Hong Kong is an exciting city. It’s completely different to anywhere else we’ve lived. There are things that we like, things that we love and things we’re still getting used to. One of the biggest adjustments when moving from almost anywhere else in the world to Hong Kong is the bijou nature of the accommodation. It’s shall we say….efficiently compact.
Certainly moving from the wide open spaces and overly generous housing we had in South Africa, the considerable downsizing involved in moving to a crowded high-rise city where there is a gigantic premium on each and every square foot of space has been a shock.
Our Serviced Apartment
We stayed in a small serviced apartment when we first arrived and it was to say the least a bit of a squash and a squeeze. Our suitcases alone filled the living space.
As you opened the apartment door, the tiny kitchen was immediately to left. There were two ceramic hobs for cooking. One was nice and flat accommodating a pan. The other was convex, I’m guessing for a wok, but we didn’t have a wok. There wasn’t a toaster. It seems that toasters aren’t a popular must have item here, but then neither is bread, so it makes sense.
The kitchen was completely lacking in the bin department. There was a microscopic waste bin in the bathroom and two tiny ones in the bedrooms. I lined them up by the kitchen.
There were two bedrooms in the apartment. One had a wardrobe. There were 8 hangers and two drawers.
To get to my side of the bed I had to shuffle between the wall and (if he was already asleep) my husband’s feet and then clamber over the bed which was wedged against the windowsill. The other bedroom had no storage and again, the corner sleeping slot involved clambering. We are a family of four and in addition to casual clothes my husband has suits and the kids school uniforms.
Just to repeat, there were 8 hangers and 2 drawers.
Consequently most of our clothes were carefully folded and stored in the TV unit. The suitcases that didn’t fit in the wardrobe were stored on the windowsill and immediately outside the bathroom. The rest of the windowsill was taken up with the washing rack.
We all kept bumping into each other. We all kept grazing ourselves on the furniture.
We had three windows. None of them opened, which was probably a good thing as we were on the 22nd floor. Being so high up made me feel wobbly. Also as we were at the tail end of summer heavy downpours were frequent as was high humidity, additional reasons to keep the windows closed. In contrast to our many and often open doors and windows in South Africa this was an uncomfortable change.
We had a quick outing to IKEA (hooray, there is Ikea, in fact there are three Ikeas) to buy a clothes drying rack, additional coat hangers and a wooden spoon. It was a rock and roll shopping trip. Heard of Peak Ikea? It’s something expats rarely reach.
As an aside, we saw THIS radial drying rack.
My dear husband joked (I HOPE he was joking) that we should buy it as it could double up as a Christmas tree and therefore save on storage space. Mostly he was joking.
I read Julia Donaldson’s “A Squash and a Squeeze” to my kids oh so many times when they were little and Julia Donaldson would never lie to small children.
Although we didn’t have a cow or a pig or a goat or a hen (after all having pets, livestock, playing mahjong or eating stinky durian fruit were all against house rules at the serviced apartment). We instead had 10 suitcases.
A Squash and a Squeeze
Eventually it was time to move out of the temporary pad:
Let’s take it all out said Removal Man
We’ll load it all up in my trusty van
So we took out the kettle, some bags and a case
Suddenly it seemed there was so much space
Then we took out the toaster, drying rack and toys
Even more room, oh joy of joys
Lastly the kids, clothes, books and food
So much space the flat looked nude
Yes, at last, after 10 long weeks the empty apartment looked invitingly capacious. Unfortunately what worked for the little old woman in the story book doesn’t work for us. Once she got rid of the cow, the pig, the goat and the hen, she appreciated the small space that she had. We need a drying rack and clothes and toys and books and especially our kids, so we are delighted to have upsized to a larger apartment with our own things.
However, had we not lived in the small apartment I doubt we would have been so appreciative of the current space we live in. Even though it is much smaller than our previous home in South Africa, it feels lovely and roomy and homey, no longer a squash and a squeeze.
Just don’t look in the storeroom, it’s crammed with suitcases and other other items, like our snow shovel which has remained bubble wrapped since we left Istanbul 5 years ago and has sat since then in our garage in Johannesburg, before moving to its current home in Hong Kong. I’m weirdly superstitious about getting rid of it after so long, certain that its demise will ensure a move to Siberia or somewhere similarly glacial.
We now have windows that open and ensure a balmy through-breeze on less humid days. We are also living at a less dizzying height. We still miss the wide open spaces of South Africa, but we’re also enjoying a pared back, less cluttered existence and we have a lovely sea-view to boot.
Other Quirks of Bijou Living in Hong Kong
It’s not only accommodation that is smaller here in Hong Kong. Pret sandwiches often come in as a solitary round, rather than the usual two. Loaves of bread are often more like half loaves with 8-10 slim slices or 4 fat ones. Supermarket trolleys are a quarter of the size we are accustomed to to match far narrower supermarket aisles.
Baths are petite and some bus seats are rather less generous than European bottoms. Beds can come up a little shorter than expected as they have been custom made to fit a wee space. In fact some of the storage solutions for smaller spaces are mind-blowingly clever with custom-made built in furniture designed to optimise every inch available inch.
Almost everything is dinky and space efficient in Hong Kong except for shampoo and conditioner which comes in industrial size pump-action bottles. Curious as to why? Theories most welcome in the comments section.
*P.S. If you haven’t read A Squash and A Squeeze by Julia Donaldson, one or two of the references in this post probably don’t make sense to you. Also, if you haven’t read it to your young kids, do, it’s fab.