Surviving Hong Kong: tips & tricks from ‘expert expats’

If Hong Kong had open air piazzas lined with cafes and restaurants where people-watching behind dark sunglasses was a national pastime (think Rome’s Piazza Navona), it would be very easy to differentiate the newcomers from those ‘in the know’. As this city’s answer to piazzas are cafés in shopping centres, we cannot rely on such good vantage points to pick out Hong Kong’s experts.

But what defines a Hong Kong Expert?

Excluding of course local born and bred Hong Kongers, bananas who have a linguistic and family advantages, as well as tourists and business related visitors, a Hong Kong Expert is someone who lives here and has managed to discover those little tricks that make living in the city more bearable – if not downright enjoyable!

Getting around Hong Kong the first time can sometimes be a little confusing

Talking to expats throughout Hong Kong, one can usually pick up what “stage” they are living in relatively quickly. A psychologist at the University of Hong Kong, Dr. Mildred McCoy, suggested that there are four stages of reaction to Hong Kong that foreigners experience at first:

–       Euphoria: the spectacle of Hong Kong is so exciting and interesting, yet so reassuringly familiar

–       Tension & bewilderment: a realization of how vastly foreign the territory really is combined with a feeling of isolation

–       Irritability: grumbling at local customs and ways as personal ethnic identities are challenged

–       Relaxation: acceptance of the alien nature of environment, development of new-found tolerances, greater objectivity and appropriate coping skills.

At some point or another, most of us will have experienced one or more of these phases, and if successfully integrated, we will find a way to achieve the fourth stage.

Anyone deciding to relocate to Hong Kong will have most likely done a lot of research online and read books about life here before arriving. They might even feel well prepared, but there are some things that are very unique to this city and that the sooner we know, the sooner we start to embrace life in Hong Kong.

Here is a list of some of the things that Hong Kong experts will tell you make living easier in this city:

TAXIS

  • Taxi’s have a major shift change between 3 and 4 pm so do not be surprised if queues are long at that time and, although you see many taxis, none will stop. If you can, avoid having to catch one at that time.
  • Learn the name of your street and building in Cantonese as they are often very different from the English translation and cab drivers often do not understand the English version. A very useful phone app for this has been developed. Click here for our list of Hong Kong’s most useful apps.
  • Find out where the official taxi ranks are. Although you will be able to hail a cab in many parts of town, it is often difficult to do this in Central, CWB or on very busy roads. The police are often tough on the cab drivers if they drop-off or pick-up in illegal places. The best way to know if you are in an area they will not stop in is to look at the yellow lines on the road. They will seldom stop along double yellow lines. Also, they will not stop if there is a proper taxi rank just around the corner – as it’s just not worth them getting into trouble for the low fare they will probably get.
  • If you are taking taxis between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, learn the wave. Kowloon taxi drivers, who have dropped off a customer on HK Island, can only pick up customers who are heading back to Kowloon. What makes this confusing is that both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island cabbies have identical red cars with nothing to mark the difference. The way to find them is that they usually have their top (TAXI) light on, but have the “out of service” cardboard sign displayed on the dashboard. If you are in a taxi queue, they will sometimes pull op and do a wave-like gesture with their hand. It is not actually a wave, but rather the motion of going through the tunnel. You can also do the same to indicate to them that you are going “to the other side”. It is also good to know that there are often different taxi ranks depending on if you are staying on the island or going to the other side. They are usually quite close although unfortunately, again there is no indication that they are different. If you are unsure, ask the person in front of you. Too many times I have seen foreigners and mainlanders get to the end of a line (usually in Causway Bay) only to be kicked out by the taxi driver who informs them they are in the wrong car.
  • If you ask for a receipt you will find the registration number on it in case you forget something in the cab.

 

Hong Kong Public toilets

Public Toilet in Hong Kong: Women's entrance

PUBLIC TOILETS IN HONG KONG

  • Public Toilets are not always indicated as such in many shopping centres. They are often located behind “EXIT” signs. If you don’t see one in sight ask someone
  • In many shopping malls there are toilets on all floors and the top floors are almost always emptier then the lower ones. This is particularly true on a Sunday when the Domestic Helpers have the day off and can be found congregating in Central and Causway Bay. Almost all toilets in the malls are then packed.
  • Get over being shocked at the state of some bathrooms as soon as you arrive, unless you only plan on going to high end malls and restaurants. If you plan on exploring the real Hong Kong and eating in local eateries, you will often find that toilets are of the crouch down type (hole in the floor), very small, often nothing more then the staff storage room and that you have to walk through the kitchen to get to them.

GETTING AROUND

  • When you first arrive, make it your mission to quickly learn all the back streets, alleys and other shortcuts (including cutting through shopping malls and office buildings). This knowledge will be vital when you are in a rush or it is raining and everyone is out with umbrellas the size of tents. Walking is often the fastest way to get around Hong Kong, but knowing the fastest route from A to B is not always as straightforward as it may seem.
  • Do not be offended if people bump into you (and don’t apologize). Over 7 million people live in a very small space and survival of the fittest rules here.
  • Don’t only rely on the MTR for public transportation. The busses and minibuses are often a great way to get around. There are some great apps that will make finding the right line to take easy. Click here to read our article about the best Hong Kong Apps.

EATING OUT

  • In many local restaurants, after being shown to your table the staff will completely ignore you until you raise your hand in the air signaling to them that you need assistance. Eye contact is not that important and they will not offer it. All they want to see is your waving hand. While this will probably remind you of being back in school (you have to fully extend your arm in the air), it is the only way to get served. If you are in a dim sum restaurant and there is a sheet of paper to fill out for your order, you can also wave that in the air.
  • Most western restaurants that might be considered on the expensive side for dinner, offer excellent lunch menu deals. Call in advance and ask if they have a lunch special and what it is.
  • In rainy season, when it truly pours down, if you only have a small umbrella you might as well save yourself the hassle and keep it closed. You will get wet! Hong Kong has something called Amber, Red and Black rain alerts as well as thunderstorm warnings. After your first true rain experience you will learn that it can rain from above, below, left and right

EVERYTHING ELSE

  • The Hong Kong library is extremely well organised and there are many branches all over the region. Their website allows members to search for books online, locate the branch they are in and even request for pick up in any chosen branch.
  • Cinemas play foreign films at the most random times. If you are a movie buff and want to see a specific film, mark your calendar otherwise it is easy to miss. It might be playing on a Tuesday at 2 pm & Saturday at 11.30 and that’s it!
  • If you finally find a hairdresser you like and that knows how to ‘manage your hair’ get his/her phone number as they often change salons unexpectedly.
  • Make some local friends – or marry one! This is perhaps the most important piece of advice to ‘fitting in’ anywhere in the world. Right after learning the language.

 

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Angelina DraperArticle by Angelina Draper (53 Posts)

Angelina is the Founding Editor of ChattyBrains.com and Managing Director of AD Vits Digital, where she helps companies of all sized achieve optimal branding, e-commerce and social media success and overall great digital health. Living currently in her 26th home (and counting) she is a serial wonderer having been an expat child, expat in her own right and now expat wife and mother. Three continents and seven countries later she is still looking forward to settling down... one day.


Angelina Draper

written by

Angelina is the Founding Editor of ChattyBrains.com and Managing Director of AD Vits Digital, where she helps companies of all sized achieve optimal branding, e-commerce and social media success and overall great digital health. Living currently in her 26th home (and counting) she is a serial wonderer having been an expat child, expat in her own right and now expat wife and mother. Three continents and seven countries later she is still looking forward to settling down... one day.