With the push of few job opportunities at home and the pull of a fresh experience abroad, more and more young people are heading to Asia, and Hong Kong is the favourite port of call.
Hong Kong is once again enticing entrepreneurs, young families and professional to quit their jobs, put their flats on the markets, kiss their loved ones goodbye and head out into the unknown.
But just how unknown is Hong Kong? And, how different is life over there from life over here?
Yes the language, the food, the weather and the people but aside from that, will the move be relatively easy? How different are the customs, culture, mannerisms and trends? How easy will it be to fit in, get a job, make friends and feel like the place is home?
What would be helpful to know in advance and what can be left to chance?
Having split my life between England and Hong Kong over the last twenty years, I’m here to tell you that moving from England to Hong Kong is much easier than the other way around. Hong Kong works, in all senses of the word. The people work hard, the service industry is incredibly efficient, the infrastructure is in place, public transport is cheap and the Government doesn’t interfere with day-to-day life.
But, there are some areas that should be highlighted in a precautionary way, just to ensure that the transition from West to East is as smooth as it has every reason to be.
I’m going to start with food because this is an area where you may already feel comfortable, and I’m afraid to say this sentiment is possibly a little misplaced. Wherever you live in the world you have almost certainly had a Chinese takeaway. Some of you can probably roll up a Peking duck pancake with one hand, pick up a piece of sweet and sour pork using chopsticks while talking on your mobile, and even know the difference between chow mein and chow fan. However, I am here to caution you that the stuff we eat in Hong Kong tends to be a lot funkier.
Almost no dish you come across is what you think it is. The only exception to this is Abalone. You will almost certainly scream and run when you come face to face with your first Abalone because you will be convinced this sea snail is something else. Every other food works in the opposite way. What looks pretty harmless is actually quite terrifying. A cashew nut, is more often than not a fried pigeon tongue; what can only be glass noodles, are in fact jellyfish tentacles; and what you would bet your life on is chicken, well just isn’t, so don’t make that bet.
While we are on the subject of food, I should mention that the Chinese don’t just share Chinese food; they share all food. If you go to an Italian restaurant with your Chinese friends, you will be expected to share your Spaghetti Puttanesca and likewise your friend will share his veal Milanese. All dishes, no matter what the cuisine, are passed around for everyone. I have no problem with this, but my sister, who will stab you with her fork if you even look at her Penne Arrabiata, has never found this custom very easy.
You’ll come to reply on your Octopus
2. Getting around
I know Londoners are quite proud of their Oyster cards, but I’m afraid I’m going to shatter that illusion. The Octopus AKA ‘The Pus,’ as I like to call it, is our smart card and it is way smarter than yours. The Pus can be used on all forms of transport and also to buy food, clothes, coffees and collect redemption points. You can also link the Pus to your credit card, thereby creating the ‘never-ending Octopus’ and effectively making everything in life seem free. My advice to you if you are moving to Hong Kong is to keep your hand on your Pus at all times!
3. Air quality
The next area that I think is important to touch on is air quality. I imagine you have read in the papers and heard on the news some pretty bad stories about Hong Kong’s air. People are dying from lung infections, kids can no longer play outside, visibility is seldom more than fifty feet and asthma statistics are through the roof. This is all absolutely true.
However, the good news is that this is not the case every day of the week. Just like in England, we really enjoy those precious few, carefree, convertible car days. I guess the difference is that if you forget to put the roof up in London you get wet, whereas in Hong Kong you could lose a lung.
An important question that I am frequently asked is ‘Should I make a start on learning the language before I get there?’ The answer is to give it a try.
We all know that Cantonese is not an easy language but it is great if you can master one or two useful questions such as: where’s the toilet? What time is it? Do you know where the bus stop is? Of course there is no chance at all of you understanding the answer, but the locals will be impressed that you’ve tried. Realistically you will need to allow yourself a comfortable window of ten years before you can hold a sensible conversation.
5. The dos and don’ts
Do go to Stanley market, don’t go to the night market.
Do go to Ocean Park but avoid Disneyland.
Do drink the tea, but don’t touch the tap water.
Do go hiking in the hills but don’t think a snake is actually a stick – it is definitely a snake!
Do buy your fruit and vegetables from the market but don’t buy any meat or dairy products from China.
Do go up to the Peak but don’t go on the weekends.
All in all it’s a city where the dos firmly outweigh the don’ts and the good times are there to be had. Buy yourself a one-way ticket because once you’ve had a taste of the Far East it will be a very long time before you’ll even contemplate coming back.