I remember when I first moved to Hong Kong in August 2010, I was so excited to live here… but also totally flustered because the environment was completely different than what I’d grown up with in a small town in the middle of the United States.
If you can relate and you’re feeling exactly the same way because you now call Hong Kong home, here are a few tips that I wish I’d known when I was in your shoes!
1. Change how you walk
Escalator etiquette: standers stay on the right, walkers go up the left. We Hongkongers get annoyed when we have somewhere to be quick – and we always all seem to be in a hurry! – and a newbie is parked on the left side. Once you’re off the escalator, walk fast wherever it is you’re trying to go. You’ll notice a steady rhythm and flow (some might even call it a fine art!) for how people get around, weaving in and out, side-stepping, and crossing streets without looking.
2. Be open to meeting new people
I came to HK the type of person who would never approach a guy first, wouldn’t start talking to someone out of the blue, and couldn’t muster up the courage to meet new people in order to make new friends. But being in Hong Kong definitely changed my approach; I had to learn to drop the scared and embrace the fun. Attend networking events, come to a Sassy Hour, subscribe to our Weekender emails for all the hottest happenings around town and start talking to people who look interesting. You never know where it will take you or who you might meet.
3. Learn to love you… all by your lonesome!
I have had many “all by myself” firsts in HK: the first time eating at a restaurant by myself, the first time going to a movie alone, the first time traveling solo, etc. In my hometown, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because maybe, just maybe, others were judging me; in Hong Kong, it’s definitely the norm to be found places by yourself. No one cares here (and they most likely didn’t at home either) and especially if you’re new and don’t know anyone, you have to eat and drink, you’ll want to go see the newest Ryan Gosling film, and you won’t want to stay in HK for every break you get.
4. Public transport here rocks!
Download the MTR and CitybusNWFB apps or peruse the interactive bus route search online to find out how to get to where you need to go. Even taxis are quite cheap here; starting at $20 for 2 km, you can’t go wrong. The cheapest, of course, is the tram; it costs just over $2 (i.e. peanuts) to take you from one side of Hong Kong Island to the other, including areas the train doesn’t even stop at – so get exploring!
5. Be prepared to walk (and sweat!) a lot
Even though you can get almost anywhere by MTR or bus, often they don’t take you exactly where you need to be. Thanks to the HK heat and the constant walking, I lost 15 pounds when I moved to HK! But not just thanks to the oppressive heat and the incessant walking… I sweat more than I think I’m meant to. Come June, you’ll know what I mean!
6. Bring your umbrella with you at all times
Hong Kong is infamous for its lengthy rainy season. One minute it could be sunny, the next sunny with raindrops falling, then a full-out downpour will ensue. And ladies, a hint that I’ve learned: own waterproof shoes! Even though you’ve brought your umbrella, your feet will inevitably get sopping wet. You can also make like a local and use your umbrella as a parasol for the beating sunshine too.
7. Find a map and make it your new bible
The first few weeks I was here, I lived in Causeway Bay aka the busiest place I’ve ever been in my life. I’d been to Hong Kong for a week six years ago, but I clearly had no idea where I was going… and my God did I get lost a lot! I wanted to cry so many times that first month, but I learned to suck it up, get out my map, and find where I needed to be. Those of you with Smartphones, it’s time to make GPS your friend!
8. Asiaxpat, Geoexpat and Gumtree are officially your new best friends
Use them to find a place to live, the phone numbers for movie theatres… even buy new furniture (I just bought a used iPhone super-cheap thanks to Gumtree!!).
9. Get out there and explore
Don’t spend your every waking moment Skyping with your friends and family back home (I make weekly Skype dates with them now so that my life isn’t attached to my computer!). I spent months without a colander just because I couldn’t find it in the one store I knew where to look. Then a co-worker showed me the $10 Store (which recently became known as Jusco Living Plaza and is now $12-ish store) where my kitchen soon became complete. I’m sure I could have found that store by myself, but I didn’t even bother trying.
10. Make a list of everything you want to do in HK and just do it
Even if you’re too afraid to ask someone you’ve just met to join you, go by yourself. I have the greatest story of how I met my friend Kat at the Ten Thousands Buddhas: we were both alone walking up the first of 500 steps, when I saw another blondie coming up the stairs. I threw away my fear and said, “I want to make a new friend,” so I started talking to her and we clicked instantly. We spent the rest of the day visiting more sites and have remained friends ever since! All it took was guts and the desire to see a cultural site for us to meet and even a year later, Kat and I still talk and visit each other now that she’s moved away.
Even though I really struggled when I first got here, I wouldn’t take back one second of my first few months in Hong Kong. I got lost so many times, did many more things by myself and learned more new things about me that I can never replace. I am now this totally different person because I moved here and learned to be open to the possibility of everything and anything.
Before I moved to Hong Kong, I started a blog so that I could share with friends and family who’d never lived overseas or been to Asia what was going on in my life (Ooh, start a blog! That’s tip number eleven!); now I look back every once in a while at what I wrote when I first moved here and am utterly amazed at the transformation I’ve made since the summer of 2010. And now here I sit with 5 months left in this amazing city wondering where the time has gone. Trust me, you will struggle and you will have tough times, but you will survive… and you’ll be an even better person for it by the end!