What are the differences between Hong Kong and Blighty? My observations thus far.

Being a former colony, Hong Kong shares a lot of traits with Blighty. For example, everyone drives on the correct side of the road. All the road signage looks the same and 90% of it is in English as well as Cantonese. You see the same kind of shops here (e.g. M&S, H&M, Forever 21, Clarks, The Body Shop and so on). Despite the similarities, there are, obviously, massive differences. This is what I have seen so far:

Space

As Hong Kong is comprised of mainly islands and bordered by China, the only real way to increase land available to Hong Kong is to A) reclaim it from the water or B) to ask China nicely for some more. Both options are quite unlikely to end happily/inexpensively. This means that everything in Hong Kong goes up. High rises are absolutely the norm here. That’s not something you see extensively in the UK. Even in major Cities, there’s a good mix of buildings on the skyline. In Hong Kong it’s just tall, taller and tallest.

The space premium also means that you will pay a lot for not much space at all. Do not have high expectations of large rooms/flats to rent in Hong Kong unless you have a really good budget. In comparison to what I had in the UK terms, I am paying (approx) 30% more for 60% less space, seriously.

Smell

Big Cities do tend to smell a little odd. This is normally because of sheer volume of people, waste and pollution. You get the occasional stinky street or corner but, on the whole, they don’t smell to horrendous. Hong Kong is an enigma smell wise. There is a funky smell assailing your nostril every second. It could be drains. It could be body odour. It could be cooked food. It could be pollution. It could be rotting fish. It could be fresh fish. It could be just about anything and it is all the time. Every breath I’ve taken outdoors here has smelled different. It’s a very strange thing to experience.

Alcohol

The price of alcohol is fairly comparable to Central London prices i.e. a print for less than £4 is a good deal. What is different are the drinks offers. Happy Hour is King in Hong Kong and special drinks nights are Queen. Happy Hour is a dying thing in the UK but here, in Hong Kong, it is alive and very well. Drinks offers you want to take advantage of (in bars and clubs) are even more rare than happy hour in the UK but in Hong Kong, they are selling what people want, cheap, and packing out the venues.

Happy Hour discounts in Hong Kong can be anything from 10% to 40% off drinks which makes drinking really rather cheap. There’s also a good selection of happy hour offers. If you fancied cocktails you might be able to pick up 2 for 1 deals somewhere rather than getting 20% off the price of each drink. You can shop around venues not only for preferred beverage but also for most applicable happy hour deal.

Drinks offers are completely insane in Hong Kong. There is a place which will sell for bottles of Corona for HK$10 on a Friday night in Wan Chai (that about 85p). Other places will be offering shots of tequila for HK$15 or Jaeger bombs for HK$30. It’s all a bit crazy and makes for a lot of very drunk people falling around places.

Something else, which I love, is that on certain nights of the week, ladies can drink for free. These are locally called the ‘ladies night’. Wan Chai tends to have its ladies night on a Wednesday. Lan Kwai Fong happens on a Thursday. Never in the UK would you get something like a ladies night. It just would not happen! I’m enjoying it rather a lot.

The ‘Red Light District’

It may have been naive of me but I expected the ‘red light’ type activity in Hong Kong to be a little discreet as you tend to see in England. I was, oh, so wrong!

You cannot turn a corner in any ‘party’ area without seeing women outside strip joints trying to tempt punters inside. You also get an abundance of obviously working girls on the street and grinding against poles (decide which kind yourself) in clubs. This just is not how it goes in the UK. In England, if you ask, people can tell you where to go for these things but in Hong Kong, it’s completely in your face 100% of the time. Personally, I am finding it very hard to adapt to and extremely tasteless. The worst thing, for me, is seeing girls being bundled into taxis by drunk men at the end of the night. It makes my stomach turn and my lip twitch.

Food

I was obviously expecting a massively different eating experience in Hong Kong. I have been given one.

Firstly, no domestic kitchens seem to have an oven. Only electric induction hobs or gas burners unless you are extra rich with a good amount of space to spare.

My main joy is that I invested time in mastering chopstick use in the UK before I had to embarrass myself in front of locals here. You can see/hear them sniggering if you ask for a fork. You will feel shame.

There are aspects of food shopping which have made me raise an eyebrow. These have been mainly the markets. There’s not a lot of places in the UK where you can see a fish get smacked on the head, chopped up and put into a carrier bag inside 2 minutes or an entire chicken (head and feet attached) roasting in a window.

I have been appalled by the quality of food on offer in the supermarkets here. Food is regularly rotten and disgusting. I am basically not bothering with them. All my fresh food comes from markets. When I do go to the supermarket (ParknShop mainly), it’s for frozen dumplings or milk.

That’s another thing! Dairy here is massively expensive and of a poor quality. It’s mostly imported and not fresh milk. I yearn for a fresh pint of skimmed milk from a British farm. It makes me want to send messages home to England which say

“PAY MORE FOR YOUR MILK YOU TIGHT BEGGARS. YOU DON’T KNOW HOW NICE IT IS. PAY FARMERS FAIRLY FOR THE MAGIC NECTAR THEY SEND OUT FROM UNDER THE RAINBOW”.

Baked goods here are all sweet. Savoury bread, is sweet. It’s the oddest thing! Also, they cook fillings into bread here. They will put a hot dog sausage in uncooked bread and cook it with the bread. Or ham and egg cooked inside the bread. Sweet bread at that! Very strange but pretty tasty.

Overall, I am uttely in love with the food here in Hong Kong. I’m probably going to poison myself with street food before long.

That’s all I have for now readers but I’m sure there will be more.

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Hong Kong, you say? No problem, says I.

