Life was so great in Hong Kong that we never wanted to leave.

Elsa and the boys

The posting gets longer

Before we knew it, our 3-year contract in Hong Kong had turned into 5, then 7, then 9 years and we felt like we were wearing the famous ‘golden handcuffs’. Life was so easy in Hong Kong that we never wanted to leave. We enjoyed taking our kids, who were born in Hong Kong, to school with us. It was great for all of us to go to ‘work’ together.

Help at home

I was able to work part-time while the children were little. We also employed a helper who lived with us and became part of the family. When we arrived home from school she had the house clean and dinner ready. All we had to do was take the kids to the playground and hang out with the other families. It was an absolute gift to have an extra pair of hands while the children were young. With the support network of the extended family far away, our wonderful amah, Elsa, gave us some freedom and peace of mind.

Getting used to the traffic

Buying a car

We learned ‘taxinese” instead of Cantonese, as it was so hard, especially as our school taught Mandarin. We decided to invest in our own car, a real luxury, as getting a baby, a toddler, and a stroller off and on double-decker buses in the rain got a bit tricky. Driving had its own challenges and if you missed your turn, you ended up doing an island, not a block! Finding a parking spot also required a steep learning curve- as space was at such a premium. Cars were often stacked on top of each other in parking garages or required driving into elevators and maneuvering with turntables to fit.

Staying in touch

We made sure that we kept up friendships and family responsibilities back home. We communicated regularly through letters and faxes, and then email became more accessible thank goodness. Today, there are amazing ways to keep the channels of communication open- you need never really be out of touch.

Every year during the HK summer, we travelled home for 2 months to stay with family. Our parents endured our presence even though we must have driven them crazy. We were able to spend the same amount of time with our parents as other siblings, but all at once! During our yearly visits back home, we would run ourselves and our kids ragged trying to see everyone in the limited time we had. Other friends would base themselves in one place, sensibly, and invite people to visit them. The really hard thing to cope with was the distance, especially if there was a family emergency. We were very relieved to have the support of the school when we needed to return back to Australia.

Holidays abroad

Sometimes during the summer, we would teach summer school for 3 weeks to earn some extra money for our overseas trips. In our time in Hong Kong, we managed to visit Vietnam, Thailand, the US, England, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Macau, Malaysia, China, India, and Singapore. And as our contacts grew, we had more places to visit and free accommodation.

Travelling with kids was very different from travelling as a couple. We exchanged our freedom for the enjoyment and magic of seeing the world through our boys’ eyes. People around the world love children and they are a great ice-breaker.

Extra income

Nick modeled twice – once as Santa Claus performing karate, and once as someone who ran out of copy paper. For a few months, his face with a wig and glasses was visible on the MTR. A doctor approached him and asked him to become a sperm donor, but he declined the offer despite it being a lucrative opportunity.

Professional development

We loved taking advantage of the professional development opportunities overseas. We were able to put a certain amount of money each year towards a conference. My personal favorite was the PE Conference in Philadelphia, via stop-overs at friends’ places in Chicago and New York. Unfortunately, at that time HK was in the grip of the SARS epidemic and no one wanted to talk to the possible carriers from HK! The trip home was very quiet as the plane was half full.

How we adapted

Adjusting to Hong Kong was fairly easy. The crowds became familiar to us and we quickly learned to dodge old ladies with umbrellas to avoid getting poked in the eye. We would hold our breath the moment a foul odor (stinky tofu, durian fruit, drains, etc.) wafted into our nostrils. Dealing with humidity was a challenge. By the time Nick crossed the road to school, he was a soaking mess. Finding dehumidifiers proved crucial as our clothes and shoes began to develop mold. Damp walls outside our apartment became commonplace, but the damp carpet inside was another matter.

Bird flu led to a shortage of chickens, and red tide caused a scarcity of fish – it made us appreciate the basic necessities in life, such as good health. We also learned to really appreciate sunny days when we didn’t have clouds/ rain or pollution.

We made so many wonderful friends during our time in Hong Kong but we learned that we had to say goodbye far too often. The transient nature of expat life meant that the average stay was 3-5 years before best friends moved on to their next adventure. We believe that living overseas strengthened our marriage. In the early years, we had no one to turn to for support except each other. In a 2-bedroom apartment, you don’t really have a lot of space to call your own, so you have to learn to get on!

New Customs

We also learned to accept different customs and ways of life- especially from the Americans! Thanksgiving and Halloween were huge family favourites. Chinese furniture was stunning and we loved looking at new pieces. When we finally left Hong Kong, we shipped all our wonderful furniture back to Tassie, only to find that a multitude of Chinese furniture export shops had opened up in Australia in our absence. Our exotic furniture was exotic no more, but we still love it anyway.

One of our biggest adjustments was the calendar. When it was the beginning of the school year, we expected the month to be January. We struggled to write the date backward. Our school used the US curriculum and we had to adopt the American way of celebrating special days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which made it hard for us to remember the same dates back home. We were surrounded by the American accent and were shocked when we sounded so Aussie. 10 years later, our accents never changed, but our kids’ accents were very fluid- British, Australian, US, and Philippino, or a strange mix of them all.


Visitors arrived

We had many visitors come to stay and it was a great opportunity to get to know friends and family better. We became experts on the local attractions and knew the best times to visit. Other teachers taught us where to find the best restaurants and bars, and we enjoyed sharing that local knowledge with others. We remained amazed by the friendly locals, who appreciated our attempts to communicate in Cantonese, even though they replied in English. Every morning they would be exercising- swimming at the beach, doing tai chi, etc.

And then we left…

The decision to leave Hong Kong was a tough one. We knew everyone in the school community and felt very much at home. We were earning a great wage, had a wonderful lifestyle, and had fantastic teaching positions at school. We decided to move though, as we wanted our kids to have a taste of the ‘real world’ back in Australia and to be nearer to elderly family members. It was time for a Tassie adventure….

Click here to read about teaching in Egypt  One last adventure teaching overseas



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