How to tell if you're a Hong Konger
by Emanuel Leung
Emanuel is a Hong Kong person who actually grew up in Canada but goes back to HK quite often. His favorite activities are reading and traveling. He wants to note that he doesn’t actually agree with all of the points here!
[ More culture tests ]
If you're a Hong Konger...
- You believe deep down that hard work leads to success.
- You may or may not be superstitious or believe in Feng Shui.
- You’re familiar with Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Stephen Chow, Leslie Cheung, Jackie Cheung, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Edison Chen, and you are likely to read about their personal lives with a fierce glee.
- You’ve at least heard of the notable people from the China list (Sun Wukong, Qin Shihuang, Confucius, etc), though you may get them mixed up a bit. You also know Guan Gong, the Three Kingdoms warrior who is worshipped by both criminals and police alike, as well as restaurant owners.
- If you’re male, you know how basketball and football are played and can argue intricate points about their rules. The word ‘soccer’ is also understood— you are likely to follow one of the English Premiership teams (and stay up really late to watch them). However, you’re more likely to play ping pong or badminton.
- You think American football is too violent, and baseball is just incomprehensible. You may know a little about rugby if you follow the Hong Kong sevens.
- You count yourself fortunate if you get two weeks of vacation a year, where you head off to Thailand to be dragged around by a tour group. Or you head to Shenzhen to buy cheap knickknacks. Most don’t go much further than that, unless they’re the cosmopolitan type: Europe, Japan, Beijing, America, it’s all fair game.
- You’re not that likely to believe in God, but if you do, you are fairly devout.
Touch the heart
- You feel that good dim sum and a steaming bowl of wonton noodles is a god-given birthright. (But never together: dim sum and wonton noodles should be done in separate establishments).
- You think of McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC etc. as cheap food, and you can definitely do better for the same price. Chinese food is the best in the world anyways, and you are unshakeable in that conviction.
- You also feel that the slow destruction of the street food stall culture is a blasphemy to mankind. Yes, you can eat the same food in an air-conditioned restaurant, but it’s just not the same without the rickety wooden or plastic stool set up on a sidewalk and the smell of stinky tofu.
- You don’t consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food, although older people may have eaten dog or cat meat. Most people under 40 find this abhorrent.
- You probably own a telephone and a TV. Your place is not heated in the winter and is really cold at night. All apartments are air-conditioned and all public indoor places are air conditioned to a ridiculous degree. No wonder people get colds all the time in summer— it is frigid indoors and sweltering outdoors.
- You are likely to have your own bathroom, although you may remember the old days when this was not the case. You mostly give your laundry to the Laundromat downstairs. You don’t kill your own food. You don’t have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
- What’s a ‘bathroom?’ It is a toilet. Your shower water has to be heated up by a gas heater before you can take a hot shower as there’s no running hot water.
- It seems natural to you that the telephone system, railroads, airlines, and power companies are privately run; indeed, you can hardly picture things working differently.
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone is routine.
- The train system (MTR) is excellent, and will whisk you from point to point in a matter of minutes, as a matter of course. You cannot imagine it being otherwise.
- Mostly you are highly pragmatic as long as you can make your money you don’t seem to overly care about politics. While there are some people on TV who constantly argue about politics, you are likely not one of them.
- You are likely to be an adherent of free trade, as Hong Kong’s success was due to the market.
- You don’t think socialism would work in Hong Kong. Communism is a spectre of fear for older folks here, but as today’s China is hardly Communist this isn’t an issue for you.
- Between ‘Chinese’ and ‘white’ there are no other races. You have probably seen the East Indians and Africans if you head to Nathan road and will be shocked at how good their Cantonese is. You are not politically correct and will refer to other races as ‘ghost people’, although usually without any true malice. You just don’t give a damn. American-style race politics and political correctness seem laughable to you (unless perhaps you’re fairly young, under 30).
- You think most problems could be solved if only people would work really hard together.
