As our Editor in Chief prepares to leave Hong Kong for pastures new, she shares her favourite things about the city she has called home for the past eight years.
Eight years ago I moved to Hong Kong with only one suitcase and no idea just how epic this chapter of my life was going to be. Like so many expats, I only intended to live here for a year, but inevitably fell in love with the city and the rest, as they say, is history. But, as it always goes with the nomadic lifestyle, the time has come to say goodbye and move on to pastures new – this time in the land of windmills and tulips, the Netherlands. As I fondly reflect on my life in Hong Kong, I realise how much I love this crazy, vibrant, and ever-changing city, which has given me some of the best years of my life. So as my parting gift, I share with you my favourite things about the place I have called home for almost a decade. This is my love letter to “Home Kong”.
1. The Safety Aspect
It might sound like a strange point to start with, but I can honestly say that I have never felt safer than I do in Hong Kong. Knowing that I have lived in (statistically) one of the “safest cities in the world” is something I have never taken for granted. There are few places in the world where you feel comfortable enough to walk home alone at night from a bar, or leave your bag on the beach while you swim in the sea, but this is one of them. Of course, nowhere is totally void of crime and we don’t live in a fairy tale, but in the eight years that I have lived here, the only bad experience I have had was having $500 and my Octopus Card stolen from my wallet, which I dropped in a bar one night five years ago.
When I got a call the next day to come and claim it from the venue, my ID and bank cards were still intact – although I cancelled them anyway, just to be safe. Hong Kong is the kind of city where old ladies tap you on the arm on the MTR to let you know that your bag is slightly unzipped, and people chase you down the street to give you back your jumper which fell from your bag. A friend of mine was speechless when he flew in from London and a local guy followed him down the escalator to hand him back his wallet that had fallen from his back pocket. I will always love Hong Kong for this reason alone. Never take for granted the feeling of being safe.
2. Eccentric Taxi Drivers
Catching a cab in Hong Kong is a lucky dip – you never know what you’re gonna get. Generally speaking, taxi drivers seem to have a bad reputation in this city, for being “rude or reckless”, or whatever the latest headlines say. But I can honestly say that some of the funniest moments I have had are during cab rides in the city. From listening to the driver wail along to Cantonese opera (out of tune, I might add – just listen for yourself in this video) to sharing their life stories and snippets of history dating back to the pre ’97 days, there is never a dull moment.
Then there are the old sweethearts (you know, the ones that look like Yoda) who insist on pulling up literally a few feet away from your destination to make sure you don’t get soaked in one of Hong Kong’s spontaneous downpours. Sure, you will get the occasional maniac who has the need for speed, but overall I’ve been part of that lucky minority who think Hong Kong cabbies are pretty awesome.
3. The Entrepreneurial Spirit
One of the best things about Hong Kong has to be its entrepreneurial spirit and the support that people show towards those who decide to take a brave leap into new career paths or start up their own businesses. Over the past eight years, I have met countless souls who have jumped from the corporate world of banking or teaching English to set up wellness studios, wine import companies, or whatever their true passion leads them to do. I have a friend who left her teaching job to become a successful family photographer and another who launched his own recruitment firm and is killing it.
And this all seemed to happen overnight and with no drama. There is something about Hong Kong that fills people with a sense that anything is possible if you want it bad enough, and that is something that really sets it apart and makes it truly special.
4. Beautiful Natural Landscapes
One of the things I appreciate most about living in Hong Kong is waking up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and having the option to go hiking in the hills, chill on the beach, or hop on a ferry to one of the beautiful outlying islands. Many people who have never visited Hong Kong still assume that it’s just another concrete jungle, but in reality, there’s a whole other side to the city – and it’s absolutely stunning. One of my favourite memories is when I hiked up Lantau Peak – Hong Kong’s second-highest summit – on New Year’s Day with friends.
The trek almost killed us, but it was totally worth it in the end, because the feeling of awe as we stood above those clouds was absolutely magic. Then there was the thrilling experience of cliff jumping at Sai Wan Rock Pools with a bunch of people I had only met the night before. Whether you crave the ocean, the mountains, the parks, or the forest, you have it all on your doorstep when you call Hong Kong home.
5. Quirky Locals
Oh, Hongkongers, you can be so wonderfully weird at times, and I love you all the more for it! Whether you’re pushing your dogs around in prams, taking daytime naps in the middle of the pavement (perhaps that’s why Hongkongers live so long?), enjoying date nights at IKEA, or queueing for hours for literally anything, you’re certainly not afraid to show your quirky side. Love them or hate them, there are so many little traits that make Hong Kong the unique city it is.