I’ve been in Hong Kong for a week, almost exactly. In that time, I have been very busy doing the following things:

Sightseeing

I haven’t seen many sights but the ones I have are worth mentioning, I think. In my seven days, I have managed to go to the Avenue of Stars and the beach at Shek O.

The Avenue of Stars is basically Hong Kong’s answer to Hollywood Boulevard except I think the view from the Avenue of Stars is better. The street runs right next to the mass of water which overlooks Hong Kong Island. It makes for a rather pretty photo

There are many paving stones with famous Chinese actors and directors hand prints. I spotted John Woo, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and Bruce Lee among many other people I have never heard of. It was a fun walk. Whilst we were there, a Junk boat sailed past. They really are interesting bits of kit (and I hear you can party on one every Friday night which is something I will be looking into, naturally).

The avenue is easy to reach from Tsim Sha Tsui station and provides a great view for the daily light show put on from Hong Kong Island at 8pm.

The beach at Shek O was a complete surprise. One moment we were arranging coffee with people, the next, we’re waiting for a bus to take us to the beach. It was truly a fantastic surprise. You exit the MTR at Shau Kei Wan on the island line, board the number 9 bus and, Bob’s your uncle, there a beach!

Meandering around the beach, we spotted an area to the far left which seemed more crowded and vibrant than the sun bathers so we went to investigate. What we found is that you can hire a BBQ and cook your own feast on the beach at Shek O. It’s actually one of the best things I’ve seen for ages! You, of course, have you standard shops peddling food, ice cream, drinks etc but to be able to invite a tonne of friends and make a day out of it with a hired BBQ is, basically, genius. BBQing at Shek O beach has made it onto the list of ‘things to do’.

We were totally unprepared to hit he waves and, as such, sat looking at the sea for most of the afternoon. I did find time for a little paddle though.

Job Hunting

I began my job hunt before I left the UK but it was completely fruitless. I had read on many expat forums that getting a work visa once you have arrived in Hong Kong is no real issue so I decided that’s the method I would follow once I was here. Basically, to get a working visa in Hong Kong, you have to have a job offer from an employer who is willing to ‘sponsor’ you. This ‘sponsorship’ allows you to work legally in Hong Kong whilst you are employed by your sponsor. Your visa can be transferred to a different employer once you have been sponsored for the first time, but that initial sponsorship is the killer. Once you have your working visa, you can apply for an all important HKID card. This card opens up doors to bank accounts and all manner of other joyous and essential things in day to day life. That’s why I was worried about getting sponsored. No sponsorship = no life in Hong Kong.

I’d been looking on various websites (recruit.net, jobsdb.com, ctgoodjobs.hk are a few) for Native English Speaking Teachers (NETs) and an awful lot of vacancies listed a valid Hong Kong working visa as a requirement for the post. This made my already jittery self even more unnerved. Anyway, I ploughed on and applied for all the jobs I was eligible for.

I needn’t have worried as my whiter than white face coupled with my neutral(ish) English accent meant I was a safe bet as an English teacher.

I put in about half a dozen applications and had two interviews scheduled within twenty-four hours. My first interview was six days after I landed in Hong Kong. I was offered the job on the spot. I accepted the next day. That meant I had been unemployed in Hong Kong for a princely seven days. I am now an English teacher for 4, 5 and 6 year olds. Hoorah!

Flat Hunting

Space is a premium in any City but in Hong Kong, it’s amplified. The space gets even tighter when you look at Hong Kong Island. being an island, there’s not a lot can be done to increase land mass (aside from pulling a Dubai and throwing money at it until something sticks i.e. ‘The Palm’). This means that not a lot of space costs you a great deal of money.

Ideally, we wanted to be in the same apartment but renting separate rooms so, if one of us changed jobs and needed to relocate, we weren’t locked into a flat for a long term rent. Looking for rooms to rent in Hong Kong is easy. Finding rooms to rent that aren’t a massive sack of c**p is an entirely different thing.

We knew that, geographically, we wanted to be on Hong Kong Island proper because, if you’re living in Hong Kong, you may as well go the whole hog, right? We knew that, budget wise, we did not have the funds or means for anywhere ‘nice’. We knew, from experience, that wherever I live is always clean so that wasn’t really a massive issue. We also knew that finding a place which had an oven, or even a proper kitchen, would be next to impossible (it’s all hot plates and microwaves here). With these criteria in mind, we set about the hunt.

The websites we used included gumtree.hk, asiaxpat.com, hongkonghomes.com and easyroommate.com.hk. Of all the sites, it was easyroommate.com.hk that came up trumps. Gumtree provided the (expected) scams, asiaxpat was too pricey and hongkonghomes.com was all agencies (tonnes of deposit and long tenancy agreements). Easyroommate lets you find either a place to live or roomates to move into your apartment. I used the equivalent site in the UK for London room with great success.

On the day of my interview, we got a call asking us to come see some flats on that evening. We were happy to do so. We saw two places in Wan Chai and two places in Causeway Bay. The first place in Wan Chai was light, airy and with all mod cons (even a tumble dryer). We liked it. The second place in Wan Chai had no living room and only one room had any natural light. We thought it was ok. The first place in Causeway Bay was unreal. There were two ‘bathrooms’. What there actually was were two rooms with toilets and hand basins in. We were thinking ‘where’s the shower?!’. Well, we spotted it. There was a shower head propped on taps which protruded from the wall. Just a shower head. No tray. No shower holder. No proper drain. Nothing. There was a hole in the wall behind the toilet which I presume was for drainage but I didn’t bother asking. I wasn’t interested. The last place in Causeway Bay was just tiny and awful.

The first place in Wan Chai which was within our budget, not a horror story and in a decent building so we haggled down the monthly rent and took both vacant rooms in it. We can now stagger home from Ladies night (free drink in each bar in Wan Chai for a girl) every Wednesday. Winners.