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Advice about Hong Kong


lukejmo

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Here is my situation. I've taken two and a half years of Mandarin at college (and a quarter of classical), and I enjoy it and want to become fluent in Mandarin. My girlfriend is from Hong Kong, and wants to move back there soon after graduating. Now, I would have NO problem moving anywhere in China (I was planning on doing that anyway, so I'm not just moving half-way around the world for her, and I can live in any sort of environment) so as to get my Mandarin down and have some interesting stuff on my resume, ie TEFL or whatever. But Hong Kong is totally different, totally different language, etc. My girlfriend, frankly, is a pessimist, and tells me my prospects of getting any sort of decent job without fluency in Canto, and even my prospects of getting better at Chinese (Mandarin or Canto) are pretty much nil.

I'm a white guy from a good college, and I have experience in the US military, if that helps any. What would you predict for me over there, as far as language learning and job prospects go?

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Why is this topic under Guangzhou & Shenzhen?

My girlfriend, frankly, is a pessimist, and tells me my prospects of getting any sort of decent job without fluency in Canto, ... are pretty much nil.

I wonder if this is true. AFAIK lots of people with very decent jobs here don't speak any Cantonese at all. You can surely survive in Hong Kong if you speak English and with some good skills and/or qualifications and/or experience etc.

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I would say go.

I think Hong Kong is a great city. If you have an interest in living in Asia / China, I think you certainly could do a lot worse. In terms of traditional Chinese culture, in many ways Hong Kong retains more than the Mainland, even though Hong Kong is much more advanced.

You would also learn more about your girlfriend and her background. Tell her that part of your interest in going there is that you will learn more about her and where she grew up. You will also see a different side of her, her in her native environment.

Job may be an issue. And it may cause some problems between you and your girlfriend. I realize this is a gross generalization, but most Hong Kong women, when looking for a husband, values ability to provide (i.e. earn money) as the most important, or second most important, factor. If you are unable to get a job, that would not be good in her eyes. However, in this case, you have it a bit easy: she already thinks you won't be able to get a job. If she thought it would be easy for you to get a great job, then things might be different. In this case, when she says you won't be able to get a job, agree with her that it will be very tough for you, but say that you want to give it a try because she wants to move back there, and also so you can get to know her (and her family?) better. But you might want to consider a time limit, e.g. if you can't find a job in 2-3 months then move somewhere else.

As to what job, I would guess something that uses the fact that you are a native English speaker, since you didn't list any other skill. [i would doubt your military background would help, since I doubt you want to / could join the PLA.]

Regarding learning Mandarin, while I haven't personally tried to learn Mandarin in Hong Kong, I would guess you would not progress very far. There certainly are classes, but you would not be able to use it often in day-to-day conversation. If all you want is "some interesting stuff" on your resume, I think this would suffice. If you really want a career using Mandarin, then you might want to make a different choice.

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Hi,

Not sure if you are restricted to Hong Kong only but it would be much easier for your Mandarin career to go to Guangzhou or Zhuhai

and teach English ( part time or day job or weekend job ) and learn Mandarin in between ...

They are close enough to Hong Kong for your relationship.

Doesn't sound like your girl friend is that "supportive".

But it all depends on your own ambition to succeed, "when there is a will there is a way".

Usually, it all depends on whom you associate with and whether you can get in a Mandarin immersion environment supplemented with the best study aids like courses and online resources.

LA Guy

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wushijiao

I've written about this before, and I don't want to seem too negative, but you will have a tough time, as a white person, speaking anything other than English. This is especially true if you live in places like Jordan, TST, Central (or most of Hong Kong Island), Lamma Island, Discovery Bay...etc. If you live in the New Territories, in, say, Shatin, the socio-linguistic dynamic might change, and people are more likely to speak to you in Cantonese. To a large extent, you have to be stubborn and thick-headed in trying to use it.

As far as Mandarin, like jbradfor, I don't think you'll use it very much...especially since most transactions (ie...buying things) occur in either English or Cantonese. However, many people can speak some Mandarin, but generally speaking, you might as well move to NYC or San Fransisco and speak with people in Mandarin there...since it'd be roughly the same dynamic. On the other hand, you will have the opportunity to read a lot in Chinese in HK, and if you're very creative, you could seek out Mandarin speakers for practice. Also, you could try to take trips to Shenzhen to practice. Also, you can always create your own language learning environment through TV, movies, podcasts, textbooks...etc (no matter where you live!)

However, my general warning is that unless you come with a well thought out plan or dogged determination to learn Mandarin (or Cantonese), you'll probably just end up speaking English.

