Laurel & Wolf

I’ve recently come across the US online interior design company Laurel and Wolf and I was challenged to write a post about my dream living room as part of their Total Transformation project. Funnily enough, I had recently been thinking about … Continue reading

Hints for finding a job as an expat spouse in HK

Last month I shared that I had started looking for a job to return to work properly, after five and a half years out of the work force. Good news, folks: I got offered a job! I am really excited about the new position and even more excited as the job is with a great UK law firm (no, I am not a lawyer, it is managing a few teams if their support staff). Although I was prepared to do whatever it takes to get back into the workforce, including taking an entry level job and working my way back up, my professional ego is so happy that I have found an employer who recognises that a few years out to raise your kids doesn’t negate the ten years of experience I have. 

It isn’t an easy task to return to work after a few (or many!) years out for your family. I know this post is a little off-topic for a design and DIY blog, but I have had to go through the job search process a few times as a “trailing spouse” and I have some hints and tips for others that might be useful. No point in someone else having to reinvent the wheel! I am going to intersperse some of my photos of our recent trip to the Da Nang area of Vietnam just to add some prettiness! So for what it’s worth, here are a few things I learnt along the way when looking for a job as an expat spouse:

1. Decide (roughly) what you want to do. Sounds simple but this was the hardest part for me. I have an unusual and eclectic work history so there was no clear cut “next step” for me. For others, after a few years out, perhaps you are no longer enthused about your previous work. So have a good long think about what sort of job and what industry you want to look at. I found it helpful to look at job descriptions to see what roles are out there. This is also the time to decide if you need to refresh your skills. It is worth checking out EdX.org for free courses, or distance education options. This is also the time to consider the practical side of your new job- Childcare, full-time vs. part-time, etc. And don’t forget to think about your long term family plans. If you plan to stay living in the world’s financial capitals then think about your new career path being something that is aligned with the financial industry. You don’t want to have to go through the whole “looking for work” process every time you move for your spouse’s career. 

  
2. Once you have narrowed it down to a few options for the type of job you want it’s time to start looking. Some people will tell you “you will never find a job just applying for things online these days. The only way to get a job is to know someone.”  This is bullshit. Yes, you may indeed know someone and get fast tracked to a position (yay!), and yes, sometimes jobs listed on websites are not really available as there is already a preferred internal candidate. But not always. Those jobs are often listed for a very good reason: the company needs someone to do the job and they don’t know someone who has the right skill set. All three jobs that I got to the interview stage in my most recent search were positions advertised online with the company’s website. 

Also keep an eye out for Return To Work programs that are run by companies and aimed specifically at mums returning to the work force after a break. I know that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bloomberg and HKExchange all have programs they run, some of them annually, some of them every few years. 

  
3. Shout it from the rooftops! Although websites are good, you also want everyone you know or meet to know you are looking for a job. Tell all your friends, your acquaintances and all the people you meet. You never know who works at the ideal company for you or who might have an opening that you are interested in. It is important to also have your “elevator pitch” sorted out. This is the one to two sentences that you can tell people what you did, and what you want to do.  It is important to think about this and practice it, as all those people you know and meet will be hearing these sentences! So, you will meet someone and they will ask if you work or what you have been up to lately and you will say that you are looking for a job. You will then trot out out your practiced lines. It might be, “Yes, after a few years out with the kids, I am so excited to return to work. I am looking to go back into xxxx since I have 7 years experience in the yyyy industry.”  Or, if you are doing a career change you might highlight the transferable skills from your previous years of work and say you want to find something in xxxx industry in a yyyy role. 

  
4. Think about your network. People always say, finding a job is about networking. But if, like me, you are an expat spouse in a new country where you have never worked, you won’t have a “work network” to draw on. But. You actually DO have a network! Use that expat network! In my case, I thought of all the husband’s of my mummy friends. They are all mid to senior level managers at good companies. Bingo! Target the websites of the companies your friends’ spouses work at so that when you find a job that is a match for you, you can ask them to do an internal referral for you. This will usually get your resume more than a cursory look by HR. Also, think of the people you know (if any) that work in the industry you want to be in. Ask them if they know any good recruiters for that field that they can introduce you to. 

Additionally, look for HK-based chapters of industry groups so you can see what events they have on. Attend whatever you can – this is a double whammy as not only can you obviously meet people in the industry who are based in HK, you can also refresh your industry knowledge. If you are switching industries then this is also important to see what the current key issues are for your chosen industry. Take notes as when you get to interview stage you want to help dispel any thoughts that you are out of touch with what’s going on in your industry.  

