What I've Learnt Living in Hong Kong
I could have written this a thousand times in a thousand different ways, but here I am, writing it again. Hong Kong has taught me so much, but what I think it’s taught me more than anything else is how to step into my own power. In all areas of my life. I guess this feels different for each person but my experience in Hong Kong has helped me grow in so many ways through both the challenges that are unique to Hong Kong and some that perhaps are universal.
Over the years I have spent serious time learning Cantonese and I have landed in a space where most people I speak to would say I sound like a native. The mentality that this learning experience has helped me shape is this: You can learn anything if you put your mind to it. It’s never easy, but anything worth having never is. It’s also shown me that we are all human and have more in common than we might think, despite the barrier of language. At the end of the day, we might all set out to learn languages for different reasons but all we want to do is to be able to talk to each other. What I found was that learning a language requires far more than just putting in the time. You have to:
Be vulnerable — Learning a language makes you vulnerable. Some people laugh at you and mock you, your interest wains, life get’s in the way and you forget what you set out to do and a whole bunch of other reasons. I know that by being vulnerable you expose yourself but in the process, you open yourself up to so much more. Putting yourself out there, speaking a language that isn’t you own every day gives you an opportunity to grow in more ways than just learning a language.
Be persistent — Having the ability to continue on when you see people dropping out is a super power. Really! Sometimes you end up wading through sludge for a long time but it’s worth it once you get through to the other side. I think being vulnerable is related to being persistent because you have to be willing to be vulnerable first and in tandem with that, you need to develop the will power to persist through the struggle.
Living Away from Home
When I first moved to Hong Kong, it was mortifyingly lonely. I had been used to relying on my family and the safety that I felt living with them. These are relationships that I’d spent my whole life in and I cherish them dearly. You don’t realise how much of your life they make up until you leave them. It’s tough! Really tough! Moving to Hong Kong taught me the value of family but it also showed me that if you have strong people by you, you can do more than you think you can. Leaving home and living here taught me that you have to:
Be a risk taker— When I decided to come to Hong Kong, I hadn’t really thought about what that meant. I just knew I had to be with my girlfriend (now wife) so I decided to take a risk and learn how to be an English teacher After studying Game Design. (quite the flip, I know) Looking back on this choice to just jump in with my eyes closed and move to Hong Kong is the biggest reason as to how my life has turned out now. Taking a risk and not being sure of the outcome was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my growth as a person.
The first thing that hit me when I came to Hong Kong after the horrid humidity to the face, was the noise. Then quickly followed by the general lack of consideration I’d gotten used to in England. There’s a real sense of “every person for themselves” here and it can really test the most patient of saints. From pushing and jostling on the MTR, watching for queue jumpers, people closing lift doors in your face and the constant battle on the streets just getting from A to B has taught me to:
Self-regulate – If someone bumps into you, It’s not their fault. If someone is speaking loudly on the phone in your face, it’s not their fault. If someone is clipping their toenails on the seat next to you, it’s not their fault. These are just a few of the cultural niceties you encounter and I have learnt that you really need to be able to find ways to express your displeasure without going into a hulk-like rage. Telling people firmly that what they are doing is not okay is a far better way than losing your wig over someone watching YouTube without their headphones on at full blast!
Being a small town boy, I had no experience living in a big city, let alone one that is 8000 miles away from home. I have met some truly wonderful people in Hong Kong, but like everything, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. When I first got here, I found people to be particularly cold. Going up to someone and asking how they are doesn’t fly here. Similarly, I’d meet fruit stall owners, Seven Eleven sales assistants and a whole host of people that started to recognise me from living in a small piece of Kowloon with zero foreigners, and they’d started to greet me when they saw me. I thought this was great but then I noticed that some people didn’t like maintaining this “greeting thing” and just decided it was easier to ignore me. This really stung because as far as I could see, I hadn’t done anything wrong, however, it did help me develop a thick skin and the ability to:
1.) Move on — Throughout my life, I’ve been a dweller. I remember when learning to drive, my driving instructor was the first one to point it out to me. He’d say: “You’ve been having a great lesson so far and you’ve made one mistake, one mistake and you’re still thinking about it. Quit dwelling on it and move on!” That’s why being ignored hit me so hard. I wasn’t used to this coldness and all I could think about was “what have I done wrong?” This series of events really taught me that I shouldn’t dwell on it or blame myself for how others treat me and that I should rather spend the time and energy on the people that matter the most in my life. I’m still courteous, but I know not to sink any energy into worrying about why people are ignoring me. If anything, it made me more comfortable with the person I am.
I am so thankful to Hong Kong and the people that live here for showing me how to grow as a person. I am so grateful that I’ve had the sense of mind to see these encounters, stories and struggles as what they are, opportunities to define myself anew and it is my sincerest hope that wherever you are, you have the same chances offered to you.