Expectation: Everyone here is rich
Reality: If you’re shopping in Causeway Bay, you will probably pass by people who live posh and breath designer. If you’re exploring Central, you will probably walk by alffluent businessmen. If you’re hiking Dragon’s Back Hike, you will definitely come across a small, 9-hole golf course that costs $1 million USD a year to be a member! It is true, Hong Kong is the most expensive city in Asia, and in many ways the city’s extravagance is in no way shy. But to my surprise, the many tall, colorful buildings that placate the city didn’t turn out to be the decently looking apartments I thought they were, but rather, public housing units. I later found out that public housing provides homes to 2 million people in Hong Kong, just over 30% of the population. In reality, income inequality is a relevant issue in this city, the gap widening year after year.
Hong Kong Pubic Housing
Expectation: People here are rude
Reality: It is the city, and like any other city, it will be full of busy people in a rush trying to get somewhere. Small talk? No time for that. Standing in my way? Let me push you a little to the side to pass through. Besides ordinary city behaviors, I do find that the people here to be helpful when I have a question and inquisitive and welcoming of my nationality and ethnicity.
Expectation: Most people here know English
Reality: Since English is also the official language of Hong Kong, I thought that I would get by without knowing Cantonese. In actuality, I would say one in every two people I have come across here know English or at least a little. You could say I have been getting by through gestures and simple Cantonese words.
Expectation: Living here is very expensive
Reality: While Hong Kong can be expensive, if you shop locally, prices are reasonable. Avoid tourist traps, learn how to haggle in markets, and eat lots of street food!
Hong Kong waffle bought from a street vendor for $2.50 USD
Other takeaways from locals:
- Politics & Economy: While visiting the Tai O Fishing village, I met a young shop owner who was friendly and sweet. As she was speaking to my friend in Cantonese, her little girl was playing on the ground with her toys, and her husband was preparing dinner in her house behind the shop. In that moment, I saw the value of language, as I so desperately wanted to speak with her and with the other locals. Later, I found out that my friend was talking to her about her business, how it’s been slow, and that she’s lived here all her life. She also said that as political tensions are beginning to rise in Hong Kong, she advised us to live somewhere else. This remark surprised me.
- Low Birth Rate: A coworker told me how the birth rate in cities and economies like Hong Kong are declining because as more women are working, children become too expensive to look after. “You have to find a nanny or daycare, you want to have another kid to keep the other company, you have to find a 2 bedroom+ apartment or living complex, then schooling, extracurricular activities, tutoring, books, fields trips, etc…. it all adds up. In the end, families end up putting off the prospect of having children indefinitely. So I won’t be having kids anytime soon.”
- Cultural Melting Pot: There are a fair number of South Asians and Europeans living here. I met a few who were very friendly; an Indian food delivery man who has been here for 18 years and a Belgium orthopedic doctor whose has lived here for 13 years. The both said one day they might move back, but for now, Hong Kong is a diverse and beautiful place to settle.
Tai O Fishing Village