Jennifer Brown, Hong Kong

Who are you?

I’m an American ‘serial expat’ who loves people-watching, exploring historic places, and learning something new everyday. All past-times perfectly suited to expat life. We have lived in Mainland China, Holland (briefly), England and are now based in Hong Kong. I am a lawyer by training, but am currently taking time off from paid employment to raise our two young children.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We moved abroad in 2005 when offered the opportunity by my husband’s company. At the time, I was lucky enough to have an employer who allowed me to continue working remotely.We’ve kept moving every three or so years since then as new opportunities and adventures have come up.

What challenges did you face during the move to Hong Kong?

School places are tight in Hong Kong and I was particularly worried about securing a spot for my school-age daughter. I actually started the application process several months before it was even certain that we would be relocating to Hong Kong. Luckily we were offered a place at a wonderful school not far from my husband’s office.

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How did you find somewhere to live?

My husband’s office is in the “New Territories” of Hong Kong so we chose to live in Tai Po. Friends recommended a real estate agent who is familiar with this part of Hong Kong. She was very good and her help made the process of looking and negotiation relatively easy.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Expats live all over in Hong Kong, but are far more likely to live on Hong Kong Island itself, rather than in the New Territories. That said, we have met many expats and also many English-speaking locals through my daughter’s school.

What do you like about life where you are?

I like living in the New Territories (rather than the Island or Kowloon) because the pace of life is slightly slower, the air is slightly cleaner and because of the easy access to outdoor activities like hiking and cycling. It is remote – we must take a mini-bus plus three different trains to get to Central Hong Kong – so we do have a car. Driving, it only takes 30 minutes to get most places in Hong Kong from Tai Po. Having a car also opens up many opportunities for our family to explore off-the-beaten-path country parks and historic sites.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Most expat and local, middle and upper income families employ domestic maids (“helpers”) from either the Philippines or Indonesia. Helpers are legally required to work full time for one family and to live in their employers’ houses. This is a world apart from life back home and it has been difficult for me to get used to their presence in daily life (picking up children from school, washing cars daily, helping their employers buy groceries, etc). Because of my own hang-ups over privacy, we do not have a full-time, live-in helper.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

In Hong Kong you can buy almost anything…for a price. Our local grocery store stocks fresh milk from America, baked beans from England, and strawberries from New Zealand. Most international retailers, like Zara and The Gap, have stores in Hong Kong. And, of course, Ikea is here. Most of these items are more expensive than in America, but you can also easily find cheaper alternatives.

My blog, which features stories and comics about expat life, is expatlingo.com . I am also on Twitter @expatlingo.


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