MDes Talks: What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?

I want to start as Sylvia did: “Why did you choose Hong Kong?” This genuine question comes so often, even more than “Where are you from?”, and in my case with the subtitle “Why did you leave Paris to come to Hong Kong?” Some people are so confused as they cannot see how this can be an improvement in my life.

So, let’s start from the beginning: living in Paris. I was born and spent most of my life in the capital city. From my eight to eighteen years old, I moved with my family to the countryside as Paris wasn’t a healthy place to raise children. I moved back after high school to start my studies.

Paris is a gorgeous city, and I don’t think many cities in the world can compete with this unique architectural landscape. Every time I had a lecture outside school or in a visit I was thinking about how lucky I was to study there. I remember once being on the terrace of the Centre Pompidou during a winter sunset and Paris roofs under the snow. And yes, it was as magical as you can imagine.

What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?

After seven years of study, Paris was still as pretty as it used to be. But the general mood of the population was different. When I started studying architecture, I knew it was a tough job with lots of work and little paid. But everything went down and down and when it was my time to graduate I was sure about two things: there was no way I start working now, neither stay in Europe. The economic and political crisis Europe is going through was too much for me and I was looking for a place I could keep growing up with less worries.

What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?

Obviously, I didn’t get the idea the last day of school, I was thinking about leaving for more than a year before. I have always been travelling around and my last trips were more focused on finding a city where I could move. As Paris was slowing down and living in a bad mood, I was looking for a hyperactive city with positive people. I visited Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong. I love Seoul but I don’t speak Korean (yet, I hope) and Singapore is a bit too small and… with a weird feeling in the air. I came in Hong Kong last February and had the opportunity to visit Poly U. I visited the facilities and went to a lecture in an afternoon. After that trip, I was motivated to do my application file.

What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?

It has been now two months that I am in Hong Kong and I must say it was a great choice. On the hyperactivity, the nightlife and the positive attitude I found everything I wanted. A city dynamic and at the same time close to nature with that many islands and hiking trails. Here I want to reinvent myself, challenge my habits and get a new inspiration for photography - I found a whole new space to explore and understand. As a detail addict I am, one of the funnier difference between Paris and Hong Kong are the messages wrote on people t-shirts. In Paris, you will find “Not for You”, “I’d never forget” and mostly nostalgic / sad / aggressive phrase. In Hong Kong people tend to have way more motivational T-shirts from the “Just do it” of Nike to more elaborate good thoughts to share with people.

What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?

And if Paris is a beautiful city, Hong Kong skyline has a unique skyline that moves my photograph heart. As well as the colour of the sea, that incredible jade green is far from the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean. I also enjoy that new diversity of plants and animals around me. Special mention to the bunch of dragonflies that pops after every rain on the campus.

What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?
What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?

As much as I like my new life, there are things that I miss. The most important is the love of books. To be precise, I am talking about novels. I go to every bookstore I can find, selling new books or second-hand books. If the section on self-improvement or self-learning books is huge and of high-quality selection, the novel part is not good. You find the classical, must read like Tolstoï or Ovide. Truly, the Metamorphosis seems to be a hit here, this book is in every single shop. After those there is a bunch of random books and when it comes to series you’ll find book 3, 5 and 9. In the Hong Kong lifestyle, it seems that sitting and spending hours reading fictional stories doesn’t fit. There is a lot of books like “Kant in 10min” so culture remains accessible but in a fast way. Local people I asked about reading answered things like “it’s boring”, “it takes too much time”, “words are complicated” but still some people appreciate biography of important people - the closest I could find to reading a story.

Also, there is no comfortable space to read outside home. No bench in the public space, coffee shops are often crowded and noisy, and the subway is too efficient to have the time to read. I could develop the book topic endlessly as I miss my personal collection.

What is it like to live in Hong Kong as a foreigner?

But what I said for books is almost true for other cultural activities like museum, cinema, theatre and opera. On these points, I haven’t much explored the possibilities but imagine that in Paris, almost 50% of the subway advertisement is about culture. Exhibition posters are on every bus as well as opera representation. You don’t have much effort to do to know what’s up. And for people under 26 years old, museums are free and the rest is half price. So yes, Paris is all about having a rich cultural life but Hong Kong is more about doing sports and enjoying nature. So, I must find my own balance between those two worlds.

Photo Credit: Mathilde Gattegno

Posted by Mathilde Gattegno – from Paris and love to see the world. Graduated from architecture with an option in civil engineering. Curious about everything, a huge bookworm, a little bit geek and also enjoy music, sports, going outside to take pictures. Hong Kong is a brand new playground!
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MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.
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