Hong Kong: To return or not to return? Part I

As seen in Out & Abroad

I’ve always considered myself unbelievably lucky to have called Hong Kong my second home for the last four years. For all the good, bad, and ugly experiences, that city, which translates to “fragrant harbour” in Chinese, is where I spent the first half of my adulthood. It was my initiation into the “real world,” which I was both prepared for yet horribly unprepared for at the same time.

On the one hand, I was 100% ready to leave Manila – excited to strike it out on my own, explore a different city, and build a brand new life.

But on the other, I was not ready for the perils awaiting me in a city of extremes: the disintegration of morality and principles (the kind I grew up with), the sickening racism (especially towards Filipinos), the gross devaluation of relationships, and other wallops that pushed me to grow up fast before I lost myself in what some might call a modern day Gomorrah.

First application for the HKID

I moved into a dingy Kowloon apartment in 2011.

I was 22-years-old, aided by her father and younger sister who had tears in their eyes when they said their goodbyes at the airport. It was one of the few times in my life that I’ve seen my father lose his steely lawyer-composure, choking out the final sentence: “It’s not too late, ling-dar.” (He calls me ling-dar in lieu of darling.) “You can still fly back with us now.” I hugged them goodbye and reassured them I was going to be alright.

Peak tram with my dad and sister, circa 2011

And I was alright, for the most part. I can fight for myself, I thought.Little did I know just how much fighting I was in for. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you…

My crossroads

Last April, I flew out of Hong Kong without a return flight in sight, unsure of whether I would be leaving for good. But I felt ready. I’m now 26 years old, soul-thirsty for a breath of fresh air before breaking down from living in that often toxic city.

Celebrating my 23rd in Hong Kong

I’m at a crossroads now and giving myself some time and space to think. I’m considering my next step, grappling with that big question in my head: should I go back to Hong Kong or should I say goodbye forever?

5 Reasons to return:

1. Hong Kong is one of the most competitive – if not the most competitive city in the world. I take that as a good thing because if you’re there, that means you’re among the cream of the crop, the best of the best. The people I’ve met in Hong Kong were more likely to be at the top of their careers or making their way there. There’s no space for losers in the sky-high real estate around Victoria Harbour.

Yes, many of these overachievers may be seen as a**holes, but they’re the intelligent, successful, ambitious, driven ones who will push and inspire you to become a better version of yourself, in every way – from career to your state of fitness. Going to the gym during your lunch break is considered normal there: everyone not only wants to do well at work, but look good while doing it too.

2. Naturally, the friends you meet are going to be intelligent and empowered, the kind who empower the people around them at the same time.

Because of the many connections I made in Hong Kong, I have a great place to stay when I go to Barcelona, London or Bogota. And through them I can meet even more amazing people who are all – again – the cream of the crop in their respective cities.

You’re surrounded by people who dream big: get into this or that prestigious MBA programme, set up a global company with business partners from different parts of the world (whom you met in Hong Kong, of course), learn a third or fourth language before the age of 30.

Thanks to them, the world becomes bigger as well. You become aware of the possibilities at your feet, and of your ability to reach them. Your friends believe in you and in your potential. Sky’s the limit, and suddenly you forget when and why you ever doubted if it was.

3. The window to build the life and identity you want.

Because Hong Kong is so international, you won’t have a hard time breaking into social circles and bringing down class barriers. In Hong Kong, the information you need or the events you want to attend can be accessed more easily; the walls aren’t as defined.

For example, to get into an A-list event in London or New York, you would need to be born into that circle. In Hong Kong, there’s always a way to open whichever door you want to enter. There’s also a lot of room for reinvention, and the tools you need are easily obtained.

4. Adventure at your feet.

Everyone thinks that the city is all about shopping and nightlife, but one of the greatest things about Hong Kong is that it has a great outdoors. I never get tired of it – the hiking trails (hundreds of kilometres of it!), outlying islands, beaches, camping, rock climbing, kayaking.

Even after proactively exploring Hong Kong for years, I have yet to exhaust all its incredible territories:  Dragon’s Back trail, Lion Rock Country Park, the wild beaches of Sai Kung (where I almost drowned to death if not for Miko, the Japanese surfer chick who rescued me from the rip tide.) Who knew I would fall so deeply in love with nature in the city with one of the most skyscrapers in the world?

5. The power to earn.

It may be one of the most expensive cities in the world to live, but it doesn’t really have to be. Both men and women can earn more in Hong Kong than most other places on earth (even Europe or the US.) As a woman, I take this privilege for granted, often forgetting that in other countries I would feel disadvantaged (or worse). I’ve never felt that way in Hong Kong, where women are given the same respect and opportunities as men, especially in the younger generations.

The longer I stay away from Hong Kong, the more I appreciate it: the stark contrast of skyline against mountain, the nonstop energy of daily life, the summers spent sailing and partying on junk boats, the secret island parties, the best of the “work hard, play hard culture,” a nightlife scene 30 floors above ground, when anything can happen, strangers become the best of friends overnight.

But then again there is that terrible, dark side of Hong Kong: inherently racist, shallow and materialistic, abusive and nasty. I’ll be writing about that side of the coin in the next part of this series. Feel free to ask me if there’s anything you’d like to know; perhaps I can be convinced to divulge the juicier secrets of Hong Kong after dark.

Next: Read the second part of this story

7 responses to “Hong Kong: To return or not to return? Part I”

  1. Hi Julienne!

    I’m currently a programmer in Manila in my 20s and I really appreciate your blog @ hkfiles. It helped me a lot in preparing for my journey to Tai Long Wan. Many thanks!

    Hong Kong is indeed a great world city. Waiting for your next entry re: this series, but may I ask if you have an idea about what it takes to work & live in Hong Kong (like, do I have to take a Master’s Degree in a HK uni or have to learn Guandonghua etc.)?



    1. Wow! I’m also a programmer here in HK. I could try and help you with your queries as well just leave your email.


  2. i haven’t gotten a chance to comment in a bit so it’s a great pleasure to see more than 1 new post since the last time!

    i wish i could offer some type of definitive answer as to whether you should go back to hong kong, but I can’t since I don’t understand the deepest nuances of the city like you do. I can, however, offer my own perspective in that, if you had 1 or two pre-established reasons as to when you should start a new life chapter post hong kong – and they came true for the most part – then i can be comfortable with the idea of leaving.

    work out an “agreement” with hong kong as to when to go but until then, if you’re winning there – ride it as long and as far as you can, no need to cut it short.

    oh real quick, a friend went to a bullfight and was able to ride around the Madrid Rio Park, she said both things have to be experienced to realize their true aesthetics. thanks for sharing your pictures!


    1. Wow thanks for always taking the time to read through my random musings and for putting thought into your responses! Right now I’ve decided to put off returning to Hong Kong until probably June or July next year… I think I want to stay in Spain 🙂


      1. you’re very welcome! if these are random musings, then i know to look forward to posts you’ll plan out. it’s always a huge positive to find engaging content. we should be thanking you for your posts!

        and i totally like your decision. if i wanted to recharge and branch out, even for a year, Spain would be a top 4 destination on my list.

        not gonna lie though, i’m kind of jealous! (but in a good way, haha) 🙂


  3. Hong Kong is a great city to live in. Though I have to agree, as a professional Filipino, it’s quite hard because of the racism from the locals.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] by my ambiguously Asian looks. Many people who know me know how much I love living in this city (read about it on my new blog); I find a great mix of interesting, ambitious, intelligent, well-traveled, talented, competitive, […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s