Taxi moving down a narrow steep lane in Hong Kong

How I moved to Hong Kong amidst pandemic

Let me start this post by a mantra of mine. “I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful”. Let me say that loud out again: “I am grateful.” To find a good job with a relocation package during the pandemic madness is no mean feat. I struck some luck. “I am grateful.” But to be fair I have (almost) always been. And that’s perhaps the reason why I am happy. Malaysia is a fantastic place for building happiness but as every country on this planet, it has its limits. And I reached them, desperately needing an exit. So yes I am grateful because the door opened and I am now in a different country with countless opportunities to actually have something that closely reminds life. Curious about the full story? Without further ado, here’s the account of my move to Hong Kong. Drumroll….. Let’s go!

Man with a huge cluster of balloons walking in the street on Kuala Lumpur
Time to celebrate new beginnings!

Mental checkout from Malaysia

For 6 years I called Malaysia my home. I was genuinely happy to have landed a job there for it’s a beautiful country. Life is easy, laid-back and pleasant and there are – or rather ‘were’ – many positives to being an expat, providing you’ve got a solid package lined up and the country is not in the middle of a pandemic. It’s also amazing for short-term stays as long as you don’t run into problems which will make you question all the initial positives. Truth is, however, that once you are banned from travelling, or living your life ‘normally’ you will for sure feel its heaviness. In fact, the heaviness is present all the time, but when you are free to escape it on a regular basis you learn to ignore it. Therefore, despite the beautiful time I’ve had in this peaceful piece of land, I reached a point where I couldn’t stand it anymore and needed to move on. I simply needed a way out.

A woman in an installation reminding cage touching a bulb in the middle
Free but trapped…Time for change.

Source of discontent

So why was I so eager to leave? One reason is that Malaysia uses an incredibly efficient mimicry, a camouflage that is nothing short of spectacular, which is especially obvious in its capital Kuala Lumpur. When you arrive, you are amazed at the abundance of shiny sky-high buildings often successfully competing with the rest of the world when it comes to pomp, zillions of shopping malls built with sparkling marble, polished floors, clean surfaces all around and nicely scented air-conditioned indoor spaces. You are simply awestruck at the incredible level of development. However, all this image begins to quickly crumble upon first exposure to the mindset of Malays, i.e. the majority. And you think to yourself ‘Oops, this somehow doesn’t add up’. Slowly but surely as you dig deeper under the surface, you notice the initially beautifully masked disparity and can’t help but wonder at this incredible hiding of someone’s true colours. As a result, I was in a severe need of change after the fourth year but I got a new position at work so this spiced things up.

A beautiful woman in a Malaysian ad in 70s
Decades ago women looked great. With the advent of radical Islamic parties it all went downhill.

However, even with such improvements and new learning opportunities, the lifespan of blissful ignorance was still severely limited. Especially to someone like me – a fiercely independent woman. Why? Well, I’ve got a long, minutely compiled draft about this in my email but I don’t know if I’ll ever publish it. It’s the gratefulness that stops me on the one hand, fear of karma’s punishment if you will. I grabbed life in Malaysia by its horns and it was an incredibly enriching experience on many fronts. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity so it would feel harsh if I were to criticise it. On the other hand as a travel blogger, albeit a hobbyist, I am seriously conflicted because I feel I should indeed publish my honest assessment of this country and its people. Let’s see then if it’ll ever see the light of day. For now, I’ll give it a miss.

A man tries to squeeze some last items into a tiny, crammed shop before closing
No more space left. Time to move on.

But still, if I am to sum it up very briefly I must say that after 6 years I was done living in a Muslim country which doesn’t develop in any solid direction. Where religious brainwashing is more important than any other agenda and arabisation is in full swing. Where you can’t have a simple conversation, let alone an inspiring one with random locals because the Malay majority are not equipped with conversation and many other socially essential skills, and where there’s simply no soul to the place.

Young Muslim women at a table in a cafe having a chat
Looks like a conversation and it might be but you can’t join

After some time, when I exhausted the novelty and excitement from living there, I just started seeing more negatives and it was messing with me. It was indeed time to address these feelings and move onto pastures new before my gratefulness transformed into a full blown dislike for a country where I spent a lovely 6 years, although truth be told, the years of lockdown were hardly noticeable. And since at work things were not great either it was time I made changes. So here I am folks, typing this from a quarantine hotel room, excited to see what’s waiting for me outside.

