Sunday, July 24, 2011

House Hunting in Hong Kong

How to find a decent place to stay in this huge city??
After I celebrated my official stay in Hong Kong it was about time to look for a permanent place to live. So how to find a good apartment in Hong Kong?

I heard from my friends and colleagues that the housing market in Hong Kong is booming. During the past few years prices of real estate went up with yearly percentages of which we in Europe can only dream of right now.

For property owners this is a very good thing, however for the people that are looking to buy or rent an apartment, it is less good news.
At first I didn't really worry about the price. After all I am coming from Amsterdam, which to my opinion already is expensive enough for renting apartments.

I started my search online, as this is probably the most easiest way of investigating the available options and prices. There are many different sites in Hong Kong that act as an intermediate between property owners and possible tenants and most of them are also in English. After trying out several different sites I found out that Squarefoot was the most easiest to use for me, offering a wide variety of available properties.

As I am a new citizen, I prefer to stay on Hong Kong island, as it is the most convenient and closest to work. After browsing for a while, I noticed that the prices were higher than I expected, especially when looking at my preferred Hong Kong Island location: Wanchai. For an apartment on a lower floor, in an old building, not more than 45 square meters you already pay at least 10,000 till 15,000 Hong Kong Dollar excluding utilities such as Gas and Electricity. (About 1000-1500 euro)

It took me a couple of days of searching (and cursing haha) to accept the high prices, and finally I made some appointments to look at several apartments in Wanchai, all below my maximum budget which I put on 15,000 HKD. I expected that even though the apartments were small, at least I could find something decent... Wrong!

The size of an average apartment, not even 45 sq. meter..
this is the living room
The first 10 apartments I have seen were all extremely small, old, noisy and very dirty...

Especially dirty...

Most of them looked like someone lived there for 10 years without doing any maintenance or thorough cleaning.

Sometimes I was even afraid to touch something in the kitchen as my finger would get stuck in the grease.

Another apartment in Wanchai. Too small again
There were exceptions though. Some apartments were just refurbished, and had new decoration and furniture. However, with those I encountered another problem in the overheated Hong Kong property market. All the "reasonable" apartments were already rented out before I even had the chance to negotiate. Several agents told me that these apartments usually are rented out within a week or two.

After the initial dissapointments, I got myself together and started to expand my search. If Wanchai would not be possible, then a little further away from the center should be acceptable as well.

And after several more visits I finally found something acceptable. Just 4 metrostops away from Wanchai (where I work) I found an apartment that is in a quiet and green area, located on the 25th floor, with a mountain view, acceptable size (2 bedrooms even) and clean. The initial price was over my budget, but after some negotiation we came to an acceptable price, and I signed the initial agreement. (which was in both chinese as English fortunately)
Besides signing the contract, I also needed to pay a deposit of two months rent to the landlord, which you get back after the first year.  (Usual practice for Hong Kong)

I consider myself lucky to find an apartment in this condition. The current owner, a rich Chinese family, just bought a bigger apartment as their daughter returned from her study in the U.S.A. They wanted to rent out their existing apartment for at least a year or two and because it is their own personal property, they kept it in a much better shape than the usual landlord who only sees the apartment as an investment and doesn't care about anything. The woman of the family even offered me some extra equipment for free and gave me some spare light bulbs in case the current ones break down! (I had to smile when she offered me)

The only challenge in the future is that the landlord speaks only Mandarin, which means that both me, as my realestate agent cannot really communicate with her very well... I guess I have to start working on my Mandarin classes soon!

So, finally, after a couple of weeks full of frustrations, I finally found a very nice place to stay and I'm satisfied. Tomorrow I will get the key and will be able move in!

Friday, July 15, 2011

And finally.. the day has come!

Ever since the first day I came to Hong Kong several years ago, I've always had the dream to live in this fascinating city. 

As I've written before, in my current position as Global IT Manager, I am responsible for the worldwide IT operations and services of our company. 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.

