As an expat blogger in Hong Kong, I get all sorts of weird and wonderful requests to collaborate. Everything from joining a ‘baby formula selling’ business in South Africa to taking part in travel focus groups in the US, to write ups for removal companies and health bar reviews come my way. Naturally some things are better suited to Mint Mocha Musings than others. But mostly, I get asked about living in Hong Kong.
Usually from people in the West who’re considering taking the plunge and relocating to the far East.
“Is it really that expensive to live there?” “Will I make friends?” “Can I still walk my baby in the stroller?” “Will I be able to get ‘normal’ food in Hong Kong?” Just to name a few.I’ve even had people writing to me asking my advice on going to university in Hong Kong. Obviously some things are plainly just out of my area of expertise, but general day to day stuff…I figure after three and a half years here, that I can do!
For this column I decided to list a few of the more commonly asked questions and provide a few answers/opinions, that (hopefully) might ease a newcomer’s concern and/or interest a curious onlooker.
1) How westernized is Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is about as westernized as you want it to be.
Having been colonized by the British, this city is a unique and special blend of east meets west. There are places you can live in Hong Kong where you might even forget you’re in the orient (if you want to). McDonalds, Starbucks and KFC decorate every corner, sandwiched amidst global designer brands, all amid a largely english speaking community. If you want to soak up the authentic (and wildly exotic) side of Hong Kong culture though, you only need to step outside to see it on display in all its chopstick & fishball-loving glory!
For expats moving to Hong Kong, let me just say, it’s without doubt a relatively ‘easy’ lifestyle. Full-time help is available at low cost (US$580 per month) and while it can take awhile to find your bearings, geographically Hong Kong is small, so getting around the city is not too difficult (once you master some Cantonese taxi lingo and avoid Friday night peak hour). Thousands of Hong Kong’s red iconic taxis trawl the streets day and night and the MTR (train) system is a forced to be reckoned with, running almost every two minutes. Depending how far you live out, some expats opt for a car, which are cheap comparatively and/or hire a driver for about US$700-$1000 a month.
Hong Kong has almost everything you need and for those few things I suggest bringing with you, you can check out my Expat Focus column Moving to Hong Kong -Ten Things You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without.
2) Where should I live? (And is rent really that expensive?)
This is the big question and naturally has some people in a mild panic when they hear the reality of renting.
Hong Kong is, unfortunately, renowned for its over the top real estate prices, which only seem to be increasing by the minute. (On average, rent can be anywhere from US$2000 – US$10,000 a month!) But the good news is, you can find apartments within your budget – just don’t expect lots of space for your spend, unless you are extremely well off and/or happy to live a little further out of town. (Tip: Be prepared to re-adjust your expectations when it comes to living space.)
On the upside, the locations to live in are as varied as the lifestyle they offer.
Some people prefer the beautiful beaches along the south coast like Stanley, Deepwater Bay and Repulse Bay….which aren’t cheap but offer a serene and somewhat laid back lifestyle. 45 minutes out from Central Hong Kong, transport is not as instant but busses go to and from pretty regularly. (It’s one of those places you would probably benefit from having a car.) There are a number of shops and restaurants, particularly in Stanley where you’ll find the famous Stanley markets and plenty of western-style restaurants and cafes stretching along the lively promenade.
At the other end of Hong Kong is Discovery Bay. A haven for expats, this is a village unto its own, where townhouses replace skyscrapers, golf buggies rule the universe and living is centered around a communal village with plenty of local, westernized shops and pubs. All just a stone’s throw from the beach, it makes for carefree living. The biggest drawback (or perhaps positive, depending on how you see it) it’s a ferry ride to Hong Kong Island. Commuters be prepared.
At the other end of the spectrum is Mid Levels….the epicentre of it all! Dotted up the side of Hong Kong’s ‘Peak’ and amongst the kaleidoscope of chaos, Mid Levels is home to some sprawling (and not so sprawling) apartments with city life at your finger tips. Probably my pick IF I had arrived in Hong Kong sans baby. Mid Levels is not exactly child-friendly, especially as far as strollers go, with steep, rickety footpaths and the world’s longest escalator that only goes one way at a time… but in fairness to those mums who live it….Baby Bjorns and slings are the all-important must-have accessory.
