Hong Kong – First Impressions (July 16, 2016)

by FI Fighter on July 16, 2016

in Hong Kong, Travel Updates

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Well, this post is long overdue, so thank you everyone for being patient while I got settled in my new environment. As I’ve been announcing on the blog over the last few months, the time for New Beginnings has indeed finally arrived! I am now living in Hong Kong…

For two weeks, I’ve been immersing myself in a whole new world, and to be honest, I’ve made a very conscious effort to cut out technology as much as possible… I haven’t been blogging, tweeting, or really keeping up with most things, as I’ve been far more fixated on just trying to fit in here…

Yes, that’s right, the tables have now turned; I am the outsider and foreigner… It is my job to learn the local language and to assimilate… I don’t ever wanna be one of those obnoxious travelers who moves overseas and carries on an attitude like they own the place… Rather, I would take it as high praise and a compliment if the locals here looked at me as nothing special and simply someone who was “one of them”…

Obviously, I have been failing miserably at that so far (I’ve been embarrassing myself on the regular with my pathetic Cantonese skills!), but hey, I like challenges in life, so blending in is the one that’s on my plate right now.

Anyway, here are my first impressions of HK so far!

It’s Really HOT… And Humid!

Before landing in Hong Kong, I got to kick back and enjoy the following perks, courtesy of flying business on Cathay Pacific.

I just have to post the following images for the travel hacking enthusiasts who read this blog and highly encouraged me to try the complimentary in-flight milk tea beverage.

I’ll admit, it was pretty darn tasty!

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And one of the appetizers…

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As soon as I got off the plane (Boeing 777), I knew that I was no longer in California. It was around 7:00 PM local time, but instead of walking out of the airport to the nice breeze of a cool summer evening, I was met with something… much different.

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The weather in Hong Kong around this time of year is just plain brutal… there’s really no other way to put it… I mean, I’m a guy who really enjoys hot weather, but even this is a stretch for me… As usual, it didn’t take more than one minute for me to realize that I indeed packed far too many long sleeve shirts and jeans (doh!).

Hah, it looks like I won’t be needing any of those items while I’m here this summer…

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The above picture is my spectacular window view from my room… Again, don’t let the image deceive you… While the mornings out here are indeed splendid and delightful, even when I’m jogging along the coast, the heat is unbearable… and that’s with the benefit of a light breeze.

Juts because the sun sets, it doesn’t mean that the heat dissipates away… Hong Kong is a massive heat sink… It absorbs all the heat, and it stays trapped day and night…

Like, the combination of temperature and humidity just make for an… out of body experience, to say the least.

Main takeaway — Pack light, thin comfortable clothes… very light! I usually stick to a tank top, shorts, and either flip flops or my new kicks (shown below) whenever I go out and about.

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It Rains… A lot

Oh, and it sure rains a lot this time of year… although intermittently throughout the course of a day… It comes and goes, so most locals always carry around an umbrella… And that’s not a bad idea either! Because when the rain goes away, the sun can be blinding too! So, having an umbrella at the ready almost always certainly comes in handy… And since everyone else is doing it, you don’t look like a total nut job when you open one up when the sun comes out in full force (try doing that in the states and you’ll stick out like a sore thumb).

Most mornings, I wake up to a gentle rain shower, but even despite that, it’s still super humid and HOT!

And there’s a lot of thunder and lightning… Like the other day, was insane…

From South Morning China Post.

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Don’t Isolate Yourself From the World!

Here’s an EXTREMELY important message to all travelers out there, especially anyone traveling alone — Let somebody (anybody) know where you are at all times.

On my first night in HK, I got locked inside the 11th floor bathroom of my apartment…

I was literally like, “Oh shit, you are not serious!

My first reaction was… “Don’t panic!

And thank God there was a window in my bathroom… Had I not had access to fresh air, I seriously do believe that I would have freaked out (which would not have helped matters any)… Luckily, because I was fortunate enough to have access to fresh air, I was able to gather myself, and find a way to MacGyver my way out…

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Please make sure the same type of thing doesn’t happen to you while you’re out traveling! Again, wherever you go, make sure a friend or family member or somebody knows where you are… And carry your phone with you at all times, b/c you just never know when you’ll be grateful for having access to the outside world.

This could have been an absolute disaster for me… Again, I thank my lucky stars, but this experience was a huge wake-up call for me, no doubt.

All in all, it took me one hour to get outta there; I had to disassemble the door knob with a… comb and my bare hands.

No Tax and Tip

Oh baby, not having to pay tax or tip for any goods or services in HK is something that’s pretty darn sweet… and something I will never take for granted.

