Monday, December 5, 2011

Advice to Newcomers

Casting my natural sarcasm aside, I've decided to share some earnest advice with newcomers.  (I know - what's the world coming to?!)  Putting my serious pants on for a sec, I did struggle for the first year I lived here - and knowing the things below was one small part of that.  Leaving friends and family behind, knowing not a soul in HK - that made up the rest of it.

So as my good deed for the year, here are all the things I wish someone would've told me the day I moved to Hong Kong:

As an American you MUST make your way to Gateway - a ghetto version of Costco.  It's in the basement of an unremarkable building at 188 Des Voeux Road, but don't let that (or the shabby decor or bad lighting) scare you off.  They carry all the brands you're used to and for discounted prices.  Jif peanut butter, Triscuits, Diet Mountain Dew, etc. They are particularly good for bath & body items (Pantene shampoo and REAL Q-tips) and cleaning products.  TIP: You order everything and then it's delivered to your flat a week later (depending on where you live in HK.)

If you can't find something there - or you want fresh or upscale food items, head to one of the Western grocery store chains:
  • 360 (Landmark Building and Elements)
  • City Super (IFC)
  • Olivers (Prince's Building)
Expect to pay a lot more though!

Get Plugged In
Grab a copy of The List (a free magazine you can find around town) every month.  Sign up for dedicated emails from Sassy Hong Kong and DimSumAndThenSome Join the American Women's Association or YMCA.  They have great programs for American newbies.  I've heard that the other Chambers of Commerce (e.g. British Chamber of Commerce) host similar events and group get-togethers.

If you need real furniture (sofas, dining room tables, etc.) there's only one place to go - Horizons in Ap Lei Chau.  You see, unlike other large cities, Hong Kong decided to house all of its furniture places in one building on the outskirts of town.  Don't get me started!  Horizons is an 18-story building with various furniture stores on each floor.  TIP: Take the elevator to the top and walk down via the stairs.  Otherwise you'll spend 3/4 of your time waiting for the elevator.  Not fun.

All the stores in Horizons have smaller (*much* smaller) counterparts in Central.  These shops are the size of your bedroom, so the merchandise is limited to like 4 items.  IMHO, it's not worth the time.  There are also a few Ikeas in HK, if you don't want to spend a lot of money.

If you're looking for something small and beautiful or a gift, I'd recommend the following stores: Homeless (on Gough Street), G.O.D. (skip the Central one; opt for Causeway Bay store instead), Shanghai Tang (found in most malls) and Bals Tokyo (Elements Mall).

I'm sad to say the shopping in HK is subpar - am sure I'll get lots of negative comments for that one.  Unless you're uber-rich and can shop at Chanel, Louis Vuitton and their ilk, you're limited to the following: H&M, Zara, Mango, Club Monaco, Massimo Dutti, French Connection, etc.  Granted, there are a few original boutiques, but they aren't easy to find and merchandise is limited because the stores are the size of a postage stamp.  They just opened up a Gap, are close to opening an Abercrombie & Fitch and rumor has it J Crew is coming to HK.  They also have Marks & Spencer, if you're a Brit.

Also, sizes are bizarre.  At the Puma store, they actually print "Asian size" in the tags so that you realize a medium here is an "Asian medium" (e.g. not a fat-ass gweilo medium).  What I like to do is 1) order clothes online from stores in the States and have them shipped here via OneNow or 2) have clothes I already own copied in Shenzhen (see next blog post).

As a New Yorker this was a huge turn-off to me.  I'm still not used to it.  The entire HK population lives for malls.  The good ones are Pacific Place and IFC in Central, Elements and Harbour City in Kowloon. Harbour City is a maze, so leave bread crumbs.

Getting Around Central:
If you're like me and hate the thought of walking amidst 1,000 people with no manners, opt for the elevated walkways.  You can use them to get pretty much anywhere in Central.  You'll have to walk though a maze of buildings, but it's definitely the more civilized way to go.  When going to a doctor's office, I'll start at IFC, then walk through Chater House, Alexandra House and Landmark before arriving at the Central Building.  It takes a few attempts and you'll def get lost the first three times you try, but is so much nicer in the air con than sweating and avoiding spit in the street below.

90% of all HK doctors are located in 2 buildings - Princes Building and Central Building.  There are some others scattered nearby, but for some (very convenient) reason, all doctors are located within a 4-block radius from each other.

So that's about it.  Sure, there's more like- take a taxi because they're cheap and be prepared for people to not hold doors for you.  But really those are big things that will help you get settled.  Enjoy!

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