Living in Hong Kong during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Living in Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Our Diary

Take a moment and rewind back to January 1st 2020 – where were you, what were you doing, and what were you plans for 2020? Comment below if you wish.

Hong Kong - Central

And yet here we are today, trying to take in what’s been a truly ridiculous year of events, beyond a pessimists worst nightmares.

It’s almost hard to take it all in.

The reason Bianca and I set up Umami Life was to distance ourselves from everything going on – a project to work on together, to look back at the memories we’ve created together so far, and share everything we discover in the meantime.

Admittedly it’s been a great distraction, building our very own website, together with our Instagram channel.

Being such a travel friendly couple (who isn’t these days), usually flying somewhere every month, we were hoping, and expecting, to bring you tales from around the globe, but instead it’s centred around the place we remain stuck – Hong Kong.

All good and well, Hong Kong is quite the place to be, and for a while was one of the world’s pandemic success stories, but unfortunately it took a turn for the worse around July time.

Due to this we thought we’d give you an update on living in Hong Kong during the Coronavirus, and a look into our lives here, rather than sharing about our favourite eateries.

So having landed in Hong Kong on January 30th 2020, here is our bite sized update on life in Hong Kong during this craziest of crazy years.

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – The Early Stages

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Where to Live

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – What Next?

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Keeping Active

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Keep Smiling

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Keep Eating

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Believing

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – The Early Stages

Oddly enough our move from Beijing seemed wonderfully timed. Things started to go south about the time we left China’s capital.

The airport was eerie, checks were strict and there was a clear concern around as everyone bar a single person donned the mask. Beijing Capital is our most visited ever, we’d never seen it like this.

But we a number of hours later, we’d landed, a new start, a new life.

Equipped with 10 bags full to the brim, we were excited to discover this wonderful new city. We’d been before, but this time it was for good… so we thought.

Le Petite Saigon - Hong Kong's Best Banh Mi
Le Petite Saigon – Hong Kong’s Best Banh Mi

The early signs were strong. We set up camp for a month (and then extended two more) at the well placed serviced apartments – Eaton Residences in Wan Chai.

Albeit slightly cramped (getting used to this is crucial to living in Hong Kong for many), we had a base, a great location and times were good.

Discovering the eclectic mix of food and folk was fascinating. Wan Chai has every cuisine and every nationality you could name.

Fresh Vietnamese Banh Mi, genuinely authentic Italian cuisine, and one of our favourite dishes of all, Japanese Tsukemen.

Sadly during our earlier days in Hong Kong the Pandemic spread west, and even worse still, the hardest hit region? Lombardia, Bianca’s birthplace and where the majority of her family and friends reside.

The tables had turned – before family and friends would check in with us daily. How is it there? Are you safe? We never felt uneasy truth be told whether in China or Hong Kong. Now though, the calls were going in the other direction.

Things appeared serious in Northern Italy and so it showed. Turning on the news knowing upsetting scenes lie in wait was tough… now we were the worriers. Who’d have thought it.

Brunch at Ozone
A well earned Sunday brunch at Ozone

Even this now seems a lifetime ago – barely a country has gotten away with avoiding the Coronavirus. However, I fear the scars will live with Lombardia for many years to come.

Unfortunately though, there was another cruel twist that was about to hit us like a breeze block – having moved to Hong Kong for a new career challenge, Bianca was to find out after just 3 months her company would be unable to keep her on, with cuts proving commonplace in the art industry.

A bitter, bitter pill to swallow – we were hung out to dry. Pandemic spreading, no where to call home, no job for Bianca, and short of ideas… within the space of 3 months we’d gone from cloud 9 to rock bottom.

It didn’t help we were left stuck in Asia’s most expensive city either… with rent being the biggest expense by a country mile.

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Where To Live?

What made things infinitely harder were…

Eaton Residences Wan Chai - Entrance
Eaton Residences Wan Chai – Our 1st (of many) Hong Kong home
  • Worrying about if they’d extend our tourist visas
  • Where to move next

Both deadlines were imminently arriving with Bianca’s 3 month visa almost up and our time at Eaton about to come to an end.

