Saturday, April 30, 2011

Time to Work

Almost 3 weeks have passed since the day that I stepped foot in our office in Hong Kong and therefore it's about time that I start sharing some of my experiences of working here in this different environment.

Over the last 6 years I have been regularly visiting our Hong Kong office, but usually I stayed there only for a few days or at maximum two weeks. During those short visits I always had a warm welcome. Many times I was invited to attend (an excellent) "Dim Sum" lunch, or a Japanese dinner after work.
And even though I had these positive experiences before, I felt a sort of thrill running through my veins when stepping into the office on my first monday.

"Is it me who needs to adjust to the new environment, "
"or is it the new environment that needs to adjust to me as well?"

I discovered that I'm not the only one who needs to get acquainted by my new surroundings. Even though our Hong Kong office has frequent visitors from many regions of the world, having a "foreigner" from Europe at the office every day of the week who passes you in the hall, who needs to sit next to during lunch (and starts to talk in some language that appears to be English) can be a little bit uncomfortable.

In the first week I experienced that people found it difficult to just walk into my office and talk to me in person. I discovered that they would rather call my colleague in China to ask a work related question, than to walk in my office and communicate with me directly.

I happened to find out what was going on when I got several phone calls from my colleague, asking me questions on behalf of persons that were sitting not more than 20 meters away from me. Once I figured out what was actually going on I had to smile, but of course I can understand the situation. To break the ice I started to make contact with everyone, having just casual conversations, and I must say that little by little people start to talk to me spontaneously, once they get over that little communication boundary.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's all about food

Typical narrow Street in HK
When you walk around through the small streets of Hong Kong, you notice that it is all about food. Wherever you walk, you will find a restaurant, food market or local canteen probably 10 steps away from you. And you don't only see all those places, you also smell them. One thing that every foreigner remembers about Hong Kong will be the "interesting" mixture of flavours that you smell when walking through the city.

Especially in the small and crowded streets where locals go, you can't protect yourself against the smell of fried duck, cooked garlic, dried fish, durian, raw meat that is hanging in the sun for more than a day already and even more combinations of things you have not smelled before in your whole life. (I'm not talking about whether you've eaten it either).

What to eat tonight?
Beef? Pork? Duck?
The smell usually comes from small restaurants (also known as canteens) that probably are not bigger than 25 square meters, and (sometimes) look like old garages or tool shops but actually host a local kitchen now where you see fried duck hanging at the display, crab or fish still being (half) alive in small aquariums, or other (parts of) animals that either have been cooked or fried.

Inside you usually find a couple of small tables, plastic chairs or stools where you are supposed to sit. During lunch time (rush hour) those places are so full that the local kitchen boss (usually a bossy woman) points you to any seat that is available, even when there are other people (whom you don't know) sitting at the same table.

Choosing a menu in such a canteen is difficult for someone like me, who doesn't speak the language, as all menus and special offers are written in cantonese. Therefore it's probably wise to bring a local with you, otherwise you might end up with cooked pig-stomach on your plate.

When you enter such a place as a foreigner, the first thought you have is to get out as soon as possible. However, when you have tasted the food once or twice, you will understand why these places are so popular. The meals they offer there are delicious, and the prices are very low. You just have to accept that the "standards" are a little bit different than what you are used to in Europe.

Mmm... meat!
For example, some time ago I had an excellent lunch in a canteen that was famous for it's curry meals. I was enjoying a great meal, until something moving on the wall next to the kitchen caught my eye. It was a cockroach that was heading for the kitchen, probably driven by the same smell as what got me in to this place.

... I kept on eating thinking what a delicious meal it was!

As I said, you just have to accept that the "standards" are different than what we are used to in Europe. If you set that aside, you will enjoy the most delicious food you will find in Asia!

(by the way, I hope I do not offend anybody with the story above. I am trying to explain the difference from my dutch perspective.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 1 - Arrival

Finally.. after a 2 hour delay, a 12 hour flight and another hour of getting from the Hong Kong airport to the center of Wanchai, I arrived at my new (temporary) home.

