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Parenting

13th Mar 2015

Gina Meenan chats to us about being an Irish Mum in Hong Kong

"Mums and mums-to-be really look out for each other and gorgeous friendships are forged quickly"

Sive O'Brien

Gina Meenan is married to James, they’re both originally from Dublin, and now live in South Bay, Hong Kong with their three children, Chloé (8), Josh (5) and Seth (almost 3).

Gina hiking in Hong Kong

We moved to Hong Kong in… 2003, looking for an adventure post university. We wanted something different, and Asia was taking centre stage in banking and finance, so it seemed exciting and the right direction for us. Eleven years later we’re still here, married, with three children.

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My first impressions were… that it was a far cry from the Western World. We were in our mid 20’s, and Hong Kong is buzzing, energetic, and fast-paced with an incredible nightlife. It’s not unlike New York – but it’s New York on steroids. We were captivated instantly. The buildings are huge – some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, streets are busy, taxi drivers are lethal (most have never encountered a roundabout, so that’s always fun) and there’s a clear sense of East meeting West. Shopping is amazing too.

The differences being a parent in Hong Kong are… careers outside of the home. It’s very difficult for expat parents to find a career with a good work/life balance. Mums either work really long hours outside of the home and miss putting their children to bed, or stay at home (aka Tai Tai’s) which although it’s a great option, is considered a privilege, so it can be a difficult choice when most are well-educated, ambitious ladies.

One of the great advantages of being a parent in Hong Kong is… the full-time, live-in help. Hong Kong has a massive population of Filipino immigrants – they’re known locally as  ‘domestic helpers’ or ‘amah’s’. It’s illegal for expats or local Hong Kongers to employ a helper and have them live outside of your home. Having someone who can manage every aspect of a busy home: act as a nanny, drive and live-in, is a massive bonus.

We’re so lucky to… have family living in HK – both James and I have our sisters here, and their children too. So our kids are surrounded by cousins, uncle and aunts. Most expats don’t have families on hand, and that makes life for new mums a bit difficult emotionally as they lack family support.

My morning routine is… three hours of getting three kids up, dressed and fed before 8.40am. Then I take an hour or so to exercise (yoga/trail running/skipping) followed by errands, admin, or meeting up with a friend before collecting Seth at 12.15pm.

Afternoons are spent… going for a swim, the beach or the playground, or The American Club (a recreational club where we spend a lot of our time) for kids afternoon activities – soccer tots, swimming, tennis, dance, depending on the day. James usually gets home in time to read the boy’s a story and I spend this time with Chloé, reading, revising her times tables or just chatting.

Weekends are spent… bringing the kid to various sports activities, heading in to Central (during the winter months) for lunch and a movie or if its a sunny day, we’ll bring the children for a hike over the Dragon’s Back. In summer months, we hang out at the pool and have BBQs – it’s too hot to do anything else.

Chloé, Josh and Seth on a hike.

I was more than happy to have my three babies in… The Matilda International in HK – a gorgeous experience – a little more like a hotel than a hospital and the medical care and post-natal care was truly amazing.

Pre-natal care in Hong Kong is… fantastic. Between the choice of obstetricians, and their flexibility, to the choice of pre-natal classes and support networks – it’s second to none. Due to the age demographic of expats here – there’s an abundance of pregnant women everywhere, and there’s a great website – HK Moms – where mums share anything and everything. Mums and mums-to-be really look out for each other, and gorgeous friendships are forged quickly.

The maternity hospitals in HK don’t really consider… formula feeding an option. Breastfeeding is strongly advocated, and most new mums at the very least give it a go. A lot of the breastfeeding success here comes from the support the hospitals give – a lactation consultant every day for those first few days, also mid-wives and consultants on hand to come to your home  if necessary.

Women here breastfeed… anywhere and everywhere but always discreetly using a nursing cover or sling. The shopping malls have mother and baby changing rooms that come equipped with arm chairs and foot rests for feeding.

School life here is… a little more full-on than my memory of primary school in Ireland. Kids here are extremely competitive – getting into a school is a nightmare (three-year-olds are interviewed), and there isn’t sibling priority, so it’s not uncommon to have families with four children in different schools.

The education level is… very strong as the International schools have the pressure of dealing with ex-pats who tend to move home or to another country and parents are always aware their children are going to need excellent school reports in order to get them into the schools they want in London, New York or wherever the next stop might be.

I love that our children have… friends from everywhere. When Chloé started kindergarten in the German Swiss International School, I think we counted 14 nationalities in her class of 18, that’s a wonderful experience for a child, and they celebrate all kinds of national festivals.

I miss… our families, our friends, seasons (we only have two – winter and summer) and the fresh air. We can’t open a window from May to October.

The first thing I do when I get home to Ireland is… bring the kids to Herbert Park to feed the ducks, then Tribeca in Ranelagh for chicken wings. Another must is a 99 ice-cream from Teddy’s in Sandycove.

There is so much we have loved about living here… amazing friendships come to mind first, but as a Mum, the best thing by far has to be having help. I think (other than career prospects), James would say the same as it affords him a little lie-in at weekends, an opportunity to travel and exercise or take time for himself without pressure from me. For the kids, it’s the people they meet and friendships they’ve formed. They’ve had so much global exposure from such a young age; it’s part of their mindset now.

Chloe, age 8. Josh, aged 6 and Seth, (almost) 3.

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