I’m up at 5am this morning. It’s my fourth day here now, and a Saturday. Back home, friends are looking at the clock to get out of work and start the Labor Day weekend. Me? I’m in bed here wondering if I should try to get more shuteye or not… Instead, I decided tocatch up on some blogging.
I’m homeless (not quite – I’m staying in a rather luxurious apartment in the prestigious Mid-Levels), and actually feeling a rather lot of anxiety about where to live. I’ve seen three apartments now, in three differnet neighborhoods — Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, and Sheung Wan. Out of the three, I’m rather liking Wan Chai. I get a sense of a mix of people – both Westerners and locals, so prices aren’t skyrocket high. I also noticed access to both small shops, wet markets, the ever-present malls, supermarkets, post office, and not that far from the water/MTR.
When I was doing my inital housing search from New York, I was dismayed to find that HK’s craigslist.org is rather spartan and useless. If anything, it’s inhabited by ex-pats (Americans), and your choices are very limited. Plus, as I started trolling the AsiaXPat and GeoXPat sites for HK, I realized I did not have any good understanding of the various neighborhoods of HK, and that there would be no way for me to make a decision until I was on the ground to explore.
Although the wealth of information on the 2 XPat sites are primarily on the difficult to search talk threads, after reading enough discussions on the subject of accomodations, I realized that the serviced apartment would suit me best at this stage.
Serviced apartments are essentially furnished rooms that typically come with bathrooms and some form of a kitchenette (although not all include one or the other), a variation of utilites (for the most part I’ve seen them come with (wired) internet, local phone calls, water and gas, and usually electricity), housekeeping, linens/housewares and can be let for anywhere as little as a week to several months (sometimes years). Some get really fancy, and include gym, business center access or laundry, among other things, too.
Being that I have no idea as to what I wanted or how long I needed accommodations for, the serviced apartment seemed perfect for me. They allow me the flexibility to leave/change apartments/neighborhoods, and suits me insofar as I may or may not even take a second semester (or more). But where? And how much am I spending??
The apartments I viewed in the past two days ranged from 9,000 HKD to 14,000 HKD. You do the math (1 USD is approx. 7.75 HKD). And what I get are really tiny spots — I mean, I’m fortunate if I exceed 350 s.f. (homes are typically measured by “usable” square footage). So dollar per square foot in HK is incredibly expensive — vastly more so than NYC.
Yesterday I saw what could be my home in the neighborhood of Wan Chai （彎 仔). This apartment was on a residential street (meaning the lower floors are all shops, while above are all residences), but very close to the MTR, and major shopping needs. I bargained it down from 13k HKD to 12k, however, I’m still responsible for electricity and government charges on top (it costs 200HKD to draft the contract, and 25HKD per month to maintain its stamp — something foreign to Americans); so it works out to about 12,200 or 12,300 HKD. It’s a close approximation to what I pay in NY at the massive Chelsea duplex, WITH cable, DVR, phone, electric, wireless internet. Insane.
I fear of picking the wrong neighborhood; or that I won’t be able to stand living in a box.
Unlike Causeway Bay, which I thought was waaaay too congested (even for HK), and Sheung Wan, which I had no real feelings for one way or the other, Wan Chai felt right when I got there, and I felt happy… then I went home and did some research. It was once a red light district, also made famous by The World of Suzie Wong. However, further research (including asking people I know that know HK, like Peter and Liz), as well as some of the advice on the XPat sites) shows that it is pretty much safe now, even if there are some grosso girlie bars along Fenwick Street, where guys can apparently still buy drinks for girls in exchange for blowjobs (ick!) it’s actually a more dangerous place to be a guy than a girl, because the ladies of the night tend to be protective of other girls while guys are often harassed to come join the STD-filled fun. Plus, all this is pretty much restricted to Lockhart Road (where there also happens to be a serviced apartment within my price range).
I wondered if living on HK Island is worth it. I still haven’t explored Kowloon, and I know at least 2 classmates who live out there. I figured that like in NYC, you’d probably want to live in Manhattan or at least say you lived in Manhattan even if for just a little while. For me, most of my friends wanted to go out there, and while I grew to find myself with friends in Queens and Brooklyn with more frequency of late, staying on Manhattan made a difference. Similarly in HK, the nightlife is concentrated on the Island, as well as the always fun-seeking expat community.
Anyway, this serviced apartment is not permanent, and I might just switch to Kowloon later… but I’ll take a look, hopefully Sunday.
As for orientation on Thursday — it was quite good. It took me about 30 min from Central Station to get to the University, and what I found was a true blue campus on a mountain top, and stunning views of water (there is also a lake and reflecting pool).
The Yale-China Chinese Language Center, as it is now being rebranded, has only two buildings, but the program seems very strong. I have five different classes for each of the five days, and each class is 3 hours. There is a class wholly dedicated to TV Commercials and another to News! Perfect – as this is where I feel I just can’t seem to teach myself for some reason.
I’ve always believed my Chinese was decent (although I’m worried that Level 4 will be really hard for me), but just can’t get to that level of fluency required to say watch television or read a magazine. Generally I can’t keep up the concentration needed for that kind of speed or I just lack the proper vocabulary.
As for certifications — if I take 2 semesters, I can earn a Certificate from the Uni; and if I take 3, all the way through the highest level (6 — which I didn’t realize existed), I can actually skip over to getting an Advanced Diploma, which ordinarily requires about 2 years of study, or 90 credits. For now, I am aiming to get the Certificate, and we’ll see if I can actually stay the Summer to do the final level. Unfortunately, it also requires a 2,000 character essay plus an oral examination — so I’m not sure if I’ll be up for that challenge!
The class is extremely diverse, including three students from Africa! Other countries I recall being represented were Switzerland, Sweden, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, Canada, England, USA. So far, everyone seems nice enough, and I really am curious to find out what has motivated folks to come study Chinese here.
One very friendly Japanese woman seems to be here because she’s been living in and out of HK for the past 8 years, and has a boyfriend and life here. Another Chinese-American guy similarly decided to just step out of his life, quit his job, and come here for a few semesters to create change. Another middle-aged Chinese American who has been living in Singapore for the past few years decided to bone up on his Mandarin to assist his work as a missionary.
OK – more positivity!!! It’s another day, and more apartments await me. Plus, Avi invited me to join him and his friends to a comedy show tonight. So some socializing at last!