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Getting to know Hong Kong

Whenever expats relocate, one of the easiest ways of integrating is to meet up with the local community rather than simply mixing with other expats.

A combination of the two will probably make your stay more enjoyable.

Hong Kong has its own way of doing things, whether it’s the unique social etiquette, or simply getting used to the overwhelming noise that’ll greet you in Hong Kong City. This is a place where people work hard and take full advantage of their leisure time.

The geography

From the hectic, bustling city centre to stunning wildlife parks, Hong Kong is diverse. Lantau Island is an excellent example of unrestrained nature on the one hand and the full blast of 21st century life on the other. You can hike across staggering peaks and wilderness in the morning, and visit an amusement park in the afternoon. The New Territories are home to small farms and beautiful wildlife as well as playing host to the overspill from Hong Kong Island. 70% of Hong Kong’s landmass is undeveloped, comprising extraordinary rock formations, wooded areas and stunning beaches.

The politics

A recent article in the New York Times suggests that while China claims that Hong Kong has always been part of the mainland, first annexed in 221 BC, Hong Kong claims that it is separate from China and should remain so. In practice, Hong Kong is governed separately from China despite its shared sovereignty. It has its own elected body and runs the region under what is known as ‘Basic Law.’ There is a growing democracy movement within the region, and some academics claim that Hong Kong was run under more liberal conditions when it was governed as a British crown colony.

There is a popular separatist movement within Hong Kong. A survey carried out in 2017 by Hong Kong University revealed that 65% of respondents in the 18-29 age group identify themselves as ‘Hong Kongers’ rather than Chinese citizens, though this doesn’t really affect daily expat life. A further poll of all age groups found that 68% of those surveyed saw themselves as ‘Hong Kongers.’ How China will choose to treat Hong Kong in the future remains to be seen. The current sovereignty lease between China and Hong Kong is due to be re-negotiated once its current 99-year lease ends in 2047.

The weather

Hong Kong’s weather is as varied as its landscape. The summers are intensely humid, and you will feel the uncomfortable effects of air pollution, including shortness of breath. Due to the smog, people with breathing and heart problems should stay inside as far as is practical.

Typhoon season lasts from May to November. There are ten categories of typhoon, though category 10 is extremely rare. The government runs an efficient advanced warning service through the Hong Kong Observatory, which records weather information daily in the English language. Should a category 8 be forecast, this is the time to retreat inside and, quite literally, batten down the hatches.

Meeting other expats

Socialising away from the workplace is important as you’ll be able to extend your network of friends and learn more about the community in which you live. If you’re a westerner looking for aspects of home while overseas, Tsim Sha Tsui is the place for you. Situated on the Kowloon peninsula, the area is very popular with expats and tourists. Many people come here to socialise and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Shops and restaurants proliferate here.

Nightclubs and bars are also a fantastic place to meet other expats, if you can hear yourself speak above the din. Lan Kwai Fong in Central is an expat magnet. This maze of streets with its drinking bars, cocktail salons and nightclubs is thronged with expats. Wan Chai is another area where you’ll be sure to meet individuals looking for a great night out.

Clubs and societies

Hong Kong is home to a plethora of clubs and societies, and joining one of these is one of the easiest ways to extend your social circle. The China Club and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club are two of the most opulent and upmarket clubs in Hong Kong, though you’ll have to join a waiting list to enter their hallowed portals. If this type of club is what you have been looking for, then the website Sassy Hong Kong provides a list of similar venues. Those with slightly shallower pockets or different cultural aspirations will find the list on the Expat Woman website invaluable. From male voice choirs to lacrosse or cricket clubs, the list is endless, and full contact details are available for every club on the list.

Living the local life

To make friends within the local community, observing cultural practices and tradition is important. Hong Kong is reputed to be one of the friendliest places for expats to mingle and socialise with the local community. Many Hong Kong citizens have travelled overseas, studied abroad or worked all over the world and wish to continue their interest in other cultures. Soho is an excellent place to integrate. English is generally used as the expat lingua franca, and the area’s cafes and bars are open 24/7.

Some knowledge of Hong Kong etiquette will stand you in good stead when mixing with the local community. If you’re eating in a restaurant with your Hong Kong friends and unsure about protocol, observe and copy your hosts, and bear these basic rules in mind:

  • Never eat the last remnant from the serving tray
  • Always return your chopsticks to the chopstick rest in between conversation or after a few bites. You wouldn’t wave your knife and fork around at home, the same rules apply to chopsticks.
  • It’s considered polite to leave some food in your bowl when you’ve finished your meal
  • Don’t be offended when someone burps. Burping is taken as a compliment rather than an insult.