What do you do?

I don’t have a job.

And it’s ok, really.

There’s the money-worry of course. But I thoroughly recommend marrying someone smarter than yourself as a way around that. MrsB enjoys her work, is very good at what she does, and is reasonably well paid. Plus we don’t live very expensively, so according to my “When do I need to go back to work” spreadsheet, we’re not likely to starve any time soon.

Then there’s the relationship worry. Will MrsB feel it’s unfair, or just plain wrong that she’s working and I’m not? She always says that as long as we don’t have to worry about money (consult spreadsheet), and I’m not being lazy, she’s fine with it.

What other worries are there? I wonder about our girls, and whether it will give them a strange view of working if I’m not. Oh, and there’s a more immediate worry about how we fill in the primary school application forms next year! Mr Tall has just been going through this, and has said “Father’s employer and position” are usually some of the first questions asked on the form. I guess “consultant” is always a good cover.

And finally I get less employable as time goes by. If I discover some drastic + / - mixup in the spreadsheet, or a couple of company failures wipe out our stockmarket savings, I’ll need to find work. That’ll definitely be harder as the out-of-work gap gets longer, and I lose touch with the work I did previously.

But really I don’t miss the work I was doing. I occasionally miss some of the perks, like traveling overseas to interesting places and staying at nice hotels, or the frequent-flyer card that meant easy check-in at holiday time. But then I worked out that to get the card you have to fly at least 60,000 miles a year. That means around 120 hours in the sky, or five whole days. Not something I treasure.

I value the time with our children too, especially while they are so young. I’m no saint – we employ a helper to look after the girls during the weekdays – but I still see a lot more of them than I did before. When our older daughter was a baby, I’d be away for a week or two each month. Now I’m here all the time I don’t get the post-trip ‘daddy’s home!’ special attention, but I think that overall our relationship is better.

I also have more time to do what I want. Funnily enough that takes work! I have to step outside and have a word with myself now and again if I’m falling into couch potato mode. But generally, keeping busy isn’t a problem. A typical week is some mix of volunteer work, learning Tai Chi again, time with the girls, and trying not to lose money on the stockmarket!

I’m lucky things have worked out this way, but in general it’s not something I mention to many people. If I'm meeting new people and get asked the inevitable “So what do you do?” question, I’m likely to give some vague “working from home” answer. Although I feel good about the answer “I’m out of work”, the person hearing it often takes it a sign of a problem. Why is that?

Maybe because it’s rare to meet unemployed expats here? Expats need a visa to live here, and it’s usually an employment visa. ie you’re here to do a job. If you want to be unemployed that’s fine, just go and do it in your own country!!

Or is it that locally there is still a strong traditional view that men should be the bread-winner? Perhaps combined with the idea you can never have too much money (ie if you can be working, why aren’t you?).

Any other ideas? Until that reaction changes I don’t see the idea of work-life balance will be given much attention in Hong Kong.


The gainfully unemployed MrB


What do you do?

Interesting article, MrB. May I share my thoughts with the readers:
After working for almost 40 years (six of which in two universities actually more demanding of the mind and body), I became a consultant and get the occasional small jobs. This suits me fine as I can spend more time with my children and grand-children, plus caring for parents.
Now, repairs around the house, gardening and volunteering work are my rewards. In work, I typically spent 9 hours each day with colleagues and customers plus two hours commuting. When I came home I hardly could spend time talking with my children. So my humble advice is - don't wait too long for your family's sake.

I'm not sure that it's true

I'm not sure that it's true that you don't meet many unemployed expats here.  I just think maybe what you meant is that you don't meet many unemployed male expats here.  I am female and unemployed for the same reason as a lot of people I know - that my partner came here to work and I am finding it hard to find work or get a visa.  In the case of married people, often there isn't an obvious opening for them here like there was back home, although the visa isn't the problem, so they choose not to work.It is an interesting question though and one that my partner and I have also been debating.  He feels I should be employed for my own sanity, rather than for economic reasons.  It sounds like you have plenty to do with your kids though, so it is a bit different to sitting in a flat on your own all day doing nothing.

