Wild Geese: ‘Hong Kong can be scary to live in if you’re not earning a paycheck’
Kenneth Ryall says there is a small but strong Irish community in the Asian region
Kenneth Ryall, from Blessington, Co Wicklow, finds Hong Kong to be a fast-paced, competitive city where people work hard to get the job done.
Kenneth Ryall was born in the front seat of a VW Beetle on his way to the Coombe hospital in 1987. Raised in Blessington, Co Wicklow, he studied computer science in Trinity College and focused on the animation of virtual characters and the perception of human motion.
During his masters in research, he spent half a year in Pittsburgh in the United States, interning with Disney Research. “It was an eye-opening experience and really broadened my views on the opportunities outside of Ireland. On my return to Dublin, I’d changed a lot and was looking for my next adventure but I never imagined that it would be Hong Kong, ” Ryall said.
“I first visited the city a few months after returning home from the US to present a research paper.”
During that initial visit, he met a number of people, including his girlfriend, Kelly, from Guangzhou in southern China, who has been living and working in the city for the previous five years. “I decided that Hong Kong was the place for me and almost a year to the day after I first stepped foot in Hong Kong, I was boarding a one-way flight back there.”
He arrived with nothing more than a handful of connections, a working holiday visa and no confirmed employment.
“Hong Kong can be a scary city to live in if you’re not earning a paycheck due to the high cost of living,” he says. “My saving grace was a Facebook post by the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong that I saw just before my move. They were looking for someone to help set up a new website and I jumped at the opportunity to get in contact with the Irish community.”
Change in direction
An introduction made at an event hosted by the Irish Consulate led to his first job and he spent the next 2½ years working for an exciting local start-up, developing software in the ever-growing mobile apps space.
“My primary role was software engineer but, as is the case with many start-ups, you perform multiple roles and responsibilities. These included product management, pre-sales, customer on-boarding and even business development.
“During my time here, I’ve also continued to work closely with the chamber of commerce, helping with social media among other things. Earlier this year I was appointed vice-chairman of the board.”
As his time in Hong Kong progressed, he looked for a change in direction which he attributes to his work with the chamber and also the fact of living in such an interesting city.
“I recently joined an American marketing and advertising agency that specialises in customer engagement and loyalty. The company is called The Marketing Store (http://asia.tmsw.com/en/) and my position is digital delivery manager, working with many large brands in the region. The role combines the areas of technology, strategy and creativity. My responsibilities include project management and ensuring the delivery of technology projects for our clients.”
The main difference Ryall has found between Ireland and Hong Kong is the speed of project execution. He finds Hong Kong to be a fast-paced, competitive city where people work hard to get the job done.
“This can sometimes conflict with ‘work/life balance’ but, if you are enjoying the work you do, it does not become an issue.”
“Hong Kong is the gateway to the rest of Asia and, in particular, China. It’s probably the easiest city for Irish people to live and work in the region.
Local GAA club
“We have a small but strong Irish community here and there really is something for everyone. If you’re feeling homesick, you can pop down to the local GAA club or if you’re looking for something a bit more local, you can try your hand at dragon boat racing. There’s also the St Patrick’s society to get your Irish culture fix and we also recently had our first pop-up Gaeltacht.
The Trinity Alumni group in the city is, he says, very welcoming and in March there’s an annual St Patrick’s Day parade, “when I feel more Irish than I ever did back home”.
Many home comforts can be found in Hong Kong, whether it involves joining the “First Friday Breakfast” hosted by the Irish Consulate to have a cup of Barry’s tea and a chat or sneaking out to buy a pint of Guinness or bag of Tayto.
“For where the next adventure takes me, I will have to wait and see but Hong Kong is home for now.”