The price to stay on was just too much, in fact it had increased. Why we’ll never know, it’s hardly like they had anyone staying there – surely our business was better than no business? Clearly not.

That led to the stress of… will Bianca get a visa, and if so, how long for and where to go? For reference Bianca’s tourist visa lasted 3 months, and mine 6 due to the fact I hold a UK passport.

Luckily Bianca’s visa got extended two months and we found a smart looking hotel one MTR stop east, the Regal in Causeway Bay.

After 6 weeks there the prices again hiked, and we looked elsewhere… moving a further stop east to Metropark for our ill fated stay there.

After two weeks we were bizarrely told the hotel was to be evacuated within 24 hours – What the actual Fck!

You couldn’t write it could you!

Apparently the problem was a severe air conditioning fault but they were fooling no-one (more on that shortly).

The L'Hotel Rooftop Pool - A rare plus point at the hotel
The L’Hotel Rooftop Pool – A rare plus point at the hotel

Either way, rather than pry, we had 24 hours to find ourselves a new home.

We did so fairly quickly and stress free (at L’Hotel Causeway Bay) and luckily the move was a walking distance away.

I moved our things whilst Bianca was at a part-time project to take the strain off her.

It wasn’t fancy, but it cost no more and the room was bigger, with a rooftop pool and a gym that was open – winner (despite the two single beds, we made peace with that).

After two more weeks there we found out the prices were taking another incredible hike, over 2,000GBP for a month – and trust me, the place was average at very, very best. I realise a roof in Hong Kong isn’t cheap but this price was utterly farcical.

On we go to another location, our fifth – I feel you’re tired just reading it!

Either way – our next stop is our current one, and boy it’s nice. We swiped a decent deal at the Royal Plaza hotel in Mong Kok. Somehow it’s cheaper here than our previous residence and is infinitely better.

Why is it cheaper? Because it’s not on Hong Kong Island, the most expensive area of Hong Kong.

In short, it’s great. Sadly on Day 3 we lost the pool and the gym to Hong Kong’s most severe COVID wave yet… but we live comfortably, and extended giving us 8 weeks of security – that’s how it is right now… we live by the week.

Royal Plaza Hong Kong - The Pool
Royal Plaza Pool – That’s more like it!

So Why Did We Really Get Kicked Out Of Metropark Hotel?

As our next hotel was a short walk from Metropark it allowed me to still go for my morning walk at the gorgeous Victoria Park.

Metropark Hotel Causeway Bay
No longer a hotel!

I loved starting the day doing a few laps of the park, in peace, watching everyone running, playing tennis, swimming, stretching. It set me up for another working day.

One morning upon leaving L’Hotel, bleary eyed at 6am… police lined the street, for as far as I could see, left and right.

It felt like a post-crime scene, yet everyone seemed so relaxed.

I started walking towards the park, also in the direction of Metropark to see the road cordoned off.

A quick check on Twitter showed the news – the new Security Law Task force from China were to be temporarily based at the Metropark Hotel to oversee the transition of the controversial new security law in Hong Kong.

Seriously – what are the chances! At first I wondered why on earth would they choose this hotel. Upon research it appeared the strategic location of the hotel, overlooking the aforementioned Victoria Park, was perfect for keeping an eye on potential protests.

Another quite incredible twist in our story!

And yes indeed – in a year to top all years, we’ve not even mentioned the hugely prominent Hong Kong protests and new Security Law which has seen protests right outside our front door. We even spent a Sunday locked down in our hotel.

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – What Next?

The million dollar question – what indeed next.

Luckily, we have two constants. Each other first and foremost, we’ve become tighter than ever, not that we needed it, but we did.

Secondly I’m lucky enough to work in a job that allows me to work remotely pretty much anywhere – a caring team, understanding of our situation meant that we have an income month to month.

Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong
Making the most of the good times in HK

Things have been difficult though, with only a tourist visa we’ve found ourselves feeling a tad excluded from the city.

Me even moreso, I felt, and still feel resentment to this city for the way it’s treated Bianca, even though of course it isn’t Hong Kong’s fault.

When emotions run high, the mind can work in funny ways.

Unable to open a bank account, unable to rent an apartment (just somewhere to call home even for a few months), unable to even play a game of squash without the golden ID card that you seemingly need to do anything.