Seriously, whatever the sticker price is at a restaurant or store, that’s the final purchase price that you’ll end up paying… No strings attached. Actually, the concept of tipping is pretty foreign in Asia (in general), and good service is supposed to be bundled with the retail price.

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Hey, you won’t ever hear any complaints from me! The first few times, it felt kind of awkward, but I’ve slowly gotten used to it… I had the same experience in Tokyo.

And the best part? From my experiences so far, the workers at most retail outlets offer extremely good customer service… I mean, it’s just not like the states and back home where you always get that vibe that the employee really doesn’t wanna be there (especially the high school/college kids). Out here, even the young teenagers are highly respectful, and the elderly workers have probably been even nicer to me…

Of course, if you’re visiting stores/restaurants that are super busy and have way too much foot traffic, you shouldn’t expect to find someone who will be patient with you, but in general, I have no complaints at all with the customer service I’ve received out here.

People Work Damn Hard… And the Pay Sucks

In general, the work ethic is extremely strong out in HK, similar to what you would find in Tokyo, or even the US. Most blue collar workers work 6 days a week, and in many instances 10+ hours each day.

That type of work schedule is brutal, so my hats off to everyone who is grinding and working hard, trying to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Like, even in my own apartment complex, every morning when I go downstairs to jog, I see the same security guard who is still working the rounds when I come home from dinner…

It’s really the hard knock life out here…

As for the pay? It’s pathetic…

I saw an ad for a janitorial position… 6 days/week, 10 hours/day, for $9,000/month HKD ($1,160/month USD).

How in the world does that let one make ends meet!?!

It really makes you appreciate everything you’ve got…

Housing is Uber Expensive

Housing is ridiculously expensive out in HK… If I didn’t have the luxury of being able to stay at my auntie’s apartment rent-free, there’s no way I’d be able to hack it out here.

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For about $2,900,000 HKD (~$370,000 USD), you can score a “mediocre” 325 sq ft apartment… That’s like $1,138/sq ft.

And we aren’t even talking about the higher-end stuff that easily goes for $1 million+ USD

Hmm… well, it ain’t cheap by any means!

For my trip, I’ve budgeted about $2,000/month USD for expenses (which should be entirely covered each month by my monthly cash flow)… I’ve got $24,000 in the bank account (from savings), as a backup plan… If by this time next year, my net balance is still green, or zero, I will have succeeded with my “budgeting”.

Honestly, for my first year of traveling, I really just want to unwind and have a lot of fun… I won’t be tracking expenses too crazily, and if I overspend, so be it…

Obviously, I won’t be going ballistic and out partying every night, ordering up another round of bottle service… I’m a very disinclined individual… But I will indulge and embrace in life experiences…

That’s what it’s all about for me.

The Gap Between Rich and Poor

Hong Kong has really humbled me and made me appreciate what I’ve got in life. Just like Silicon Valley and San Francisco, there is a huge dichotomy here between rich and poor… You have your haves and your have nots

The gap is tremendous…

There are those who are ridiculously affluent… but the majority of citizens are struggling mightily just to get by.

In many instances, you’ve got three generations of family living under the same roof… in a cramped studio that’s no larger than say 500 sq ft. Young children don’t have the luxury of sleeping in their own bed… Instead, they share with their parents or grandparents…

When I saw all that first hand, man, it made me really step back and cherish everything I’ve got… I mean, you always try to be thankful and appreciative, but even so, it’s all too easy to lose perspective… This is one of the reasons why I felt it was essential for me to travel this year… Working in Silicon Valley and Apple really warped my perspective on life… Out in that “bubble”, they treat you like freekin’ royalty and give you everything your heart desires…

The rest of the world ain’t so lucky…

So, after seeing just a glimpse into things here, I already know full well that my life’s purpose extends far beyond just making more $$$.

Interestingly enough, during my first week out here, I had an epiphany, or crazy dream that helped me “see the light”.

I now know what I must do, and I’ve already started doing it…

Also, I really can’t wait to visit Vietnam and Thailand and Cambodia and some of the poorer countries in South East Asia… My parents were from Saigon, so I’m sure when I finally get around to making it out there, it will rock my world once again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I’m a spoiled brat who doesn’t know shit about real life… I was a former prince who is just now starting to see reality for the very first time in my life…

And I think I need to swallow some more humble pie as I continue to work on making necessary changes in my life.

Small Portions

I’ve been having a blast taking in the local cuisine… I’m Cantonese, and grew up eating Chinese food, so for me it hasn’t been much of a transition, but I’ve got to say that the food here is pretty damn good.

