I’ll Take Hong Kong: Living the New York Dream, on the Other Side of the World

Our new columnist on life as an expat

A Hong Kong taxi. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty)

A Hong Kong taxi. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty)

A couple weeks after I moved to Hong Kong, I had coffee with a British woman named Margaret.

Margaret had lived in Hong Kong for many years and was the director of business for a communications consultancy. When I lived in New York, I had occasionally worked as a corporate trainer, and wanted to resume that work now that I lived in a financial capital again.

A friend recommended me to Margaret, and I liked her immediately, even though she told me I talked too much. “But that’s okay,” she said. “We can work on that.”

She took a nibble of her biscotti and flipped her Hermès scarf over her shoulder. “You’re just the kind of person we’re looking for. So let’s talk compensation. We pay $5,000 a day.” I clamped my lips so as not to spew English Breakfast all over her.

Even as a moderately successful actor—I portrayed “Mr. Pussy” on Sex and the City—I’d rarely made more than $5,000 a month, let alone in a day. I resisted the urge to fist-bump Margaret.

She told me that her company would train me for three months, and that I’d coach business leaders in presentation and negotiation skills about four times a month, for five grand apiece. “But this is a full-time job,” she said, scrutinizing me. “We’ll need you in the office the rest of the time, ringing up potential clients. We want someone who is fully committed.”

I calculated my annual salary: over $240,000. “Do you want me to sign in blue or black ink?” I asked.

She looked me square in the eye and sighed. “You’re an independent spirit. I fear a corporate role may be too restrictive and dull for you.”

She wasn’t wrong. I’d worked the last six and a half years as a magazine editor and hated the 9-to-5 life. I couldn’t understand the appeal of rush-hour commutes, vapid office chatter and having to wear pants to work. When I quit in August, I vowed never to do it again. I wanted to be my own boss again, like when I was an actor in New York. But still … $240K?

“I can change,” I said extending my fist for a bump.

“From what I see on your C.V.—actor, writer, radio producer, teacher—flexibility is what you want. Be honest with yourself and get back to me in a few days, alright love?”

And with that she kissed me on both cheeks and exited down the shopping mall’s polished floors. Margaret really had a flair for the dramatic. I collapsed into my chair and thought: Okay, doofus—if you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere.