I’m Jade, a 30-year-old originally from Melbourne, Australia, and now living in the New Territories of Hong Kong. With my husband, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, I live in a tiny village in the middle of a tropical rainforest with views of the South China Sea. Apart from the stench of drying fish (as seen in the photo below), we’ve found we’ve unexpectedly living in a lush paradise. We share our village with coloured finches, snakes, butterflies the size of my hand, cows, dragonflies and whole selection of other unidentifiable insects – as well as lots of locals who are happy to encourage us in our appalling attempts to master Cantonese!
We moved in December 2009. I am a court reporter and originally worked in the Federal Court of Australia. We moved here when I was offered a job in the High Court of Hong Kong. Our decision to move ultimately came down to making a decision regarding that perpetual question that plagues young families – security versus adventure – and choosing adventure!What challenges did you face during the move?
When we moved, my daughter was only 10 months old. We shipped a lot of our stuff from Australia to Hong Kong, and it had to leave Australia about six weeks before us. That meant we spent our last six weeks in Australia without our beds, most of our clothes, and the kids’ toys and books. We basically all slept on a futon in our empty loungeroom. Our last day in Australia was Christmas Day. We arrived in Hong Kong with 90kg of worldly possessions and moved straight into a temporary serviced apartment that my employer had arranged for us, which was 400sq feet. We couldn’t even open our suitcases. We’d also sent our cats on ahead of us from Australia and had to wait six weeks for them to clear quarantine, so we spent a lot of our early days here traipsing to the cattery to visit them. And avoiding our 400sq feet of “space”. I was still breastfeeding my daughter when we arrived, as well as starting a new job, and settling my son into full-time kindergarten. It was pretty exhausting.
Can you tell us something about your property?
The house we live in now is what’s called a village house – a three-storey Spanish mission style house. We are the only Westerners in our pocket of the village. Rent/purchase prices for property in Hong Kong is exorbitant. The cost of living is otherwise reasonably cheap compared to Australia so I suppose it balances out! I hope we don’t have to move from a long time. We love our village, with the peaceful stream running through it, and the scenic path leading down to the nearest town.
I would recommend the New Territories (rather than Hong Kong Island) for expats with young families. The houses are bigger, the air is cleaner, and most houses even have that most prized Hong Kong commodity – a yard!
Are you employed or self-employed?
I am self-employed but basically work full-time for the same employer. I had no challenge finding employment because I am lucky enough to work in a niche profession. Myself and my colleagues came here for our jobs. But my husband has had a more difficult time finding work – there is a particular focus on having the “right” qualification, even for what would be “unqualified” work back home, and also being bilingual in Cantonese and/or Mandarin.
Are there many other expats in your area?
In our village, there’s very few expats. The nearest town, Sai Kung, is known as “the backyard of Hong Kong” and is a beautiful beachside locale surrounded by about 20 villages. Locals from all over Hong Kong come to Sai Kung on the weekend to eat at the famous seafood restaurants, catch a sampan out to one of the outlying islands, or hike through the scenic ranges. Actually, there are lots of expats in Sai Kung. It’s easy to survive in most parts of Sai Kung with just English – other areas of Hong Kong, not so much.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Improving in direct proportion to my increasing proficiency in Cantonese! My husband and I are taking private lessons and forcing ourselves to speak to locals in their own language as much as we can. It’s incredibly gratifying. Hongkongers are mostly gentle and friendly. It’s a very safe and relaxing place to live.
What do you like about life where you are?
Every day still feels like a holiday! Things are different enough to home that there’s never a chance to feel jaded by mundane activities. Even going to the post office to pay a bill is enough of an experience to not make it a chore. Also, we’re living quite a different life to a lot of expats who come here and live on Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong is one of the biggest and most sophisticated cities in the world, and it’s wonderful to go and work in such a dynamic environment – and then come back to the rural life when the work day is over.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Being classed with thoughtless expats who give Westerners a bad name with their entitlement complexes!
Spending all our money on airfares to go back and visit Australia because people keep having babies/getting married etc.!
Getting used to not having much space.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Embrace the local way of life. Learn Cantonese, shop in the markets, eat yum cha for breakfast!
What are your plans for the future?
We’ll be in Hong Kong for a long time to come. If only the government would do something about the air pollution here, this is pretty much the perfect place to live and raise a family. We’ve enrolled our kids in local schools and are even looking into buying a house. We feel like this is home now. Well, it’s definitely where we belong for the moment!
Jade shares many stories about life in Hong Kong through her blog Jadeluxe