Earlier this month I visited Hong Kong for a business trip. Having only previously visited foreign countries for holidays or cricket tours this was a new experience for me. I must say what a fantastic City. I had imagined it would be similar in terms of hustle and bustle to London and on many levels there were a number of similarities but there were many huge differences most of which were definitely for the better.
The first thing I noticed was the sheer number of people going about their everyday lives, this is much the same as London, but at 11.30 on my first night there appeared just as many people around as at 7.30 earlier in the evening. Shops were open and it became clear that Hong Kong as a City hardly sleeps.
But there was something missing and for the first day or so I was unable to figure it out but gradually it became clear. There was no aggression. There was, what I can only describe as, a level of respect for personal space. Whilst I was crammed into the MTR as I made my way to Central at 8.30 in the morning I didn’t feel threatened or concerned about accidentally knocking into someone as the MTR pulled away. There was nobody drunk or begging in the stations or any sign of a yob culture that is apparent in the UK. Despite mass numbers trying to use the escalators and stairs, there was no aggression, people took it in turns to get out of the MTR.
This may seem strange but it is the only way I can describe it. In London the tube becomes crowded and there is an air of tension. An air of hostility, a fear that something is going to “kick off” or a lack of respect for personal space. I sensed and felt that this was missing in HK which was so refreshing.
The vibrancy was there. My colleagues have reported to me that I have spoken in affectionate terms of HK buzz. Being there and being amongst the daily grind that takes place, in what appears to be a very competitive world but equally where rival companies respect the competition, was fantastic.
No doubt my 4 nights may not be sufficient time there to give a fully balanced view but given that first impressions are the hardest to change, I will need a number of further visits or poor encounters to change my viewpoint at this stage.
The skyscrapers were amazing. The fact that there was no land available which didn’t have a building upon it was equally amazing and how long the Parks will remain green is a question. It appeared from pictures in many people’s offices that the history of the landscape has changed so much in the last 20 years or so to the present day. Whether this is for the best or whether it is sustainable a number question, but most said that ten years ago, and it is still a major centre for finance and business. Will the short distance across the water to Kowloon still be there in 10 years time? I have my doubts.
I had meetings with a number of UK expats who had fallen in love with HK and remained. Whether it was the 15% tax rate or the comparative high salaries that are earned, or the fact that domestic help was so cheap, I don’t know but they have no intention of returning to the UK on a permanent basis.
There is a business community where most people know each other professionally as well as socially. This may be typical of Bath where I work, but is this the same in London, I doubt. One individual commented that “the business community was the village within the city” and by all accounts most people we met knew of other people we were visiting.
I was made to feel increasingly welcomed. I had flown to see my contacts and to establish a larger network of contacts for the benefit of my clients. With the world seemingly becoming a smaller place the value of having friends and contacts around the world can only be of positive benefit. It is no longer possible to be a general lawyer, we must specialise and know our boundaries. I have to be able to look to colleagues and business partners to help me meet the challenging needs of my clients.
The MTR was as busy at night as it was during certain times of the day. Both London and HK have undergrounds and perhaps it is due to the ages of the systems being used but the cleanliness in HK was a vast improvement. There was no graffiti, chewing gum and other litter inside or outside the carriages.
I noted signs around saying there was to be no eating or drinking in the carriages or walkways. People obeyed. Signs that read “hold onto the handrail” were coupled with audio announcements on the escalators. The majority of the people did. I see similar signs in London but very few obey.
During my few days it rained and it was clear that the US compensation culture was more apparent than in the UK with every effort being made by shops, offices etc to avoid potential trips and slips. Staff would constantly mop the floor as you walked through doors to remove any trace of the rain within seconds. Boxes were flattened to soak up the wet.
I was lucky enough to sample the local cuisine at three separate restaurants and whilst not the most adventurous in terms of food choice, I was pleasantly surprised at how much better a number of things tasted in comparison to their UK equivalent. I vow to be even more adventurous next time.
My trip to Stanley for the market was an experience. Clearly spotting that this was my first time at the market and with so many stalls offering the same things, I must confess that I probably paid more than I should for the gifts for my daughters as the experienced store traders didn’t take much to my bargaining skills.
So what now? I will be returning early next year and this time I hope I can spend a little longer exploring this wonderful City. Could I live there is a different question which perhaps may need to be explored in a later blog, for now I am a happy visitor.