A homeless man reading Koran in the street by night
Koran – oftentimes the only book Malays will get to read.

Leaving Malaysia

Mental checkout is one thing, but the formal and official checkout is clearly another. Dealing with the bureaucracy is always difficult and frustrating in any country, but doing so in Malaysia and during the lockdown was quite frankly an unbelievable roller-coaster ride. There were moments when I wanted to kill somebody and seriously questioned why God simply doesn’t grant some individuals with grey matter, mildly put. It was tough as hell. At points I thought I wouldn’t make it by August. One of the most important parts of my departure was getting my pension funds. The inefficiency I encountered at the relevant office was ‘mind-blowing’. Knowing it exists is one thing, having to personally deal with that is another. Amidst the government office closures and little help received from people at work who were in the position to help but just didn’t feel like it, I experienced severe bouts of hate towards this country and really couldn’t see anything positive about it. I wanted to get out so badly as every minute of June and beginning of July was so heavy I wanted to scream. While a lot of people were blindly parroting what other people were parrotting, i.e. how easy it was to get the pension savings, I could only laugh at them. ‘Lucky ignoramuses,’ I thought as I went through some of the worst mindfuckery à la Malay style.

A female shop seller sleeping inside a shop
Open but closed. Please do not disturb.

Not giving up

But I am not someone who gives up easily. I took my cause to higher places at work  Well, and to my complete surprise – voilà! In less than 3 working days I saw the money on my account. It was so quick I couldn’t believe my eyes. While this was essentially good news it only accentuated my bad impressions of the country and its people. Why? Because it became crystal clear that some of the colleagues I spoke to and asked for help had their super-efficient ways of dealing with the pension office and knew full well how to pull the strings. But they simply wouldn’t lift their fingers until absolutely necessary. It was more fun for them to watch me sink and go through a lot of shit. Why help right? Let me sit and wait first. And such, my dear friends, is the mentality of a lot of local people, especially the Muslim population, overall. This is how they are trained. Often their arrogance borders with ignorance. But it still hurts the same, regardless of the intentions.

A young girl engrosses in smartphone
Focus on self is omnipresent. Fair enough I guess.

And it’s especially in the peninsula where you can feel this. Therefore, if you are not totally blind and braindead you’ll feel some sort of intellectual and spiritual pain on a regular basis. I’d call it a daily dose of slow intellectual murder, which keeps creeping in and growing on you and in times of high exposure is too hard to bear. Therefore, unless you are for example a well-off retiree having the luxury to afford being oblivious to such things, happily married, in a successful relationship or something of that sort,  you’ll probably need to leave this country sooner or later. Don’t get me wrong, I met and got help from genuinely nice and caring people, it’s just that it’s not the norm here. Finding someone who will be willing to listen to your problem and help you on top of that is not always easy. You know what they say – when there’s a will, there’s a way.

Young woman, sitting and wearing a motorcycle helmet, smiling and feeling shy for being photographed.
Some locals are incredibly nice and sweet. But unfortunately, it doesn’t go beyond that.

Clearing stuff and packing

Once I sorted the pension funds and tax clearance, it was time to move onto more pleasant parts of the off-boarding, for example donating. I’m not a fan of accumulating stuff and have been pretty much trying to get as minimal as possible. And yet, I’ve found myself amidst loads of stuff, especially clothes and accessories that I wouldn’t be able to pack. I donated everything I didn’t need to the Afghan community in Kuala Lumpur, even things with some sentimental value and was still left with way too many things. These guys need useful donations constantly so if you want to feel a bit freer from stuff, go ahead and donate. It’s always a win-win. While on the one hand I find it impressive when your possessions shrink to two and a half suitcases, I must admit that it could even be less than that. I’ll certainly try to continue with my minimal lifestyle and keep the promise I gave myself some 3 years ago that I wouldn’t buy clothes, especially not fast fashion. Let’s see how I cope in Hong Kong.

Mess in a studio flat due to packing before leaving the country
First round of packing was unsuccessful. The second one went well – give it all away.

