Our latest guest blogger, Drew McNeill, fills us in on his experiences of beginning life in The Fragrant Harbour.
|Image source: Creative Common/Trodel|
Memories are often lost; some become less black and white, perhaps more a shade of grey. But others are forever etched in your mind, so that you can remember the faintest details with such precision it still manages to take your breath away. My first sight of Hong Kong Island - 20,000 feet up in the air and with a little cloud coverage to exaggerate the magical array of blazing lights shining from the most beautiful forest of skyscrapers – well, that is a moment I can’t forget.
I had it lucky—I had a best friend already living in Hong Kong and making friends becomes much easier when you have a connection. Connections, though, are where expats have the upper-hand over tourists. Expats have work colleagues and as expat communities which allow them to meet and start spending time with people immediately. Expats in Hong Kong are no different - they all want to make more friends. On top of this, my colleague (who became a very dear friend who I miss terribly now that I’m back in the UK) gave me her apartment for 6 weeks because she wasn’t using it at the time. I’d struck gold.
After only one day on South Bay Beach to recuperate after my flight, I had my first day in the office (having found a job before setting out). Air-conditioning in your apartment is essential for most of the year; on my first day at work I had it on arctic cold, put on my suit and left the apartment to a wall of heat and humidity. A three minute walk outside is all it took to realise why everyone looked as though they had had a full workout at the gym—it was just the effect of a brief walk outside at the mercy of the elements.
I arrived at the office to meet my boss and colleagues for the first time. The women on reception took pity on me as I was drenched thanks to the humidity and my boss simply laughed while informing me “you’ll get used to it.” Be warned…it gets very hot and humid!
The underground train system called the MTR is one of the most efficient and cheapest in the world, and the city travel card can be used nearly everywhere from fast food restaurants to local newsagents. Most interchanges between different underground lines have you coming off a train to get straight on the next one. Even if you do have to walk a little to get to the train you need, all signage is very well positioned to make your journey as smooth as possible.
My first week was packed full of activities outside of work. I recommend taking the Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central Pier; it’s only a 10 minute journey but the view of the cityscape from Victoria Harbour is one of the most mesmerising sights to behold. Do this trip twice, once during the day and once at night. Both are spectacular. For New Year’s Eve (and nearly every Sunday), we hired a junk boat with our own captain and staff to provide the ultimate Victoria Harbour party—the fair price means these boat trips are not reserved for the fabulously wealthy!
West East fusion
Hong Kong is an astounding blend of the Orient and the West. The two collide with an undeniably insatiable result. You can enjoy the western restaurants in Soho or the dim sum houses in Tsim Sha Tsui. You can spend a day at Ocean Park and enjoy rollercoasters with views all over the island as well as the South China Sea.
To step back in time, take a trip to Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island, home to the Tanka people, where you’ll see an ancient Chinese form of life with houses on stilts over the water and little sampan boats to take you out on the water to see Hong Kong’s playful pink dolphins.
This city offered me an opportunity to grow. I learnt about a culture I knew nothing about, I made friends from far flung places and my eyes are now open to what the world can offer. Hong Kong is a great place for expats starting out for the very first time or for the veterans among us.
Gong Hei Fat Choi (May you have much joy and wealth)!
Have you experienced life in The Fragrant Harbour? Share your hints and tips here with other expats: https://expatexplorer.hsbc.com/hintsandtips/
About the author
Drew started his career in Hong Kong as a business journalist reporting on all things HR and corporate strategy and has recently moved to London to continue his career in communications. He spends his free time travelling and is partial to a blockbuster at the cinema. You can find out more about Drew here and connect with him on Twitter by following @12just3drewit.