My story in Hong Kong
Hong Kong- the city of dreams in Asia! Everyone imagines the glittery skyline, the insane high salaries, abundance of opportunities, low tax rates and awesome night life.
Not too many people know about the severe housing crisis that forces the 7 million+ people to live in homes that are perhaps a slightly better version of coffins. Not too many people tell you that despite knowing English, the locals have an extremely strong preference towards Cantonese. Not too many people tell you that professionals regularly return home from work at 1am.
But I kind of knew all these and more. I had some done research and spoken to some people. I already had a rough idea and yet I was shocked when I actually landed there.
On a fine January morning, I took a bumpy flight to Hong Kong with some seriously heavy luggage and landed at a completely foreign land all alone for my internship. Sounds a bit daunting, right? I had some help though.
I had found this internship via AIESEC and they were sweet enough to send not one but three people to receive me and find my way home. They even took me out for lunch, got me my first sim card and introduced me to the supermarket! I couldn’t be more thankful.
After this, I was pretty much all alone.
The first few days in a new country
My misery started from my suitcase being damaged at the airport and continued with struggling to understand how to top up my data pack and using google translate at every point to communicate with local shop owners.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I had chosen a rather local community to reside in. While this was cheaper than Hong Kong island, ratio of expats here were pretty much as good as none. While Hong Kong island is widely multi-cultural with a big community of expats, the other areas of Hong Kong are quite the opposite.
Now comes housing. I was aware of the housing issues of this city and yet I gasped as I stepped into my own room. I couldn’t believe I was paying a hefty amount for a room which was just a notch higher than a prison cell.
No space to open my suitcase, terribly dirty kitchen and a washroom that is to be shared by 6 people- 5 others being men! To top it all, the landlady had not provided a warm blanket or a pillow in the extremely uncomfortable bed. I twisted, turned and shivered but could not fall asleep on my first night.
I sat up to drink some water, only to realize tap water is not drinkable and you had to boil the water and wait for it to cool down before you can drink it. The other option, buy bottled water every time!
Good times don’t come too easy
The next few days were not kinder to me either. I struggled to order food in restaurants where the menu is written in Chinese, I dried my clothes on a thin wire in the dirty terrace as the dryer wasn’t working and I craved to drink some fresh fruit juice after my meal only to discover most places don’t offer any! Most importantly, I missed just hanging out with people.
However, I tried to hold my head up and adjust. The only good part was my office which was peaceful and located beside the sea.
I was carrying a lot of cash but I needed to open a bank account. I needed a local account for 2 reasons- firstly to receive my salary and secondly, to receive some money from my family at reasonable rates.
Since I was an intern in Hong Kong for three months, I was on a training visa. I woke up early morning and rushed to different banks every day before heading to office, only to be rejected by each of them.
My last hope was HSBC- the local bank. After visiting three different branches and following different sets of instructions, I was once again informed that they wouldn’t be able to open an account for me. This was when I had my first meltdown. I entered my tiny room and simply broke down.
Make your own way gal
I was lucky to receive tremendous support from my family and friends back home and in other countries. At this point, I remembered what I had promised myself two years ago- “Give every country a chance and make the best of what you have.”
I finally ventured out and started visiting every known and unknown destination in Hong Kong. From marvelling at the city from the Victoria peak, joining different meet up groups and meeting people, getting lost in the streets of Mong Kok to being mesmerized by nature in the outlying islands of Hong Kong, I did it all!
Go find your happiness
I found a nearby park and went for a walk almost every night. I loved the cool breeze on my face and enjoyed Hong Kong’s safety. I went grocery shopping at 11pm and ate siu mai at midnight. I filmed random people dancing in an absolutely bizarre manner on the streets of Mong Kok. I watched late night shows at a small theatre that showcases international films from all over the world. I loved how the city never slept!
I still didn’t know anyone in this city. 3 things happened. Firstly, at some point, AIESEC organized a day trip and I met a few amazing expats there who later became my friends.
Second, I went for a casual meet up and guess what, we all got along much better than I expected! We went to watch the Chinese New Year Parade together, grabbed dinner and had a great time. It didn’t last though, due to our busy schedules.
Third, my old housemate from Singapore moved back to Hong Kong and I got to catch up with him and his amazing wife. A familiar face in a foreign land makes you feel right at home and they did just that.
Through these people, I met some more people. All relationships don’t last but guess what, if you really make an effort, some do and that’s all you need.
OMG! Such a beautiful country!
As I began to explore the country, I fell in love with its astounding natural beauty. From the less visited places like Sai Kung to the famous islands like Cheung Chau, I left nothing out.
Of course, it can be argued that many countries have equally stunning landscape but the beauty of Hong Kong lies in the stark contrast. One minute you are surrounded by skyscrapers and narrow alleys and the next minute you are walking down paths surrounded by hills and oceans.
They say you get used to beauty. In my three months in Hong Kong, I never did. Every time I left my house and walked around, I was delighted at the sight of random mountains popping up from nowhere. Every time I crossed a bridge over the ocean with stunning view of the islands, I couldn’t stop staring.
I fell in love with the mouth-watering food, the gorgeous temples, the numerous laid back islands, the beautiful festivals, the magical street art and most importantly, the vibe of the city.
Every time I walked down the streets of Hong Kong, I could feel its heart. I could feel the people living and breathing. I could feel the energy of the city and that’s what makes Hong Kong so special. It has its own unique character and it refuses to let it go!
It took Hong Kong less than a week to break me and less than a month to make me fall in love with it. A city that you learn to love.
Take that chance
To any adventurous soul who has the opportunity to live in a new country, I urge you to take it. It won’t always be easy. You will face tremendous challenges and you will be lonely sometimes.
However, it’s worth every dime if you can ride through the initial jerk! You learn so much, each second, each day. You meet people in the most unbelievable ways and form everlasting bonds. You will truly understand a new culture and your perspective will broaden more than you can ever imagine.
You learn to survive on your own and find your own happiness. When you finally leave the country, you emerge as a changed person, independent, strong and tolerant.