IT analyst goes from Hong Kong rookie to tour guide


Gray Carper’s workday is similar to that of other University of Michigan staff members.

A service quality analyst with Health Information Technology & Services, he spends his workday at his computer designing and teaching data collection methods, developing data reports and analyzing data.

The major difference between Carper and his co-workers is that while most U-M employees live in or near Ann Arbor, he lives nearly 8,000 miles away in Hong Kong.

Carper first visited Hong Kong with his then-girlfriend in 2003. When she was offered a job there, he jumped at the opportunity to move with her. They married before quickly packing their bags and flying off to Hong Kong on New Year’s Eve 2007.  

A photo of a man in Hong Kong
Gray Carper enjoys urban and nature hikes in Hong Kong. Here he poses at Lion Rock overlooking the Kowloon peninsula toward Hong Kong Island. (Photo courtesy of Gray Carper)

While Carper had prepared to leave his position with U-M, his manager gave him the opportunity to work remotely from Hong Kong. Throughout the years, he has held several positions and won multiple HITS awards, including “Making a Difference” awards and a HITS Values Award.

“Each manager (I’ve had) has been incredibly supportive by letting me choose the work I do and how, making sure I have the resources I need to be successful, and surrounding me with teammates who are all committed to helping each other excel,” Carper said. “Michigan and HITS have anchored me while I’ve confronted myself and followed my dreams on the other side of the world.”

Although he found stability in his work, Carper said, his first few years living in Hong Kong were “tumultuous.” He and his wife divorced less than two years after moving, and Carper’s mental health deteriorated.

After years of therapy and working on his mental and emotional well-being, Carper said, he felt he had grown into a new person. He met his current wife, Violet, shortly after finishing therapy, and the couple recently celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary.

  • The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, email the Record staff at

“(Hong Kong) was the place where I finally became an adult, not in terms of age, but in emotional maturity, and I treasured everything I’d learned along the way,” Carper said. “It wasn’t just what I learned through therapy, it was also what I learned as a resident of Hong Kong: culture, language, food, film, geography, public transportation … everything.”

Adjusting to life in a new country also came with challenges and quite a bit of culture shock. Carper grew up in a small town of 10,000 people. Hong Kong has a population of more than 7 million. When Carper relocated to the new country, he moved into a district with nearly a quarter million people.

“I hadn’t experienced anything like that before, and for my first two years I felt a real barrier just going outside into the ocean of people. I’ve come to love it, though, and now I can’t imagine living outside of a large city,” Carper said.

Another pressing issue he dealt with early on was the language barrier. While it’s possible to live in Hong Kong with only a knowledge of English, Carper said, it’s essential to learn Cantonese to truly thrive. He started learning the language as soon as he arrived, and while he wouldn’t consider himself fluent, he can hold conversations, read and write in Cantonese.

“(Learning to speak Cantonese has) allowed me to have the most wonderful and uplifting interactions with people both in Hong Kong and in Cantonese-speaking communities around the world,” Carper said. “It’s become an integral part of my identity, and I’ll be speaking and learning it for the rest of my life.”

An unexpected challenge came with learning to navigate public transportation. While Carper had always been able to drive in the United States, he found Hong Kong had a plethora of public transportation options: double-decker buses, subways, trains, ferries, cable cars, funiculars and trollies.

To ease himself into the world of public transit, he created a routine. Each weekend, he would pick a new dim sum restaurant to try, and he would take public transportation. As he grew more confident over time, Carper started hopping on any bus, riding for a bit, and finding his way home from wherever he ended up.

After living in Hong Kong for more than 16 years, Carper is proficient in navigating the city. His expansive knowledge of the city’s food, culture and transit drew him into becoming a tour guide.

“(Being a tour guide) started out of necessity — showing friends and family who visited Hong Kong around — but I soon realized it was something I very much enjoyed because it allowed me to infect others with my love for this place,” Carper said.

A photo of a man on a TV show
Gray Carper was featured as a local food expert and guide on the NBC travel show “The Voyager with Josh Garcia” in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Gray Carper)

Carper joined the tour company Sam the Local and conducted tours for more than three years. In 2017, he was invited to appear on an episode of the NBC travel show “The Voyager with Josh Garcia.” Carper showcased Hong Kong heritage foods that were once prevalent but are now nearly extinct, taking Garcia to restaurants around the city.

Carper said Hong Kong is one of the world’s premier food cities. While he enjoyed trying international cuisines when he lived in Ann Arbor, he found Hong Kong sparked his love for exploring new foods.

“Violet and I are insatiable food adventurers, and Hong Kong is an eater’s paradise with access to cuisines from all over the world. So, we love crawling through neighborhoods to sample what each has to offer,” Carper said. “I thought I was a foodie when I arrived, but Hong Kong has turned me into a voracious omnivore who lives to eat and plans everything around it.”

Carper has enjoyed exploring the culinary scenes of surrounding countries as well. He has traveled to Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Macau and mainland China.

Although Carper has loved his time traveling the world while based in Hong Kong, he and his wife are relocating to Chicago later this year. Their decision came after years of witnessing the Hong Kong government attack human rights.

Carper said he and his wife reached a breaking point after the 2019 Prince Edward station attack when Hong Kong police beat people indiscriminately following protests for equal representation and democracy.

“We love this place dearly and had planned to live here forever, but on that day, we knew it was impossible, and it’s taken us five years to grieve and accept that loss. … There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, and no freedom of assembly. So, we believe leaving Hong Kong is necessary for our long-term safety and peace of mind,” Carper said.



  1. John Brussolo
    on May 16, 2024 at 2:06 pm

    Great article Katie! Gray – so sorry to hear that you and Violet need to leave Hong Kong. We’ll have to catch up sometime when I’m in the Chicago area! JB

Leave a comment

Please read our comment guidelines.