Brittany: Blogging with Chinese Characteristics
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Hong Kong, etc.
I am an American. I originally moved to Beijing in 2009 because I found a job there. I worked in Beijing for a year, then I came to Hong Kong in 2010. Before that, I was working in New York but was feeling a bit restless. I was working on the international desk at a newspaper there, and I saw all the successful editors had overseas experience, so I figured I ought to try to get some too. And I thought it would be much better (and easier) to do while I was young without too many obligations.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog when I moved to China so that I could keep my family up to date on my experiences, and to save myself from having to call home and retell the same stories 10 times. I also hope that some of my experiences will prove useful to future expats or travelers (like the post I wrote about what to do when your passport is stolen, along with your wallet and all your identification). It's not something I do for money or recognition, just for family and friends, and it's also nice to have a record of it all somewhere, almost like a journal or scrapbook.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I’m not sure if I have a favorite, per se. I suppose my most interesting ones are those about my travels around the area.
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?
Moving to Beijing from New York City was a big culture shock (in comparison, at least it made moving to Hong Kong from Beijing seem so easy!). It was definitely hard in the beginning. When I moved there, I only knew one person in the entire country -- a college classmate -- and she wasn't even in Beijing but was in another city hundreds of miles away. It was scary at times, and lonely, especially because I didn't speak any Mandarin when I first moved there. But it was also thrilling to be taking in all these new things at the same time. There were definitely times when I considered heading straight back to the airport and moving back home and saying “Oh well, I tried,” but thankfully I never had to follow through on them. The good thing about having lots of expat friends is when you’re feeling out of sorts or homesick, you can always find someone to chat with who will understand; we’ve all been there before.
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?
The biggest thing I wasn’t prepared for was the cost of housing here. It’s outrageous and when I first moved here, I settled for an apartment that was really out of my budget but I was at a loss because I couldn’t find anything cheaper. I ended up moving out of that apartment early and subletting it because I realized i couldn’t afford it. But otherwise living in Beijing before prepared me pretty well for Hong Kong.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh, so many. More from Beijing than in Hong Kong because of the language barrier. Like the time at the bank I thought I was asking someone to exchange money, but I actually was asking them to “make conversation” (the words are similar in Chinese). Or the time my Chinese company had a Lunar New Year party that no one really told me about (or maybe they told me in Chinese and I didnt understand), so I showed up to this resort well outside of town only to find out it was supposed to be an overnight event, and I hadn’t packed anything. There are probably hundreds more.. I can’t think of others offhand though.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Hong Kong?
Even if you only live here for a year, it will change your life and your perspective forever. Also, don't sign a lease on the first apartment you find! Be sure to take advantage of all the low-cost flights.. you can really see so much of Asia from here without needing a whole lot of money or vacation time if you use your weekends wisely and lookout for good deals. I’ve flown to the Philippines or Thailand for less than US$200 roundtrip. You can get even better deals if you can plan well in advance. Find out what all the local airlines are, many of them won’t show up on a major search site like Kayak or Expedia.
How is the expat community in Hong Kong? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It was easier than I expected. I have found it much easier to meet people in Beijing (or Hong Kong) than in New York. It's kind of like oh, hey you're an American (or other foreigner)? Me too. We are both expats and have something in common, so let's be friends. You don't get that immediate connection in the U.S. when you're just another American socializing with other Americans. I also found how important your network can be -- I have so many friends who were just friends of a person I sort of knew in college, or whatever. Facebook has been a real asset in that regard -- whenever I moved, I simply put up a note asking for contacts and I was pleasantly surprised with how many people put me in touch with their friends or acquaintances -- many of whom are now good friends of mine.
I do mostly socialize with other expats, but I have some local friends as well, especially language partners who have become friends. One of the most fun parts about living abroad is that your circle of friends really becomes global: I've been at parties -- and it's not entirely uncommon around here -- where we've had someone present from every continent (well, except Antarctica).
How would you summarize your expat life in Hong Kong in a single, catchy sentence?
I’m just a journalist in Asia, trying to see the world.