A Hong Kong Expat – What I will Miss

As the sun goes down on 2019 and also on our years in Hong Kong, I’ve been reflecting on our time living there.

It’s been quite the adventure – both living in the wonderful melting pot that is Hong Kong and the experience of being an expat.

So, looking back over my 4 years as an expat, I have been thinking about the uniquely Hong Kong things that I will miss hearing and saying.

Here are my Top 10:

10. “Gweilo”

In Hong Kong, Gweilo is basically slang for a foreigner, especially a westerner.

It was once considered an offensive term being Cantonese slang for white man or foreign devil.

Most expats would now accept the term in a light heated way. For example, if we found ourselves in a situation where, culturally, we did not know what was going on, we might laughingly dismiss ourselves as being “so Gweilo!!.”

There is even a local craft beer called Gweilo – it includes a pale ale of course!

Image result for gweilo beer image
9. “Missy”

The staff in our local supermarket generally did not speak much English (though their English was far better than my Cantonese!!) and they used to call all the ladies “Missy”.

This always made me smile…….

8. My “fair” complexion

I am very pale skinned, even for an Irish person.

My husband always laughs about the time when I visited a friend in hospital (in Ireland) and was mistaken by a doctor as a patient, wanting to know if someone had checked my iron levels!

I used to go running in Hong Kong and I was quite proud of my new found healthy glow – until I mentioned my “tanned skin” to my Australian friend who struggled to hide her laughter…….

In Asia, my pale skin was often envied. I remember when I first arrived in Hong Kong, after an Irish winter, trying to buy some fake tan lotion. The shop assistants struggled to understand what I meant and once they did they looked incredulously at me and laughed……

Now that I’m back in Ireland, instead of having a “fair complexion”, I’m just another pasty skinned Irish girl!

7.”Meet you in the plaza in half an hour for a glass of wine”

Such a simple proposition when you are lucky enough to have a lovely Auntie (domestic helper) to look after the kids……

Now that we are back in Ireland, of course there is no lovely Auntie to help out at home.

There will be no more spontaneous lunches or nights out. Such an event will now either require meticulous planning – checking on Grandparent’s availability or finding and paying for a babysitter. A simple date night at the cinema will become a costly affair when you factor in a babysitter at Euro 12 )approx HKD$100) per hour – I have to type the word Euro as I bought my laptop in Hong Kong so it has the $ symbol but not the Euro (if anyone can tell me how to change this, I would really appreciate it……).

And as for those wonderful Hong Kong brunches (anyone who has lived in Hong Kong knows what I’m talking about…..). They are most certainly a thing of the past!

6. “Cannot”

Although certainly frustrating, sometimes, life was definitely very clear and straightforward in Hong Kong as everything was simply either “Can” or “Cannot”.

For example – “Can I rent a library book?” Can.

“I forgot my library card, can I just bring my card the next time?” Cannot.

In Ireland, everything is not so black and white. We have the concept of the Grey Area.

There is a firm “No” for the things you obviously cannot do and a clear “Yes” for the things you can do. In between, there is a vast “grey area” landscape covered by

“I forgot my library card, can I just bring my card the next time?” Under the library rules it would be a No but the librarian in Ireland knows you are a regular and it’s borrowing a library book so it’s not going to hurt anyone so will probably say “O.k, just make sure you bring it next time.”

Can / Cannot – Grey area.

5. “Here comes the Skatecop”

Yes, I promise, it’s a thing.

Should you ever decide to take your child to one of the indoor ice rinks in Hong Kong, you will be assured that safety is taken very seriously.

On duty is a “Skatecop” that skates around the rink keeping the fun safely in check. They take their job very seriously.

It’s good to know that safety is paramount but sometimes the concept of “Cannot” encroaches a little strongly on a trip to the ice rink.

4. Is that a Bunny Bag?

Hong Kongers treat their pets like their children.

Dogs wearing coats and boots don’t even rate a second glance – completely normal.

Rabbit cafes where rabbits run around while you drink your coffee? Yep, been there..

A Bunny Bag? This was certainly a new one to me!

Poor rabbit………

3. Bonjour / Ciao / Hola / Hallo

We lived in a very expat community in Discovery Bay – there I met people from every country I could possibly think of.

It was one of the things I loved about sending my kids to an International School – their friends came from everywhere and they didn’t notice whether their friends looked European, African or Asian. To them, they were just their friends, they all came from Hong Kong.

On the bus, if I just closed my eyes and listened, I could have been at an event in the United Nations.

Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

We enjoyed barbies with our Australian friends, braai with our South African pals and of course wonderful dim sum lunches. I also learned to cook real Italian food from my lovely Italian friends.

There were many pilots living in our neighbourhood who would bring back all sorts of goodies from their flights. On our last morning in Hong Kong, we had breakfast with friends who had pain au chocolate fresh from a bakery in Paris that day!

Lunchtime at the kid’s school was like a continental buffet – the Italian kids would bring pasta, the Japanese kids would bring sushi, the Chinese kids would bring dumplings (and my Irish girls would bring ham sandwiches of course….).

2. “There’s a guy in the supermarket queue wearing speedos

Yip – that’s pretty much exactly how it happened.

Discovery Bay, as the name suggests, has a beach which is next to the Plaza where the shops and cafes are.

At weekends, a lot of out-of- towners would visit to spend the day on the beach. Hence, the guy in his speedos popping into the supermarket to pick up snacks.

Happened more than once too…..

And my number 1 …….

1.“Let’s go to Cambodia for the weekend

Yip, it’s true – I totally did that!

My friend and I took our kids for 2 nights in Cambodia – we even managed to cover two different destinations! We explored the temples at Angkor Wat and then went to Phnom Penh and saw the Royal Palace and even squeezed in a boat trip on the Mekong Rive!.

Hong Kong is very well located for exploring Asia – in our time there, we were lucky enough to holiday in Macau, Phuket, Vietnam, Bali, Cambodia and Koh Samui. I just hope that my girls remember these holidays when they are older!

We are, of course, lucky in Ireland too to have Europe to explore and I am looking forward to sharing new adventures with my girls. They are particularly excited of the idea of Paris.

And we have our own island to explore – we’ve done some great family road trips on our summer holidays here. We stayed in some Bed and Breakfasts on these trips and the kids just loved this – staying in someone else’s house was a novel concept to them, much more fun than a hotel! I can’t wait to do some more of these trips with my girls.

And, of course, there’s no weekend like a weekend at Granny’s house……..


It’s been quite the adventure Hong Kong and I have so many, many great memories of my time there.

Now, it’s onwards and upwards. There’s a new year on the horizon – it’s time for the next chapter and our Irish adventure……..


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Thank you for reading xx

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