Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. In this instalment, British expat and Tai Wai resident AMY OVERY explains how she’s managed to pivot her job as a tour guide and keep things rolling during the pandemic!
Where are you from originally? What do you miss about it?
I’m from Chatham in Kent, in the southeast of England. (There is a small connection to Hong Kong, as Chatham Road South and Chatham Road North are a nod to this same Chatham, having had a big ship building history there.)
Have you lived anywhere else?
Hong Kong was our first stint abroad, and was only supposed to be for two years. I really thought I was going to be heading home quite quickly! But, like a lot of people, it got under our skin and we’ve now been here nearly 12 years.
Is Hong Kong “home”?
Yes, very much. The longer I’m away from the UK, the more I can’t see myself returning there. I know I will always be a Brit, but living abroad does change you, I think.
What do you do here? Tell us about your business.
I set up Hong Kong Greeters, a private tour guiding business back in 2012. I had been really disappointed in the early days in Hong Kong with what was available for getting to know the city at a deeper level.
I’d also had feedback that visitors really didn’t enjoy their time in the city; that hugely disappointed me because I knew they had missed what was special about Hong Kong due to their limited options to explore. All that was widely available at the time was a standard coach tour, plus a huge focus on shopping; there didn’t seem to be much else. So I took the leap after my son was born to give the idea of being a private tour guide a try; I posted my company on TripAdvisor and got my first booking within two weeks. I never looked back!
Give us an insight into a typical working day for you.
These days, it’s very different because it will be a long time before we can greet tourists back to the city. Our main focus has been on delivering virtual tours to customers overseas, and or local schools and institutions who have been unable to do any outdoor activities.
These work so well at bringing families or students together from different parts of the world, to enjoy all together; it’s something which hasn’t been possible for so long. We currently have experiences in Central, Aberdeen and Wan Chai. So a typical day will involve me walking along Hollywood Road, holding my gimbal and talking into my phone. My apologies for anyone in advance if you overhear me because I know I am loud!
What else have you been up to work-wise?
We’ve also created Hong Kong Quests, a paper-based game where you explore and learn about a local neighbourhood by solving clues and following directions. These have been great at getting young people away from their computer screens for a couple of hours, but also learning without realising. With the help of the wonderful Lion Rock Press, who helped us to design these, we have the “Bank Heist in Central” game available, and very soon a ghostly trail in Wan Chai. They’re also available in Bookazine stores.
What have been the surprises and challenges of doing business in HK?
I’ve loved how Hong Kong has this ability to foster small business, and the entrepreneurial nature of this city in general. It took me four hours to register my business in the beginning! I especially love that there are so many supportive women in business. The challenges we have all faced over the last two years have made us get creative and pivot from the normal, and support each other.
The challenges? I think the immediate (and dull) answer is the bureaucracy. It took me a long time to get the correct licences I needed to be a tour operator, and I’m still not sure why! But these have proved invaluable in the long run, because we have been supported by the government during these tough times, and I’m not sure we could have carried on running the business without that help. I also need to start thinking of some new and exciting ideas for people who aren’t going to be able to travel in the summer; so I really need to get working on that soon!
What neighbourhood do you live in, and why did you choose it?
We have lived in Tai Wai in the New Territories for seven years. We love it – so much so that we’ve moved three times to stay on the same road! At the time, we chose it because our family was expanding and we wanted more space for a significant reduction in rent. It was a wrench to pull us away from Hong Kong Island (we used to be in Pok Fu Lam) but I have no regrets. Our kids go to a great school nearby, everything we need is easily accessible and we get more opportunity to explore other parts of Hong Kong. It seems we are 30 minutes away from anywhere.
What are three things you like about your neighbourhood?
It’s very green, with great hiking and cycling trials and so much wildlife on our doorstep. We’ve seen so many snakes, wild boars, monkeys, porcupines and hornets’ nests – not all welcome, but there just the same!
Describe your home to us.
A pretty standard apartment in a small complex in Tai Wai. We do see a peak of Lion Rock out of our bedroom window.
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
I have been trying to learn Cantonese for a long time, if only so I don’t make some huge mistakes. (For example, the word for “tour guide” could be “drug dealer” if you pronounce it incorrectly!) I also spend a lot of time getting out and exploring the city and countryside as much as possible. I also love a good pub quiz; my husband and I play in a team every week, plus it’s about the only time we spend together without the kids, so it’s technically a date…
Quick questions about Hong Kong: what is your favourite …
Casual restaurant? Flaming Frangos (Central or Kennedy Town); it’s the closest we can get to a piri-piri hit from Nando’s, and popular with the all the family.
Date night restaurant (pub quiz not included!)? It’s really old school, but I love Chesa in The Peninsula. It’s the Swiss cabin vibe and cheese fondue that calls me back there again and again.
Thing to do with visitors (when you can)? Well, I guess I’m spoiled for choice as there is a very long list. I think one of the best places to go is Tai O – it’s one my favourite places. I can spend the whole day there with visitors, enjoying the heritage, the water, the dolphins and the delicious street food. During the summer, we sometimes include a secret swimming spot on our tours.
I also really like to introduce the amazing cuisine to new visitors. One of my favourite places to take people is Megan’s Kitchen in Wan Chai for hotpot; kids and adults love the whole experience because it’s so engaging and delicious.
Thing to do with kids? We have done some great hiking trails with the kids over the past year; our favourite has to be Tai Lam Chung Reservoir near Tuen Mun, which included a bit of off-roading to get to the Three Diamond Rocks. For those that don’t know them, these are a trio of angular rocks suspended in a small rock canyon. We were making adult chains for the kids to climb up and down the muddy steep banks; we were exhausted but loved it.
Nearby holiday destination (again, when you can!)? We really love Hoi An in Vietnam. It would be amazing to get back there again, and so easy and quick to get to from Hong Kong – great hotels, amazing people, great things to do with the kids and the best food! Meanwhile, we’re continuing to make the most of exploring every corner of Hong Kong.
Like this? See more in our Living in Hong Kong section!