Thursday, February 7, 2019

Living Without: an Expat in Hong Kong

Living Conditions in Hong Kong
As an expat living in Hong Kong, I never experienced niceties like this cute bathroom at my hostel in Porto, Portugal.  
Well good morning.  My alarm went off at 6:30 and I pressed snooze and eventually turned it off and got up at 9.  I'm all to myself in a spacious clean room, with natural light streaming through large windows.  After living as an expat in Hong Kong, I've learned you can't take that for granted.

Things like having space to walk around your bed, being able to stretch your arms out in both directions in your living area, and colorful tiles on the bathroom wall now feel like luxuries. 

No, I didn't have any of these things in the 2.5' by 10' room I lived in at AppleDorms for four months after moving to Hong Kong to work as an English Teacher. 

English Teacher in Hong Kong
This was my tiny room in Hong Kong; notice the  bed in the top of the photo.
Bathrooms and showers were shared with 25 other tenants, and we had no kitchen.
I paid $525 USD per month in rent.   

The room had one small window which looked onto another building.  The toilets and showers; three of each, cleaned weekly; were shared by about 25 people.  And the walls were undecorated and beige.  I paid $525 USD in rent when I left Hong Kong.  They raised it $25 while I was there. 

The kitchen, if you could call it that, consisted of a fridge, a microwave and a hot water heater.  The fridge was CRAMMED with food.  You'd have to move things around to accommodate your purchases.  It would have taken a day to sort through everything in there and I don't think that it ever was.  Expats moved home, people forgot about their food, and it sat there.  We were living in filth. 

Needless to say, meal planning was limited.  I ate things like microwave popcorn and peanuts and apples for dinner.  At one point I learned how to cook pasta in the microwave, which I'd eat with red sauce and garlic. But to be able to cook, to have a spice cupboard with everything you needed, and an oven and a stove---nowhere in sight. 

Walking to my own clean bathroom this morning felt luxurious.

Several people at the AppleDorm in Hong Kong (the photos at their website, btw, are completely misleading) had lived there for years, and considered these living conditions tolerable.  One Hongkonger was raising his son in a room about 4' and 12', with one bunk bed.  And the building was full of expats who planned to live in Hong Kong for a year or more. 

For myself, however, I found it unendurable to live in conditions where everything was at best mildly dirty.    

I never felt any respite in the morning, as I would have to face a dirty bathroom and dirty sinks.  And meals felt like something to be endured rather than enjoyed. 

Expat Living in Hong Kong
This view of a Portuguese sunset with beautiful architecture and
trees is something I never experienced living in Hong Kong
My time in Hong Kong has also given me increased appreciation and respect for people who clean professionally, or who make cleanliness a part of their daily routine. 

What's the most trying situation you've lived through? 

What sorts of things could you not live without? 

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