Friday, April 12, 2013

Hong Kong, I love you (for now)


Like any city, HK has its drawbacks (some of which I bitched about in a previous post) but after spending back to back weekends traveling to Shanghai and then to Singapore, I have spent this week falling more and more in love with Hong Kong.  You might find this funny considering it's cold and raining in April (after a string of 70+ sunny days throughout the winter), but I guess it is true that 'distance makes the heart grow fonder.'

After spending some time away from it, here are the top eleven things that I am currently appreciating about this Fragrant Harbour:
  1. Real, unadulterated, natural beauty (no this is not a joke).  A lot of people don't know this about Hong Kong because it's such a bustling city, but only a short bus/subway/car ride away and you will find yourself in the middle of a beautiful jungle-like mountain, or on a sandy beach.  There are a number of well manicured parks too, but there is nothing like being in the unmanufactured outdoors.  There are endless hiking trails, camping spots, beaches calling your name when you need a little break from the chaos of the city.  
  2. At the same time, you have always thumping Lan Kwai Fong - where there are endless bars, clubs, and restaurants that are really just bars masquerading as restaurants.  There is something happening every single night of the week.  Whether it's a sports league, art gallery, startup event, or just plain old "networking" (drinking), you can do it anytime you please.   
  3. Octopus cards.  Although the name is a little creepy, these are an amazing little slice of heaven that makes your day easier in the smallest of ways.  Not only does this little guy get you on the MTR, it can be trained to automatically refill itself, you can use it to make small purchases at restaurants, coffee shops, 7/11, and it is even hooked up to my apartment building so it serves as a swipe card for the front doors.  I feel there have been many attempts to do something like this in the US and they have never worked well.  That's the thing about (certain) things here, they just work.  
  4. Cheap massages.  Frankly, I find this to be one of the biggest perks about living in Asia.  In New York, if you want a 1-hour massage to unwind from a tough week, it's going to run you at least $100USD to go somewhere decent, if not twice that for a fancy spa.  In Hong Kong, you can get a one hour massage for $20USD.  Need a foot massage?  That's going to run you like $12USD.  Admittedly, nothing compares to the Philippines where we paid $2.50USD for a fantastic 1-hour massage, but still.  Rumors are always abound that these places make money in.. um.. other ways, but I don't give a shit.  Cheap massages are still awesome.
  5. It is incredibly easy and cheap to get around - no matter where you are going.  There are always taxis around, the meter starts at less than $3USD and rarely ticks higher than $5USD. You can take a taxi for 30 minutes and it will be $10USD.  And that's nowhere near as cheap as public transport, which starts at about $0.50 and is always clean, efficient, and on time.  
  6. Seriously though, the MTR fucking rocks.  It is 10x less expensive than NY subways, and your cell phone works everywhere in it.  It is spotless.  The trains come every 2 minutes.  Without fail.  It's fast.  Nobody molests you on it.  There are no smelly homeless people on it.  There are no Mariachi bands asking you for money to get them to stop playing.  Sometimes they don't let you eat on it which I have a problem with, but I'll deal.  The other fantastic form of transportation, and then I'll move on from public transit, is the Airport Express.  You want to go out of town for the weekend?  No problem - you can get to the airport door to door in 30 minutes.  It leaves every 12 minutes, it's always on time, there is never any traffic to deal with, and the seats are really comfortable.
  7. Whatever you like to eat, you can find it.  There are thousands of restaurants, and they range from delicious Chinese dumplings for $2USD, to expensive private kitchens with master chefs that charge a prix fixe of $100+ USD.  If you happen to love fish balls, you are also in luck because there is a shitload of them here.  There are also awesome juice stands on every corner where they sell fresh fruit and custom hand pressed juice in these little stalls.  I don't think I've ever bought one, but it makes me happy knowing that I could.
  8. English, lots of English.  Before I moved here I thought it was sad when expats moved to Asia and they just stayed within their little groups and did not make an effort to learn the local language or adopt the local culture.  Do I still judge this a little?  Sure, even when it comes to myself.  But, Hong Kong is a fantastic place to have the option of doing both.  You always feel safe because all the signs are in English, menus are in English, and most stores/establishments have at least one person who pretends to understand you when you speak in English.  I tried to learn Cantonese, and now Mandarin, but it's freaking hard and sometimes I like just being able to know what is going on.
  9. Speaking of which, safety.  Hong Kong is the safest place I have ever lived.  Seriously.  All the streets are well lit, and even if they're not, nobody bothers you.  People don't cat call at you, they don't really notice you, and violent crime is extremely rare.  Theft happens sometimes (it's not Utopia) but only if you're reckless, or you're unlucky, or blacked out on a park bench.  You can't underestimate how good this feels.
  10. Everything is always changing.  Sure, this is true in other cities, but there is really a grassroots energy when it comes to Hong Kong.  In the last 15 years it has belonged to 2 different countries, and its culture is shifting every day because of that.  When it comes to business and technology, it's a little bit of the Wild West. There's so much room for innovation and disruption that you can't help but constantly feel excited by the possibilities.  
  11. Especially within the expat community, most people living here are adventurous by nature, and so a lot (not all) are usually willing to go out on a limb or try something new.  I love that.  It is similar to how I felt when I left Goldman and joined General Assembly.  All of a sudden, nobody was fighting to protect their turf.  Nobody was worried about stepping on each other's toes.  At GA and in the startup world more generally, everyone was supportive of each other because there was just so much to be done that if someone else was seizing an opportunity, it was good for the entire community because it was probably something that you wanted to do but just didn't have the time or the burning desire to do and now you can at least learn from what they are doing.  
And I would like to include the disclaimer that, yes, I know that this is just one person's perspective.  I am indeed an American in Hong Kong, and I am sure that the experience of living here is quite different for someone who grew up in Hong Kong.  Or is from Europe, or Australia, or anywhere else for that matter.  I can only see this place through my own eyes, and this is how I am seeing things at the moment.  I reserve the right to not feel the same way tomorrow.