Reflections on expat life in Hong Kong; not as glamourous as you might think!

When I started writing this blog post, it was supposed to be a pros and cons list about facets of life in Hong Kong but some how as I began to write and ponder, it evolved into something different. Don’t worry Hong Kong, I still love you, my pro list is coming soon… I think!

Often when I tell people I am living away from home, there will be one of two reactions.

Some peoples face light up. “Wow! That’s so exciting. What an amazing experience.You are so brave. I wish that I could live abroad!”

People picture you in exotic locations, sipping mojitos, living the life of the rich and famous, devoid of any real life issues (take note: the real life issues follow you there and some will even multiply!)

Others are a little less excited; “oh gosh! Hong Kong, that’s so far away. You are so brave! I really couldn’t live without my family/friends/pet, or even “I couldn’t do it, I don’t like Chinese food!”

For me personally, I dreamed of moving abroad for many years. It was a bucket list item since I was a teen and while I am ashamed to admit that I have not ticked most of my significant list items, at least I have lived overseas.

The hilarious thing was at the time we relocated, I was more in the second catergory of being reluctant to move as the timing was completely misaligned with my personal goals for that year; I was trying to start a family and the thought of doing that overseas away from the comfort zone of home was an uncomfortable one. I had also worked hard the past two years on making a career change and I felt like my hard work was finally coming to fruition. Litterally two weeks after I declared that I was taking living overseas off the table for the next year, fate intervened and shrieked “what plans?, and before I knew it, we were living in Hong Kong.

Life as an expat can have some amazing benefits. It can however have some great costs and test you in ways you never imagined. Disclaimer: Of course my views may vary from others living here, everyones experience may be different. Each to their own as they say.

1. The relationship test.

Of course I need to start with the most obvious one, the affect moving has on your relationships.

A great test of any relationship is moving long distance from someone, whether it be your family, friends or partner.

To be fair, you never really know what someone else is going through at any given moment and you need to be mindful of this before getting upset that people have seemingly disappeared. Admittedly there are times when I have been an awful friend and haven’t kept in contact with others because life got too busy or overwhelming between medical treatments and illness and I have had to retreat into my cave (and my Hong Kong apartment is as big as a cave.. haha!)

In my life experience however, there are often times when people I expected to keep in contact with have slipped away, while others go beyond expectation in keeping in touch. Certainly the test of time and travel has revealed to me who is in it for the long run which was hard at first when I realised who wasn’t, but ultimately it was wonderful as I have so much more love and appreciation now for my friends!

2.The test of busyness.

Asia generally is known for its long working hours and Hong Kong is no exception. Not only are people expected to work long hours but in a place where every one has a Smart phone and contactable is 24/7 (WhatsApp, you blessing and curse!) you cannot escape the work place.

On top of business requirements, Hong Kong is a very social place. While Aussies love a drink to unwind after work, Hong Kongers take socialising to a whole other level- birthdays, festivals, going away parties, 100 day parties, weddings, funerals 😦 , just catching up for hot pot parties. There is an added expectation to network and belong to the group that I didn’t see as much of in Australia, whether the group be family, friends or work colleagues.

To be fair, some people thrive in this environment and I’m not criticising it, but it’s something to consider if you are ever looking at a relocation there. This change in social environment will affect people differently and in ways you may not have considered beforehand.

3. The test of distance.

“Oh, only an eight hour flight! That’s not bad!”

Thankfully Hong Kong to Melbourne is only an 8 hour flight. However, what most peeps probably don’t realise is that by time you get ready, allow for travel to the air port (one hour on the bus), check in, go through customs, board, fly, pick up luggage, head through customs again (UGH!) then head home (at least a forty minute drive) , it turns into an easy 24 hours of no sleep and no sleep makes me a very sick, jet lagged and cranky koala.

Since moving to Hong Kong, I’ve missed all sorts of significant events- weddings, births, birthdays, funerals and general quality time with friends and family.

As a people pleaser, who also suffers from F.O.M.O (fear of missing out), the hardest thing for me was the fear of disappointing people by saying no to things. Over time I have been learning to deal with it. There are still times however when homesickness and anxiety creeps in, but after a while you realise that the world goes on without you and you will somehow survive missing out on the things that were so crucially important to you before. Shockingly, other people will some how manage to survive with out you!

4. The test of no rest- Goodbye holidays!

When we lived in Australia, we travelled to Hong Kong once every one to two years to visit family and friends. While any travel is a privilege and ultimately each trip helped to prepare me for life as a resident, I do wish we explored more places on my personal bucket list instead of repeated trips to Asia.

When we moved to Hong Kong, I declared that we would not do the reverse and spend all our time and money going back to Australia- but of course that’s exactly what we have done, with the exception of a couple of short trips within Asia.

Unfortunately trips home are more like working holidays. Every thing is so tightly scheduled so that you can see as many family and friends as possible, as well as having doctor, dental and optical appointments and shopping on top of that.

As much as this sounds like I’m just a girl complaining about my privileged life and yes, I probably  am, one dilemma with this situation is that I cannot think of the last time Panda and I had any real chilled out quality time together because while most people escape town to find that, we are even busier on “holiday”. In an intense place like Hong Kong where work hours are long and social events are many, is this a good thing? Not at all.

5. The test of loss- All good things must come to an end.

One thing I have been pondering lately is that at some point I will find myself doing the reverse move back to Australia.

Again, I may just be a privileged girl complaining about her privilege because I know many Hong Kongers dream of relocating their family to Australia while I am blessed enough to call that place home purely by the fact that I was born there. Despite the loneliness that may come with expat life during challenging times, I have such a great affection for Hong Kong.

As much as the noise, cramped spaces and busyness drives me crazy at times, I love the views and sceneries And an afternoon by Victoria Harbour can bring peace to my heart like no other place. I Love the clean parks and convenient public transport. I love that there is always something to do and I love how celebratory Hong Kong is with its many festivals during the year. I love that I feel safe here, even more so than in Australia. And of course there are quite a few people I will miss terribly!

No doubt when I do go home, there will be a time of adjustment and deep feelings of sadness, loss and regret to leave behind a place where I have so many beautiful memories and a place that I held such high expectations for, some unmet, some exceeded. One thing is for sure, Hong Kong as been with me through the highest highs of my life and the lowest lows.

Overall, can I say I regret the decision to start a life in Hong Kong? Yes and no. I came for reasons that were right and well intentioned but while I have grown immensely through my experiences, living here has complicated my life in ways I did not foresee.

One lesson learnt is sometimes you just need to find contentment where ever you are even if you don’t get the result you wanted or when  life feels terribly unfair. But lets be honest, that is life whether you are living at home or away.

Koala Girl xx



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