Ok, as promised here are my top ten things I like a lot about this city:
1. Diversity: Hong Kong is truly the most multicultural city I have ever lived in. I definitely think assumptions are made about certain nationalities, or groups of people, based on stereotypes, but I've never witnessed or experienced outright racism (which can be rampant in Australia sadly). Our group of friends here includes people from Canada, South Africa, India, Europe, Indonesia, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand, just to name a few. One of my favourite things about teaching here was seeing kids from so many different backgrounds working and playing together, and I love that my son will grow up being exposed to such different cultures and ideas.
2. Contrasts: Despite being a very modern, metropolitan city, there is another side to this place that not many people expect to see. We live on South Lantau island, 25 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong proper. I guess it's what's considered a rural idyll by local standards. We live across the street from the beach and on the other side of us are two large peaks covered in hiking trails and untameable wilderness. Every day a herd of cattle makes their way down the road to feed, and there is a water buffalo habitat 5 minutes from here. It's so refreshing after a manic day in the city to come home and have to stop the car to let an impressively massive buffalo pass. The Lantau Bovine Association have the tough job of making sure these gorgeous creatures are treated well and that they receive veterinary care when necessary. You can find them on Facebook if you want to know more. Another contrast I love is the difference between the summer and winter here. Winter is cold and everything dies off, then suddenly, around April, with a little bit of rain it all bursts into life again. When the jungle's in full bloom it makes me wonder how anyone ever thought that building a city in amongst all that wilderness was a good idea.
3. Shopping: Like a lot of things here, I have a love-hate relationship with shopping. You really have to be organised and in the right frame of mind. I find impulse buying a lot easier because I tend to be disappointed if I go out with a plan. Shopping does seem to be a national pasttime and you can buy just about anything from just about anywhere. I've been introduced to so many new brands, of clothes, accessories, household products, food, that are now my staples and I will genuinely miss them when I leave HK. Whether you're shopping on the street, in a mall, at the markets, the crowds can be overwhelming and I sometimes feel like I'm sitting in a car at an intersection trying to merge onto a busy highway; you just have to close your eyes, move forward and let the traffic take you with it. When you do manage to snag some bargains and make it home unscathed, it's all worth it!
4. Proximity to the rest of the world: Having lived in Australia for 28 years it's great to live somewhere that's so close to everywhere else. I travelled to Europe when I was 20 and it took me two days just to get to London. My return journey from Dublin took 3 days, involved a car ride, ferry, train, bus and 4 flights, and I still had to spend 6 hours asleep in a transit lounge in Osaka. Here I can get on a plane after breakfast and arrive anywhere in Europe/Africa/America/Asia in the same day! We once went skiing in California, for a weekend! Admittedly that was a little extravagant but definitely do-able. The travel is one of the main reasons why we're here, and we can't wait to show J the world that lies just beyond our doorstep.
5. Opportunity: We came here because the company my husband works for offered a package that was too good to refuse. In Sydney we were living simply but still beyond our means. We couldn't sustain the kind of lifestyle we had and move ahead financially. Hong Kong offered us the chance to pay off our debts, buy our own home and still have a life. We're not exactly wealthy but we're comfortable. I've met a lot of people here who have been offered opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have had if they'd stayed in their home countries. Many have started businesses and are succeeding at things they only dreamt about doing before. There's a feeling here that you can do anything you want to, and I'm finally starting to feel that all the sacrifices, everything we gave up to come here, have been worth it.
6. Blue sky days: I hate the pollution here. I've said it before but I'll say it again, it's the one thing that will make me leave one day. If it's possible to get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) from too much smog, that's how I feel about it. Over the summer we were treated to a long stretch of good weather and clear skies and we saw how spectacular the city could look. It is a gorgeous part of the world, when you can see it.
7. Xiao Long Bao: Chinese pulled noodles in a clear soup with pork won tons (from Crystal Jade, IFC) is on my list of top ten favourite dishes. It's even better when you get seated at a round table with a dozen other single diners all eating an array of mouth watering dishes, expertly wielding their chopsticks and cups of jasmine tea. I have bemoaned the lack of good quality fresh produce here but the abundance of amazing regional specialities is a definite plus.
8. Cleanliness: I've seen people pick their noses, floss their teeth and cut their nails in public here and the throat clearing is just stomach churning! But, it's one of the cleanest cities I've ever been to. Since SARS there has been a massive public education campaign to encourage people to "use cough manners" and keep the streets clean. Public areas are regularly sanitised and disinfected and it's rare to see litter on the streets. There's a silent army of workers out there every day cleaning, gardening, maintaining public areas and doing a damn fine job of keeping the city shiny and hygienic. At the height of swine flu last year we went back to Melbourne. On arriving at the airport I was horrified by the state of the place. The floors were dirty, the bins were overflowing and there was not a cleaner in sight. It really opened my eyes to how clean HK really is.
9. Safety: I feel very safe here. I went out last night and caught a late train home, and at no point did I feel a need to stay in well-lit areas or look over my shoulder. Crime rates are very low and minor crimes like bag-snatching and muggings are rare. People here are just far too honest to consider breaking the law or hurting someone. I really like feeling so secure, it should be that way everywhere. The public transport is also safe and clean. The trains make Sydney's transport system look like something out of the dark ages.
10. The people: The local culture is so very different to our own. The education system has a very different focus and creates a unique mindset which can be infuriating to Westerners. There's a lot that's difficult to understand and there are days when it's impossible to achieve anything because what you're asking is just too hard to explain. En masse, the local people are simply very different to us. I could go on, in detail, but I'm trying to be diplomatic and positive. Despite the obstacles, when you get to speak to someone one-on-one and really get to know them, you find a race of people who are funny, hard working, intelligent, quirky and kind. They have a deep respect for their culture and family, which is at the core of everything they do. They are a full of contrasts, preferring to "save face" rather than risk a confrontation, while at the same time not really caring what anyone else thinks. There's a good reason why China is such a powerhouse and it has so much to do with their work ethics and values. It's a truly fascinating culture, filled with equally fascinating subcultures. I could live here another 20 years and still not fully understand what it is that makes the local people tick, but I would really enjoy trying to figure it out.
So there you have it. I'd love to hear from you if you have something to add to this list. Have a great week everyone!