It's amazing to see the number of people applying to this program and even more amazing to see the support everyone is lending to one another to help. I thought I would throw in my two cents with regards to living in Hong Kong and hope to offer some honest information and insight into life in Hong Kong so that everyone can find the right motivation for joining this program. Since, throughout stages 1 to 3, the interviewers have honestly wanted to make sure that we as expats signing up for this cadetship knew what we were getting ourselves into.
Having lived primarily in a small town north of Hong Kong (in mainland China) and Toronto all my life, I may be able to provide some insight with comparisons to people looking to make the move to Hong Kong. If there are anybody here who is from HK that finds that my information is inaccurate, please correct me.
Of course the first thing to consider in any move is whether or not you could support yourself in HK, and consider whether this is enough to cover your basic needs - first, and wants - second.
First of all - Food. Since Hong Kong itself does not have a large agriculture industry almost all produce are imported from China. This should be apparent enough that buying groceries in Hong Kong is generally more expensive than most major cities in Canada, US, and Australia , but definitely less than that of the UK. One thing worth noting is that there is a substantial difference of cattle, as all of HK's cattle products are all imported. I thought I'd make this note, since, afterall, being able to have the foods we are used to and not does go a long way in affecting the comfort of an expat who is not accustomed the local foods. Which means that candidates particularly from Canada and the US should expect only the pasteurized milk, and not the fresh milk that they are used to. Other beef products such as steaks are available.
Furthermore to food is that there is almost food of every variety and from almost all cultures of the world ranging from Indian, south & north Chinese, Korean, japanese, north american, many different european and southeast asian cuisines. However, like any non local food they will be slightly 'offset' to suit the local populice. Like any other major city, it all depends on where you go and what you order, but generally the prices are comparible to that of restaurants in Toronto. In the best scenario, one can find many 茶餐厅 (cha can ting) or cafe houses that serve lunch and dinner of local HK dishes with a HUGE variety of stir fry, baked or 'in soup' meals for very cheap prices. to illustrate this, you can usually have a complete meal (with full servings of vegetables, rice, and meat) such as a wonton noodle soup, pork chop baked rice for about $22 HK ($2.75 USD). It is difficult to say how much the cost would be for an individual, since it depends so much on what the individual's tastes are. But for myself to maintain a healthy weekly diet, I would average approximately $700-800 HKD per week, taking into account the odd time going out to eat, avoiding expensive seafoods (like lobsters) or imported premium beef, lots of colour and green vegetables like tomatoes, brocolli, lettuce, bak choy and other chinese vegetables.
On a second officer salary, it is definitely realistic to eat a healthy diet and be able to enjoy eating out with friends, but definitely unrealistic to expect to be able to eat half your meals at a foreign cuisine or premium restaurant.
Next is Housing, the honest truth is that it is impossible to to compare the price of housing of Hong Kong to that of western countries such as Canada, US or even the UK. What I mean is that Hong Kong, with such limited space and high demand, makes each square feet of property extremely expensive, figures from 5000 to 15000 HKD per square feet are not unheard of. An expat coming from Canada, US, or Australia perhaps even, it is easy to be used to the relatively lower prices of home. It is possible, for example, for a low income family of four (less than $45000 gross family income) to rent a house that is 2200 sq feet in the nearby city of Toronto (Canada) suburbs for CAD $2000-3000 per month. However, it is impossible to do so in Hong Kong, with monthly rental prices for a similiar sized house in HK would cost nearly $138,000 HKD per month (18000 CAD) (according to hongkonghomes.com). As an expat going to Hong Kong for Cathay Pacific, one should be ready to live in much smaller sized accomodations (450 - 600 sq ft). But please be aware that this is not because of the low pay as a Second Officer, but rather just the way Hong Kong is and that the average middle class family of 4 will never live in a house that is bigger than 700 sq ft. Still however, the fact remains that accomodations will be much smaller for what you can buy with your money as compared to your home countries, I just hope to clarify that living in smaller accomodations does not equate to being part of the lower class in Hong Kong.
