The Big Apple Versus the Big Lychee: An Interview with New Yorkers in Hong Kong

New York and Hong Kong have frequently been compared to one another not only as the financial hubs of their respective hemispheres, but also as cities carrying significant cultural and media capital in the world. Although both of these around-the-clock cities share many similarities, New York and Hong Kong each have their own distinct cultures and characteristics that uniquely define them.

Commonly understood similarities between New York and Hong Kong include high cost-of-living, skyscraper skylines, crowded streets, summers as microcosms of saunas, cuisines from all over the world, and more. And, of course, there are some obvious differences: Hong Kong has three official languages, a unique administrative system, and a natural environment seamlessly embedded into its surroundings. In fact, more than half of the land is filled with country parks and nature reserves.

These stark differences are obvious to many, but conversations with New Yorkers living in Hong Kong revealed a few insights that aren’t as immediately apparent to the common eye.

For starters, New Yorkers now residing in Hong Kong reported a more easily accessible and faster public transportation system. Bubakar Bah, a Queens native, said, “The airport is much more efficient. It’s cleaner and only takes 24 minutes to get into the city. When I still lived in the city, I had to put aside at least two hours before heading to the airport.”

Grace Tam, a Manhattan resident, shared similar sentiments. Tam emphasized the fact that there aren’t any arrows denoting where to go or any communication about incoming trains within the NYC subway system. In addition to the cleanliness and efficiency of Hong Kong’s public transportation, she added, “Here, I actually want to take the bus. The buses actually come every few minutes, and I prefer to take it over the train.”

Hong Kong public metro bus heading to Kennedy Town (Photo: Wilson Wong)

Many have also been pleasantly surprised by how well Hong Kong incorporates the natural environment into its urban design. Growing up in New York City, Bah stated that he wasn’t familiar with seeing so many trees and greeneries right in front of him. “It’s a whole different world. You’d think that with a bustling city like Hong Kong, it would be skyscrapers everywhere.”

Despite these positive qualities of Hong Kong, New Yorkers noted some negative aspects, as well. Before coming, they didn’t realize how air quality could affect their daily routine. A born-and-raised Brooklynite, Lupita Rodríguez, said, “I never had to check the air quality in the morning until coming [to Hong Kong]. I’ve had to go to the doctor three times because of strep throat since coming here.”

Additionally, although interviewees attested to the natural landscapes within Hong Kong, they didn’t anticipate the magnitude of its infamous hills. Tam said, “Walking 1,000 meters in NYC is all on flatland and would probably take ten minutes. Here, if I were to Google Map directions, the commute time would say the same thing, but it doesn’t take into account its hills––that’s an extra 15 minutes!”

NYC residents are famously known to walk an average from two to five miles a day. But what Google Maps and other map applications don’t provide is a topographical map that accurately considers the commute time of treading uphill. While Hong Kong’s mountainy terrain and plethora of hills certainly pose a physical and time-constraining challenge, Tam admitted, “At the very least, my legs are getting more toned.”


Reporter: Wilson Wong

Editor: Seungyeon Choi

Copy-editor: Skylar Li

Content Manager: Emily Peng


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