InterNations Featured Blog
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Hong Kong, etc.
Hi, I’m Ruth and I’ve been living in Hong Kong since 2011. I’m originally from Munich/Germany, studied and worked in the UK and then decided to move with my boyfriend (now husband) to Hong Kong. Initially we had thought we’d stay only one year, as that was our initial visa duration, but like so many other expats here, we fell in love with Asia and specifically with Hong Kong.
For me, it’s the combination about urban sprawl and rural country parks, old history and lots of new designs and architecture, traditional Cantonese cuisine and food from every corner of the earth that makes living in Hong Kong so easy and enjoyable.
I still remember my long list of items that I brought to Hong Kong, from contact lenses and hiking boots to flax seeds and fennel tea, thinking they would not be sold here, but of course I can get almost anything here (well, except Magnum ice cream – tell me if you’ve found it somewhere please).
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I had thought about writing a blog for a long time, even when I was back in London – and I dabbled with some food pictures and recipes on some squarespace blog, but I had no idea for whom I was writing, what my theme was and what I should be posting about (i.e. what people would like to read). Even to me it felt like a boring food blog, so I canned it.
But as soon as I knew we’d be moving to Hong Kong, everyone was asking me to send updates – my family wanted to know where I would be living (here's a post about our first flat), my colleagues were interested in eating habits, Cantonese cuisine and the media landscape, my friends wanted to know how I spent my spare time (i.e. Cantonese language course – which I failed, hiking, photography etc.) – and even I wanted to find a way to document what I was experiencing with my move to Hong Kong.
The first blog posts were short and just very general – but then I figured I needed to add more insights, tips on how to get there or what (not) to do and better images. So the blog posts became more informative and with that my readership changed – nowadays most of my readers are based in Hong Kong and include expats as well as locals (who are happy to correct some mistakes on my blog or encourage me to visit new places).
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
That’s a difficult question – there are so many things I like. I enjoy travelling, so I do like my series about different locations (these include India, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Vietnam etc.) but I also like to take pictures, so I have a whole section on photography (to which I would love to dedicate more time in the future).
Then there’s the ‘Interview with…’ section where I talk to people that have something to do with Hong Kong. They could be bloggers living in Hong Kong or visiting Hong Kong, or they could run a small business here.
Finally, from a personal perspective, the yearly round-up posts are my favorite ones – just because they make me realize how much has happened in one year! I do know that for the readers these posts might be too long and boring, so if I had to recommend you three posts, then these would be:
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?
To be honest: no. Hong Kong is very westernized, and while it would be great to speak Cantonese (I can only say a few phrases) it is actually easy to come by with just speaking English. I do like learning about different cultures and am fascinated by all the Chinese traditions and celebrations that are still kept alive today (e.g. Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance) but I also like the mix that Western festivals such as Christmas are also observed here. I can even buy Stollen and Lebkuchen at my local supermarket!
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?
I was prepared to expect a completely different life – but in fact, it was very similar. But then, I do work for an international company and started to live in Discovery Bay initially (which is mainly an expat community).
If you work for a local company, be prepared to work long hours and also make a better effort than me to learn Cantonese. Also, you might want to dive straight in and live in a local community – that's what we do now. I prefer going to the wet markets to do my shopping and to eat in small, local places. So rather than taking the soft approach, I would dive straight in!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Given that Chinese New Year is coming up… after I got married, I also embarked on this local custom. I was happy to participate and give my colleagues red packets with money inside. I knew that you should give new notes and if you're the recipient knows you and your husband you should give double the amount. So to some colleagues I gave 20 HKD x2. Now this might not sound wrong, but giving 40 HKD in one envelope is very bad luck indeed… anything with a number 4 in it sounds like the word for death. My colleagues were too polite to point this out to me initially, but during team dinner and drinks a few weeks later I discovered my faux pas! This year, it’s no more death wishes for my colleagues; instead I will give them two envelopes with 20 HKD each inside!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Hong Kong?
- Be prepared that Hong Kong is small – and living space is very expensive. Don't bring lots of furniture unless you’re confident that you’ll be living in a huge space. You can get furniture here easily, there’s IKEA and other shops, plus China is just a short trip away if you want to get furniture custom-made
- Also the rental market might be different to what you are used from back home (there are hardly any good websites to find property yourself, you have to rely on agents – who charge fees, you’ll be quoted gross/net square foot area which can be confusing, most places will have a 12 months contract with 4 weeks notice etc.) so don’t rush. Come to Hong Kong, rent a hotel room or serviced apartment and then do your research, before you move into a new home
- Get familiar with Hong Kong – read local news (South China Morning Post) and blogs, join relevant groups on Facebook, (e.g. if you are a mum, you might want to find out more about other mums in Hong Kong), check out Geoexpat, Asiaexpat and InterNations to find like-minded people.
How is the expat community in Hong Kong? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
No, that’s actually the easiest – there are so many opportunities to meet other people (not just expats but also locals). For instance, through MeetUp (that’s how I joined the hiking group, found out about private kitchens, went on burger feasts etc.) or InterNations gatherings you can find like-minded people very easily. And it is actually quite easy to chat to other people in a bar… or the usual applies: if you walk a dog or have kids, you are likely to meet other dog-lovers or families too.
How would you summarize your expat life in Hong Kong in a single, catchy sentence?
Eating my weight in dumplings and getting rid of the pounds by hiking the dragon’s back – with a camera attached around my neck!