The Life Long Adventures
I remember them taking us to the only McDonald’s in the country and having to queue up for over an hour outside while small children jumped the queue to fulfil the orders of those waiting in Ferraris outside the restaurant. I remember exiting a subway station and being greeted by men with automatic weapons because an anti-government protest was underway. It was complete cultural shock and I loved every minute of it. That trip ignited a passion in me that still exists to this day.
A few years later and two years into university a friend asked if I wanted to go to Hong Kong with her for the summer. I jumped at the opportunity and, when the summer came to an end, made the decision to go to London instead of back to the States. More than twenty years later, I am still travelling.
The nomadic/expat life has not always been easy. This was especially true in the early years when I struggled to make enough money to support myself and my travels. Back then there weren’t any support groups offering advice on how to live the kind of life I was leading. My family and childhood friends did not really understand my choices. It wasn’t “normal” for a young American female to be travelling the world without a “proper” job. In the end each hurdle I faced only made me want to travel more.
I have been living in Hong Kong as an expat for the past three years – the longest I have been in one place in my entire adult life. I see this time as a new chapter in my life and that is one of the reasons that I started blogging about my travels. I want to share my past and future experiences.
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Where are you living now and where did you live originally?
I grew up in a small farming community in Northern California, USA. Currently, I live in one of the most crowded cities in the world, Hong Kong.
How long have you lived your current destination or last destination as an expat?
I have lived in Hong Kong off and on over the past twenty years. This time around I have been in country for three and a half years.
How many countries have you lived in as an expat?
Since I first left the USA in 1996, I have lived for extended periods in Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, England, France, and Canada and visited dozens other countries across five continents.
What made you decide to move to the current country as an expat?
Out of all the countries I have lived in, I feel the most at home in Hong Kong. Really, these days I feel more at home in Hong Kong than in the USA.
What were your biggest fears of moving if any?
I don’t think I was ever really afraid of moving. I have always been the kind of person that wants to go far and see new things. For me, standing still is something to be afraid of.
How do you keep in contact with friends and family and do you get to see them often?
These days I mainly use Whats-App to stay in contact with friends and family. When I first started living overseas I didn’t have a mobile phone and could only access the Internet at Internet Cafes. Back then I mostly used pay phones to call my family.
How did you decide what countries or country you would become an expat in?
When I first started living overseas I was all about moving to the furthest point from wherever I was located. When I was in Boston I decided to move to Hong Kong. When I was in Hong Kong I decided to move to London. Quite quickly though what became the most important was the length of visa I could obtain. Most recently, I chose to live in Hong Kong because it is the perfect base – a place where I can live a culturally rich life and frequently venture out to other locations with ease.
How do you make you living as an expat in Hong Kong?
Initially, I made money teaching English. Then I took a position in the states that allowed me to work remotely from wherever I wanted. Currently, I work for a Fintech company.
Do you live the (nomad life or location independent life – work and travel freely) if so how easy or difficult was it?
I used to live the nomad life, teaching English and working remotely for a tech company. I loved the freedom of not being tied down to any one place. If I was in Hong Kong and I wanted to go skiing in Switzerland, I could just move there and still be earning money.
For anyone that wants to start this lifestyle, I would say – do your research about cost of living before you decide where to go. Know what sort of life you want and what living conditions you are willing to accept and then check if your income in that country will allow you to meet your expectations. When I was younger, I was content to live in a room the size of a bed with a shared bathroom and kitchen. These days I want a bit more creature comforts, so I have to take then into account.
As and expat in the current country you are living in or any previous countries, did you speak the languages or learn any of the languages?
I always make sure to learn a few phrases of the local language. I focus on anything related to local social customs and practical things like food, numbers, time, and directions.
I found the most success with the language app Memrise.
What are the approx costs of living where you are now or any previous place you have lived as an expat?
Everywhere I go, my biggest expense is always accommodation and that is especially true in Hong Kong. There is a common saying here among expats – my flat is one-third the size of my old flat back home and three times the cost! My current flat is a 300sqft studio with a view of the harbour and costs about US$3,000 a month.
What have been some of the pros and cons about living in Hong Kong?
One of the big draws for me as a woman is how safe Hong Kong is. I never worry when I go out late at night by myself. In fact the only places where I need to show any real caution are the nightlife spots that are popular with tourists.
The main drawback to living in Hong Kong is the high cost of living. Currently ranked as the second most expensive city in the world after Singapore, Hong Kong is not a place to live in long-term if you have very little income.
Do you have any future plans here to move somewhere else? If so where are you thinking? why this place?
For now, I plan to use Hong Kong as my base and travel to other countries from here. The large number of public holidays (17 days in 2018) plus a generous amount of annual leave means that I will be able to take a couple three-week long trips plus several long weekends. Eventually, I know that I will need to move on to somewhere else. I have never stayed anywhere for too long!
Can you give any insights into the local culture / customs where you live as an expat (either now you previously) How important is it for people to be aware of these when living here to visiting here?
A common mistake I see new arrivals to Hong Kong making is thinking that this city has the same culture as the rest of China. The local language is Cantonese, not Mandarin, and many locals are more likely to speak English as their second language than anything else.
The Cantonese language, as it is spoken locally, is filled with idioms and common sayings. It is common for locals to take two words that sound similar and create a double meaning based on that similarity. For example, the word for ‘death’ and the word for ‘four’ sound similar. As a result many buildings do not have any floors that contain the number four.
For better or worse, it is entirely possible to come to Hong Kong and never have to speak a word of Cantonese. The expat population is large and there are whole parts of the city (Central/Wan Chai) that specifically cater to that group.
Do you travel around from this destination where you are living as an expat? What are some places you have visited from here / any countries close by that you recommend / what are the travel costs like to these places?
One of the great things about Hong Kong is how centrally located it is. Flights north to Japan and Korea and flights south to Singapore and the rest of South East Asia are only a few hours and fairly inexpensive. In addition, because the HK Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar, I find that my money is able to go a long way when visiting many of these countries.
How are the locals where you live (were they easy to make friends with)? Are there any expat clubs or similar that you have joined? How easy was it to make new friends or associates here?
With a large expat community, it is very easy to make new friends and find new business partners here. Getting to know the locals can be a bit more difficult. There are those Hong Kongers that spent their childhood and teenage years overseas when their parents left Hong Kong before the city was handed over to China in 1997. These Hong Kongers can speak Cantonese but are often not able to read it and more likely to hang-out with expats than other locals.
I have never been one to hang out in expat hot spots. I always prefer to integrate myself into the local community as much as possible. In Hong Kong, sharing about one’s family and personal life is not standard behavior so becoming friends with a local can seem difficult. An expat making an effort to understand the local politics and cultural standards is so rare that it is really all that is necessary to encourage Hong Kongers to open up to you.
How do you spend your time off here or at weekends?
I spend a significant portion of my free time hiking. Hong Kong has set aside 70% of its land for country parks – mountains, jungles, and pristine beaches are only minutes away. On Lantau Island, the largest island in Hong Kong, it is possible to hike for hours and not see another person. I also highly recommend and really enjoy taking a boat to one of the 260 outlying islands for seafood and barbeques on the beach.
What is the climate like where you live?
During the late spring and summer the humidity is really high and temperatures range in the mid to high eighties. The summer is also the typhoon season. In the fall and winter, average temperatures are in the low seventies and mid to high sixties respectively.
Travel Tips, Advice & Global Adventures. After years of travelling and living abroad, I created this blog to share my experiences and knowledge and to inspire others to experience the world.
Please share one life quote or any quote you love.
Travel because you can, because you need to, because challenging your expectations feeds your soul.