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!

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Flying High…

Well, we survived the flight and our first weekend in HK with a one year old and a three year old.

Just a brief update on the flight today and tomorrow (or maybe Wed depending on how things go!) I will post on our initial thoughts on HK.

We did the flight on Friday. Originally, we were going to come on Saturday but decided that since my husband had to go to work on Monday, we better try to get us all over the jet lag as much as possible before then. It’s only a three hour difference but when your kids wake at 6:30am Sydney time and that is 3:30am HK time, it makes a big difference!

Will has been super excited about the plane ride to HK for weeks. Almost every day for the two weeks preceding he asked if we could go to HK today. So of course, I asked him on Friday morning “where are we going today?” After guessing “daycare?” (Points to him as he would usually go to daycare on a Friday!) and then the Opera House, he was out of ideas! Oh, the excitement when I told him it was THE day when he gets to go on the big plane ride to HK!

So we get in our minibus with our dozen bags/suitcases. I am not kidding. We had 11 checked pieces if luggage plus a back pack, briefcase, my hand bag and two little backpacks that the boys “carried”. I say “carried” because they only carried them part if the time – Mum and Dad had the chore most of the time…

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A very happy little boy in the cab to the airport!

Thank goodness for business class and thank heavens for it being half empty! Being under two, no seat was purchased for Alex but there were plenty of spare seats so we ended up with a seat each once we were up in the air.

Will loved the sleeping socks and sleeping mask:

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Alex loved bugging Will:

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A quick check of the emergency procedures and they were ready for take off:

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I will gloss over the next eight and a half hours. Will was a CHAMP. Seriously, couldn’t have asked for a better kid than him. He watched movies, ate his food, loved his “airplane presents” (small gifts they got to unwrap every few hours as part of the Entertainment Strategy!) and was generally an all-round awesome kid.

Alex was good for a 16 month old but containment plus 16 month old’s don’t mix well. The first half went quite well
but the second half was pretty trying on us all. Mostly me. My husband handles these things much more calmly than I do! But we made it alive and without too many of those looks from other passengers. We breeeeeezed through Immigration and Customs in record time, got straight out to the waiting van and came straight into HK.

Then we spent over half an hour looking for our accommodation. Not at all the driver’s fault. None of us could see it. Our temporary accommodation is at a serviced apartment place called ‘V’. Can you see it?

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No?! Neither could we! Eventually after a half dozen laps around the block our poor driver had to admit defeat and called the place – I am guessing this has happened before as the guy said he would come out onto the street to show us. And here is an example of the most subtle (and useless) signage you will ever find:

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So we made it! And then got upstairs to our apartment and I had to laugh. A slightly hysterical laugh. I have never seen a smaller apartment IN MY LIFE. I have had hotel rooms bigger than this entire apartment. That four of us have to live in. For at least a month. Oi.

It has a lovely modern decor but it’s like someone took a real apartment and put it in the dryer and shrank it a bit. This is the kitchen:

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This is the bathroom:

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And our bedroom:

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The boys bedroom is considered the master I think, since it has the tv and phone in it, but we had to put the kids in it because Alex’s travel crib couldn’t fit into the other room!

And finally, this is the living/dining area that I have to be in with two little boys:

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Sorry the photos aren’t better. I could do with better lighting but if I don’t get this post out now, I know events will overtake me and it will not happen! But regardless, no miracle lighting will make this place magically grow. I could really use a Tardis apartment! (And yes, I totally love Dr Who – or at least from the 10th Dr onwards). But alas, there is no more space that will magically appear here 😦

On the plus side, it means that the previously-tiny sized three bed apartment that I thought we would be living in, will now seem HUGE after this place!! There’s always a silver lining, eh?!