InterNations Featured Blog
Jennifer: Expat Lingo
With quite a few years and three locations under her belt, Jennifer can rightfully claim to be a “serial expat”, as she put it the subtitle of her blog, Expat Lingo. Her blog entries – and occasional comic strips – tell of her life abroad and both the reality and expectations that come with expat life.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Hong Kong, etc.
I’m an American who has been living abroad since 2005. Originally it was just my husband and me, but now we also have two young children who claim to be English-Chinese.
We gravitate to the frenetic buzz of China’s Pearl River Delta (bad air pollution and pandemic viruses be damned!) We spent three and a half years in Zhuhai, China and now, after three years in Cambridge (UK), we’re in Hong Kong.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
After collecting loads of wonderful and horrifying experiences that family and friends back home did not want to hear about, I decided to blog. I started Expat Lingo a few months before our move to Hong Kong.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favorite posts are some of my comic strips:
Tell us about the ways your new life in Hong Kong differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Speaking more generally about the greater Pearl River Delta, I think the only time I was really “shocked” was during our “look-see” visit to Zhuhai when a local relocation guide took us around to see all the places he thought foreigners would want to see: the giant aquatic center where the Cantonese grandmas swim; a fancy “spa” complete with rows of beautiful young women; grocery stores with “international sections” who’s key imported item was Campbell’s tomato soup; and isolated villas on the edges of golf courses.
I was so disoriented and hot I seriously questioned what we were doing. Fortunately we were quickly absorbed by the local expat community and have thoroughly enjoyed our time on both sides of the Pearl River Delta.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Hong Kong? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
While living in Zhuhai I took many trips to Hong Kong for books, coffee, cultural events, the birth of my first child, etc. It was a well-loved second home and I’m now happy to be a new resident. I thought I was prepared for the high housing prices, but I remain truly shocked about what you get for your money (and we’re living in Hong Kong’s “dark side of the moon”: the New Territories). Bring less stuff. Don’t bring anything precious that will suffer from the very humid climate; I’ve had art crinkle and shoes grow a layer of mold.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
In Zhuhai, the “Indian Kitchen” features one very lonely Tamil cook who I can only imagine makes it through each week by looking forward to Wednesday nights when he takes the stage as a lip-syncing, single-glove-wearing, dancing King of Pop. It’s almost too earnest to watch, but you can’t look away from Indian Michael Jackson. Pole dancing at the company Christmas party is a close second. Hong Kong is rather staid by comparison.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Hong Kong?
- If you have children, start researching schools as soon as you get a whiff that you might relocate to Hong Kong as it can be hard to secure an international school place.
- Decide how small of a place you can comfortably live in and then mentally divide that in half.
- It’s not critical to learn some Chinese, but it does make things more fun.
How is the expat community in Hong Kong? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Hong Kong is pretty saturated with expats so it’s actually relatively difficult to fall in with people. Good if you like your anonymity, but hard if you’re trying to make friends. Zhuhai was small and tight and we very quickly fell in with the very welcoming expat crowd (at that time, if you ever saw a non-Chinese person you automatically waved, because you most likely already knew them). As everywhere, drinking or having school age kids helps you connect more quickly with others.
How would you summarize your expat life in Hong Kong in a single, catchy sentence?
To quote Martin Booth’s wonderful memoir about his childhood in Hong Kong: “We’re the lucky ones.”