Noticing the Differences

It’s been three weeks since the last update, and almost as long since we returned from Hong Kong. The last few days in Hong Kong were uneventful (save maybe for the start of Euro 2012), so nothing to update there. In the time since we’ve been back, it’s been nonstop cleaning and rearranging. Prior to leaving for Hong Kong, we moved out of our 1100 square-foot apartment back into my 121 square-foot bedroom at home, so you can imagine the amount of rearranging, donating, dumping, and cleaning we’ve been doing. It’s still pretty messy in the house, but at least the floor is visible now. Just have to take it a day at a time.

As such I haven’t really been out and about, haven’t really had a chance to absorb my experience in Hong Kong, haven’t really been able to notice the differences between life in Hong Kong and life in San Francisco. Today, I had an opportunity to do so.


Ever since the SARS epidemic in 2003, Hong Kongers have been very cognizant of hygiene and the threat of infectious diseases. You really see this everywhere you go. Signs point out that escalator handrails, in addition to having an anti-bacterial coating, are disinfected every hour. Plastic film covers elevator buttons. People use “public” communal chopsticks instead of their own when dining family-style.

Alcohol Rub

One of my favorites, though, is the touch-less bathroom. Walk away from the toilet or urinal and it flushes by itself. Place your hand under the faucet and the water starts running. Wave your fingers below the soap dispenser for a squirt of antibacterial soap. The first thing I noticed walking into a public restroom today was the pot of yellow urine that I had to manually flush away. I actually had to place my hand on the handle, push it, see the water trickle out, and then hold it down. What a noticeably different bathroom experience.

Naturally, not all the bathrooms in Hong Kong are automatic, but there were enough to get me to become accustomed to them. There are also an increasing number of automatic bathrooms here in the Bay Area, but I don’t think they will become the norm.

Traffic and Pedestrians

The traffic culture is also quite different. As a driver in San Francisco, you can expect people to suddenly walk out into the street and expect you to stop for them. In this situation it would behoove you to slow down and stop. As a driver in Hong Kong, you can be pretty reassured that you are the one in a dangerous, heavy machine and that people understand this and will not challenge you. No need to slow down. Jaywalkers know that they are taking their lives into their own hands.

Air Quality

We tend to take the Bay Area’s air quality for granted. One of the first things I noticed getting off the plane is how much easier the air is to breathe. Take a deep breath and the air just flows in and fills your lungs. It’s crisp. In Hong Kong, before we even start to talk about the pollution, we have the summer humidity to deal with. It’s just the nature of the beast. Add to that the added heat from air conditioner exhaust, the particulates from motor vehicles, and soot from Chinese factories, and taking a deep breath becomes a labored process.


Because of the density of population and the fast pace of life, there are a lot of conveniences in Hong Kong that I miss. In just a single block near our hotel, there were two supermarkets and three 7-Elevens, not to mention all the restaurants and mom-and-pop stores. More places are open late. There aren’t as many lines. One afternoon after we returned to San Francisco, we went to Safeway to buy some lunch. All we bought were a couple of salads and drinks. There were three registers open, and it took us 10 minutes to wait in line, just to buy those two things. At that moment I really missed Hong Kong.

Final Thought

At the end of the day, home is home, no matter where you are. You take the good with the bad. It can be hard, though, for people like me who have called multiple places home during my lifetime, especially when the multiple places are so different. It’s been a recurring theme, trying to balance the pluses and minuses of both places, and trying to balance them with each other. Which one is better? It’s hard to say. At this point in my life, I grow tired of living in the U.S., so it’s Hong Kong for me. I know I’ll miss aspects of life in San Francisco, but at the same time I’ll be getting away from the aspects that I don’t like. I’ve lived here for 23 years, and it’s finally time to switch it up.

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