Getting Along in HK: 18 months

Well, time certainly flies, doesn’t it?!  Suddenly we have been here for almost eighteen months.  At this stage, I feel like I can finally write a good post about things that I wish I had known before I got here.  … Continue reading

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: Week 1

Soooooo, we are one week in and I am exhausted.  The boys are a bit sick of such a small apartment and a bit tired too.  This whole “changing countries” thing really takes it outta ya! 

A few observations at this early stage:

– There does not appear to a side of the sidewalk/footpath that you walk on here.  In the US and Australia, you kinda stick to the side that you drive you on.  Makes footpaths much easier when traffic keeps to each side.  This doesn’t seem to happen here.  It’s just a big mash of people and I have to get through with a stroller and a three year old.  Most of the time it isn’t too bad but during busy times it gets a bit hairy and I am sure I have nipped a heel or two!  oops. 

– I thought there would be more expats here. Turns out it is less than 10% non-Chinese in HK (or at least this is what my husband told me).  So many days I am out and about and see only a few Westerners.  Not a big deal really.  And it is silly, but I feel taller!  And for some reason I feel thinner when I feel taller.  So that is nice. 

– The reaction to the kids is bizarre, sweet…. and a bit annoying.  The ladies in the grocery store especially adore my boys.  I mean, I get it – they are pretty bloody cute as kids go and add in Alex’s white blonde hair and blue eyes and Will’s big brown eyes and how much he loves to perform for anyone who will watch him and you know these women are waiting for 4pm-ish each day when I go to the supermarket for dinner supplies.  They give the kids candy and on Friday one of them led Will over to a lady who was stocking shelves and got her to give him some Oreo wafer cookie bar thing.  She just took Will to say hello to her and the lady just snipped open a packet, pulled a cookie bar out, opened it and handed it to Will!  Let’s just say that the grocery store has become a favourite place for the boys…. Mummy, on the other hand, found it sweet and charming at first but is now trying to avoid the meat section at all costs (which is where the most enthralled of the ladies work) as Will starts to carry on getting all excited, doing dances for them, high fiving them, etc.  After a few years here, if they keep getting this level of attention I worry about what it will do to their sense of self.  What will happen when we go back to Australia or the US and no one gives a crap who they are and they are not different?!  And no one hands them candy everywhere we go….   I suspect that once we move to a permanent address, which will be in a more Expat-heavy area, that this sort of thing won’t really happen any more.  Maybe.

– The weather.  Ugh.  When we did our visit in January, HK must have turned it on for us. It was bright and sunny and mild the four days we were here.  We have yet to see the sun since we arrived a week ago!  The tops of many buildings are in cloud for the whole day.  Must be weird for the people who live in them!  It is grey and drizzly.  And as noted above, our dryer is a piece of crap.  It is a combo washer/dryer and after 4 hours in the dryer the clothes are still hot and damp.  The laundry is a constant source of frustration for me as I can’t get it dry! Apparently on Thursday this week the sun will come out.  God, I hope so!

– The octopus card system is great!  So easy and the public transport here is SO cheap.  And so are taxi’s! Very different from Sydney 🙂

– Not sure what the labour laws are here, but since we arrived last Friday night, the same guy has been on the concierge desk EVERY SINGLE TIME I go down there.  Morning, noon or night.  I am beginning to wonder if there are two Lim’s!  (His name is Lim).  Poor guy must be exhausted! 

– Eating out (Asian food) is CHEAP. Each main meal in a small restaurant/take out noodle place is about $5US. Which is great as there are many days this week when I have run out steam by the time dinner rolled round and we just nipped downstairs to one of the noodle places and got dinner.  But I did feel the need to make spaghetti bolognaise at the end of this week – we were all in need of a bit of comfort food and all the boys (Fritz included) wolfed it down and were very happy chappies after it! 

– Sunday is Maid Day. It is the day off for all the Home Helpers and the streets get cray-cray with all the helpers sitting on the footpaths on tarps – cooking, eating, chatting to each other or on the phone, doing macrame or other crafts. Just like hanging out. But on the side walk.  Even when it is kinda raining. Our area seems to be the place the Indonesian Helpers gather (Causeway Bay is where we are staying).  I will avoid going walking on Sundays if I can!

– Not really related to being in HK, but Will had a real Three Year Old Moment the other day.  We were looking at apartments with our Relocation Specialist, Kay, (who is awesome, by the way!) and Will, completely out of the blue, asks Kay if she has a penis.  Oh dear.  Thank god Kay is as fabulous as she is, and has two boys herself (who are all grown up now).  She didn’t miss an beat and just said, “Not the last time I looked”!

So the first week has been full of firsts – and that is exciting but also tiring.  Nothing is easy or familiar so it means you need a bit more energy to get through the day.  And apartment hunting with a one year old and three year old is especially exhausting!  We will all be happy to settle on a place and get moved in towards the end of the month.  Toys are being missed, space is required and routines need to be re-established. Hopefully we will have decided on a place by the middle of the week and then we wait for our shipment to arrive so we can move in!