I thought that some of you might be interested to know what my life in Hong Kong is actually like, on a day-to-day basis. Maybe you’ve never lived abroad, or are interested in living in Hong Kong yourself. Or maybe you’re just a bit nosey. Anyway, I thought I’d give you a little bit of an insight into Hong Kong life for this expat.
First of all I have to warn you, this isn’t going to be all that interesting reading! Life here really isn’t that exotic. I’ve said it before, Hong Kong is a pretty easy city for an expat to live in. In fact, if you really wanted to, you could live a very similar lifestyle here to the one you were living before (assuming you came from a developed western country) – but then, why would you be living in Hong Kong?
Anyway, back to the way that I live in particular. Firstly, I live in a fairly small apartment on a fairly high floor of an apartment block with my husband and two one-year-old twins. This is very common in Hong Kong. Almost everyone (bar the super-rich or those who live way out in the depths of the New Territories) lives in an apartment and not a house. Hong Kong is a bit tight on space and boasts some of the most densely populated areas in the world. Rents are very expensive pretty much everywhere (again, barring the most remote areas) and homes are small. Coming from the UK, this was quite jarring to us initially, but we’re used to it now. Our apartment is about 750 sqft (approx. 70 sq metres), which I think is above average here. The (two) bedrooms and kitchen are tiny, which is also par for the course here, but we have a large, square living room (the main reason for our choice of apartment) which fits most of our belongings and allows the twins room to play and run around a little.
We live on an estate with many almost-identical tower blocks. I used to think these estates looked really soulless but it’s really nicely kept and has great facilities, including indoor and outdoor pools, a children’s playroom and many outdoor playgrounds. There are lots of places for the twins to run around, and lots of other families here to play with.
Nearby, there are shops, restaurants, playgrounds and other facilities. One of the good things about everyone being so closely packed in together is that you don’t have to go very far for anything! We live in an area of Kowloon called Hung Hom. I think it’s quite a good area for an expat to live in because there are lots of western-style shops and restaurants, but also some really ‘local’ areas as well. It enables me to go into a western-style shop with something in mind, and normally be able to get it. But it also enables me to explore the Hong Kong culture and see how the locals live and eat. And in some cases, I find it easier to go to more ‘local’ shops to buy things because I can see that they are well stocked with the type of thing I am after, and the shopkeepers are usually very helpful (assuming you can make yourself understood – the language barrier can be a bit tricky sometimes!). I’ve mentioned before (here) that shopping in Hong Kong can be quite a frustrating experience as it isn’t always easy to know where to buy things. But after living here for a while I now know where most things can be found, or at least where I can try and look – or if not, then I have friends who I can ask. Beyond that, you can’t beat having a wander around your local area, you never know what you might find!
We do most of our food shopping at the local Park N Shop. This supermarket has a wide range of food from the more unusual local-style foods to western brands from the UK, US, France and Australia. We buy Waitrose cereal to eat for breakfast! Since having the twins we eat in most nights, so we cook for ourselves a lot. It’s quite easy to find the ingredients for most of our favourite western style recipes, and obviously it’s very easy to find Asian style ingredients, so we eat quite a lot of that too.
Many expats who don’t have children really don’t cook for themselves much. This is also true of the younger generation of locals. The tiny, poorly equipped kitchens in most apartments here don’t lend themselves to people staying in and cooking, and many restaurants (especially Asian style) are quite cheap so it is affordable to do so. We ate out a lot more before we had children! But even now, we like to eat out from time to time. When we have the twins with us, we try to choose more mainstream restaurants which will have baby chairs and food that the twins can eat (neither of which is guaranteed). But it’s a large part of local culture, so it’s definitely good to try new restaurants and new food on a regular basis!
So what do we do with our days? I doubt my days are particularly different from most western stay-at-home mums. I look after the twins during the week while Tom is at work, so we fill our days with trips to the park, playdates and playgroups. During the summer, it’s too hot to spend much time outside so another option for us (which is different to the UK) is that we can use the playroom in our estate’s clubhouse. It’s not a particularly exciting room, but it has a couple of climbing frames and it provides the twins with a bigger space to run around than they have in our apartment.
When we travel to playgroups or playdates, we mostly use public transport, which is plentiful and cheap. The public transport options include the MTR (underground rail), buses and green minibuses. If I’m on my own with the twins then I mainly use buses since you can’t really get a stroller on a minibus, and the MTR isn’t that convenient for us. (I wrote a previous post about travelling with the twins here) The buses are quite convenient although you often have to walk a little way to a bus stop, wait a bit for a bus, sit in traffic on the bus, get off and walk another bit to your destination. If it’s just too much hassle, I’ll take a taxi. They are everywhere so it’s not normally difficult to flag one down, and compared to the UK they are incredibly inexpensive – the minimum fare is HK$22 (about £1.80), and a 15 minute journey will usually cost me about HK$70 (about £6) which is the farthest I generally need to go.
My husband works in Wanchai so he has a number of options for his daily commute, but he usually uses the combination of the MTR and a bus. It takes him about half an hour to get to work in the mornings (he leaves at 7.30am, which is before it starts to get busy) and about 45 minutes to come home. He’s a structural engineer, working for a British company which has an office in Hong Kong. The business language is English, so it was very easy for him to transfer over to Hong Kong and get to work straight away. He finds the work in Hong Kong really interesting (lots of big, complicated buildings are being constructed here) but the local bureaucracy and tight deadlines can be quite frustrating.
We like to get out and do things on our weekends, although during the summer it’s too hot to do too much. Our best option at the moment is to hit the pool, which is very refreshing in the heat. Or you can go to the beach, or do an indoor activity such as the Hong Kong Museum of History. Or failing that, join the locals and go shopping and eat food! Earlier in the year when it was cooler we did excursions like strawberry picking or a trip to the Hong Kong Wetland Park. There are so many things that we want to do once it cools down again (probably in October)! We plan to go hiking (short, gentle hikes with the twins!), visit islands and investigate more of Hong Kong’s parks. And eat lots of dim sum (but that’s year-round activity).
So there you have it, my life in Hong Kong. It’s a nice place to live – it’s very safe and clean, for a start. And there are lots of fun things to see and do. But mostly, it’s just similar to life in many large cities!
Thanks for reading!