The opportunity for expats to work in Hong Kong is growing exponentially. Chances are, given the expansion of global markets, particularly in the finance and technology sectors, you may be among the thousands of U.S. employees whose companies are sending them to the small island just south of mainland China, and that you will spend anywhere from six weeks to several years immersed in another culture. Employees don’t necessarily need to speak Mandarin or Cantonese, nor do they have to be immersed in much “cultural awareness training” before heading East. At best, companies send their employees off with little more than an attractive salary and assistance with accommodation. The rest is usually up to you: i.e., read a good travel book, scour various online sites for reliable advice and fill two large suitcases, a backpack and a tote bag. All of those measures meet the minimum daily requirements, but there’s so much more. Things you haven’t even thought about…yet.
How do single, ambitious and determined women take command of the situation before they even set one well-pedicured foot in this foreign financial center? There are certain necessities – though some may border on luxuries – that working women require to maintain their appearance, their personal and professional image, their social nature and, to some extent, level of comfort and of course, safety.
If you’re lucky enough to land a job – even for a short time – in Hong Kong, and you’ve never spent time in Asia before – you are in for a most unimaginable treat.
For those who have never lived 8,000 miles away from your home base, this book is designed to help you maneuver through and manage the thrills and tasks of setting up housekeeping in this Asian metropolis. It is not meant to be a tourist or travel guide or a shopping treatise. Those kinds of books have all been taken care of very nicely by savvy travel writers and fashion mavens. Rather, this is meant to share many of the lessons of everyday life from other women in the same figurative boat who carved out our singular adventure living abroad, all enhanced by the excitement of living in a foreign culture.
The first realization is this: Half a world away from your family, co-workers, ex-boyfriends, and yoga partners, you become carefree and independent in ways you have never known and probably didn’t expect. It is possible to pack up what you need in two suitcases, grab a backpack and load it up with your computer, iPod and other essentials, fill a tote back with your purse, snacks, and a few other must-haves for traveling, lock the door behind you and head off to another culture, another life, another job, just like that….or what appears to them to be just like that. The secret is, there’s no real secret to it at all. But there is valuable information to be gleaned, information that will not detract from you putting your personal stamp on your adventure but only enhance your ability to do so.
While travel guides are abundant and can help you navigate the nuts and bolts of getting there and learning about your company’s overseas operations, The Working Girls’ Guide to Hong Kong can be your best friend and companion as you seek out the necessities, the near-necessities and the particular adventures that will make your temporary stay an enjoyable and memorable experience. This guide, based on real-life experiences from a novice expat, can be your constant companion/reference in areas you probably won’t give much thought to until you have actually arrived. For instance, have you thought about how you’ll go about finding friends, where to find a salon that can handle your Western hairstyle, where to shop for groceries, how to get out of the burgeoning metropolis and go to the beach towns and the magnificent Buddhist temples, not to mention finding the perfect Belgian waffle?
While there are plenty of resources for businesses and for serious and frequent travelers, there seems to be precious little to prepare businesswomen or women in general for life in this bustling Asian metropolis.
The good news
Here's the good news: living as a single woman in Hong Kong is not only exciting, enticing and inviting, but also very liberating. It is a safe, clean and courteous environment, where the rigorous work ethic is to be admired and the “strangeness” is to be embraced. There is nothing more freeing for a woman from most any American city than to walk down any street in Hong Kong, literally at any time of day or night. (This is not to say that random acts won’t and probably do occur.) You could leave your backpack on the curb for an hour (as once happened, unwittingly) and return an hour later to find it intact. Another time, seeing that I was poring quizzically over a map of the city, several people, including those who spoke only limited English, offered to help me find my way.
Further, all signs are in English and Chinese, and many people speak at least some English or will attempt to understand what you are saying if you speak to them, whether in a store, at a street vendor’s stand, the health club, a Buddhist temple, or those strolling your neighborhood (inasmuch as strolling can be done among the elbow-to-elbow sidewalk crowds.) You will find the people to be friendly, though not aggressively so, and the level of service (courtesy, professionalism) beyond anything you might experience short of a five-star resort in the West. Further, the island is exceptionally easy to navigate, thanks to frequent, easy to read signage with words and often illustrations, a clean, efficient and inexpensive rapid transit railway, double-decker buses and taxis. An express train allows you to check your luggage at a mid-town subway station and travel unfettered straight to the airport. Your luggage will already be checked in by the time you arrive. And, cell phones work on the underground trains! It won’t be long into your stay before you become blissfully aware of Hong Kong’s technological advancements, and how many amenities are surprisingly ultramodern and efficient (public restrooms, for one).
When you find that your work will be taking you to the “diverse modern metropolis steeped in unique blends of Eastern and Western traditions,” as described by the island’s tourism board, my hope is that you will approach your new assignment with an open mind and a hefty dose of enthusiasm. The small surprises and unexpected rewards of living halfway around the world in unfamiliar circumstances, all by yourself, will enrich you and enhance the fabric of your life in ways you will never forget. Enjoy! 享用