在你我眼中的外國生活 – Sing’s guest post: living abroad – expectations vs. reality

Whenever we mention moving back to Hong Kong we get that one question asked by few people, either friends, family or my readers – ‘But why? You seem to have everything here’.

Altogether we lived in 6 different countries (alone, or as a couple), 3 different continents so I guess it’s quite safe to say we know what we’re looking based on the experiences we got in those placed. 
That inspired my husband to write a really long post on living abroad – expectations vs. reality.

Living in the western world in people’s eyes and my eyes 

Recently I had some argument with my family (ekhm, MOMZILLA – Paulina) about settling down. What we always wanted is to go back to Hong Kong for good, but they (Momz, please) don’t see that as a good idea for us.
All of the sudden I remember a scene in Mannings when I went back to Hong Kong for the first time from Australia back in 2003.

As you may know Hong Kong chain stores that sales cosmetics always have some staff that will actively persuade customer to buy their new products. My mom was one of their targets, the staff keeps pushing her to buy a famous energy drink product, Brand’s Essence of Chicken (白蘭氏雞精), I am sure most of people who lived in Hong Kong will know this product. The staff push her to buy more of those health product is because they heard my mom said that I was going to high school overseas. The first thing they said was “Wow, your son must be very smart and will have a good live in Australia!”

At the same time, I was wondering why people normally assume living in overseas is always a good thing? 

If you ask me this question when I was 15 years old, I would have answered you “Yes” because at that time I wanted to move out of Hong Kong. I was forced to selected liberal arts instead of science for high school. Ironically, the reason I was forced to choose liberal art was because I failed English, Arts and Music in middle school, so my average score was not high enough to be the first one to select science to be my focus in high school, despite I scored high in chemistry and physics.

At that moment I just wanted to get out of Hong Kong, get out of this crooked education system. Although I had to say my choice was right because at the end I could study whatever I wanted to study, I can’t say that I liked to live in Australia, I had a bad landlord, the communication to the city was very bad and I was a non-believer in a Catholic school. Imagine that.

Let’s pull back to the scene in Mannings, here are the few things I always hear when people say it is cool to live overseas:

  1. Foreign currency worth more than HKD so you can earn a lot.
  2. The air quality must be much better than Hong Kong
  3. It is not as hot as Hong Kong.
  4. You can afford a big house and all your kids will have their own room!
  5. You will have a car so you can drive anywhere.
  6. It is cheaper to eat steak and lamb there because it is so expensive in Hong Kong.
  7. Your English must be so good!
  8. Graduating from overseas is always better than study in Hong Kong.
  9. Hong Kong has no park and place to chill, you get stuck at home all the time.

Here is what I say to those points:

  1. Euro and Dollar do worth a lot of in HKD, but this is assuming you earn Euros and spend in Hong Kong. The biggest winner turns out to be the expats like investment banks relocate to Hong Kong using company’s money. In America, there are income tax, social security, state tax, medical tax, sales tax and tips everywhere when you accept service. (never, ever let Sing start on taxes – he knows them all!)
    When I was working in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had problem getting rid my of credit card debt because there wasn’t much left after tax and rent. Living quality wasn’t better than Hong Kong because both of us can only live in a small studio eating junk food all the time. What I earned would be good, but in the Bay Area, but as we were dependable on the company that sponsored visa we couldn’t even move if we wanted. Ireland and Australia’s tax rate isn’t much better, the highest tax bracket is even 40%! No wonder many people prefer to take social welfare than work. 
  2. I don’t deny that the air quality in Australia, California and Ireland are all better than Hong Kong but at the same time pollen count is also much higher as well so sneezing is unavoidable. (hashtag poorwifey, hashtag sheezingtheshitoutofmyself). Don’t forget that there are also earthquakes in California. I consider Hong Kong doesn’t have much natural disaster because even typhoon signal 10 doesn’t cause too much damage.
  3. Ireland has the worst weather I have ever had, instead of avoiding hot weather, I would prefer to avoid gloomy rainy days all year long. Especially during the Winter, suicide watches go out on the streets as more people commit suicide. It is really depressing to look outside and every is dull and grey. I must admit Los Angeles has the best weather after all, this is something San Francisco can’t match.
  4. When I was in a customer meeting, my customer asked me why didn’t I get a house in Ireland? Apartment is for couples and immigrant (said to crazy cat immigrant parents, duh), I told him that I never wanted a house, not that I need to do all the maintenance job myself because I was never interested in that type of stuff. My lady (your what? I died reading this part) said she also doesn’t have a need to have big living space because she will have less cleaning to do. Bigger garden = more sneezes! Our dream is to have an apartment that can see the Victoria Harbor because the view is already priceless. 
  5. Having a car is good for a long road trip, but it is the biggest burden when I want to have a drink at the dinner and get some time to relax. I can’t remember how many times we took the midnight bus after nice hangouts. Why do I even need a car when looking for a parking spot is pain in the neck?
  6. We just had a busy week in the company and we had beef, potato, soup and bread. Yes, beef is very cheap here but this is the best food I can get, with very little variations. So we are stuck in this soup and sandwich and potato loop for years!!!
  7. Perhaps this is the main reason to send your kids to overseas. The experience of studying and working under English environment is an irreplaceable experience and I can’t argue with that.
  8. Having an American degree indeed brought me a lot of advantages, but you must say the value of foreign degree is constantly dropping. It is all because of many fellow students and school buy and sell their certificates. This is so disrespectful to people who spend a lot of effort to their education.
  9. We went to the big Buddha and Stanley recently, it is very peaceful but yet alive, there are a lot of beautiful cities in the south-east Asia with scenic views, along with good weather. I guess I am not a big fan of the nature so shopping mall and karaoke are fine with me.
    The great thing about Hong Kong is it gives you vibes of mega-city, but you take a short ferry ride and you’re surrendered by nature. 
  10. The last thing that bothers me the most is the glass ceiling. At the end as an immigrant, I really can’t find myself blending into any of the country that we lived in. Can’t find jokes at work funny, don’t like local sport (whether its Aussie footy, American football, Irish hurling), can’t get used to the food. At the end, I am pathetically looking for Chinese food, from the city center of Adelaide to LA’s San Gabriel, to SF Bay Area’s Cupertino and to the Dublin Parnell Street where Chinatown doesn’t even exist in that city.

