Nestled right next to the Chinese mother country, Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the Asian superpower; however, living here is a world away from the mainland. A financial powerhouse and, thanks to its British Heritage, a perfect fusion of East and West, expats will find Hong Kong is a fast-paced city where Monday to Friday can pass in a blur of activity.
A week in the life of an expat in Hong Kong
5h45am – Morning mountaineering
The alarm goes off, and it’s time to get up and climb over my sleeping husband. Since Hong Kong bedrooms are so small, normally the bed is built in to the window, meaning there is only one way to get out – and for me that means mountaineering over him before I am fully conscious.
I grab my gym bag and head out into the first light. It’s not that I’m so much of a morning person, it’s just that there is simply no other time for me to get to the gym. I am on foot, and I make it downstairs to the MTR station and board the waiting train; clean, on time, and beautifully efficient, the Hong Kong commute is a world away from the uncivilised London scramble I was formally used to.
Noon – Usual lunchtime suspects
I was at my desk just before 8am, and lunch time has arrived before I know it. I take 10 minutes to run downstairs and grab a sandwich from Pret and another Starbucks coffee - home comforts that I am very pleased to have here in Hong Kong.
7h30pm – Small luxuries
The busy day continues, and it’s 7.30pm before I can even think about leaving the office. Home by about 8.15pm, since my trains are NEVER late.
It’s always a joy to walk through the door since my domestic cleaner has come, and the flat is immaculate. Hong Kong has enabled us to hire a full-time helper, which is a massive lifestyle improvement, and quite frankly, something I am petrified about having to live without again one day.
5h45am – Skyscraper-enveloping smog
Another early morning, and I peek out of the window to see what the weather is doing. What should be lovely bright sunshine is clouded in thick smog that obscures the waterside view I have from my 59th-floor apartment. The pollution here is really bad, and it only feels like it’s getting worse.
As I make my way down to the MTR this morning I pass a group of elderly Chinese people calmly practising Thai Chi.
Noon – Soup, soup – it’s good for the soul
For lunch some girls in the office order-in; there is no end to the choice of food you can have delivered in Hong Kong. For ridiculously cheap prices someone will come right to your desk and drop off rice, noodles, delicious chicken and pork dishes and pretty much anything else you want. You can also have homemade Chinese soup delivered in a thermos flask, and the delivering company will return the next day to pick-up your empty flask.
Soup is very important to the local people for its believed health benefits. Different soups are good to help with different ailments, some to make you hot inside and some to make you cool, some to help lungs, heart, etc. Chinese herbal medicine is a world that I don’t yet fully understand, but is nonetheless a discipline taken very seriously. Essentially, daily soup is very important.
8pm – Pub trivia for newcomers
On Tuesdays my husband and I try to get away from work to meet our friends at a pub quiz over in Tsim Sha Tsiu. We take the Star Ferry across the water to relax and enjoy the best view Hong Kong has to offer. For about 2.50 HKD (next to nothing in any currency) we can spend a few minutes sailing from one side of Victoria Harbour to the other, and can be dazzled by the Hong Kong skyscape. The Star Ferry is one of Hong Kong’s heroes, and continues to chug back and forth, helping to keep Hong Kong moving as it has done for more than 100 years.
The pub quiz is a great way to feel right at home, and the venue is a place where we have met many friendly expats. Some people you meet and never see again, and some become friends forever. Top tips, places to go, things to do and ways to save money are constantly discussed, and also everyone here is good at looking after newcomers. If you are a new expat to Hong Kong you will find that people really want to help you, as people helped them when they arrived.
11pm – Taxis for less
We call it a night and take a taxi home. The MTR is still running until about 1am, but I am tired and want to grab a cab. A taxi home in London was never an option, so we always had to run for the last train. Here in Hong Kong taxis are cheap and reliable, and apart from the traffic, are a great option when bed is calling.
7am – Waterlogged and working late
I look out of the window to see that our apartment is actually in the clouds and it is pouring with rain. Still a balmy 28 degrees though, so I just put my flip flops on and I will just dry my feet off when I get to work. Many local people will put Wellington Boots on for the rain, but with my British sensibilities I can’t wear Wellies when it’s summer outside.
As I leave my building I see all the children queuing up for the school buses. School starts early here, so I often share my commute with the school children too. Since most families will have a live-in helper, I often see the Filipina nannies dropping the kids off at the school bus while the parents are rushing off to work.
