Two weeks ago, after a teary goodbye to Mama C and my little FluffyBum (also known as my cat, Matilda), a rather wonderful, though confusingly emotional (excited, sad, happy, nervous) I landed in Hong Kong with a suitcase, a large backpack, a small backpack, a carry on cabin case, an acoustic guitar, and a handbag. Oh, and another bag with my jackets and hoodies in.
Worried about how I’d get it all to my friends flat I was surprised at my own strength and balancing skills, and also incredibly grateful for being met by her friend at the train station to get a cab to her place in Central.
So, first afternoon back in Hong Kong.. rest and relaxation? Ha! Not me. I headed off to Causeway Bay to meet my friend and some estate agents to look at flats. Flats in HK are small. Even the use of the word flat (apartment) is pushing it. The kind of ‘flat’ I was looking at was a flat that’s divided into smaller studios. In HK real estate listings show two measurements – the saleable area and the gross area. The latter includes the size of your home as well as common areas, any bay windows and external facilities (roof, a/c plant room)… so totally irrelevant to me.
I was expecting not much for a lot, and that’s what I saw. Liveable, but cramped. Until the last studio. Unlike the rest it was actually bigger than it looked in the pictures. Still not cheap (HK rent is more expensive than London), but less than I expected to pay initially. The area was in Tin Hau, 10 mins walk through Victoria Park from Causeway Bay, where I was initially looking. It’s about 30 seconds walk from the MTR – which in HK is pretty incredible. A 5 minute walk to the MTR here can take anywhere between 5 mins (at 6am) or 15mins – dependent on how many metal fences there are in your way, red lights you must adhere to (you get fined for jay walking here) and the fact that there are SO many people, but everyone just shuffles along slowly.
It’s still small, apparently, my brain is still wired to expected so much less and I think it’s huge. But, to most people standards, I suppose it is a small studio, one perfect for me. I have a desk, large cupboard, a bathroom that is not a wet room (when you shower over/right next to your toilet), a little sofa, even a coffee table. Who would have thought I could have a coffee table! And just to keep it in line with the randomness of Hong Kong interior decorating (some of the teeny tiny rooms have chandeliers) incredibly pointless floor lighting on a step under the bed. (Update: I have come to LOVE my floor light. Sadly, I also bounced a 6kg weight onto it off the bed doing morning exercises, and of course it smashed..) The apartment block is on a fairly wide road, and as I have a huge window I get daylight, and can even see sky… I like to say hello to all my hundreds of neighbours that can see into my flat when the curtains are open. I hope they enjoyed my moving in day unpacking-dance.
The park too, is actually, just wonderful. It has a jogging track which, though only 700m is 700m of glorious running space! You cannot just run in HK. Imagine deciding to go for a run in Piccadilly Circus and that’s most of the city centres streets. This track is surrounded by trees and has multiple areas off the track with monkey bars, rails and even weight machines. My first run there was at 6pm, 32*C and, as you can see, I pretty much melted. But, if I wish, I can cool off at the newly refurbished public swimming pool right beside the park.
Walking out of my building I have a sports shop on my right, and a toy shop on my left – the equivalent of the local Sports Direct & Toys R’ Us I visited frequently in London. To make sending presents to the nieces and nephews just so insanely easy, the post office is a further.. one minute walk. A couple of minutes more I have a local cheaper supermarket for most of my basics, and for my treats of vegan ice cream, yogurt (£4 a tub…) & n/a beer – there’s a fancier one too. But best of all, there is the wet market – blocks of freshly made tofu for 35p each (UK equivalent £2.80) and all the cheap green asian vegetables I could desire.
The area has everything you need, but is less chaotic and cheaper than ten minutes walk away in Causeway Bay. It’s less busy, and more cute – what more could I ask for? So, almost immediately I put in an offer and arranged a meeting the next day to sign the paperwork. Not bad for my first evening… which was then finished prepping for an interview the following day, 15 minutes walk from my new place.
Smartened up, tattoos covered, piercings out, prepped with answers I headed into the Language Centre. After about 20 minutes they asked when I could start. ‘Next week’ I responded. ‘Hmm, how about tomorrow?’ They asked. So after a further chat, I agreed to work on the Friday and have the following week off. I signed a contract and headed on my way to sign for my flat.
24 hours – flat: done, job: done.
The next day was rather interesting. In that way only the English use interesting… thrown in at the deep end, but came out unharmed and I was glad to have some idea what I had taken on rather than being nervous of the unknown for the next week.
I spent the following week moving in to my new flat, buying all the little bits and pieces needed from JHC (Japan Home Centre – they are EVERYWHERE) Ikea, and all the wonderful cheap and friendly domestic home-store shops that are also everywhere, including a cooker that only uses certain types of pans, of course not the ones I had, so am making do with this stupid tin piece of crap it came with, that is making all my food burnt.
Thanks to some incredibly generous new friends I was given much of the stuff you don’t want to HAVE to buy (duvets, towels, cutlery, crockery) and within a few hours my flat, according to everyone I sent videos too, looked like it had been lived in for months. When I caught myself thinking ‘ahh, home’ walking through the door the other day, I smiled hugely to myself. There it is. That moment.
Despite the rather negative weather forecast predicting thunderstorms every day, it’s generally been pretty hot, dry and sunny and so I’ve been down the beach a few times; obviously. Repulse Bay Beach, where I grew up has taken second place to the quieter beach next door at Deep Water Bay. I ran between the two – only 1.5km each way, but at 1pm in 34*C that was no easy feat! Watching and hearing the excitement of the busloads of tourists from mainland China putting their feet in the water is quite fun, for a little while, but swimming from one side of the bay to the other, lying for an hour on the floating pontoon watching the jumping fish, in tranquil surroundings. Can’t beat that. Unless it’s a weekend – then the tranquility turns to a sound mush of high pitched giggles during endless group photo sessions, portable amps’s blasting out music to practice dance routines, and a few gospel songs sporadically being sung.
