So, tell me about Hong Kong.
I had travelled around Taiwan and China before, but never made it to Hong Kong until 2011. Then an encounter that changed my life, saw me relocate to Hong Kong from my previous base in Parramatta, Australia. I met my Hong Kongese girlfriend while backpacking in Antarctica and decided to head to Hong Kong to visit her. I was living in Australia at the time and ended up with a job in Hong Kong while on holiday, so I prolonged my stay in Hong Kong.
The country of Hong Kong gets its name from the sweet smell by the seafront, it translates as Fragrant Harbour into English. It’s a country, a village, a city, an ex colony and a special region all in one. It was a British overseas territory until 1997. It has since been a Special Region administered by China. However, Hong Kong has its own currency (Hong Kong Dollars), border points (Visas are easier to get than Chinese Visas), its own government, national football team and its own language (Cantonese, compared with China’s mostly Mandarin speaking population). Over 7 million people are housed inside this country which boasts city life, fishing villages, mountains, beaches, remote towns, islands and more skyscrapers than you can count.
When did you live there?
I first visited Hong Kong in 2011 and have been based there on and off for about 3 years since.
But why Hong Kong?
As I mentioned, I’d been to China and Taiwan before that so I had a taste of Chinese culture from those trips and with my girlfriend being based in the Kong, it was an obvious and easy move to make.
Why Hong Kong as opposed to somewhere else in China / Taiwan?
Again similar reasons to the last question, but I’d also add that a Working Holiday Visa for Hong Kong is easy to get and also that Hong Kong is an easy place to find a job and settle, plus it’s cheap to live in and easy to earn a load of money there. China and Taiwan are great places too but have slightly more restrictions on visas and jobs etc.
How do you get there?
Most people fly into Hong Kong and I did that on my first trip – it has one of the best international airports in the world. However since then I have crossed the boat and land borders countless times as Hong Kong provides cheap and easy access to China. The trains to China are regular as are boats and buses. You can also get the boat across to Macau.
Are there many foreigners around?
Yes! Hong Kong is a global city and foreigners are everywhere on Hong Kong Island. However the more remote parts of Kowloon and New Territories are still very traditionally Chinese with low influx of foreigners. I lived in the Lam Tin area for quite a while and I was certainly the only foreigner there. However when I lived in Lai Chi Kok and Ma Wan, there were a lot more foreigners.
Are there many foreign products or services around?
Yes, again – Hong Kong is global, commercial and cosmopolitan. You can pretty much get any foreign products or services you need here.
What about the language barrier?
This is the easiest one to overcome. The fact that Hong Kong was British until 1997 means that a lot of people here speak English. I’ve picked up some of the local language Cantonese, but in honesty most foreigners in Hong Kong speak English to the locals and the locals are fine with that. Once you cross the border to Shenzhen in China though, the language barrier widens dramatically. Hong Kong is proudly trilingual though.
What’s there to see around town?
Hong Kong has endless attractions and sights to see. If you want views, you have a choice of mountains or skyscrapers, if you want hikes there are forest trails and mountains. If you want beaches, there is Sai Kung and Shek O. If you want shopping, it’s on every corner in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. If you want to party, check out Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai. If you want Chinese culture, plenty of museums and temples to get your fix. Quite simply an eclectic mix.
Is it worth coming to Hong Kong as a tourist?
Completely! Hong Kong is an incredible country with an endless range of things to see and do.
What’s the best way to get started as a nomad there?
Get a Working Holiday Visa so you can get a job as soon as you arrive! After that a job of course. For native English speakers, jobs in bars are easy to come by on Hong Kong Island and in Tsim Sha Tsui and that’s how I got started in the Kong. You can also get a job teaching English very easily as there is a need for native English teachers. For those into office work, an endless line of business man/woman type jobs are available.
What’s your favorite spot to get local cuisine – a place not frequented by tourists? What about a taste of home or the Western world?
Local cuisine I just head to the nearest Chinese market. Look for signs that are only in Chinese and no English and you’ll know it’s local, authentic and better value. The markets in Lam Tin and Tsuen Wan are good for this.
I love the Irish Pubs and especially Delaney’s Irish Pub in Tsim Sha Tusi which shows all the football and sports and has Guinness on tap and Irish food. Hong Kong Brew House in Lan Kwai Fong is perfect for a good beer selection and US style food.
How did you find a place to live (e.g. where did you look)? What will you do differently the next time out?
Gumtree is always a good place to start but getting to know the locals is always my way and you’ll always find somewhere to live. I stayed in a few different places when I lived in Hong Kong, having a local girlfriend helped and I wouldn’t do anything differently. But my advice is definitely to meet the locals and make local friends.
Which specific websites, forums, or Facebook groups are worth joining? Which ones aren’t?
I worked for Internations in Hong Kong for a while and they are definitely worth meeting up with, there are also lots of Hong Kong Facebook groups as Facebook is permitted in Hong Kong. In mainland China it’s banned.
Are there many jobs available for nomads like yourself, or is it easy to find clients in the neighborhood?
Yes there are many jobs available. As I mentioned bar work is easy to come by on HK Island if you speak English. Teaching English is schools is also a popular job and there is always a shortage of staff.
What’s the vibe you get around locals? Do they see you as a potential partner or a threat?
Locals are fine with it – Hong Kong is a global city and they know that foreign investment brings money, wealth and happiness. The mainland Chinese are the bigger threat to Hong Kong locals, politically and economically. Sadly China has a huge foothold on the Kong and this has caused widespread street protests recently with Hong Kongers fully in support of local democracy and a belief in their own people with less intervention from China and no sell offs from the Hong Kong government.
What’s been the most difficult thing to get used to asa nomad in Hong Kong?
The ridiculous “umbrella culture” takes a while to get used to and at the start I just used to laugh. It rains for 2 minutes, Hong Kongers all brandish umbrellas like they’re ready for drowning. Same thing when the sun comes out – umbrellas come out. If I had a Hong Kong Dollar for the number of times I’ve avoided an unnecessary umbrella, I’d be a rich man! As a long term backpacker I’ve never owned, nor needed to own an umbrella.
Think you’ll miss it after you leave?
I’ve no plans to fully leave and in an ideal world, I’ll have a base in three continents. I still intend to spend a good chunk of my future in Hong Kong. When I’m not there I don’t miss it though, as I’m elsewhere and my love of travel is always greater than my love of stationary life.
Last, but most important question: where’s the best place to get a beer?
Jonny Blair is a Northern Irish long term traveller and backpacker. Over a decade after leaving his home town behind, Jonny has visited over 100 countries across all 7 continents and has been writing almost daily posts on his travel blog since 2007. As well as working freelance, on a Chinese website and with his travel sponsors, Jonny has also been working on farms, in bars, in schools and in about 50 other jobs along the way. There is no “can’t” in Jonny’s dictionary.
Like this post? Like the Facebook page!
Also published on Medium.