Tag: Expat

When people move to what’s known in diplomat-land as a hardship post, many Western food products are impossible to find. We are as far from a hardship post as you can get. You can find anything in Hong Kong, for a price, as the ol’ expat saying goes. (See me feeling so expat-y and experienced?) When we are seriously missing our families and the rhythm of a life we knew well, we can go to Starbucks and taste the same burnt coffee we tasted in Seattle. Mmm.

Although I run across familiar stuff all the time, finding a favorite American item is like running into someone you know in public. And for the record, running into people I know in public is one of the top-ten happiest things in a day. I LOVE it when that happens.

On the other hand, we didn’t move to Hong Kong just to pay 30% more for pumpkin granola. We better sit up and look around and learn how this culture is a brilliant new-to-us reflection of humanity. One of our goals is to rise above we-just-moved-here hibernation and soak it up, man. Even if it causes the culture shock to flare up again. We are working on a list of places to visit, habits to cultivate, and customs to experience so we don’t just leave here as essentially whitebread as we came. (Is that ironic? White people making a list for their fridge about cultural exposure? I can’t win for trying. I’m going to think about this all night.)

But while I freak out about my cultural blind spots, I will continue to grocery shop. Here’s some of what I’ve found lately.

healthy pigs

The problem with this label is…Wait. There are several problems with this label. First, if you have to clarify that the food is SAFE and HYGIENIC, you have already made me panic. And also, are your pigs sitting around talking about raw food and Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook? How can pigs be health conscious? The label also makes me feel inferior to these health conscious pigs, because tonight I ate some (more) British cookies and loved them. P.S. What the heck is SPF technology?

baby food

Lest you think that America is the only Western country capable of making disgusting food for children…HA! Tell Jamie Oliver to take the plank out of his own eye, on behalf of the entire United Kingdom. (Except I love you, Jamie, and I am obsessed with your new restaurant here and its beautiful branding, and please don’t be mad at me.)

sour cream

One funny thing is that every time you go to the grocery store, the selection is different. Especially dairy products. The inconsistency makes my mind go to the dark place of “How long was this sitting on a hot shipping dock?” But this week I found some Tillamook, and I decided to live on the edge. WORTH IT.


I’m sorry, but I have nevernevernever heard of Hooland. Is this a joke? Also, fresh currants are kind of too much. They are the fruit version of the person* you just met at a Christmas party who will not stop talking. Tone it down. *I fully admit to being that person sometimes.

french tea

New life motto: If it’s in French, take it/eat it/don’t ask questions. I am drinking in chicness with this stuff.

To summarize…we are not starving. And I will never be sad to receive Trader Joe’s snacks in the mail.

Sometimes people ask us if we visited Hong Kong before actually choosing to, you know, LIVE here, and the answer to that would be no. In fact, we hadn’t traveled in Asia at all, despite my desire to do yoga in Bali after reading Eat, Play, Love, like everyone else. I did, however, spend a lot of quality time in the last year googling the following: expat in Hong Kong, how to pronounce expat, American in Hong Kong, medical emergency hotline in Hong Kong, direct flights to America from Hong Kong, Putin and Hong Kong, babies in Hong Kong, and finally, make friends in Hong Kong.

All the Buzzfeeds pointed toward a posh, glimmering city that basically looks like the inside of Nordstrom, except the shiny effect would also be on buses and on sidewalks and on people. I was imagining “Whole Foods: The City.” Turns out, there’s pollution, massive crowds that make Black Friday look tame, and a wee bit of a wealth gap. It’s basically got all the good and all the hard like any other place on earth, which I guess…duh.

But let me tell you about the good ideas. These new-to-me concepts are making everyday life a little easier, and these are the things that make people say, “Hong Kong is so cutting edge and techy and OMG it’s the coolest city ever.”

1. Taxis have automatic doors. Passengers typically enter on the left side of the cab, and just as you lean out to grab the door handle, POOF! It opens for you! Technically, the driver opens it for you, and it only takes a couple of doors-to-the-toddler’s-head to get the hang of it. Small price to pay.

2.  Buses come allllll the time. Need a bus? Why don’t you just walk out the door and wave your arm a little? Because they come at least every ten minutes, and usually more often. Bonus: They drive at the speed of light, so it only takes ten more minutes to get wherever you’re going.

3. The Octopus card, the reloadable, swiping wonder. Octopus was invented for quick payment on mass transit (again with the transit amazingness), but you can use it at pretty much any place you’d want to ever buy a pack of gum. That includes 7-11, gas stations, and the pharmacy. Ikea also accepts Octopus in its cafe, not that I’d have any experience with that.

4. Security guards are everywhere. From our apartment complex to the subway stations to the top of the escalator at the outdoor mall, there’s always someone whose job is pretty much to stand around and keep things in line via purposeful stares. I thought it might feel kind of militaristic, but it’s more the “how can I help” vibe. Unless there’s a toddler standing up in a grocery cart. Then it’s full-blown policing.

5. You can pay your bills about 8 different ways. The standard online and autopay options are available, but two other handy methods are at the ATM and also at the post office. The post office is my personal favorite, since it’s the main government service I feel is both the coolest and most under-appreciated in the States, so it makes me feel like a proud American, even when I’m using a service of the Chinese government. It’s a lot of complicated emotions while paying bills.

Honorable mention for this list is the speed at which construction takes place. Except, when people tell me stories about windows shattering in their apartments because of “impurities in the glass”… it’s hard for me to think the building codes are cutting the mustard.