Just as stated in my previous post, Hong Kong is a city within a city. Therefore, I thought I'd tell another story within the same location as I literally opened a gate to the past during my weekend spent in Hong Kong. The main purpose of my visit was to reactivate my Business Visa which - although it allows me to enter the People's Republic of China through multiple entries - needs to be reactivated every 60 days. As a first-timer visiting the Fragrant Harbor, this was the perfect occasion to discover the city over a weekend.
A day at the office
The VP I am currently reporting to as part of my Short Term Assignment in China thought I could join the useful to the pleasant and come visit our Hong Kong Office so she can introduce me to a few people. To be honest, I thought of passing by the office anyway. Since she organized a full day of meetings with the top management, this was the perfect occasion to get some face time with my stakeholders with whom I normally entertain a professional long-distance relationship. I spent the whole morning going from one meeting to the other and was very pleased with the level of engagement and conversation points that generated from them. I surely didn't miss the occasion to learn a little more about our beloved company. A team lunch was organized for everyone to get to know each other as I was visiting the office at the same time as my colleague - Kevin from Germany - who just transferred to the Hong Kong office three weeks ago. Funny story, Kevin and I used to sit meters away back in our headquarters in Germany. I knew he moved to Hong Kong not so long ago, but I did not expect to run into him in the elevator the morning I visited the office. An amusing encounter which led to a fun weekend full of adventures. After work, we went to a nearby bar to enjoy the Happy Hour and kick off the weekend in style. I must say, this is something I have not enjoyed in a very long time. Actually, I haven't enjoyed a proper Happy Hour ever since I left Montreal. The Happy Hour culture is quite absent in Nuremberg - except for the occasional Stammtisch - which doesn't really compare to what we have in Montreal as an integrated culture among the young and dynamic professionals. Back in my suit-up days, we would go with colleagues in trendy bars of the Plateau or the Old Port to enjoy a gentleman's drink while getting a hold of the "flavor of the week". A lot has changed since then.
A weekend with the 'Family Back East'
I said it before and I'll say it again: at work, we really treat each other like family. I know many companies have preached this in the past. In reality, as soon as you punch out from your shift, everyone goes about their business and don't turn back until the next morning. In our case, it's very different. I have never worked for a company where employees go the extra mile for each other. I really thought it was a situation specific to Nuremberg, as most expats have to struggle with a long and difficult cultural integration cycle in the German society. It is a custom that well-established employees give a helping hand to the new comers to help them settle. Whether it's to show them around, go grocery shopping, sort out the administrative paperwork or lift furniture up to the 5th floor as they move in; you name it! There is always someone from the office who will offer their help. But, my weekend in Hong Kong taught me differently as I have seen the same phenomenon happening outside of Germany. Therefore, I have no choice but to associate this behavior to the philanthropic qualities of the people working for our company and this, regardless of the location. A few weeks back, as I was planning my commute and accommodation, I reached out to my colleague Melissa who is currently in Hong Kong - also for a Short Term Assignment. I knew she was there as we were on the same flight leaving Germany. We said we'd try and travel together throughout our STA, but getting into China is much more difficult than getting into Hong Kong. So, I'm the one who ended up visiting her (although, the invitation still stands). As we were exchanging DM's, she suggested I'd stay at her place over my long weekend instead of booking accommodation on my own. Now, this is exactly what I mean by "treating each other like family". We barely know each other. I think we must have met once - at an FC Nürnberg football game, we went to as a group - before our paths crossed again at the airport. Realistically speaking, she had no obligation of going out of her way and let me invade her private space over a four-night stay. And yet, she still did! Not only did she provide a roof over my head, but also asked me what I usually eat for breakfast, made herself available to go out and was quite the tour guide during the whole weekend. She was amazing! She brought me to all the sights a traveller must see on a first visit to Hong Kong. We got along great and I had a blast because of her! So, thank you, Melissa, for being such a great host!