  
5. Check your expectations. I have done the full job search, start to finish, twice,  and started job searches twice (pregnancy and the move to HK interrupted job plans), so this is not my first rodeo. It’s important to be realistic about how much job searching sucks. It is soul-sucking misery at times. You will go through periods of feeling like the most unemployable person in the entire planet. It will annoy the crap out of you when people tell stories of the incompetency of work colleagues as you question how that person got a job and you can’t! It will seem unfair. It will BE unfair. You will be asked awful questions about what your family plans are for the future, how will you manage your work-life balance (and no, they don’t ask blokes or single people that- just mothers returning to work!). You have to be determined and REALLY want it if you’re going to keep yourself motivated. In my experience, six months is roughly how long it takes to find a job. Obviously, others might have an easier time of it than me – especially if you had a clear career trajectory before. I have a weird and wonderful mix of jobs in my background, which makes it hard for HR people to “tick the boxes” when assess g me as a candidate. This means I usually get shuffled straight to the “too hard” basket. I had to work hard to find my job but if I did it, I honestly believe anyone can!  
Disclaimer: these hints are all based on my own experiences finding a job. It is based on my willingness to go back to work full time, rather than part time and looking for a job that is the next step in my career. Your experience may be completely different! 

  

Our HK Home: the Office

Continuing on with the Home Tour series of our apartment in HK. To recap, we live in a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment that is about 1400 sq ft (net). In HK, the gross sq footage of an apartment includes any outdoor space and also, quite uniquely to these parts of Asia, the maid’s quarters. So the net sq ft is our general living space. And yes, it’s small by Western standards. By HK standards, our place is quite large.

Previously, I have shared the lounge room (here), the boys’ bedroom (here), and our helper’s quarters here. Next stop on the tour is the office.

The office has a desk but I must admit that half it’s function is just as storage. The closet in there is packed with the things that haven’t found a home anywhere else! We are having a lot of trouble getting our wifi internet to go further than 3m in our apartment. We are the process of finding a guy to come fix it up and then once I get Internet in the office I can actually use it as an office!

When we first got here, the only thing in the room was the bright pink desk that I revamped back in Sydney (read about it here). I wanted the room to be a bright, fresh space that made me feel creative and energetic. I wanted a white couch. Which meant that the room would have to be a no-go zone for the kids. I wanted that sofa to be a sofa bed of some sort if possible, just in case we needed it. After searching for a while I realised that IKEA had the best option. I had been trying to NOT get IKEA for the sofa (not a huge fan of the comfort of their cheaper sofas) but unless I was prepared to drop serious cash on a custom one or do a futon, the Hagalund was my best option. Sigh. We are on a tight budget for this room so the Hagalund us what we went with!

The majority of this room came from things we already owned. “Shop your own home” is what they call it I think. It basically means, shuffle things around in your house once in a while and try things in a different room. A change is refreshing! So here is the design board for the room:

IMG_9623.JPG

The green lamp, gold mirror and purply-pink cushions previously lived in our lounge room in Sydney, the wedding blanket and lucite bar cart were previously in the master bedroom, the cow hide rug was in the dining room, the zebra print was a giveaway from someone in our apartment complex here in HK, and the Van Gogh print used to be in the guest bedroom. The one thing I purchased for the room was the Turkish kilim pillow (from Mister Pillow on Etsy) that pulled together the pinks and greens in the room.

And here is how the room looks now.

IMG_7151.JPG

IMG_7156.JPG

IMG_7154.JPG

IMG_7153.JPG

Apologies for the quality of the photos – the iPhone struggles to photograph such a small room!

Getting Along in Hong Kong: Six months (or so) into the adventure

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!

Getting Along in Hong Kong: Three Months

Hello heat!  The warm weather has hit HK.  Like a red hot poker iron on the arse.  Or like a big steaming hot soup that you are trying to live in.  I am not one of those graceful “glistening” women in the heat.  What is that old saying? “Horses sweat, men perspire and women glisten”? Well, I must be a horse.  Most days are about 90% humidity at the moment and it’s killing me.  I don’t think I am alone though. Even people who have been here for years are saying it is an unusually wet May this year. Today, for instance, it is 33 deg C and 90% humidity.  I shudder to think what July and August will be like!  I also have no idea how anyone lives in Singapore, where the weather is like this nearly the entire year!  

So how am I finding things a few months in?  There is no single word that springs to mind, to be honest.  Some things I am really getting used to and finding my feet with (the grocery shopping for instance, and even venturing out to a wet market) and others are still a mystery to me (like the number 4 bus that supposedly goes into town from Will’s preschool but every time I try to catch it they don’t stop…..). Some good things that have happened over the past month:

– visiting the Science Museum with the kids.  Will, in particular LOVES it.  We now have an annual family membership. The whole place is hands on, science-learning fun!  

