This time it will be a bit rough. I have been living in different parts of Hong Kong. At first I was trying to avoid English speaking community as much as I could, which brought me some deep (deep ≠ good) experiences. I realized that how I live here is a topic worth writing about.
I first moved to Hong Kong for a longer period of time as an exchange student. That was great, I used to live at a dormitory in the middle of hills, inside of a university campus. You could say in terms of living, it was easy. Then I came back to work here (and mainly train martial arts) and everything suddenly became complicated. When I look back now, it was crazy, and I don’t know how I survived that. If somebody would tell me how much I will need to sacrifice, I don’t know whether I would walk this path, but luckily, you never know how much you will need to pay, as it always comes in little bits and you are thinking, I still got this, I still can get through this…
I arrived Hong Kong with a fresh (pretty bad) job and no place to live. My friend Chicco offered me to stay with her grandma. It was a total lifesaver. But it also wasn’t easy. The first night, old nice grandma, who couldn’t speak an English word, pushed aside some piles of blankets so I could sleep on a bed that has been used as a storage place. The room was so small, that I could not really open my suitcase. Everything in Hong Kong is small. There was no shower in the flat, so granny had to heat water in a kettle and then I got a plastic basin to stand in naked and a little towel to dip into the warm water. First night, I couldn’t sleep, thinking of home and how lost and lonely I suddenly am, and I cried. But I knew I cannot go back, because I would fail.
In a week I found a room in Shatin, which is an area in New Territories, a northern part of Hong Kong. I liked that place a lot, because it was around 30 minutes from the centre, but in the middle of mountains, cut through by a river and lots of parks. But don’t get me wrong, there still were tall buildings and tons of people. On the weekend better not go anywhere!
I rent a room in a flat divided into three. Not too legal practice in Hong Kong, but higly common. There was one bathroom, so small that a shower room was the entire room. Therefore, after taking a shower, everything including the toiled was wet. And we had no kitchen. I lived there with two women from Mainland China. They couldn’t speak English at all. We had a fridge in the entrance, but soon it was so smelly from the food inside, that I could smell it was opened even through a closed door of my room. Because there was no place to cook, my flatmate, lady around 50 years old, would do her laundry and cooking inside the toilet. We also had cockroaches, even though it was almost a 30th floor. I lived there for 2 years and something, as I had a contract. Looking back, it was so terrible that it often brought me to tears. But I survived, somehow. My room had a bunk bed with one wardrobe and a table beneath. That was it. When I sit on the ground, I could touch one wall with my back and the other one with me feet. I would sit on the bed and looked down on the city, telling myself that it is only a stage, and that everything will get better.
Pictures below: My favorite barber, could not speak English and never did what I wanted, but it always turned out great. The other three, that's from the village nearby and from a park I used to train in. The last two, life in a Hong Kong's tall building.
When I was at a late stage of my PhD, I went to China and Europe to do my fieldwork. So I quit my rent to save money and stored my things in my office. After I came back, I stayed with my friends, another PhDs. This time it was in Tai Wai, a bit closer to the centre, but still in the New Territories. I enjoyed the space outside, and quickly found my park to train. That time, I was not yet in MMA and so most of my practice was kung fu, a solo practice. When I trained, a family of wild boars would come to check on me.
his was the first time I had a kitchen, after more than 2 years in Hong Kong. It was a huge improvement. I lived in a small room, and a couple lived in a bigger room. The flat was tiny, with a tiny kitchen and a living room. Living with a couple makes you feel like the couple would be happier if they are there alone, which is understandable. But the bills were high. Hong Kong is the most expensive city in the world. This flat was around 12.000 HKD per month, if I can remember. My friend would usually work in the living room, so I spent most of time in my room. I didn’t feel welcomed, and I was hoping that everything will get better. It was indeed better than my previous flat, but the next once was supposed to be very, very bad. Luckily, I didn’t know that.
My flatmates were about to move back to Europe and so I had to move out. Since I was just finishing my PhD and wasn’t sure where about in Hong Kong I will work, I decided to move in a temporary flat only for few months. I payed crazy 5000 HKD for a room, which was literally the smallest one I ever lived in. But in Hong Kong prizes, this was the cheapest I could get. I lived in Yaumatei, a busy part of Hong Kong. It is this kind of Hong Kong that you know from TV: street food, neon lights, night life. It was a flat with 4 rooms, kitchen and a common bathroom. I lived with a Korean, Indian and one more guy. The whole flat was super dirty. There was a cleaning staff coming to do some kind of cleaning every week, but most of the surface in the flat was never touched by that person. I tried to use the kitchen, but first I had to throw away a moldy pan with some rests of food (weeks or months old), and soon I realized that it is health hazard to try to do anything there. Bathroom, always full of hair, dirt and urine.
That time, I already spent 4 years of life in Hong Kong.
I started a job and decided for a risky step: move to an island. Which meant 1 hour to go to work, or to training. But if you ask me now, it is totally worth it. So, I decided to move to Lamma island, and I found a room. Suddenly, I moved from a shoe box into a big room, with a living room, kitchen, balcony, rooftop, and 10 minutes walk away from the beach. I couldn’t believe it.
Also, I spent all those years trying to stay away from the English speaking expat bubble which grew on the Hong Kong island. I was learning Cantonese and I tried to use it every day. Locals knew me and greeted me when they saw me on my way to practice with some of my weapons. But I was never home. I could not talk to anyone. As my PhD life was quite silent too, I didn’t communicate with people for days on a normal basis. Of course, this changed a lot after MMA appeared in my life, but that is a different story. Lamma island is home for a big English speaking community. There are probably more foreigners than Chinese. You can understand how huge difference it suddenly was for me.
I live in a village house now, in the third and last floor. Luckily, because I am not so close to the wild life. Yeah, laugh. I laughed too. So far, I had in my room: cockroaches, spiders, ants (they built a nest in my wardrobe), lizards and a bat. One day, I woke up and I had a bat flying in my room. I almost died, but the bat was cool and didn’t bother. When he was too bored, he landed on the ceiling light and disappeared in some gap there. So you mean I have a gap between the ceiling and the rooftop in my room?! That was the last time I saw him, but I named him Fred the bat. What I am scared the most of are centipedes. I had to google it, because centipedes are a common topic on the local facebook community discussions. It usually goes like this:
“I have a centipede at home, what should I do? Should I get it out?”
“KILL IT! It is a pure evil!”
“Should I step on it then?”
“The only way how to kill that ***** is to pour boiling water on it!”
Naturally, I was curious what kind of cuties they are talking about. After googling it (yep, go ahead) and after my friend once told me “I thought there was a puppy in front of me in the dark, but it was a centipede” I am really scared of it. No wonder then when my 9 year old student once saw a millipede on the ground, run to it and started to jump on it, while yelling: “Die! Die! Die!”.
And then we have snakes.
But finally, I have enough space to lie down on the floor, which I never had before and huge number of people in Hong Kong don’t have. Every time when I got back home, I walked inside, and I was thinking how amazing gift it is to be able to make steps inside of a house. In Hong Kong, living in shoe box is not too much of a metaphor.
I have been practicing martial arts since 1999. It became the reason for moving to Hong Kong and it guided many of my life decisions. I am addicted to hung kuen kung fu and MMA. Further blog posts are sharing of an enthusiast.
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