We live at Kowloon Station…on the other side of Victoria Harbour and often referred to as the “dark side” by expats! But one train stop and 15 minutes from Central, mark my word, it’s closer than many places on the island itself. A ring of apartments circle one of the city’s biggest shopping precincts which boasts a myriad of shops, restaurants, movie theaters plus an iceskating rink, not to mention outdoor pubs, cafes, a playground and a pre-school. I’m clearly biased but it’s an easy place to live if you have small children but don’t like to be too far from the centre of it all. Mongkok, the busiest spot in the world is just a ten minute cab ride away and buzzing with energy day and night.
As expats extend their stay in Hong Kong and families become larger, an increasingly viable option is out further to the quaint villages of Sai Kung and Clear Water Bay. Villages with town houses offering more space and often (heaven forbid) a patch of grass and roof top balconies are becoming more appealing for the same price of an inner city apartment.
One tip: the newer apartments will often be smaller but have all the mod-cons, including a concierge, valet parking, clubhouse facilities like gyms, cafes, playrooms, pool-rooms and more; whilst the older apartments will lack such facilities, they will definitely be on the larger side.
The good news is, in Hong Kong, you’re not just limited to fast-paced city life and extortionate rents, there are many different pockets to suit your lifestyle requirements.
3) Is it easy to make friends?
Hong Kong would have to be one of the easiest places I’ve lived to make friends. Of course, I’d be lying if I said you don’t have to put yourself out there when you move to any new city, but if you’re willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ll soon realize just how strong the expat bond can be.
Most foreigners are here without family and often starting families of their own. When you’re far away from home there’s nothing nicer than the friendship of someone who understands your predicament.
There are plenty of groups to join via online forums like Sassy Hong Kong, Geo Baby, Asia Xpat and Facebook and no matter what stage of life you’re at (single and ready to party/married with children) you’ll find expats lurking in every corner. Often a smile and a nod is all that’s needed to strike up a conversation in Hong Kong. Expats are like beacons attracting each other like bees to a honey pot!
Even though it’s a transient community, once you find your crowd, you’ll make friends for life, no matter where they go.
4) I do loads of walking and outdoor activities – is that doable in Hong Kong?
Again this depends on where you live, but hiking is a big activity in Hong Kong – a city, which surprisingly to many, is overflowing with lush green mountains and award-winning walking tracks weaving through spectacular scenery. There are plenty of beaches providing the perfect setting for an outdoor lifestyle…dragon boating and what they call ‘Junk’ days are popular summer pastimes.
Of course the summer months are pretty steamy and this is a time when lots of expats take the opportunity to head home and escape the searing heat. Admittedly, it can be disheartening when you can’t be outside for longer than five minutes without breaking into a sweat for a large chunk of the year.
My biggest tip, don’t forget, no matter where you go, it takes time to settle in and time to find your ‘mojo.’ To me, it’s all about feeling familiar in a city and that only comes with time. Finding your local cafe, dry cleaners, hair dressers, fruit shop and pub are the little things that make it feel more like home.
It won’t happen overnight, but it will definitely happen. Enjoy exploring your new country and you never know what you might unearth!
Welcome to the city that never sleeps!
by Mint Mocha Musings blogger Nicole Webb.
Nicole was a Journalist and News Reader with Sky News Australia for a decade before making the life changing move to Hong Kong with her hotelier husband.
Mum to hyped up blondie Ava, Nicole has swapped the news desk and microphone for a change table and nappy bag but is still enjoying the best of both worlds, freelancing as a Journalist, Presenter, Master of Ceremonies and Media Trainer. Her expat journey to date has been filled with plenty of intriguing and humorous tales. Check out her blog Mint Mocha Musings and on Twitter @nicoledwebb
Read Nicole's other Expat Focus articles here or click the button below to view her own blog…