At first glance, the meals look extremely affordable, most dishes going for less than $50 HKD ($6.45 USD).

However, there’s a catch…

At most restaurants, the portions are pretty meager, and not up to Western standards.

For instance, check out my wonton noodle soup.

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Well, maybe it’s not so obvious in that pic, but trust me, I could easily take down 3 bowls of that… The entree portions are smaller than the appetizers at a chain like Claim Jumper…

You sort of get used to it after awhile, and the smaller portions aren’t actually such a bad thing; it prevents one from overeating, perhaps.

But when breaking down total costs, I would probably say that dining out in HK is just as expensive (if not more so) than in a place like Silicon Valley.

Fresh Food

So, if eating out is kinda pricey, how do the locals swing it?

They eat in.

When you’ve got access to fresh seafood, produce, etc., it actually makes way more sense to cook a simple meal yourself.

Fresh fish markets are EVERYWHERE!

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And the same goes for meat…

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Fresh produce galore.

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My “go to” home cooked meal… Costs about $3.50/meal USD.

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If you get creative and buy certain ingredients in bulk (rice, vegetables, water, etc.), you can probably hack it by spending no more than $10.00/day USD. Actually, I can probably make things work at less than $5.00/day USD on the days that I’m going vegan, which is about 1-2 days/week.

For myself, I’m a very simple guy… I place so much more value on life experiences, that I don’t mind a “bland” meal… My taste buds are well assimilated to enjoying fresh plain vegetables. As somebody who has completed multiple 14 day water-only fasts, you can say that I’ve learned not to take food for granted… I can even eat a bowl of plain white rice, no problem.

Most of my home cooked meals feature: no salt, no oil, no soy sauce, no sugar… nothing.

Just raw ingredients…

I do like to add some ginger/garlic, though.

My Many Meals…

With that said, I’ll occasionally go out and enjoy myself… Hey, I’m retired after all, so why not indulge to some degree?

I believe in balance…

Most times, I’m good, and prefer to eat simple, cheap, and healthy.

On other occasions, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve embraced the following.

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Probably the best Hainanese chicken I ever had in my life was at this “hole in the wall” shop in Mong Kok.

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Shout out to my local Hong Kong guide/expert, Sharon (Digital Nomad Quest), who is making sure I do it right while I’m out here.

Cafe De Coral offers anyone a quick, affordable, and good meal for the price.

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The char sui and chicken rice plate hits the spot… for like $5.20 USD.

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Gong Cha… Found It!

Gong Cha is one of my favorite milk tea joints back in the Bay Area (the one in Fremont)… The chain started in Taiwan, but even so, I was adamant about finding it out here in HK and doing a taste test comparison.

I had to go all the way out to Tsuen Wan, but eventually, I found it!

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This one’s for you Justin! Haha, you will have to take me to the original shop in Taiwan whenever our schedules line up and I can meet you out there!

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In terms of taste, it’s about the same as what I was finding back home… Although this particular shop didn’t ask me what ice and sweetness levels I wanted… I guess customizing your drink isn’t the standard out here?

Public Transportation

It is super duper easy getting around in HK. For starters, every single sign is translated to English, so it’s impossible for a Westerner such as myself to feel lost.

Further, the public transportation system is most excellent.

I usually take the bus, but the rails are a good way to get around too… And you can even take the ferry, if you want to venture slightly further out.

I was surprised with how clean the buses and rails were… Almost on par with Tokyo (not quite), and they are all thankfully equipped with ice cold air conditioning! Unlike the states, most of the buses are double deckers, and I actually much prefer that… It gives you a much better view, and it makes for a less bumpy ride.

Buses run from morning until about midnight (and they arrive about every 10-15 minutes at most stops), so in a crowded city like HK, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to own their own vehicle (I guess it’s for status symbol, mostly?).

Driving through HK can’t be pleasant… The traffic is worse than San Francisco, so again, why bother?

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It’s Super Crowded

At the heart of the hustle and bustle, like the Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok, or on Hong Kong Island, it’s just super crowded…

On my way to Mong Kok… The “start” of the crowds… I’ve been warned by many locals to watch my possessions (especially phone) most carefully around these parts… Some of the less scrupulous locals like to prey on newbs when they least expect it…

So, be careful and be mindful of your surroundings!

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Small shops located inside the infamous Ladies’ Market, where you can test your negotiation skills… The “art of a deal”.

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Hong Kong Island is fun, but just like Manhattan, it’s too expensive, so I can’t shop here…

And speaking of Manhattan, here’s “Times Square”, HK-style.

