When avid Smarty reader, Monica M, contacted us about documenting her move to Hong Kong, we thought, how could we refuse? It’s not every day that your friend tells you she’s moving across the world! Monica has been with us from day 1 and we will miss her so! Monica regularly comments on our daily blog, she enters every single giveaway and she sends us emails often giving us tips on possible blog topics. We’re pretty sure Smarty is Monica’s middle name and we hope she paints Hong Kong pink & green with her super Smarty lifestyle! Here’s Monica…
With a major change about to occur in my family’s life, I presumed that I should document the process at some point. CSP was kind enough to wish me the best and let me describe what happens when Mom’s job suddenly is expanded and requires the family to move half way around the world to Hong Kong for 2 years. In typical “Smarty” fashion, I’m going to share my experiences in hopes that if any of you go through something like this you will know you are not alone and can learn from this adventure in which I am about to embark upon!
When given the chance to further my career and move my family abroad, I assumed that preparations involved would be just as easy as when we took Max to South Africa for 5 weeks when he was an infant. Boy was I WRONG!!! We are about 10 weeks away from our move and I will tell you that no experience could prepare anyone for a situation like this. We have learned so much planning this move.
There came a point when I had to give an answer to my company. I finally gave a soft “yes” pending a week long visit to Hong Kong which we will take in a few weeks. There is no way one can answer every question going through your mind before a change like this. Our best tools so far have been research on the Internet and talking with ANYONE who knows anything about Asia. My husband has lived all over the world so he has a few connections but none of them have children and none are American. There are thousands of American Ex-pats in Hong Kong – how hard can this be? Famous last words!
Our initial questions were – what is Hong Kong like, is it safe, what are the living conditions like, who will look after Max, how expensive is it? It was at that point I suddenly realized, WOW our entire life is about to change. I started thinking about how Max would no longer have a back yard to play in, the nursery that we spent hours designing would not be his any longer, I would miss my niece’s 5th birthday party (those are a big deal in my family) and so on. I literally had to sit down and have a talk with myself and determine if I was ready to take this very unpredictable ride and go with the flow or if I was going to get bogged down with the details and not be able to embrace this unique opportunity for my family. I listed three things that were weighing most on my mind and decided to focus on them. 1) our son’s care, 2) our living situation and 3) the financial impact.
Phase 1 – Our son’s care
In Hong Kong, we will have a “helper” who lives with us. That sounds fabulous and wonderful (no more cooking, laundry, cleaning etc). However, we will also need this person to look after Max while we both work. The custom in Asia is to have a woman from a nearby country, usually the Philipines, as your helper. It is against the law for them NOT to live with you. Keep in mind that space in Asia is limited – most people are considered lucky to have more than 1,300 square feet. We presently live in a 1,600 square ft house, so we are now mentally preparing ourselves for an extra person in a smaller living area. I will be glad to have a “helper” though! There is no traditional daycare in Hong Kong for children under the age of 3. There are organized playgroups that meet formally with instructors and activities but a parent or helper must accompany the child and they only last 2-3 hours per day – and you pay for them. This means we will have to become comfortable with the helper taking Max outside the house while we are working and look after him – in a foreign country. The play group is important because Max is in a WONDERFUL daycare currently and we don’t want him to miss the interaction with other children. We have made the decision to hire someone specifically to look after Max. We will work with an agency or partner with someone who places helpers and our plan is to tell them the cooking, cleaning and laundry are secondary. First priority, of course, is Max.
Phase 2 – our living situation
Our living situation has proved to be a bit of a challenge. While we don’t have a huge house here in Charlotte, we are very efficient with our space – no junk or clutter for us! We do have a nice garden and adore our neighbors (sometimes I tear up just thinking about how much I will miss them). We go online each night to look at “flats” and have now determined a housing budget. We joined a Hong Kong online Ex-Pat forum and through some conversations have determined which areas of Hong Kong are affordable, safe and are “Ex-Pat friendly.” We will travel with an agent when we arrive to look at the different areas. Housing in Hong Kong is very different. Think Manhattan – tall multi-floored buildings, elevators, green space is a park 2 blocks away etc. Small rooms and small closets are something I’m not looking forward to but knowing it is not permanent helps. We are hoping to get 1,200 sq feet and pay 4 times the amount of our current mortgage (I’m having a hard time swallowing that pill!. Most of our furniture will go into storage and we will head to Ikea before we leave for smaller space efficient furniture. Our trip in September will enable us to look at actual apartments and get a feel for what the space is like. This should be interesting since you can “negotiate” heavily on your price!
Phase 3 – financial impact
The trickiest part so far has been the financial aspect. Hong Kong is one of the
most expensive cities in the world and from the research we initially did, it looked as if we would not be able to financially make this happen. We are getting assistance from my company to move however, not everything is covered so some of this adventure will be on our own dime! We had to determine if we were willing to dip into our savings a bit to experience Asia for two years. We met with our financial planner and had a very honest discussion with him (Gosh he is great!!) After crunching numbers and looking at our longer term goals, he told us that we could do this with minimal negative impact. We are older and one concern was that we did not want to “step back” financially when we return. What is the point of living in Asia if you can’t experience it? So while we won’t be saving as aggressively as we do now, and might occasionally have to dip into our savings, we won’t be hurting ourselves too much in the long run.
So, with those three things somewhat sorted out, we are excited about this adventure. We leave in 2 weeks to visit Hong Kong (Max will stay behind). We will look at various areas where we could potentially live, interview “helpers” and do things like check out the Grocery Stores, Playgroups, Schools, Churches, etc. Apparently there is a Toys R US and Ikea there (I’m really going to miss Target and Harris Teeter). Hong Kong is known as the mecca for shopping in Asia. Nearly all the designers have a store there. CAN’T WAIT FOR THAT!!! The lesson I have learned so far is that life can change on a dime, all the planning in the world can’t prepare you for major changes and that sometimes you really do have to just go for it! With that in mind, I have a feeling that things are about to get a little crazy around our house.
More to come from Monica and best of luck from the Smarty team:-)