Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997 after 156 years of British rule. China’s Basic Law for Hong Kong allows for a high degree of autonomy, from the rule of law and civil liberties to the free flow of people and information. Situated at the southeastern tip of China, Hong Kong is ideally positioned at the center of a rapidly developing part of Asia. With a total area of 1,104 square kilometers, the Hong Kong SAR includes Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, and the New Territories bordering mainland China. Hong Kong also includes 262 outlying islands. The population, of seven and a half million is predominantly Chinese, although there are large populations of Americans, British, French, Filipinos, Indians, Portuguese and Japanese.
HKIS’s campuses are located in the more rural beach and country park area on the south side of Hong Kong Island. However, Hong Kong is very much an urban center, and it is important that teachers and their families have the ability to adjust to living overseas and city life.
Being far from friends and family, and being removed from life in America or other ‘western type’ countries requires adaptability and flexibility. Setting up a household requires patience, and family members must work together to make cultural and social adjustments. When families become involved in the culture and life of Hong Kong, their lives will be enriched and their experiences will be more rewarding.
Chinese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong. English is widely used in the Government and by the legal, professional, and business sectors. There is no shortage of well-educated competent bilingual or even trilingual professionals who speak English, Cantonese, and Mandarin in the city. These languages are vital for any enterprise trading in Hong Kong and doing business with Mainland China and internationally.
Hong Kong’s climate is subtropical, subject to monsoons and typhoons. Winters are cool and dry, while spring and summer are hot and humid. Temperatures range from lows of 50°F (10°C) in January to 95°F (35°C) in summer.
The currency is the Hong Kong dollar. It is readily convertible and is pegged to the US dollar at a current exchange rate of HK$7.8: US$1. Teachers’ salaries are paid 100% in Hong Kong dollars.
Hong Kong operates a simple, low and predictable tax system. Taxes are levied on three types of income – salaries, profits, and property. There is no value-added sales tax or capital gains tax. Only income earned in Hong Kong is taxable.
Everyone with a Hong Kong income is liable to pay salaries tax. The rate of tax after deductions and allowances is applied on a graduated scale, but the total salaries tax charged will not exceed 15% of a person’s total assessable income after deductions.
In order to enter Hong Kong for employment, investment, education, training, or residence you must obtain an entry visa prior to arrival. HKIS will apply for employment visas and, if applicable, dependent visas for family members. In the case of HKIS teaching couples, only one person needs to apply for an employment visa. The other can legally work on a dependent visa. Prospective employees must hold a passport that is valid for a minimum of 1 year; however, 2 years is preferable.
A wide range of living conditions exist in Hong Kong – from cosmopolitan areas with dense high-rise apartment blocks to low rise apartments neighboring modern alfresco dining outlets or traditional alley markets selling seafood and noodles. It is fortunate that wherever you live and whatever the condition of your dwelling, there are always open green spaces to unwind as approximately 40% of Hong Kong is reserved as country parks.
While there is a wide variety of accommodation, in terms of size and type, one thing to bear in mind is that apartments are considerably smaller than what many people from overseas are used to. The average size of an apartment for a single person is 600 square feet for a couple, and for a couple with a child it is 900 square feet, and for a family of four or more it is 1,200 square feet. Most apartments come unfurnished. HKIS teachers live in many different neighborhoods from Stanley and Chung Hom Kok to Happy Valley and Midlevels. To get some understanding of the housing market in Hong Kong, the website www.gohome.com.hk is a good place to start.
High quality, easily accessible health care services are readily available in Hong Kong. The public hospitals and clinics in Hong Kong provide comprehensive medical services and are staffed by English speaking professionals. There are also private hospitals, such as Adventist Hospital, Matilda Hospital, and Canossa Hospital.
The public transportation system in Hong Kong is excellent and rates among one of the most efficient and reasonably priced in the world. Public transport includes a system of buses, trams, trains, metro and ferries. Taxis are readily available and reasonably priced.
Public transport can be paid for on an cash basis, but most residents use a stored value ‘Octopus’ card. Value is purchased, stored on the card, and deducted each time it is used for payment. These cards are also accepted at vending machines, convenience stores and public car parks.
Most large chain supermarkets and other specialty stores carry a wide range of western and Asian foods. The two main supermarket chains are Park n’ Shop and Wellcome. These supermarkets have home delivery and on-line ordering. Seasonal fresh vegetables and fruits are also available at the local markets whose products are less expensive than the “western style” markets.
Shopping is a favorite past time in Hong Kong and no matter what you are looking for you should be able to find it. Wandering the streets you will find a plethora of little shops offering anything from local clothing to jewelry to electronics. There are also street markets that sell everything from souvenirs to household goods where you are sure to find a bargain. If you are looking for designer goods, you will be spoiled for choice. There are also a number of large department stores that sell a range of items and cater for both local and Western tastes.
Western tastes and trends have heavily influenced Hong Kong’s culture, although the city is deeply rooted in its eastern culture and traditions. Hence, Hong Kong’s reputation as the “city where east meets west.” Visitors to the city usually appreciate the “old and new” scenario presented to them everywhere they walk. It is common to see a gleaming new, state-of-the-art skyscraper adjacent to a hundred year old temple.
Hong Kong celebrates Chinese festivals as well as significant dates on the western calendar such as Christmas. Most festivals revolve around families getting together and celebrating. These events are exuberant and colorful.
Usually falling around the beginning of February, is Chinese (or lunar) New Year. It is an important festival and considered as the time to prepare yourself for the coming year. House cleaning, purchasing new clothes and getting a haircut are all common pursuits as the New Year approaches. People buy flowers from specially arranged flower markets in the city center (especially Victoria Park near Causeway Bay) and visit with their relatives. There are spectacular firework displays, and people give Lai See, or lucky money to children.
Learn the expression “Kung Hei Fat Choi”, for everyone will be saying it, and you should return the greeting. It means Happy New Year!
Ching Ming is the spring grave-sweeping festival in April in which families head to the cemeteries to spruce up their ancestors’ graves and make offerings that will ensure their deceased loved ones have sufficient money and food in the afterlife.
Hong Kong celebrates this festival with Dragon Boat races. The tradition began in the third century BC, apparently after fishermen tried to rescue a despondent government official who had thrown himself into a river. Dragon Boat races are an international event for Hong Kong, attended by thousands.
This festival takes place in September and celebrates the 14th century uprising against the Mongols. Children especially enjoy this festival as they make lanterns and parade them in front of their parents while watching the moon rise. Traditional moon cakes are eaten.
On the ninth day of the ninth lunar month (usually in October), Hong Kong people climb to the highest point they can find. The festival had little early significance until the British took possession of Hong Kong. Since then, it has grown in popularity. Today, the hiking trails become very crowded during this festival.
You will not be short of things to do in Hong Kong. If you are interested in sports there are plenty of options. Hiking trails also abound from the easy stroll to the strenuous uphill treks, and you could top your hike off with a touch of wakeboarding or swimming at one of the many beaches.
There are also a wide variety of cultural opportunities. Numerous galleries hold shows on a regular basis and other venues such as the Fringe Club showcase a variety of theater, music and art shows. There are comedy clubs to get you laughing. The city is also a popular stopping off point for visiting symphony companies, ballet troupes, dance groups, and rock musicians.