Saturday, February 06, 2010

Living in a expat paradise

The last time I was living in the UK was almost two years ago; if you don't count flying back for a week in May 2008 to pack a suitcase, almost run over a motorcyclist and then fly to Seattle, or a week at Christmas for the same year.

For the whole of 2009, I avoided Europe: the closest I got would have been Singapore or Siem Reap. Which is only close if you're really, really terrible at geography, history, or both.

Living away from "home" makes you preserved in aspic; your attitudes are almost bound to be aligned to your perception of the place you left, not what it's become. I think of London as somewhere that has an appalling public transport system, highly priced everything, comprehensive bookshops and some great museums.

Some of these things may have changed. Some, perhaps, have not. But I'm sort of worried that I'll find myself lamenting the passing of a London that exists in my mind, with (perhaps) some congruence to a past reality.

Now, you can fight against this. The world is smaller now, so by assiduous study of online media I can get some idea of what's going on. But since I've always focussed on efficiency and meta-services where possible, I do this by going to Speak Your Branes, a sort of condensate of all the rantings that splatter across Britain, and consequently I believe everyone in the country is angry and idiotic.

Perhaps something other than efficiency is needed. I tried reading the Freakonomics blog, but they come across as a bunch of dicks who think they're smarter than everyone else (and then get surprised when their bold statements about How The World Works) get tempered by empiricist ripostes. (Eg "the NYC taxi system is not economically efficient - that's why the service is terrible" - cue the people pointing out that may have been the case in the late 80s, but now it's not so bad. )

In fact, perhaps the Freakonomics boys are a clique of stand-up comedians without any new jokes, and they're a short step away from "hey, the thing about airline food is..." material before vanishing in a cloud of "am I right? Am I right?"s. I guess I should explore that in more detail some time.

But anyway, I think having had almost two years here, I should concentrate on all the things I enjoy about Hong Kong (and, I suppose, the shortcomings), and then see which of those I miss when I'm back in the UK. It may very well be that a better selection of fresh fruit and veg, and more interesting cheese, trumps a cheap laundry and a filipina maid.

So that's:
  • Cheap tailoring
  • Cheap taxis (and all transportation)
  • Cheap food
  • Cheap maids
  • Cheap pretty much everything, apart from books
  • Plus it's cheap in time terms to travel round Asia
Against that:
  • Pollution
  • Expensive to get to Europe
  • Less opportunity to ride a bicycle without risk of death
  • No chocolate hobnobs, and Marmite is hard to come by
  • The vague but ever-constant suspicion that Beijing would, really, really like to bulldoze all trace of Hong Kong into the south China Sea and make everything exactly the same as the rest of China.


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