- You take a strong court system for granted, even if you don’t use it. You know that if you went into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you could take them to court.
- You probably like to gamble some, or a lot. You either go to Macao’s casinos to gamble a bit or you try your luck at the racecourses in Happy Valley or Shatin. Most of the time you lose, but hey, that’s OK, you’ll make it all back next time, right?
- You think a tax level of 20% is scandalously high. This shocks you when you travel to Europe or other countries. You think even American taxes are too high.
- You are distrustful of welfare and unemployment payments— you think people should earn a living and not take handouts. But the truly helpless and destitute should be helped, definitely. Just not by you.
- As far as politicians go, Donald Tsang and his group are generally seen as competent, especially if you are in business. Others see him as selling out to Beijing, and a liar regarding democracy for Hong Kong.
- ‘Longhair’ Leung Kwok Hung is either a heroic political crusader or a lunatic who burns coffins in the street yelling at passer-by with a big mike.
- Leung’s most fervent detractors, ‘the old men in Victoria Park,’ are DEFINITELY pro-communist fanatics, and you do all you can to avoid them.
Did you do your homework?
- You’d respect someone who speaks good English, Mandarin, or Japanese—in fact, you likely speak at least a little English and Mandarin, to deal with tourists, of which there are many.
- You consider learning foreign languages to be quite important, as its excellent for business. Also the amount of travelers and tourists make this paramount. English and Mandarin in particular are highly prized, and you push your kids to learn them, at any cost.
- School is free through high school (at least, it’s an option, even if you went to private school); college isn’t, unless you get a scholarship.
- College is (normally, and excluding graduate study) four years long.
- If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a bachelor’s first.
- School is highly important, and anything remotely academic immediately becomes extremely competitive, starting in Kindergarten. Privately you express concern about the pressure the kids go through but publicly you do the same thing everyone else does: push them harder.
- You went over mostly Chinese and some European and American history. Since 1997 Chinese history is more emphasized; even so, you may get your Emperors and Dynasties mixed up at times. Latin America and the Middle East might as well not exist. (Unless you like football and follow world affairs respectively).
Love and war
- World War II was a terrible time, as China was invaded by Japan and Hong Kong was occupied for four long, brutal years. Older people remember this time with great trepidation and hatred towards the Japanese.
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Your grandparents likely went through an arranged marriage, though.
- If a man has sex with another man, he’s a homosexual.
- If a woman is plumper than the average, it most definitely doesn’t improve her looks. You think most Americans are quite fat and are very blunt about how other people are getting fatter all the time. Your grandparents, however, like to have a little extra weight due to the old Chinese culture.
- Once you’re introduced to someone, you call him or her by his or her last name and ‘sir’ (sheng) or ‘madam’ (tai) in Chinese.
- If you’re a woman, you definitely don’t go to the beach topless.
- A hotel room has a private bath or at least a shower.
- You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government, without paying bribes.
- If a politician has been cheating on his wife, you would read all about it in the tabloids, have a laugh about it, then continue eating your morning dim sum.
- Major stores take credit cards, and even minor ones. Older stores only take cash. You can pay with your octopus transit card at many convenience stores.
- A company can fire just about anybody it wants.
- You don’t eat bacon except when you stay in a hotel. Your idea of a ‘western breakfast’ is eggs and Spam with instant noodles.
- Labor Day? What’s that?
Civilization and/or entertainment
- You’ve probably seen Infernal Affairs, Hero, Red Cliff, Ip Man, and many, many of Jackie Chan’s films or Stephen Chow’s comedies (Shaolin Soccer probably the definitive one). You like your movies to be full of action, slapstick and humour.
- You’d rather a film be subtitled than dubbed (if you go to foreign films at all). Kid’s films are dubbed.
- You are likely to watch many, many TV dramas and soap operas. Too many to list here, but Virtues of Harmony is still talked about today by many fans.
- The ‘Lang Mo’ or ‘young models’ have taken the entertainment world by storm recently. If young and male, you secretly like this.
