Get online to get offline

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Mary Hui goes virtual to get the most out of the real world

After being bombarded by emails, Facebook messages, Twitter feeds and endless tagging, a lot of us just want to disconnect. But recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of online innovations spring up which look to help us get offline. Here are a few virtual ways to expand your real world life.

Find like-minded people!
Looking for other cat enthusiasts? Or perhaps people who share your love of citrus fruits? Or, maybe, just maybe, you need some buddies to talk about the finer points of popular astrophysics?

Consider meetup.com, a global online network of offline local groups. Anyone can start a group about anything – including the aforementioned topics – and organise face-to-face events. There are 9,000 groups worldwide already going, and Hong Kong boasts dozens of meetups regularly, including ones focused on hiking, trail running, art, Spanish, wine, boardgames and laughter yoga. HK Social Media is another such group (meetup.com/HKSocial), hosting an early morning breakfast each month to share the latest social media trends. “It’s easier to find like-minded groups than it’s ever been,” says Jay Oatway, a regional leader in social media and one of the organisers of HK Social.

There’s also GeoExpat (geoexpat.com), an online community for expats and English speakers in Hong Kong. It’s been around for seven years, making it a real veteran of the online-to-offline landscape. A quick browse around the site reveals some popular groups: ‘Girl friends needed for socialising’, ‘Single Expats Dining Club’ and ‘Hong Kong Indians’. And if you have a baby, be sure to check out GeoBaby (geobaby.com), where you can meet up with ‘Mums Without Helpers’, ‘Work at Home Mums’ and more.

Geocaching
In simple terms, geocaching is like treasure hunting with the help of the web and GPS. There are close to two million geocaches (that is, the treasure!) globally – some as small as your pinkie, others as large as oil barrels – each with a distinct GPS-coordinate. You’ll find them everywhere and anywhere: from atop treacherous peaks to the bottom of lakes, in a bat-filled tunnel, among obscure war relics or just at the end of your street. Anahita Sharma, a veteran geocacher, first learned about the activity from an online YouTube video. Before long, she was heading offline for all sorts of thrilling hunts. The ‘excitement of discovery and the adventure’ that comes with each geocache, she says, is addictive.

If you’re keen for an adventure, pop over to Geocaching.com, locate a nearby geocache on the map, note its GPS coordinates, and head out in search of the hundreds our city has hidden. Hong Kong’s geocachers regularly meet up for expeditions, too, so check out their Facebook
page (on.fb.me/VZUuYz) to join
the community.

Drinking – and finding people to drink with
Twitter Drinking Hong Kong (#TDHK, tdhk.org) gathers people from Twitter and other social networks for real-life happy hour drinks to, as it valiantly proclaims, ‘band the tweeps of Hong Kong together and to protect all mankind’. It’s one thing to ping someone a tweet, quite another
to break the 140-character barrier and meet them face to face. Great friendships have developed from these tweet-ups, according to the founders of #TDHK – even romantic ones.

Find tours and experiences
Vayable (vayable.com), an online community marketplace where you can discover, book and offer tours and experiences, has been a hit in cities like San Francisco, New York and Paris, and it’s just starting to catch on here in Hong Kong. At the moment, there’s only a handful of HK experiences on offer – including a local foodie tour, a guided sailing trip and hiking through the lush terrain – but we expect more to spring up shortly.

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