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Home Living in China Foreigners in China Foreigners in China Yeah, go ahead - you can call me a Hongkie
Yeah, go ahead - you can call me a Hongkie
Foreigners in China
To keep an open mind and to get to know people are some tips that American expat Gary dispenses to those planning to move to Hong Kong. Gary, a writer, also shares his observations and thoughts on various aspects of life in Hong Kong, where for him every day is an adventure.

-Where were you born?
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA (But raised in Chicago, Illinois)

-In which country and city are you living now?
I live in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I moved here with my wife and three darling Sea Monkeys. Sadly, it's just me and the wife now.

-How long have you been living in Hong Kong?
We moved here just three months ago and each day since (even the boring ones) has been more of an adventure than I would have experienced in a year back in the U.S.

-What is your age?
40

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Hong Kong?
My wife finished her MBA in the US and was immediately offered a job in the financial sector by a company that has an office here in Hong Kong. We didn't really have to discuss it long, for two reasons. First, she is a Chinese national from Shanghai and would therefore be much closer to her family if she moved to Hong Kong. Secondly, I have always had a wanderlust and a desire to explore new people, places and cultures so I had my suitcase packed before she'd finished the question.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
It wasn't hard at all for her. The company she works for filled out the paperwork and paid the costs. When the times comes, her company will assist me with that as well. Currently I don't have a working visa- mainly because trying to find a job here would be quite difficult without fluency in speaking the language. With that in mind, I have been spending alot of time learning Mandarin.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
We actually had to wait three months for health care and we were so busy we didn't even think to extend insurance for a few months. I wouldn't recommend it for others but it worked out okay for us. *Cough*

-How do you make your living in Hong Kong? Do you have any type of income generated?
My wife's is the only income at the moment as I currently don't work for anyone but myself. And even with that, on any given day I still leave myself messages to say that I'm not feeling well and won't be in to work. When I do manage to show up, I spend most of my time writing stories and articles for freelance submission as well as working on a novel.

-Do you speak Chinese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Here in Hong Kong most people speak Cantonese. I opted not to learn Cantonese because, in the grander scheme of things, it is not as prevalent a language as Mandarin is. Mandarin is the standard language that most people - no matter where you are in China - can understand. For example, if you know Mandarin here in Hong Kong you can usually get people who speak Cantonese to understand at least some of what you're saying but the reverse is not true.

If someone is coming to Hong Kong and plans on being here for, say, longers than five years, they might be better served to learn Cantonese.

If you have trouble distinguishing between the two languages initially, don't worry. Just close your eyes and the one that sounds ridiculously comical is Cantonese.

In regard to local customs, there are many that may take some time for a westerner to warm up to. For example, it is not uncommon for people to chew their food and slurp their soup very loudly. It is also common for locals to burp loud enough to peel paint off the walls. You get accustomed to it.

People are perceived as rude here but it's not a personal thing. It's just societal and only in certain situations. Grocery shopping and trains immediately spring to mind. For example, if you want to board a train at rush hour you should probably wear padded clothing and something sharp and spiky on your elbows so you can compete.

Also, watch out for the pointed tips of umbrellas out in the street as you'll be doing alot of "umbrella dodging"- even on sunny, rainless days.

Finally, foreigners should always research local customs as thoroughly as possible and then make every attempt to honor them. That said, there are some things I won't do - one of which is to eat chicken's feet.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Of course I miss my family and friends and Holidays are obviously more difficult than other times. Still, I keep a blog about my experiences here that helps them to keep in touch with me and what I'm up to. I've made it as interactive as possible so that they can put their thoughts on it as well. That, combined with the miracle of "Skype" serves to mitigate the homesickness.

There are other things that I miss too. For example - deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati's Pizza in my hometown of Chicago. Because, seriously, the pizza here in Hong Kong is no more than a cry for help in the shape of a circle.

For recreation here, I spend a lot of time wandering the hills, back-street neighborhoods and beaches. I bought a couple of hiking guides that have been really useful.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
We will be doing alot of traveling throughout Asia in the next several years. She for work and me because I'll be tagging along to get more material for a humorous Asian travel guide that I've begun to write.

In the meantime I will be spending a lot of time learning to speak Mandarin fluently, exploring Hong Kong, watching BitTorrents of American television shows that I've downloaded and poking holes in the absurdity of life in my writing.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
At the moment we're renting but we may buy something in the next year or so. It's tough to find a good apartment in Hong Kong but we did very, very well in finding a nice place at a good price. We have a two-bedroom apartment (Hong Kong sized bedrooms, that is) which is about 800 square feet or so. As I say, we got a deal but if we were to sublet the place it would probably cost another renter HK $24,000 / month. That's about US $3,100 / month.

-What is the cost of living in Hong Kong?
It depends on what you are willing to live with. If you want to shop in Western style, expat-oriented grocery stores you're going to spend an alarming amount of cash. If you're willing to shop at more local-friendly, Asian-centric places you'll spend less for food and necessities.

By far, the biggest cost is housing. Next, if you have a car, it's going to try to break your bank account as insurance, gas and parking are astronomical.

On the other hand, Hong Kong is a shopper's paradise so clothing, housewares and electronics are much cheaper than in the west.

All of that said, if I had to compare it to somewhere else that I know, I'd say it's comparable to New York City.

-What do you think about the locals?
People are people, yeah? So some locals can be rude and others can be very helpful. Just like anywhere else in the world.

In point of fact, many more courtesies are extended to westerners than locals. That's because Hong Kong is the most unabashedly materialistic place on the face of the earth and respect is afforded based upon what people think you're worth. Said another way, money talks. If you're a western expat they think you've got cash and you're treated better.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Hong Kong?
Positive: The safety afforded by an ultra-low violent crime rate, best, cleanest and most efficient mass transit I've ever seen, everything is within walking distance, there's a lot of great places to hike here that have been untouched by "progress", the art (and taste) of dim sum, it's close to other Asian travel destinations

Negative: Sidewalks crowded, streets congested, the haze of years of uninhibited pollution, the deplorable way that other Asian immigrants (particularly Filipina domestic helpers) are treated, the hawkers and touts standing on sidewalks and corners everywhere trying to hand you advertising or get you to buy a cheap watch

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Hong Kong?
Keep an open mind and don't hole yourself up in an expat cocoon. That's easy to do here and I've even caught myself doing it on occasion. The people here are like anywhere else so go out and get to know some.

Also, stay away from the Stinky Tofu, Durian fruit or the 1,000 year old eggs unless you're extraordinarily adventurous. Or insane.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Hong Kong?
http://kungfuchewy.blogspot.com. This is the blog that I started on day one of living here. In it I (try to) wax humorous about my experiences here. It's not ABOUT Hong Kong per se, but I do spend a fair amount of time showing what it's like for an expat to live here.

http://www.geoexpat.com. For information on being an expat here in Hong Kong. This is the expat site here. Also has forums for people to network, etc.

(Source: Expat Interviews)


 

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