Friday, July 19, 2024

10 Things Expats Likely Hate About Hong Kong

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Newcomers or those still overseas pondering a move to Hong Kong after receiving a job offer or regional assignment may not have sufficient information about the city besides its tall buildings, business clout or soaring property prices as they often appear in the news.

Love it or hate it, Hong Kong is just like any other city or town you’ve been. There are things you like and things you hate. For now, let’s focus on the latter and see what expats probably hate the most in this otherwise lovely special administrative region.

Humidity and adverse weather patterns

From June until September, or depending on who you ask, Hong Kong’s summer is just atrociously humid and sweaty that clothes could virtually become sweat sponge as the air is laced with humidity on a typical sunny day.

Of course, this is not solely blamed on the SAR but on the worsening climate crisis, but we’re also pointing to the way structures in the city are built to trap heat, driving the temperature index higher than the actual thermometer reading.

Strangers remain strangers

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You may share seven other households in the same floor you are staying but you likely don’t know them that much. Many people tend to look only after themselves by not opening doors for others or not waiting for someone to board the elevator.

It is not surprising to not know anybody in your neighborhood even if you live just a few feet from each other.

People with sense of entitlement

Many people don’t clean up their fast food tables, relying too much on attendants. Parents leaving almost every task to their helpers, including their role as parents to their children — in the name of careers.

This is part of that cycle in Hong Kong people have to deal with — competitive education system, high cost of living, and others listed in this article.

People who lack proper manners

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Loud personal or phone conversations on public transport. Many taxi drivers refuse to admit passengers. Some people eat at air-conditioned buses, leaving a funky smell afterwards. Some people take MTR seats reserved to elderly, parents carrying babies or pregnant women and don’t offer them when someone more deserving comes along. Did we mention about nasty shopkeepers who don’t know how to smile? A smile can make someone’s day feel better. But alas, some people will feel uneasy if you smile at them, suspecting that you might ask for a favor.

Lack of English language options

In recent years, we observed that more billboard ads, government announcements, restaurant menus and websites are only displayed in Chinese language. In a city that tries to pride itself as Asia’s World City, it sure looks more and more like China’s city these days. Is it about time for Brand Hong Kong to rethink its positioning?

You can guess what these restaurant condiment labels are. We got no clues either.

Lack of local English-language TV channels

There is TVB Pearl which broadcasts in English (on some hours they’re in Potunghua) and that’s it. If you allocate more time watching TV channel, you’d have to subscribe to a cable service.

The vicious cycle in education system

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Hong Kong’s education system being flawed is an understatement. It propagates a vicious cycle of competition rather than learning. Parents compete on behalf of their children for school placements. Young children are battered with a series of tests at a young age instead of being allowed enough time to enjoy their childhood. They carry heavy burdens literally and figuratively. Heavy bags, spend long hours in school and don’t have enough time to play as they often undergo tests and assessments even before the age of three.

The cycle repeats for primary, secondary (a time they’ll attend to star tutors’ classes) and university levels. Yes, Hong Kong is ranking high compared to other countries in terms of educational achievement, but at what price? Did we even mention about student suicides?

High cost of living

Expats although generally perceived as higher income individuals cannot be immune to the expensive cost of living — say food or parking, not just housing accommodations.


Over seven million people live in a city with an area of just a little over 1,000 sq kilometer — that doesn’t even do justice with the land area as only 6.9% of it is devoted to residential purpose; two-thirds of Hong Kong is composed of forests, shrubs, grassland and wetland.

As a result, we are all cramped at small spaces with premium prices, and in many cases such crowding cause people to become grumpy and ill-mannered.

Noise and air pollution

As a doorway to China, Hong Kong cannot escape that negative association with bad air quality, contaminated food or risk of exposure to diseases like avian flu. To make matters worse, noise pollution from both perpetual construction projects and that brash middle-aged woman in the neighborhood who can’t tone down her voice during typical conversation.

Some expats may get paid HK$200,000 a month, live on company-paid city-view mansions and have access to luxury perks the city has to offer. Yet, they might still their own share of gripes about Hong Kong. So are the rest of us.

Photo credit: Luca Mascaro / Flickr

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