Over 150 years later China resumed sovereignty in 1997 allowing Hong Kong to become a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Heūng Góng in Cantonese means “Fragrant Harbour”. Hong Kong prides itself on being the gateway to China and the place where East meets West. Hong Kong is one of the two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of China, the other being Macau. Before the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997, Hong Kong had been a British colony for nearly 150 years. As a result, most infrastructure inherits the design and standards of Britain.
While mainland China is communist, Hong Kong enjoys a limited democracy. It is a complex dance between the two influences, essentially “one country, two systems.” The basic law of Hong Kong ensures that their government “shall safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents.”
Hong Kong is a vibrant, exciting city. A stark contrast between Asian and Western cultures, yet both cultures combine to make the city a dynamic place. The city reflects the local culture’s mix of Chinese roots with influences from its time managed by the British. Somehow, Hong Kong manages to balance traditional Chinese practices with a fast paced, modern lifestyle.
The Pearl of the Orient is a fitting description, as wealth radiates from the city like its 260 islands emanating from the Chinese mainland. It has one of the world’s most successful capitalist economies and is known for being one of Asia’s fiscal giants, perched near the top of global economic rankings.
Today, the former British colony is a major tourism destination for China’s increasingly affluent mainland population. It is an important hub in East Asia with global connections to many of the world’s cities. It is a unique destination that has absorbed people and cultural influences from places as diverse as Vietnam and Vancouver and proudly proclaims itself to be Asia’s World City.
People and Etiquette
Some things to know about the cultural etiquette before you become a Hong Kong expat can help as even the smallest indiscretion can cause a big problem. For example, do not spit in public as it is prohibited. In fact, you can be fined up to $5,000 Hong Kong dollars/$650 U.S. dollars for doing so!
Learn the art of haggling. With such a vast range of exciting street markets where you can buy just about any type of consumer goods imaginable, your haggling skills may just save you from paying more than you should.
Do not underestimate the language barrier. Although English is spoken by many, it would be helpful to learn some basic Cantonese, as this is the official language of Hong Kong.
In social settings, it is common to use the title and family name until one is invited to use a first name, and elder respect is held with very high regard. It is also customary to accept gifts using both hands. It is thought of as rude to open the gift in front of the giver.
One thing you may notice while in Hong Kong is the absence of personal space. People in Hong Kong tend to stand very close together, yet avoid body contact. As a Westerner you may perceive the close proximity as pushiness but rest assured, it is normal within the culture. Also, prepare yourself for a slow moving pace when One thing you may notice while in Hong Kong is the absence of personal space.— ,walking about.
High Pricing in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has been ranked as the most expensive city for expats in a 2016 survey. In fact, Asia has five of the top 10 most expensive expat cities. While other goods, such as entertainment, household goods, and food, remain comparable and in some cases, cheaper than other top world cities, Hong Kong’s housing market remains heads above the rest. For renting a two bedroom unfurnished apartment in a well-located area of the city, you can expect to pay around $6,800 a month! In comparison, you would pay $5,100 in New York and $4,500 in London. Although costly, it is all about what you make of it. As you are paying to live in the world’s most expensive city, it gives you all the more reason to fully make the best of your time in Hong Kong.
Exploring the Kongcrete Jungle
Hong Kong is much more than a harbor city. It has sometimes been described as Hong Kongcrete. Yet, with its cloudy mountains and rocky islands, it is mostly a rural landscape. Much of the countryside is classified as Country Park and although 7 million people are never far away, it is possible to find pockets of wilderness. Although there is no shortage of sights to add to your overstimulation in the Kongcrete jungle, with 60 percent of Hong Kong Island being untouched, you will find no shortage of nature-based activities.
To escape the hectic of your daily grind, you can take a peaceful walk in Nan Lian Garden. This garden, designed in a Tang Dynasty style, consists of many hills, water features, trees and wooden structures. There is also Victoria Peak (or “The Peak”), the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. It will no doubt provide breathtaking views of the city.
One of the most beautiful walks is in the spectacular Shek O Country Park. This rural, marine park located in the Southern District faces the South China Sea and is home to the Dragon’s Back Trail. While trekking along the rugged ridge of this trail, you will see views of the Clear Water Bay Peninsula and the South China Sea. At its base, you will encounter the Shek O village and its sandy beaches.
At an impressive 280 tons and over 110 feet high, Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, a large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, is a very popular tourist attraction. Located near the Po Lin Monastery, it symbolizes the relationship between man, nature and faith. Surrounding it and also impressive in their own right, are six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha.