Unemployed expats

Kazbo, you're right, it's the unemployed male expats that are less common here.

How easy have you found it to fill your time since you've arrived? In a typical five-day week, I guess about one of them is taken up with our girls, but there's plenty of other stuff to keep me busy the other days. There are a couple of older posts on this site you might find useful, where readers sent in ideas on settling in to HK -  here and here.

Regards, MrB

under-employed trailing expats

I think the toughest call on being an under-employed trailing expat is that too much of one's own identity can get wrapped up in what you do, so the equation becomes "what I am = what I do"  I struggled like mad with that when I first found myself unemployed while following my husband and his career.  Since I've had kids I can fall back on "I'm a mother" which still leaves out about 50% of who I think I am.  If anyone really cared to know or ask beyond trying to place one in a 'lawyer' 'banker' 'real estate agent' 'teacher' etc. box.

This time around I was determined not to work and didn't actively search for a job, and ignored hints from various quarters and people as to what I could do.  And a job, the perfect job,  fell into my lap.

What I'm finding hardest now, is to let go of the many things I was doing and enjoying in order to have enough time to do my part-time job, since I wasn't sitting around doing nothing.

Of all the things I'm having to scale back on, the hardest of all is my Chinese (yes, sorry it's Mandarin) classes.  I really love them and they've been a wonderful intellectual challenge.  I'll still carry on in the evenings, but won't have the hours I had previously to invest in it. 

btw, unless your husband is on a student visa, I think you automatically can get a working visa in HK as a spouse, you just need a job and they change your visa status. 

Ah, the trailing expat wife

Ah, the trailing expat wife dilemma! My situation is uncomplicated by kids, but is prickly enough. This is just my recent short story.

When people ask me why I came to HK, I say "because my husband's crazy for kung fu". Two years ago, he found a kung fu master he enjoyed training with, and after a visit or two I agreed to move here last year.

I followed my husband here, but his as income wasn't an expat package but a teachers salary, I found work shortly afterwards. A few months after I began fulltime work, he decided to quit his job (though I asked him to wait a few months till he renewed our work visas) and he has since worked a few evenings a week teaching. He barely make ends meet here for his own expenses, and has let his debts back home slide (he doesn't want to involve me in his financial affairs back home - we met in Asia...while I'm working on better communication about $ issues, it's a touchy subject w/him).

He's also going through a career crisis: the fitness activities he's trained in for many years now with the goal of teaching and healing - these activities he's really wanted to dedicate his life to - are looking more difficult to accomplish as he nears 40 and painful injuries add up. He can't seem to make up his mind as to what he wants to do with alternate/complementary careers (but says he won't teach english fulltime any longer). I have gone from resentment to anger to uncertainty to some supportive distance as he hopefully figures out what he wants to do. He's quite reserved and won't actively network much, either online or in person.

It's been a tough slog and while I originally came here only to be with him, I've since found many reasons to stay here, have registered my small business in HK and have gotten interesting work outside of my "day job" as well. It's been a trial some days, as before he quit his job, we were planning to have a child next year and many assumptions we'd had about one another and our lives have been called into question since.

Would any of this be written

Would any of this be written if it was the other way round?

If the husband was working and the wife not working, would it be an issue?

Why not?

What happened to equality?

Most of it, yes.

Would any of this be written if it was the other way round?

If 'this' means the original article, then yes I'd say most of it would apply whether it was me or MrsB writing.

If the husband was working and the wife not working, would it be an issue?

That's the more common arrangement. I wrote "Or is it that locally there is still a strong traditional view that men should be the bread-winner?". I believe that's the case, but am happy to be corrected. For many couples here, I see both the man and the woman are working, but where only one is working in most cases it's the man.

Why not.

What happened to equality?

I guess you have some ideas, given the questions you've asked. How would you answer?

