Our series of online people profiles covers a wide range of backgrounds, careers and personalities of individuals in Hong Kong. In this instalment, we chat with British vocal coach KIRSTEN VAN TERHEYDEN who is “fresh off the boat”. Or, rather, she’s fresh off countless flights, and an incredibly long, complicated and even surreal relocation process that you can read about below.
Where are you from originally?
A little town called Ilkley in Yorkshire, England. It’s really lovely and gets visitors from all over, but it’s the polar opposite of Hong Kong!
Is Hong Kong “home”?
We’ve been here five weeks now and, actually, it feels completely like home already
What do you do here? Tell us about your business.
I’m a self-employed singing teacher. I went straight from A-levels at school, having no idea what I wanted to do with my life, to teaching cello, piano and singing at an amateur level just to fill some time and get some cash. I absolutely fell in love with it as a job and was really lucky to see a natural blossoming of it into a full-time business; so I went and got my diploma and now there’s not a single day where I take that journey for granted! For the last 10 years, I’ve taught one-to-one singing lessons mainly, but also choirs and groups in schools, predominantly working with primary-aged children.
What have been the surprises and challenges of doing this work in HK?
The self-employed part makes for a bit of an uphill struggle when moving to the other side of the world during a pandemic. But I said I wanted a challenge when we came here and that’s very well what I’ve got! The time difference has meant that I’ve only been able to continue working with a limited number of my UK pupils over Zoom on the weekends, and the hours are a little anti-social for me; but I’m grateful to continue those precious working relationships and excited to be able to build a new client base here and meet some lovely new families.
What neighbourhood do you live in, and why did you choose it?
We live on High Street in Sai Ying Pun. We love it! It’s great being able to nip out to so many different little restaurants and cafés. My partner George had already spent a year living in Hong Kong when he came over for a rugby contract in 2019. He said it was a nice neighbourhood and I think we wanted somewhere that had a quiet, village feel amongst all the business and noise of the city.
What are three things you like about your neighbourhood?
Besides the number of BEAUTIFUL dogs we see every day (and that really is enough to make me live anywhere), we love so many of the little shops, cafés and restaurants here. Three favourites so far would be the mochas in Fineprint down on Second Street, Ollie’s on High Street (we go there regularly for the lovely service and tasty breakfasts!) and the shop in our building, Thorn & Burrow – what an absolute gem! I have to stop myself from going down there all the time or we’d definitely be homeless by now!
Describe your home to us.
Our home is a small two-bedroom apartment in a pet-friendly building (as animal lovers, we’d like this to be an option at some point in the future). Although it came furnished, I changed the colour scheme a little, substituting the dark grey theme for a more summery off-white, and then adding a few colourful staple pieces like our Art Deco rug and a lovely bright orange vase. (I sound like I’m Kelly Hoppen; who do I think I am?!)
It’s mainly ikea and usually a mess, but we got a couple of really special second-hand numbers off Facebook Marketplace, including a beautiful rattan side table that makes me extremely happy considering it’s a piece of furniture.
The fact that George and I were long distance between the UK and Hong Kong for so long means that, despite the rest, it feels like home because we’re finally together. Sorry … *sick bucket anyone?!*
Outside of work, what are your hobbies in Hong Kong?
I haven’t really got myself involved in any clubs or groups yet but I’ve met some amazing people and am starting to make new friends, which is really special.
When George lived here on his own, he did a lot of work with Love21 Foundation; it’s a charity that works with people who have Down syndrome. He would come home absolutely buzzing every Monday after holding rugby/fitness sessions with them, and I always said I’d love to get involved if I ever came over. So we went over to Pui O on Lantau last weekend to volunteer doing activities on the beach with them. It was an amazing day and such a great community to be a part of.
Before you go, we have to hear about your less-than-conventional move to Hong Kong, including tackling the obstacles thrown up by the pandemic!
I couldn’t move with George to HK when he first came in 2019 because the timing was all wrong with my work. But in February this year, as he was starting to plan his second stint over here, we decided it was the perfect opportunity for me to come too.
I made the scary move of emailing all my clients to say that I would be moving to Hong Kong at the end of the term; and then began the endless hours of researching flights, travel restrictions, insurance, quarantine rules, PCR tests, costs… With the UK in full lockdown and on Hong Kong’s red list at the time, it was like a Rubik’s Cube trying to find a way to get here.
The only realistic option was to find a middle destination for quarantine between the UK and Hong Kong; and that meant Egypt, Thailand, Dubai or the Maldives. The Maldives, due to its isolation, seemed like the best bet. It was the only place where we wouldn’t be forced to stay inside one room. Knowing we would have to spend three weeks in a small hotel room once we finally got to Hong Kong, the idea of doing it twice in a row really frightened us, especially as George is so active and loves to be outdoors.
The Maldives isn’t cheap… How much did all this cost?
Right, we knew we couldn’t really afford the Maldives. But I have semi-professional skills in videography, so I emailed the most affordable resorts to see if they would be interested in me creating a promotional video for them in return for board. After a stream of replies saying ‘no thanks’, one fairly new hotel-resort said they’d be delighted to work together. We couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled to have some work to keep me busy while we were travelling, and we were so grateful to have turned our first quarantine into a holiday in one of the world’s most beautiful places. We actually felt guilty when explaining it to friends and family!
After our blissful three weeks at South Palm Resort, we prepared for our journey on to Hong Kong. Our initial flight was cancelled, so we had to take the only flight available that would get us to our pre-booked hotel quarantine in HK on time. It set us back by HK$20,000, but we were just lucky there were seats left.
What came next?
There were a lot more complications, including hours of questions at Male airport about our movements (we made it through security with literally 10 seconds to spare!), and then a flight back to Doha, where we boarded another flight in the middle of the night for Hong Kong.
When we got here, we were immediately taken through a meticulously strict and organised system that saw us sign documents, get tested, put on quarantine wristbands and then get transferred to our hotel, Ovolo Southside. The quarantine at Ovolo was as delightful as it could be. The service was excellent, the room was bright with floor-to-ceiling windows (that we were allowed to open slightly) and the food was delicious.
We thought three weeks would be testing for us both individually and as a couple but it actually turned out to be relatively easy. This is probably because the adventure we’d already experienced had left us feeling so relieved and grateful to have finally arrived safely and in good health, and excited to start our new life together in Hong Kong!
Lastly, a few quick questions about your new home: what is your favourite…
Casual restaurant? Shake Shack
Date night restaurant? Kikusan
Bar or café? Ollie’s
Thing to do with visitors? Hiking (when it’s not waxpot weather)
Thing to do with kids? Ocean Park!
Nearby holiday destination? Phillipines
Like this? See more in our Living in Hong Kong section!