Hong Kong: To Return or Not to Return? Part II

As seen in Out and Abroad

While the virtues of Hong Kong have often been extolled (See: Part I of my article), the city’s darker side has mostly been kept under wraps from outsiders. The truth is that living in Hong Kong and inhaling its infectious energy can also be lethally intoxicating.

Almost four years have gone by since I first landed with my suitcase(s) at Chek Lap Kok. Now I look back at the roller coaster ride that made up the first half of my adulthood: one day “I love this city!,” and then “I want to leave, get me out of this hellhole!” the next.

I already told you why I adored my Hong Kong life. But while the experience has made me more progressive, empowered, and stronger, it has also turned me into somewhat of a cynic – not completely bitter, but slightly jaded, weary, occasionally defensive and pessimistic. Hence, my decision to take a break.

Last March I packed my bags (and balikbayan box) and flew out of Hong Kong with no return date in mind. Whether I will return or stay away forever is a question that continues to hover at the back of my head…

Here are 6 reasons to stay away

Reason #1: People lose their values.

Some briefly, some for life. The old hedonistic adage of “What happens in Hong Kong stays in Hong Kong” applies to anyone living here too. It’s not uncommon to hear these excuses: “It’s so far away from home and anything familiar. Nobody knows me here so I can do anything and everything I please without repercussions.”

Dirty old men are not the only ones sleeping with prostitutes. I’ve seen my friends in their twenties do it too. Nobody even bats an eyelash anymore – it’s that common. True story: “She’s a Vietnamese student. I didn’t pay.  It was like the movie Pretty Woman.” If you have done it once, what would stop you from doing it again? But then again, I hear this also happens in other big cities like Singapore, London, and New York.

And then there are women sleeping with supervisors to get promoted, or with clients to get business. Again, I personally know people who have done this. A pretty local girl my age said she slept with a married man when she was 18 just because he pampered her with gifts and attention. My mind kept telling me ‘this is not normal.’ But even my friends and colleagues of friends – normal, young attractive people with regular jobs – were doing it.

There was one night when a drunk French guy started following my younger sister and I. I told him “Go away, we’re not interested. We’re going home.” He laughed at our face and said, “Do I need to pay you so that I can talk to you?”

Last year the city reeled from a double murder at Wan Chai’s red light district. A young British banker butchered two young Southeast Asian prostitutes on separate occasions and stuffed their body parts into his suitcase.

A night out can consist of drunken fun, but it can also involve your friends disappearing every now and then to snort their nth line of cocaine in the washroom for the second evening this week. Or seeing that girl you were just kissing getting into a taxi with another man.

I got so used to people behaving horribly towards each other – using each other for fun – that until now I find myself being surprised and impressed when people have no ulterior motives. Perhaps Hong Kong isn’t the only city where people lose their values, but the culture is more prevalent here. I wonder… will I ever get rid of the suspicion or pessimism that was ingrained in me during those four years?

Reason #2: Dating is a bloodbath.

Most people date as a diversion, while they’re in town for a few months or years. No one intends to build lasting relationships, so why should you invest in people?

Any respect you had for others will fly out of the window, especially for Asian girls. They have a (regularly reinforced) reputation of being gold diggers, white man hunters and easy to get into bed.

Or men think they can treat you like objects because you look or dress a certain way. In Hong Kong women get manhandled all the time. One night a smallish Chinese guy slapped my ass really hard when I was walking out of a club. In defense I turned around and pushed him saying, “Don’t touch me!” He immediately raises a fist and punches me on the head. Someone drags me away while I’m kicking and screaming. I go to the bouncer to complain, but of course they do nothing because they haven’t seen anything.

Once, I was on a date with a guy and we were hanging out at a bar. A girl throws her arms around his neck. I’m thinking ‘He must know her.’ And then the irritating speculation: ‘Maybe they used to go out.’ But he raises his arms and says, “I’m with my girlfriend!” She laughs in his face saying, “It’s better to be single in Hong Kong, didn’t you know?”

Reason #3: The nastiness of locals.

I know that I’m going to be crucified for saying this, but even Hong Kongese people admit that locals are some of the most angry, unpleasant people around.  Screaming and snapping at each other is a normal mode of communication. I simply cannot go two days without getting snarled and cursed at, or discriminated against.