Regards, MrB

Trailing partners

Thanks for writing. Gweipo listed some ideas on how to make the 'trailing partner' role work - any advice you'd like to add for people considering the same move?

It sounds like it has been a tough year, so I hope things get better for you both.


Trailing Partners

Mr. B:
Don't feel uncomfortable when you are staying home and your wife still works. There must have been a mutual agreement or understanding. It is good that the wife has the opportunity to work outside the home. It gives her a wider window to the outside world, human connections, intellectual fulfillment. The money will supplement your two pensions.
After 6 years of university and another 35 years of office work, it was time to move on to something else. The occasional part-time work is more humane for the body though not for the mind.
My wife, who worked until our first baby arrived, fully supports me. But she resents that I have now invaded her kitchen sink.

Trailing "non-wives"...

Hi gweipo and Mr B - thanks for your comments. If your question re visas was addressed to me, then my problem is that we are not married. I chose the word "partner" very carefully.
This opens a whole other can of worms which no-one has touched on but which dovetails in with what you were saying, gweipo. I can't do the job I want here - or at least getting a visa for it is proving the hardest thing in the world. Each time I find a job I think I'd like to do, people get excited then realise I haven't got a visa and shut up again. So added to the difficulties of following your partner and the potential of that "diminishing" you as a person (based on what gweipo was saying about our identity being tied into what we do), is the fact that even if you want to/ can work then sometimes HK makes it impossible for people who aren't married to do so...

Mr B - I'll have a look at those threads. I have found things to do - have also been volunteering, at the HK Dog Rescue and this has been the most rewarding and sanity-restoring of all my pursuits. Then there is the hiking, which is one of the main benefits HK has. People think I am a bit whacky going hiking alone but needs must. Shopping for foodstuffs is another thing that takes up my time - partly because I'm looking for hard-to-find things, partly because food is such a huge part of the culture here and so many things are available that for a would-be chefette, this is a great time-waster.

Other than that I am planning to read a lot more. And I have spent wayyyy tooo much time on the internet which is why I got to you guys ;-)

more on expat trailingness...

Mr B,

Not sure where this reply should go as it is really a reply to the two posts you directed me to regarding what trailing partners can do to fill time in HK.

There were lots of helpful comments and I totally appreciate your help on that, but I just wanted to point out that:-

- if you are not married and can't get your own job out here, cash can be an issue, and many of the activities you suggest (evening classes, joining clubs, doing sports you enjoy) involve dishing out sometimes substantial amounts of cash (for example, two of the things I wanted to do when I got here were learn Cantonese (can't afford that now) and restart my yoga (ditto)). So any suggestions for cheap/free things to do would be greatly appreciated - the hiking and the volunteering have been two things I've found that have fulfilled those criteria

- i don't quite agree with some of the posts on here that say that many of the expat wives here are super friendly and are dying to introduce you to their groups. i was actually lucky enough when i arrived to know 3 people from school who live here and one person from university. 2 of my school friends have not even bothered to meet up with me as they are too busy/not interested, and the other 2 have gone out of their way to cancel most of the things i've organised or just not replied. when i have met totally new people (with a few notable exceptions) they might have given me their contact details but after that, they have either not replied to invitations/emails/texts or declined everything i've offered. i realise i am hopelessly oversensitive as i don't think back home i'd have given up my happy, pre-existing social life to have a newby trailing around after me, but i do think it is hard to break into some of the established social groups here. or maybe that's just the brits...

i did try to attend the "at home" sessions at the YWCA but they were booked up for quite some time and i eventually lost interest. perhaps this is something i should persevere with (money notwithstanding!)

