New mothers to Hong Kong (often here not by choice, but by virtue of their husband’s latest transfer) look at me pityingly when I tell them I love living in Hong Kong. I made a choice to return to my home city because I wanted to raise my children here — a fact they find hard to believe. They assume, as do many people who arrive from places where they can walk out of their front doors onto grass, that Hong Kong children step out only onto concrete, never admire nature and live in anonymous apartment buildings filled with unsmiling neighbours. Sure, things here have changed since the 70s when kids as young as eight years old would jump on the Peak Tram or Star Ferry by themselves, but Hong Kong’s urban environment still offers kids many advantages you just don’t get ‘back home’.
The denizens of my city, familiar faces that my kids see on a regular basis, provide a comforting sense of community – from the caretaker at our building with whom my son practices his Mandarin and the lady at the drycleaners who gives them candy, to our neighbour’s domestic helper who rushed to meet the school bus when there was an emergency. Urban kids spend a significant part of their day in the presence of grownups, some of them strangers, few of them, if any, threatening. They meet in lifts, on the MTR or buses, or just while tagging along on errands. Which means Hong Kong produces confident kids who are able to adapt to new situations with ease.
Tips for Raising Urban Urchins
*Bucolic spaces DO exist in cities. Hop on the Peak Tram and head up to Mount Austin for a picnic, drive out to Sai Kung Country Park or take a ferry to Lamma, Cheung Chau or Peng Chau to explore hidden hiking trails.
*Partake in as many different cultural experiences as possible. One of the best things about living in Hong Kong is the exposure to different nationalities, religions and celebrations. Where else does everyone celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas, Chinese New Year and Easter?
*Take advantage of the museums, visiting theatre experiences and exhibitions.
*Expose your kids to new experiences that are unique to Hong Kong: riding the Star Ferry or taking a tram from Causeway Bay to Kennedy Town, for example.
Then, when folks back home talk about their children swimmming and fishing in the local lakes, remind them why summer camps exist.