My favourite ‘did you know?’ about HK (and no one who isn’t from HK ever does) is that 75% of it is countryside. There are 24 country parks spread over 261 islands. Yup. Not just all skyscrapers and shops. It’s a beautiful place to visit. Hiking, kayaking, swimming have always been really big here. What has surprised me though, is how much more space and money has been dedicated to fitness and public parks in the urban areas. Saturday night strolling along the reclaimed land, which I’m sure I moaned about at the time of development, was quite a breathtaking experience. Tamar and Sun Yat Sen Park are hubs of social and physical activities as well as hosting many outdoor events and festivals. The Maritime Museum was even hosting an exhibition on Shark conservation. Welcome Home Weeze!
I spent last Sunday morning joining in a ‘Sunday Shred’ class at Tamar Park, sweating buckets in the 32*C heat, but still able to appreciate my epic surroundings. I even went Scuba Diving in Sai Kung on Monday, and it was wonderful! You can read about that HERE.
Hong Kong, to me, truly is a magical city. It’s full of contrasts in all areas, the natural and urban environment the old history up against the modern. There is the very uncomfortable rich and poor divide, (which I’ll leave out for now) but beyond that there is a different contrast of the expensive and the cheap, which seem to live alongside each other harmoniously. Personally I’d prefer eating at a cheap local veggie restaurant than a fancy Pacific Place one, and buying from the local homeware store, but that’s just me. And being Hong Kong, there’s something for all the tastes and all the budgets. (Again – not talking about living/rent)
I find Hong Kong to be an incredibly friendly city. I try to walk around with a smile on my face, and tend to be greeted back with one. Or a stare. And then I just smile harder! Perhaps if I understood Cantonese (yes, I plan to work on this) I might think differently. You get used to the staring, occasional pointing, and obvious comments directed at you, but whatever, I’m a blonde, busty, tattooed tall* woman. It’s cool, I look different. I find shopkeepers willing and helpful. Friends of friends are always incredibly welcoming. Generally conversing with people here, whether we can speak the same language or not, is pretty chilled and easy.
(*for here. I finally worked out why I think I’m taller than I am… On the first few days I kept bashing my head on the dangling hand holders on the MTR!)
I love my walk to work. Looking at the brightly painted buildings alongside the crumbling grey ones. Whatever the weather the sky always looks so dramatic. The bustle of people rushing by clutching Starbucks or freshly squeezed fruit-juices from pavement stalls. I love walking past the shops selling everything you could need, at 8:30am. The sounds, the smells, the muggy warmth. It’s all so familiar, but I see everything with new eyes and a fresh appreciation of the wonders of this place.
I was told to join the ‘meet up’ app, so I did… thinking it would be all about boozy singleton get togethers. I was wrong! Thanks to it, I’m spending this Sunday on a Kayak course in Lamma, soon I hope to be walking around the old abandoned Hakka villages on a guided tour in the New Territories, I can go help out at local animal rescue centres, meet squash buddies, be told of the new comedy nights… There are even regular vegan meet ups. The music scene is small, but there is one, and I’m excited to be more a part of it and check out the local and asian bands. I’ve already been to a show in a local craft brewery… in a warehouse on an industrial estate in West Kowloon. In London, heading to an equivalent place would make me feel nervous, but here I always feel safe. I bumped into old friends of course. It’s HK…
I was a little concerned about being Vegan here, but I joined a facebook group that opened my eyes to a huge world of vegetarian/veganism I had no idea existed, or unable to find due to my lack of Cantonese (in terms of both restaurants and buying goods!) I have three veggie restaurants within walking distance at work, there is a little veggie dim sum counter two minutes from my house, and countless others around Hong Kong.
Most excitedly (perhaps an overstatement, but maybe not…) there are two things in Hong Kong London severely lacks. Public toilets and water fountains. Two of my favourite things (if you know me personally, you know this is true… and really they go hand in hand.) Here, they are everywhere. And embrace the squatting toilet! It’s cleaner!
I imagine all of the above makes the move look so easy, and, in all honesty, I’ve been surprised at how incredibly everything has fitted into place – but I haven’t mentioned the anxiety, the waking at 3am wondering what the hell I’m doing moving so far from the most important people to me (both whilst in London and HK), the intense course I had to pay for and complete to be able to work here, and most importantly, just going for it, whatever the nerves, whatever the ‘rational’ thoughts. Being at home, without most of the people that made it home in the first place. Sometimes trusting my instinct, and other times just putting a smile on my face and saying ‘just see what happens Weeze!’ and doing the ol’ one foot in front of another thing. Most importantly, the unconditional support of my family and friends before and during the move. Listening to my fears, and giving me that extra lift when I needed it. After 18 years of saying, ‘one day I’ll move home,’ sat here, typing this, I’m a little in shock I actually did, and I don’t regret it one bit. I can’t wait to explore this city more, and, to show it off ❤
Finally, a HUGE shout out to one of my best, and childhood friend’s Lauren, who has acted like a Personal Assistant in all this! I can’t imagine how different this move would have been without you ❤ Muchas gracias Pina ❤
One thought on “Back to the Hong Kong homeland”
Great blog Louise! Really paints a very clear picture of what life is like so far. Delighted how it is all working out, you sound really happy. Not remotely jealous of the 30+ weather every day; no we like wet and cold…..