The Hong Kong Museum of History with its five branches and the Hong Kong Science Museum with more than 500 exhibits are a must. You can also venture to something with a little taste of home, Hong Kong Disneyland. Of course here, you will find all of your familiar childhood favorites, but with an Asian flair.
While in your new home away from home, you should make it a point to see a dragon boat race. Derived from an ancient Chinese tradition, dragon boat racing originally took place during the Chinese Duen Ng Festival, which is annually celebrated in early summer. There are around 20 paddlers on one boat, paddling to the beat of drums with boats richly decorated with dragon heads and tails and other ornaments. Truly it is a sight to be witnessed. Horse racing and basketball are also quite popular spectator sports. There are so many new sights and tastes to explore.
Chaotic Hong Kong is perhaps the most confusing Chinese of any Asian city and almost everyone who might make your life easier speaks the Cantonese version of the world’s most difficult language. Multi-national staff invariably speak English, but the rest of the city’s inhabitants are incomprehensible. A helpful Cantonese-speaking friend would be considered an essential tool.
A few words of the local language, Cantonese, learned will ingratiate you further. A simple “hello” would be good enough, but if you insist, you can say Nei-ho (你好 in Cantonese) to greet local people, and they will appreciate you for respecting their local culture which is distinctive from that in China, by learning Cantonese.
From the roadside stalls to the most upscale restaurants, Hong Kong provides an unlimited variety of food in every class. Complex combinations and international gourmet expertise have given Hong Kong the reputable labels of “Gourmet Paradise” and “World’s Fair of Food”. As Hong Kong is Cantonese in origin and most Hong Kong Chinese are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Cantonese-speaking parts of China, the food is a variant of Cantonese cuisine.
Among the many popular local dishes you should try, give the Peking Duck Pancakes a shot. These enormous wraps are found in street stalls all over the city and come stuffed with duck, hoisin sauce, cucumber and sheets of crispy mysteriousness. Some of the most authentic foods are those you will find in street stalls….dumplings, cart noodles, and the eggette are all staples around Hong Kong.
The fish ball is another famous Hong Kong snack. It originated from the 1950’s and quickly became one of the symbols of Hong Kong’s original foods. If you want to venture into more exotic fare, you can enjoy a bowl of hot snake soup. Snake soup is considered a delicacy as traditionalists believe it wards off colds and other maladies. The snake meat is shredded into thin white strips and served in a broth of mushrooms, seafood, and lemon leaves and often served with fried bits of dough. The experience of enjoying a bowl is quintessentially Hong Kong. Another common dish is Roast Pigeon. In Hong Kong they are braised in soy sauce, rice wine, and star anise before being roasted to crispy perfection.
If you prefer the safer side of cuisine, there is the egg tart typically made with a flaky puff pastry shell or a sweet shortbread crust and filled with a rich custard that is much “eggier” and less creamy than English custard tarts.
You must also try the boh loh baau, literally meaning “pineapple bun”. This is the holy grail of Hong Kong baking. It is firm on the outside, soft on the inside, and topped by crunchy, sugary pastry. Popular enough to have been exported around the world, it is ubiquitous in Hong Kong. It is the perfect complement to milk tea.
Whatever your fare, and there is no shortage of new tastes to experience, you can wash it all down with one of the made-in-Hong Kong craft brews like a Dragon Back Pale Ale, from the Hong Kong Beer Co. Hong Kong’s first microbrewery.
With Hong Kong being recently named the most expensive city for expats, as mentioned before, you have to look at the positives of what you are getting. Things like a great selection of a new and exciting cuisine and the chance to sample things you will not find anywhere else. Another thing that Hong Kong has over many places is a fantastic public transportation system. It is known as one of the fastest, cleanest, and most reliable in the world. The expat community is incredibly friendly since Hong Kong is a very transient place. Most people you will encounter know what it is like to be new and are happy to help and befriend the new “locals”. Not to mention the exciting nightlife, the new culture and language to learn, and the abundant outdoor opportunities in the beautiful untouched Hong Kong countryside.
It is not easy relocating to the Pearl of the Orient. The bustle never stops in Hong Kong’s densely populated center. If you do not have the right attitude and an open mind, you might not enjoy your stay. Embrace the chaos, indulge in new experiences, brave some street food and tolerate the assault on your familiar sensibilities. It is part of the adventure of traveling to and living in an exotic destination!