Life in Hong Kong: Run or get out of the way!

As a mom, the worst experience I had was being unable to find the right formula for my toddler; this could take days!

Mahwash Badar April 08, 2013
It’s got a buzz, no doubt; In Hong Kong, there’s always activity everywhere.

Hong Kong is basically a confusion of trends between China and the Western world.

Life here is extremely fast paced and people are often rude because they are hurrying off to another direction, are on the phone and hopping off of one train to jump on another bus to take another ferry where they will walk 20 minutes to reach their homes.

I’m not kidding.

My own husband takes two trains and a bus to reach home every day.

Shoppers pack the street in Hong Kong. The UAE is expected to gain visitors from Hong Kong and China following the opening of direct flights.

It’s just what life is like here. People are increasing in numbers but the place itself is small.

One thing I have noticed here as an expat is that the language barrier is huge. Mainlanders (the common term used for those living in China and not in Hong Kong) often swarm here on weekends for tourism and shopping, or they work here during weekdays and go back on weekends to Shenzhen (a city in China which touches borders with Hong Kong).

Unlike Dubai, Karachi, or any other metropolis, Hong Kong’s population density is increasing and the space continues to remain the same. Understandably Hong Kong and Macau rank within the top five cities in population densities, mainly because they are the playgrounds of the Chinese.

This is their promised land.

As a mom, the worst experience I had was being unable to find the right formula for my toddler.

A few years ago there was a problem with the Chinese formula milk and a few children died.

Since then, all Mainlanders come to Hong Kong or send their friends to buy formula and stocks dry up quicker than you can imagine. I often have to check four or five stores before I can find the milk; sometimes not even then. Often, the hunt goes on for days!

It’s like a safari, really. Stocks arrive on Wednesdays and stores are out of them by Friday - the weekend, which is when all Mainlanders leave for China with bags and bags of formula. Recently, the government posted a rule about one buyer only being allowed two cans of milk. Hah.

The people here are a bit racist towards other ethnicities, I feel. It’s quite different from Bahrain or the Middle East in general where they are kind of used to other nationalities being spotted everywhere.

In my three months of living here, I have seen very few brown faces; most of them are concentrated in certain areas. Even still, there are very few Pakistanis here but many Indians. Don’t ask me how I can tell the difference, I just can, despite the statement of a certain Filipina who claimed,
“All you Pakistanis and Indians look alike to me!”

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Hong Kong is more expensive than any place that I have ever lived in, including Dubai. CNBC actually ranked it one of the top ten most expensive places to live.

Yet it’s a great, great place to be single and explore. There are lots of night clubs, activities, roadside bars, plenty of smokers (it is impossible to walk two feet without cigarette smoke billowing in your face), concerts. Lots of attention is paid to high fashion.


Schools, however, are hard to get into; even toddler activity classes are crowded to the brim. I had to wait two months for my son to get a place in one and that too at a time which did not suit me - but I had no choice because what else would I do with a toddler on my hands and how many times can you entertain him with the fishies in the park?

The culture is pretty individualistic even though the family structure seems to be strong in these oriental cultures. It’s not like the subcontinent where parents and grandparents help out. In fact, here domestic helpers are relied on to get around. Children are looked after by nannies, mainly because both parents are working to keep up with a standard of living. This makes me miss Pakistan a lot.

How does this all fit together in my life, I wonder.

What’s the great lesson that this culture and these people seem to be teaching me?

Eat or be eaten?

Push harder?

Run or get out of the way?

What’s the great lesson we learn at the hands of competition, anyway?

High priced apartments, working two jobs to buy a Birkin, waiting in lines to take money out of the ATM, waiting in line to get a cup of coffee, waiting in line to get a seat at the deli (true story).

Maybe Hong Kong is trying to tell me that the world waits for no one and if you want to be a part of it, stay on top of it - stay in the line.

Or does it say that all of this insane pressure lands you the same place as everyone else - wanting more?

I don’t know. I seem to be lost in translation.


Read more by Mahwash here or follow her on Twitter @MhwshB
Mahwash Badar The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


nimra | 10 years ago | Reply Can't dislike whatever you write, you always make it pretty interesting! I am glad I have had the chance to randomly hit this blog! Keep writing please.
Pakistani | 11 years ago | Reply @Mahwash Badar: Here you mentioned that you've been there for three months, while in your last blog 'I found a little bit of Pakistan in Hong Kong!' you were reported as saying 'I have been an expat for three years now and I still can’t get over it.' Which one is correct?
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