Socialising and trying to find a balance

As I think I’ve mentioned to before, meeting people can be quite difficult here to start off with and life can be quite isolated. The vast majority of expats reside on Hong Kong island with communities in Tsim Sha Tsui (the southern part of the Kowloon peninsula) and some on Lantau island. Even amongst local people the perception is that only rich people live on Hong Kong Island. I could afford to live there but what I could afford would be the price of a shoe box! In the media there has been much coverage of the increasing property prices (residential and commercial) pushing poorer people out. Even the people who run the little “local” shops and food stalls are struggling with soaring prices.

Anyway, I digress… I live in Sha Tin in the New Territories and barely see any Western faces. People seldom talk to me and it can be quite difficult.

Despite most people at the University speaking English I am acutely aware that people rarely speak to me (apart from the people in my lab). Officially, it is an English language University and courses and exams are done in English. Part of this may be shyness and I’m “foreign”.  It is probably is not aided by there being a lack of a common room facility to encourage people to interact with each other. Again, this is a problem of the lack of space in Hong Kong.  My British colleague commented that he found it the same when he arrived and it can actually be quite depressing.

Before coming to Hong Kong, in the UK I had various interests which often provided the social aspect of life too. This included sports. The one thing I have noticed here is a different attitude to sport and I have found it almost impossible to meet people this way. While the sport in the UK was friendly and people would talk to you even if they weren’t in your club/team, here there is nothing like that – in fact it is a very stark contrast.

I recently had a breakthrough and I actually had the chance to socialise! A colleague of mine in Hong Kong (also British) does quite a bit of running and recently one of his fellow runners sent an e-mail to try and recruit some help! Dragon boating is popular in Hong Kong and there are lots of companies that have corporate teams as well as other organisations. One of these teams were due compete in a day of races but they were desparately short of paddlers. So an e-mail went out and my colleague asked if I fancied giving it a go. I’m always up for trying a new sport so why not.

Talk about being thrown in at the deep end – I had a five minute talk about paddling technique and my first time in a dragon boat was for a race! There were five other novices so I think we’re excused for the poor performance! However, the biggest success of the day was I had people to chat to! The team was mostly comprised of expats – British, American and a couple of others but there were a few Hong Kong and mainland Chinese. Being from a corporate (finance) team, they all spoke excellent English and it was really nice to have company and people to chat to. This was the chatter and friendliness that I had missed since leaving the UK.

I also really enjoyed the sport so for the next few weeks I did some more races and went to all the training sessions. Sadly the sport isn’t really a year round sport. Most of the teams start training in March or April and the season culminates in the Dragon Boat festival which is a public holiday (Tuen Ng festival). There are a couple of events after this but most teams only work towards this bit day. There have also been a couple of nights out which have been fun too. One, similar sport is outrigging which does go on all year round so I might try and track that down!

So, sadly the dragon boating lasted four weeks and now I am trying to find other options for sport and meeting people. While talking to people I was told there is a website where you can select countries and regions and find groups of people who have similar interests. For example there is a hiking group which I might try and get involved with. I was hoping to find a cycling group but sadly there isn’t one in Hong Kong. I wasn’t familiar with this website but it has information for sites all over the world – so whether you’re planning on moving to Hong Kong or somewhere else it could be a useful resource.

When you don’t get much interaction with people life can be quite miserable sometimes so this was a much needed boost. I think you definitely have to be proactive finding people. While I am not the kind of person who feels comfortable walking into a random bar on my own (there are people who do) I am trying to get out and meet people. Most socialising happens in areas on Hong Kong island but even from Sha Tin, it takes about 40 minutes on the MTR (underground) and costs less than £1 to get there.

Central is the main area, but there are restaurants/bars in the Wan Chai, Admiralty and Causeway Bay areas too. One of the most busy areas for bars is Lan Kwai Fong. At night, there are probably fairly similar numbers of foreigners (expats and tourists) as there are Hong Kong Chinese. The bars aren’t particularly cheap but its good fun.

I could have chosen to live in these kinds of areas but I had to consider the cost of living and that my commute to work would be longer and far busier. These areas are also considerably more built up and busy – therefore noise, air and light pollution are far greater. If you’re the kind of person who could happily live in the centre of New York or London when it seems activity goes on all night then you would be fine. For me… that’s not me!


About Alana Collis

Hi, my name is Alana Collis. I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow working in Hong Kong. I hope this blog will give readers an insight into working in an academic research environment and general life in Hong Kong as well as things that will help you get started here! After completing a PhD at the University of Nottingham in synthetic organic chemistry, I moved to a position at the University of Warwick as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Chemistry. During my time at Warwick I was working with Researchers from Warwick Manufacturing Group (materials and engineering) and Warwick-HRI (plant sciences) as well as Industry and other University research departments. This gave me chance to see how different disciplines and departments subtly vary in set up and practices. In the Summer of 2010, I went to a Gordon Research conference in the US. This in itself was a great experience but it was followed up two months later by an e-mail from an academic I met at the conference..... would I be interested in a postdoctoral position in Hong Kong?!

2 Responses to Socialising and trying to find a balance

  1. Ha Nguyen says:

    I’m going to Hong Kong on Friday for a week but plan to move there eventually. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  2. Driger says:

    It’s interesting!

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