When you live somewhere long enough – even if you don’t like it when you first arrive – time has a way of forcing you to allow that place to grow on you. The things that used to drive you mad eventually no longer fill your heart with rage. The surroundings that you thought you’d never get used to start to feel like home. Behavior you used to find strange become normal, every day life. And with a few good friends thrown in the mix and a willingness to try, you not only survive, but thrive in your new environment.
Hong Kong has a way of doing that to people. The common joke is that we all moved to Hong Kong for a ‘two year contract’. Because few stay for only two years. Two become three, the contract gets extended, your job becomes more stable, perhaps you get a promotion, your bank account rapidly starts to fill up, you travel all over Asia and beyond… and suddenly thoughts of leaving start to fade away.
I should know — my two year contract started in 2007.
But friends are what really help you survive and make you feel comfortable. Two nights ago I said farewell (again) to my Hong Kong buddies, the friends who threw me a bachelorette party when I got engaged and a baby shower when I was preggo, the friends who met for countless happy hours after work, who hosted dinner parties, BBQs, and lazy days on the beach. The friends are what you miss the most when you leave a place.
Hong Kong is a great place to live, and work, and explore. But there are three things that my little family and I just could not get past.
1. Housing sucks. Even if as an expat you have a housing allowance. You can pay $2000 US a month in rent and still have a sucky little apartment in an old, run down, mildewed building, with bamboo poles sticking out the windows and granny’s ‘elongated panties’, as my husband likes to describe them, drying in the wind. We can never afford to own a place in Hong Kong, and even if we had millions of US (which is literally what you need), we would never waste it on these piece of shit apartments.
2. Pollution sucks. This is one thing as a West Indian I’ll never get over. I am accustomed to every day being a perfect, blue sky day. But in Hong Kong, these days are few and far between. When the sky is blue, it’s such an incredible beautiful, lush place. When the mountains have disappeared in a thick layer of haze, it’s revolting. The ocean is filthy and it’s so annoying to live by a beautiful beach where you can’t swim (or at least I can’t, but lots of people do). This is certainly not the kind of environment I want my daughter to grow up in permanently.
3. Crowds suck. My idea of hell is to be stuck in Causeway Bay on a Sunday with all of mankind going out shopping. I’d rather stick pepper-sauce dipped needles in my eyeballs. This is why we live in Mui Wo. I like riding my bike, and having lots of space, and looking out my window and seeing the procession of cows. If I had to live downtown and deal with the MTR, crowded buses, grumpy minibus drivers, and tiny sidewalks, I would either kill someone else or kill myself.
So if your environment sucks, and your accommodations suck and you can’t stand being surrounded by 10 million people stepping on your toes, why do people stay?
It’s partly because of job opportunities, and partly because of friends.
But I think it’s also because the things you used to think were weird or annoying become kind of…. endearing. Interesting. Full of character. There are feelings and sights that are uniquely Hong Kong. The chock-a-block street markets, often filthy, funky, noisy, with big bamboo baskets being hauled through the crowds, flower stalls, butcher blocks, cheap clothing, bent-back grandpas who can fix your shoes or cut your keys, old dim sum restaurants and trendy new bars, red taxis that drive too fast, granny clipping her fingernails on the bus, going up the escalator, running for a ferry, holding on for dear life on a minibus, the brash, harsh guttural bark of Cantonese where you can’t tell if the two people are shouting at each other or commenting on what a nice day it is, the fact that everything works, that people work, that it’s incredibly safe, the cheap beers from the 7-11, the freedom to do what you want and nobody seems to be bothered, the view from The Peak, the wonderful mountain hikes, the absolutely incredible sight of taking the Star Ferry from TST over to Central at night and every single time just thinking ‘Wow…. where am I? How did I end up here?’
And the list goes on.
Hong Kong is a place that takes time to get used to. And then a bit more time to actually like it. If you stay long enough, you find yourself surprised by the idea that it could be a place you stay forever.
Well, Hong Kong, it’s a fun, life changing, and certainly interesting seven years. But, our time has come to an end.
Sayonara to the smallest big city in the world. A new chapter of life begins in Okinawa, now.