As 2016 is about to end, I’m reflecting on my life here in Hong Kong. I have been here for almost two years and time just flies.
In a sense, I feel like I have been here for a long time, but I haven’t even noticed until now because I have been very busy.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that everyone’s experience is different, and how they view the city really depends on their experiences.
Here are a couple of things I’ve enjoyed about living in Hong Kong:
1. Multiculturalism. Hong Kong reminds me of my home, Toronto, Canada, to a certain extent.
Although most of the people here are Chinese, there are many expats and ethnic minorities living in the city. Not to mention the domestic workers from Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia.
Coming from a multicultural city and country, I’m used to having a variety of authentic cuisines at my fingertips.
Hong Kong gives me that kind of diversity: I can always find different types of food in almost every street of the city.
2. Bilingualism. Although the majority of the population is Chinese, Hong Kong is known as a city where “East meets West”.
A British colony until 1997, Hong Kong uses both English and Chinese as official languages.
Many expats never spend the time to learn Cantonese, even those who have lived here all their lives but studied in international schools where English is the medium of instruction.
In most foreign countries, it’s hard to communicate if you don’t know the local language, but in Hong Kong, you can survive even though you only speak English (although at a disadvantage).
You may sometimes be surprised the older generation is more proficient in English and some public schools still teach in English.
3. Convenience. Hong Kong definitely prides itself in its efficient and amazing transport system.
In the city, there is no need to buy a car because, according to Wikipedia, over 90 percent of the daily journeys are on public transport, making it the highest rate in the world.
You can get anywhere on public transportation, and if you want to get a taxi, all you need to do is wave your hand in the air as cabs are all over.
It is also very cheap to get around, and all the systems are based on distance – you pay less for shorter trips and more for longer ones.
It’s a common question I get asked as a non-local: How do I like the city?
Well, to be honest, I like it here. I don’t love it but I don’t dislike it either, and that is completely based on my experiences.
In the past few months, I haven’t really encountered any significant problems or life-threatening situations, and that makes such an impact on how I enjoy my stay.
It’s been my best year abroad so far.
But while the city’s got great things going for it, like transportation and efficiency of public service, there are of course a few things that make life here a bit frustrating for me.
1. Customer service. I can’t tell you how scared I am going into local restaurants sometimes because I find it hard to communicate with the staff and they don’t seem to have the patience to understand me and provide an acceptable level of service.
If you go to a small joint, locally known as a cha chaan teng, don’t expect too much by way of service or courtesy from the staff.
The rule is “get in, order, and get out”.
At these places, you would oftentimes daap toi, which means sharing tables with strangers. In other words, you will have to trade an enjoyable, relaxing dinner for a fast, cheap meal. Not pleasant, but time-saving and unbelievably cheap.
2. Crowds everywhere. You’ve heard it time and again – Hong Kong is a bustling city with people in almost every inch of space. Well, I can attest to that.
With more than 7 million people crammed in a city of about 1,000 square kilometers, there is human traffic everywhere, especially on the MTR, the city’s metro.
Sometimes I wonder how many “rush hours” are there in a day because the streets, the trains and buses are always filled with people. But everyone seems to be handling this quite well.
On a weekend, there are some places you just want to avoid because of the crowds. It’s literally a people traffic jam in many of the streets.
Making things worse, some people prefer to walk at a leisurely pace, unmindful of others who want to get to their destinations as soon as possible.
If you are in a rush, it’s hard to get past other pedestrians who walk in groups and take the entire width of a narrow sidewalk.
Lining up in restaurants is probably the worst. You can’t reserve a table in most places, and if word gets around that it is an “amazing” joint, prepare to line up for a long time.
3. Washrooms. If you go to a restaurant, you would expect it to have a washroom inside, Well, surprise! That’s not the case in Hong Kong, especially in the malls.
Sure, it’s normal to have a common bathroom in a food court, but I don’t understand why you have to exit a restaurant and walk a mile just to get into a washroom. (OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it can be far.)
Once, I went to an independent restaurant and asked the waitress where’s the washroom. She told me to walk across the hall and there I would find the shared facility.
I followed her direction and walked through a long, dark and deserted alley. Oh boy, was I scared.
No city is perfect. It’s just a matter of what we get used to.
To most Hong Kong people, this is authentic living, but for me, I probably still need a little more time to adjust. But I’m getting there.
This post was also published on EJ Insight.