I’ve been living in this intoxicating and let’s face it, breathtaking ‘city that never sleeps’ for four years and one month now (but who’s counting)! Hong Kong pretty much had me at hello, but as with any foreign city, being a ‘newbie’ comes with a distinct teething stage. For me, that meant unexpected tears and tantrums, testament to the fact that I was awkwardly out of my comfort zone.
The glittering lights that never seemed to dull, draped across a never ending ocean of skyscrapers; the undecipherable foreign chatter all around me; the colossal crowds that heaved with a boundless energy… to my small but glaring inability to use the all-important chopsticks made it undeniably overwhelming for this ‘new kid on the block.’ Not to mention I was up the duff! Yes, loudly and proudly pregnant – but it was a poignant ‘first’ along with many other firsts like being homeless, jobless, carless and well, just plain ‘less’.
As I embark on our next expat journey, this time with an effervescent 3 year old in tow, to an equally overwhelming city in mainland China, I find myself nervous but far less frantic and less fraught with panic about the great unknown. You see, four years in this mighty metropolis has taught me a lot, mostly not to sweat the small stuff and that with time, comes familiarity and with that comes your new life as you know it! Eventually, the mind boggling mayhem becomes the norm!
Let’s raise a glass to that as I pass on my list of small but oh so significant lessons I’ve learned (over time) as a new mum in Hong Kong! I wish I had known some of these A LOT sooner, let me tell you.
1. It’s tempting, but don’t attempt Soho/Mid-Levels with a small baby in a cumbersome stroller. This will only result in blood, sweat and tears.
2. Headed for downtown Central? Make friends with your Baby Bjorn/Ergo/Sling (unless of course, it’s the middle of summer)!
3. That said, don’t be afraid to use a stroller! Believe it or not, there are lifts from all MTR stations that bring you to the roadside without being marooned by a bevy of steep, insurmountable stairs! Tip: take the lift to World Wide House for Central.
4. Live in Kowloon? Be aware that most taxis will not cross the harbour for you. Sometimes a taxi to ifc mall and the train across is much easier, faster and far less stressful.
5. There is a taxi app! Download it on your phone ASAP!
6. Catching a cab with baby in tow? Try to disguise your wide load or watch the drivers conveniently cruise by with a flick of the wrist. (Too much trouble missy!)
7. Don’t be scared of the mini buses – they’re a little wild west, but cheap and fast!
8. There are child-friendly changing rooms in Hong Kong. I know it’s hard to imagine, especially when you are stuck in the middle of a crushing crowd in Causeway Bay with a baby desperate to be fed or changed, but trust me they do exist. Check out Sassy Mama’s list here.
9. Don’t be timid amongst the masses, go forth and conquer like a bull in a china shop! It’s the only way to survive.
10. See a look of panic when you mention to those back home you’ll be giving birth overseas? Never fear, the doctors and hospitals in Hong Kong are more than capable (some naturally more than others). Some of the city’s obstetricians are among the best in the world.
10. Hong Kong at face value may not seem to be the most child-friendly place on the planet, but there are parks, beaches, picnic spots and play centres available for your tribe. You just have to know where to look!
11. When you’re looking for a place to live, try to find somewhere that has a clubhouse with a playroom – this will be your saviour on those rainy/hot/humid days in the Kong.
12. Helpers… are there for just that, to help you! Word of mouth is often the best way to find one that suits your needs. It’s a strange concept for a lot of westerners (myself included) but with no daycare centres and babysitters few and far between, if you work or need time out, this is your answer. Just remember to be kind and that they’re human beings too.
13. Hong Kong may be a city of seven million but it can also be your small village.
14. You can buy most things you need, but make sure you stock up on a few essential items back home.
15. Don’t be alarmed when complete strangers come up to you and invade your personal space/take photographs, or perhaps even tell you that you and your baby are fat or ask why/how you’re feeding your baby. Let it be water off a duck’s back or you might feel the urge to explode. Put it down to a cultural thing.
16. Don’t let Hong Kong’s school system put the fear of God into you. It seems baffling, but you will find a spot for your little one. It pays to ask around and do your research. Understand it can be an expensive process, but whatever you do, don’t get caught up in the hype… there are plenty of play groups and local schools to go around.
17. Many children start ‘school’ at two – which is unheard of in many western countries – but don’t panic, it’s not essential. Do what’s right for you.
So with that in mind, it’s without further ado that I bid you all farewell (for now!) and take my own survival tips with me to Xi’an, China…
See you on the other side!
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