THE BLOG

Moving to Hong Kong: Jet Lag, Duck Tongue and the Great Outdoors

29/01/2014 14:58 GMT | Updated 30/03/2014 10:59 BST

Moving abroad can be stressful, that much is obvious, but when you're about to leave home some arrangements come more naturally than others. While I managed to hold a leaving party before moving to Hong Kong, some things, such as organising the shipment of important possessions, fell by the wayside. Oh well - who needs a change of clothes anyway?

Since living in Spain as a nine year-old, a transition responsible for broadening my horizons beyond the playground in Peckham Rye Park and the odd trip to the West End, I expected travelling to come naturally to me in adult life. But when the chance to move to Hong Kong arose, I wasn't so sure.

It wasn't just my growing sense of comfort in London, to me, Hong Kong conjured images of bankers swarming in and out of financial palaces and tourists stumbling between themed bars in Lan Kwai Fong. I worried that colonisation might have settled like a poisonous dust on the city.

One week in, and fortunately Hong Kong is much more than a playground for the wealthy. Apparently the harshest critic a place can have is someone who finds themselves recently relocated from a home they love, so from now on I'm going to try and think more velvet-lined opium dens and diplomatic circles à la Somerset Maugham, and less Hong Kong tourist board.

In 1978, when American journalist Martha Gellhorn wrote about her 1941 trip to Hong Kong with her then husband, Ernest Hemingway, she said that never again would people see the city as it once was, "nailed together hurriedly from odd lots of old wood" while sounding "like a chronic Chinese New Year". But being here decades later, I have to disagree.

While the empires of HSBC, UBS and friends create a shadow, literal as well as metaphorical, over central Hong Kong, and at night parts of the island could be mistaken for a set of Gotham City, large enclaves still look as if they have been put together piecemeal. This is particularly true of some of the apartment blocks, built on labyrinthine streets, among dripping butchers stalls and busy clay pot rice restaurants. These streets which seem so chaotic to an outsider are where Hong Kong's charm lies.

During my first few days here, making my way into the Great Outdoors felt like a challenge, not just because of jet lag but also the fear that I would stick out like an ignorant sore thumb. Luckily pride and curiosity prevailed.

Temple Street night market on Kowloon, a popular haunt of almost everyone in Hong Kong, won me over immediately. Seafood restaurants set among neon lights, sell cheap bottles of beer, allowing you to settle in and people watch with the thrill of a cheap beer buzz.

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Photo by Evie Burrows-Taylor

The interaction between the locals and the tourist/expat-types is very simple - they want to sell to you and know that the majority of non-Chinese don't speak Cantonese or Mandarin. By simply returning the smile of a restaurant host, I found myself ushered into a chair before I'd had the chance to consider whether or not I was hungry. Once sat down, I was presented with a menu listing duck tongue, chicken's feet and "east wind snail" as specialties, and I felt grateful for my strong stomach.

Before arriving here, friends assured me that I'd be able to get along fine without speaking any Chinese - a relief, as I struggle to differentiate my 'Néih hóu' from my 'Nǐ hǎo'. But even in these early stages I feel like I'm contributing to the problem, so after a couple of these restaurant incidences, as well as an embarrassing moment with the hotel maid, I have made a resolution - lessons will be booked just as soon as I have a steady income.

It's very easy when you move abroad to justify pleasurable activities in place of practical ones, because of the obvious need to become acquainted with your new home, but now I've successfully left the hotel - a proud moment - finding a steady income is the next big challenge. It turns out old habits, even on new continents, do die hard.