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AAPL

Haha, I can’t ever seem to escape these guys…

But after observing and witnessing what I have so far in HK, I will admit, that when I think back to my days as a former engineer, I can’t help but look back and appreciate everything that my former life helped make possible.

Anyone who is fortunate enough to work in high-tech, you’ve got it really, really, really good…

Be thankful for what you’ve got.

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Gold and Silver

I keep hearing about how the demand for physical gold and silver is off the charts in Asia… So far, I can’t say that I’ve actively followed up on the supply/demand side of things for precious metals, but just for fun, I decided to wander off into a few shops…

Here’s what things looked like at one of those mall stores… on a weekday.

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Absolutely, by no means a true reflection of demand for physical precious metals (this was just a random shop that sold silver jewelry), but at some point, I will be interested in doing some more research into the sector.

Definitely, there are A TON of gold/silver shops around town in HK, and if you ever talk about the subject to a local, they don’t look at you cross-eyed like you’re some alien from Mars…

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Owning gold/silver are accepted and not seen as taboo out here in HK.

For me, that’s an entirely refreshing change of circumstances from the world I left behind.

Clean Energy

I am pleased to report back that the clean energy revolution in HK has not started at all!

I’m seeing very few Teslas around, and even fewer charging stations… All the buses are diesel/gas, and there are also aren’t that many EVs/hybrids either…

For anyone who is bullish on clean energy, this is just reaffirmation that we are in the very, very early stages of the game… I would say that the 1st inning hasn’t even started, and we are just entering pre-game warmups now…

There is absolutely so much potential for clean energy, and I will be following developments very closely… I know China and India are starting to make a strong push to promote EVs and clean energy, but I don’t get that vibe at all out here in HK… At least not yet!

One of the few Model S sedans that I’ve seen so far…

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Summary

So, after two weeks, that’s my initial take on HK. To be clear, as readers might already know, I like to travel somewhat differently than I guess many other tourists… During my journey out in Asia, my goal is to embrace the local culture and to try and live like a local…

I’m really not here just to sightsee and take a million pictures so that I can blow them up on this blog, or Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever…

I honestly have very little interest in touring all the familiar touristy sites… If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll probably enjoy checking out some of the other travel sites and blogs…

Over on this side of the blogosphere, I’m just looking for ways to grow and evolve as a person… If my updates/pics are lame, sorry, I’m really not trying to impress nobody.

 

Until next time.

 

Fight On!

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SharonNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 2:35 am

Yay new update – that was entertaining! Lol food looks too good can’t look at it T_T. And you’re so good for cooking – I’ve started to give up on it…it’s just too easy to eat out…

Reply

2 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 6:03 am

Sharon,

You’re right about that, it’s a lot easier to just eat out…

Take care!

Reply

3 JoshNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 3:30 am

Holy shit on getting locked in your bathroom! I just walked over to mine and looked at the screws on the doorknob and tried to think what I’d do if I were locked in. That’s a wild “first experience” to have in your new home. Glad you clawed your way out.

This was a fantastic update – thanks for all the pictures and effort that went into this post. Great to see HK from your perspective as a new arrival. Someday I’d love to visit.

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4 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 6:03 am

Josh,

Thanks for the kind words! Yeah, getting locked in was super scary and I’m fortunate to have been able to get out of that pickle.

HK is a great place to visit, lots to see and do, so I hope you do get a chance in the near future.

All the best!

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5 Roadmap2RetireNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 5:25 am

That was a great update, Jay.
You are striking a good balance of observing and learning the local place and enjoying your time as well. It’s great to hear that you are starting to see the light and have realized what you are searching for. Wishing you the best in your quest.

Keep these amazing posts coming

Cheers
R2R

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6 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 6:05 am

Sabeel,

Thanks for the continued support buddy! I really appreciate the friendship, I’ve enjoyed talking to you and talking shop, even though we are on drastically different time zones now…

I’ll do my best to keep the updates chugging along.

Best wishes!

Reply

7 TomNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 7:56 am

FI,
Thanks for the update, you make me miss my country, Vietnam.
I go back home every year and the weather very nice around November until Chinese New Year. Maybe we can hook up for coffee. I love to see Hong Hong too, but I don’t know anyone there. Saigon is very crowed, a city of moped, very noisy, and it’s fun to visit a week or 2. I will be there this Christmas. Looking forward for your next lithium update. Take care!

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8 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Tom,

My family is from Vietnam too, and I’m really looking forward to visiting soon. I hear Saigon has changed a lot in the last 20 years or so, and it’s very much and up and coming city now.

All the best!

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9 CherryNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 9:19 am

Thanks for your sharing FI!