- You know the Beatles, Backstreet boys, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and many other Hollywood stars. If male you may know Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wayne Rooney, and other sports stars.
- You have a vague idea that Ancient and Imperial China was a glorious civilization that gave the world the compass, paper, gunpowder and block printing. You don’t really know why they nixed it so badly in modern times. The more patriotic want China to regain the stature it had back in the old days.
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It’s likely you don’t see that many plays, either. Chinese opera is usually for older folks.
- You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you’re not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
- You feel Mainland women should not simply show up and give birth in Hong Kong hospitals, then leave right away.
- The Japanese conquered your city in 1941, and you still dislike them for that. (Even if you never lived through it, your grandparents will never stop talking about it.) Let’s not count 1842.
- There are one or two kid’s comics (Old Master Q) that are still popular, but mostly for kids. Japanese manga (translated into Chinese) are common.
- The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly entertainers. Politicians? Only a small minority care about them. Its all about the singers and actors. Economists are fairly popular too.
- The default topics of conversation are the stock market and the world economy. Food is an important secondary topic. All other topics are mostly discussed in niche circles.
- You drive on the left side of the road. But you don’t have a car anyway. The taxis and trains are a better alternative in this crowded city.
- As Hong Kong was formerly a British colony, most people follow the traffic rules. You would jaywalk if there were no cars around, though.
- Most of you saw the destruction of the old star ferry terminal to be a major tragedy. This may have been the first time that Hong Kongers felt that progress at any cost was no longer a positive (as it was through the nineties). You remember its white-with-green-stripes décor and dingy, wet charms with great nostalgia and fondness.
Meet the neighbors
- As far as Taiwan is concerned, you also have mixed feelings. You likely have Taiwanese friends and associates, but if you only see them fighting each other in their legislature you feel their politicians are rather boorish. Everyday Taiwanese are fine though. And you also prefer the status quo of Taiwan being de facto independent, although you don’t care that much either way as long as no war breaks out.
- You mostly dislike the Japanese, who seem overly polite (thus insincere) and you feel they look down on you a bit. On the other hand, you grew up watching their anime and may have a soft spot for certain Japanese entertainers. You also recognize that some of their products are indeed high quality. Nonetheless, you feel they should still apologize for the war.
- If female, you will swoon over Korean entertainers and soap operas. If male, you probably don’t care as long as the north-south tensions there don’t affect the stock market.
- You are probably fairly well disposed to the British. Say what you will, they sent some popular and competent governors to Hong Kong and many speak fondly of them to this day. They do have a reputation of being a little snobbish and squeamish though, especially in regards to cuisine. (Why won’t they try 100-year old egg? It’s the greatest thing ever!)
- The Australians and New Zealanders get lumped together with the British, and people mostly see them drinking into oblivion in Sai Kung and Lan Kwai Fong. A louder, less civilized version of the Brits.
- The Americans and Canadians get lumped together often, but with a lot of immigration to those lands you likely know a cousin in San Francisco or an old classmate in Vancouver. Lots of entertainers come from there too. ABCs and CBCs will speak good English but may not be as good in their ancestral tongue of Cantonese, which is a shame. May show much more willingness to be openly confrontational than native Hong Kongers.
- The East Indians are stereotyped as policemen, even though almost none of them are these days. They mostly stay in Kowloon district, where they run some curry restaurants in the fire death trap Chungking Mansions. They speak funny English, but your mouth will be agape when one of them comes up to you and greets you in 100% fluent local Cantonese.
- Your mouth will be even more agape if a white person came up and spoke Cantonese. A few of these highly interesting Cantonese speaking ‘ghost people’ have made it in the Hong Kong entertainment scene playing various villainous or funny foreigners on TV serials.
- The biggest meal of the day is in the evening, and will likely be taken in a restaurant downstairs. It will be quite large too, unless one is dieting (which is often).
