Alex Fu, trainee solicitor, Simmons & Simmons
14 April 2010
It’s well known among trainees at City firms that Hong Kong is usually one of the most sought after international secondments.
The easy accessibility of the city, legacy of the English language and diverse population all play their role in making this one of Asia’s most liveable cities for expatriate professionals.
I arrived in Hong Kong only one day prior to starting work, but unlike other cities I’ve been to with seven million people, I wasn’t worried about having to navigate through an elaborate public transport network or having to find the office in a labyrinth of unsigned streets. I actually walked to the office in Central, the main commercial business district in Hong Kong, using a simple map in the back of a travel guide. However, I realised very quickly that air-conditioned buses and even taxis were great alternatives to walking, especially when setting out on a typical humid, 30 degree day. Outrageously cheap taxi fares, the majority of which were under £4 for me, will be one of the first things I’ll miss when I leave Hong Kong.
Once I got accustomed to the new working environment (which included a magnificent view of the harbour), I was able to quickly get involved in legal work, given the similarity of the Hong Kong and English legal systems. Hong Kong really benefitted from China’s continued growth in 2009, and many of the transactions I worked on involved PRC entities. These transactions also gave me some exposure to the PRC’s legal system and an appreciation of how difficult practising law in the PRC can be.
Hearing a majority of my colleagues conversing with each other and our clients fluently in three languages – Cantonese, Mandarin and English – was very common and only served to reinforce the international aspect of the secondment for me. As a bonus, I was also able to learn a few phrases in Cantonese, especially with respect to ordering the different foods I enjoyed in local restaurants.
Food is taken very seriously in Chinese culture, and Hong Kong is no exception. Lunch breaks involve multi-course sit-down meals more, often than not, and the choices on offer are staggering with Cantonese cuisine competing with the likes of other Chinese and wider Asian cuisines, as well as almost any ‘Western’ cuisine one could want. The already crowded streets in Central and Wan Chai are at bursting point during lunch, with queues forming everywhere. A colleague told me on the first day of my secondment that I’d find it very difficult going back to an office canteen, and after the many diverse lunches I’ve had, it’s hard to disagree.
During evenings and weekends, it’s common to meet up with other secondees from the different London law firms for drinks and a meal in Central, Soho or Lan Kwai Fong. The latter two, along with Wan Chai, are the main areas with a high concentration of bars, pubs and restaurants that cater to expats. It’s definitely a unique experience watching a live football match that kicks-off at 1:30AM on a sloping street packed with people from all over the world. However, I’ve also been able to wake up the next day, take a 30 minute MTR ride from Central and hike for three hours over a tree-lined ridge with nobody in sight, just taking in majestic views of the sea and outlying islands.
Apart from the obvious ‘East meets West’ contrast in Hong Kong, it is the wealth of other contrasting and diverse experiences, such as the one described above, that makes Hong Kong such a great city to live in. Having spent half a year in Hong Kong, it’s very easy to see why this is such a favoured secondment destination for trainees.