According to wikipedia an expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence. Spending a week living with expats in Hong Kong we got a taste of the expat life, below are our thoughts about joining the ranks.
A beer costs $3-12 USD. Three dollars for the local, $12 for the expat. If your beer prices require a grammatical change in writing numbers, clearly there are two economies. We stayed with friends living the “local” life, sharing a three-bedroom apartment for less than $1500 USD per month, then we heard stories of expats paying$7,000 USD for a one-bedroom. This is in Hong Kong, a tiny place by most standards, where everything is easily accessible by public transport. Location doesn’t justify the price difference and quality is ever present. Hong Kong, the land of expats, is filled with this dichotomy, same thing, but pricing based on intended audience.
There are great things about being the mothership of expats, Hong Kong offers some of everything. Craving something? They probably have it, not only have it, it’s probably quite high quality. The only thing that we wanted, that apparently you can’t get, is Mexican food, burritos haven’t crossed the pacific. That said, Hong Kong will satisfy or even delight all but the rawest of people. It is built to help those relocated by the world’s corporations feel at home, to want to live there, to enjoy their time on the other side of the globe.
Stepping back from what Hong Kong has to offer the homesick, what it offers in local culture is among the world’s finest. It has green spaces and massive parks in a big city, which was unimaginable to me as an American. The shopping is on par with anything you will find in the Milky Way and fit mankind. The egg tart has become an art form, blending the best of French pastries with the rich, soft, custard filling. The roast chicken and pork is mind-blowing. I could go further, the bubble tea, the cheap beer, array of seafood and delicacies will always delight, but you get the idea.
From the biggest diamonds, purest golds, to finest foods, Hong Kong has earned its spot at the center of the expat world. That may be selling it short though, according to Time Magazine, Hong Kong is the Center of the World. Yeah, I could handle the expat life in Hong Kong.
When I looked up “expat” on urban dictionary it listed “qweilo” meaning ‘White Ghost’ in Cantonese, it is a term used to describe Westerners (people of Anglo-Saxon descent, a person with white skin) or as the website states, people living in Hong Kong or Macau. Although the meaning is offensive, it has been watered down and transformed into a term of endearment amongst the young professionals of Hong Kong to describe their Western friends. I can relate to this term as I stick out like a sore thumb throughout Asia with my white skin and blonde hair and could be easily mistaken for an expat and/or qweilo. This is the good news and bad news, as is the expat life, where you live as a local, but will never really be one.
I happily accepted my new “expat” title and masqueraded around Hong Kong as if I were in fact living in the central district of Hong Kong, not just sleeping on my friend’s floor. After a week of pretending I felt like the lifestyle suited me well. The food is delicious, the city is exotic, with many familiar qualities and the public transport is a dream. I could get used to not being a car owner with a long commute in a land-locked state and having dim sum anytime of day or night.
However, there were a couple things that I would have to get used to. For one, budgeting would need to be taken seriously. Expat bars and Western restaurants are quite a bit more expensive than those geared towards locals. From my experience it appeared that the higher the price of beer the more expats you would find. A beer at an expat bar in Wan Chai for example set you back about eight dollars versus about a dollar fifty at a less trendy establishment. I’m sure I could drink away a lot of paychecks with friends, before even considering my rent for the month.
I would also have to get used to the party all night, work all day, get no sleep schedule that it seems many expats live by. This was great as a visitor since we never experienced a shortage of people willing to go out and show us a good time. But if I had needed to get up and be productive at work after any of those nights it would have been tough to say the least. I would hear my friends getting ready for work in the morning a mere three hours after laying down and think how are they awake?
Looking back on our temporary foray into the expat life it seems that pros outweigh the cons. However, as tempting as the expat life is, there is still a lot of the world to see before we decide to take up temporary or permanent residency in another country.