A later start at work today - in Hong Kong not everyone starts early. The majority of locals won’t get in to the office until 9.30am, sometimes as late as 10.30am, but will leave much later than their Western counterparts. People will sit in the office until easily 9pm to 10pm; if the boss is still there, then so are they!
6.30pm – Learning the Lingo
On Wednesday we have Cantonese lessons. Not many expats try to learn the language here, and most will learn Mandarin instead of Cantonese, but since Canto is more widely spoken here, we are still persevering. Having a basic understanding and knowing a few words means that you can venture into more local places, and our Cantonese has saved us a couple of times in restaurants and taxis. You certainly don’t need to speak the language here, but it helps.
5.45am – Pre-work workout
One good thing about the rain is that it helps to clear the smog for a few days, so this morning I awake to bright blue skies and a perfect Hong Kong day.
I am off to meet my personal trainer for a brutal workout before work. The lower tax rate in Hong Kong means that most people have a bit more disposable income for little luxuries, like paying someone to motivate me to drag myself out of bed and exercise. But on a morning like this, who wouldn’t want to be out of bed?
7pm – Shoebox stir-fry
This evening I need some R&R, so I book myself in for a massage and mani/pedi. I go to the spa much more often these days than I ever did at home, probably due to the disposable income, but also because I work much harder and have less time to myself. I need to take a few minutes every now and then to switch off and be pampered.
When I get home I gather the few groceries we have left in our fridge and make a simple stir fry for dinner. I used to love cooking when I got home from work, it helped me unwind from the day. But now that my kitchen has a floor space of about 3ft by 2ft, 3 gas rings and no oven, I sometimes find the cramped space a stressful place in which to create culinary excellence.
6am – TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday)
The day I have been waiting for all week has arrived and I can easily bound out of bed, as I know tomorrow I can sleep. Work seems easier, and I spend my day clearing up things that can’t wait until after the weekend.
1pm – Yam Cha (Drink Tea)
On Friday lunchtimes the girls and I go for Yam Cha, and we all sit at a large round table sharing little parcels of deliciousness. Thanks to my Cantonese lessons I now know how to order 13 different types of Yam Cha (literal meaning is ‘Drink Tea’), but my Chinese colleagues always order new and exciting things for me to try. Chinese people take their food very, very seriously, and everyone is a connoisseur.
8pm – Make a reservation!
Friday night is time to catch up with friends over a drink and a bite to eat. There is literally no end to the choice for eating and dining out in HK. Be warned, you should make reservations! It’s a small island with a lot of people, so the best restaurants get booked up weeks in advance. Generally the food is excellent and the service is too – there’s no standing three people deep at a bar, waiting 30 minutes to get served!
8am – An early start to enjoy the beauty
Some Saturdays after particularly hard weeks my husband and I will laze in bed until at least 10am; however, mostly I try and get up by 8am, and get out to hike the Hong Kong hills. It is so refreshing to get away from the hustle and bustle, and to see some of the beautiful countryside around Hong Kong. There are also dazzling beaches, and in the summer there is nothing better than a Saturday started with a hike and finished with a dip in the sea, a cheap Thai meal and a lovely cold beer. Now that, to me, is a perfect weekend.
5pm – A gargantuan grocery shop
Saturday is our day for grocery shopping, so we head to the local supermarket to pick up provisions for the week. We can get most of the things we need at one shop, but we do need to shop around occasionally. Some items are much cheaper here, due to a good supply from China, and some international things are much more expensive. Most Chinese people will shop every few days for groceries, so we always get curious looks at our trolley filled with rations for a week.
A brunch buffet to remember
There really is only one word to sum up an expat Sunday in Hong Kong, and that is, BRUNCH. For a fairly reasonable fee you can gather a group of friends at one of the best hotels or restaurants in the city and sit from 11.30am to 3pm dining on a sumptuous buffet and sipping free flow champagne.
Sunday brunch is quite simply one of my favourite things to do in Hong Kong, and after a busy week and an arduous hike the day before, it is a great way to relax, enjoy the company of lovely people and reflect on how great it is to be here. Our life in Hong Kong can be challenging, busy and tiring, but the opportunities we have here, including the chance to live in such a vibrant city, makes it well worth it.