Thursday, October 08, 2015

Greetings from Hong Kong #2

As requested, I am hereby sharing some of my experiences of living in Hong Kong (HK). These are some of the highlights after moving here:

Learning to eat alone

Who likes to eat alone? What do you think about people eating alone? Do you pity them? Feel sorry for them? What do you think when you see a single person sitting by himself/herself and just eating alone? I thought eating alone was an absolute miserable thing to do. Nobody to dine with. Nobody to share the food with. Nobody to talk with. 

Both in Mongolia and Denmark, I had my family and friends to dine with; hence, I never had the problem of eating alone. In Hong Kong, however, the jokes were on me as I became one of the very people I used to pity - Batzul eating by herself in one of the busiest restaurants in town, talking on Skype or FaceTime with her boyfriend/sister/mother/relative/friend, watching YouTube videos, reading an ebook on her iBook, stalking people on Facebook and Instagram (till you get bored really), or simply sit at the window seat and watch people pass by. 

You may think why don't you cook home? Why do you need to eat alone at public places? Some sexists might even say "As a woman, cooking shouldn't be a problem for you". Trust me, I can cook very well, but when you work in HK, you barely have the time for yourself or yet alone cook home.

Air conditioner (AC), Dehumidifier and Air Purifier

I swear these people in Hong Kong like to work in a freezer! They put the AC in the office to 19C and I am freezing while the locals are just sitting there (so used to it). After working one year in Hong Kong, I still haven't gotten used to this freezing temperature, so I bring my big Mongolian cashmere scarf and wrap myself warm, not to get sick.

Another machine the locals like to use is the air purifier, because the air is so horrible. Even if you climb up the mountain, stand on top and breathe, the air will not be fresh. Unlike in Ulaanbaatar where the air pollution is only seasonal, the air in Hong Kong is bad for your health all year around with its constant haze. There is no factory and industrial zone in HK, but the air pollution is coming from the neighbouring Chinese cities (i.e.: from burning coal, heavy industrial zones, etc). 

Lastly, they also like to use the dehumidifying machine at their homes, because the humidity is high. If you live next to the harbour and water, your bedsheets and clothes will never get dry!

Choosing your apartment

Your employer and company should provide your housing and accommodation - yes. However, if you still want to live elsewhere and need to start hunting for apartments, these are the things you need to know. 

Housing market price increased in Hong Kong after the new metro line extended to Kennedy Town. Also, Mainlanders buying apartments here with their excess cash were not helping either, making the rents higher and landlords/landladies were waiting desperately for the current cheap contracts they had with their renters to finish (so that they could kick them out and rent it to someone else with a higher price). However, the market is cooling down, so the rentals and sales can be negotiated very well now.

Hong Kong is all about money, money and money. So here are some of my tips for choosing your apartment:

  1. I used real estate agents and unfortunately they seem to be agents for the landlords only and not to you. Hence, they will be reluctant to negotiate the rental price for you. So only use agents to find apartments and do the negotiations yourself
  2. Do not get fooled by 2 years of contract only. There are 6 months contract. Tell the agents to stop wasting your time with long term contracts when you are clearly looking for a short term.
  3. Do not believe when the agent says "Not negotiable". Everything is negotiable. If landlord/agent is asking HK$17,500 for a little studio apartment in Central, push back and negotiate!
  4. Do not live around busy bar streets, lines of restaurants or even worse the flea market! First of all, it will be full of noise pollution, dirty street and drunk people. Secondly, there will be cockroaches and rats/rodents, since these crawlers looooove busy area. Lastly, the apartments will highly likely be small and expensive.
  5. If you want space and cheaper price, live in Kowloon island. Hong Kong island is pricey! A lot of Mongolians live in Tung Chung (next to the airport area) and their apartments are spacious, affordable and most importantly relaxing - they have swimming pools, gym, piano room, etc. If you live in Hong Kong island, just do not expect anything, but a small space, pricey rentals and a bitchy landlady.
  6. Wherever you are, make sure you live at least five floors up. The higher you live, less noise, better view and no uninvited crawlers. Do not get any place with a balcony as Hong Kong is full of cockroaches and rodents.
  7. Make sure your contract has a rodent and pest control clause where the landlady/lord should at least spray the anti-insect spray once in awhile, etc.
  8. Know your neighbourhood. Is your building old? If your neighbours are dirty, then no matter how clean you are, you will always have uninvited guests coming from the pipes, balcony, etc.
  9. Treat your landlords/landladies just like how they are treating you. If there is something wrong with the apartment (i.e.: broken drying machine, wall paints falling, broken tv channels, etc), demand them to come and fix it straight away. If they do not fix it, do not pay your rent. I had the utmost laziest and meanest landlady anyone could have asked for and she was absolutely abusing my politeness. Little did I know, you need to be spicy here and fight back for yourself. Being nice is not going to solve your problems in Hong Kong
  10. Think about commuting. If you have your job in Central, does it really make sense to live in another Kowloon island? Think about the cost of transportation and ask yourself: "Is it truly cheap or is it just wasting your time?".
  11. Live with your friend and share a bigger apartment! It will be cheaper and much more fun. You'll get tired of tiny little studio apartments. Trust me. 