Take a look at what politicians are saying to get a clue of the institutionalised racism in Hong Kong society. (See: Hong Kong lawmaker rapped for ‘racist’ views on maids’ sex lives.)

The hatred is especially directed towards Filipino and Indonesian women. These people grew up treating their Filipino and Indonesian maids as second class citizens and believing that specific nationalities are inferior.

No matter how hard you try to avoid the nastiness, you will experience it by doing everyday tasks, like trying to buy something in a shop with vendors tsking you about not having change; trying to get directions and getting brushed aside with “NO ENGLISH” even if they speak it perfectly or being completely ignored; even getting a taxi is difficult (See: How I got dragged on the street by a Hong Kong taxi driver).

Reason #4: Racism in general.

This was a conversation between my friend from Costa Rica and a woman he was tutoring:

It’s not uncommon to hear this kind of sentiment, even from highly educated people. Obviously,  not everyone is like this, but the mindset is prevalent enough in the city to wear you down, especially if you’re part of the discriminated minority.

It gets exhausting trying  to fight a prejudiced opinion of your countrymen every time you meet someone new or even when you’re trying to get a good table at a restaurant. I was waiting in the queue for a while and the waiter simply would not serve me until my caucasian companions arrived. Only then we were immediately seated.

Reason #5: Low quality of life.

An average salary cannot buy you good living conditions. I started out in a filthy Kowloon apartment in which I had to walk up four flights of cement stairs that smelled like urine. It was kind of fun at the time, but after a while I realized that I needed space to breathe, a kitchen without cockroaches, and a place to hang my clothes where they won’t end up smelling like dried seafood.

The pollution is getting worse as well. It’s nowhere near as bad as Guangzhou, where everyday is a grey day, but it’s close enough to the factories of southern China that when the wind blows from the north, you won’t see a blue sky for days or even weeks. The only decent sea water for swimming is around 2 hours away from Central (Tai Long Wan). And the only starry sky you will see are the twinkling of skyscrapers when there’s a light show.

Everything is ridiculously expensive. America and even Europe seem affordable in comparison. If you’re looking for western food or English speaking service (ie. yoga classes in English) expect to burn a hole through your wallet. A smoothie from Central alone can cost you HK$80 (US$10).

Reason #6: Materialism.

You are measured according to your net worth. You are judged according to the brand of watch you’re wearing, or the designer bag you’re carrying. I hate that I’ve gradually become brand conscious because I quickly realized that what I wore affected how I would get treated: from my chances of getting a job to good service at an establishment.

Shopping at Shanghai Tang. If I remember correctly, this dress costs more than US$1,000

We’ve finally come to the end of my long-winded rant. Hopefully it didn’t ooze too much of bitterness. Ultimately the question remains: should I return to Hong Kong or stay away for good? Many who similarly felt disillusioned, sickened, and/or exhausted found themselves returning because they realized they can’t find a life as good anywhere else. But many have also walked away without looking back. If you were me, would you stay or would you go?

27 responses to “Hong Kong: To Return or Not to Return? Part II”

  1. Sorry you had such bad experiences. I think compared to lots of countries violent crime is quite low in Hong Kong/China and Asia, but it’s still terrible what does occur.

    And yeah, people are quite gross. Nothing more surreal then when “friends” start talking about prostitution. Uh, what? That’s just not real life. It’s the whole expat mindset that one can get away with anything which can bring out the absolute worst in people.

    Personally, the materialism is the greatest challenge in Hong Kong. If only there was more culture to balance it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear you feel the same way when it comes to prostitution and materialism… I’m still not sure about comparing HK to places with worse crime rates though. Just ’cause it’s not as bad doesn’t mean it’s good, right? But at the same time I see your point in trying to bring out appreciation for the situation… I was thinking crime and violence also might occur but it’s just not handled or recorded, therefore it doesn’t get reflected in the statistics. And I do see a lot of crazy ass stabbing and rape shit on the news…


  2. I think when the negatives outweigh the positives, it is time to gracefully make an escape.
    You don’t have to live in a country until you die, to have enjoyed and learnt from the experience.
    Good luck!