After all these years, I still don’t understand why a taxi driver might need half a dozen smartphones stuck to his dashboard, or why anyone would want BREXIT as their number plate – and pay thousands for it too! It’s always fun trying to explain these quirks to friends and family who come to visit, reminding me just wonderfully weird this city can be. #OnlyInHongKong
6. Quick Getaways
To the outside world, it might look like Hongkongers live a life of extravagance with all the dreamy Instagram shots of crystal cobalt oceans, luscious tropical jungles, and ethereal temples around Asia. But anyone who has lived in Hong Kong knows just how easy – and often cheap – it is to travel around the region. We are blessed with a plethora of gorgeous nearby destinations which we can visit in under five hours by plane – Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Malaysia, Cambodia, Japan, you name it. And, if you play your cards right and avoid flying during peak season, you can travel without burning a hole in your wallet, too.
When it comes to location, Hong Kong is the perfect place to live if you have the ‘travel bug’ and love nothing more than exploring new territories and cultures. Living here has allowed me to tick a hefty number of countries off my bucket list and take a million photos along the way. After all, you’ve got to do it for the gram, right?
7. South Stand Love
Ah, the Rugby Sevens, the biggest sporting event of the year, and the one long weekend when Hongkong get a pass to go totally bonkers and wear the most outrageous costumes they can find. In many countries, you might expect to witness punch-ups and riots at such a major sporting event, but here in Hong Kong, there’s nothing but love in the stadium – and a whole lot of singing! Sure, you might end the day looking like a complete hot mess, covered in beer (or worse – but let’s not go there), missing half your costume and peeling your shoes off the sticky, booze-soaked floor, but you’ll definitely leave with some epic memories and maybe even some fabulous new friends from around the world.
I’ve made some life-long buddies in the South Stand, largely through snapping photos for Localiiz, and I always look back on those weekends with a fond heart – and a hazy memory! Hearing Sweet Caroline and Bohemian Rhapsody will forever fill me with Sevens love.
8. The Food and Drink Scene
One of the best things about Hong Kong has to be its ever-changing F&B industry, which continuously offers us fresh and exciting concepts to keep us entertained and full. I have been lucky enough to experience this to the max through my job, getting to learn about different cuisines and jumping behind the bar to make my favourite tiki cocktail. Hongkongers live to eat, and it’s been wonderful to share my tips on the best bars and restaurants to check out around the city.
From quirky speakeasies to the best dim sum joints in town (I’m not sure I’m ready to part with Din Tai Fung just yet), this is one aspect of Hong Kong life that I have really treasured. And don’t even get me started on the legendary free-flow brunches! Some of my happiest moments have been spent sipping free-flow Champagne, eating as much lobster as I can, and having an absolute blast with my friends.
9. Typhoon Lockdown
Now, this is one thing I will definitely miss when I leave Hong Kong – the typhoon lockdown. Sadly they always seem to strike on the weekend, so we don’t often get to skip work, but nevertheless, the city’s spontaneous cyclones always give us the perfect excuse to stay at home, snuggle up, and enjoy a day of Netflix binging. That said, it wasn’t too enjoyable experiencing the most intense storm on record last September, Typhoon Manghkut, from my 40th-floor apartment!
I was aware that Hong Kong skyscrapers were built to “sway” a little during ferocious winds, but when that beast hit the city, it was literally like being trapped on a rocky boat at sea for a day and trying not to vomit. Other than that, typhoon season is a unique part of Hong Kong life that – in a weird way – I’m glad I got to experience… from the comfort of my sofa.
10. My Wonderful #HKfamily
I deliberately left this one until last because quite frankly, the hardest thing to leave behind in Hong Kong is the people. When you live 6,000 miles away from your family, your Hong Kong friends take that place. If you’re lucky enough, you will find yourself surrounded by some of the most loving, inspiring, and fun human beings you will ever meet. And you will never take them for granted because living abroad isn’t always sunshine and roses. Even after you’ve learned how to adapt to a new culture and value system, and so on, you will inevitably find yourself facing some tough times, like losing a loved one back home and struggling through grief and heartbreak.
But what keeps you afloat in those dark times is having the love and support of your beautiful friends who will always have your back. These cherished ones will always be your family, even after you have left, because, without them, Hong Kong wouldn’t have the heart and soul that made you fall in love with it in the first place.
So Hong Kong, as I prepare to say farewell, I thank you for all the fantastic memories and for giving me the best eight years of my life – so far.
It’s been epic!