Filling time in HK


A few more ideas:

  • Some cheap & free things to do in HK.
  • If you enjoyed yoga, have a go at learning Tai Chi. It has many similarities to yoga (importance of breath control, relaxation, battle to get your body to go where it should!), and as the above link says can be free and a great way to meet local people.
  • Have you thought about bartering? eg I'm not sure what skills you have, but if you approached one of the smaller yoga shcools where the teacher is the owner, maybe you could trade some of your time for free lessons? Owners of small businesses usually have a long list of things they want to do if only they had the time & money.
  • Sign up for a Cantonese class. I know it's an expense - appx $200 a lesson at YWCA - but when I look back I can trace many friendships back to the first Cantonese class I took. As you note, it can be hard to break into circles of friends that have known each other for several years, or to meet people who already have a fulltime busy routine. When I attended the class most of us were new arrivals, so it was easy to head out for a meal or a drink after class - usually something ina foodcourt, so it didn't cost the earth. It could be a good investment in settling in, as well as a chance to start learning the local language.

Please do let us know as you find other things that work for you, so future readers can benefit from your experience.

Regards, MrB

What do you do

Hi Mr B,

Mrs B reminded me to have a look at your latest article and you know I would have more than 1 comment on this whole work or not to work situation. First a little background; coming from a family with traditional chinese values but growing up in England  - the whole work ethic has been programmed into me from an early age. Then at 30, I thought I would change careers. This is not as easy as it sounded and there was an 18th month break from the rat race as I tried to break back into the HK job market. During that time - there was a huge guilt trip about being unemployed or not trying hard enough or as one 'friend' put it ; just plain lazy. Of course, better planning should have been involved and I really couldn't live the lifestyle in which I was accustomed.  I did, however, have the chance to try a whole slew of part-time jobs and even spent time teaching english to high school kids. Eventually, someone saw my potential and I was back in the rat race again. After 5 years, a family crisis meant I went back to UK for 2 years.  I've been in my current job for 7 years and its getting to that stage where I want to opt out again.

What have I learned from my forced and voluntary absence from full-time employment?

Friends and family are very important when it comes to emotional support. Relying solely on anyone for financial support is unrealistic and will gradually chip away at any self confidence you have. You're managing the stock market to supplement the family income - not sitting on a couch waiting for handouts and eating chocolates! There are those friends, acquaintance, family or employers who will have absolutely no idea what it means to voluntarily opt out of the rat race. The guilt factor will come from these people and its insiduous poison is a sign to avoid them like the plague. If you know what you're doing and you're enjoying the benefits of your children, time, voluntary work then there are not rules or absolutes that a 9 to 5 job is the only means to an end.

In HK - the shallowness as mentioned in a previous comment that what I do = what I am; only works if you buy into this concept. 

I have had the opportunity to meet lots more people than if I were limited to work colleagues, suppliers and business meetings. I had the opportunity to travel to wherever I wanted and whenever albeit on a shoestring. I learnt that I have far more potential than my teachers or my grades ever indicated on my cv. I learned that as an unemployed chinese female  that basing prejudices on the male:female argument is pointless to me; it only helps justify the detractors with these opinions. As I learned to be more self-sufficient, am I now a tough and cynical cookie - no, I actually became more human and far more aware of others feelings and situation.

Ok - my comments always seem to run on a bit =too much time on my hands perhaps? If you';ve made the conscious decision to walk this road, have considered the consequences today and in the future; then just enjoy it. Don't waste the opportunity to have more time with the kids, help out charities, discover more about HK and share with us on Batgung.


Thanks for the open response

Thanks for the open response above, Mr. B. It has been a difficult year but my husband has just begun working again. Part of my frustraion was that I didn't particularly want to come to HK in the first place, but we came here for his job and other interests he had here, and after a few months he decided to leave the job. 8 months of his unemployment - and my irregular freelance work - was a strain but we made it.

Ideas for trailing spouses? The YWCA has a great program to help spouses and families settle in and socialize - I think husbands are welcome too! They offer many classes for all ages and interests, and can be something to look forward to while one looks for work or other opportunities.