My current relocation assignment was only for a few months, as I needed to manage several important IT Projects in our office. However, as time passed by during these months, I discovered that my wish to remain in Hong Kong only got stronger and stronger. Therefore I have requested my employer if it would be possible to be relocated permanently, as it would be beneficial for both the company (as most IT activities are based around Hong Kong) and myself, as I have the strong wish to stay here permanently.

Today, I am glad to announce that my employer has accepted my relocation request, and that I just have signed my new Hong Kong contract! This means that from september 1 officially I will be employed in Hong Kong, work in Hong Kong, and live in Hong Kong...  permanently!

As you understand, a permanent relocation is a big change compared to the few months I was planning to stay here initially. However, many of you know that I already had a long wish to move to Hong Kong, and now when it's finally happening, I am very glad to be able to realize this dream and start my new life here.

I will miss the view from my apartment in Amsterdam!
After celebrating this success (which will be done this weekend of course), I need to get back on track and arrange all the neccesary things for my relocation, such as finding an apartment in Hong Kong, get myself a bankaccount, and more.

Besides that, I have an apartment in Amsterdam which needs to be emptied, canceled, and all my personal belongings and administrations need to be taken care of, within the coming two months.

Even though it will be a busy time, I'm planning to post some updates on my relocation process. Hope you will find it interesting to read.

Last but not least, I want to thank my employer for making my relocation possible, and my friends and family for supporting me all the way.

To be continued!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tokyo after the Earthquake

View of the Shinjuku Area in Tokyo
March 11, 2011....

I Still remember this day, as probably many people do, as the day of the severe earthquake and following disastrous tsunami.

I remember I was working behind my computer when suddenly I got a Skype message from one of my Japanese colleagues.

He told me that shortly before a huge earthquake had taken place. Like many Japanese, he had experienced many earthquakes before, but he told me that this one was unlike any other.

The whole company office was shaking, shelves came off the wall, equipment fell down, and people were taking shelter where possible. The huge magnitude of 8.9 brought down the normally so earthquake-prepared city Tokyo "offline". Public transport didn't work and traffic lights were offline, resulting in huge traffic jams throughout the whole city. My colleague told me he was kind of stuck at the office, as it made no sense to try to get home by car. Eventually he walked back home, like half of the city's population was doing.

The earthquake also brought the devastating tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people, and destroyed the cooling system of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, resulting in unacceptable radiation exposure to the Japanese people.

Now, almost 4 months after the earthquake I am back in Tokyo again for my work, and I was wondering how this country and it's people are recovering from this major disaster.

On the surface everything looks fine. There is no real visible damage to buildings except some cracks here and there and business seems to go as usual. But when you take a closer look, you still can feel the impact that this huge earthquake and its related tsunami had on the people of Japan.

This sign you saw a lot near
elevators: Not in use due to electricity
First of all, Japan still faces electricity problems. I saw in the train that tepco (the electricity company) can only provide 79% of all energy needs. Therefore the government has urged everybody to save electricity.

There are suggestions to only turn on the airconditioning above 26 degrees, elevators and lifts are shut down and most of the (so typically Japanese) neon lights are shut off at night.

Besides that there are still fears about the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors and the radiation leakage. People are very cautious about the origin of food. I also noticed that all bottled water you can buy in the supermarkets is imported. No local sourced water is for sale, which I expect has to do with the fear of radiation.

Everywhere you see
commercials for water filters.
Perhaps people don't trust
unfiltered water anymore? 
The city feels much more quiet too. I have been in Tokyo several times, and it always felt as an active, vibrant and busy city. However this time, it feels like it is much more quiet. Even the hotel I was staying lowered it's price and lures guests with free gift coupons, while before it usually was always fully booked.

On the television you see a lot of programs about the tsunami and the recovery of Japan and it's people. Although I do not understand any Japanese, I can see that the whole country is working united to deal with rebuilding the nation after this disaster. Also when talking to most of the Japanese people, I can feel that they are determined to get their country back on track, and help the people that are in most need.

I admire their strength and attitude, and I wish all of them good luck in the recovery!
If you want, please donate to the Japanese red cross. They have an emergency relief fund which helps the ones in most need after the tsunami.

You can find the link here.