Same Same But Different
Get ready for shoebox living!
My friend quipped when news broke that we were moving to Hong Kong. As you'd have known by now, we've crossed oceans to a vastly different part of the world. One that is somewhat familiar, yet strange in many ways. Strange because we are not used to how things work here. Familiar, because it looks like the kind of concrete jungle we grew up on. Truth is, we've been to Hong Kong before, as a tourist but it is quite another to uproot and set up life here.
You never truly understand tiny, until you actually live in one.
To be honest, we are lucky to be able to land a slightly larger 2 bedder in a decent location. We are loving it. Surrounded by great food, amenities and anything we need right at our doorstep. 3 supermarkets within walking distance, hardware store in every corner we turn, farm fresh markets between every other store and just plenty of restaurants to eat at. Only catch is, you gotta speak and read cantonese. It is a dialect of mandarin, which we don't speak. My issue is worse, I can't even read simplified mandarin properly to save my life, which makes it really hard to order food. Most menu doesn't come with English translations. Although since arriving, I can recognise some menu items like wanton noodle, chicken rice and that's as far as I can go. My mandarin teacher is laughing out loud right about now.
One of the challenges is not just the tiny spaces but the subtly unergonomic interior design of apartments. At least for bigger sized beings that we are. We have had to make a lot of transitionary bumps, literally knee to the toilet bowl, eyebrow to the basin tap, elbow to the shower wall. We've been spoilt by American spaciousness, even though we were living in a small studio. Hong Kong spaces seems to be designed to redefine the concept of tight spaces to actually challenge your non-existent claustrophobia. Back in Miami, the size of our bathroom is easily 3 times what we have right now. So you can imagine how much of a squeeze when it attempts to fit a bathtub, a full wall to wall mirror, storage, wash basin and a toilet seat. It is so small, it is the narrow width of our Miami apartment breezeway.
To be honest, our bathroom is one of the most spacious ones we've seen. Yet showering is still a challenge. The bathtub is narrower by usual standards. That effectively means the flat standing zone is very limited. Thus limiting how stable a surface our feet can stand upon. Let's put it this way, when I shower, my feet is bent slightly outwards, toes pointing inwards because I'm literally standing on two downward slopes. Have you ever tried to walk in a narrow drain before? That's exactly what it feels like to shower in this bathtub. It is easy to slip and fall, especially if you are tall and slightly on the plus size. To solve the problem, we've found an anti slip rubber mat. It's made it more comfortable.
It's in the little things. We've also had to reposition our bathmat as it doesn't fit under the swing of the door. The clearance is to tight, any ant crawling under it would be squash with every door swing. We've had to place the mat outside the bathroom door (the door swings inwards) and that's been a good alternative. All we need is to make sure our wet feet gets dry before we step into the rest of the house. I really hate having to stand on cold wet floor tiles in the bathroom. It's the same with my kitchen floor. I like to keep everything as dry as possible. Nothing grosses me out like wet feet on a cold tile. But, you know, we are in a new country with new ways of life, so we adapt. Time to get some hotel slippers perhaps.
We've been fighting and arguing a lot since arriving, over the set up of the space. Like I mentioned, we have a whole house worth of furniture arriving. Bed, couch, dining, kitchen, TV, appliances, personal effects and then some. So it doesn't make sense to buy much or if any. Being the super penny pincher that I am, I would literally steal (clean) cardboard boxes and foam to stack them as makeshift beds till our actual beds arrive 2 months later. But the partner would not have it.
Ok, I'm being ridiculous.
It is one thing to rough it out and another to rough it out while having to start work in a week's time, knowing, you are going to have terrible sleep for the next few months. One cannot function that way. Sleep is important. The airbed we packed with us gave us a bad back and interrupted sleep on our first night. We woke up super grumpy and it got worse when we went to IKEA, our favourite place, to be tempted to buy everything without an agreed plan in mind. Lust has no fury like when you want it so bad but reality tells you otherwise.
The solution? We bought two good quality single sized mattresses from IKEA and a makeshift structure from the furniture shop downstairs (yes, we don't even need to exit our building) as an open concept temporary wardrobe. We decided we would need extra bedding, given we would have friends and family come visit, so those mattresses would come in handy. And they were not expensive - around USD$125 each. And because space is limited, once we place the beds on the floor, it takes up the entire room. So, one has to think outside the box a little. That's why we decided to set up our open concept wardrobe in the dining room. After all, we don't have furniture yet. So any space we can use creatively will help solve a temporary living challenge. Now our living space looks like a pop-up indie fashion store. I love it.
Moisture retention is a problem here in Hong Kong. It is the complete opposite when we were in Miami. Back then, indoor air is usually dry and we had to get a humidifier with essential oil diffuser. It totally helped because I usually wake up with severe parched throat in the morning. Here, we found we had condensation indoors! At our airbnb apartment there was a dehumidifier inside the toilet. Now we know why. We have also been told Hong Kong insulation is very poor. Meaning, in winter, it will be colder indoors than outdoors. This is made worse with the weird moisture retention thing I just mentioned. Imagine sleeping in a room where dew forms on your window. I might as well be a plant. No wonder it was so cold this morning. My fingers and face wake up numb. And they say Hong Kong winter is known to be mild.
You know that no one is lying when they say insulation is poor, when you can hear and feel the rumble of the traffic roaring, more than 15 levels above ground, even with every window tightly shut. It gets worse when buses and trucks pass through. You can feel the vibration on the apartment floor, tuning in to every ambulance and police siren flying by. It is so loud you can still hear it miles away. All day and all night. Being someone who is sensitive to sound in his environment, this is going to be a challenge. I'm wondering if I can find sealants to further seal the windows. Or buy thick curtains.
And then I realise what the issue is. Bass traps. Audio engineers will know what I mean. We are inside an empty apartment and there is nothing to absorb sound. It just bounces everywhere and becomes more pronounced to the naked ear. Kinda like when you are in a rock concert. When you are in the crowd, the music may be loud but bearable. But if you walk away from the crowd and stand in an open space, suddenly it is loud and unbearable. I guess I just need to wait till the furniture, couch and bed arrives. And then maybe sealants and curtains if it doesn't solve it.
Light pollution is also another issue I've had to deal with. I'm beginning to sound like an easily bruised strawberry, but I cannot sleep if there is light, even if it is a tiny blue light from a wall charger. I need complete utter obliterative darkness! If interior spaces in this city are designed to be tiny, it is represented by how close the buildings are from each other. I can see directly into an average of 20 living rooms and bedrooms at any one time across from our window. That also means they can see into ours. That also means any light will flood through our apartment. Fortunately the building across from us is still unoccupied and fairly new. But the external building flood lights make it feel like there is going to be a soccer match about to begin right outside our window. Even with curtains drawn, light still manages to pierce through the darkness. My very own first world problems. Ear plugs and eye mask it is.
But, at least we have blistering internet speed that is fibre quality from HKBN. And so affordable.