Is Hong Kong child-friendly?

In a letter to the Batgung, an American thinking of moving to Hong Kong asked if Hong Kong is 'child friendly'. There are a number of ways to tackle this question.

First, we can address it in purely logistical terms. Since most Hong Kong people don't have cars, this means you have to get around using taxis and public transport. This usually isn't too bad, although the Tall family has discovered that MTR turnstiles are just about exactly the width of a typical baby stroller. Baby Tall's first stroller didn't fit, but her current one just makes it. MTR stations now also have one or two wider gates that are aimed at wheelchair users, but that prove mighty handy when you aren't feeling like picking up the whole stroller and swinging it over the top of the turnstiles.

Buses, and especially minibuses, are of course more problematic. A foldable stroller can be carried on a bus without too much drama, but things start getting pretty tight on a minibus. Taxis are easy enough, especially since taxi drivers aren't allowed to count a stroller as a piece of baggage, so they can't charge you extra for putting it in the trunk.

Once you're out on foot, the congested sidewalks and shopping malls of Hong Kong look unfriendly if you're trying to keep sprogs in tow, and moving along at any decent pace. But it's not as bad as it seems at first. Mrs Tall and I are fast walkers, and pushing a stroller has in fact slowed us down, putting us more in harmony with the tides of Hong Kong pedestrians. The biggest problem is stairs and steep hills: Hong Kong has got the be one of the world's most vertically-oriented cities, so parents will find themselves balancing strollers on lots of escalators, and seeking out alternatives to walking up and down stairs on many occasions.

But what about Hong Kong's famously fast-paced lifestyle, and its impatient people? Surely there'll be little sympathy for slow-moving families obstructing people with more important things to do. Well, Mrs Tall and I haven't found this to be true at all. Hong Kong people are generally quite tolerant of babies and small children in public, and are often far friendlier and more approachable when you've got a baby as a front-man (more on this later). For example, a typical Chinese restaurant here will have numerous tables occupied by extended families with lots of yelling young 'uns; the general restaurant environment will be sufficiently noisy to drown out any number of crying babies in any case. In fact, there's no tradition whatever in Chinese culture of quiet, intimate restaurants catering to couples having romantic dinners. Chinese children are both seen and heard in public.

We've found people in Hong Kong to be -- at times, at least -- maybe a bit more solicitous of our new baby than we'd prefer. When we took Baby Tall out to Stanley Market recently, for example, we could hardly move a foot in any direction without being accosted by people making goo-goo eyes and silly noises in enthusiastic and prolonged attempts to engage Baby Tall's attention and favor. Part of this, we know, is because she is a mixed-race child, but part of it surely is just the fact that most Hong Kong people really seem to like and enjoy babies.

Some other child-friendly Hong Kong factors: it's an extremely safe city, with remarkably low crime rates. Education is highly valued -- a subject for forthcoming article. Hello Kitty products are plentiful, although many of us do not find this to be a selling point.

One of the biggest discouragements to expats with families in Hong Kong is the lack of yards/gardens in which children can roll about in the grass and dirt. This is an issue, to be sure, but there are worse problems for a city to have.

The bottom line is, Hong Kong is a pretty decent place in which to procreate. And, given that Hong Kong has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, it's high time more of us got to it like we meant it!


A bonus observation on kids in Hong Kong:

I was walking along the other day, and came up behind a woman pushing a stroller. Nothing out of the ordinary, until I noticed one of those cartoon-character-festooned backpacks all Hong Kong children carry their schoolbooks in hanging from the stroller's handle. As I passed by, I looked back and saw that the stroller carried a girl who was at least five years old. She was being pushed home from school by her family's domestic helper.

This is an example of overindulgent Hong Kong childcare Baby Tall is not going to experience.


All the adventures you write

All the adventures you write about concerning the stroller is exactly why I rarely use a stroller. I only do so when I know that I'm going to a "stroller-friendly" place! Most of the time, I'll just carry her in a sling or wrap, and can have just as fast a pace as anyone else! What more, I get to have a place in the MTR all the time ;-)

So, all in all, I do find Hong Kong to be a really baby-friendly place. People here just enjoy babies. When outside, I never have problem to have my baby entertained as there is always someone who would play with her. The fact that she is in the same level as others may be one reason, but I also think like you say that people here just like them. I find that quite nice as she learns to be friendly and is sociabilized without me having to go to any playgroups at all...

As you say, Babies are also welcome in most public places. I really do enjoy the fact that we can still go to restaurants anytime we want and which ever one we like (only one as pull out a face when the saw the baby in Lan Kwai Fong, and we just didn't bother and went to the next one which was very friendly, BB just fall asleep 2 sec after we arrived). That's really a major difference with Europe. I know that except for some family restaurants, you just don't go out with your baby. Many of my friends just seldom go out now that they have a baby. I find that really sad...