As I begin to type, I’m chowing down on a slice of chocolate, pear and cardamom cake at an adorable cafe next to my flat in Bethnal Green. Turns out cardamom is trending in London this year and I’m taking full advantage. As I’ve said many times over, my time in London is an opportunity to both indulge in things unique to this city and look at Hong Kong in a more objective light. On that note, some initial comparisons:
Hongkongers are spoiled with fantastic, cheap public transport. It’s not that London doesn’t have an extensive system or that a car is necessary to survive (like almost all US cities), but the options are not nearly as efficient and consistent here. On top of that, they are significantly more expensive. My daily commute by train in both cities clocks in at about 15 minutes on one line with no transfers. In Hong Kong it cost me HK$12.6 (£1.04) and I can’t remember a single delay in the last year. In London I spend £5.8 (HK$69.58) per day and have already experienced 2 delays in my first two weeks of work. The only saving grace on the car front in London is Uber, but I am definitely missing GoGoVan as well as those reliable little red cars.
Londoners are paralysed by choice when it comes to prepared food. Not only are the choices plentiful, but the options are healthy, delicious and often cheap. Don’t get me wrong, Hong Kong has tons of cheap food open at all hours. What it doesn’t have is a wide selection of healthy prepared foods on almost any corner. The number of shops just like Pret A Manger are countless. Vegetarian Sri Lankan curry for (£2.50 / HK$30) or carrot ginger soup (£1.50 / HK$18) at the Sainsbury Local? Don’t even get me started regarding street markets. I have been eating freshly made Ethiopian dinners for £7 and buying homemade quiches that last days for £8. To be honest, while Hong Kong can be a minefield when it comes to finding quality food at a good price, London seems surprisingly easy.
Both cities require you to say no often, but London makes you feel guilty about it. There are tons things to do in both cities. In Hong Kong there’s always a junk boat, group dinner or celebratory drinks to attend. If you said yes to everything, your calendar would be double booked months in advance. London is equally busy, but the opportunities feel more enriching. Each time I say no to something here, I feel like I’m actually saying, “no, I don’t want to be a better person”. The number of exhibitions, performances, and talks is overwhelming and I’ve only scratched the surface.
Each city requires you to shop in an entirely different way. Almost no one shops online in Hong Kong because it’s the national pastime, best done in one of seemingly thousands of air conditioned malls at any time of day or night. In London the shop hours are so limited I can’t figure out who has both the time and money to visit them. I’m using Amazon and eBay consistently for the first time in years, all the while suppressing the instinct to pop around the corner to a local shop. In my opinion London has one advantage on this front – the ability to buy old things. It took me ages to get over the absence of second-hand shops and flea markets in Hong Kong and I’m loving the afternoon strolls past antique, consignment and salvage stores.
So far, these are the contrasts that stand out. There are many little differences that I notice, such as how much easier it is to be physically active in London than Hong Kong or how much more Londoners whinge (complain) than Hongkongers. Of course, there are also tons of similarities. It’s so much fun to spot these patterns and compare my life in Hong Kong to the experiences that I am quickly accumulating here. Since I don’t have much to show for the effort I’ve put into my flat yet and I only have two weeks of work under my belt, I’ll save those updates for next time. Suffice to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience!
Hope all is well, whatever city you’re in.