- The people that locals most often make jokes about are the Mainland Chinese, although jokes about East Indians also aren’t uncommon.
Outside Central and Wan Chai
- You know for sure that Hong Kong is not being listened to in Beijing, mostly, and are surprised the few times they do.
- China’s premier Wen Jiabao is generally admired, president Hu Jintao a little less, but you wouldn’t compare them to the most hated and reviled Chinese leaders (in HK, of course), Mao Zedong and Li Peng.
- You have mixed feelings about China. On the one hand, it’s still your ancestral land, and you are well aware of the glories of Chinese culture. On the other, you’ve heard stories about how brutal the regime can be, and how its dirty and polluted and everyone is a crook, although it’s getting better, all things being told. If you’re not political you think of the border city of Shenzhen as the be-all and end-all of cheap shopping and general entertainment.
- If you are politically inclined, you either hate the Chinese government with all your soul or you love it with all your soul. There is precious little middle ground. Most Hong Kongers wisely stay out of arguments about this.
- Hong Kong does not and never will have its own military. A token regiment of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers who do little but March down Queen’s Road once a year provides security. You have likely taken your kids to see the PLA’s ‘open house’ presentations and found them pretty fun.
- You wouldn’t expect both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%) at the same time.
- There are parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night, although with the big crowds it’s not overly dangerous, but keep your wits about you. Tin Shui Wai has a bad reputation for domestic disputes, while Mong Kok has its triad hangouts. Be careful out there.
- The police are armed, but not with submachine guns, except in the airport.
- You don’t care very much what family someone comes from, unless you are older, then village clan relationships are important. You would very much prefer your child to marry another Chinese, though.
How it’s done
- Mustard comes in jars. Shaving cream comes in cans. Milk comes in plastic jugs. Vitasoy milk comes in plastic juiceboxes or glass bottles.
- The date comes first: 1/07/97. (And you know what happened on that date.)
- The decimal point is a dot. Certainly not a comma.
- A billion is a thousand times a million.
- The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally among their children.
- You’re used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy. To have it otherwise is unthinkable. Even American stores do not hold enough variety for you.
- You mostly use the metric system, although some imperial measurements may be used. Older people will use the old Chinese measurements.
- Older people may use the Chinese abacus to calculate numbers. Younger folks use electronic calculators.
- You are not a farmer, though your parents or grandparents may well have been.
- Christmas is in the winter. A huge tree is placed in the mall and you spend it with your boy/girlfriend rather than your family. A meal will be had. If Christian, you will go to church where they will celebrate it in a fairly ‘western’ manner.
- Your apartment will not take a tree—it’s way too small.
- The most important holiday is Chinese New Year, where you go meet up with your relatives and eat way more Chinese food than is good for you. It culminates in a massive fireworks display above Victoria Harbour. Even if you are secular you take this holiday quite seriously and will at least try to follow the old traditions for week or two.
- You’d be hard pressed to name the capitals or the leaders of all the nations of Europe. Or Asia outside of China and maybe Japan and the like. You don’t consider southeast Asia ‘Asian’.
- You’ve left a message at the beep, though you would rather call their cell phone instead
- Taxis are generally operated by locals, who are either friendly and talkative or angry that you are not giving them a larger, longer fare. Taxis are fairly affordable, and in summertime their air-conditioned interiors are much appreciated. Most taxi drivers are quite knowledgeable about the city.
- There sure are a lot of businesspeople.
Space and time
- If you have an appointment, you’ll mutter an excuse if you’re five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it’s ten minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable.
- If you’re talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about two feet.
- About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, antiques, and many food stalls and markets. Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that’s the buyer’s minimum. If you want to haggle more, cross the border to China, you’ll get to do it there.
- Nobody invites people to their homes, instead it’s always in a restaurant as homes are simply too small.
- When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, and humour the other party. Foreigners often get too direct too quickly, and you feel this will backfire as it may hurt their feelings and result in them not selling to you in the future.
- If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn’t take more than an hour or so.