One Year In: What It’s Like to Live in Hong Kong (Part 1)

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General, The Great Outdoors

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!).

Hong Kong, viewed from the lofty Ritz-Carlton atop the ICC skyscraper

Hong Kong, viewed from the lofty Ritz-Carlton atop the ICC skyscraper

Beginnings

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.

The infuriatingly oppressive humidity of HK - enough to make anyone cranky (even with adorable pandas nearby)

The infuriatingly oppressive humidity of HK – enough to make anyone cranky (even with adorable pandas nearby)

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).

Another blisteringly hot and humid day in HK

Another blisteringly hot and humid day in HK

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 (?).

An advantage to being a guy - the option to get half-naked to keep cool

An advantage to being a guy – the option to get half-naked anywhere to keep cool

Keeping cool without a shirt and with a bottle of wine (?)

Keeping cool without a shirt and with a bottle of something ‘refreshing’

Chucking shame to the side - it really IS that hot here

Shameless belly-flashing – it really IS that hot here

That haze

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).

One of the beautiful vistas from the top of Victoria Peak

One of the beautiful vistas from the top of Victoria Peak

Embarking on a wonderful hike on the perimeter of Cheung Chau Island

Embarking on a wonderful hike on the perimeter of Cheung Chau Island

Rocky formations along Cheung Chau

Rocky formations along Cheung Chau

Mark, beginning our ascent further into Cheung Chau

Mark, beginning our ascent further into Cheung Chau

Late afternoon on Cheung Chau

Late afternoon on Cheung Chau

Looking out over the edge of Cheung Chau from the rooftop of an abandoned house

Looking out over the edge of Cheung Chau from the rooftop of an abandoned house

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?

The relentless summer sun illuminates Cheung Chau

The relentless summer sun illuminates Cheung Chau

One of the things I love most about HK - the blend of east and west, old and new - right in the heart of the city (Blake Garden, Sheung Wan)

One of the things I love most about HK – the blend of east and west, old and new – right in the heart of the city (Blake Garden, Sheung Wan)

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My favorite trees, along Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan

More lush greenery and massive tree roots at Blake Garden in Sheung Wan

More lush greenery and massive tree roots at Blake Garden in Sheung Wan

Wiry but light offshoots of trees in Sheung Wan - that I can't resist touching every time I walk by

Wiry but light offshoots of trees in Sheung Wan – that I can’t resist touching every time I walk by

Tropical greenery and ambitious tree roots in Sheung Wan

Tropical greenery and ambitious tree roots in Sheung Wan

A surprise while exploring Cheung Chau - a working farm with palm trees as a backdrop

A surprise while exploring Cheung Chau – a working farm with palm trees as a backdrop

Mark and Borja, enjoying a late afternoon on Cheung Chau

Mark and Borja, enjoying a late afternoon on Cheung Chau

Even construction sites appear a tad more charming and ‘green’ with elaborate and precarious-looking bamboo scaffolding, instead of the traditional steel versions.

The ubiquitous, intricate, hand-tied bamboo scaffolding in HK - that still makes me nervous for workers

The ubiquitous, intricate, hand-tied bamboo scaffolding in HK – that still makes me nervous for workers

Construction workers perched on bamboo scaffolding (note the absence of any real safety equipment!)

Construction workers perched on bamboo scaffolding (note the absence of any real safety equipment!)

And that mountainous backdrop? The thriving harbour? The beaches a 15-minute taxi ride away from city central? Awesomeness.

The expanse of Stanley Main Beach stretches out, with mountains as a backdrop

The expanse of Stanley Main Beach stretches out, with mountains as a backdrop

Windsurfing off the coast of Cheung Chau

Windsurfing off the coast of Cheung Chau

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Victoria Harbour, even busier than usual during the Dragon Boat Festival

Fierce dragon boat competitors race toward the finish line on Victoria Harbour

Fierce dragon boat competitors race toward the finish line on Victoria Harbour

Stay tuned for my honest musings on the food scene, the culture, the people, and the evolution of Hong Kong!

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Globetrotter based in Hong Kong, travel and street photographer, Getty Images contributor, award-winning blogger of WanderFong.com - seeking true beauty in travel and life!

16 thoughts on “One Year In: What It’s Like to Live in Hong Kong (Part 1)”

  1. Pingback: One Year In: What It's Like to Live in Hong Kong (Part 1)

  2. Ann Fong says:

    We love journeying with you and look forward to the next one!

    Sent from AOL Mobile Mail

    Like

  3. Pingback: The Visual Feast of Hong Kong: Through the Lens of Hong Kong Fong, Part 1 | pundit from another planet

  4. Pingback: The Visual Feast of Hong Kong: Through the Lens of Hong Kong Fong, Part 2 | pundit from another planet

  5. Pingback: One Year In: What It’s Like to Live In Hong Kong (Part 2 – Cocktailing and Wining in HK) | HONG KONG FONG

  6. Pingback: Livin’ in the Kong! The (Mostly) Great Outdoors of HK | pundit from another planet

  7. Pingback: One Year In: What It’s Like to Live In Hong Kong (Part 6 – The People and Their Culture) | HONG KONG FONG

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