Accommodation, Cost of Living
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Christina, Nelson, Martin, Nelvin, Hong Kong

View of the airport from Tung Chung

As soon as we learned that Mr. Diplomat’s first posting is Hong Kong, I brought out the diligent me and started looking for Web sites on expatriation here. A city with so little space yet so many expats would definitely have sky-high rents as expected, so I started my search for a flat with the minimum requirements that we would settle for. I figured that two bedrooms, two bathrooms with one en suite, and at least an 800-sq ft area would be enough. I was not able to find any. Apparently, we would have to upgrade our preference to three bedrooms to get an en suite bathroom. With a certain design in mind and a budget not exceeding HKD16,000, I was able to shortlist two districts, Discovery Bay and Tung Chung.  Discovery Bay is famous for being an enclave for Westerners and is a 30-minute ferry ride away from Central district. On the other hand, Tung Chung is home to many flight attendants and pilots and is a 30-minute train ride from Central. Both are in Lantau Island where the airport is and not in the main Hong Kong Island. If we were to get our preferred design and specifications in the top two districts in Hong Kong Island, The Peak and Mid-Levels, we would have to triple our budget at the very least.

We moved here and were given barely a week’s stay at a hotel in Central, so we wanted to find a place within that time frame to avoid shelling out money from our own pockets for an extended stay. We spent our second day at Discovery Bay. I am quite thankful that our agent there, Nelson, speaks very good English and has infomercial-type upselling skills. The two-bedroom units he showed us are in new estates; had a mountain view, a seaview or both; and had around 800 sq ft of space. Three-bedroom units are in older estates but are around 1,000 sq ft. The kitchens are consistently small and pretty much had a similar layout for all units. We shortlisted a few units there. Everything is a walk or a bus ride away from Discovery Bay Plaza, where you can find everything you need from supermarkets to spas. Nelson, by the way, chose to live there because he wants his children to get much exposure to the English language through their neighbors and playmates. Makes sense!

Our friends from the consular corps suggested Kennedy Town, which is a 20-minute bus ride away from Central, so we met up with an agent there, Christina, who speaks very good English as well and walks faster than the average Hong Konger. She showed us units with two bedrooms, one bathroom and less than 600 sq ft. We saw keyless front doors, gated front doors, cozy lobbies, fire-hazard lobbies, fantastic seaviews, wall views (is that even a view?) and everything in between, but none fits my 5’11” husband comfortably in the area where the bed should be. The kitchens are of a similar size and layout as the ones in Discovery Bay. The clincher for us was the too-crowded streets, along which we would not be comfortable allowing our baby and our private staff to have a stroll by themselves. Before we parted ways, I complimented her English. She feels that it is necessary in her line of work given that they are the front liners of Hong Kong, meeting up with expats looking for a flat as soon as they land; if she doesn’t make a good impression, so would the rest of Hong Kong. I just love the agents here.

Wait. I think I spoke too soon. In Tung Chung, we walked in at a property office early one morning, and there was only one agent available to accommodate us, Martin. He speaks very little English. He asked us about our jobs, but the language barrier did not permit us to explain who we are. Another agent suggested we wait for another agent who speaks very good English, Nelvin. For the mean time, we asked Martin to start showing us the units. Mr. Diplomat allowed me to do all the talking as I lived for a time in Singapore, and we got by somehow. Tung Chung also has a suburban feel but has more vibe than Discovery Bay. The estates there are relatively new. It has a plaza with a musical water fountain where kids are allowed to get wet and have fun, not to mention Citygate Outlets, where most brands have their outlet shops: Burberry, Kate Spade and Ralph Lauren, to name a few. The streets, walkways and parks are kid friendly. To make it more kid friendly, it is just two train stations away from Disneyland. Martin showed us a couple of three-bedroom units at more than 1,000 sq ft. Huge swimming pools and clubhouses with a hotel ambiance are common among the estates there, things that space in Hong Kong Island do not permit. The second-to-the-last unit on the list got us sold. Two bedrooms had a seaview, and one had a mountain view. The design is the closest to our standards so far. The kitchen is just as expected. The thing is, it was still under renovation and waiting for it will require us to have an extended hotel stay. Luckily, Nelvin arrived. As he was approaching us from afar, Mr. Diplomat and I were discussing if he was gay. He said he was just another fashionable Hong Konger; I said he was gay. Nelvin got nearer, and his belt shouted PRADA! I won hands down. I liked him already. Apparently, there is a unit exactly the same as the one we liked, and he will be handed the  keys for it the following day. He made a few calls, and at the end of the day, the unit was ours. How Martin and Nelvin split their commission, we have no idea.

I believe in what Christina said of property agents. These four people alone gave us a taste of what Hong Kong is about and what is in store for us in this city for the next 6 years.


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