Most people have an image of Hong Kong in their minds, whether from a photo or a film, and usually that image is of a sea of skyscrapers lighting up the [polluted] sky. Sure, the skyscrapers are here, and in force! But the thing that surprised me the most about Hong Kong was the natural beauty surrounding the city.
The first time I went to Cheung Chau, a small island a short ferry ride away from Hong Kong island, was the moment I thought, "yes, I could live here," and it is in places such as this that I can breathe. It's so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of any city, and to feel each part of your body tighten against collisions with fellow pedestrians, or packed trains. Finding the space and time to let go and simply breathe is beneficial for both the body and the mind. Naturally, I also also think about the voice in this situation, but it really does help to release tensions surrounding the larynx, allowing for a freer and more reliable voice.
One thing I was determined to do in Hong Kong was to learn Cantonese. I signed up for 20 hours of lessons, and found the language fascinating. I could easily pick up the pronunciation of the tones, and enjoyed linking the sounds to phonetics (I knew that would come in handy some day..!)
My understanding wasn't quite as good as my pronunciation, but I did fairly well, especially if the teacher spoke slowly. Unfortunately, I fell into the common trap of doubting myself after a few failed attempts in public, and as a result I now only use occasional words in taxis or at markets. The rest of the language I learnt is in a filing cabinet somewhere at the back of my brain, waiting to be revised and revived!
I do feel, however, that this new understanding of Cantonese has helped me to appreciate the Cantonese Hong Kongers' accent when speaking in English. I now understand, for example, that the reason that consonants are often missed at the end of words is because all of these end plosives are unreleased in Cantonese. So 'chat' (the word for the number 7) would be pronounced /tʃæt̚ /, leaving the final /t/ 'locked' inside the mouth and unexploded, no matter whether or not the following sound is a vowel.
As a self-confessed voice geek, I find all of this riveting, and I'm sure that this knowledge will be invaluable when I meet clients who wish to 'soften' their accent for an English-speaking audience.
I can't speak for everyone in Hong Kong, but the expat lifestyle I've experienced so far is one of working hard and playing hard. As a professional voice user, one has to be careful to balance the late nights with plenty of re-hydration and vocal care. Luckily, I haven't noticed too much of a negative impact on my voice from the pollution out here, but the heat and humidity mean that drinking plenty of water is even more vital to a healthy body and voice. (And no, alcohol does not count as hydration!)
If you would like to know more about my time so far in Hong Kong, or about voice lessons with me, then do get in touch!