In July 2014 I moved to Hong Kong to start my career as a professional ballet artist with the Hong Kong Ballet. It was a great achievement for me. I was so proud of myself for not giving up on ballet and honored to be part of a ballet company.
My mom and I traveled from NY to Hong Kong. Thank god she came with me because my first week in HK was quite the experience. We arrived in HK and you could feel the humidity right away. We took a taxi to the Bay Bridge Hotel, which the company set us up in. It was a very nice hotel but very far away from everything. It was around 9 pm and we were very hungry after our 17 plus hour journey. I remember it like it was yesterday. We asked the front desk if there was a restaurant or some place in walking distance where we could get dinner. He told us that we would need to take the hotel shuttle to the closest town to get food. This is when we learned that we would have to take this shuttle everyday while at this hotel. It is the only way to get to the MTR, which is the main public transportation system in HK. You could take a taxi but it would be more costly. They also have buses in HK but at this point and at the advice of others we chose to use the MTR as our main means of transportation. Anyway we took the shuttle to the local town. The shuttle dropped us off at the bus stop on the main road. Now keep in mind its after 9 pm at night. We were like now where do we go? We followed a few others on this maze like, side walk. It led us to the local neighborhood which was very much bustling like any night in NYC. We both took a deep breath and said phew… this is doable. We just had to pay attention so that we could find our way back.
The first thing we noticed was the MTR station, it looked very nice and clean, in fact the MTR stations all across HK are just amazingly clean, like almost spotless! To this day I do not know how they stay so clean with the huge crowds of commuters. The MTR can pretty much take you anywhere. Convenient is an understatement. The cars are so nice and cool especially after being out in the HK humidity. I appreciate the HK MTR system even more now that I am back in NYC and riding the hot, dirty, dingy, NYC subways. Bravo to the whomever developed and maintains the HK MTR!
Anyway back to the story… We were looking for food. Right away we noticed the street vendors and a few common HK street foods… fish balls and egg waffles. We had learned about popular HK street foods from watching You Tube videos before going to HK. There was no way we were going to try a fish ball but we were very open to trying an egg waffle or I believe the name in Cantonese is gai daan tsai. We were like… ok well if we cannot find anything else we would come back and try the waffles. We continued to walk around. Amazed at what we saw. It was so different. We took a few pictures and we were feeling comfortable in the local area even though we clearly did not fit in. Then it happened, a sketchy Asian man, in passing, yelled at us and not in a nice way to “go home”. I immediately freaked out and I remember I was like mom lets go back to the hotel. She was like no just ignore him. She always says not everyone is going to like you and you can’t run and hide from ignorant people. I now know she was freaking out a bit inside to however she was staying calm for me. Anyway then we turned the corner and there it was… like of beam of shining light in the sky, the golden M. Yes, that’s right, McDonalds lol! Of course my mom and I are always open to trying new foods but after a long flight, jet lag, humidity, nerves, etc… we were so happy to finally see something familiar. We went in and ordered. We sat down and I will never forget the look on my moms face when she opened her chicken sandwich. She was like this isn’t chicken lol. It was chicken obviously just not like the chicken sandwiches in the USA. She took a bite and the expression on her face from the taste…that’s when the laughter began. Even a young local boy sitting near us saw and was laughing. It was great! She laughed to, she was a good sport. She only ended up eating a few fries I think. My chicken fingers were fine. We ended up going back to get the egg waffles and another pancake type snack and we loved them. This was similar in taste to a pancake or waffle in the USA. We didn’t want to miss the last shuttle back to the hotel so we decided to go back and continue the exploration the following day.
I had a week in HK before I had to start work. So I spent that week with my mom looking for an apartment and being a tourist. We jumped right in and learned how to use the MTR, which was not difficult at all. The positive experiences during my first week in HK included visiting Victoria’s Peak, the Big Buddha, LKF, Causeway Bay, and Wan Chai (HK’s red light district). We also found the theater where I would report to work, and more. I will talk more about some of these beautiful sites at a later time.
