Last Friday night marked one week since we touched down in Hong Kong. What a week it's been. As I mulled over the past week, I tried thinking of a way of describing things more than some quick-witted postings on Facebook. I mentioned it to Shelley and she told me that she has blog postings of the whole week. I guess in the haze of figuring out how to open a bank account, buy rice milk and find transportation to work, there are just some things that we didn’t discuss.
As I reflect on the last week, I think I convinced myself in the time leading up to the move that the culture shock wouldn't be THAT extreme. After all, most everyone speaks English and with all the Westerners here it should be just be like living in an exotic NYC. I am naivete incarnate.
Our temporary flat is a VERY small three-bedroom furnished apartment on the 31st floor (we are happy to have a kitchen, but literally only one person can fit in there at once). It has a nice view overlooking the harbor teeming with boats, barges, junks, etc. It's in a district called Kennedy Town. It has some expats, but definitely predominantly Chinese.
As previously described, our first bold venture was to buy some groceries (I know, an aggressive idea). There isn't exactly a Price Chopper near by and we learned that a grocery store is more of a Western concept; the locals do their shopping in local street markets and buy for a day at a time – think of rows and rows of booths with people selling produce, meat, etc. (A quick note about the meat: It appears to be butchered on the spot and they just display the raw meat exposed in the air. I suppose that's fine, I'm just not at a point where that works for me.) Alas, they do have a couple of grocery store chains so that's where we headed. Think small. Small packages. Small selections. Small baskets. BIG prices. Dairy products just aren't popular here. Milk and cheeses are pricey. Forget buying gold...I'm putting my money on ice cream futures. Oh, and right there next to the pork chops are chickens' feet packaged and labeled with a 'best if used by date' just like it's no big deal.
Getting around is OK, you just have to be deliberate about it. The taxis are inexpensive, but their English isn't reliable. And when you get a cabbie that doesn't speak English it does no good to write out the address for them because if it's not in Chinese characters it's no help (showing a map with English and Chinese is the most effective). Shelley is doing a better job than me studying the bus/tram maps. We all got Octopus cards, a sort of prepaid debit card that allows you to pay for public transportation. In theory, we are fully mobile.
The kids seem to like things OK. Our flat is so small, they are incentivized to get out and explore. During my first week in the office, they've been to the Big Buddha (not the official name of the temple, but the statue of Buddha is big, like Statue of Liberty big), the beach, the Peak, etc. JP is the most resistant to the time zone change. He just falls asleep at 2:00 in the afternoon; then wakes up in the middle of the night.
To say it is hot and humid is a gross understatement. My first day of work, I ended up taking a rather circuitous route to the office from the bus stop - fine, I got lost - and by the time I arrived, it looked like I jogged to the office. My suit was soaked...next task is to locate dry cleaning.
We are searching for a more permanent flat. To that end, we opened a bank account (I may call Mit Romney’s accountants and find out what the regulatory implication’s of that are – wait, that’s my employer!). Just today, we received our Hong Kong ATM card! The international ATM charges from our US accounts have been a killer so I’m more than a little excited. But more importantly, Shelley bought a coffee maker this week and Starbucks coffee beans (my version of a security blanket).
Our language studies are progressing nicely – that is learning British English (e.g., elevator=lift, bathroom=washroom, etc.). Whenever talking to someone who is Chinese, I carefully listen to make sure I understand what is said. I just realized that when I listen to someone speaking English, I find myself listening just as closely. As silly as it sounds, the lexicon and accent is different enough that feel that I’m always straining to understand. I feel like a dolt having to say, ‘I don’t understand that right theeere. Can you speak slower and use more American words?!?’. That said, we are very cognizant of the fact that we are the foreigners so we really are trying to figure it out rather than trying to make millions of Hong Kongers convert to our way of thinking. In fact, we are finding that they are very forgiving of our strange and brutish ways.
Speaking of adapting, we have an appointment next week to obtain Hong Kong ID cards. With HK ID cards, I hear amazing doors are opened to us such as being able to travel to nearby Asian countries and getting a library card.
On to week two…more sensory overload. Hopefully we will learn one or two more things that will help us adapt.