Life in Hong Kong can be hectic and we can sometimes forget to take a step back and enjoy all that it has to offer. In our regular feature, we chat with expats about their experience living here and their tips for making the most of it.
Here, we chat to children’s author and publisher, SARAH BRENNAN, who shares five things she wishes she’d known when she moved to Hong Kong.
#1 It’s good to get involved!
Some newly arrived expats are reluctant to get out into the local community, and they stay sheltered in their clubs or luxury housing developments – possibly because they don’t think they’re going to be here long. I found the best way to stop feeling isolated or lonely, and to really start living in Hong Kong, was to get out and join things. It could be your local church community, a hiking group, a choir or book club, or a dragon boat crew. Whatever your interest, there’s a group here for you, and the more you contribute your time and energy, the quicker Hong Kong will feel like home.
#2 Hong Kong is more than a shopping mall
When you first arrive, Hong Kong can seem like a huge designer shopping mall linked by overhead walkways. But scratch the surface and you’ll find a vibrant creative community underneath. Like any big city, it’s home to many artists, writers, activists and thinkers, and it’s not too hard to find them and to start living a creative and active life yourself! The “What’s On” list of any local newspaper or magazine will point you in the right direction for these groups, not one of whom will give a toss about the brand of your handbag!
#3 It’s easy to set up a small business
Hong Kong is a paradise for entrepreneurial souls who’d like to have a crack at running their own small business. I’ll never forget how breathtakingly easy it was for me, a complete newbie, to set up my publishing business – just a quick trip down to Wan Chai to the Business Registrations Office, and I was done! Of course, there are annual reporting requirements and tax forms to fill in – but nothing I couldn’t easily manage. There are some wonderfully supportive associations for help and advice, too, such as your consulate’s business association, plus a raft of networks for women in business such as WBOC, WEN and Wips.
#4 The new Territories are spectacular for a clean, green life!
Like many new arrivals, we started in a serviced flat in Mid-Levels; from there, we moved to an apartment in Pok Fu Lam, where we stayed for well over a decade. For me, the New Territories were “the dark side”, best to avoid if you didn’t want to get lost on the fast-moving motorways and end up in mainland China without a visa! But our move to Tai Po five years ago soon converted us. Not just because the prices are lower – for everything from housing to grocery shopping – but also because it’s basically one big green nature reserve and country park, interspersed with high-density development.
The air here is cleaner (we can literally see the pall of grey hanging over the island as we drive towards the Western Harbour Tunnel), and as soon as you’re off the motorways, the roads are shrouded in beautiful old trees. For kids and teenagers, there are miles of dedicated cycle paths, canoeing, kite-flying, swimming pools, sports arenas; for us old folk, there’s walking, exceptional bird-watching and photography, just for starters!
#5 Beware the immigration official!
And finally, you’ll need to toughen up as you pass by the immigration counter on the way back from a day visit to Macau! Before I got my permanent ID card, this was akin to running the gauntlet, because each time I was there, I was informed, loudly and not unkindly, that I was “so much fatter than my passport photo”. It was enough to make a girl quit Hong Kong forever! But I’m so glad that I stayed.
See more in our Living in Hong Kong section
This article first appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.