With all this said, I wouldn't want to dissuade you from moving to HK, but I think it is always good to have realistic expectations of what you might expect. That way, you can make more realistic plans.

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Thanks for all the info and advice, everyone. It's a lot to chew on...

I'm a very stubborn, hard-headed person (the Marine Corps does that to you) and I do love my girlfriend a lot. Just presuming that I did decide to move to Hong Kong, it seems some things are clear:

1. Minimal real-life Mandarin exposure.

2. Canto exposure would also be problematic.

3. My girlfriend is a gold-digger. ha! jk :)

This, so far, is pretty clear and unequivocal. What is still fuzzy in my mind is job prospects. When I imagine moving anywhere else in the Chinese speaking world, I think, "Oh, I'll teach English. And then I'll spend my afternoons and evenings talking to old Chinese dudes and hitting up young Chinese ladies." Obviously, I'm not with my girlfriend in this imaginary world. But when I think Hong Kong, I just think, "WORLD finance center and Filipino maid service. Not impressed by random guai lo."

OK, to be clearer about my background, I am a Marine, I'm a parachute rigger and am an expert on all things airborne, I will have a degree in religion (I'm Buddhist - way before I got interested in Chinese), I have great interpersonal skills, and my only possible networking connection is that my uncle is a highly placed (like, homey is seriously ballin') member of the Sydney financial world. I hear the HK universities are world class. Could I do a master's degree for a year, which would allow me to get some more qualifications and establish contacts? Where and how could a guy like me fit into Hong Kong?

If you guys have any more thoughts on that, it'd be highly appreciated. You've already been incredibly helpful. I've been making use of all the great discussions on this forum, this place is a bloody goldmine.

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jbradfor
I'm a parachute rigger

Excellent! If I ever want to jump from the top of the International Commerce Centre (and live to tell about it :o) I know who to ask....

Seriously, I don't have a lot to suggest about a job ("then why are you posting...."). Two thoughts that come to mind is to talk with your uncle -- there are a lot of trade between Australia and Hong Kong, and his company may have a branch in Hong Kong, or he may know someone in a different company that does. Second, if things airborne interest you and you are knowledgeable, you could see if a university department in that area would be interested in you. I doubt it would pay much, but it might be more interesting.

I do love my girlfriend a lot

This might be the most important factor. Some things are more important than learning Mandarin (gasp, I know).

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wushijiao
Could I do a master's degree for a year, which would allow me to get some more qualifications and establish contacts? Where and how could a guy like me fit into Hong Kong?

One good thing about HK is that if you get an MA (or above) from a Hong Kong university, you can then get hired by local firms as if you were a local (in other words, they don't have to prove to the immigration officials that your position was so special that they couldn't have hired locally). So, you could do various degrees at HK universities to further your career goals (this is essentially what I did). However, to some extent, an MA is a somewhat worthless degree unless you have a clear goal going into it that you want it to find a job in such and such particular area, or with a particular employer. Through the MA (or MBA) process, you can get contacts and internships and recommendations that can further those goals. However, I've seen quite a few friends recently get MA's without having a plan, and now, a year or two later, they're exactly where they were before but in considerably deeper debt.

I might suggest that, irrespective of your current situation and your current predicament, try to imagine what you'd like to do in the long-term, where you'd like to work, what type of work makes you happy, what you have a passion for, and then make your next career moves fit around that long-term vision.

For jobs, you can always look at the SCMP's jobs section online.

One other thing about my last post, I wouldn't want to insinuate that it's impossible to learn either Mandarin or Cantonese in HK, just that you'd need to have fortitude and a plan to do so. As a Marine, I'm sure you could muster the discipline needed to do that. Good luck!

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skylee
I might suggest that, irrespective of your current situation and your current predicament, try to imagine what you'd like to do in the long-term, where you'd like to work, what type of work makes you happy, what you have a passion for, and then make your next career moves fit around that long-term vision.

This is excellent advice for everybody. But IMHO it is not that easy in reality. Pursuing money is easier than pursuing passion/happiness.

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wushijiao
This is excellent advice for everybody. But IMHO it is not that easy in reality. Pursuing money is easier than pursuing passion/happiness.

That's very true! Ideally, it'd be great to have a job that one is passionate about and that can make decent money.

Of course, when one has kids, a significant other, house payments, student loans...etc, it may not be possible to fulfill one's career dreams, and a more practical, money-based option may the most reasonable choice. With that in mind, I think that for people who are not yet hit with those obligations, they should try to do their best to think of what they'd like to do ideally, and then do the concrete steps needed to make that possible.

But even if one does have significant obligations, it's probably still not impossible to do something new.

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