London: April 2020

I was worried about the situation in Hong Kong and the influence of the Chinese government on local politics.

And so last year We started thinking about moving somewhere else.

There are four of us living here. Me, my wife and we have two kids.

In Hong Kong we run a small design studio.

I am the owner and creative director, and my wife deals with the accounts and  services.

After going through all the procedures…. interviews and all that.. we finally moved here, to London.  

We have  a work visa. It’s called a Sole Representative Visa.  It means we can come to the UK to grow our business. 

Working from home 2 desks by window in London home

For the visa to be valid we need to keep the company going in Hong Kong

We moved to London in September – so it’s been eight months.

We run the two companies  at the same time, in two different time zones. I have to catch up with the Hong Kong office so I work with them in their time. 

The routine is: I get up early (4am) and work until 1pm or 2pm and then carry on with life here …cooking and picking the children up from school. 

Now that everyone now has to work from home – for us it is OK. I have been working from home for a long time. 

To save costs we have a home office/study room.

We don’t have any colleagues here in London yet but we still have some staff working in Hong Kong.

I thought we would be able to go back and forth to manage them more often but now we have to do it through video calls. 

The thing is we don’t have that many jobs now because everything has kind of stopped…. The Hong Kong staff work at home as well and we keep in contact  through video calls.

Because of the lockdown the children have only had four or five months school time in London.

The school has given them homework which they do online. But that is a  kind of regular thing not just because of the virus. They read books and have online exercises in maths. 

We have some exercises for them to do  and audiobooks to listen to, and that is it.  

My son had four years of primary school in Hong Kong  – and the homework was killing him.

The Hong Kong education system was part of the reason why we are here. 

We didn’t want to push them so hard.

Once we got here we thought: yes, this is the education we want –  a system that lets them learn in their own pace.

The first thing we noticed here is that primary school kids don’t have any homework – and my children so happy about that! 

I agree with that. I’m not very pushy…but I can tell that my son is learning in school because he will say something in conversation that his teacher said.

paper decorations by bay window in London home

I believe in the education system here – even though my British friends say they hate it!

We live right next to the school. It’s just five minutes walk – which is so different  from Hong Kong.

That was our priority. And also we needed an extra room for the home office.  

Our house has three bedrooms. 

Inside of front door of London home

You can tell straight away when you walk into a place. If it’s bright …or has big windows good airflow and you will immediately feel better.

I don’t really follow feng shui.  I’ve heard a lot about it of course but I’m not superstitious. 

We rent this house and I think it has probably been rented out for ages. All the windows and door knobs are quite old.

We didn’t have a lot of money and were very lucky to find a house in London that is so close to the school  – it suits us very well.

Our back garden is relatively big compared to other people’s that I know  of in London.

When the weather is nice we go out  and  play some football…sunbathing or reading.

We are very lucky.

In the garden we have a basketball net.

We need physical activities  because we are in the house for so long. 

Playing games with the kids is a regular thing for us. We have also been doing lots of silly things together, all the time

I’m very grateful that we have the garden. Otherwise if you can imagine… Hong Kong  homes are very small… it would be more difficult. 

Inside London home

With lockdown it’s like… finally, we’ve got time to stop.

I’ve started reading books …   and started drawing again. It’s like a ‘side project’. It might seem strange and quite boring… but I kind of enjoy it. 

In some ways it would be nice to have ‘time’ like this every year.

I do miss hanging out with friends – I don’t have that many here in London. I studied in the UK about 20 years ago and I am still in contact with a few friends from my student days.

A few weeks ago I put up a post on Facebook: ‘anybody want a drink?’.  It was a Friday night  and I opened a ‘virtual room’. We have a regular meeting now.

It’s like a virtual ‘ night out’, every Thursday. 

Of course I miss seeing real people in real life 

There is lots of green space along the river, but we don’t really leave home that much. 

We only go out about once a week  – for grocery shopping –  to Sainsbury’s. There is a really big Sainsbury’s here. 

London home hall and kitchen

At the beginning of the lockdown the stock was quite low and people were panic-buying.

We’re quite lucky in this part of London there are not many Chinese here  and we could still buy rice  – but the pasta was all gone. 

After a few weeks it’s gone back to normal. Not ‘normal’  – we still have long queues outside to stop people going in at the same time – but the stock levels are OK.  

I can even get pasta now!

I think people have got used to the lockdown. They know how much they consume each week so it’s getting better. 

We don’t have a car so we have to go shopping with a big rucksack and bags. We go with a shopping list and plan ahead for that week. 

kitchen in London home

We cook a lot now – in fact, we cooked a lot anyway so… it’s another thing to enjoy and to spend time at home with the kids. 

They love it of course. 

I would say that now we are closer than before…. 

When we go out people sometimes give us strange looks.

Some people cover their mouths when they see us- even though we are from Hong Kong, not from China.

They can’t tell the difference.

That  makes us feel quite self-conscious.  But that was way back.. maybe 2 months ago, when the virus just started here.  

I didn’t used to wear a face mask but when you see the numbers of deaths going up my wife said I should. It helps I guess.

Last time in Sainsburys I was wearing a mask and it was kind of hot and  I had heavy shopping. I felt really, really faint –  not enough air. I don’t enjoy wearing it but I do it for the kids and for the family.

My wife has set up a sanitizing area at the doorstep where she cleans our shoes and clothes. She’s takes it seriously..

I am a bit more relaxed about it but I go along with it.  

garden bench in London home

What I value the most about this house  … is the backyard and the internet. These are the two things I can’t do without.

We need to keep in touch with colleagues in Hong Kong. That is the most important thing.

Before we moved in I got Wi-Fi installed.

two beds in bright bedroom London

I’m lucky because we have a very big house with  three bedrooms so there is enough space for everyone.

In Hong Kong we only had two rooms and it was so small. 

Here, I can shut the door and read some books. I can even go to bed and they still have their own space to do their own thing. 

We are very grateful for that. 

For me, when this is over, I want to go back to Hong Kong to see friends and family –  and to check up on colleagues and clients.

I need to focus on the business because everything has stopped now  and I’m quite worried about it. Otherwise if the company is not doing well we will have to go back to Hong Kong anyway. 

view of garden in London home

We have a visa for three years and after that they will assess our company – so we need to do well to get an extension to stay here longer. 

If it doesn’t work out  – then we can’t stay here. This is what I’m worried about. 

We have no regrets about moving here. I feel lucky that we are here.

And …even if eventually it doesn’t work out, we will still have three years living in London.

view of London rooftops

All photos by respondent

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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