Overall, Hong Kong was an incredible experience for me in all senses. The city, people of completely different culture, mountains and sea, industrial and forest jungles. Four months flew away extremely fast – slower in downs and quicker in ups.
The university studies were structured in a way that I had nothing to do in the first two months and had all my exams and assignments scheduled in the last two. So, I did most of my exploring and traveling in September-October and had a tougher time later. I travelled through all the possible places in Hong Kong and its closest islands, as well as Thailand. Studies could not compare to Stockholm School of Economics in Riga level. Yet, I was curious to know about the specifics of Hong Kong education system, Asia-Pacific region and their view of the world. Moreover, working in teams with people coming from all around the world was, by no means, my major source of learning.
Expectations and reality
I expected Hong Kong to look like a huge megapolis of skyscrapers and officially dressed office workers. All posh, all new. And it was. But Hong Kong is way more Chinese, than I thought it to be.
First two weeks I lived in a very local residential area Hung Hom, where meeting a foreigner was rather rare. Tiny streets, small local shops with all the Chinese advertisements and titles. Street markets with meat just hanging on some metal hooks on the walls, chicken cooked with their heads on and many more things, I was not used to see at home. Food safety norms are not that strict in Hong Kong. So, whenever I ate out I tried not to think about how the food was cooked. I remember that feeling during the first weeks when going in the metro, I would observe local people – the way they dress, talk, what they watch on the phone. And then I felt that they look at me in the same way. That feeling faded away after a month or so in Hong Kong.
When I moved to Wan Chai – a very Westernized district next to the business quarters, the life has changed a bit. Many Europeans, Western cafe and shops. Yet, wherever you go in Hong Kong, there is always a feeling of Chinese influence.
I have a very bright memory of first getting out of the plane and taking a bus from the airport to the city center. Everything around looked so different from what I saw before – trees, mountains, high temperature and extreme humidity, endless sea and enormous buildings. I was like “look there! look there!..” all the time. Then I remember swimming in the waterfalls in the mountains when hiking in Sai Kung, missing a bus and walking 7 kilometers at night in complete darkness till the nearest bus station.
The trip to Thailand was among the highlights of my stay in Asia as well. Riding elephants, getting on a speedboat in the storm, patting wild monkeys. I felt sick on the second evening almost fainting at the restaurant, and then the next morning we were sliding the Phuket hills on the motorbike. Time of the life.
Favorite place in Hong Kong
Public terrace of International Finance Center (IFC) with its view over Victoria harbour, Viktoria Harbour promenade with its view on iconic Hong Kong skyline, Kowloon Park – a piece of nature and silence right in the middle of Kowloon chaos – are among my favorite places in Hong Kong. Waterfalls in Sai Kung to me is the most beautiful place in Hong Kong – clear cool water, picturesque scenes.
I would say that food turned out to be the biggest challenge in Hong Kong. Local and mostly affordable restaurants were of a very specific taste, too different from European taste preferences. To me the food was either too spicy, or if you ask for not spicy – tasteless. Moreover, meat is a big thing in Hong Kong. You can get several types of meat in one dish. And when being vegetarian, I was happy to find the word “fish” in the menu, the would be necessarily “with pork” added in the end of the sentence. It was funny, when you order “rice with vegetables” and you get a plate of rice and a small piece of broccoli on top. Of course, Hong Kong is full of Western restaurants, however, they demand a huge premium, thus, it’s not that you can eat there daily. So, at least two times per week we were ending up eating at Macdonalds, which is ridiculously cheap in Hong Kong and at least you get what you ordered.
Would I move to Hong Kong?
For a year – two maximum, probably yes. Hong Kong is a great place to start and speed up the career. Being the world’s financial center, it has a lot to offer. Yet, due to the high focus of Hong Kongers on work and career, you might probably end up working from early morning till late evening. Staying extra hours is a normal thing in HK. Thus, I could not imagine myself living in Hong Kong for a longer time span.