Finally after one year, this article comes out.
During my first year in Florence, I’ve kept receiving questions from friends, sometimes my readers, asking: How is life in Italy? Do you like it here? Do you miss Hong Kong……
Origin from China, I do miss my cultures, my family and friends a lot. But meanwhile as a new expat in Florence, I am still in the honeymoon stage, and look forward to experiencing more things here. So a summary to what I feel is: I am proud of my past, as well as happy about where I am right now.
However as a former expat in Hong Kong, as well a current one in Florence, I do have comparisons of different aspects of living in the two cities. There are pros & cons for living in either one. So it is not about which one is better than the other one. And I believe there is no “perfect” place for everybody, it is about the lifestyle you look for at different stage of life.
So here we go, my comparison of living in Florence vs. Hong Kong, from an expat point of view!
VARIETY OF CUISINES
Hong Kong: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
After living in Florence for one year, I find myself deeply missing the Asian cuisines: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, all of them!
Florence is wonderful for Italian dishes, but only Italian dishes. It is almost impossible to find good Asian restaurant here. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian food, and I don’t mind to have pasta 5 days a week. However the Asian stomach calls for the taste of my origin from time to time.
In Hong Kong, the selection of cuisines is really wide. You find food from all the continents in this city of 1000km2. As an immigrant city, Hong Kong brings together people from all over the world, including the good cooks. I spent 8 years trying a new restaurant each week, and after that I was still hungry.
Dim Sum: a typical Canton cuisine prepared as bite-sized food, which I’d like to call the “Chinese Tapas”. No need to argue that it is THE must-try dish in Hong Kong. Even the hot girl Chiara Ferragni couldn’t miss it while visiting.
Meanwhile foreign food is popular in Hong Kong. You easily find authentic restaurant for different cuisines in Hong Kong.
Korean restaurant in Hong Kong (by @myfoodyssey)
POPULARITY OF ENGLISH IN DAILY LIFE
Hong Kong: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
“Arm yourself with basic Italian before moving to Italy.” This has been one of my top tips to people planning to move to Italy. Luckily Florence is a touristic place, so I can survive by speaking English in the city center. However in order to adapt to the Italian lifestyle and live like a local, I feel the necessity to learn Italian.
Of course by speaking English, I can handle situations like doing basic shopping in the supermarkets, ordering in a restaurant, etc. But to communicate with the teachers in the kindergarten, order grocery from Esselunga online, or hang out with local friends (even though they can speak English), Italian is unavoidable.
In Hong Kong, you live like a local by speaking Cantonese (the local dialect), or you can have the same lifestyle by speaking only English. Again it attributes to the fact that Hong Kong is an immigrant city. My husband is a typical example of the expat who had lived in Hong Kong for almost 10 years, and doesn’t speak a word of Cantonese. Alright, I am sorry, actually he is not so bad. After 10 years he mastered well how to say “Good morning” and “Thanks” in Cantonese!
COST OF APARTMENT RENTING
Hong Kong: 💰💰💰💰💰
Rent in Florence can be high but to me it is still reasonable. While in Hong Kong, it is crazy!
Just to give you an example of my apartments renting experiences in the two cities. In Hong Kong, we lived in a 95m2 apartment, far from the city center (40mins commute), it cost HKD25,000 (€2,880) per month. And if you look for an apartment with the same price in the city center of Hong Kong, you may end up in a cube with half of the size.
Now in Florence, our apartment is with similar size, close to the Ponte Vecchio, with €1,200 per month. One thing that makes this apartment amazing is the little open terrace and the view in front. I can’t say good enough about it.
CONVENIENCE OF GROCERY SHOPPING
Hong Kong: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Both cities offer quite grocery shopping experience.
I have a small CONAD 200m away from my apartment, so I could go and grab things missing right at the corner. Besides, the Esselunga A Casa (home delivery) service is always a huge plus. I can order a little bit more than what I need, and with extra €7 they can be delivered to my door.
Hong Kong gains an extra star here for the reason that besides the convenience of shopping from nearby supermarkets, as well as home delivery (in many cases for FREE), there are many 24-7 convenience stores along the streets, such as 7-11, Circle-K, etc. So in case you come back late and have nothing to eat at home, just grab some fast food from the convenience store on the way.
Another thing worth mentioning is that in these convenience stores, you can also 1) pay electricity/ water/ phone bills; 2) charge octopus card (a smart card where you store electrical money, and use it for payments to HK transportation system, supermarkets, fast food restaurants, etc.); 3) withdraw money up to HKD500. Cool, isn’t it!
NECESSARY TO HAVE YOUR OWN CAR
Hong Kong: 🌟
Living in the center of Florence, I can easily get around on my feet. It is a city with perfect size for me: neither too big nor too small, so that I can walk to almost everywhere I want to. However no one living in Florence could resist the beautiful neighborhoods outside the city center. A weekend escape to towns nearby, or a fancy dinner in the Tuscany countryside, a car is the best and the most convenient tool to get to the destinations.
The transportation network covers almost every inch of Hong Kong: subway, bus, minivans, ferries, taxi, etc. It is not necessary to own a vehicle to get around the city. And in order to travel out of Hong Kong, it is not even practical to drive your own car. As a peninsula, Hong Kong connects with Shenzhen in Guangdong province of China, where you can easily reach by train. Or you need an airplane to go abroad.
