Friday, May 18, 2012

Time to go home!

I wake up and turn on the TV screen in front of me. The map on the screen shows Nizhny Novgorod. (Some city that actually brings a lot of memories to my mind.. which some day I need to write about in a separate blog).

“Ah”, I think by myself. “Another two and a half hours and I am home.”
“But on the other hand, what is home nowadays?” I’ve been almost a whole year in Hong Kong, and after this long period I am finally in the airplane on my way back to Amsterdam.

“But this visit is just temporary, don't make any illusions..” I say to myself.
I am lucky today, as the whole plane is fully booked, except the seat next to me. And when you are sitting in seat 67H with an empty seat next to you it means you’ve got lots of space and privacy. Especially on a long flight like this that is very welcome, so I was quite happy when the doors of the airplane closed and there was still nobody next to me. Somehow I happen to be this lucky quite often, as it occurs frequently that I’m the only one in the airplane that sits next to an empty seat. Of course the comfort is not the same as business class, but in these times of crisis we have to be considerate, right?

Somehow when I fly back "home" I always start thinking about what happened during my travels. When it was either flying back from Spain after a great vacation with my friends, or returning from a trip to Ukraine to experience the cold winter or one of my many business trips, somehow the engine noise, the uncomfortable seats and the constant waiting remind me of the past memories.
But today's 12 hours of flying made me think especially about the past year in Hong Kong.
My first year in Hong Kong has been relatively smooth. I arrived in April 2011, initially only for a couple of months. However, back then my goal already was to stay in Hong Kong permanently. A year before in 2010 I already sold my house in the Netherlands, and moved to a rental apartment in Amsterdam. Back then I already had in mind my long term goal... Hong Kong... and day by day I slowly started to prepare, until the moment of departure was finally there.
These first months after arrival were passing very quickly. It was April when I moved Hong Kong and the weather was already great so there were plenty of opportunities for sightseeing, travelling and meeting new friends. I joined several events and got to know the Hong Kong local people. At work also everything worked out quite well. My project was going smoothly and it seemed that they were satisfied with the results.

The only thing that was quite challenging in the beginning was the size and comfort of the apartments. The first months I stayed in a studio apartment in Wanchai, one of the busiest areas in Hong Kong. The apartment was located on the second floor of a building on Johnston road, a noisy street with the Hong Kong tram passing by, and the 24 hour McDonalds and a school located all within 20 meters distance of my window. You can imagine that I had a lot of difficulties getting used to the 24 hour noise around me.

The first month I slept very bad, especially on the days when the McDonalds was receiving their hamburger supplies at 4 am in the morning from the nightly delivery truck. Luckily after a few weeks I somehow got used to the noise and my sleep got better.

When the moment came that my employer decided to accept my wish to relocate permanently, I remember being very excited and happy. “It was finally going to happen!” I thought. However a lot needed to be arranged. I had to fly back to Amsterdam, pack all my belongings and clean out my apartment. It felt a little bit uncomfortable to see my apartment getting emptier day by day, until the last day, when I slept on an airbed on the floor, with nothing left but myself, 2 plastic bags and a suitcase.

Saying goodbye to all my friends was also hard. I knew that I wouldn’t see them often anymore, and even though there is Skype and Facebook, nothing is better than having “real” face-to-face contact.  On the day of my farewell party I felt both happy and sad. It was great to see that all my friends wished me good luck on my journey to the unknown, but this was probably also the last day I would see them all for a long time.
“I hope I am taking the right decision” I thought.
And now I am living almost a year in Hong Kong, I can say that I think differently about the Hong Kong life than I did before. The first couple of months I lived here I thought I already understood the life here, but It is only after a year that I understood what the real Hong Kong life consists of, mainly due to my own experiences but also talking to many Hong Kong locals.

Escaping the city life is great. A lot of quiet hiking
trails with beautiful views.
First of all, the work life balance is much different than where I come from. In The Netherlands we are all used to our comfortable life with 9 to 5 mentality, and although there are many people that make longer days in Holland (such as me), the work-life balance over there is still acceptable.
In Hong Kong however, the majority of people will not leave work before 7, and also the workload is much higher because people here expect everything to be done immediately. They are not so used to long term planning. No, everything they want should get to them right away. Therefore, most of the days I worked here I discovered that by the end of the day everything I originally planned worked out completely different. That only already makes you quite exhausted.
Besides the work-life balance there is the lack of holidays. Most people have only around 10 holidays a year, which makes it difficult to plan some long vacation. Instead, you can only make short trips, resulting in the fact that you do not entirely recover from your busy life.

And then there is the problem of staying healthy. Because of the hot and humid climate, every building has air-conditioning, which is usually set on freezing low temperatures. Going in and out will give your body such a shock that you will easily catch a cold. And then there is the risk of infection when you walk in the MTR and hold the handrail which has been touched by millions every day. You easily get sick by a virus or infection. (I now understand why there are so many commercials on TV related to solving the problems of being sick)
And next to that, the air pollution is sometimes so bad, that you really don’t want to go out, as it feels you cannot breathe. I have this feeling every morning when I exit the MTR station in Wanchai and walk up the stairs to enter the street. In Holland I never have any problems walking stairs, but here I am out of breath before I am half way. Luckily the air at the place I live is a bit better, but if you think that the only park where I can do my running exercise at home is next to the highway, you will wonder whether it is good to do any outdoor exercise at all. I also developed a sort of cough that I normally relate to a die-hard smoker, but not to a (used to be) healthy person like me.
So I can imagine that reading this you might think that due to the climate and air-pollution it is better to stay inside your house, right?

My first apartment in Hong Kong
Yes you would say so, if your house would have a decent size, to be living comfortable. However , as Hong Kong is almost the number one expensive cities to rent apartments, you can imagine that also this factor is quite disappointing sometimes.
I pay 15.000 Hong Kong dollar (about 1500 euro) excluding utilities for an apartment of around 650 square feet which I share with my girlfriend.  For Hong Kong people this size sounds reasonable, but if you come from Europe you would immediately start laughing at this price. In the usual Hong Kong bedroom you cannot even walk more than 1 step before you hit a wall. By the way, if I want to buy this property, it will cost me 6.5 Million Hong Kong Dollar, about 650.000 euro. Insane!
But besides this all, there are also positive things that are worth mentioning. When I escape the busy city life, I still discover every day new and interesting things that the city has to offer. Vast nature, quiet beaches, beautiful islands and long cycle tracks. Even if you only have a few holidays each year, you can use every weekend to explore and relax. This is really something that keeps me being able to handle the busy city life.
The second thing what still keeps me here is the fact that this city has many opportunities. Every day there are new and interesting people to meet, and also business wise there are a lot of possibilities. Some of you that know me closely know that I am always looking for new challenges and this city certainly has a lot to offer for me. (both business-wise as in my private time). More about that in another blog post later!
And at last, I need to mention one more positive thing about my life here. Shortly after I arrived in Hong Kong last year I went a weekend to Macau. And it was in Macau that I met a girl which soon became the love of my life. Without having her around, things would also have felt totally different, I’m sure. She is by no doubt a very important factor in my happiness here in Hong Kong.
So what will the future bring? I have no idea yet. I am flying back to Amsterdam now, to see my friends and family, and after 3 weeks I will return to Hong Kong, no doubt about that.

And when I will return I certainly will miss my family and friends, and even a little bit of Holland (yes I admit), but even so, my future still lies in Hong Kong. For now... 

Until when? We will see, just keep on reading my blog and you will find the answer.
(And so will I)