– Will started preschool!  After a rocky start with a bit of separation anxiety, he is now loving it and his new teacher, Ms. Preeti (pronounced ‘pretty’, which I think is very sweet for a preschool teacher!) 

– I had a job interview. A bit nerve wracking to have a job interview for the first time in about 6 years. Very happy to get one though!  I have just started to look for a job so I actually got this interview despite not having any contacts at all.  We shall see what comes of it, but regardless, it has been very helpful to dip my toes into the job market pool! 

– Will has decided he loves the movie, The Sound of Music.  This is one of my favourite childhood movies (along with the original Star Wars trilogy, Indiana Jones trilogy, etc. The usual ones for kids from the 80’s….) For once, the kids are watching a movie that I don’t mind seeing 50 times! 

– I have had a number of social engagements this past month.  It’s been nice 🙂  No best friends yet, but some lovely people and it makes a real difference to have some social interaction. Did you know FB has “secret” groups?  They are groups that you can only see if you are a member of them.  Luckily, one of the ladies who lives in our apartment complex added me to a couple of the secret mummy FB groups here so can hopefully find out when some social things are happening. One interesting experience that has been the result of having social engagements, has been spending time away from the boys.  I have been out more in the past three months than the three years preceding our move to HK.  The kids are currently taking turns in melting down when I leave.  I choose to look at it as a positive thing – at least they aren’t BOTH crying when I leave! And it is healthy for them to learn to be without Mummy all the time.  A necessary lesson, as hard as it is for them. Doesn’t make it any more pleasant for all of us though.  

– I finally got around to framing some of the photographs we got done in May/June last year.  I won a photography session plus about a dozen hard copy photographs from Paper Tree Photography last year.  Originally I was going to do a full gallery wall of them, but I no longer have the wall space to hang them all so I chose a few of my favourites and have framed them. Just good ol’ IKEA frames.  With the prospect of more removals in our future, I don’t want to invest real money into frames – they always seem to get damaged.  I chose a trusty Ribba frame for the two that will go in our master bedroom and tried something a little different for the one I had at the desk in the lounge room. I went with a gloss black frame and black matting. And I am LOVING it!  Here it is:

Image
Apologies for the reflection on it! I have tried to edit it a bit to make it less distracting. It works really well with the tv gallery wall that it sits next to as well.  You remember this one, right?

Image

 

Well that picture at the desk looks much more proportional now, and doesn’t disappear on the wall. It’s a small thing, I know, but I think it looks much better:

Image

 

 

And now some of the lowlights from the past month or so:

– Mosquitos and black flies/midges!  OH MY GOD. The mossies are not too bad here – you can usually avoid them I find- but these little midges seem to be everywhere and they are stealth bugs.  You can’t see them and you don’t feel them bite you, you just suddenly get an itch and then it gets more and more itchy.  I am one of those people who mosquitos love to bite so I am quite used to resisting scratching mosquito bites. But these things are monsters.  They last for 2-3 weeks and for some reason, my skin after just a few little itches, it scratches off the skin and ends up as an awful sore.  And worse yet, Will gets it just as bad, if not worse, than me.  Poor little guy.  He had one so bad the other day it had a huge blister on it and when he was asleep I had to go pop it to let all the fluid out and then disinfect it.  He is such a heavy sleeper he didn’t move a muscle the entire time. I hadn’t heard anything about these things before we got here but I tell ya, I certainly have now!  My legs are covered in bites but I have no idea where I get them. I am pretty bloody unimpressed.  It makes me uncomfortable and cranky. 

– I am learning that HK seems to love rules.  Whether or not they are necessary or even helpful.  They seem to like to take something simple and make it convoluted and complicated. The language barrier doesn’t help in these sorts of situations either.  So for instance, the other day I wanted to (finally) get myself the special card at the grocery store so you can accrue points for gift vouchers.  I get asked every single time if I have one.  So I get myself the paper application (can’t do it online) and dutifully fill it all in.  And it was quite involved, I gotta tell ya.  Not just contact details but all sorts of stuff about what you like to buy, etc.  I get to the end of the form and look for where I need to hand this in or mail it in to.  hmmmm… nothing there.  So I ask at the grocery store. I have to ask a few times to get a cashier who knows what I am asking. Then she hands me a piece of paper with a telephone number and says I need to call that number to get the card!  WHAT THE?! Why the heck did I fill in the twenty question application form if I am just going to make a phone call to get a card?! See? Pointless and unnecessarily complicated! And so Hong Kong! It’s like the whole city is one giant phone/internet company.  (Does anyone else find that no matter what country you are in, phone/internet companies have complicated something that should really be quite simple?!)

 

On the whole though, things are going pretty well and we are adjusting well. I think.