Hong Kong is an incredible city. It’s full of energy, hustle, chaos, inspiration and one of the most stunning skylines in the world. It’s a unique, cosmopolitan city loaded with ancient Chinese traditions, an exciting British influence, and lots and lots of delicious food. My husband, two kids, and I moved to Hong Kong from Los Angeles a year ago. And as is true with any move, it takes some time to learn the ropes in a new city. And when the new ‘hood is in a foreign country, there’s a sharper learning curve, a longer adjustment period, and way more swear words. (Sorry, kids.) Raising kids in Hong Kong has been an exciting adventure, and as a first-timer, I've definitely had my fair share of learning experiences.
Coming up on my 13 month in the Fragrant Harbour (“Hong Kong” in Cantonese), I'm still far from being a local, but I do feel like I know what’s up now and how to navigate the city with kids.
Here are 11 things that only those raising kids here in Hong Kong would understand.
1. Kinder Eggs Are The Basis Of Survival.
Kinder Eggs can’t be found in the U.S. for legal reasons (an inedible toy completely encased in edible chocolate). But anyone with a toddler or young child definitely knows about them. Surf YouTube for a millisecond and you’ll come across a whole slew of egg surprise videos just waiting to mesmerize (read: possess) your toddler. Armies of grown men and women showing only their hands (and bedazzled nails), open the eggs and showcase the surprise toy with narration given in voice inflections that sound slightly better than nails on a chalkboard.
Kinder Eggs are alive and well here in Hong Kong, sitting perfectly at a 3 year old’s eye level in most markets, and trust me when I tell you that they are the only way to soothe a tantruming toddler.
2. Going Anywhere With A Stroller Is A Joke
Before moving I didn’t know that I should be actively training for an Iron Man competition in order to navigate Hong Kong streets with a stroller. Sure, there are sidewalks, and some of them, OK, one or two of them, are nice and wide and flat, but most of them are not. Most of them imitate a Super Mario Bros. level, but like in World 7 with steep ascending stairs and lots of pits and turns and surprises. You'll not only work up a sweat lugging, lifting, folding, and unfolding that stroller all over town, but parents who do successfully stroll their children through the streets of Hong Kong for more than six months are also automatically eligible to compete in an American Ninja Warrior competition.
3. Catch A Cab? LOL, OK.
We don’t own a car here in Hong Kong. Public transportation is plentiful and taxis are everywhere ... except for when you really, really need one. And as luck would have it, taxis are usually most invisible during the "changeover,” which is when drivers change their cars over to the drivers covering the next shift. It happens twice a day, and it’s futile to fight the crowds for the handful (it seems) of taxis actually in service. The same thing happens when it rains. Oh, and your kid will never understand this, so it's probably just best to accept that and start walking.
4. Sand. Flies.
For the first few months we lived in Hong Kong, I thought it was mosquitos who were waging war against our flesh. After trying every mosquito repellant on the market and even searching Amazon for mosquito nets (seriously), I eventually found out that the little bugs covering every inch of our bodies with insanely itchy bites were sand flies. And strangely, the winged creeps seem to always lurk around parks and playgrounds. We've now learned to stockpile sesame oil, which supposedly repels the flies, and cover every inch of my kids’ skin when we go to the park, but they still manage to leave constellations of bites all over our legs.
5. Running Errands Is Basically A Sport
Shopping for groceries, or really anytime you shop for more than just one single item, even if the items are related, will definitely require visiting more than one shop location. There is no Target, no Walmart, no CVS. There are no one-stop shops here in Hong Kong, which is awesome, but totally inconvenient when you're raising a toddler who requires toys, her favorite snacks, and clothes every time she grows. If you need birthday candles, Wet Wipes, and scotch tape, well ... see you in 5 hours.
6. You Always Need Air Conditioning
The nonstop air conditioning isn’t an easy one to get used to, but the A/C units are always running in Hong Kong, which means you've got plenty of chances to question what just fell on your head from the sky: dripping water, bird poop, or something more heinous than I'd care to admit. Lucky thing is that it'll mostly always be the drip.
7. You're Going To Bump Into People, No Matter How Careful You Are.
Remember how impossibly hard it was to get around with a stroller? Turns out that just navigating anywhere around Hong Kong is virtually impossible without bumping into someone.
8. You Really Can't Predict The Weather
When deciding how to dress your child for the day, a simple look out the window at the way the people on the streets are dressed will do you no good at all in Hong Kong. Sorry, but that's just the way it is! At any given time, during any and every season, you will see people wearing puffer jackets. It could be 40 degrees, it could be 90 degrees, you will never know.
9. Avoid The Wet Market With Kids
I, friends, had to learn this message the hard way. Hong Kong is full of wet markets, set in busy areas of the city that you often must walk through to get to where you need to go. These markets sell fresh fruit and veggies, but they also sell fresh fish, meats, and poultry. And that fresh fish, meat, and poultry is loudly and, well, very naturally displayed. (They call it a “wet” market because the floor is always wet from being hosed off.). And it traumatizes your children. Every time.