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:-)
Best of luck to you!
Good luck, Monica! Sounds exciting!
Hi Monica,Just a little comfort for you. My family moved to Hong kong when I was young and we loved it. You are right it will be a transition but I found it to be an extraordinary one. We had a helper too, her name was Thelma from the philipines and to this day I miss her. She lived with us in a very tiny space in one part of our flat but she was wonderful (I remember her ironing my underwear :), she was a great cook and very loving. I found Hong Kong to be fast paced but you can get out of the city and enjoy some quieter parts where there is more land and more places to roam. Also you will be in a great location to visit Singapore and Thailand which are beautiful. Your adventure sounds exciting. You will meet some amazing people and see a culture that is truly so different from ours but unique. Good Luck to you all!
I cannot even begin to imagine what this time is going to be like for you in Hong Kong. You will have such a great adventure! We will miss you and Michael and Max so much! And there is no doubt in my mind that Hong Kong will be a bit more "Smarty" when you come back home to us!Love,Kate Clint Maggie and Mac(Monica's sister and family)
You will so missed! I look forward to reading about your adventures!
I am excited for you and like the notion of following your journey on a blog! Good luck 'MMM'. We're gonna be watching for updates! Hootie Hoo, Dusty
Monica you are the bravest person I know! I love that you are doing this blog, it reads exactly how you talk. I am so excited for you. Can't wait to hear how the trip goes!Sarah T.
We had a good friend in Hong Kong for about three years with three small children (he worked for Disney). They loved it! The accomodations turned out to be better than expected, the live in help was great (they all thought my friend was crazy for only having one helper for three children though), and they had fabulous trips to areas they never would have visited from the states.Enjoy it!!!
So I guess i'm confused as you talked negatively about all three of the line items. So then why are you going? As I understood , it was your choice to go there or you actually volunteered. It would have been nice for you to list all the positives (I assume there have to be many otherwise why would you put your family through all of it ) 🙂
Three years ago about this time we took a plunge in choosing to invite a student from Hong Kong to live with us for a year and go to high school with our son. It was a great experience for us and my son visited there in February of the next year. In the midst of our student's year, his parent came here for a family wedding. His mother is Cantonese and his stepfather (Bonus Father is a better term) is an American ex-patriot who has lived and worked in both Toyka and Hong Kong. Our exchange student also has a young bonus brother. I recount all of this to say that I found their description of domestic life to be fascinating. The helpers are pretty fabulous, and they trust much of their boys' care to them. The city, according to my son, is safe and clean and very much a world of walkers. He loved the variety of mass transit options and the graciousness of people in public. He says, "Go for it!" Our exchange student enrolled last Fall in the college that my son will begin in two weeks. We are awaiting his arrival this weekend, a week early so that we can all play before classes start. Your job has opened up a huge door for you and your family.Jen B's Aunt Jeanne
As a mother it is a little frightening for my daughter and her family to be going half way around the world, especially when my grandson will be with them! As mothers throughout time have done however; I will smile and give my daughters family my support! What a wonderful opportunity this will be for all of them!! Anyone who knows Monica and her husband is well aware that all of the research has been done, and every facet of the adventure was explored before this very hard decision was made. I wish them all of the luck in the world and can't wait to visit Hong Kong! They do sell shoes there, don't they!!!!Monica's Mom
would love to know what type of work you and your husband do? sounds like an exciting adventure and thanks for sharing!
Best of luck to you – Hong Kong will be a total adventure and an unforgettable journey. We lived there when I was in high school (a few years ago – LOL!) and attended Hong Kong International School. it is very safe, and you'll be able to have great travel experiences in Asia – plus there is so much to explore in Hong Kong, the outer islands, and nearby China. How lucky you and your family will be to experience this very unique place!
On the contrary HKG is a great place to save…imagine 15% tax vis a vis 30/35% tax in the States…i live in HKG and LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE it here…its gonna be a great…