Canadian woman Heather talks about her life as an expat in Hong Kong, China

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Heather Chase

November 28 2006

-Where were you born?
Saint John, NB, Canada

-In which country and city are you living now?
Hong Kong, China

-Are you living alone or with your family?
My family

-How long have you been living in Hong Kong?
3.5 years. I arrived in 1998 (stayed one year) then moved to Singapore in 1999 & back to Hong Kong in 2004.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Hong Kong?
Eight years ago I was living in Toronto with my husband & he got an offer to work in Hong Kong. My husband had always wanted to work in Hong Kong so we did a quick spreadsheet calculation (pros & cons) & decided to take the job offer. This was after we visited Hong Kong for a week to help decide if this was a place we would like to move to.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No, not really. So long as you can show that your position isn’t taking away from a local one. It’s a bit easier when you have overseas experience that perhaps a local person wouldn’t have.

hong kong-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, most Hong Kong companies provide some health insurance & it’s quite easy to increase that coverage with the insurance provider. Besides, the income tax rate is set at 16% compared with Canada’s taxation laws, so you can easily afford to pay extra.

-How do you make your living in Hong Kong? Do you have any type of income generated?
I don’t work now but I did when we first arrived. I worked for an international company selling software training. I went to a headhunter for my job. I was offered a job within a month of seeing the headhunter but had to wait almost 3 months for my work visa to come through.

I would recommend using an international recruitment agency as they usually have positions for expats. My background is computer sales and marketing.

-Do you speak Chinese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I speak a little (very little) of Cantonese & Mandarin. When we first arrived 8 years ago, English wasn’t spoken as much as it is now especially if you go off the beaten path. That being said, if you use a couple of words in Cantonese or Mandarin, it brings a smile to locals. Naturally, when you are a visitor in another country, one should get familiar with local customs. I don’t think you’re doing yourself or your country any service when you show disregard for any culture. Embrace change; don’t fear it is our family motto.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Sometimes I do miss home but I’m not pining away for it. If you try to duplicate the lifestyle you had back home, you’re guaranteed to set yourself up for failure in the adopted country. There’s so much to learn when living in a new place so why not make the best of it...you might be pleasantly surprised. When I do go home, after 4 or 5 days I’m gagging for some Asian food! Funny that! So my husband & I have our Asian fix of food & carry on with friends & family.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
Our daughter is in year 10 so we plan to stay here until she finishes school & then we’ll head back to Canada. In the meantime, we still need to visit India, South Pacific, Japan, Vietnam and parts of China.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We rent, as housing is very expensive. Housing rentals vary & are cheaper if you live in the New Territories but for those living on the island, rents can be as little as HKD$25,000 (2-bedroom, 500sq.-ft flat) up to HKD$150,000.00 per month.

-What is the cost of living in Hong Kong?
It can be expensive with regard to housing but eating out for the most part is still inexpensive (locals eat out at least 3 times per week). A bowl of food such as bbq pork and rice is HKD$26.00 (less that CAD$4.00) and even set dinners around HKD$188.00 (CAD$27.00) are still reasonable. Food shopping will vary depending on grocery needs. I like shopping in the wet markets for some of my produce. It’s fresh and you can get the quantity you want unlike in the grocery store where it’s prepackaged.

-What do you think about the locals?
The locals are great and you can always get a smile from them when you use a few words in Cantonese. It shows you try and the locals appreciate that. If you are kind and considerate, then they will be too.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is an amazing city. Sometimes a bit too crowded for my liking but then when I come home I can close my door and enter my own sanctuary. Hong Kong is quite modern and services such as phone, broadband cable, broadband Internet are top-notch. Hong Kong has a good infrastructure for banking and most banks encourage online banking.

I think a negative would be too many people in a small land area and the pollution that doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is an easy city to get around, all signs are in English and Chinese and most speak English on the island side of Hong Kong. It’s a relatively safe place so if you have children you need not worry about their safety. If you are a female, it’s safe as well. Just make sure you act responsibly as you would in your own home country. Don’t be afraid to explore the area & ask questions. The consulates or embassies of your country are a good base to get information on the country you plan to work in. Also, there’s a non-profit company called “CAB” (community advice bureau) which gives advice on anything you might need; be it plumbers, electricians, where to shop for special foods, clothing, appliances etc. They are a tremendous source of help & are open 5 days a week.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Hong Kong?
I recently started a food blog called The Culinary Chase. I have always had a passion for food & Asian cuisine has had an amazing impact on the way I prepare food. Being introduced to herbs & spices the way Asians use them has been a most enjoyable culinary journey.

The Culinary Chase is my way of sharing the food experiences to those who might never see this part of the world.

Other Hong Kong-related sites:
Community Advice Bureau
English Schools Foundation
Hong Kong Tourism Board