And this leads to the next point……
FLEXIBILITY TO TRAVEL AROUND
Hong Kong: 🌟🌟
One of the things making the live in Florence “La Dolce Vita” is the flexibility to travel around! Since we moved to Florence, every weekend we try to arrange something. Either meeting friends in the city for coffee or dinner, or me and my husband will drive to places nearby for a lunch or a walk, or we take a one or two-day trip to another city. Tuscany already has so much to be discovered and see, no need to mention other cities/ regions as adventures!
A weekend trip to La Foce in Tuscany. More posts of 1-2 day trips can be found in my “A Weekend In” section.
While Hong Kong is quite different on this point. The closest neighbors are Shenzhen and Macau, so to travel somewhere else, you better book a flight. During my first year in Hong Kong, when I was a student, I used to join a group of friends and go together to Shenzhen for a foot massage followed by a hotpot meal with cheaper price. But that was just a way of poor students treating their stomachs. These years with the price raise in China, this way of “treating” is no more attractive.
For the geographic reason, Hong Kong people travels abroad a lot. It is convenient to visit Southeast Asia from Hong Kong, and many times you can find flight in good deals. The most popular travel destinations for Hong Kong people are: 1) Japan. Hong Kong people LOVE travel to Japan! 2) Bangkok, Thailand. I mean who doesn’t love Bangkok?! You can get the best massage, great Thai food, amazing shopping experiences, all in better deals. It is a city worth multi-trips! 3) Seoul, South Korea. Skincare products and Korean cuisine, you don’t need too many other reasons to visit Korea! 4) Taiwan. It is only 1.5 hour away from Hong Kong by air. And again food, it is always the killer reason.
ACCESS TO NATURE
Hong Kong: 🌟🌟
Some people think that there is no much green in Florence. Well, whoever said that must have not lived in Hong Kong. 😛
It is true that in the city center of Florence, there is mainly buildings. However if you come to Oltrarno side, you can easily find a lot of green.
Besides the famous gardens of Boboli and Bardini, from San Niccolo up to Forte Belvedere, there are many trees around. No need to mention if you go up to the Piazzale Michelangelo then to San Miniato.
Hong Kong is one of those cities filled with commercial/ residential buildings. Of course there are a few parks and mountains in the suburb, but there are not much enough to become part of people’s live. You need to look for green on purpose, otherwise you easily miss it.
A bird’s-eye view of Hong Kong (by @todays.bucketlist)
LEVEL OF BUREAUCRACY
Hong Kong: 🌟
The Questura in Florence taught me what does “bureaucracy” mean right in the first month I moved here. It was like everybody needs that same document to give you what you want, but it was nobody’s responsibility to issue that document needed. What you need in order to get over the process are 1) patience, and 2) a four-wheels to run among different public offices.
As a Chinese, I shouldn’t be so surprised about the bureaucracy in Italy. In mainland China, it is no better at all! However after 8 years living in Hong Kong, I’ve taken the high efficiency of the public offices for granted.
Low level of bureaucracy is one of the reasons that expats likes the city of Hong Kong. I hardly recall myself complaining about visa/passport application procedures there. Almost all the public services have appointment booking system, and as long as you have the Hong Kong ID, you are able to make an appointment online. When you show up with all the papers and docs prepared, within few hours you get things done.
LIFESTYLE: Florence ≠ Hong Kong
Many friends had asked me “where do I prefer, Florence or Hong Kong?” My answer has always been “It is really different.” I can only say for now, I really enjoy living in Florence, and I would like to live here for another decades. But it doesn’t mean I don’t like the live in Hong Kong any more. If I were asked this question 4-5 years ago, I might say “Hong Kong is wonderful, and I don’t want to leave here!”
If I have to compare the lifestyles of the two cities, Hong Kong is more for single or couples without kid, while Florence is more family-with-child oriented.
One thing that has a huge difference is how the education resources and system work in these two places. Hong Kong is a very competitive places when it comes to schooling and education. Kids start to go through kindergarten interviews starting at the age of 2! In Florence, I can take things easy: send my kid to kindergarten when he turns 3, and later elementary school, and so on……
Another thing is how I spend my weekend. In Hong Kong, usually we will have many friends coming out for dinner, and after that heading to disco or clubs to shake off the calories just gained. It is common that each family has their own full-time domestic helper, so baby-sitter is not an issue. While after moving to Florence, I would spend the weekend having family dinner, or go out to the countryside for a walk with the kid, appreciate the beauty of a small medieval town, and share laughter with my husband over Chianti Classico and a big plate of pasta, etc.
I do agree on that kids definitely bring changes to parents’ life, no matter which city you live. But one thing I would point out is that the kids have much more to enjoy in Florence than Hong Kong. However if you are single, Hong Kong is a great place to enjoy life before settling. 😛
VIDEO of Florence in a sunny day:
VIDEO of Hong Kong at night (by @chopsticksontheloose):
Florence vs. Hong Kong: one is my present, the other one is my past, and they are both GREAT!
If I miss any point that you would like to know, please let me know by leaving a comment below. Or share what you think about your expat live in any other cities in the world. It could be valuable tips for others, who are looking for moving there. 🙂