Having immersed ourselves in Hong Kong for about a year now, it seems an apt opportunity to take a moment (or rather, a few posts) to reflect on our experiences and observations here so far – the good, the beautiful, and, well – the ugly and the sad (no place is perfect, after all!).
Those who have followed hongkongfong for a while likely know that I was initially reluctant to move to HK. Why? As much as I adore traveling, I had never actually lived abroad, and quite frankly, I was worried it might negatively impact my life. Part of my hesitation was attributed to a bit of feminist ego, I suppose. I did not like the idea of becoming a ‘trailing spouse’ (yes, it’s a real phrase here – and yes, I hate it). No offense to those who technically fall into this category, and kudos for taking the chance to support your partner.
In any case, I’m a pretty rational person. I will listen (eventually) to reason. And Mark was very good at arguing his case – as he will recount, over and over again (I said eventually, didn’t I?). And I was fortunate to come here with my job intact. It removed a significant stressor from those chaotic months of preparation for the move (and removed one of my main points of contention). So move we did.
Into the heat
As it’s been almost exactly a year, you can deduce that we moved in July – arguably the hottest month of the year here. Hot doesn’t quite describe it. Those who live here or have visited in the summertime know that the humidity is crushing (85% or higher is the norm). It feels like it melts you on contact. And I don’t do well in heat, never have.
Add to that the heady scents of the traditional Chinese medicine and dried seafood shops dotting our then-neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun, the pungency of which seemed to be exaggerated by the blistering heat – and you can imagine my throbbing headaches and wilted physique (and frizzy yet somehow simultaneously flattened hair – exacerbated by downpours or the occasional typhoon).
Relief is granted in the form of air conditioning at its most extreme – meat-locker style, or as our friend Teddy likes to say, ‘stupid cold’. The chill pours out of buildings onto the streets – certainly not the most environmentally friendly decision, and unfortunately a nearly ubiquitous one.
An alternative approach to changing outfits 3 times per day and single-handedly supporting one’s dry cleaner – and an approach adopted by seemingly every older gentleman in HK – is to simply strip down. Throwing all pride to the side, these fearless men just walk around without their shirts on. Potbellies and droopy arms – who cares? These guys could not give a sh*#, they’ve got nothing to prove – pretty admirable, actually (?).
I didn’t notice the pollution at first, what with the heavy summer rains and occasional typhoon, which are annoying but certainly help clear the air. But with some of HK’s own environmental challenges, and mostly due to mainland China’s heavy manufacturing-related contributions (thank you, Shenzhen), the air can become thick with smog in the winter. It’s quite disheartening, actually – knowing the sparkling skyline that is shrouded beneath. I can now understand why longer-term expats wax poetic about what is ‘used to be like’. It is a real shame, and I sincerely hope that things will improve, but I am less optimistic this will happen while we live here.
The big (and green) picture
When the skies do clear, though – HK is glorious to behold! Granted, we are a bit spoiled, as we are fortunate to enjoy a fantastic, unblocked view over Wan Chai and Happy Valley from our flat. It doesn’t hurt. But even if you have a different living arrangement, beautiful views can be yours from multiple vantage points around the islands, whether up on Victoria Peak, at the top of one of HK’s grand skyscrapers, or on Dragon’s Back or on one of the other countless hiking trails (we enjoy those on Cheung Chau).
What still takes me by surprise is all the greenery to be found in HK. Everyone knows HK is packed with glitzy skyscrapers and shopping malls, but even amidst all of that, you stumble across gigantic trees with sprawling roots that snake down city walls. Parks are full of greenery, the surrounding islands are lush with foliage. Refreshing to view, perhaps all that plant life even helps make up for the occasional smog by pumping some oxygen into this fair city?
Even construction sites appear a tad more charming and ‘green’ with elaborate and precarious-looking bamboo scaffolding, instead of the traditional steel versions.
And that mountainous backdrop? The thriving harbour? The beaches a 15-minute taxi ride away from city central? Awesomeness.
Stay tuned for my honest musings on the food scene, the culture, the people, and the evolution of Hong Kong!