Cockroaches and Rats in Hong Kong

Ok, I'm sorry. This post might (or will) disgust you, but I am here to share the truth, ok? So if you don't want to know, just skip this right now.

I wish people told me about cockroaches and rats in Hong Kong. The size of these crawlers are just unbelievably big - HUGE! What's even worse, the cockroaches are equipped with wings and can fly, while the rats can climb up the wall and swim even. It's hard to control them as their population grows very rapidly.

There are no cockroaches and rats in Mongolia and Denmark (well, I am sure there are, but not as much as in Hong Kong!), but they are everywhere in Hong Kong, especially in Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) in the summer - squashed, dead, running, hiding, etc. The locals do not care about them, because they are so used to them (what??!) and as long as they are not in their homes, they do not care if they are outside, because it is impossible to control it. I have seen these nasty crawlers with my own eyes and they still make all my hair stand up no matter how many times people say "Oh, you will get used to them".

One night, me and my friends were seated outside at a table, sharing a shisha in LKF. My boyfriend thought someone was stepping on his foot (thank god, he had a fully covered shoes) and he looked down to look at who was stepping on his foot, but to his horror there were two freaking rats. He didn't tell anyone about this at the table and he suggested to go elsewhere and nobody thought anything wrong about his suggestion as a bar-hopping is completely normal. However, when he told me the next day, I was just disgusted. I even thought of moving back to Mongolia, because I was so scared of them.

Even though I have been to Hong Kong many times before, I have never seen them then. It is because I wasn't aware of them. However, once you start living here and become a local, you cannot stop spotting them, because my stupid brain knows they are there. To this date, I still haven't found a way to stop freaking out every time I see them. Thankfully, summer is ending and they are starting to go back to their holes, sewage, pipes, etc. I am dreading the summers in Hong Kong. If you are coming to Hong Kong, make sure to avoid coming here from May to September.

Getting a bank account - suddenly became so strict!

Three years ago, my colleagues told me that they would just walk into any bank in Hong Kong with their passports and could open a normal ATM bank account and credit card later. Now all the banks, especially HSBC, became super strict with their new compliances after their scandalous bank accounts under fishy people. Also, for instance, if you were Russian citizen (i.e.: my colleague), it was taking much longer to open a bank account due to the economic ban on Russia. What's even more, if you were subletting (your apartment not under your name), it was even harder or impossible for some to get a bank account.

Tax Payment - Annually, not Monthly

I have always had my taxes done by my employer - i.e.: pension plan, social health insurances (SHI), personal income tax (PIT), etc. Also, I used to pay PIT and SHI every month automatically from my salary, but here, you need to pay the annual income tax (usually 5%) yourself after one year of employment in one go. 

Hope you are saving some money every month for this, otherwise you will get into a huge trouble of paying your tax. Another thing is to make sure there is a housing allowance in your employment contract. This will help you reduce your tax amount.

People will ask you to
  • Buy or bring the following to Mongolia: latest iPhones or any new Apple products really, perfume, cosmetics, whiskies, money, something they have left in Hong Kong, books, vitamins, birth control pills, Christian Louboutin shoes, etc
  • Exchange shoe sizes
  • Check if their Hong Kong number is still working 
  • Pay bills on behalf of them (i.e.: phone bills)
  • Check how much would it cost to fix their broken apple products, etc
I come frequently back and forth to UB and HK, so if I have any spare time and/or space in my luggage, I usually say sure, but sometimes I can't help, but think "Seriously?! Can't they get these in UB?". You become a post office, really - a very nice one! :P

Let me know also some of the cultural shocks you have experienced after moving to a new country! Sharing is Caring.

Hope you liked this post and my absolute honesty in it.