View from my Window
My apartment is in the heart of the old part of Wanchai, in a (for Hong Kong experiences) fairly "quiet" street.

Luckily in back in the Netherlands I already lived in a fairly busy street, so I think I won't have a really big problem adjusting here to the 24 hour noise.

Even the trams I have back home appear to be passing here as well so I won't be missing them :-)

Normally when I work in HK I am staying in a hotel, but as I'm staying for a minimum of 3 months, my employer has arranged a serviced apartment.

I didn't really know what to expect from this apartment so I decided not to bring anything but clothes. I figured that whatever I need I can probably buy here, and it's probably even cheaper than in Holland :-)

So what do you do, when you notice that you are missing towels, toilet paper, household cleaning stuff, etcetera? Right... you go to:


Even my all time favourite was present :-)

Throughout the last 6 years I have been in HK at least a dozen times, and with every visit I try to get impressions of the city and the daily life of the HK citizen and compare them to the impressions I have from my previous visits.
The best way to start this is by doing a walk in the city, and as Ikea was several blocks away, I took the opportunity to look around on my way home.

During my stroll I discovered a lot of new wine shops that were not there before. They (for what I could see) are selling expensive imported wine from Europe and other regions. I knew wine was getting more popular in Asia, but I didn't expect so many new shops open in such a short time. I should do some research about that.

On my normal walking-route (to work) I also saw that at least two new Porche showrooms opened, and the Maserati dealer hang a new (Huge) sign on the building showing it's new imported model.
I guess business is still going great here, especially when you see the amount of expensive cars driving on the road. All brand new mercedes SLK's, BMW's, Porches, and everything in the most expensive configuration.

The last thing that struck me as the increased amount of pet shops. In almost every street you can find a pet-store that sells dog&cat food and gatgets. Are people getting more pets at home? I suspect a trend here.

I got 'home' again and now it's time to continue unpacking.
Tonight the first food and drinks are planned!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

One week left

And finally it's going to happen! Just one week left, and I'm moving...

The idea of moving to Asia already occupied my mind for about one and a half years. It started when I had a conversation with my boss about giving me the opportunity to work in this part of the world.
My current employer, a Medical Device company with a worldwide presence, has it's headquarters in Hong Kong, a modern manufacturing facility in Shenzhen, and several sales offices throughout Asia and Europe.

In my current position as Global IT Manager, I am responsible for the worldwide IT operations and services. As many of our corporate activities are currently focused in Asia, it is obvious that a great deal of my time is spent on projects in this part of the world, and during the last years I have been travelling back and forth to our offices in Hong Kong and Shenzhen but also to Japan and for example Malaysia.
Every time I visited Hong Kong, my mind was occupied with the thought of how it would be living in such a country. The culture and the atmosphere are so much different when compared to our Dutch, organized and safe way of living, that it is almost impossible to imagine unless you have been here actually and filled your lungs with the Asian air of life.

And so when my employer told me that they would give me the opportunity to move to Hong Kong for a couple of months, I was more than excited! I will be working on several projects in our Hong Kong office, but I also will be involved in activities in Shenzhen and other sites. The assignment will last at least 3 months.

Although most of you know I am a regular traveller, I have never lived outside the Netherlands for a long period. Therefore this opportunity will not only be interesting for me, it will also be a challenge. Will I thrive here in this totally different environment, or will I be longing to go home?

One thing is certain: It's going to be a great experience.

Therefore I've decided to write about my experience here in Asia. On this personal blog, I am planning not only to share my personal experience of moving here and deal with the every day life and work issues, but also to find the difference in culture, beliefs and ideas between Asia and Europe, the daily struggle of becoming succesful in this (much more than in Europe) competitive environment, and last but not least the economical situation in this part of the world based on my own impressions and discussions with local people.

It's the first time I am starting a blog, and when I read back above goals it seems a bit ambitious, but however, I'm giving it a try :-)

Please don't hesitate to give me feedback, everything is welcome!