More depressingly, you will need to watch out for racism because you don’t need a reason to be attacked by others, either verbally or physically. Longer I stay overseas more I feel Hong Kong is very special. The older I grow, more traditional I became. I realized I have missed a lot of good things of my hometown and I didn’t even know they existed. After hearing all my complaints, do you still think overseas life is suitable for you?

Remember, the best thing is also something you imagine. You have to experience before you can judge what suits you the best.

I know it sounds like a long rant of someone who doesn’t know what he wants in life, but the fact is – we know. We perfectly know. Every choice we make is towards moving back.
In the US Sing got job experience valuable for Hong Kong resume, in Ireland we earn good money to save prior to moving back. Little steps on a ladder back home.

Don’t get us wrong, we are grateful for all the opportunities we got from life, but at the end we feel that peace in heart in only one place. It’s just difficult to get there, without family around you. It’s just us, facing the reality that is bit difficult to handle for us.

What is your opinion about living abroad? Is it what you expected? Or do you want to return/move at some point? Please share your experience with us! 

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7 thoughts on “在你我眼中的外國生活 – Sing’s guest post: living abroad – expectations vs. reality

  1. i think a lot of people in hongkong , and possibly why your mum-in-law want u to make a life outside hongkong, are fearful of what the future chinese govt will do when hongkong gets absorbed into china at the end of that 50 yr one country two system period after the handover. there is 30yrs to run on that, well within your lifetime and your children.. and likely long before dateline china will effect changes to hongkong.

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  2. Hello Lina and Sing, what an interesting and honest blog post. I do agree many people think living aboard is o-so-cool/romantic and look at through rose-tinted glasses.

    After living in several countries myself, I would say there are always pros and cons living in different countries. Times can be rough especially if there is a language barrier. Maybe sometimes it is hard to have common topics with people in the host or adopted country. That said, it is important to try. It can be new hobbies, do some volunteer work or find out the local history. 🙂 Afterall, it is one’s responsibility to fit-in (without of course compromise too much of the core value). 🙂

    Another point I want to make is that, sure Hong Kong has a lot of great things – good food, good nature, very convenient etc. I have very much enjoyed my time living there, and I have no regret at all. But I want to say to Sing that doesn’t fall into the trap in looking Hong Kong through some rose-tinted glasses. There are also underbellies in the society: the unaffordable house price, the large wealth gap, extremely long working hours and racism towards people with darker skins – Filipinos, Indian, Indonesians etc…

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  3. I think some racism as a person with an Asian face in a white dominant, Eurocentric society (which Canada is…even though we welcome Muslims, etc.) is probably a surprise to hardworking, university education professional Asians who go and work in North America for several months/years.

    Even those born and lived all their lives in Canada and America, may overtly have to show their equal footing/complete integration. Yes, it means sharing sports, certain foods that you all share/have fun. Understanding key slang local words. Socializing with a few good trusted friends. I realize you might be leaning on your spouse, which is fine. But having 1 very good friend to hang out locally is great for another perspective.

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  4. It’s good that you are both so sure and aligned about where you want to go, nothing wrong with that. I’ve now lived in a bunch of countries (US, Trinidad, Australia & HK) and get fuzzier and fuzzier on where I want to go next or return to. I think because I do appreciate the good and recognise the bad in all of them AND think maybe I just want to try ONE more 😉

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  5. We have now lived in both Germany and in Finland as a couple. For me both countries are more or less “home” wheras my wife is a foreigner to both countries. For her each had its positive and negative aspects.
    The thing my wife liked the most about Finland was the nature (not the mosquitos!!), easy bureaucracy and good internet. Here in Germany she loves that everything is so cheap in comparisson to Finland and that people are more friendly.
    In China most people “envy” her for living abroad but they always ask when she will move back to China. Those people are also always confused why she doesn’t want to move back as Germany/ Finland are just so small uninmportant countries in their opinion and that city life in China is the best

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