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Sunday, February 6, 2011

What I Like About Hong Kong

A friend of a friend is moving to Hong Kong next month and this classmate of mine wanted me to give some tips to her friend who is moving there.  So this is what I came up with -

"The first thing she will notice immediately when she arrives there is the lack of space. Since the land area of the city is very compact, the living quarters may not be as big the ones you are used to in the US. And everyone lives in a building. Only Jacky Chan owns a house - and maybe a Li Ka Shing. I mean a house on land with a garden. Real estate there is just so expensive so everyone I know lives in a condo building. Also, the population density, especially in HK island is so high so there are people everywhere and it can be quite crowded. Of course, as you go farther from HK Island, the spaces become wider and lesser people.

Also, their English is not very good, so she has to be a bit patient. Sometimes with taxi drivers, I ask a friend to write the address in Chinese so I get there much easier. I think she should also check the hospitals just in case she has young kids. I was never sick when I was there so I never had the experience, but as I said, unless it's the doctor, their English may not be as good. Pharmacies are well-stocked though and they are not very strict with prescriptions, since I've bought medicines there which I found out to be cheaper there than in Manila! Driving is on the left hand side of the road so she might need some adjusting to that but public transportation is excellent, and there are taxis everywhere, it's never a problem to get one at any time of the day. It's also very safe, and I can walk home at midnight or at dawn and no one will disturb you. Streets are well-lighted too. I've lived mainly in the HK island though so I don't know the crime situation in the other areas but it shouldn't be bad.

It's very hot in July to September so better to have dri-fit clothes. As in the heat hits you in the face since the city is almost all concrete! There are many petit parks though and about 60% of HK is actually forested but yeah, nobody can live in those places so everyone is cramped in the 40% that's allowed for habitation. It gets cold in the -ber months until February, but I guess nothing that you are not used to in the US. People use aircons wastefully so I'm sure she might get colds when she gets there. It's very cold inside buildings but once you get out in the street, it's hot again, so the change from hot to cold, cold to hot might freak out her body system, but she should get used to it. They just really put their ACs very cold, it can be irritating!

Shopping is no problem and I'm sure she will find the groceries she can find in the US. There are many grocery stores to choose from. It's an expensive place to live though so she should put a little buffer in her food budget, etc. She can get household help too, through agencies. Filipinas and Indonesians are the more popular ones. They're very industrious and they are used to the hard-driving schedules of their clients. My cleaning lady is 100 times better than the one I have here in Manila. And she works quietly, you'd never know she was there. Very efficient. I guess because they are paid ten times more there.

There are beaches there (clean and nice) but not as fabulous as the ones in the Philippines (but of course!). I've hiked and their hiking trails are beautiful and safe! She can try to learn a little Cantonese. It's a very difficult language but if she can identify certain stuff and call them in their Cantonese name, it may make her life easier. I knew the Chinese name of my favorite foods (stored them phonetically on my cell phone), so when I order in a non-English restaurant, I just recite it. People there travel regularly, usually during Chinese New Year (everyone disappears!) so she's going to enjoy it. Everyone travels every so many months, either for work or for pleasure, since most Asian cities are just 2-6 hours away.

One bad thing though is the air pollution. When I lived there, the harbor could disappear and you're not sure whether that was smog or a fog! So, check if your friend and her family has respiratory problems and maybe have some prescriptions ready just in case allergies or asthma sets in. The pollution is caused by the factories in Shenzhen, China. There is a wind that brings all that pollution right into HK, which can be very irritating. I don't know though if it has improved now but I hope it has. There are bad days and some good days, normally after a typhoon. Yes, I've experienced strong typhoons and some areas get flooded since I lived near the harbor. They have an efficient warning system though on TV. There is a local channel in English so just tune in there if there's some weather problem. There is a rule like if it's signal something, there are no classes, etc, etc. or if it's a high signal, there is no more work. I'm sure she can ask a neighbor about it, especially during typhoon season. Not as frequent though as in the Philippines but 2 or 3 a year is normal.

There is a big expat community so making friends is very easy. I've heard getting into schools is competitive so make sure their kids already have a school to go to since local schools have Chinese and English instruction. The city may look like it does not have an outdoors scene, but you'd be surprised to find a lot of people who like to yacht, or go sunbathing or hike. If you want to ski, Korea is very popular. There is also a busy cultural scene but I think Filipinos are better singers, dancers, actors, etc. They're just more proficient. They're Chinese!!

The local HK Chinese may not seem friendly at first, usually because of the language barrier, but they're really friendly. Just don't get caught up with their addiction to brands. They measure men with the watches, cars or wallets they have. Women have it worse. Everything has to be in season - and branded! Shopping is their national past time! My girl friends always buy something new every week, it's crazy!"

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