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What was your first, truly expat experience when you realised the difference between cultures?
Gee that really is a tough one to answer. I think for me, the moment I touched down on Hong Kong soil, I knew things were different. Probably my first few times taking one of Hong Kong's iconic red taxis on my own and realising the language barrier was going to prove more than a little difficult if I didn't start learning some 'taxi lingo' like Cantonese for "go straight" and "stop here!" (Sadly it's still as much Cantonese as I've ever mastered.)
Another instance in those early days was when I was given chopsticks to eat with and promptly found myself anxiously asking for a knife and fork. It was a little embarrassing and these days, thankfully, I am a little more adept at using the national icon!
Do you think it is important for an expat to observe local customs?
Yes, I do, to a certain point. When you are in someone else's country I think it's like being in someone else's home and it's important to show respect for their customs, particularly when many of them around here are traditions that stem back thousands of years. I find it all very interesting and I think you need to strike a balance between what you really believe in and observing a foreign culture. For example Chinese New Year is a huge tradition here in Hong Kong. As far as holidays go and the festivities that go with it, it just doesn't get much bigger or more important. Whilst I don't take part in every ritual (like not sweeping the floor once CNY is in full flight or wearing red underwear on the first day,) I do try to get involved and learn as much as I can.
What is your favourite thing(s) about your new home?
What's not to love? Hong Kong is an amazing, vibrant city that never sleeps. Between its stunning skyline coupled with lush green mountains and fabulous beaches, this city really has it all. I love that it's very westernised yet still hangs onto its Chinese roots. It is a true blend of the old meets new and east meets west.
I also love how easy it is to get around. It is geographically a small place and with such a great train and taxi system in place, it's not hard to get from one side of Hong Kong to the other. Daily life here is relatively stress free.
What is your least favourite thing(s) about your new home?
It's the clichéd expat phrase, but truthfully, missing my family. That is always the hardest thing about being a long plane ride away. Thankfully there is a great bond between most expats, so you never feel too lonely and I get to go home frequently.
The pollution levels are also pretty harrowing at times and I won't miss the haze and all it brings when we leave.
What were your reasons for moving?
My husband is in hotels and was given the opportunity to move overseas, as a career girl, I'd always shunned the idea but one day I woke up and thought Carpe Diem! Seize the day! And we did! What better opportunity than to explore a new country and really feel like you are living!
If you were to do the move again what would you change?
Nothing really, I'd just remind myself that it is a steep learning curve and while you might initially feel like a fish out of water, everything takes time and eventually you will find yourself calling your new country home (for a little while anyway). Soak up the atmosphere and try to remember, nothing's forever.
If you could bring one thing, such as food, a tradition or creature comfort, from your home country to your new home what would it be?
Probably my family!! Perhaps some of Australia's bright blue sky and fresh air would be nice too. Otherwise, I appreciate Hong Kong for what it is and all that it has to offer that is unique to anywhere else in the world.
What has been your best experience yet in your new home?
Living in close proximity to other Asian countries has also meant I've been able to travel around Asia quite a lot and experience some unique cultures, all with their own distinct flavour. That's priceless.
What has been the worst experience in your new home?
Learning to adjust to a different thought process. Locals are quite direct and at times that can be unnerving or downright annoying (especially when they call your baby or you 'fat') but in the end you have to realise we are all brought up differently and take it with a grain of salt. Lots of things get lost in translation and it can be frustrating but ultimately, it's pretty harmless.
What is the strangest thing to you about your new home?
I don't know where to begin! So many things are different and to this day seem quite strange to me.
Probably what springs to mind first is the type of food locals eat. From Chicken's feet to Bird's Nest Soup, Hairy Crab and fish balls on a stick! While I have become accustomed to a lot of the local food, there are some things I just can't bring myself to chow down on.
How do you keep in contact with loved ones?
Mostly via text (on the hour) and email... otherwise Viber and Skype. Thank God for technology! Facebook is great for keeping in touch with friends. I never feel out of the loop when I go home.
How do you think having a child affected your decision to move?
I was actually pregnant when we arrived in Hong Kong... We found out we were moving the very same week we found out we were pregnant, so it was a double whammy!!
I was scared about having a baby in a foreign country (especially with everyone else saying "you'll be coming home to have the baby won't you??") but I soon found my feet and met a great bunch of likeminded expats who helped me through the good and bad times. Doctors and hospitals are very westernised, so my mind was soon at ease. Giving birth to my daughter here means Hong Kong will always have a special place in our hearts.
How easily did you find items you needed for your child in your new home?
Very easily, everything is available in some form or another here. It might be a slight variation, more expensive or cheaper but you can get most things you need without too much hassle.
What do you think your child will find easier about their new home?
Ava has always known Hong Kong as her home, so no doubt when we return to Australia, it will be things there that she is probably more shocked by as opposed to here. She has travelled since she was four months old and experienced many different cultures, which I think is a wonderful thing. I do wish she had her grandparents and aunties/uncles and cousins nearer though but in the meantime we try to make plenty of trips and have lots of quality time with them.
What do you think your child will find harder about their new home?
Wherever we go next, Ava is at the age (3) where she will probably wonder where her friends are, and the usual playrooms and playgrounds. Other than that I think she is young enough to re-settle and adapt. If we go somewhere where English is limited this will obviously be a challenge, but one I'm sure she's up for!
What advice do you have for expats looking to move with children?
Just try to be supportive and understanding of your children. I'm sure attending new schools and meeting new people is always tough for any child, but children are hopefully a little more resilient than us adults. Try to be open and honest about why you are moving and what to expect. You will be their one true constant and they need to know you're there for them. Try to tackle it head on together as a fun, learning experience in life. Know that with time, things will feel more familiar.
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