ball noodle soup at the local shop. Point to what you want on the menu, sip on an iced tea while you wait for your big bowl of noodles, soup and fish balls, douse your bowl with chilli and slurp your noodles while listening to locals chattering and carrying on in Cantonese.
5. Tram parties. My friend’s husband worked for the HK tram association so I was often invited to a tram party. A whole tram is hired for a night and people drink, eat, talk, laugh and watch Hong Kong fly by as the tram chugs along from one side of the island to the other.
6. Wandering around supermarkets with a whole aisle for instant noodles and fish in tanks ready to be taken home for consumption. Don’t forget to buy a delicious pork or tuna bun from the bakery section.
7. Authentic dim sum. It’s just as good and easy to find a similar experience in Sydney. But it’s just not same without a view of a smog filled Victoria Harbour.
8. The sound of jackhammers outside your apartment at 8am in the morning. There’s always some kind of development in Hong Kong so it’s common to listen to the sound of jackhammers and the like when you wake up in the morning or even from your office building.
9. The Filipino maids who get together every Sunday all over HK Island. They fill up the sidewalks and make little barricades for themselves out of cardboard boxes and share food, talk and dance. It’s heart warming to see such a supportive community of women.
Have you lived in Hong Kong? What was your experience?