Mentally it’s been a challenge, as 2020 has been for everyone.

Every day, what’s our mood, what challenge’s face us, how will we get through the week?

Again, that first constant was and remains key, each other. If I’m down with life on a particular day, Bianca picks me up, somehow… and vice-versa.

This is far harder on her than me, but she digs the strength out, every day.

So indeed – what next? With each passing day Europe became the epicentre for the Pandemic so a return home to either Italy or the UK was out of the question.

China had then closed the borders meaning we couldn’t re-enter Beijing, where half our belongings still lie to this day.

It left us with no real choice – stay in Hong Kong and hope our visas get extended – they did and have done to this day (two month extensions at a time)

And here we are today, still waiting for things to improve, still looking for new jobs, still hoping the world takes a turn for the better soon – even though with each passing day, you wonder, when, when, will this nightmare end.

We’re getting married next year – the best day of your life, we’ve barely even thought or talked about it. How wrong is that?! Such is 2020

Royal Plaza Hong Kong - View From The Room
The view from our current hotel – now that’s something to smile about

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Keeping Active

At the beginning of the Dragon's back hike
At the beginning of the Dragon’s back hike

Whilst living in Hong Kong during the Coronavirus, one thing we’ve done well is remaining active.

Unfortunately Hong Kong summers are just far too hot to even consider doing anything too active outside… and the gyms have been on and off open-closed-open-closed meaning again, we’ve never really had any consistency.

Yet, if we do leave tomorrow, we’ll go knowing we did, and saw some great things.

Lots of hiking, lots of day trips, lots of incredible skyline sights – Hong Kong offers so much for the go-getter when the weather permits.

If a foreigner isn’t wearing a suit here, they are seen trotting around in sports gear, no doubt about it!

Highlights have included the Dragon’s Back day-trip, a hike up the Peak and a misty trek through Jardine’s Lookout.

There’s still so much we haven’t seen also – that’ll all depend how long we remain here for.

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Keep Smiling

Quite frankly it’s all you can do this year – keep smiling, stay positive. 2020 has been a mental challenge beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong - Afternoon Tea
Smile – Now more than ever

I’ve always considered myself a very level-headed calm person, yet this year I can see the absolute importance of mental health for the first time.

Radiating positivity right now is more crucial than ever.

It affects us all. If I phone my family up, and I’m a bit down, I know when we put the phone down it changes their day for the worst, and vice-versa.

Sure, it’s absolutely necessary to have a good cry, a good rant (I’ve had plenty of those here) and a good umph, but it’s equally key to balance that out with smiles.

Things will change, things will get better.

I’m a huge believer in good things happening to good people – things will turn around, for all of us – we just need to remain patient for a little while longer, and make things happen.

So keep smiling, and that’s what we keep doing.

Afternoon tea at the Peninsula, Brunch at Ozone, a day trip to an island or a beach… all these wonderful little day trips have been a joy for us both and kept us going.

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Keep Eating

If there’s one thing about Hong Kong I absolutely love, it’s the food scene here. I’ve never been anywhere with such a wide range of cuisine. Its the proverbial melting pot.

A short read of any of our other articles will prove that to you in seconds.

Rather than wax lyrical about them again here – I recommend you check some of these places out:

You’ve got it all here – it isn’t cheap generally (western food, we’re looking at you here), but goodness me when we do finally depart Hong Kong I know we’ll both absolutely miss the delights at our doorstep here.

Hong Kong during the Coronavirus – Believing

For the record, this post is not aimed to get you thinking – “good grief, you’ve had it so bad this year” – we want no sympathy. This is simply a platform for us to share and speak – for these things are so vital right now.

Typically we’ll write great content about things to do all over the world but right now that’s not possible, sadly!

Times are tough – but they WILL move on.

We will get married in 2021, we will both enjoy successful careers, we will win at whatever befalls us because we are great together.

If we (and by we I mean all of us) can get through 2020 – we can take on the world.

Stay strong everyone and thanks so much for reading.

Have you also been living in Hong Kong during the Coronavirus? Or whereabouts were you based for the Pandemic? Drop us a comment below and tell us your story, we’d love to hear it.

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