By: Annemarelle Van Schayik
Our writer reflects on the conflicting emotions an expat experiences about life in Hong Kong in a reader story from our Parting Shot series.
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.
PARTING SHOT: Getting to the heart of the matter
PARTING SHOT: Holding up half the sky
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!
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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This article first appeared in the Apr/May edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now and never miss an issue.
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