Flights and pre-flight procedures

It’s not a surprise that flying during the corona times is a whole different ball game to what we knew before that. I booked a flight with Cathay Pacific. Getting a PCR is a no-brainer and unlike others who complain about the 72-hour window between the test and the departure date I found it relatively manageable. What was challenging was dealing with the airline. Their general customer service was fine but I was relocating and had (or so I thought) heavy excess luggage so that meant more dealings with them. Unfortunately with yet another Malay guy, so take the stress I had already been through, spin it in the air multiple times, double and triple it and a nervous breakdown is nearer than you may think. “Who am I speaking to?” I ask upon clearly recognising Malay attitude on the other side of the receiver. “Your name please?” I repeat the question when hesitation to answer follows. “My name is Rahman” finally trickles through the other side in a rather faint voice. Upon hearing this, I sink in my sofa and immediately sense another dose of problems. And rightfully so. It took about 5 minutes to explain why I was calling and that I was essentially doing what they outlined on their website, i.e. I was calling to get approval for potential excess in luggage. After multiple explanations which felt like talking to a wall – a rather usual phenomenon in Malaysia – I almost exploded as the guy wouldn’t either get it or meant to intentionally boycott my attempts. At last, he said he would put a note in the system. I should have been relieved but wasn’t. A voice inside my head was telling me that this wasn’t over.

A man waering an orange west fogging in the streets
Fog before me, fog behind me.

Oh, how my instincts were right. 24 hours before the flight this dude took some extra initiative, which is not exactly too common in this country, and called to tell me they wouldn’t accept overweight luggage. He continued by asking me if I had another bag. ‘Yeah, sure, I have bags available at my fingertips, you empty-headed star’ I thought as I was raging on the inside and breaking into tears at the same time. Raising your voice rarely helps but tears have much larger potential. Although this time they were genuine. Probably to fuel my despair the idiot continued with a chain of some additional smart questions such as if I perhaps had a scale so that I could weigh my luggage. Since we had been through this already during the first phone call, I gave up and explained sobbing that in this case I’d unpack some stuff at the airport and leave it there. This was clearly an unexpected reaction to Rahman and he said he’d see what could be done. Once the phone call was over, I burst into tears of despair, completely overwhelmed and paralysed by the last-minute idiocy. It, however, offered the catharsis I needed before the flight as I went to the airport with a somewhat resigned attitude. One universal truth is that you can’t reason with fools, and another is that things often don’t go as bad as they initially seem.

A flat lip up from inside in an old house in a run down neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur by night
Trust there’s always light in the darkness.

Flight and Arrival in Hong Kong

My resigned attitude helped I think. Check-in went smoothly, no Rahmans were present at the counters, and if you follow all the necessary steps you should be fine too. The flight itself was amazing. The plane was half-empty, one row of seats was assigned just to yourself, no crying babies nor annoying smells, no queuing for toilet or other unpleasant occurrences. Blind but noise-sensitive creatures from Quite Place 2 kept me on toes and had me once again admire John Krasinki’s top-notch style and out of this world ideas. All in all, a very pleasant and smooth flight, a luxury one could rarely afford in the days before the covid. It’s not fair to say this, but you can’t deny the comfort post pandemic flights offer (provided your airline is reasonable). There’s one point for criticism though. In their safety and introduction video they promise a proper meal but what we got was far from proper. I was starving, so a mushroom pie with a tiny sandwich certainly didn’t impress me, although to be fair the flight attendant gave me another one upon my asking whether that would be all, and little did I know that it would actually take 2 long weeks for me to get my hands on a truly proper meal.

Skyline in Kuala Lumpur during golden hour
Goodbye Malaysia gets real.

Arrival in Hong Kong and Quarantine

The start of my quarantine was lively and eventful and I’ll probably write a short story about it here but it’s definitely an interesting process to say the least. Once in Hong Kong you must brace for a long procedure of showing QR codes, filling in forms, walking through endless corridors, filing in more forms, getting badges, handing in badges, getting a covid test, immigration check and instructions and waiting for the test results. All this could be anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. Just to give you an idea, I landed at 9pm and checked-in at 3am. It could’ve been even longer if the choice of my hotel hadn’t been so smart. Whatever you do, in case you go to Hong Kong for whatever reason, just book Regal Airport Hotel and thank me later. Walking distance from the airport, spacious rooms, courteous staff and mostly strong Wi-Fi are just some of the many benefits this hotel offers.