In perspective, Andy Lau (a popular singer/actor in HK) who is in the Guiness book of world records for being the artist with most awards won as an singer/actor, as well as being the No.1 box office Actor in HK (Hong Kong's equivalent of Michael Jackson) his sales from 1985-2005 worth $1,733,275,816 HKD ($227 million USD) over 108 films is only able to live in a 4000 sq ft "mansion" in HK (est @ $20 million USD) . Where as Jackson's Never land (at $25 Million USD) affords a whopping 2800 acres (121 000 000 sq ft).
Many lower income families adopt what is known as 'subsidized' government housing. In which lower income familes can rent or own a small flat (approx 600 sq ft) at much lower prices. However, this is not applicable to non HK residents, and CX Second officer salary does not fall eligible for this scheme (HK local residents can clarify this for me).
Third is -Transportation- The public transit in HK quite simply put, is second to none. It is the best I have ever seen as compared to any other major city would have. It is very similiar to the system of London UK. And superior when compared to any Canadian system. All subways, and all buses are air conditioned (with non AC buses being cheaper). Travelling through HK is convenient, and public transit fares are calculated according to the distance travelled at somewhat lower fares than Toronto (Toronto has a flat rate of $3.25 for adults ($25 HKD). One trip to the airport on the bus from Kwai Fong (45 min) will cost $10.50 HKD. or $14.00 from HK island.
Since HK is an international hub, there are many airlines travelling to almost all reaches of the world. As well as trains and buses going into mainland China. China itself is not as english user friendly as HK, but generally you can get by if you stay in the major Chinese cities.
While buying a car in HK is not expensive, the cost of operating it is substantial. Parking fees, licence tags, insurance, and gas make owning your own vehicle quite difficult. It is not, however, crucial to have a car in HK. There are comments in the other forum of not being able to buy a car after 10 years of flying, but to clarify, buying a car is not a problem, it is the costs of operating it. Private use vehicles will have higher costs in licensing fees as compared to Cargo vehicles. I'm afraid I won't be able to tell you more about this, but as far as I've need to go, public transit hasn't let me down yet.
And Finally, price of commodities like entertainment,appliances,electronics etc.. To my surprise - electronics and appliances are more expensive in HK than compared to Canada. However the difference becomes minimal after factoring in Sales taxes in Canada (13% in Toronto), I'm not sure what other countries have in terms of tax, and this is only true for electronics such as computers, ipods, televisions. (One light hearted side note - playstation/xbox games in HK are cheaper than anywhere else by a factor of 20%).
Clothing is another thing that is more expensive than Canada. Although there are many cheaper pieces of attire in Hong Kong, the price does come at the cost of quality, and generally for a $70 CAD pair of nikes, it would be wiser to buy them back at home.
Entertainment in HK is also limitless. Theatres offer a mix of Hollywood and oriental cinema. Bars and Pubs in HK are plentiful and depending on your tastes can be very cheap to very expensive. Alcohol is not banned publicly like Canada, so it is ok to be seen walking around with a beer on hand. There are many many gyms, and indoor sports facilities, as well as many public outdoor courts.
While the pollution in Hong Kong is great, it is not disportionate to what other similiar sized cities are. However, the hot summer temperatures and humid wet seasons do make a walk outdoors somewhat uncomfortable if you're used to the crisp dry Canadian winter, or climates of southern Australia.
I hope all this helps everyone to make a better informed decision as to whether HK or CX is the place for you. All in all, I believe that while conditions at CX has seen a decline over the years, it has definitely not fallen to or below the poverty line, but rather just declined from what it used to be. I also do believe that while it is feasible for an individual to live comfortably as a first year Second Officer, it will be difficult to support your family (if you have one), and will require substantial sacrifice, patience, and understanding should you bring along your spouse (if you are an expat). As a career, I believe that it will be worth it, however for if only looking at the short term then it be more worthwhile to consider alternatives. I wish everyone the best, and hope that it provided an honest information about HK without any gloom or exaggeration. Remember that Hong Kong is a different part of the world.
Read this in a forum n it seems that HK is very much like SG, well except the pollution n small housing space. If someone from Toronto can adapt easily to HK, I think I can too, if given the chance. Seriously, after living in a jungle for 7 days in a shitty place like Tekong Island, nothing seems daunting anymore as long as I have access to clean drinking water/food/toilet.