I have delayed writing this post. It should have been written a few weeks ago at least, but I debated whether to write it at all. You see, I may be one of only a few people in this city who feels this way, but… I don’t love Hong Kong. There. It’s out. I’ve said it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that I like about the city, but on the whole I would rather live elsewhere. Many people talk about the new “expat family” you create when you live in a place like Hong Kong, and whilst we have made some pretty amazing new friends, whom I love to hang out with and who are extremely supportive, I really, really like my actual family. And I miss them a lot. And my kids miss them a lot.
So let’s delve a little deeper into how six months here has panned out. Let’s start with the positives, because there are always positives to every place you live.
– The biggest positive here is the expat community. There are few things in one’s adult life that compare to the friends you make as an expat. They truly do become almost family because you are all in the same lonely boat in a foreign land trying to figure things out. We have such great friends here and the community feel at our apartment complex is fantastic. If you need something – a cup of sugar or someone to talk to, our friends are always there.
– Helpers: a helper means no housework and a built in babysitter. I don’t think I need to elaborate on why this is good! Ours is also really a lovely person and adores the boys.
– Many, many restaurants to choose from. Like seriously, you could eat at a different place every night for a year I think. And given the reason above, we can actually go out and eat at them!
– My job: I don’t think I would have had the guts to give the E-Design thing a go in Sydney. I always assumed that starting a business would be difficult and expensive. I have no idea if it really is or isn’t difficult to start a business in Australia! But here in HK it is definitely very easy and not at all expensive. And I really love doing the design work, so that is something I will always thank HK for.
Now, it’s not all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns here. There is a reason (a few actually) that I don’t love it here. In the interests of those who may read this blog in preparation for a move here, I feel I should outline some of the things that are not ideal about Honkers.
– POLLUTION. Oh my f’ing god, the pollution. You go to the beach and swim with trash, which is so gross coming from Sydney beaches. You try to look out the window and see what the weather is like and some days you can’t see the clouds for the smog. On the very best days, the air pollution is about a third higher than the WHO maximum recommended pollution levels. I have had to pay almost AUD2,000 for air purifiers for our apartment as we are all coughing, spluttering messes and have been for the past month. And apparently, it gets worse in winter! Eeeeeek. I seriously worry about the long term health effects for the kids (and ourselves) of exposure to this level of pollution.
– Helpers: yes, this is a double edged sword. Although it’s great not to have to clean the apartment and to have a live-in babysitter, I’ve experienced the other option of having a cleaner and day care, and the latter is my preference. It’s not easy having someone else in your space ALL THE TIME. You lose your privacy. We made some changes at the start of August that have made a big difference, but it still is a daily thing for me to accept someone wandering around my house. (What changes, you ask? We put a table and chair on the back balcony where our helper now has her meals, and we also moved to doing the food allowance instead of shared meals. These changes mean much less awkward time trying to make conversation, especially at breakfast, and more independence for both of us. I feel that these were “newbie” mistakes to make when hiring a helper and I wish we’d known the better way to do it from the start! We all seem to be much happier and more comfortable now that we have carved out our own space and time a bit more.)
– Space: as in, the lack of it. Our apartment isn’t small but it’s not big either. There is (obviously) no easily accessible outdoor space for the boys to run around in… not that they can run around in air that looks like toxic soup… I am hopeful we won’t be here for too long and that the boys won’t forget how to explore the outdoors on their own and play in a backyard. Yes, there are hiking trails but I mean the kind of hanging out you do in a backyard: running under the sprinkler in summer, making pretend dirt tracks for your Matchbox cars, building little houses out of leaves and sticks for your toys, tooling around on your trike/bike, eating ice creams that drip everywhere and hosing yourself off after, playing chasey, your dad making you help mow the lawn, bbq dinners with friends. Y’know, the usual childhood things that go on in a backyard!
– The cost of living: this is one thing we weren’t fully prepared for. Not that you really can be I think – you can’t know your cost of living until you are living it! Yes, we knew what to expect for rent but we had no idea how expensive groceries would be. I guess if we thought about the fact that pretty much everything is imported, we might have realised this a bit earlier. And not only is it expensive but the fresh food is pretty awful at the grocery store. You have to go shopping almost every day as meat and fruit/veggies go off within two days. Sometimes less. Once the food has travelled halfway around the world, let’s just say it isn’t at its best by the time you are purchasing it! Now, HK is a place where money can buy you everything and yes, you can get organic veggies from Australia and NZ flown in but it is really expensive so we have to make do with things from the local market and the grocery store. I am not the kind of person who likes to “make do”.
So six months into it and although I don’t love it here, I don’t hate it either. I enjoy my life and once our air purifiers arrive I have hopes that our cloud of illness will lift so we can all feel better and the two kids can sleep through the night more often than once a week. They used to be outstanding sleepers but the past month has been rough and the bags under my eyes are proof of it! My hesitation with this post is that I didn’t want it to seem overly negative. I think ultimately I would prefer to live elsewhere, which causes me to feel frustrated sometimes, but I try to consider the good points of living here.
So to finish on a positive note, we have created a list of places close to HK that we want to visit and that is another thing to look forward to. In November we will do Phuket, and in December Fritz and I will go to Macau. Other places on our list include Danang/Hoi An in Vietnam, Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and maybe Cebu in the Philippines. We aren’t sure where in China we will go. I am thinking X’ian but we shall have to see. I want the kids to be a little older for China as it won’t be a “relaxing” holiday but a “sightseeing” one. We need to be past the stage of naps and diapers and strollers for that to be enjoyable for me! But for now, that beach in Phuket is calling and I can’t wait for it in November!