I’ve now spent couple of years living in and out of Hong Kong, and recently started thinking what to me are the most characteristic things about Hong Kong and give it its unique personality. What are those places, sounds and other things that are so inherently Hong Kong that if I would be brought into the city blindfolded I would instantly recognize I’m in Hong Kong?
Lots of people but so well organized
To give you an example: when rush hour starts, the MTR (the Hong Kong name for metro / tube / underground) gets packed with people. While this is the case in any large city, what makes Hong Kong so unique is how the flows of people are optimized. The way in which people line up for the next train and very efficiently come out and in of the train. The way people walking to opposite directions are guided so that movement is efficient, and how well changes between metro lines work. It’s simply amazing.
Focus on (and sometimes even paranoia about) hygiene
When I’m out of Hong Kong I often find myself holding my hands in a public toilet under the tap and wondering why water is not switched on automatically. In public toilets in Hong Kong you don’t need to touch anything to flush the toilet, or touch the water tap or even the soap dispenser to wash your hands. Everything is built in a way that minimizes the possibilities of bacteria or viruses to spread. Even buttons in many elevators are sanitized hourly. And these are just some of the examples.
In Hong Kong I never also worry about the hygiene in a restaurant. The officials monitor everything tightly, and people also put a lot of attention to hygiene. So you’re safe to take a bite in any random kiosk or shack.
In Hong Kong, there’s so many rules and they really are followed. In the metro you’re not allowed to drink or eat. You cannot enter a swimming pool during a day when thunder is possible. On a beach you’re not allowed to play ball games. In a swimming hall you’re not to use “running belt” (great fitness equipment),… But at the same time you don’t have to keep your small dog on a leash?
People walk really slowly
This is maybe the most irritating thing of all. People walk really slowly especially on sidewalks. I feel like my regular pace is twice as fast as the locals’, and especially on a rainy I get totally frustrated with slowly walking people and their umbrellas hitting my face on the sidewalks.
By the way: for some reason I often also feel people just walk towards you without giving way – once I actually decided to maintain my direction when there was a guy approaching from the opposite direction and didn’t give way and the guy pretty much bumped into me 🙂 Not sure why I feel people are less likely to give way.
Hong Kong island is really hilly and most part of it is built on a slope. How did they solve this: they built escalators so you can more easily climb to the higher parts of the city. They also change the direction of the escalator depending on the time of the day.
Sense of security
For someone having lived most of their life in Finland saying I feel more safe in Hong Kong sounds actually really funny. But to be honest, I just really feel safer in Hong Kong. And this is pretty unique especially for a women. I feel comfortable going hiking alone without seeing anyone else for an hour or so, I feel safe walking alone in the dark, and I never really encounter drunken people on the street that would behave unpredictably. Of course, I do sometimes worry about some other things than people, such as poisonous snakes or twisting my ankle when hiking, but I never worry about there being someone out there trying to hurt me.
The way rescue operations are handled
Before I say more about this topic, I want to highlight I really admire how every rescue operation is taken seriously in Hong Kong. But I cannot help feeling it sometimes feels disproportional. Let’s say there’s a hiker lost in the mountains (max 1km in Hong Kong) and it gets dark. They send 300 police men.
Definition of Winter
Winter starts in October and ends in beginning of May. No matter what the weather. And almost always many days in April or November its reaching 30C. This means that beaches are officially closed and often you cannot rent any sports equipment such as SUP boards. Luckily no one prevents you from swimming though 🙂 Winter time also means outdoor swimming pools are not open – anywhere except maybe a few hotels.
Combination of Old and New
In Hong Kong on one street you see a butcher beheading a chicken, and on the next street there’s a new high rise building with shiny windows and only people wearing suits going inside. In one corner you see someone burning their trash in a barrel with open fire, and in the next you see a restaurant with main courses starting at 100€. In one shop they are selling traditional Chinese medicine, and in they have a western pharmacy. And it doesn’t even feel weird.
High Cost of Living
Hong Kong is expensive especially for an expat. Rents are sky high – in the center of Hong Kong you easily pay 2000€ or more for a 30-40 Sqm apartment. Also restaurants are expensive, as are groceries in western supermarkets. But you can also live cheaply if you want: public transport is very effective and cheap, and noodles and rice are also very affordable both in local restaurants and supermarkets. And if you go to a wet market, you can buy local vegetables or meat much more cheaply than in the supermarkets which often import them from e.g. Australia.
Beaches, hiking and high rise
This is why I love Hong Kong. You can literally start hiking almost anywhere in the city and disappear into the jungle within 30 minutes. You have tens of amazing beaches both in the middle of the city and in isolated areas. There are stunning high rise buildings and a beautiful skyline at night time. It’s an incredible contrast of nature and city life that I’m forever in love with.