Hong Kong's unexpected paradise & comfortable adventures

Culture | by Sascha Matuszak
Posted: August 8th, 2011 | Updated: August 8th, 2011 | Comments

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Jade King's Hong Kong, what to do and see there, and how she feels about pythons. >>> China Travel: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in Hong Kong. Jade: I'm 30 years old, originally from Melbourne, Australia, and now living in the New Territories of Hong Kong. With my husband, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, I live in a tiny village in the middle of a tropical rainforest with views of the South China Sea. My dad, an English teacher, moved to Hong Kong about eight years ago for work. We would visit him often and every time fell in love with the place a little bit more. We made an initial attempt to move in 2007, even going so far as having a job interview for my current position, but ultimately decided that moving to the other side of the world with our 1-year-old son was a foolish endeavour. That little itch, however, nagged more and more, especially after the birth of our daughter in 2009. That's when we realised we would be trapped in a life of repetitive domesticity—cutting Vegemite sandwiches into little triangles, going to the same supermarket, walking around the same block—for years unless we threw everything in the air and did something crazy. When our daughter was 9 months old, I finally took up that job offer and we arrived in Hong Kong on Boxing Day, with 90 kg (198 lb) of our worldly possessions, a bewildered 3-year-old and a breastfeeding baby, and it's been "adventure" trumping "security" ever since! China Travel: Working as a stenographer in the courts there must be fascinating… does it affect the way you view everyday life in Hong Kong? Jade: Despite Hong Kong being a Chinese special administrative region since 1997, it still operates under a theoretically independent legal system. It's based on the common law system I'm used to from Australia, so the day-to-day procedures and terminology are familiar to me. However, the counsel and judiciary are a mix of mainly British Westerners and locals, so I have had to become tuned in to plenty of different accents. English is the language of the courtroom, at least in the jurisdictions I work in, but a lot of witnesses for whom English isn't a first language use interpreters. This is wonderful for me because it gives my fingers a break during the translation, and lets me have some cheeky free Cantonese lessons! As far as my job affecting my view of everyday life in Hong Kong, I feel that because the system feels so British it gives me a small insight into what it must have been like in colonial days. I love history and would do almost anything to travel back in time to see what Hong Kong was like at the pinnacle of empire. There's a sense of being involved in one of the last British parts of Hong Kong. China Travel: Have you had the chance to travel very much in Hong Kong and Mainland China? Tell us about your best experience so far. Jade: Hong Kong isn't a very big place and you don't really "travel" in it—you can drive from one side to the other in less than two hours! We visited plenty of times before we moved here and have continued exploring since becoming residents, and I think we've seen most of it now. You'd hope so, in light of the whole driving from one side to the other in less than two hours thing.... My experience in the mainland has been limited, shamefully, to a few trips to Shenzhen, where I am apparently quite convincing at saying "NOT INTERESTED!" in Mandarin (bù yào, 不要!) to the hordes of shopkeepers following us around. We hope to venture farther north this year. One of my best "travel experiences" in Hong Kong was—if you can believe this—Disneyland. If you knew me you'd know why that's so unlikely. I hate Disney and don't even particularly like movies. But I love my kids, and they had pretty much the best day of their lives there. The Big Buddha. The 10,000 Buddhas at Shatin. The Peak Tram. The Star Ferry at night. It's all the big-hitters, but also the little daily moments: having an amazing dinner one night at a dai pai dong in Yuen Long that's since closed down; wonderful sampan trips to little islands around Sai Kung to swim at the beach with 150 dogs and their owners on a Sunday afternoon; lunch breaks exploring the aviary in Hong Kong Park; hiking around the New Territories at dusk, seeing fireflies for the first time. Nearly every day brings something new and special. China Travel: And your worst? Jade: The 15-foot python in our neighbour's back yard. We're Aussies and dangerous animals don't overly faze us—the snakes in Hong Kong are generally less deadly than the ones in Australia—but a 15-foot python is too much even for us to come at. The frustration of not being able to communicate effectively in the lingua franca. Eating a chicken foot by mistake (I'm a vegetarian). Oh, and experiencing racism for the first time in our lives isn't enjoyable. Not even overt racism, just feeling alternately overlooked and like a freak. It can get you down. China Travel: What are your top 5 recommendations for "off the beaten path" destinations for visitors to Hong Kong? I would say this because I live here, and it's not exactly "off the beaten path," but I know a lot of visitors stay on the island, when there are so many treasures to explore in the New Territories! The wildlife and nature out here is something I didn't expect to find in Hong Kong at all, let alone in such varied and lush abundance. Have a swim at a deserted beach, hike a lonely trail up a mountain, walk through the Sai Kung Old Town, learn some basic Cantonese and go out for dim sum local-style. Visit my neighbour, Mrs Kong, and challenge her to a game of mahjong if you dare. This stuff is the real Hong Kong as I have experienced it. China Travel: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about Hong Kong before arriving? Jade: Everything goes mouldy in a matter of weeks or even days. Don't bring your valuable paperwork, photos and books here. The humidity is incredible. In the height of summer it feels like the whole place has been covered in plastic wrap and microwaved. Bed linen and pillows need to be replaced constantly, walls turn green and black, and if you don't wear a jacket for a few days, the next time you take it out it'll also have grown green and black patches on it. China Travel: What do you miss most from home? Jade: Knowing "how stuff works"—for example, when the news is on the TV at night, and that you're going to understand it; how to deal with the school system; how to get from one place to another without thinking. It can be frustrating to never quite fit in and be part of society. On the flipside, this is also one of the biggest advantages. Not fitting in means never having the chance to feel that life is mundane! China Travel: What would you miss most in Hong Kong if you were to leave tomorrow? Jade: Apart from the constant stench from the fish our neighbours hang in our shared "front yard" to salt and dry, we've found we're unexpectedly living in a paradise. We share our village with coloured finches, snakes, butterflies the size of my hand, cows, dragonflies and whole selection of other unidentifiable insects. I would miss that. I would miss village life, especially if we were going back to suburbia. I would miss the greatest opportunity of my life to master a second language—really attain fluency, not just conversational proficiency. And lastly, and definitely most importantly, I would miss our live-in "helper," who makes our life unquantifiably easier! We've already told our friends and families we're not moving back to Australia until the kids have moved out of home, because we can't live without our helper. The ratio of three adults to two children is way better than two to two! China Travel: What three words sum up your Hong Kong experience? Jade: Surprisingly comfortable adventure.
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