I arrived in Hong Kong over three years ago with my wife. We’d been married less than a year. We’ve now been separated for almost two and are barely in contact.
While I hesitate to blame Hong Kong (by which I mean: the climate, work pressures, living arrangements) for our downfall, it certainly played its part. Therefore, it would be remiss of me not to pass on my own personal advice to Western couples about to relocate, full of excitement and optimism, as we did in 2011…
Although you will hear HK described as ‘Asia light’ and it is without doubt one of the safest and friendliest places I’ve ever lived, that doesn’t mean those used to a European or American ambience can relax and assume everything will work out. Here is some (occasionally contradictory) advice from someone for whom it didn’t…
Don’t stereotype yourself
There are many women here working as the main breadwinner in a couple, but this concept is taking a long time to filter through both expat and local communities. Don’t be surprised if officialdom in its various guises (banks, Immigration etc.) assumes the male amongst you (if applicable) is the main earner and the reason you are in Hong Kong at all.
This may seen like a minor point but can present an additional frustration even when you think you’ve worked through any related issues back home. Even the phrase ‘dependent’ (as in ‘dependent visa’) can be galling, and becomes more so the longer the dependent goes before finding a decent job (dependents can work but if you are here with a partner who has nailed a specialist job in HK you may struggle to match their salary).
There’s no point ranting and railing against the city: it simply doesn’t have the time to care about yet another moaning expat. If you examine your relationship in a detached and adult way (something not always easy to do here) you will probably discover that most of your reactions to Hong Kong-based adversities are not the fault of the city but instead arrived with you in your baggage. Take that into account. Don’t hop on the first plane home. Take a deep breath. Take it easy.
Find a hobby
You may not be able to change yourself – or your partner – nor predict what their on-going reactions to Hong Kong will be, but you can change your habits. Count yourself lucky to be somewhere with such a diversity of culture and range of available activities. Go find one that suits you. If you want to play competitive sport that’s fine (insert water/sunblock advice here) but if you’re feeling overwrought you may want to take the pace off things by swimming (great pools/beaches) or steadily exploring the older parts of Wan Chai or Sheung Wan, where a ready source of air-con is never far away.
Dive in (but remember to surface occasionally)
Hong Kong is an amazing place. Explore it. Fall in love with it. But don’t try to do too much. I now spend much of July in the nearest swimming pool (underwater) and try to escape Hong Kong each August when the heat peaks.
Easy on the booze
Along with the heat it has a habit of resurrecting arguments from long ago.
No more snuggling up under the blankets – going to bed in Hong Kong all too often becomes a hellish, insomnia-inducing bind. Just because you are both sweaty and naked don’t expect this to lead to fireworks. When it reaches a certain temperature the touch of your once delectable lover will become the equivalent of someone holding a cigarette lighter to you.
What to do about it
Rethink your love life. Look for an apartment with a spacious shower. Think imaginatively, but most of all think COOL. A man-sized fan at the foot of the bed may not be very designer but when it allows you to embrace your lover once in a while it will be worth every clunky inch of space it takes up.
Hong Kong is not a city made for lovers – it’s up to you to make the best out of it, and each other. Be patient, kind and understanding. If you don’t point out the weeds (especially those attached to your partner) the city should flower before you. Good luck!