Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why Hong Kong is a good place to live

At first I was planning to stay in the Fragrant (香) Harbour (港) for half a year. It's been over one year now and for now, I'm staying. Let's look at some of the reasons why is it so.

Convenient services

The city never sleeps. Neither did my next-door fruit market in Tai Wai, apparently. Whether I was going to work or going back home in late evening, I could always buy some oranges and durian :-S. A famous dim-sum restaurant was also usually open at 3am when I was going back from events in the city.

Few people cook at home in Hong Kong – eating out is fast and cheap and also, who has time to cook when you only get out of work at 9pm. Getting together for a dinner is totally the standard way to meet friends after work, the equivalent of getting a beer in Europe.

Dinners are altogether more social in Asia because the meals are shared – a group of people sits at a round table, orders dishes together and people take food from the centre of the table to their bowls. Thanks to this, you get to taste more different meals and also have something to talk about with your friends. You don't only share the meal but the enjoyment as well (or disappointment!) This way of dining is completely foreign to westerners but most of us get used to it pretty fast and enjoy it as well.

The nature, in the city

Hong Kong is a big, lively city with 7 millions of people, all in an area of around 1000 km2. It's full of skyscrapers, tall apartment buildings, roads, rails, restaurants, shopping mallls, but, also rich with green hills, sea bays and islands! This is one of the differences with the sister city of Singapore (and not the only one). Some locals and many Czechs and Slovaks will wander into the hills and on the islands on the weekends in search of some tranquility and quiet. They'll rarely find it, because the city is constantly alive and noisy, but they'll get some healthy outdoor activity nonetheless. The hills are not very big, just below 1000 m but they offer a nice green escape from the concrete mass of downtown city. The image below illustrates two different approaches to urban planning. HK is the second case, it's very compact but the hilly areas are not very densely urbanized.

A large part of the special administrative region actually comprises of islands, from the large Lantau Island which offers a number of hiking trails to tiny islands in Sai Kung full of fishing villages. Some of them show off interesting rock formations as a part of the HK Geopark. Hiking may not be massively popular but junk boating certainly is. Well, human nature. Junk boat is all about renting a boat in the summer with a bunch of friends, buying some food and tons of drinks and sailing out to Sai Kung, the area full of small bays, beaches and islands which is not yet too spoiled.


If you want to see most of SE Asia or China, living in here is a real boon. You can still have your modern civilization standard of life and at the same time enjoy fast and cheap connection to destinations which are very exotic for Europeans. A full-moon beach party in Thailand?  Just take Friday off and have an extended weekend. Need to fix your back in hot springs in Taiwan? A weekend is enough (but Taiwan deserves a longer visit).  Both of these for about 2000 HKD, return airfare.

Additionally, if you work in HK, you'll be getting a HKID and that makes it much easier to get a visa for travelling to China. And this huge country has a lot of natural and cultural sights to offer too.

The dark side

To balance out, let's quickly mention the dark side. First, it's not very dark here at night. The main crossroad in TST is brighter than your dining room, so if you're an astronomer, you won't enjoy the stars a lot. And, light pollution is not the only type of pollution in HK. It's much better than China and I personally am not feeling any problems but some people do complain. Some of the foul air is imported from the neighbouring city of Shenzhen which is a Chinese industrial centre. Low visibility is also annoying but I blame it mostly on mist, not pollution. Me as a photographer curses it quite often because it spoils potentially awesome shots in many places.

The city is, of course, very crowded. I got used to it despite coming from a really small town but other people may have trouble adjusting. Queuing must be a national sport, it's practiced in banks, at ATMs, at a restaurant, for a bus, sometimes for a subway train. Better have your smartphone with Facebook or WhatsApp ready. With all the people, government officials do have experience in managing crowds. If you're planning a huge event in Europe, these folks would be my first recommendation for advice :)

As you already noticed, I like the nature. Sadly, not all beaches and sea waters are nice and clean. With this amount of boat traffic and people in the area, it's almost impossible to keep them pretty. But at the current rate of (ab)using the environment in HK, it will turn pretty disgusting sooner or later.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

We don't have this in Europe, part I.

Some of my observations about what's in HK and whats unseen in Europe. In Central Europe. In Czech Republic, I mean.

Streets with a shopping theme

If you go shopping in Hong Kong or simply just walk through Mong Kok, you'll notice (assuming you can see something at all in that sea of people) that similar shops tend to appear in packs. There is Computer Centre, a whole building full of small shops with electronics, there is Sports Shoes Street and lots of other places. This allows the customer to see the offers of all the merchants and decide for the best option on the spot. Compared to Europe (or most other places), this can save a lot of time and (mental) effort. On the other hand, the shops have less space to maneuver their prices because the level of competition is driven way higher.

I was wondering how these same-goods neighbourhoods were first created. A local friend told me that it's often the owner of the shopping mall or area who sets the theme for the shops. But what about the streets, such as on the picture above? I'm sure that must have grown organically...

Leaking buildings

To be fair, there is a lot more rain in Hong Kong than in Europe and no one would expect a typhoon to be very nice to buildings. But the truth is that buildings do leak and sometimes they are very happy to make a puddle right in the middle of your bed. Makes me appreciate the solid better insulation work done in Europe.

The government has a good PR guy

Besides ordinary commercial offerings, MTR stations walls, buses and trains are decorated with posters telling you not to buy more food than you eat, to avoid throwing food away. To check your windows regularly and not to try to fix them on your own for safety reasons. That you shouldn't abuse public housing if you can afford your own accommodation. I also learned about minimal wage regulations from one of those posters. In general, the government is communicating with the people way more than I'm used to and communication is always good.

Hong Kong is a free economy, more free than many European countries and that's why I was surprised to see regulatory bodies that I haven't encountered at home. In Czech, if your internet connection is slow, you're simply out of luck and complaining that you bought a 30Mbps plan but are getting 3 Mbps is no use, nothing is guaranteed. In Hong Kong, though, there's a government office that makes ISPs fulfill their promises.

And did I mention that people in HK enjoy one of the fastest internet services in the world? My apartment has a 100Mbps link and many already have an optical fiber with 1Gbps. Of course, this is made possible by the extreme population density - an ISP won't mind building a cable connection to a place with hundreds of potential customers and the same argument applies to mobile internet as well (LTE with about 100Mbps is quite commonplace now).