November 14, 2004

first week in Hong Kong

I'm not even sure where to begin. I've been here for about 10 days though it feels like a month and I mean that in a good way. I finally have a computer at home as well as broadband internet (5 mb dl) so now I can make regular updates :-)

I have adjusted well rather quickly. I arrived here after 18 hours on 2 airplanes and a 13 hour time difference, around 22:00 on 11/3, HK time. Thanks to my lack of routine for the prior 2 months and whirlwind October travel back and forth to Chicago, NYC, Seattle, Toronto, I didn't feel too jetlagged upon arriving and settled into HK time quickly. And while I was in a strange land, it did feel like home and comfortable from the getgo.

I haven't had any problems getting around or getting things done so far. I have some contacts here I can ask for help but I'd rather try to figure things out on my own and that is working out so far. I've been exploring the area I live in, just meandering down streets, trying to get lost but that hasn't happened yet. Hong Kong is a very safe place as far as crime goes so I feel fine exploring.
I am starting to pick up some Cantonese and I can recognize about 10 traditional written characters already. I understand more of the spoken language than I can speak but when I do try to say something in Cantonese I am understood and not laughed at. And now I can easily tell when someone is speaking Cantonese and when someone is speaking Mandarin. Mandarin is the official language of China, and Hong Kong is a "special administrative region" of China since Great Britian returned HK to China in 1997. This means that HK is a part of China but it is a limited democracy and capitalist economy until 2047. Hong Kong has its own money, called the Hong Kong Dollar and that is pegged to the USD which means the rate stays consistent at about $7.75 HKD to $1 USD. Mainland China's currency is called the renminbi and it is also pegged to the USD, I think at about $6.8 to $1 USD. Good quality clothes are fairly cheap here and I got a really good price compared to US prices on my Toshiba Satellite A 50 laptop. Food is priced the same as most major North American cities though I think eating out in restaurants is a bit cheaper here. Western style groceries like grated Parmesian cheese and Italian salad dressing is hard to come by and is expensive by US standards, which makes sense I suppose.

I live on the 16th floor in a small, furnished flat and I really like it here. It is more than enough space for me and comparable in size to the last studio I had in Chicago (500 sq feet) but it is layed out different and my bedroom is also my living room. The kitchen is very tiny- no stove or oven. I guess who wants to bake when the very coldest it gets here is about 10 C (50 degrees F). I do love the weather so far. It is bizarre to me that it's November and the temperature has averaged 28 C (about 82 F). It is also quite humid but I don't mind that so much cause the temperature is so mild. I'm sure when the summer comes and the mercury consistently hits 40 C (about 100 F), I won't like the humidity. I do have an air conditioner as most places here do. I have a hot plate and microwave to use and a hot water heater for my bathtub/shower. The building is very clean and quiet with an elevator, which called a lift here. I live around lots of stores and restaurants and only about a 10 min walk to the train station. The walk would be shorter but sidewalks are very crowded here and people are not so considerate. This does get on my nerves a bit and it has taken a lot of my willpower not to punch people.

Public transit is amazingly efficient and very affordable. Fares are charged using a zone system and range from like 50 US cents to about $2.50 USD. My commute to work takes about 30 mins and only costs about $0.90 USD, one way. The stations are very clean and you rarely have to wait longer than 3 minutes for the next train. Trains tend to be crowded but it's nothing like Tokyo where people get forced into packed trains by hired "subway pushers" during rush hour. The train system seems to cover much of HK but it doesn't run 24 hours a day. The system is very easy to understand and announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and British English. Each train car is air conditioned and has computerized maps and signs that tell the time, date, station names in Chinese and English, and lets you know train transfers are available.
I am getting tired so I'll stop now but expect more updates soon :-)

Posted by Christine at November 14, 2004 08:25 PM