Expat Living reader ANNEMARELLE VAN SCHAYIK reflects on the conflicting emotions an expat experiences about life in Hong Kong.
A new normal
When I first stepped foot on Hong Kong soil, I wondered if I’d become insane. I’ll never forget the panic I felt when the bus driver took the roundabout clockwise, not counter-clockwise. I felt so stupid. Within an hour of arriving in my new home, my life had turned upside down. Nothing was normal anymore. I learnt that greeting other people on the street can be considered offensive; that it’s completely acceptable to only look up from your phone to take another bite during a date; that giving graduating university friends a stuffed animal toy was not only common, but the norm.
Love at first sight
But despite, or maybe because of, my temporary mental derangement, it was also love at first sight. Whatever I wanted, I could get. Cotton pads, check. Affordable Western food that’s not McDonalds, check. Good wine and real cheese – not those processed cheese slices – check and check. I had just lived on the outskirts of Beijing for a year where finding those items was a real adventure.
After a few months, my love-goggles fell off. Maybe it started when an unnamed Hong Kong bank made it difficult for me to open an account. Or when I had to explain to literally every local that I wasn’t just an exchange student but pursuing my bachelor’s degree here. Or maybe it was the so-called fun police who didn’t allow anyone to have friends in their room past 11pm. Don’t even mention guys – the horror to think that a 19-year-old girl might want to spend a night with someone of the opposite sex!
A silent agreement
My love affair with the city had progressed. We had a silent agreement: I would try not to complain like a gweimui and the city would let me be me. And it worked! I learnt Cantonese, have been somewhat accepted by my neighbours in a locals-only village, and have no real enemies.
My four-year Hong Kong plan turned into six and now I even call this metropolis home. The day I held that piece of plastic with “PR” on it was the best day of my life. Is it always easy? No. Do I occasionally dream of cheating on Hong Kong? Of course. But every time I think about leaving, Hong Kong does its best to win me back.
I love the sight of those tall buildings rising proudly to the sky. I just don’t want to live in one. I love air-cons in the heat of summer; but, after eight years, I still don’t understand why they need to be on 18 degrees even in winter. I love the sandy beaches – if only people would recycle more. But I don’t want to try to change Hong Kong. Few relationships will survive constant criticism and attempts to make it into something better. Ah well, life isn’t perfect – just Hong Kong. (Maybe.)
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See more in our Living in Hong Kong section
Saying goodbye to beloved Hong Kong
The ultimate expat relocation checklist
Expat guide to where to live in Hong Kong
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