City Weekend

Get on the bus: Former expats swap Hong Kong city living for a converted school bus in Canada

The four friends left the grind of Hong Kong city life to travel and work in Canada and America in their home on wheels.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 September, 2017, 11:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 September, 2017, 11:03am

Four former Hong Kong expats have left the city to live in a converted yellow school bus, travelling and working around Canada and America.

Quentin Eve, originally from Oxfordshire in southeast England, convinced his Portuguese girlfriend, Xana Lido; childhood friend Alex Norman and his French girlfriend, Alix Ponchon, to save up, drop their nine-till-late jobs and live on wheels in Canada.

Eve, 28, met his girlfriend while living in Sydney, Australia, before moving to Hong Kong for a year. She later joined him in Hong Kong and worked as a teacher for six months, but it was “busy, fast paced, long commute, very stressful and didn’t suit her at all”, he said.

“I enjoyed Hong Kong – it is a weird little expat bubble, a fun rich man’s playground”, said Eve, who worked in construction as a quantity surveyor for seven years.

But as he grew increasingly tired of sitting at an office desk for hours, working towards a housing deposit, “someone sent me a link of people selling school buses and it seemed so easy and cheap”, he said.

He had an epiphany when he was “sitting in my office in the airport, there was an accountant sleeping on her invoices passed out, and I thought that is so depressing”.

From then on it was a matter of “get the cash and move on”.

Their concept was not to travel, but to create a home on wheels able to park wherever they like, whenever they like. To try and find a way to stop the nine-till-late grind.

In April the four friends arrived at Calgary, a south-western city in Canada, knowing nothing about bus conversions.

“Everyone had a job, a role to do – searching for buses, researching how to build, researching how to make electrical stuff work. We all had a task at the beginning to make it seem a bit more like a job”, Eve explained.

Within five days they bought a bus from a farmer for about HK$20,000: the same amount him and his girlfriend paid in one month’s rent in Hong Kong.

For the next month “Skool and the Gang” worked on the farmer’s land, using his tools to take the bus seats out, and put insulation, walls, lighting and hot water in. What Eve called a “camping shell”. Or, as Americans call converted school buses, a “Skoolie”.

After a test run trip to the mountains, the former expats realised a good heating system was needed in the Canadian climate, and so returned to Calgary to rebuild and “warm proof it” for two weeks.

“The first two months were pretty stressful. I think once we actually got moving it became like travelling, it became easier”, Eve said. “I don’t think any of us ever looked back.”

The bus’s open-plan layout now features a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room.

Norman and Ponchon have recently gone on to travel around Northern America, while Eve and Lido are living in their refurbished full-time home on Vancouver Island, on Canada’s southwest coast, working part time as housekeepers in a resort.

“It is bizarre going from my first job, washing dishes, to the point where I have worked in high-stress corporate environments in Hong Kong” to now earning 13 Canadian dollars (HK$82) an hour, Eve said. “We don’t have to build that mortgage any more. It is nice not having that need to go to work.”

In Hong Kong they were “living tiny for crazy rates”, he said. Eve spent what would have been two month’s rent in Hong Kong on converting the bus, and it would cost about three month’s rent to buy land in Canada to house their Skoolie.

A permanent home is their long-term plan. After travelling and working through North America, they want to take their home on wheels to Britain where Eve owns some land north of London.

“We would work maybe three months in a year on a contract job and then have time to enjoy the space. That will always be the end goal.”