From the UK to Hong Kong: Land of No Cheese
My name is Emilie and I grew up in the UK. However, chance has had it that I have only ever worked abroad: Spain, France, and now Hong Kong. I seem to be a bit of an accidental expat.
1. Why did you move abroad?
2. How do you make a living?
My ticket to HK nearly two years ago was a teaching position, but now I’m an editor/writer for a local publisher, which as well as being closer to my interests, allows me to pay my (disproportionate) rent. I also get to enjoy the perks of being part of a Chinese company: mooncakes in autumn and lai see (red 'money envelopes' ) in spring.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Probably too infrequently! Telecommunications are cheap here though and even international calls are charged at a very reasonable rate, so I can make long calls home on my mobile without worrying about my bill.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Hong Kong?
Not (always) understanding what people around me are saying. The inane conversations of other people on public transport, for example, are on the whole blissfully meaningless to me. Unless I’m standing next to a large, vociferous group of Anglophones…
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Hong Kong?
Not (always) being able to communicate with the people around me! But also, as a gwai mui (white girl) in Hong Kong: being automatically spoken to in English. At this rate, my feeble Cantonese will never get off its feet!
6. What do you miss most?
A good selection of cheese. Roast potatoes. French food that isn’t pretentious or overpriced. Eating poultry that is not chopped up haphazardly, bones and all. Proper grass, and lying on it. Central heating (yes, HK is chilly in winter). A practical purpose for large bath towels. Space.
7. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
There are little details of human life which are private in some cultures and public in others, and getting the measure of these is always disconcerting to a newcomer. Burping (loudly, at the dinner table) or clipping your nails (in the park or on the train) are among the things come under the latter category here. That said, blowing your nose doesn’t, so when I have a cold I have to resort to sniffing until I can hide in a corner where no-one can see me.
8. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That it’s a concrete jungle – it’s not, or at least, that’s only a small proportion of it. The far greater part is wild and, in places, quite dramatic countryside. There are forests, peaks, cliffs, remote islands, sea caves, ancient rock carvings, secluded beaches, and half-abandoned villages with feral cattle wandering about. Hong Kong’s natural beauty is its biggest secret.
9. What advice would you give other expats?
Buy one of the excellent government-made hiking maps, get out there and explore: there are miles of country trails for all ability levels. (Lantau Island is particularly beautiful.) Learn to eat steamed fish with chopsticks (don’t be put off by the head): fragrant and juicy, it’s one of Hong Kong’s best dishes. Skip the bars of Lan Kwai Fong for once and go and see a Chinese opera at the Sunbeam Theatre or an old film at the Film Archive instead. Most importantly, make friends with some Hong Kong people and show an interest in their culture: you can learn so much this way and it’s very rewarding.
10. When and why did you start your blog?
Soon after arriving here – the original idea was to share my experience with friends ‘back home’ but after a few months it became a bit of an art project: using my photographs to draw connections about the quirky and curious aspects of Hong Kong life. I have no interest in rambling about myself or launching into diatribes (with the possible exception of the matter of cheese), so I try to keep it as light as possible. Readers can draw their own conclusions.
The blog forces me to ask questions about what I see around me rather than simply accepting. It motivates me to get more intimate with the unique culture of this place. It makes me more aware of some of the challenges Hong Kong faces, and more sensitive to its treasures. Generally, it allows me to experience life here more keenly. I hope the blog might also have some of these effects on my readers.
Emilie's blog, Land of No Cheese
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