    1. Thank you! And to you too!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never liked Hong Kong, even as a tourist. The people there are some of the rudest I’ve ever met while travelling. This coming from someone who speaks the same language as they do. I remember being appalled that I was mercilessly pushed and knocked into while travelling on their subways, without so much as a sorry. It was appalling because where I come from, people are generally polite and helpful to tourists.

    Coming back to your question if you should or shouldn’t return to HK, I believe that you have a choice in whether or not this lifestyle suits you. And if not, then think of it as a learning process and memories to look back on while you pursue a better experience in the future. Good luck!

    – Erisha


    1. Thanks Erisha!! Totally understand where you’re coming from. Unfortunately though HK is not the only place that treats tourists or people in generally like this 😦 appreciate your two cents’ worth and good luck to you too!


  4. Well, I haven’t been to Hongkong but your blog post has opened my eyes. Great read! Especially for those who are not well-versed in travelling. Thank you pretty Morena girl 😉



  5. I feel your struggle! I’m on the same boat, except mine is Singapore. I’ve spent 4.5 yrs growing and thriving there. I fell in love with the diverse culture and vast opportunities it offers.

    HK and SG are similar in many ways, esp no. 5. During my last few months, the negatives took its toll on me. Combination of burnt out, stress and frustration eventually drove me out last October.

    I spent the last 8 months traveling (mini-sabbatical) and enjoying the renewed freedom. 🙂 Although, I’m having the time of my life, the nagging question of whether I should go back or not is always at the back of my mind.

    Now that I’m back home in PH and things begun to settle down. I’m missing my old life much more. Sue me but I longed for the little convenience of living in a progressive city where you don’t curse the internet speed and traffic on a daily basis. lol

    Sometimes we need to let go of the things that doesn’t serve us anymore to create space for the right ones to come. Leaving renewed my spirit and allowed me to get in touch with my authentic self again, which was lost somewhere along the hustle of adulthood.

    I’m still not decided if Singapore Version 2.0 is launching but I’m taking it one step at a time. Keeping an eye on opportunities and exploring other options too. Being a digital nomad is quite tempting. 🙂

    Anw, I’m not gonna to take up anymore space here. I’m compelled to share my story bec I resonated with this post SO much. Thanks for writing and sharing your thought process. Good luck with whichever path you decide to take! If you survived the scariest part of taking the leap, you can handle anything! 🙂


    1. Oh wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply and share your story. I completely agree with you about missing the convenience of a progressive city – I feel like my mind is slowing down here just because everything is so slowww!

      Where did you travel over the last 8 months? And what’s your plan from hereon? Being a digital nomad does sound good but I don’t think it’s for everyone, and not sure if it’s for me! So I think I’ll look into other things 🙂

      Good luck with your journey Donna and best of luck to the both of us!! :*


  6. YES totally! I was so restless in the beginning but learned to adopt eventually. Haha

    I went to Nepal and India to pursue my interest in yoga. Did some trekking in the Himalayas too before the trail was destroyed by the earthquake. 😦 So yeah I was there for about 3+ months. Then I went around PH island hopping for 4 months before I settled back home to spend time with the folks.

    I started doing some freelance work to test if being a digital nomad is a fit. Failing miserably though LOL I used to work in a very collaborative environment and this working alone thing with no one to bounce ideas with is driving me nuts!
    Gonna give this a chance and see how it goes. But yeah, I’m still thinking a lot about going back to SG and very open to going back if the right opportunity presents itself. 🙂

    Have you considered Singapore? 😛

    And thank you! All the best on your next chapter!

    Will update you if at the end of this experiment I find myself back in Singapore. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m from HK, but I don’t live there, and I’m ashamed to say the racism and rudeness you describe is true, especially for Filipinos and Indonesians. I enjoyed this post which I found eye-opening like the debauchery among professionals. Sometimes it’s not worth putting up with a place (I recently left Beijing where I worked for 2 years as I decided that was enough) if the problems outweigh the benefits so if you think it’s time to go, then maybe that’s for the best.


    1. Good to hear your thoughts on this, especially coming from an internationalised HK person. Why did you leave Beijing, for similar reasons? I do realise though that many of HK’s problems can be found in other huge/capital cities as well, just in different variations and intensities. Where are you heading/living now? Good luck~!


