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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Jennie at Scarlet Scorchdroppers who’s currently working and living in Hong Kong. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail . com.
My mornings in Hong Kong start off quietly. I live in Stanley, a seaside village on the south of Hong Kong Island, in little house right on the beach. The houses are the only ones of their kind in Hong Kong, built in the second World War to re-house village elders. A little row of eight houses, like little beach huts, all with matching green front doors. From the outside they’re a tourist novelty, at the weekends we regularly have people peeking in the windows. We often open the front door to find brides posing on the porch for their wedding pictures! Inside we live in one room, the bathroom is outside, the walls are permanently damp and it’s a haven for geckos and mosquitoes, but I love it. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves, and waking up to the sea right outside the door more than makes up for moldy walls.
When I first came to Hong Kong from England nearly 4 years ago I lived over in Kowloon, the part of Hong Kong attached to the mainland. While most expats preferring to live on the more westernized Hong Kong Island, Kowloon is affectionately known as the ‘Dark Side’. It was crazy busy, people packed the streets day and night, and I learnt how to sleep to the never ending beep of taxi horns and the constant glow of neon lighting. I loved that too, at the time, but now I can’t imagine going back to the noise and the crowds and the mass of people. For a city so dynamic and busy, people in Hong Kong seem to walk very slowly!
Hong Kong is such a series of contrasts. Old temples sit right next to modern glass skyscrapers. A road lined with high-end designer shops will back onto fresh produce markets, or ‘wet markets’, where men in welly boots and t-shirts rolled up over their tummies will sell live fish and gut them in front of you. The mountains, the sea and the city all live hand in hand. One night you can be drinking cocktails at the highest bar in the world, looking down on a sea of lights, and the next day you can be kayaking off deserted beaches, or hiking along the mountain trails, and feel like there’s not another soul for miles. I think this is what I love best about this place.
These days I wake up at 6.00 and make breakfast while the water heats up in the shower. Usually I make eggs or porridge. On the days I can’t wake myself up quickly enough to function in the kitchen I’ll grab something from the local bakery when I get to work. The lady there lays all the bread rolls out on tables on the street. She only speaks a few words of English, and I only speak a few words of Cantonese, so I often don’t know what fills my rolls and pastries, and breakfast is selected via pointing and smiles. She knows my favourites now though, and if she has anything filled with char sui pork, or, my guilty pleasure, hot dog sausages, she’ll put one in a bag without me having to ask.
I take the bus to work, public transport in Hong Kong is so efficient and cheap I’d never even think of having a car here. The MTR underground line is perhaps the quickest and most efficient way to get about, but it doesn’t yet run to the south side of Hong Kong Island. The bus runs all along the coast, climbing up and down the hills. On a clear day I’m treated to stunning views across blue seas and beaches out towards Hong Kong’s little islands. The landscape changes as we come into Aberdeen, a big fishing port town, and I’m greeted by old industrial buildings. In the parks, big groups of old women will be practicing tai chi. All moving slowly in unison. I’ll get off the bus, and have a short walk down the hill to work. On the way I pass groups of old men and women weighing out cardboard and tins. Occasionally you see them sprinkling water onto the card to make it heavier; they’ll be paid by the weight when they take the rubbish to the recycle centre. They call out a friendly “Jou Sahn, Good Morning”, as I pass.
I work in an international pre-school, teaching children all under 3 years old. My day starts at 8.00am, but I usually arrive in work about 15 minutes before for a quick cup of green tea and a few moments of calm. An unexpected upside to the job is that I’ve picked up some Mandarin from the Mandarin circle time the children have every day. I’m not sure how far singing about tigers and butterflies will get me in the long run, but it’s defiantly given me a basis in a language so far removed from English.
Children start coming to us from 6 months old, and attend accompanied playgroup classes until they’re 2 years old, when they start coming on their own. I never expected to be changing nappies for a living! The children who come are a real mix of nationalities, local Hong Kong, Chinese, British, American, Australian, German, French and Russian to name just a few! I used to work in a language centre teaching exclusively local children. The pressure that children in Hong Kong are under is unbelievable. I’ve taught private lessons coaching 2 year olds how to pass their school admission interviews, and children are formally academically tested not long after. It’s not uncommon for 2 year olds to be sent home from school with homework to complete too.
My working day runs until 5. Evenings vary. I cook at home a lot, in contrast to much of Hong Kong. Living space is at a premium and rent is sky high. Most people’s kitchens are about the size of a shoebox so eating out is far more common than cooking. On nights when I do eat out, I like to go to the waterfront restaurants in Stanley. There’s a great atmosphere in the evenings, with tables outside by the water. I feel like I’m on a permanent holiday. Another favourite is the Causeway Bay, or North Point Wet Market cooked food centres. Above the wet markets selling fresh vegetables, fish and meat, you’ll often find a cooked food centre. Tables are large and usually covered in some kind of plastic table cloth, with toilet roll serving as napkins. Service is erratic; food comes out whenever it’s ready and is dumped unceremoniously on the table. The places buzz with big groups of people, and the food is cheap and delicious. It’s best to go with a group so you can order lots of different things to share. We’ll normally end up with platters of squid, prawns, choy sum, and plenty of fried rice.
On other nights I’ll head to the gym, doing the grocery shopping, catch up on reading or blogging, or just open the doors to the beach and watch the sunset and the geckos run up the walls.
Saturday mornings I privately tutor. My boyfriend works full days on Saturdays, so I have the rest of the day to myself. Usually I’ll spend the day in the kitchen. I write a baking blog so it’s really good to have that time to test out recipes. When I first moved to Hong Kong I found it really frustrating trying to find ingredients, now I know where to look I can find most things, but sometimes they’re shockingly expensive. Sundays can be anything. Ranging from movie days in on the sofa or pottering around Stanley Market, to champagne brunches, hikes, beach trips, pub lunches or, my personal favourite, junk trips. We hire a junk boat, a wooden motorboat, and head out onto the water. We anchor up in some little cove or off a beach, and spend the day in the sun, swimming, eat and drinking.