As a local Hongkonger, I agree with some of your observations. However, in this education-oriented city, jobs which require professional certification can offer a more “middle class” pay, ranging from HKD 40000 to the low six digits for monthly salary.

I live in my own flat of around 700 sq. feet with another family member. I am not sure if “three generations residing in a 500 sq. feet place” is as common as you state. But of course, things will improve if the government builds more public housings.

Wish you a great time here!

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10 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Cherry,

Thanks for the welcome! In regards to HK, yeah, I’m mostly talking about life for the blue collar workers, not so much about white collar, which I know very little about. I’m sure someone working a nice job in Hong Kong Island will be able to afford something a lot nicer…

When you go down the ladder though, the “3 generations under one roof” theme is a lot more common to find there.

All the best!

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11 Income SurferNo Gravatar July 16, 2016 at 9:53 am

🙂 Outstanding buddy! Looks like a great start to the rest of your life. I’m looking forward to all of your updates as you travel around Asia. I’ve never been…..yet. Fight on!
-Bryan

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12 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:18 pm

Bryan,

Thanks! I’ll do my best to keep the updates coming along. Asia is a pretty interesting place, with its own quirks.

As someone who has spent his entire life in the US, you could say it’s a nice change of scenery and breath of fresh air.

All the best!

Reply

13 Dividend HustlerNo Gravatar July 17, 2016 at 10:21 pm

Thanks for sharing Jay.
I was born in Hong Kong and lived there for 7 years.
Thanks for the detailed infos. I can’t wait to hear what you’ll do about the Clean Energy space. I’m gonna ride along with you on that as I am obsessed with Green and Renewables… The world is heading that way.
Have fun and take care bro.

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14 TawcanNo Gravatar July 18, 2016 at 11:30 am

I guess you disconnecting from technology meant we couldn’t meet up when I was in HK last week. Oh well. 🙂

It was crazy hot when I was there last week. 32C felt like 43 according to Weather Channel app. I was literally standing still and sweating like crazy. I noticed a lot of gold stores too.

Most of the taxis are natural gas powered so much cleaner than gasoline I suppose.

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15 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Tawcan,

Sorry I missed you! I lost track of our Twitter conversation, and somehow thought you were going to be in town longer.

Maybe next time?

Yeah, definitely a lot of gold stores and crazy hot weather!

Cheers!

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16 LukasNo Gravatar July 18, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Great post – glad to hear your insights on one of my favorite Asian cities. (Singapore is another – both have a very western veneer, but are all Asian underneath!)

If you want an “I’m definitely not in the USA” experience, try window-shopping on any of the 21 floors of the Fuji building.

On a trip to HK a couple months ago I ate at a restaurant in Mongkok which sold PBR as their “imported premium beer”. Guess I agree with two-thirds of that phrase!

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17 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Lukas,

Thanks for the tip! I’m also looking forward to visiting Singapore in the near future.

Haha, Mongkok is great, lots of interesting things go on over there.

Best wishes!

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18 LMNo Gravatar July 20, 2016 at 11:57 am

Your pictures made me hungry, great post!

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19 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:21 pm

LM,

Haha, those meals were all pretty good I must say.

Take care!

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20 weenieNo Gravatar July 21, 2016 at 4:43 am

Hi, enjoying your write up – I go to HK every year to visit my folks so kinda forget what it’s like for people who visit for the first time.

I’m surprised you’ve seen so few Teslas – when I was in HK in March, I saw many, far more than I’ve seen in the UK. I didn’t see any charging stations though.

As regards pay, I think ‘blue-collar’ workers get a raw deal but office workers are paid very well and the highest tax they pay is 15%, hence the thriving ex-pat community.

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21 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:22 pm

Weenie,

That’s awesome, you’ll have to let me know if you’re in HK in the near future.

Yeah, in regards to “blue collar” pay, it is very rough… The 15% highest tax rate seems like a wonderful advantage for expats. Wow, I had no idea it was so low!

Best wishes!

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22 theFIREstarterNo Gravatar July 21, 2016 at 10:43 am

A very enjoyable read FIF
Your MacGyver skills particularly impressed me!

It looks like a fantastic adventure your on and I love your general attitude to it and life that you take. Keep on being humble and your attempts to live like the locals and you’ll continue to enjoy every moment!
Looking forward to the next update already 😉

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23 FI FighterNo Gravatar July 26, 2016 at 5:24 pm

theFIREstarter,

Thanks for stopping by buddy! Appreciate the kind words and support.

It has been a lot of fun trying to blend in and “live like a local”. I think I can pull that off until I open my mouth and then everyone is like, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Take care!

Reply

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