There are many "clubs" available for Americans, Australians, etc. Also, asiaexpat.com runs some great get-togethers for professionals, newbies to HK, wives, guys, and more. Highly recommended if you're interested. Sometimes it can be great to chat w/those who are in a similar situation, still getting their bearings in a new place.

expat wives not waiting to embrace you ....

Dear Kazbo

Oh, you have so hit the nail on the head ...  I went through 6 months of deep depression silly old me, because when we moved back to HK I assumed that since I knew about 3 or 4 people here still from the old days I'd be able to find my way easily.  FORGET IT.  My experience was exactly yours.  Being excluded, having calls not answered and dates cancelled.  Why?  Well, I've gotten over blaming myself, I think the thing is they've just moved on, whereas you've moved back.  And if they're still here, they've forgotten how hard it is to move and settle yourself and/or kids again.  If you want to feel like you're in good company - try reading my depressed blogs from Sept 06 to Jan 07 ... (www.gweipo.blogspot.com).

So, what to do.  Do perservere the "at home" sessions.  I met 20 women there.  One is now a good friend of mine who introduced me to 2 other people who are good friends now and the whole thing just sort of snowballs.  The rest I don't see anymore but we met up a few times for lunch, so that helped not to feel to lonely.

I must say out of all the groups of people I've met, the Australians seem to be the most friendly and welcoming bunch. I don't think their membership is very expensive and they do lots of things, including hiking.  And at the risk of generalising, the Brits are very insular.  Its not just here.  I had the same experience in Luxembourg and in Spain.

Beyond everything else, keep believing in yourself as a worthy person and someone who would be a great friend for others.  It is otherwise too easy to get very depressed and lonely.

Do some volunteering (you can try the English speaking union, they have loads of free activities), and have something to get out for every day.  Don't use food or other substances to numb your feelings ...

Good luck, it will happen.  It does take at least a year though. 

A bit late but..

Wow Kazbo, I am in the exact same situation as you. Am reading this a bit late but I hope your situation is improved. I've been here since August last year on a visitor's visa, almost losing my sanity on the job situation - not senior enough for a post which they would hire a foreigner for and not local enough for a post that suit me - and re-born again after working at the HK Dog Rescue. HURRAH for HKDR!

Mid life crisis - a reading list

Here are a few related bits and pieces:

Randy Pausch's 'Last Lecture' video. You may have seen it already - I've been forwarded the link a couple of times. The theme is fulfilling your childhood dreams, but it's got a lot to say about living in general. "big picture" stuff.

Next is John Clark's 'The Money is the Gravy'. He's writing to encourage you to follow a calling rather than a career. To trade in some financial security for a more satisfying life. It's a little book and an easy read, but uncomfortable in parts too.

The last book is smaller still, Seth Godin's 'The Dip', which helps answer the classic question "should I keep struggling, or quit?". If I'm having a hard time right now, am I struggling through a dip, and when I climb out the other side I'll be at the head of the pack? (ie keep struggling, because it will be worth it in the end). Or am I in a dead-end that will never get any better? (ie quit and try something else ASAP!)

That type of intelligent quitting is what leads to the career as a lifetime of journey and exploration that Clark describes. And that can be a foundation of the fulfilling life that Pausch sets out.

There are three blogs I'd recommend if you're in a thinking about life, the universe, and everything phase: Seth Godin, Tim Ferris, and Steve Pavlina.

Happy navel-gazing!





Work Visa Help

You have some options:

-Get yourself a job with a company that will sponsor you for a work visa. You don't say what you do (other than battery) so not sure if you are in an industry that is conducive to getting HK sponsorship.

-Assuming your fiance has a work visa (you say she isn't a HK citizen), you can get married and then she will be able to sponsor you for a dependent visa. With a dependent visa you will be able to work in any job you can get. Note that with this, you may have to attend an interview at immigration so they can ascertain that you are indeed in a true marriage (as opposed to one of convenience) and look at all of your documents and/or proof that the marriage is genuine. Whether or not this means you have to disclose your criminal record I have no idea but as I can see it your options are fairly limited.