Feeling the difference

After all, the fact that people were incredibly courteous is something I noticed immediately upon landing. The difference is indeed stark. Every member of staff at the airport welcomes you and is ready to help. And that’s what makes Malaysia a third-world country, a land of cavemen, as courtesy is something that most Malays don’t know. That’s the real epidemic that this country needs to solve, but probably never will for as long as Islamic parties rule the country, any progress on social, cultural or political level is doomed. There’s simply no stronger retrograde force in this world than the Mohammedanism.

A man is walking towards a tiny mosque for an evening prayer
Regularity of prayers means everything.

Boring quarantine? Huge misconception!

Funnily enough some of my Hong Kong colleagues thought how much I suffered from boredom in quarantine as if totally forgetting that I had a full-time working schedule. So after getting some much needed rest,  I had to deal with busy timetable, online induction, online meetings and quite honestly I didn’t enjoy this very much. While I am normally highly efficient, quarantine is not the right time for being overwhelmed with work.  As a result, after the truly tiresome off-boarding in Malaysia and such an unreasonable workload in Hong Kong after barely 3 days of rest, I wasn’t far from a burnout. The fact that I had to explain to the very same people, who made such an arrangement that I’d keep working full-time, that I am actually very busy and don’t really have time for boredom, nor do I have the capacity to work 8 or more hours per day online under such circumstances was quite disturbing too. It felt as if the people intentionally ignored the fact that I was already busy and thought it was a good time to give me plenty of other work. Let’s not waste any minute of the quarantine and squeeze the absolute maximum out of me. Well, I don’t think so! Luckily I dealt with that properly and saved my own ass before falling into pieces. The lesson one needs to draw from this is the ultimate fact that most people/companies will walk over you if you let them. Nobody cares about your well-being so in the words of Bob Marley you must “stand up, stand up, stand up for your rights.” Nothing feels so liberating when you win a fight for your own self!

Portrait of myself talking to a mirror
Dialogues with self in quarantine

All in all, however, once I set the boundaries, the quarantine didn’t feel exactly unpleasant. The hotel room was nice, spacious and teaching students 5 days a week kept me reasonably mentally and physically engaged. There was also space for yoga and meditation so it all worked out well.  Perhaps except for fresh air and good food, or actually the lack of them, which would be the only complaints. However, 14 days was not such a drama. But I don’t think I’d like to do it again. In a way, quarantine is like a prison with clearly set rules and and deviation from the rules is not only undesirable but also impossible. This alone is mentally draining and can make you feel weird.

Hong Kong I can’t wait!

I am not naive and know full well that life in Hong Kong will bring its own set of challenges. I can already see them even after a couple days of freedom in the city but I am ready to face them. I might be even looking forward to them as it might be a nice change from the Malaysian neverending coronacoma. I am excited to be starting work in a new centre, with new colleagues and in a place which has so much to offer that I’ll seriously need to ramp up my planning skills if I am to explore it all. And once I do, my friends, you can bet your shoes on my bringing the stories to you!

A boy on a tram seat poses for me with mouth open and fingers in the victory sign
Yay! Bring it on!

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to catch up if you have any questions! Stay safe and healthy! 


14 thoughts on “How I moved to Hong Kong amidst pandemic

  1. Interesting read. Sometimes, change is good. It’s unfortunate how people have allowed themselves to be brainwashed. There’s more to life than just beautiful buildings and materialism. It’s okay to move away from negativity and start afresh.

  2. Have a wonderful journey in HK Sonia! Allow that beautiful gratitude in your heart to shine through you and touch everyone around you! Wonderful and thoughtful post.

  3. A very open write up. Pandemic has messed up many a life. I hope you find adventure in Hong Kong Sonia. In Malaysia you look at a stone and a story is born in your head. But in Hong Kong I dont know. Waiting to hear from you the stories. A true traveller after sometime wants to move on. Thats what you have done. Good luck Sonia. Keep the stories coming.

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