      1. It was for several reasons, a few of which were similar to yours, including rudeness and dishonesty that was quite common, pollution, bad customer service, an increasing dislike of the authorities, and slow Internet (It might sound funny but bad Internet is really frustrating bc it affects you if you’re at work or at home. I used a VPN at home which made it slower). In general, I started to feel really disillusioned and cynical about the city and mainland society.
        I’m in Taipei, which is a far nicer and modern city and where I worked before I went to Beijing, where I’ve got family.
        I go to HK a lot and I’ve always thought while they are more polite than mainlanders, at least in things like forming lines, they are behind Taiwanese.


  8. Wow!! That’s a long time travelling! I’ve just been at it for 4 months and I’m already getting nervous like I feel I need to get a job again, haha! But not actively applying yet. How long has it been since you left SG? 7 months na? Who did you go island hopping with sa Philippines? Sorry daming tanong, just curious! Haha! And what were you doing in SG anyway?

    As for me, haven’t seriously considered SG because 1) It’s boring, 2) racism, 3) it’s hot, and 4) I heard they’re getting stricter in terms of hiring foreigners, especially Filipinos! Wouldn’t know where to start. Would you suggest it?

    And uy, if you’re in Manila maybe we should have coffee or do something sometime! Seems we’re in the same life stage hahaha

    cheers x


    1. I think it’s normal specially for us na hindi sanay. I’m still learning to let go of the anxiety that comes with this leap! Mga 8 months na since I left SG. Sa island hopping naman- my sister and some friends. I went solo in Palawan and Cebu. Don’t worry, happy to answer your questions! 🙂

      I was working for a consulting firm- IT Analyst. I might actually go back to SG this October to do a short project with my ex-company. I’ll probably decide then if I wanna stay. Hindi naman super boring haha But compared to HK’s bustling scene baka nga you will find it boring. It’s orderly and locals are very polite. Of course there’s discrimination, pero yong hindi harap-harapan talaga. I’m lucky to be working in an environment that doesn’t tolerate racism. For people working in the service sector it might be a different experience.

      I’ll be in Manila second week of Sept to attend a wedding! Will you be in the city? Tara let’s catch up. Would be awesome to exchange/compare notes of the two countries and share life stories! Yoga and coffee? 🙂


  9. Hi Donna,

    Tuloy pa ba yung balik mo to SG in October? You’re not based in Manila pala! Where are you staying now?

    I somehow had this idea that the racism was just as bad or worse in Singapore. But it’s pretty terrible in HK. This guy that I went out with started dating a local HK lawyer – and when he told her that his ex was a Filipina she was so disgusted and said “Why would you date a prostitute?” And to think, these are educated, well-to-do people already. There’s just no excuse except pure hatefulness and accepted xenophobia.

    Too bad I won’t be in Manila na 2nd week of Sept :(( I’m going to be back in Hong Kong until December for a short project.. Let’s see if we’re ever in the same place at the same time nalang, ang hirap these days haha!

    Good luck sa future plans mo, keep me updated nalang 🙂



  10. I left a reply on your HKFiles post but then followed the link to this post which goes into a lot more depth. I spent 8 years in HK and left earlier this year.

    I can 100% understand how you would encounter all the negatives you write about in this post. I hate the way the city treats women from PH or IND.

    I think some of the negatives have a lot to do with age; if I had moved here in my 20s, I am not sure I would have survived the endless party. A lot of the bad behavior you write about is related to the nightlife party of HK. I moved here when I was a bit older and hopefully wiser than who I was in my early 20s. While I did get caught up in the party, it quickly wore thin. I won’t rewrite my previous post on HKFiles, but I will say that people who stay here beyond being jaded by the party tend to discover or take more advantage of the full breadth of what HK has to offer; unbelievable urban fast paced city life with sleepy beautiful countryside 20 to 40 min away. Hiking, beaches, biking, boating, fishing villages there is where I ended up spending mist of my time with friends. Going out was dinner at a nice restaurant and only once in a while would I rage with the city till the wee hours of the morning. That is what getting old does to you. haha…

    I miss mountain biking in the new territories, I miss weekends on isolated lantau beaches, I miss the beautiful skyline at night, but most of all I miss the energy / soul of the city. Yes locals can be rude, but I also find that it is easier to meet people in HK as expats are more open to new people where back home everyone stays in their circles. Lots of positive things in HK so maybe after some time away the positive will have more weight in your mind.

