The Expat Files: what's it like to live in Hong Kong?

Today we cross the ocean to Hong Kong where we catch up with Sarah who sheds light on living the expat life


The family

How long have you been in Hong Kong?

Nearly 8 years

What took you there?

A chance for new work opportunities, for both my (then boyfriend) now husband, and myself

How did you prepare to make the move?

My boyfriend went six months before I did, with a job secured and I moved later, once I completed my Uni degree, (I was 26 and was a mature aged student) with a goal to change my career path….Hong Kong was perfect in the long run, though very tough to start with, as I had absolutely no work contacts, no friends and no language skills. Kind of crazy really, but I had nothing to lose. I desperately wanted to make Hong Kong work and it did, but with a lot of perseverance.

What are the cultural differences that you notice most?

So many on the one hand, yet they seemed to melt away, as I became to re-think all my expectations.

I came into Hong Kong with my own personal experiences of work and life and began to realise that I needed to open myself up to other ways of thinking. That there are many ways of doing things and that you cannot come into a country and just think that you can do things the way you have always done.  It was time to listen, observe the way other cultures go about their business. To learn the good things, understand why things are done a certain way before trying to blatantly make changes.

It became apparent that being great with people meant really listening, understanding and playing up their strengths. Getting people to be accountable for their work and feeling good about it, rather than wanting to pass on responsibility, in case something didn’t go to plan and they ‘lost face’.

What do you like most about Hong Kong?

Diversity.  It’s just amazing to have friends and colleagues from so many different countries and backgrounds, there is nothing like it (unless you work at the U.N).
Just to give you an example; in my office alone (I work in Pay/Cable Television advertising) there are people from: Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, The Philippines, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Korea, the Netherlands, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa!!! We are always celebrating, because there is always some kind of festival, with so many countries represented, it’s a bit of a joke really, we love it.

Have you adopted any of the customs of Hong Kong into your life?
The biggest one would be Chinese New Year! The flowers, the lucky “laisi” (red packets with fresh new money/notes – just small amounts for good luck). Our kids just love it and we get lanterns and the gorgeous little embroidered animals and hang them in the house, watch the Dragon Boating and get into the spirit of it all! It’s much bigger than regular New Year, as it’s more heartfelt and traditional and bonds us with our Chinese friends.


What’s the most different aspect of your life in Hong King?

Proximity: Hong Kong is a small island, so it’s fast to get around and so easy to catch up with friends. Funny to think it, but it’s like a small country town, though it’s hard to imagine until you live there. Australia seems so sprawling in comparison.

How important do you feel it is to retain your “Aussie” status?
It’s not really something that I think about.  It feels like a melting pot here and it’s not something that I am overly conscious of (nor do I think that other Australians are particularly). People are from everywhere here and are often bonded by the fact that they don’t have family, it’s a transient city. Many of the local Hong Kong residents spend time overseas, studying and working too, so it’s a city-in-motion, in many respects. Quite apt, since it’s one of the largest ports in the world.

Describe the experience of having children in Hong Kong ?

I have a 5 year old boy and 3 year old girl, both born in Hong Kong. So it’s always going to be a part of them.  I had absolutely amazing support and care with my pregnancies and births, really fantastic.  I can’t imagine it could have been better anywhere else.

Has it been easy to make friends?

I do believe that because I found work, in a field that I loved, it was easy to make friends, because I was surrounded by like-minded people with common interests and our backgrounds were irrelevant.  It’s been a fun ride and I do believe I’ve made friends for life.  It’s hard though, as the city is so transient, people move around; back to their home countries or elsewhere in Asia (often Singapore) so you get close to people quickly, but often they relocate, so it’s a shame.  The net result is friends all over the world and lots of time keeping up on Facebook :o)

Are your relationships very different?
As I mentioned, many people don’t have family here, so the relationships you make are more intense and new.  So it’s like playing catchup, getting to know people in more concentrated bursts. Without the natural obligations of family time, you have more time together to build new friendships. You rely on your friends a little more.  There are often ‘orphan’ Christmases, with a bunch of friends all together, celebrating.  It’s fun, but of course, you miss family and home….and the blue skies and clean air….(but that’s another story)

Taking a quick glance in your handbag – Australia vs Hong Kong

I love getting care packages of local magazines and newspaper clippings my Mum sends me, I often read those on the MTR (train)

It’s dinner time. What are you cooking?

We definitely eat a lot more rice here and fish too.  We still love a classic chicken roast, but we eat so much less bread. I don’t miss it really.  Many people in Hong Kong have help at home, it’s the way it works here, especially if you work and have kids since there is no day care. Helpers are often great cooks and love to whip up their local fare, which is a totally treat, noodles, fish, delicious local vegatables.


The kids love dressing up

What would you ask for from home?

Magazines, Natural Food Company Snakes (!) Sunsilk Shampoo, Aussie Wine (it’s expensive here),

Preparing to live in Hong Kong. What is your advice?
Don’t pack up your winter things, it’s super humid here, you are in t-shirts most of the year. Don’t worry too much, enjoy the ride.  If you have kids, don’t over-think it all, kids adjust to their new surroundings easily and make friends fast. Don’t pack Vegemite, it’s readily available, as is most everything!  This is a very international city.

What do you miss most about Australia ?
The fresh, crisp air!!! OMG, I simply drink it in when I am home.  Hong Kong has always been humid, but the pollution is getting quite scary now.  They recently cancelled an outdoor Easter Egg Hunt, as the Government warning was that children and the elderly should stay inside, due to the very high pollution index!

The relaxed Australian way of life, and our natural curiosity and adventurous streak. Hong Kong is intense, people are insanely ambitious and really love to work. Many don’t see the value in time off and holidays, they just want to get ahead and often forget to stop and have fun.  I know a lot of Hong Kong’s outdoor parks and hiking trails better than locals that have lived here their whole lives. “You went where???” was a common comment when I was in the office recounting the adventures of the weekend.

What don’t you miss about Australia ?

I don’t miss traffic and I don’t miss the time it takes to get around. Feels like I’m in a car a lot when I am there :o)

Also, Australia can feel very parochial and a little isolated.  It’s great to feel like you are exposed to the rest of the world in a way that feels a little less removed and more tangible. Though I think it’s much more possible to feel more connected now, especially with technology.

I think there is so much to gain from living away from home, you benefit on so many levels….if only just to appreciate all that you already have, but mostly to gain perspective. It’s a great vantage point.

Have you been to Hong Kong? Would you like to go?  Any experiences that stand out in particular?