Hitting the Ground Walking


After the amazingly uplifting experience of our trip and a year of not working, I am starting a new life and new job life in Hong Kong. This is of course exciting and many benefits come from a return to routine but I also fear losing the perspective I have gained during my year of “seeing things clearer”. Conversations with two good friends this week about the challenges of maintaining a healthy balance in this crazy city have given me a lot to think about. Other friends and former colleagues tell me that I am good at the work-life balance thing but I worry that the fast pace here in Hong Kong may eat me up and spit me out. Ideally we want to take a breath here, build a home and put down some roots as we save for our retirement, just over a decade away. We are playing the long game for the first time and this makes our arrival in Hong Kong feel very different to previous transitions in and out of the UK, Cairo, Kuwait, Bangkok and Berlin. We both know that making it work here long term is dependent on finding an acceptable quality of life and that maintaining a balance  is an essential part of that. How can we continue to see things clearly once real life takes over and how do you create a slow life in the fast city?


The flight from Birmingham with Emirates was pretty easy and our priority on arrival was to not “hit the ground running” but to take the first week slowly, get over the jet lag and find our feet. It helped that we came for the transition visit in May, stayed in the same hotel and know the area already. Jet lag is a major hurdle in the first week of a new life in Asia, so we  planned to combat this by eating light and healthy, getting out in the daylight on foot, keeping stressful tasks to a minimum and indulging in some Thai massage http://www.salaraj.com and yoga. The Thai massueses here are total sadists, who climb onto your back, bearing down on you while they hold on to bars on the ceiling. We tried to keep a stiff upper lip and bear the agony of the torture but I cried out spontaneously at least once. We have not had less than 6 hours sleep all week and slept for 12 hours one night, so the ladies must have worked some magic, even if we are left with bruises. I have had my yoga mat out in the hotel room most days and feel my strength and flexibility starting to return very slowly.

We managed to limit onerous tasks to a quick visit to Dave’s school HQ to collects his work visa, followed by an afternoon trip to Macau on the fast ferry to validate said visa plus an hour spent at immigration applying for our Hong Kong ID cards.


House hunting has been limited to a 15 minute viewing of a serviced apartment http://www.kornhillapartments.com, which we move into tomorrow on a month’s lease. This will buy us time before we need to find something more permanent and will allow us to control the pace of this potentially stressful period as we start work.

fred and Lisa

We have been out every day, using the MTR, walking a lot, shopping and eating in mostly Thai restaurants, including Bangkok Restaurant on Kings Road near Tin Hau station, which I really like. It is easy to get good vegan food if you ask -fried morning glory and som tam (papaya salad) are my favourites. It’s a shame they don’t have brown rice like in the USA but they do have fresh coconuts full of juice.  On Friday lunchtime we tried a Chinese vegan restaurant in Causeway Bay http://www.changle.com.hk. The set lunch menu was only 55 dollars (about 5 quid), which is virtually free compared to the normal cost of food here. It included several dishes with tofu and veg, rice, soup, tea and hot water (very Chinese). The veg was super fresh and well cooked but every dish had the same brown, gloopy sauce thick with MSG and it all he’d the same bland taste. What a shame. The atmosphere was great though and I have a feeling that the food on the a la carte menu is better. We may try again.

We have spent time chatting with old friends from Thailand, some we have not seen for five years. On Saturday night we went out with Lisa and Fred Nevers to Enoteca at Tai Koo Plaza http://www.enoteca.hk where we sat outside and ate some great food, including a delicious vegan pizza (cheeseless, gourmet mushroom on a thin, crispy base). The guys downed several pints, while Lisa and I stuck to mocktails.


As we come to the end of the first week, we still feel relaxed and mellow despite one or two small wobbles. So far, so good. Tomorrow I start work. It should be a slow transition moving from two days with only senior leadership in school to the transition of new staff and then a week with all staff in school but no kids, before the kids arrive in two week’s time. Plenty of opportunity to find my feet, I hope. We move into our serviced apartment tomorrow and next weekend will start to look at some houses in Clear Water Bay. We are not in a rush to move so we hope to take a relaxed approach and wait for the right thing to come up, which means that looking should be fun (in theory).

Back to School

It is hard to believe that it has been three weeks since I last posted. The time has gone very  fast and has been very busy. Most importantly, we have survived the first week of school. We have managed to keep a balance, although at times it has been hard. The working days are longer than we are used to and when everything is new, it is harder. Hong Kong has a macho approach to working hard and playing hard which is at odds with my own lifestyle. I am trying to pace myself and not be too influenced by those around me. At school, we are role models for the kids and too many young people here (and adults) commit suicide because of the pressure they are under. In my first two weeks I have tried to place a greater emphasis on well being when speaking with staff and parents. This is something I plan to develop more. My impression is that the people who make a success of Hong Kong long term, are those who make the most of the amazing outdoor opportunities.


During the induction with new staff, we went on a the ferry to Lamma Island for an evening of seafood (also tofu and pak choi) and beer. It was great to get away from the skyscrapers and be in a completely different environment for a couple of hours.



Having said that, we are very lucky at Canadian International School to have an amazing location with views of Aberdeen harbour.


We also have a “green roof” which is a roof garden where we can go to relax, when the weather is cool enough.

green roof

People like to keep fit here and the school has a great gym, which can be used by the staff before and after school. We also have a huge health club in the building where we live, with membership included in the price. There is a 25m pool, massive gym, workout classes and a huge badminton hall. There is a also a spa where we are going today for an aromatherapy massage. We haven’t actually used the gym yet but yoga in our 20th floor apartment is interesting


One thing that has surprised me is how far you walk every day in Hong Kong. My school has 14 floors and there are a lot of stairs.


Using public transport means you walk miles each day, hopping on and off the underground MTR, buses, ferries and trams.


My daily step count has easily doubled since I arrived. Dave loves using the ferry to get home from school. Even though it takes an hour, he uses this as an opportunity to decompress and so far he is arriving home cheerful every day.


Although work is very busy, we are finding enough energy to have some fun. We have found a few nice restaurants near where we live and sometimes meet after school for a cold beer and dinner or tapas.


We have also been house hunting. We are looking at an area in the New Territories called Sai Kung. This is a long commute for me (35-45 minutes each way) but you can see the attraction from the pictures below.

sai kung

We think we have secured a house for a move on 1st October but I will tell you more when we are certain. We have decided to stay in our serviced apartment till October because we don’t want to be under too much pressure. We like it here in town and everything is convenient but we should be ready to move in a few weeks and exchange convenience for a healthier environment.

sai kung 2

We have been eating well. Food here is pretty good for vegans. Many restaurants have dishes on the menu for us and there are a lot of vegan restaurants, both traditional Chinese style and modern, although the modern ones are about 20 minutes on the MTR from where we are living. Thai and Indian restaurants are plentiful. Eating out is pretty expensive though and you get used to paying 5-7 quid for a beer and 15 quid for a main course. However, the salary does match the prices so it all works out OK but it must seem very expensive to tourists.


In the supermarket, it is easy to get the food we like to eat. There is a massive range of tofu, fresh noodles and veg, including more types of mushroom than I have ever seen.


Veg goes off fast though, as it all has to be imported, so you have to shop frequently. We also have M and S food hall for buying hummus and fresh baked breads. Even on the hardest days, we come home and cook a proper meal from fresh ingredients in our tiny kitchen. This helps to keep us sane. I am looking forward to moving into a house and getting my blender and food processor out and having a big cook up.