The Pearl of the Orient sets the bar very high
Hong Kong’s history stretches back many, many years, but its British connection is rather recent, arguably beginning with the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-42). In defeat, the Qing Dynasty of China, at the Treaty of Nanking, along with other costs, ceded Hong Kong to the British. After the Second Anglo-Chinese War (1856-60), the British Empire extended its influence in the area and the colony began to flourish, so much so that in 1898, a 99-year lease was established.
Though Britain’s official relationship with the city-state ended in 1997 when it was returned to the Chinese under exacting conditions – a palpable degree of autonomy politically and economically – there continues to be an indelible link between east and west. Accordingly, it remains a popular place for business between the two, made all the easier with time-honoured and mutually beneficial links in all areas of trade. As such, it has always been a great place for British expats to head to, especially those looking to move to Asia for work-related reasons.
Historically, Hong Kong, which is sat on China’s south-east coast, was home to a busy fishing and agricultural industry – to this day it remains especially green, with three-quarters of its land making up the countryside – but, after the British epoch, which transformed its harbour into a busy spot for global trade, it’s identity grew to be more commercial. Today one can consider it a metropolis, an immaculate definition of the near-perfect cultural melting pot, and undeniably, as one of the world’s leading financial centres, an international powerhouse.
Although there are many cities like London, Paris and New York that can live up to their universal name in their wide-reaching cultural constitution, the Pearl of the Orient (as Hong Kong is often referred to) possesses a currently matchless position as being one of the east’s only truly global cities. This dual personality is reflective in the very shape of Hong Kong, at once a very architecturally western landscape, illuminated by towering buildings that peak up into the sky, incandescent lights buzzing with the undercurrent energy of modern life, whilst simultaneously being manifestly Chinese, both historically and socially.
This coalescence helps make it easier for British expats to amalgamate to a new way of life rather comfortably, with less of an explosive culture shock as may be the case in a totally foreign society. This is an opinion shared by Lucy Jackson, head of Asian travel for Quintessentially Travel, a luxury concierge group, whose relationship with the city-state extends back many years.
Writing in the Telegraph two years ago, Ms Jackson, whose great, great grandfather was the chairman of HSBC in Honk Kong from 1876 to 1902, explained that getting involved with the expat community was, for her, “a comfortable leap of faith” based on the ubiquity of people.
“Expats know what it’s like to arrive in this vibrant city, which makes for an immediate natural understanding,” she elucidated. “What is unique about Hong Kong is the international influence: it’s a young city full of fascinating people. Due to its speedy development and entrepreneurial spirit, it attracts an eclectic mix of individuals and that’s what makes it exciting – here, anything and everything seems possible.”
Indeed, described as having one of the purest capitalist economies in Asia, Hong Kong exudes and embraces free market principles to full effect, the mantra being that drive, energy and guile will get you places. British expats whose companies have experience of working in Hong Kong are keenly aware of this, and even in such an austere age, it could make good business sense for self-employed people to set up a new life in the east. There’s a market of potential waiting for them, buoyed on by the fact – regardless of the sovereignty Hong Kong enjoys – that China’s emerging economy has made it a giant nation.
A sort of consequence of economic fruitfulness is the pervasiveness of money; it is, in comparison to other Asian regions, relatively expensive. Though, that said, in relation to UK prices, most people do fairly well. Given the kind of employment that Brits are likely to be involved with, high salaries will be able to offset high costs, especially when optioning where to live. If anything is pricey in Hong Kong, it is accommodation.
Hong Kong is a tightly-packed, socially diverse and culturally vibrant city-state. In spite of its already rich history and extended period of economic productivity under British rule, it has continued to remain an important and busy destination, switching to life under Chinese rule almost seamlessly. This has allowed Hong Kong to ride on China’s wave of prosperity with ease, whilst rekindling its eastern roots along the way.
In 2007, a United Nations report estimated that Hong Kong’s citizens have the second longest life expectancy in the world, with Japan number one. No wonder Prince Charles once remarked that it has created “one of the most successful societies on Earth.” No small praise, Hong Kong is, for its peculiar eastern and western orientation, a triumphant symbol of a multicultural existence.