Small World, Large City
On Saturday night, we made plans to meet Kevin at his service apartment in Causeway Bay to pre-drink before a (very cheap, but so delicious) treat of local dim sums. If you really want to live to local experience, the restaurant Dim Dim Sum is definitely the way to go! We stuffed ourselves like there was no tomorrow for as cheap as 179 HKD (split three ways). The night before, a former colleague of mine from my previous life in the aerospace industry - Henry, now living in Japan - was visiting his family in Hong Kong the same week. He saw my check-in in Lai Kwai Fong (or LKF, as cool people call it) - the party district - the night before and contacted me to see if I would be available to meet for drinks. I haven't seen the guy in three years, so I gladly replied to his invitation with a "Hell yeah! Let's make it happen!" As soon as we finished the Dim Sum feast, the trio hopped on a ding-ding in direction of the Central station to catch the MTR to the other side of the Victoria Harbour - in Kowloon. Henry grew up here and knows Hong Kong like the back of his hand while it was my first visit in the Pearl of the Orient. Consequently, he suggested we meet at Félix - a lounge located on the 28th and 29th floor of the Peninsula Hotel - which offers a tremendous view on the famous Hong Kong Island skyline. It was a lot of fun to catch up with him and his wife, and exchange fun topics of conversations along with the rest of the crew. We split up from there as Henry and his wife went back home and the trio rode the MTR back to Hong Kong Island.
Very unlikely Encounters in SoHo
We opted for SoHo to try and find a lounge with good music and an appropriate atmosphere to keep telling each other some crazy stories. As we were walking, we crossed a few interesting spots but my two partners in crime for the evening left it to me to make the final choice. After all, I am the guest! So, we walked back a few meters and entered the Varga Lounge - a semi-retro speakeasy mixilogy lounge with some pretty good music going from hip-hop to classic rock. There was something for everyone - both out of the speakers and on the drinks menu. The lounge was pretty crowded at first. At some point, there was a weird 15-minute intermission between two birthday parties a little bit like a half-time intermission. There are 7.5 billion people on Planet Earth. Hong Kong has 7.4 million citizen. I am located 12,417km from Montreal. Of all the bars in Hong Kong (and they are a lot!), I had to randomly pick the very bar in which a certain woman walked into a few minutes after me. That woman's name was Hillary - someone I had interviewed for a promo-model contract in Montreal ten years ago. That was back when I was a talent scout at the experiential marketing company I used to work for during my studies. How crazy is that! As soon as she walked into the bar, I recognized her! I thought: "I know this person!" But, I wasn't sure if it was the Long Island Ice Tea playing tricks on my memory or was I accurately right? So, between two songs I walked up to her and asked:
-"Excuse me. Could I ask you where are you from?", I asked.
-"Toronto", she said.
-"Ok, but you lived in Montreal, right?", I replied.
She immediately sobered up, grabbed me by my forearms and said:
-"Oh my God! Where do I know you from?"
-"I'm James. I interviewed you about 10 years ago for a promo-model contract."
-"Yesss! I remember! Oh my God, what are you doing here?"
Turns out she was also here just for the weekend. She is still living in Toronto and came to visit her boyfriend - a Dutchman working in Guangzhou - and they decided to come to Hong Kong to meet up with some friends. Now, I could have walked into any other bar in SoHo. Hell, we could have gone to a totally different area of the city or even come to Hong Kong on another weekend and yet, our paths crossed again after such a long time. It's crazy how Planet Earth is not so large after all. I would have understood if such encounter would have happened in Nuremberg - where options to go out are not outnumbering the probabilities of running into someone you know. But, in Hong Kong... The craziest part is that the next day - after the trio had dinner at an excellent Indian-Nepalese restaurant in Wan Chai - we decided to go enjoy the view on the 31st floor rooftop lounge at Wooloomooloo Steakhouse (weird name, I know!). And there she was again enjoying drinks with her boyfriend! Small world indeed...
A GATE TO THE PAST...
It's funny how sometimes you plan to visit a certain city and suddenly notice that many people you know are currently living there. This happened to me in London back in March 2017 when I went there to visit my buddy Pilou. I flew into London for a weekend as I needed to get some fresh air and spending time with a close friend. As soon as I landed, I received a dozen of messages from people telling me they now live in London. Sometimes expats just need their dose of comradery - a supply that is not easy to find in a location where you don't have direct access to your circles of trust. You just don't expect it to find it randomly while on a weekend getaway. The same phenomenon happened to me in Hong Kong as I quickly noticed that it's also the new home of ex-colleagues. Here is another good reason to stop planning trips ahead. Keeping my schedule free allowed me to include gatherings with people I haven't seen in a long time. They brought me to places I would have probably never seen as a first-time visitor. They opened their world to me - a little bit as if I was the great Anthony Bourdain - and I accepted it all with no reservations!