    Best of luck on finding your bliss wherever you land.


    1. Wow thanks for that thoughtful comment. I do love Hong Kong for everything it has to offer, exactly how you described it, the escapes from the city being so conveniently at your doorstep. I guess I was just in a bitter stage when I wrote that post, haha. I take advantage of everything – both the natural beauty and the nightlife 🙂 Where did you move to?


  11. Hi Morena!

    Interesting to read about the the “dark side” Most travel bloggers just write “feel good” stuff. I was thinking of moving to HK, I’ve been there once. On the other side I like the small places better. I like Thailand and would love to goto The Philipinnes, good place to snorcle in the sea and hang out on nice beach places. Love that life but not so easy to work at those places. Even though Im quite open to in what to do.

    Do you still live in HK? and do you have any favourite places in PH?

    Best regards


    1. Hi Christian,

      I still live in Hong Kong yes but back and forth between there and Manila.

      Definitely a great experience to move out here for work, life is exciting. Favourite places in the PH: Siargao so far for surfing, Ilocos for history and adventure, Palawan for pristine beaches.

      Good luck with it!


  12. Hola Morena. I enjoyed reading your post. This is my first year in HK so I clicked because of that. Its true this is a wild place:) Now you got a new reader 😊


    1. Ahaha thanks and great! 🙂


  13. I totally agree with the materialism part!!! Most HKers are very brand-conscious and will look at you weirdly in the subway if you dress a little differently.

    I’ve been in HK three times this year, first with friends, second time with fiancè and third time to meet some relatives.

    HK is a great place (MTR, lesser traffic than Manila, better education, city and nature are not far away), but I am also quite aware of its bad side. People can be rude, and very judgmental if you don’t look like you’re sporting the latest handbag or coat.

    I’d also want to add one thing to your list: they can be too straightforward, even if you’re just a stranger!

    One time in Mannings, I was just buying 2 sets of the Biore pore pack when this saleslady started speaking to me in Cantonese, telling me to buy some weight-loss pills! I just laughed off and told her that I only had enough money for the things I needed to buy. Hehe.

    Anyway, great blog! May i ask if you’re an HK citizen/permanent resident?


  14. I totally agree with the materialism part!!! Most HKers are very brand-conscious and will look at you weirdly in the subway if you dress a little differently.

    I’ve been in HK three times this year, first with friends, second time with fiancè and third time to meet some relatives.

    HK is a great place (MTR, lesser traffic than Manila, better education, city and nature are not far away), but I am also quite aware of its bad side. People can be rude, and very judgmental if you don’t look like you’re sporting the latest handbag or coat.

    I’d also want to add one thing to your list: they can be too straightforward, even if you’re just a stranger!

    One time in Mannings, I was just buying 2 sets of the Biore pore pack when this saleslady started speaking to me in Cantonese, telling me to buy some weight-loss pills! I just laughed off and told her that I only had enough money for the things I needed to buy. Hehe.

    Anyway, great blog! May i ask if you’re an HK citizen/permanent resident?


  15. Thanks for this post!

    I relate to it on a personal level because I’m from Singapore, and HK & SG share many similarities (fortunately? unfortunately?). I’ve heard a lot of people complain about HK, even if they are just there on a short holiday trip.

    I don’t remember much from my own experience in HK (I was too young), but I certainly love staying in SG. We have our fair share of materialism, racism, and nasty locals, though I would say they are much more hampered by the fact that most of us are rather afraid of getting in trouble with the law, lol.

    SG may be boring on the surface to most foreigners (I guess), but I’ve come to appreciate the stability quite a fair bit after having travelled to a few other countries.

    Most Singaporeans are very friendly and warm though! I would say we are very used to having foreigners in the country, and while a minority can be rather hostile, the rest of us do appreciate the diversity that makes SG so unique (:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for that! It’s people like you that help create a positive environment conducive to collaboration and creativity 🙂


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