The horrible experiences during my first week in HK… Although I use the maybe to harsh word horrible I can laugh about it now. I had an apartment all set up prior to going to HK but then plans had changed and I thought I was going to have a roommate so I gave up the apartment and I was looking for an apartment for 2. The other person wasn’t arriving until a few days before work started and my mom and I were having no luck finding an apartment suitable for two, which was affordable and without having to commit to it long term lease or living so far away from work. We eventually found two small service apartments available in the same Causeway Bay building. By this time my mom was fed up with the process. She was annoyed because she didn’t want me rushing into anything until I learned more about the neighborhoods and talked to people. She wasn’t thrilled with me moving in with a girl I didn’t know very well either. Let me be honest she was very mad at this point because I had a nice apartment that I gave up and moving to a foreign country was stressful enough, but trying to find a flat that was acceptable, in a week, and not just for me but for a girl she didn’t even know was even harder. We only had about 9 days to do this because my mom had to get back to NYC for work and she couldn’t afford to put me up in a hotel for two months. Although after the experience we had she might have considered it. She must have said to me a hundred times, Nicole we are on a strict budget, Nicole are you sure this girl is on the same page as you with regards to taking your time, finding something suitable, etc… She made it clear we were not wealthy Americans and we are on a strict budget. As some of you already no, my mom is a single parent and my father never supported me physically or financially. Since I wasn’t getting paid until the end of August she alone had to pay for all my living expenses from mid July until the end of August. This included everything from food, transportation, flat deposits, rent etc..I said yes. Once I received my first paycheck I had to start supporting myself gradually. So anyway at this point the service apartment was the best option as it was a month to month lease, fully furnished and it would give us time to find a nice apartment. The service apartment was tiny but it was sufficient or so I thought. For 8000 HKD (approx $1000 USD today) it had a large TV, free internet, little fridge, desk, tiny closet, tiny bathroom. It was in an ideal location in Causeway Bay right near everything someone would need. It was totally fine as a temporary place to live for a clueless 19 year old starting her first job. That isn’t the horrible part though…
We couldn’t move in until Saturday. We had to check out of the hotel by Sunday and work started Monday, so as you can see I was cutting it close. We moved some things into the flat on Saturday, we didn’t stay long. My mom just looked it over and everything looked fine. After that we left and headed out to shop. I was so excited and felt relieved that everything was falling into place at the last minute. It was just a box with a bathroom but I knew it wasn’t forever. The next day we went back and moved the rest of our things into our rooms. We didn’t stay there long, since I had to start work the following day and my mom was leaving in a few days so we went out and did some exploring if I remember correctly. Then we went home a little earlier that night to unpack, get settled and so I could go to sleep early for my first day of work. When we went back to the apartment my mom opened the fridge and there was a cockroach in it. We were both a little confused as to how a roach got into a tiny, cold fridge but she killed it. As we were unpacking we saw another roach on the floor and then another, and another and another. If you could see our faces… What the bleep!!! My mom was freaking out. I was was freaking out. It was like 11pm by this time. Was this really happening to us? My mom had the apt. door open and the lady who lived in the apt next door happened to come home and my mom was like is this building infested? The lady was shocked also. She swore she never saw anything like it. The management office was closed. I don’t remember if we checked with the other girl that night or not. I don’t think we did but I honestly cannot remember. My mom called a few hotels but they were booked. We had no place to go. The lady next door told her there was a 24 hour grocery store down the street were we could buy Raid. We went, bought raid, and my mom sprayed the room. She pretty much painted the walls and floors with Raid. My bright eyes and my excitement was gone, I cried like a baby. I told her or maybe begged her not to leave me in HK that night, to take us back to America. She was on the phone with my family back home and crying to. She was like how am I going to leave her here alone. Can you blame us both for having breakdowns that night though, between the jetlag, nerves and culture shock from what we where experiencing, well, I think a good cry was warranted. Anyway the Raid pretty much stopped the roaches from coming out of wherever they were coming from. There were only a few stragglers after that. I am surprised the Raid didn’t kill my mother and I as well given she used like two cans that night. After we both calmed down she reassured me that everything would be ok and had me lay down in the bed and get some sleep for my first day of work. I barely slept that night and she stayed up pretty much all night with the lights on to kill any roaches. Look neither my mom and I are diva’s by any means. We live in NY in a small apartment and we have seen huge monster roaches in NYC. This was on a whole different level though. When I say we killed a few dozen roaches I am not exaggerating. It was horrible and I know there are much worse circumstances to be in, however for me, the night before my first day of work, at that moment, nothing could be worse. The next day I got up and went to work. My mom waited for the office to open and I don’t know what my mom said to them or threatened. She is the nicest, sweetest person and will do anything for anyone but if you anger her well lets just say she has a mouth and knows how to use it. The management immediately checked the room where we left them plenty of dead roaches to clean up. They apologized and said they don’t know what happened. Apparently my room happened to be empty for awhile so they used that as an excuse. Anyway they had there staff move all my stuff to a much larger, more expensive room (12,000 HKD a month which in USD is approx. $1550.00) on another floor and said we could take as much time as needed to decide whether to stay of not and I could stay in this room for the same rent in which I was paying for the other room 8000 HKD for as long as I wanted. I came home from work that night and spent the night in the new room. I didn’t see any sign of roaches. My mom went out looking at apartments the next day but she didn’t see anything acceptable that didn’t require a 1 or 2 year lease. So since my mom had to go back to NY we decided I would just stay in that room until I found a place. Shortly after all this drama the girl who was going to be my roommate bailed on me… even though she knew my financial dilemma and originally said she would have no problem waiting until we started getting paid to move in together. She wanted to move rather quickly after what happened in my original room and I don’t blame her. Due to finances I couldn’t just up and move, especially with the high prices and deposits you needed to have at your disposal to move into an apartment. I am not sure if her new friends also influenced her because she pretty much gradually dumped me as a friend. So anyway we found our own places and honestly it worked out to be the better for me in the end.
So while in the new room I never saw anymore roaches. My mom had to leave to go home to NY and I had to now focus on my new job, finding a place to live and getting acquainted with Hong Kong which I will write about soon so stay tuned!
To be continued……
I truly believe that the best way for people to understand, respect and appreciate one another is to learn about each others cultural differences through experiences.
Here are some photos from my first few weeks in Hong Kong
Also updated this week: CV and Then & Now